Hair, Hide Color, Heat, and Humidity – Connecting the Four H’s of Florida Cattle Production

Hair, Hide Color, Heat, and Humidity – Connecting the Four H’s of Florida Cattle Production

Ona “White Angus” a multibreed composite selected for heat tolerance. Photo credit: UF/IFAS Archives

Florida is a hot place. Hot places are hard on cattle performance.

Those two facts have complicated cattle production in Florida since the first imports were offloaded from the boat nearly five hundred years ago. Since that day, the debate over how to address these stresses has sometimes been as acrid (pungent) as the hold of that boat must have been after holding cattle for the two months or so it took to sail from Spain to Florida.

The original and long uncontroversial breakthrough was the addition of Zebu blood to the Florida cow herd. “Crossbred cow” has long implied a Brahman crossbred in Florida, and the Brahman F1 female is justifiably legendary in her ability to handle the Florida environment. In relatively recent years, Zebu cattle have faced resistance (some justified, some not) from feeders and consumers. As the demand for a higher quality, more uniform retail product has grown, there seems to be increased pressure to make the national beef cow herd the same from Wacissa to Wyoming. Despite the improvement of management inputs across the country, environments remain widely different and require genetic diversity to optimize production in those environments.

Efforts to maintain the heat tolerance of the Southern cow herd, while changing carcass quality include selection within Zebu populations, reducing the Zebu influence in the cow herd, introducing the “Slick Hair Gene” found in Senepol and some other Caribbean breeds, and the development of new composite breeds such as the “White Angus” herd at the UF/IFAS Range Cattle Research Station at Ona. Research has proven that lighter colored cattle withstand heat better than darker colored cattle. Accordingly, many Florida cow herds retain some Zebu influence and are predominantly red or dun colored.

But what do you do if “All my cows are all black, and I want to keep them that way?” 

Recent work (Gray, et al. 2011) shows variation in shedding the winter coat of Angus cows is inversely related to calf weaning weight and cow Body Condition Score. (Earlier hair shedders wean heavier calves and have higher BCS scores.) Heritability of the trait has been estimated to be 35%. Late shedding or rough hair coat can also be affected by nutrition, genotype by environment interactions, or grazing endophyte infected fescue. This means selection will result in genetic change. However, as the number of traits evaluated continues to increase, individual trait change will be reduced. This suggests culling extremely late shedding cows may be the most feasible strategy. Given the reduced production and decreased BCS, the cows may already be falling out of your herd due to lighter calves or failing to breed.

This article was based on personal observations and information originally published in:


Next Year’s Bahia Grass Depends on This Year’s Renovation Preparation

Next Year’s Bahia Grass Depends on This Year’s Renovation Preparation

Having Bahia grass ready to graze in 2017 depends on what you do in 2016.

Having Bahiagrass ready to graze in 2017 depends on what you do in 2016.

In that recent flash of time when cattle prices were the highest in my lifetime, many Florida ranchers seized the opportunity to invest some increased income in capital improvements for the ranch. Some fertilized according to soil test for the first time in years, some replaced worn out equipment, and some took the opportunity to plant or renovate Bahiagrass pasture.

In that high market, ranchers may have thought, “Prices are good, I don’t have to worry so much about doing this exactly right.” Now that the good times seem as distant as civil political discussion, doing it right has renewed importance.

I’ve visited several recently renovated fields this year, and here are some of the shortcuts that have come back to bite the rancher.

• Failure to rid the new pasture of weed populations BEFORE planting.
This is particularly important when planting improved varieties in fields which have Pensacola Bahiagrass in them. Bahiagrass’s popularity stems from its persistence. There are no herbicides which can differentiate between Pensacola and its descendants, Tifton 9 and Riata. Moving from Pensacola to one of these varieties may require burning down existing Bahiagrass, and planting a winter feed crop such as oats or cereal rye before planting next year. This intermediate crop may need to be burned down again before planting to assure a clean field.

