Un­usual Sum­mer: Why Are Cat­tle so Slick this Year?

McDonald County Press - - AGRICULTURE -

MOUNT VER­NON — Cat­tle in south­west Mis­souri seem to be slick and shiny this year, ac­cord­ing to El­don Cole, live­stock spe­cial­ist with Univer­sity of Mis­souri Ex­ten­sion.

“At least that’s what I’ve ob­served as I visit herds and do wind­shield sur­veys,” Cole said. “I’ve asked sev­eral pro­duc­ers, vet­eri­nar­i­ans and mar­ket folks if they’ve seen that too and most agree.”

Of course, Cole says he has to ask what’s the rea­son for fewer, slow-shed­ding, rough-haired cows. For the most part, peo­ple seem to think it is the re­sult of a very un­usual sum­mer.


In­deed, the year has been ex­cep­tional with mois­ture and cool weather, es­pe­cially in Au­gust.

“Most farm­ers who are not over­stocked have had sur­plus pas­ture since green up early in the spring,” said Cole.

Yel­low hop clover, white clover, crab­grass, les­pedeza and even John­songrass has given cat­tle an op­por­tu­nity to graze some­thing other than toxic fes­cue.

If cat­tle are given a choice, they do avoid “hot” Ken­tucky 31 fes­cue.

“I’d say that has been one of the rea­sons for the sleek hair coats. An­other pos­si­ble rea­son is an in­creas­ing num­ber of farms us­ing man­age­ment-in­ten­sive graz­ing which en­hances legume per­cent­age in those pas­tures,” said Cole.

The in­creas­ing num­ber of cows calv­ing in the fall could be an­other fac­tor be­cause of those cows typ­i­cally slick off nicely af­ter wean­ing their calves in May, com­pared to spring calvers.

“I be­lieve some farm­ers heeded the ad­vice in April and early May to con­trol seed heads in fes­cue pas­tures with chemical or me­chan­i­cal means. Also, lit­tle-by-lit­tle, we’ve seen more friendly or novel fes­cue seeded in the last 10 years,” said Cole.

Ac­cord­ing to Cole, the nov­els do not pro­duce the dam­ag­ing er­got al­ka­loids that cause slow growth, poor re­pro­duc­tion, re­duced im­mune re­sponse, heat stress and that nasty, long­haired, slow shed­ding symp­tom.


If by chance the cows have not slicked off, their own­ers sug­gest iden­ti­fy­ing them with a hair score. The best time to as­sign a hair score is May. Scor­ing is not complicated — it is a 1 to 5 sys­tem. At least put some note by the woolly ones.

A No. 1 is an animal that is 100 per­cent shed off all over their body.

A No. 2 is 75 per­cent shed with a No. 3 hav­ing lost 50 per­cent of their hair.

The real prob­lem cat­tle are those that are No. 4 that are only 25 per­cent shed and No. 5, which still have a full win­ter coat.

The lat­ter two cat­e­gories could be strong can­di­dates for culling un­less their calv­ing in­ter­val and wean­ing weights are above av­er­age for the farm.

“Breed as­so­ci­a­tions and beef ge­netic re­searchers are looking at com­pil­ing suf­fi­cient data for the de­vel­op­ment of a hair coat shed­ding ex­pected prog­eny dif­fer­ence. Re­search shows shed­ding has a her­i­tabil­ity es­ti­mate of 0.35, about the same as wean­ing weight. Thus, progress could be made by se­lec­tion,” said Cole.


For de­tails on cop­ing with toxic fes­cue-re­lated prob­lems, con­tact any of the MU Ex­ten­sion live­stock spe­cial­ists in south­west Mis­souri: El­don Cole in Lawrence County, (417) 466-3102; Andy McCorkill in Dal­las County at (417) 345-7551; Dr. Randy Wied­meier, in Douglas County at (417) 679-3525; or Dr. Pa­trick Davis in Cedar County at (417) 276-3313.


Dur­ing this year’s un­usual sum­mer, many cat­tle have be­come slick and shiny.

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