There are options when it comes to mineral supplementation. The most common methods are loose mineral, mineral blocks, including mineral in-feed with other supplemental protein or energy, or injectable minerals. All of these can be effective mineral supplementation strategies.

Arguably the most important principle in grazing management is allowing adequate rest periods. Resting pastures simply means removing the grazing pressure to allow the plant to regrow and replenish root reserves. This typically is done by moving cows to a new paddock within a pasture.

The 2014 grazing season has been one of the best in recent memory. Plenty of rain throughout the grazing season help push pastures to maximum production. Many of you may have a good amount of fall stockpile to utilize. Along with cornstalks, grazing further into the season is a very achievable goal this year. Let's look at some considerations for fall grazing and how they can impact you next grazing season.

County fair season is in full swing. It is easy to get bogged down in the frantic preparation and certainly the competition. However, taking a deep breath and looking at the big picture can bring realization of the true purpose of youth livestock exposition.

Youth livestock shows are projects that build young people. These projects are the foundation to helping guide young people in learning the skills that will make them not only productive members of society, but leaders. The vast array of life skills that livestock projects teach young people is unrivaled.

There is no doubt that the drought of 2012 and the weather extremes of 2013 have stressed pastures. Maintaining a productive stand in your pasture is crucial for animal performance, holding feed costs down, and making the most of the productive soil you have invested in.

Corn silage is popular as a forage source for dairy cows due to its high energy and digestibility. It should have a light, pleasant smell with only a slight vinegar odor. Knowledge of the silage process often explains why some silage may be of poor quality. Once ensiled, the material starts to ferment and will continue to do so until enough acid is produced to stop bacterial action. The desired degree of acidity, a pH of about 4.2, should occur within 3 weeks after the silo is filled.

Cattle prices are holding at record levels so far this fall. As we head into bred heifer sale season, there appears to be a lot of interest from producers eager to re-invest profits. Prices for heifer calves have been elevated, however some have taken lofty steer checks and saved heifers back for replacements. The market for breeding cattle has been and looks to be good. Producers are seeing incentive to build the herd.

There has long been a sentiment among producers that in cold years, calf birth weights are increased. There are many inherent challenges in proving whether this is actually true. Differences in bull as well as nutrition are the biggest hurdles.

A frequent question for early summer time is "Should I clip my pasture?" In most cases, the farmer is seeking a yes or no answer…and hopefully validation of their current practice. Unfortunately, the answer is somewhat dependent on your previous pasture management and current grazing system.

The last couple weeks have been host to cool, wet weather. Resulting from that weather, muddy conditions have been very persistent. Not only is mud a hassle for farmers conducting daily chores, but it can also negatively affect cattle performance.

Remember back to the last time you walked through a muddy lot (even if it was just yesterday). It is slippery, mucky, and certainly takes more energy to tromp through the pen. It is the same for cattle. Walking through the mud will require more energy.

A long, harsh winter coupled with a slow start to spring has left many producers frustrated with where to put cows. Calving cows do not do very well in muddy lots that are already piled high with used bedding from the winter. Nor do pastures do very well with lots of foot traffic as they try to re-establish and become productive in the 2014 season. So… the logical thought is turn cows out, but keep them in a sacrifice paddock.

The Illinois Performance Tested (IPT) Bull Sale was the lead-off event of the 2014 Illinois Beef Expo held on Feb. 20 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield, Ill. The sale had the highest overall average in the 46 year history at $3,840 on 51 lots.

"This sale has developed into one of the most reliable sources of performance bulls in the Midwest," said Travis Meteer, IPT sale manager. "During the past 46 years, the sale has sold 4,576 bulls valued at over 7.9 million dollars."

If you haven't heard… cattle prices are pretty good right now. This coupled with the retreat in corn price last fall and lowering feed costs, has cattle producers looking for their long-promised "good times". For nearly three years, the talk of herd expansion has been suggested only to be silenced by drought and high feed costs. So now that favorable weather patterns and lower commodity prices have been forecasted, the herd expansion hype is in full swing.

As we have a few weeks under our belt in the 2014 grazing season here at Orr Beef Research Center, it is apparent that the similarities to last year are numerous.

As feed and commodity prices fall and cattle prices continue to hold firm at record levels, the incentive to add pounds with "cheap" feeds is present. Proper heifer development hinges on achieving a desired weight before breeding…yet not over-developing heifers to the point they are not prepared to live on pasture and forage-based diets the remainder of their life.

Winter was one for the record books. Spring has started cool and damp and we have seen little growth of grass so far. For these reasons, it is important that cattlemen let grass get a good start this spring before grazing.

Managing pastures early is arguably more important than later in the year. Sure, keeping grass vegetative, managing seed heads, and knowing forage availability are all key to cattle performance. However, ultimately cattle performance and feed cost levels are dependent on healthy, productive pastures.

As I have stated in previous posts, proper mineral nutrition relies on a balance. This is critical to avoid mineral interactions. Mineral interactions can result in one mineral restricting the bioavailability of another. Thus, reducing the amount of that mineral absorbed by the animal. This can lead to deficiency.

Overgrazing is the failure to match animal grazing to forage growth and production. In most cases, cattle or any grazing animal is allowed to continuously harvest a plant without allowing the plant to feed itself. Many times overgrazing causes reduced pasture stands and forces the cattlemen to feed purchased feeds, which are expensive and result in loss of profits.

Cattle markets are setting new records, feed costs are falling, and cattlemen are anxious to stabilize and rebuild numbers. Forecasted profits for the cow/calf producer are the highest they have been in decades. While I would like to end this column right here and tell you all to go buy a new pickup, I am a realist.

