THE recent sale of a $25,000 bull to a Texas ranch is important for the Clemson University Extension Service and the rebuilding of a herd of Herefords that once provided a research and teaching platform for improving cattle genetics on South Carolina farms.
"It's a story that goes back more than 80 years," said Brian Bolt, the Clemson animal scientist who directs the development of the herd.
The bull, with the moniker "Battle Rupert T-352," is part of a line of Herefords with long ties to Clemson. Bolt can trace the bull's lineage to the Trask cattle that originated in South Carolina when polled Herefords, as a breed, were newly developed from their older, horned cousins.
Neil Trask of Calhoun Falls assembled the herd during the Great Depression, envisioning a breed that would lift the fortunes of a sinking cotton economy. From Trask's genetics, Clemson assembled a teaching herd of its own — a base from which to help other farmers strengthen the productivity and efficiency of their cattle.
"These Herefords are uniquely adapted to southeastern conditions," Bolt explained. "At the end of the day, they just work. It comes back to the type of cattle these are."
Those characteristics include heat tolerance, a docile nature that makes them easy to work with and, perhaps most important for the Southeast, fescue tolerance. Polled Herefords are capable of eating large volumes of forage, even if it has a comparatively low nutritional value, and still gain weight.
Over decades, the Hereford herd at the university was scattered and sold until Steve Meadows, a lifelong cattle producer and Extension animal scientist, saw the need to rebuild a grass-based Hereford herd at Clemson.
As a teenager, Meadows bought a pair of Hereford heifers from Fowken Farms, which had close ties to Trask, for a 4-H project. Decades later, he approached the Fowler family in an effort to rebuild the university herd.
Norris Fowler of Fowken Farms, Randy Owen of Tennessee River Music and Teddy Gentry of Bent Tree Cattle Co. helped provide four cows in the Trask line from which Meadows harvested embryos.
Bolt now directs that herd. "We're rebuilding," he said. "We have a vision of establishing a teaching and Extension herd — one with southeastern genetics and all the trappings that go along with that."
Winter cow herd management
High temperatures of 20-30 degrees F confirm the arrival of winter. A week or more of cold temperatures, particularly below freezing, can take a toll on a cow herd.
Dale Blasi, professor and beef cattle extension specialist at Kansas State University, said the bodily response to cold stress in cattle is an increase in dry matter intake.
Blasi recommends that cattle producers make a list of the forages they have available for the winter months, know the quality of those forages, take a look at the body condition and hair coat condition of each cow and prepare for winter winds by providing shelters or windbreaks for the herd.
According to Blasi, forage testing can help determine the quality of the forages producers have on hand. During a string of days with sub-freezing temperatures, higher-quality forages should be used to increase the herd's caloric intake, but producers should keep in mind that, depending on the harshness of winter, increased animal requirements might continue well into spring.
"Especially with those spring-calving cows, they are starting to enter into their third phase of gestation," Blasi said. "We have to make sure we keep those pregnancies as healthy as possible."
Blasi pointed out that feeding a co-product such as dried distillers grains would provide some additional protein and fat to the cows.
"(If) you get too much corn into the diet, you start to impact the rumen's ecosystem, and you start to hurt the fiber-digesting capability of the lower-quality forages being consumed," he explained. "My recommendation is not more than a half of a percent of the animal's weight. So, a 1,000 lb. cow you would not feed more than 5 lb. (of additional corn). Make sure there is adequate protein coming elsewhere so you're not driving a protein-limiting ecosystem."
Blasi also recommends that producers assess the body condition and hair coat for each cow in the herd to help determine the additional energy needed in the winter months.
Blasi suggested that producers separate the herd by body condition scores so the cows with less flesh can be supplemented with more nutrients. Also, younger and likely smaller females should be watched closely.
All cows should have a winter coat by now, Blasi said, but when cows are wet from snow or cold rain, their coats become matted, and their insulation breaks down.
Prior research at Kansas State showed that the critical temperature for a cow with a summer coat or wet coat is 60 degrees F; that drops to 45 degrees F for cows with a fall coat, 32 degrees F for those with a winter coat and 19 degrees F for those with a heavy winter coat.
Wind chill, based on temperature and wind speed, can make cattle even more compromised. With temperatures at freezing and winds at more than 10 mph, cows could need a 15-20% increase in forage requirements.
While many producers have turned their cows out on grazing stocks — sorghum and corn — they have to keep in mind that many of those crop fields don't have places for the cows to keep out of the cold wind. Blasi explained that a windbreak can provide up to a 70% reduction in wind velocity and can change the wind chill from -5 degrees F to 7 degrees F, a 12-degree swing.
"Any kind of shelter is a tremendous step forward for helping them withstand and coast over these inclement weather events," Blasi added.
He further noted, "A well-known phenomenon with feeding pregnant beef cows is that feeding them in the afternoon and evening hours has a corresponding effect on calving in daylight hours. Obviously, when we're expecting babies coming, it's nice to be there if the cows should need help. Feeding in the evening also increases the heat of fermentation for the cow as we see these nighttime lows."
The K-State Research & Extension "Beef Cow Nutrition Guide" includes more information about winter cow diets and supplements producers can consider for use.
*Krissa Welshans holds a bachelor's degree in animal science from Michigan State University and a master's degree in public policy from New England College. Welshans has long been involved in agriculture and has worked with numerous agricultural groups, including the Animal Agriculture Alliance.