Wait until after your Bahiagrass is established to add legumes to the mix. If you use broadleaf herbicides for your Bahiagrass, you’ll lose your legumes. That’s another expense you can avoid.

• Planting too deep.
Bahiagrass should be planted only one quarter to one half inch deep. Planting into loose soil or improper drill settings can put the seed below that and decrease seedling vigor and germination. That’s another loss of time and money.

• Failure to use adequate seeding rates.
Recommended seeding rates for Tifton 9, Riata and TifQuik are 15 – 20 pounds per acre and 20 – 30 pounds for Argentine with the lower rates for drilled seed in prepared ground and the higher rates for broadcast applications. Cutting corners on seed rate leaves more open ground, which allows weeds to compete more effectively with Bahiagrass seedlings. A thick, vigorous stand reduces weed competition. Yes, seed is expensive, but if you can’t afford to do it right, can you really afford to do it over?

• Grazing the new crop too soon.
Bahiagrass persistence depends on having sufficient leaf area to sustain itself. Make sure the forage is fully established before grazing. It is possible to get grazing in the season of establishment, however your goal is to have pasture for many years. Jumping the gun can decrease the useful life of the pasture. The IFAS recommendation for minimum stubble height is three inches, if rotationally grazed, and five inches if continuously stocked. You may well be renovating your fields because you’ve overgrazed them in the past. Don’t throw good money after bad.

• Inadequate fertility
The IFAS publication, Bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum): Overview and Management, recommends “Light fertilization of Bahiagrass will generally be necessary within 7–10 days after seedling emergence. The initial application should consist of 30 lb nitrogen (N)/acre, all of the recommended P2O5, and 50% of the recommended K2O. Approximately 40–50 days after the initial application, an additional 50 lb of nitrogen and the remaining K2O should be applied.”  Many renovations skip this step out of false economy. In addition, soil pH should be 5.5 before planting.

• No rain
Unless you’re planting under the “Silver Cloud” (irrigation), I can’t help you here. However, Bahiagrass seed can lie dormant for longer than you might think. One of my neighbors had seed in the ground 3 months before a decent rain got it going. Of course, “If it doesn’t rain, it doesn’t matter.”

Chris Prevatt’s market projections in his Panhandle Ag October 7th article show next year’s calf prices below breakeven prices and trending lower. Even though properly renovated pastures are a long term investment and may be more likely justified over time, this near term market downturn intensifies the urgency of ensuring the necessary care and attention be paid to getting everything right in your renovation project. There’s no room for error in this market.


Portions of this article were adapted from “Bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum): Overview and Management”  and “The Management and Use of Bahiagrass”


More Grazing Dishes for the Summer Salad Bar

More Grazing Dishes for the Summer Salad Bar

 Figure 1. Jed Dillard, Jerfforson county Extension kneels in a pasture of Tifleaf 3 millet and cowpeas that awere no-till drilled into ryegrass and red clover.

Figure 1. Jed Dillard, Jerfforson county Extension kneels in a pasture of Tifleaf 3 millet and cowpeas that were no-till drilled into ryegrass and red clover.

We’ve heard “North Florida can grow forage 365 days a year!” for ages, and that’s true. However, those of us who’ve carried livestock through more than one winter with our own money, or worse, a bank’s money, know that it’s just not that simple. The long-time goal of getting grazing from fall seeded winter annuals by Thanksgiving seems as elusive as Bigfoot in many years. Records from state climatologist, Dr. Dave Zierden, show May has become increasingly dry over the years

Typical forage programs are based on Bermuda or Bahia grasses and some type of winter supplement such as hay, commodity feeds, protein feeds, or winter annuals. Of course costs vary, and each operation has a unique set of resources, requirements and opportunities. Use your head and your pencil to decide what works best for your situation.

