published in


June 2016

Research Update

Ona Report: Special Edition

For questions or comments regarding this publication contact: The Range Cattle REC, University of Florida, IFAS

The UF/IFAS Range Cattle Research and Education Center, has enjoyed a long history of service to the Florida Cattlemen. Since 1941, our research efforts have focused on relevant problems impacting beef production throughout Florida. Unique among the UF IFAS RECs, our focus is on a single clientele group, the owners and managers of Florida’s grazinglands. At our Center, we address important issues spanning a broad scope of overlapping topics relevant to Florida’s grazinglands, such as forage management, fertilization, soil and water, beef cattle management, invasive animal and plant management, wildlife, and the economics of beef and forage production. 

Presently, the Center houses 7 faculty programs with 21 support staff including biological scientists, technicians, program coordinators, and administrative support personnel. In addition to research and extension projects, the Center’s faculty mentor numerous MS and PhD graduate students and exchange scholars from around the world. This article provides a highlight from each of the Center’s faculty regarding work they are presently involved with in response to the research priorities of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association. 

Twenty-sixteen marks the Center’s 75th year of service to Florida’s cattle and land managers. Save the date and plan to join us on October 27 when we will celebrate this anniversary at our next Cattle and Forage Field Day. 

John Arthington
Professor and Center Director, Beef Cattle Nutrition and Management

Photo of John Arthingtonn almost all production situations grazing cattle require supplemental nutrients to support optimal performance. Deficits can vary dramatically depending on many factors, most notably, region, season, and weather patterns. Around the World, almost all grazing cattle are deficient in sodium, thus supplemental salt has been recognized as vital to the health and performance of grazing livestock. Micro-minerals are also often found to be deficient in grazed forage. The most commonly found micro-mineral deficiencies are copper, zinc, cobalt, and selenium. In tropical and subtropical climates, where a large percentage of the World’s beef is produced, cattle are typically enrolled in year-long grazing schedules. In these environments, supplementation strategies are critical to cowherd productivity. Often, free-choice, salt-based mineral supplements are offered with the anticipation of adequate intake to offset nutrient deficiencies. Variation in free-choice intake, however, is a common problem impacting the efficacy of this management system. Although many contributing factors exist, variation due to changing season of the year is one common factor. Generally, as moisture content of forages increase, intake of salt-based, free-choice supplements also increases. In one 3-year study conducted in southern Florida, cows were offered supplement in amounts to provide their targeted intake on a weekly basis. All unconsumed supplement was measured weekly and the results were calculated as a percent refusal. During the dry season, when forage moisture was low, the percent refusal was high (i.e. voluntary intake was low); however, during the wet season, when forage moisture was high, voluntary intake was at or above the targeted amount. 

Although clearly a considerable challenge, the need to understand the factors impacting variation in free-choice, salt-based supplement intake is evident. Through funding support in 2015, by the Florida Cattlemen’s Association, our team engineered and developed RFID (radio-frequency identification) technology to accurately assess the frequency of individual animal visits to a mineral feeder. Six portable units were constructed (See photo). With this technology, we can now estimate the impact of individual cow or calf free-choice mineral intake variation and how this variation impacts individual trace mineral status, notably copper and selenium. Initial evaluation of the equipment has shown that the technology accurately accounts for individual visits to the mineral feeder. This equipment can be utilized in multiple studies, such as those aimed at assessing variation in individual mineral intake and subsequent mineral status when impacted by; (1) breed of animal (i.e. Bos indicus vs. Bos taurus), (2) season of the year, (3) method of mineral delivery (i.e. salt-based, liquid, low moisture block), and (4) mineral formulation (i.e. source of ingredients, drug inclusions, and salt content). Using these new research tools, we will seek additional funding in 2016/2017 to begin to address some of these important research objectives.

For more information contact John Arthington at jarth@ufl.edu.

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Brent Sellers
Associate Professor and Associate Center Director, Weed Science

Picture of Brent SellersBroomsedge species are native, perennial bunchgrasses with an average life span of 3 to 5 years that are becoming problematic in bahiagrass pastures. Many extension specialists in the southeastern US indicate that soil testing followed by the appropriate amendments is the only way to manage broomsedge. However, with over 18 species of broomsedge present in Florida, an overall recommendation is not likely attainable. For example, bushy bluestem appears to grow better in alkaline soils while purple bluestem grows in acidic soils. Therefore, liming alone may not result in a decrease in density over time. Phosphorus applications have been suggested to eliminate broomsedge, but this has not been documented where subsoils are typically rich in phosphorus. Since no herbicides can selectively remove broomsedge, different management programs must be evaluated for their effectiveness. Therefore, our objective is to determine if soil amendments will reduce broomsedge density. 

