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Monday, March 7,2005

Researchers compile text on forage toxins

by WLJ
There’s very little chance it will leapfrog “The Da Vinci Code” on any bestseller lists, but a new book compiled and edited by two University of Missouri professors might just gain a devoted cult following. Agronomist Craig Roberts and animal scientist Don Spiers, along with Chuck West of the University of Arkansas, co-edited “Neophytodium in Cool-Season Grasses” (2005 Blackwell Publishing). The less-than-catchy title belies the significance of the work, which addresses every aspect of naturally occurring toxins in pasture grasses’ a huge problem for livestock producers in Missouri and around the world. “Neophytodium” is the Latin word for the fungus also called the endophyte—that occurs in tall fescue grass. Although the endophyte makes tall fescue more resistant to drought and other stresses, the most common strain produces toxins that sicken grazing animals. One of the less obvious symptoms is a dramatic decline in the animal’s weight gain—and the producer’s profits. “It’s been estimated that in the United States, the annual loss to cattle producers alone is $600 million,” Spiers said. “The magnitude of the fescue toxicosis problem is huge. It’s very important to have the latest information on how to address the problem, and this book represents all the authors world-wide who are doing the top work.” He said animal scientists at MU and other institutions are examining genetic markers in grazing animals. “Can we identify animals that are sensitive, remove them and have only those animals that are resistant? Those are the sorts of things we’re looking at.” “Basically, this is an international book,” Roberts said. “It includes contributions from just about every kind of agricultural scientist you can imagine: veterinary toxicology, molecular biology entomology plant pathology, biochemistry—and of course agronomy and animal science. These are all different disciplines, but in here they’re all dealing with toxicology.” Roberts said the book contains “a wide range from basic science to practical applications,” starting with the molecular biology of the endophyte and concluding with “straight practical application: what happens in the field.” Although producers might find the information useful, he said, “It’s intended mostly for educators, researchers and decision-makers in the forage and livestock industry. All graduate students in forage and livestock, veterinary sciences and animal sciences would benefit from this book. They need the straight scoop on this.” A definitive text is long overdue, Roberts said. “With all the phony home remedies, this book will serve as a myth-buster.” The book includes a list of 97 alleged remedies for fescue toxicosis, all recorded by Eldon Cole, MU Extension livestock specialist in Lawrence County. The suggestions are often contradictory and sometimes ridiculous. For example: “Chase sore-footed animals with pickup, horse, dog or four-wheeler to stimulate circulation.” Toxicosis has been a problem in Missouri since the 1940s, when farmers began planting their pastures in tall fescue. “They’ve grown to just accept it as a problem they have to live with, so they take that loss,” Spiers said. “But in this day and time, efficiency is the name of the game, so it’s important they do everything they can to manage this problem.” Roberts predicted that “Neophytodium in Cool-Season Grasses” will have an impact that outstrips its sales figures. “This book will influence agricultural policy,” he said. “Right now, it’s the authoritative book on the subject, and it addresses economics, agriculture, commerce and even ethics.” Spiers agreed. “There is not other book out there as up-to-date as this one is, that has brought all this information together.” For more information or to order a copy of the book, log onto http://store.blackwell-professional.com and insert the following number in the search section (0813801893). — WLJ

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Monday, March 7,2005

Simmental adds $ indices

by WLJ
The American Simmental Association (ASA) has added dollar indices to its Spring 2005 Sire Summary. Working with USDA geneticist, Dr. Mike MacNeil, ASA blended EPDs with five years of economic data on prices and costs to predict the dollar differences between sires when used in a commercial operation. Terminal Index (TI) is designed for evaluating sires’’ economic merit in situations where they are bred to mature Angus cows and all offspring are placed in the feedlot and sold grade and yield. Consequently, maternal traits such as milk, stayability and maternal calving ease are not considered in the index. The All-Purpose Index (API) evaluates sires being used on the entire cow herd (bred to both Angus first-calf heifers and mature cows) with a portion of their daughters being retained for breeding and the remaining heifers and steers being put on feed and sold grade and yield. All EPDs, with the exception of tenderness, are taken into consideration in this index. The indices calculate the estimated differences between bulls in net dollars returned per cow exposed. For example, a bull with a +23 and +1 for TI and API would be expected to return $23 and $1 more per cow exposed than a bull with a 0 for both indexes. Besides being a tool to improve seedstock, commercial producers can use these indices to determine how much a bull is worth. Or, put another way, how much they can pay for one bull compared to another. For example, when buying a terminal sire, a producer can quickly figure a bull scoring +30 for TI is worth an extra $3,600 over a $0 bull if both are exposed to 30 cows over 4 years ($30 x 30 head x 4 years = $3,600). For more information visit ASA’s web site at www.simmental.org, or contact Dr. Wade Shafer at 406/587-4531. — WLJ