One of the more common strategies is to graze winter annuals as protein and energy supplements, either on a prepared seedbed or overseeded on permanent pastures. Prepared seed beds work best for cereal grains (Oats, rye, triticale, wheat), and clovers and ryegrass are preferred for overseeding. However, clover and ryegrass can be also combined effectively with cereal grains to extend the grazing season on prepared land.

Generally, grazing crops on prepared land is converted to cash crops in the spring. Corn ground goes first, followed by peanuts and cotton. Soybeans and sorghum can go in early or late.  If row crops aren’t in the immediate future for your land, what are your options as the days warm and dry weather hits you in May? I’ve seen a variety of options recently. Take a look and see if these might work for you, especially as you plan for next year

Clover Mixtures

Take advantage of the complementary growth periods of clover and other cool season legume varieties. The peak production begins with common vetch followed generally by crimson clover, ball clover, hairy vetch, arrow leaf clover, red clover and white clover. All these can be broadcast into dormant or short permanent pasture. Figure 2. shows a mixture of legumes that were broadcast into Bahiagrass that already had ryegrass and crimson clover reseeding in it. The mixture includes, common vetch, hairy vetch, arrow leaf clover and Osceola white clover; the photo was taken in mid-May. The white and arrow leaf clover and white clover are still going today, and red clover would have extended the blend even further.

Figure 2. A broadcast mix of legumes in Mid-May Photo Credit: Jed Dillard

Figure 2. A broadcast mix of legumes in Mid-May
Photo Credit: Jed Dillard


The bane of row crop farmers and a primary source of income for the lawn pesticide industry, crabgrass fills one of our grazing gaps as winter annuals play out on prepared seedbeds. It can last into August with decent rainfall and fertility. It’s a high quality forage and frequently is already a part of the seed bank in many North Florida fields. Improved varieties of crabgrass are available. Hay growers won’t want it as it doesn’t dry at the same rate as Bermuda, but grazers should capitalize on the opportunity.  Clovers and crabgrass are the simplest options to implement for the May – July window, but overseeding with a no-till drill opens up several more options on winter annuals that were planted on prepared land.

Figure 3. Tifleaf 3 Millet emerging in Oats and Clover in Late April Photo Credit: Jed Dillard

Figure 3. Tifleaf 3 Millet emerging in Oats and Clover in Late April
Photo Credit: Jed Dillard

No Till Annuals

Pearl millet is the most common summer annual in our area, and the photos show two approaches. Figure 3. shows millet coming up in oats and clover in late April. This approach provides continuous availability of high quality forage, but requires the ability to use grazing to manage the competition between the two plantings. Close grazing of the growing crop allows the emergence of the millet. After emergence and during the transition to millet grazing, management must find the balance between allowing the millet enough light and grazing the millet too hard, too soon.  Figure 4. was taken in early June shows a field of Southern Bell red clover with Tifleaf 3 millet and iron clay peas no tilled into it. With proper grazing management, this mix can last into late summer.  These options run the gamut from requiring hardly any equipment to the use of high dollar no till drills, and you need to make your own financial decisions based on your own financial situation.

Figure 4. Allen Skinner, Suwanee Co.

Figure 4. Allen Skinner, Suwannee County in millet, cow peas and red clover in early June. Photo Credit: Joel Love

As you examine your situation think of these questions:

  • Does a no till drill cost more than a hay baler, cutter, rake and fluffer?
  • How many times would you need to go over your land per year with a no till drill versus a hay baler, cutter, etc.?
  • Would I rather my livestock harvest my forage, or would I rather cut, rake and bale it, haul it to the barn and then haul it back to my livestock?
  • Would I rather grow more of my nitrogen with legumes or buy it?