This research was initiated in 2012 near Ona and Arcadia, and in 2013 near St. Cloud. Treatments included a 3-way factorial of 0 or soil-test recommended lime, 0 or 500 lb/A 10-5-10 fertilizer, and 0 or 25 lb/A micronutrient mix (Frit 503G). Only the Ona location required an application of lime in 2012 (2 ton/A; initial soil pH = 4.3). Soil pH at Arcadia tested 7.7, and elemental sulfur has been applied annually at 100 lb/A in place of lime. No lime has been added to the St. Cloud location (soil pH = 5.5). Each location is also composed of different broomsedge species, with purple bluestem at Ona, bushy bluestem at Arcadia, and broomsedge bluestem at St. Cloud. Broomsedge density at each site has been counted annually at four geo-referenced locations within each plot. 

Treatments did not result in a reduction in broomsedge densities until after 3 years of application; no change in broomsedge density has been document at St. Cloud since it was initiated one year after Ona and Arcadia. Application of lime at the Ona location increased the soil pH from 4.3 to 5.0. A 43% reduction in purple bluestem density was observed by the addition of lime alone. Similarly, annual applications of N-P-K has resulted in a 38% decrease in purple bluestem density. Sulfur application has had no impact on soil pH in Arcadia, and only annual applications of N-P-K fertilizer has resulted in a decrease in bushy bluestem density by 77%. However, it is important to point out that busy bluestem density has decreased at this location by 40% without any treatment (no sulfur, lime, or micronutrients). Micronutrients have shown no effect on broomsedge density at either location. 

At this point in time, we do not know whether it is the N, P, or K portion of the fertilizer that is affecting broomsedge populations. Additionally, it is too early to suggest that annual applications of N-P-K fertilizer will have long-term impacts on broomsedge densities across the state. These sites will continue to be evaluated for at least two more years. 

This research was supported by the Florida Cattleman’s Association.

For more information contact Brent Sellers at sellersb@ufl.edu.

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Raoul Boughton
Assistant Professor, Range Science and Wildlife Ecology

Picture of Raoul Boughtonhrough ranch development and management the cattle industry has modified and manipulated natural landscapes to improve production of beef. Upon first thought this might be detrimental to wildlife, and for some species that is definitely true, but for others the story is not so simple, and in certain cases the ranch environment is actually preferred. This is particular important for wildlife species that are Threatened, Endangered or have been on the decline that use ranch modified habitats. Examples on Florida ranches include Crested Caracara, Wood Storks, and Burrowing Owls to name a few. One major role of the Rangeland Wildlife and Ecosystem program is to work with ranchers on ranches to identify how important ranch habitats are. You may ask “Why is it so important to know? “. 

I have two answers for you. The first is these large connected ranch environments provide the core habitat for many species and as ranch habitats are slowly developed, the last bastion for some species will be lost. The second is that ranches have conservation value and understanding how ranch habitats are important to a species will increase that value. In turn a thorough understanding should provide the populace and agencies information that will argue for increased dollar incentives to be provided to ranchers to be both beef producers and best practice wildlife managers. From a ranching perspective this can be thought of as diversifying your business. 

A number of incentive and cost share programs already exist, at federal and state levels. Two excellent examples are the USDA NRCS Working Lands for Wildlife program that restores habitat critical to 7 species of wildlife on working lands, and the USDA NRCS Agricultural Conservation Easement Program that will pay up to 50-75% of the land value to conserve current practices that support both agriculture and conservation goals. The more data provided to show the importance of private ranch lands to wildlife the more potential there will be for expanding and extending funding programs. 

We have just embarked on a project to understand the importance of ranchlands to the Florida Burrowing Owl or Ground Owls as a true cracker would call them. If you don’t know, the species has been declining in many places especially along both the east and west coast where development has removed habitat and owls can no longer survive. These little owls are grassland specialists and you can see them hovering across pasture to forage. They excavate 6-10ft burrows in higher drier ground in which they lay eggs, raise their young, and can be found close to during the breeding season. Interestingly, these little owls use pasture as habitat, and what we believe is that short cropped (grazed) pasture is preferred and that ranching is providing habitat to support populations of this species of special concern. Functionally the species is coexisting with cattle on ranches and cattle may improve their habitat through maintaining low vegetation and providing manure nutrients that attracts invertebrate food sources. 

