Welcome to The Blue Ribbon - Youth Livestock Projects blog. The purpose of this blog is to provide information, advice and suggestions for improving youth livestock projects from multiple sources. The information, advice and suggestions in this blog come from professional agricultural educators who have multiple years of experience working with youth and their livestock projects. If you ever have a question or a particular subject you would like addressed, please feel free to contact Scott Stinnett via email, or leave a comment and we will do our best to assist or address the subject. Should the question or subject be more technical, we will help direct you to an appropriate resource for the best possible answer.

Thank you,

Scott Stinnett and The Blue Ribbon Contributors

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Key to Feeding Ruminants is Consistency

All livestock projects need proper nutrition, but proper timing of feeding is also important. Typically, we advise youth to feed project animals twice per day, once in the morning and again in the evening. This is because it follows the normal feeding rhythms of livestock, especially ruminants like cattle, sheep and goats.

Normally ruminants on pasture appear to feed all day long, but if you watch them closely, there are times they are actively eating and other times when they are not. This down time is due to their need to ruminate and digest the forage they have eaten.

Remember a ruminant fills their rumen with forage, then it is the rumen microbes turn to digest and breakdown the food into smaller, more useful forms. This is when we see cattle, sheep or goats, laying down and "chewing their cud". The scientific term for their cud is a bolus. A bolus is partially digested food that needs to be broken down again by chewing and returns back into the rumen for a final microbial digest.

In the afternoon is when we generally observe this behavior of laying down and cud chewing. Animals spend most of the morning grazing and so an afternoon of resting and ruminating is normal. After this afternoon down time, ruminants tend to get up and graze again in the evening and then lay down, ruminate and sleep during the night.

For project animals, we control the times of day when feed and forage is available. It makes sense to feed ruminants when they are used to eating. It is advisable to feed ruminants in the early morning (by 8 AM) and then later in the evening (after 5 PM). Since most show animals are on a grain based diet, they tend to devour their feed rather quickly. I also advise feeding a little hay along with the grain to make the rumen full and give the microbes more to work on. 

Although your project animal will grow more efficiently on grain, an empty rumen is not a good thing. When the rumen is missing feed, the microbes loose their food source and can die out quickly. No microbes, no microbial digestion and no breaking down of feed into useful forms. Keeping some hay available for animals to eat helps keep food in the rumen for the microbes to keep working.

A common mistake I have seen are sudden changes in feeding. Sometimes your schedule changes and you may not be able to feed as normal. It is okay to feed a little earlier or later in the morning and at night, but do not feed everything at once. A sudden increase in feed can cause problems from bloat to acidosis. Skipping a feeding is not a good practice either. No matter how late or tired you are, take time to feed. Skipping a feeding leaves and empty stomach and is also not an ethical practice. How would you like to go without a meal just because someone says they do not have time to cook?

As you move into summer and begin planning how you are going to stay up late and then sleep in, remember, your ruminants need the consistency. So go feed in your PJs or take a break from your evening fun, and keep those feedings consistent.

Scott Stinnett
Area Extension Agent
Kit Carson County
Golden Plains Area
Colorado State University Extension

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The Good and Bad of Mud

When we are raising livestock, mud can be both friend and foe. When it has been dry, mud is a sign of some much needed relief. When mud seems to be a constant, it can be a hiding place for a lot of problems. Having the right amount of mud at the right time is what we would like to see. 

Mud is our friend mostly during the dry and hot times of summer. Mud is one of the most basic ways to maintain or treat dried and cracked hooves on your livestock project. Hooves are made of keratin the same protein that is in our fingernails and toenails. In hot and dry conditions, hooves lacking adequate moisture can begin to crack and split. This cracking and splitting can lead to an open invitation to infections in the hoof and foot. It can also create soreness as the hoof becomes tender. You can use hoof conditioners to treat the dry hooves or you can simply create a little mud. I like to overflow stock tanks and create muddy spots animals must stand in to drink. Animals will come to drink several times a day and standing in the mud can act as a natural hoof conditioner and help to maintain moisture in the hoof. The key is to keep the area slightly muddy where it does not dry out, but not so muddy animals sink in above the hoof. Muddy areas should also be areas free of manure. Muddy manure can invite some pretty nasty bacteria, fungi and viruses to hide and wait to attack a healthy foot. 

Veterinarian checking a hoof for infection.

For your swine project, mud is a great skin conditioner, sunscreen and insect repellent. If you have been taught to keep pigs clean and mud will stain white skin, that is correct. But the upside of mud for pigs is it helps lock moisture into their skin. Think about people who go to a spa and get a mud facial. It works the same way for pigs. A layer of mud and the dirt it leaves behind when it dries, is a great sunscreen and insect repellent. It coats the skin and filters sunlight helping prevent sunburns. It also can provide a layer of protection from biting insects like flies.

A pig enjoying a mud wallow.
Mud can be a foe when there is too much. Wet winters can be the worst at making and keeping mud. Low temperatures and a lack of sunlight prevent mud from drying out and it seems like mud never goes away. Even though hooves need moisture, too much can cause hooves to become soft and instead of cracking, they can tear or become sensitive. Softer hooves also allow bacteria, fungi and viruses in the environment to get into the hoof and foot creating infections. 

Excess mud attached to wool and hair adds extra weight on and animal. In the cattle industry, mud attached above the legs on the body is called a tag. Large amounts of tag mud can actually reduce a calf’s rate of gain in a feedlot so think about what it can do to your show project. 