Growing forage 365 days a year? Check. Growing good forage economically 365 days a year? More thinking, maybe more work, maybe more money. These aren’t easy production decisions, and they’re even more complicated economic decisions. For further information on variety selection, seeding options, and financial considerations contact your local Extension Agent and/or see the following related UF/IFAS Publications:


Friday Not so Funny

Friday Not so Funny

Usually we bring you a corny story each week to try to put a smile on your face and take a break from the stress and tension of every day life, at least for a little while.  Today, however, there’s something serious we need to address. As Extension professionals we have the great pleasure of sharing our producers triumphs and good fortune. We also share in the down side of our friends’ lives, and today we need to take a little time to share how daunting specialty agriculture crops can be – high production costs, marketing challenges and crazy spring weather. Pause for a minute with us and think about our fellow farmers struggling up in North Carolina.





If you enjoyed this week’s joke, you might also enjoy others from previous weeks: Friday Funny

Farm folks always enjoy sharing good jokes, photos and stories.  If you have a good, clean joke, particularly one that pertains to agriculture, or a funny photo that you took on the farm, send it in and we will share it with our readers.

Email to:  Panhandle Ag Friday Funny


The Rap on Bale Wrap

Even if net wrap isn't removed before feeding, using a trailer to keep the hay off the ground helps keep the pasture free of wrap. Photo Credit: Jed Dillard

Even if net wrap isn’t removed before feeding, using a trailer to keep the hay off the ground helps keep the pasture free of wrap.  Photo Credit: Jed Dillard

Round hay balers have made large strides in packaging the bale since their introduction. First, there was sisal twine. Rats chewed through it, or it rotted from soil contact. Plastic twine replaced sisal. Those problems were addressed, but single strand wraps still allowed less consistent bale shapes. Single strand wraps were replaced by plastic “Net wraps” which reduced spoilage and resulted in more uniformly shaped rolls.  This process has been positive for hay quality and ease of storage, but plastic has resulted in more problems than just the lack of an endless supply of string to tie up the dog, patch a bridle, make a gate latch, or any of the other infinite “opportunities” a livestock owner has for crude, but effective solutions based on innovative use of available materials.

Simply put, “What do you do with all that stuff?” Removing it from the bale before you feed it can be challenging. Removing it from the field after the hay is fed can be even harder. If it freezes it’s even harder to remove. However, we aren’t in North Dakota so it is not an issue here.

A field full of net wrap after a winter’s feeding presents several problems. There will probably be lots of weeds emerging in the spring where hay was fed. If you try to mow these areas, you’ll end up with smaller chunks of plastic distributed about your pasture. Not all of the plastic will be shredded. Some of it will wrap around the mower shaft, or the wheels of your mower and push out the seal. Dirt enters the bearings and instead of living out your cowboy fantasies, you’ll soon be up to your elbows in bearing grease replacing bearings. If you don’t try to mow, you’ll have weeds and large chunks of wrap.

As troubling as these issues may seem, there’s a larger risk, especially for producers who grind bales for mixed rations without removing the wrap. John Campbell, head of Large Animal Clinical Sciences at the University of Saskatchewan’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine, necropsied two heavy bred cows which died suddenly and found large pieces of wrap which had caused an impaction in the rumen. He speculates smaller pieces of wrap or twine are able to pass through the digestive tract, but that larger masses are unable to move around the rumen and cause blockage.

Klein and Dahlen reported on the solubility of wraps in the rumen in the 2014 North Dakota Beef Report.  They compared 2 mm samples (~.08 inch) of Brome hay, sisal twine, “biodegradable twine”, and three types of plastic wrap in the rumens of Holstein steers. After two weeks, even the hay had not completely disappeared (>80%). Over 70% of the sisal twine had disappeared, and none of the biodegradable twine or the hay wrap had disappeared. Apparently, the biodegradable twine depends on sunlight to break down. That’s useful in the pasture, but not in the rumen.

Few Panhandle cattle producers are grinding hay bales, but these reports demonstrate the dangers of allowing cattle access to net wrap or twine. Even if cattle don’t ingest wrap or twine left in the field, it’s harder to deal with after feeding than before.  Take the time to remove the wrap from bales before you drop them in the pasture. Cattle prices have fallen recently, but it should be a long time before the price of saving a cow doesn’t justify the time it takes to remove net wrap before feeding.