During this project we will be documenting breeding success, population stability, and site fidelity of rural Burrowing Owls, and comparing them to urban populations. Elizabeth White a doctoral graduate student is leading the project and has just started the process of marking all the birds with bands (see photo) so we can track them over time. Some of the questions being asked include: How much space does each breeding pair need in rural and urban habitats? What is the population structure of owls across Florida? Is it one big population where juveniles disperse widely, or are populations isolated? We will answer that question using DNA and genetic analyses to see how alike or different populations are. 

This little owl is an iconic species of grasslands in Florida and in this project we will document how important ranch habitats are to supporting populations of Florida Burrowing owls. The work on Burrowing owls is one example where the Rangeland Wildlife and Ecosystems Program can help collect data to support species continued existence. As well as, provide information to the public and agencies to help raise awareness and funds to support best management conservation practices that ranchers can then provide on their ranches. One day like Gopher Tortoises ranchers may be able to provide habitat to receive urban Burrowing Owls that would have been destroyed by development if not translocated.

For more information contact Raoul Boughton at rboughton@ufl.edu.

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Philipe Moriel
Assistant Professor, Beef Cattle Nutrition 

picture of Philipe MorielJune 1, Dr. Philipe Moriel began his appointment at the UF/IFAS Range Cattle REC, filling the vacant Beef Specialist position. 

Philipe received his bachelor degree in Animal Science from Sao Paulo State University, Brazil, in 2008. After which he moved to the United States where he completed his master’s degree at the University of Wyoming, in 2010. In July 2010, Philipe moved to Ona, where he started his PhD program advised by Dr. John Arthington. At Ona, Philipe worked primarily with nutritional strategies to enhance growth and reproductive performance of early-weaned calves. He obtained his PhD from UF in August 2013 and moved to North Carolina, where he worked until May 2016 as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Animal Science at NC State University (NCSU). There his appointment was 75% extension and 25% research. He developed extension programs designed to enhance livestock production, including practices that improve production efficiency while adding value to cattle. He also developed the education focus at the Western North Carolina Regional Livestock Center and an innovative applied research program at the Mountain and Upper Mountain Research stations which impact livestock production in the region. 

Philipe looks forward to meeting and working with you all in the near future. He can be reached at 863-735-1314 ext. 208. 

For more information contact Philipe Moriel at 863-735-1314 ext. 208.

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Chris Prevatt
Regional Specialized Agent II, Beef Cattle and Forage Economics 

picture of Chris Prevatthe expansion of the U.S. cattle herd has begun increasing the supply of beef which has created shrinking revenues for cattle producers across Florida. In order to weather the storm of herd expansion many producers will have to begin monitoring their production costs more closely as profitability will be challenged in the years ahead. The livestock and forage economics program at the Range Cattle REC has begun working with ranchers on ways they can reduce their cost of production and monitor profitable outcomes. 

Some of the ways we are doing this is by developing more extensive cattle and forage budgets that can be used to help cattle producers better analyze their operations. Due to the many different outcomes, both profitable and unprofitable, can arise from the unlimited combinations of animal and forage production practices, production costs, and market prices received by cow-calf producers. Thus, an understanding of which combinations are profitable will help guide cow-calf producers to make plans and decisions that will improve their cow-calf operation. 

Cow-calf producers can make more profitable management and marketing decisions by using enterprise budgets. Forage and cow-calf budgets have been developed that can be modified for an individual cattle producer. These budgets allow an individual to evaluate potential outcomes for their operation. Also, a decision aid that projects cow-calf profitability based on projected animal performance, production costs, and market prices was developed. This decision aid allows cow-calf producers to analyze the different variables that affect cow-calf profitability to determine what combination of levels of animal performance, production costs, and market prices are profitable. The tables, which include a sensitivity analysis, provide a visual for producers to identify the profitable outcomes using their base projections. Producers then have the opportunity to use their individualized projections to formulate plans for their cow-calf operation to be profitable for the coming year. 

The use of enterprise budgets and decision aides enable producers to examine their expected levels of performance and cost. This prior planning provides cow-calf producers with the necessary economic information and time to make management adjustments that will result in more profitable outcomes.

For more information contact Chris Prevatt at prevacg@ufl.edu.

