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The Proof is in the Poop Pudding

By   /  August 25, 2014  /  4 Comments

Want to know how much your cattle are gaining per day without weighing them? Here’s how looking at their manure will give you a pretty good idea.

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Here is a lesson in bovine scatology.

You can tell a lot about animal performance from observing the color, texture, and consistency of manure piles. Back when I was in the research business at the U of Moo, we used to weigh beef stockers every 21 or 28 days depending on the project. Before getting cattle in for weighing, we used to look at the manure piles in the pastures and try to estimate what the average daily gain (ADG) for that particular set of steers would be based on the manure output. Several of us got to be quite good at it. Just like you can calibrate your eye to estimate forage yield, you can also calibrate your eye to manure to estimate performance.

I snapped a couple of example photos the other day. In my experience, an animal producing manure like what you see below would be expected to be gaining at least 2 lbs/day.  High performance manner will usually be smooth in texture and make a nice raised dome.

All photos are by Jim Gerrish from the American Grazing Lands, LLC's post.

All photos are by Jim Gerrish from the American Grazing Lands, LLC’s post.

Doing the boot smear assessment, the manure should be creamy and shiny.  There should be little evidence of undigested fiber in the smear as seen below.

BootSmearTestManure

The photo below would only be in the 1.5 range. Indigestible fiber increases with plant maturity or if we ask the cattle to graze too much of the plant. The shape and contour of the pile changes quickly from the smooth dome we saw in the previous two photos to a textured mound. The more undigested fiber, the higher the mound grows.

ManureWithUndigestibleFiber

When we do the boot smear here, the surface is pitted and rough with little sheen to it. Closer examination shows the entire surface consists of undigested fiber segments.

BootSmearUndigestibleManure

If you can keep the cattle’s manure smooth, performance will be good.

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About the author

Jim Gerrish is the author of "Management-Intensive Grazing: The Grassroots of Grass Farming" and "Kick the Hay Habit: A Practical Guide to Year-around Grazing" and is a popular speaker at conferences around the world. His company, American GrazingLands Services LLC is dedicated to improving the health and sustainable productivity of grazing lands around the world through the use of Management-intensive Grazing practices. They work with small farms, large ranches, government agencies and NGO's to promote economically and environmentally sustainable grazing operations and believe healthy farms and ranches are the basis of healthy communities and healthy consumers. Visit their website to find out more about their consulting services and grazing management tools, including electric fencing, stock water systems, forage seed, and other management tools.

4 Comments

  1. Jim Gerrish says:

    Adding grain into the diet as is commonly done in dairy production substantially changes the digestion process and the manure output comparison between desirable manure from a grain-fed and pasture-fed animal are quite different. Supplementing with grain reduces fiber digestion in the rumen, hence the manure from a grain supplemented dairy cow is going contain a higher percentage of undigested fiber resulting in a stiffer, taller standing manure pile.

    Dairy cows that have been selected for very high milk production are much more sensitive to the protein:energy ratio than are beef cattle.Yes, the ration was designed to optimize protein:energy balance, but it comes at the cost of reduced forage digestion. With beef cattle on pasture, we rely on the existing protein and energy components and are hoping to maximize fiber digestion, thus higher performance results in manure with lower levels of undigested fiber passing through the nonsupplemented cow.

    The first photo I showed would probably be considered a 2 in the Hutjens system. This consistency of manure does not run as a #1 would.

  2. Kristin says:

    This is not what I have been taught. Here’s what I understand to be good quality manure:

    http://hayandforage.com/dairyforage-nutrition/score-manure-more-milk

    The top picture in Mr. Gerrish posted looks like a score of 1 on the Hay & Forage article.

    I know one is on beef & one on dairy but I would think we’d be looking for similar shapes & textures.

  3. Steve Washburn says:

    Don’t forget to look for dung beetles as an indicator of good biological actviity in the soil.

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