There is a limiting factor to your success in this forgiving market. You need calves. Yes, no matter how high the price goes or how cheap you can buy hay... you need calves. Thus, reproduction becomes the major limiting factor.

Calving season is either here or fast approaching for many Illinois cattlemen. I would just like to share a few tips that I have gathered through some of our winter meetings. Perhaps the most important tip is to have a good relationship with your local veterinarian. Sometimes the difficult decisions during calving season are best made by your veterinarian.

Just a few of the basic things:

Prussic acid poisoning is caused by hydrocyanic acid. As a cyanide compound the substance can quickly kill animals. Death can occur within minutes of ingestion in some cases. Cyanide interferes with the oxygen-carrying function in the blood resulting in asphyxiation. Symptoms include staggering, difficulty breathing, convulsions, and immobility.

Pedigree, scrotal measurement, EPDs, accuracies, actual weights, $ values, DNA tests.... and you haven't even looked at the bull yet. There is no doubt that sire selection can be a daunting task, but economic indexes may be the tool to help simplify your selection process.

Economic indexes are a collection of EPDs that are weighted depending on their economic importance in a given scenario. The goal of these index values is to simultaneously emphasize economically-relevant traits while using a multi-trait selection approach.

Record high calf prices provide incentive for cattle producers to deploy management strategies to increase pounds at weaning. A couple common strategies to add pounds would be implants, creep feeding, early weaning, and backgrounding.

Increasing profit is the ultimate goal of any business, and the cattle business is no exception. In effort to maximize profit, cattlemen have to be focused on producing the greatest amount of premium product without sacrificing production efficiency. The ability to produce more pounds of a high quality product results in more income for the producer. Realizing the cow can only provide nutrition to the calf at a certain level, creep feeding can offer additional nutrition to maximize growth and weaning weights.

The wet spring has certainly provided favorable breeding conditions for flies. As we progress into the summer it is evident that fly pressure could be heavy.

Types of Flies:

As cattle producers wean calves, careful consideration in selecting replacement heifers is vital. Each cattleman will have different priorities depending on herd goals; however, these selection tips will help you incorporate proven selection strategies into your process.

Selection

While there may be different selection criteria priorities on your farm, consider removing these characteristics for improving the profitability and longevity of your cowherd.

Farms that have both cattle and crops are best equipped to take advantage of the benefits of cover crops. Cover crops are a buzzing topic. From an agronomic side the list of benefits continues to grow with more research. Better soil tilth, soil health, soil biology, water retention, nitrogen retention, and subsequent crop yields are all becoming evident in managed cover cropping systems. The benefits to livestock are obvious… a feed source.

Many Illinois farmers are taking notice of the advantages in a diversified farming enterprise that includes livestock. These farmers are at the epicenter of synergistic farming. I'm not sure if that is a coined term yet, but now it is on record. Basically, synergy describes two separate systems that when combined, yield more than the sum of the individual systems when they are alone. In my mind, that perfectly describes the combination of growing corn and raising cattle.

Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) is a national program designed by cattlemen and cattlewomen, delivered by cattlemen and cattlewomen, for cattlemen and cattlewomen. BQA equips producers with production strategies and general skills to maintain animal care and performance to ensure a safe, quality food supply.

Producers should take some time to scout pastures for poisonous plants and presence of ergot.

Some poisonous plants to be on the lookout for would be:

I have been hearing reports of Ergot and have seen some myself already this year.

There is no question Artificial Insemination (A.I.) has been a game changer into today's industry but timing could be key to your herd success. Natural service still makes up the majority of breeding in the U.S. cattle industry, however rising bull purchase prices may push more producers to use A.I.

Hay is the traditional feedstuff of choice for wintering beef cows in the Midwest. This leads many cattlemen into the question "Should I buy my hay or raise it myself?"

The correct answer depends on numerous factors. The list below helps illustrate these factors.

Buy Hay

Record cattle prices, lowering feed costs, and good pasture conditions all are benefiting cattlemen in 2014. One of the most popular questions I have received lately is "what opportunities should I be taking advantage of to get the most out of this current market?"

In short, anything you can do to add a pound for less than that pound is worth is beneficial. Obviously, producers still need to investigate return on investment, however many strategies that are dependant on year definitely work this year. Some of those would include: creep feeding, backgrounding, etc.

Open cows are simply a fact of the cattle business. Managing to achieve a 100% pregnancy rate is simply not cost effective, nor should it be your goal. Having a few open cows every year implies some selection pressure is being put on fertility and animals best-fit for your environment. However, if the number of open cows is excessive (greater than 5%), evaluation of management, nutrition and herd health needs to take place.

With calving season getting closer, or already here for some, cattlemen may want to deploy strategies to ensure mineral nutrition does not rob them of potential profits. The value of a live calf is more than ever in the face of a shrunken and rebuilding cowherd.

Classified ad, online sale, private treaty bid-off, live auction, and the list can go on and on. There are numerous ways to market your cattle, but have you thought about how to market yourself? Many times cattlemen are guilty of focusing on the cattle and not the other pieces of the puzzle. To set your cattle apart from the others, I suggest you market stockmanship.

Although hay feeding has stopped on most farms and cows are out on grass, it is important to look at the value of hay as many start harvesting this year's hay crop.

Every ton of hay contains approximately 40 lbs. of N, 20 lbs. of P, and 50 lbs. of K. However, it is important to calculate N losses at about 75%, thus only about 10 lbs. of N are returned to the soil. The values of P and K are accurate to what would be returned.

Current fertilizer prices for Illinois published by USDA are: N $0.59, P $0.45, K $0.57.