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Maria Silveira
Associate Professor, Soil and Water Science

Picture of Maria Siveira Land application of biosolids is an environmentally sound management practice for disposal and recycling of wastewater residuals. Biosolids contain essential nutrients and organic matter that can improve soil fertility conditions and crop production. Perennial pastures are good candidates for receiving biosolids as a nutrient source because of their relatively high nutrient requirements relative to most agronomic crops. Although most biosolids applied to pastures convey significant agronomic benefits, concerns over accumulation of nutrients in soils and subsequent impacts on water quality limit land application of biosolids in Florida. Pastures represent the major cropping system where biosolids are recycled in Florida, yet limited information is available to document and support agronomically and environmentally-sound biosolids recycling programs in forage systems. Most studies of the implications of land application of biosolids were conducted under greenhouse and laboratory conditions, and extrapolation to field conditions is problematic. Although these previous research efforts were instrumental in developing guidelines for safe land application of biosolids in many areas of Florida and nationally, the results obtained from these studies are not universally applicable.  Large-scale field trials are essential to accurately assess the risks and benefits of land application of biosolids to pastures in Florida.  In addition, the ability of biosolids to restore and protect soil quality needs further attention. Information is needed to establish soil fertility programs that promote ecosystem services such as soil organic matter accumulation and carbon sequestration while reducing farmer’s dependence on commercial fertilizers. Pastures in Florida are typically low-input systems and have been historically under fertilized and often overgrazed. Biosolids can be valuable resources to improve the sustainability of degraded pastures and to restore ecosystem functions. 

To address FCA Research Priority 9 (Land Application of Biosolids on Pastures), a field trial was established in 2015 at the UF/IFAS Range Cattle REC to evaluate the agronomic benefits of biosolids application on bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum Flugge) pastures. Bahiagrass, soil, and water quality responses will be evaluated and the results are expected to generate important science-based information suitable for demonstrating and promoting the agronomic and environmental benefits of land application of biosolids to pastures in Florida.

For more information contact Maria Silveira at mlas@ufl.edu.

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Joao Vendramini, Associate Professor
Forage Management 

Picture of Joao VendraminiThe forage management program has focused on development and utilization of new limpograss cultivars. A research project concluded in 2015 demonstrated that the new hybrid “Gibtuck” had greater forage accumulation and nutritive value than Floralta when stockpiled from October to January at Ona. In addition, stockpiled Floralta and Gibtuck had sufficient herbage quantity and quality to maintain the body condition score of a mature Brangus cows in the first month (January) of grazing with no supplementation. Although there was sufficient forage quantity to stock the pastures with 1 cow/0.75 acres in February and March, supplementation was required due to the limiting nutritive value of the pasture. A recent research project was initiated in 2016 to evaluate the fertilizer use efficiency of the new limpograss cultivars and investigate further the potential of limpograss hybrid called number “1” for potential release. Although number 1 was not included in the first round of release in 2014, we believe that it has some positive traits that may be beneficial to forage and livestock production in Florida. The results from this research project will be available in 2017.

The use of warm-season legumes to increase nutritive value and offset the cost of nitrogen fertilizer in warm-season grass pastures has also been a topic of interest in the forage management program. The initial project with Arachis pintoi (perennial peanut propagated by seed) was finalized and it was concluded that pintoi peanut is a perennial warm-season legume when intercropped in warm-season grass pastures in South Florida. Pintoi peanut was overseeded into established Jiggs pastures and increased ground cover and contribution in the total forage mass of the pastures in 2 years. However, the production of the cultivar tested, “Amarillo,” was limited to 5% of the total herbage mass of the pasture. Pintoi was also seeded with Argentine bahiagrass in newly established pastures and it increased ground cover in the first year after establishement. The next step on the pintoi peanut development project will be to try to find more productive cultivars and a reliable and cost-effective source of seed.

The use of haylage, baylage, or round-bale silage by beef cattle producers has increased in the last 5 years due to the development of new wrapping machines. The forage management program has researched different methods to improve bermudagrass, stargrass, and limpograss preservation as haylage. Wilting the grass to a 50% dry matter concentration has been the most effective management practice to decrease spoilage and improve fermentation. Adding molasses at 2% (40 lb molasses/1 ton of forage) has also increased nutritive value and fermentation of warm-season grass haylage in South Florida. Currently, a series of commercial inoculants have been tested but their effects were not consistent and further evaluation will be necessary to identify those that consistently improve fermentation of warm-season grass haylage in Florida.

For more information contact Joao Vendramini at jv@ufl.edu.

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You are invited to join us by webinar on June 2, at noon, when we will present the information covered in this Ona Report.  To participate in this webinar you simply need to register online: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/4998538563604812801 or visit our website: https://rcrec-ona.ifas.ufl.edu, a link to registration will be available there. There is no cost to attend.