Feeder calves with tag (mud).
Photo Credit: ag.ndsu.edu
Controlling mud is the key to making it your friend and not your foe. Design animal pens where moisture can drain away and allow them to dry out. Provide a dry place for animals to rest out of the mud during wet weather conditions. When it dries out, provide a place for some mud to be created for animals to stand in or for pigs to wallow in. If you can control when and where mud is available, it can be a great help to your livestock projects.

Scott Stinnett
Area Extension Agent
Kit Carson County
Golden Plains Area
Colorado State University Extension

Friday, May 14, 2021

Safe Swine Handling

Handling swine can be a bit of an adventure to a first time pig owner and even a bit challenging for those who have raised pigs for several years. Unlike cattle, pigs cannot be easily worked in alleys and chutes. Even goats and sheep can be controlled by hand easier than a pig. Learning to use a few simple tools can make swine handling easier and most of all safe for pigs and people.

Moving pigs is usually the first task to learn how to perform and can be done easily using some basic tools. First is using a swine board or sometimes called a sorting board. A swine board is made to be tall enough a pig cannot see over it and wide enough to match at least half of a mature pig's body length. It can be made of wood metal or plastic. Swine boards are used as a portable wall. When moving pigs out of a pen or in an alley way, a swine board visibly blocks off a path of travel for a pig. If the pen or alley is wider than one swine board can block adding another person with a swine board is best.

It is best to use the swine board to do one of two things. Swine boards can be carried behind a pig or group of pigs to encourage them to move away from the board and in the direction you want them to travel. Boards can also be used to help stop or turn a pig. By placing a swine board across an alley just past a turn, a pig will naturally walk toward the board, see their path is blocked and usually make the turn you want them to take.

Photo Credit: pork.org

Other tools include a paddle, flag, cane or driving stick. These are similar to a show stick and are used to drive a pig in a direction by either blocking their direction of travel or lightly tapping on the opposite side of the body from the direction you want them to travel. As they learn about these items they can then be used as a visual cue and just placing the item in the pig's vision will cue them to turn away from it and travel in the direction you want them to go.

Photo Credit: grandin.com

When it comes time to restrain a pig to give an injection, draw blood for a vet check, or ear tagging, there are few options. The easiest method is using a snout snare. A snout snare can be either a commercially purchased item or can be homemade. A snout snare works when a pig opens their mouth slightly and the snare is placed around the upper jaw and snout. When it is pulled snug, a pig cannot back out of it and can be secured for tagging, giving an injection or other veterinary procedure. 

At first look, a snout snare appears to be restricting the pigs ability to breath out of their nose. A properly placed snout snare fits under the upper jaw and over the nasal bone and does not block off any of the pigs nose or nasal passages allowing them to breath normally.

Photo Credit: Virginia Tech, OUV

When using a snout snare, time is the key. If you need to snare a pig to give it an injection of medication, get all of your injection supplies ready first. Then snare the pig, give the injection and release the pig. A pig should be in a snare for less than a minute for tagging or injections, but may need to be secured longer for other veterinary procedures. Snares are not hurtful to a pig, but a pig does stress a bit due to being restrained. The less time in the snare, the less stress on the pig.

As with any other animal, slow and quiet handling is best and creates a low stress situation for pigs and people. Pigs are relatively fast learners and adapt quickly to being moved with swine boards and other driving tools. They also learn what a snare is and will avoid them when they have been used multiple times so use snares only when necessary. 

If you have questions about handling pigs or any other animals, contact your local Extension office.

Scott Stinnett
Area Extension Agent
Kit Carson County
Golden Plains Area
Colorado State University Extension

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Poultry and Summer Heat

     Poultry can be negatively affected by summer heat. There are several factors that can be controlled to help them remain healthy and productive throughout the summer.

     Poultry need to maintain a constant body temperature. For example, chicken’s body temperature ranges between 105°F and 107°F. Poultry have some basic ways of lowering their body temperature. Panting allows poultry to release water vapor from the lungs helping cool the body. Poultry may also hold their wings out which increases surface area and hep them radiate out heat. You can also provide additional items to help poultry deal with high temperatures.

     Water is the most important item for poultry as it is for any other animal. Water should always be available to prevent dehydration which can occur quickly when poultry are already panting. Cool water is preferred to warm or hot water. Waterers should be kept out of sunlight.

     Feed and the bird digesting it can increase body temperature. Feeding poultry during the cooler parts of the day can help prevent overheating.

     A proper shelter is important too. Providing shade gives poultry relief from direct sunlight. It also provides cooler ground where poultry can rest and lay their body against the cool ground. Be careful how you provide shade. A metal roof may give great shade, but the radiant heat created by the sun on the metal may make the area under the shade warmer than the outside air temperature.

     Ventilation is another important factor for a proper shelter. If the shelter can be aligned to take advantage of summer winds, the natural air flow will help to cool the shelter and the poultry. If natural ventilation is not possible, adding fans to move air through the shelter will prevent the air from becoming stale and hot.

     Providing enough space is another factor. The more birds can spread out, the better they are able to regulate their own body temperature. Birds crowded into a shade may produce more body heat than if they were left out of the shade.

     Poultry kept indoors during the summer are at the greatest risk for overheating. Be sure birds have cool water available, shade, space, ventilation and are fed during cool hours. You may choose to use misting systems to help with cooling or put out frozen water bottles for birds to cool themselves against. As long as poultry, indoors or outdoors, can be provided some basic necessities, they can endure the heat of summer very well.

Scott Stinnett
Area Extension Agent
Kit Carson County
Golden Plains Area
Colorado State University Extension