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Monday, March 7,2005

Senate opposes Canada imports

by WLJ
— USDA’s final import rule nixed. — House proposal expected next. The full Senate voted 52-46 in favor of a resolution of disapproval against USDA’s proposed final rule concerning imports from “minimum BSE risk” countries. A similar proposal is expected to be introduced in the House of Representatives over the next two weeks, sources said. The Senate resolution, originally introduced by Sen. Kent Conrad, D-ND, specifically cited the issue of allowing live cattle and an expanded category of beef from Canada beginning March 7. The resolution means that a majority of the Senate is against USDA implementing its final rule concerning imports from countries that USDA deems as having minimum risk for BSE and that possible legislation concerning the issue might be proposed in the future if the agency doesn’t work toward amending or changing the rule, congressional aides told WLJ. On the House side, Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-ND, is expected to propose a similar resolution of opposition before mid-month. Aides with several House members said they expect a similar result as in the Senate concerning a vote on the issue. However, the bill is expected to hit a roadblock in the form of President George W. Bush, who isn’t expected to sign it. His veto of the bill could be overrode, but it takes a two-thirds vote in the Senate, and whether that much support exists is uncertain. Aides with several Democrat representatives said that last week’s decision by a federal court judge to delay reopening the border will help efforts to force USDA to rethink the final cattle and beef import rule. In addition, Pomeroy, in a published statement, praised R-CALF USA for its legal challenge of USDA’s rule and said it gives notice that regulatory actions aren’t beyond reproach. “It is not the first time R-CALF has prevailed against USDA in court. The last ruling found that USDA was exploiting a very narrow window for the import of boxed beef and that they had blown open a loophole beyond any recognition. This is the second judicial success they’ve had, and it reflects on the shoddy work product of USDA,” Pomeroy said. — Steven D. Vetter, WLJ Editor

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Monday, March 7,2005

Southwest rolls out stock ID

by WLJ
A program to register and identify livestock is being launched in Arizona to help quickly trace the origin of diseased animals. The Tri-National Livestock Health and Identification Consortium will begin as a voluntary program but will eventually be required of all livestock breeders and owners, said Katie Decker, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Agriculture. Arizona will join Colorado, New Mexico and two Mexican states in the pilot program. "It's consumer-driven. The consumer wants food safety," she said. The program is being spearheaded by agricultural officials in Colorado, Decker said, and Arizona will sign an agreement later this month to participate. Larger animals will have radio frequency identification tags implanted in their ears. Smaller animals will be tagged differently, but officials haven't yet decided how. The identification system, which will allow authorities to trace the origin of an infected animal within 48 hours, will eventually apply to all but domesticated pets, Decker said. Arizona officials hope to get at least 20% of the state's food producers to participate by the end of the year, said Albert A. Davis, a project specialist with the state agriculture department. Some breeders have already objected to the program, however. "Privacy is a grave concern to ranchers. They don't want their competitors to know their numbers (of cattle)," Davis said. But only the state veterinarian will be given access to the database, and access will be restricted to times when an animal is diagnosed with an infectious disease, like tuberculosis or BSE, Davis said. At least one local cattleman said he plans to sign up his company for the program. "I'm all for it," said Scott Shill, cattle and feedlot manager for Wellton-based McElhaney Cattle Co. "It will improve our ability to track diseases and any kind of problem with the system.” The USDA is expected to eventually require all livestock owners to participate but no date has yet been set. — WLJ

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Monday, March 7,2005

Sun Capital buys Creekstone

by WLJ
Sun Capital Partners, a private investment firms with positions in dozens of U.S. companies, including retailers like Mervyns and Sam Goody, has acquired a majority interest in Creekstone Farms. John Stewart, the company's chairman and holder of a large minority stake, will continue to operate Creekstone. According to Stewart, Sun will also invest additional money in the company to expand its physical plant to give it added scale. "That will allow us access to additional major retail accounts," Stewart said, "and that will put us in a position to become the natural beef leader nationwide.” "We are very enthusiastic about our relationship and investment in Creekstone, a company with a top-notch plant, brand and management team," said Steven Liff, managing director, Sun Capital. “Through our investment, the company will be able to take advantage of new opportunities to grow much faster and accomplish its goal to become the market leader in branded beef.” Creekstone specializes in Black Angus Beef and Natural Black Angus Beef programs, with all animals raised without antibiotics or hormones, fed a vegetarian diet, and source-verified back to the farm of origin. No terms for the acquisition were announced. Additional Creekstone sources indicated to WLJ last week that the company’s inability to test cattle for BSE and ship beef to Japan and other overseas market hurt their ability to compete with larger processors and that getting another investor in the fold helps them maintain their business viability. — WLJ

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Monday, March 7,2005

Texas creates ID

by WLJ
A Texas animal health official says a national animal identification program will help the livestock industry stay ahead of threatening diseases that could hurt farms nationwide. "It (the identification system) enables us to protect animal health in our country as best as we possibly can," Bob Hillman, executive director of the Texas Animal Health Commission, told beef producers at the 43rd Blackland Income Growth Conference recently in Waco. Though a mandatory animal identification program has yet to be established, the animal health commission is already issuing premises identification numbers on a voluntary basis. The commission assigns premises identification numbers to farms, ranches, feedlots, livestock markets and other locations with an address and having livestock handling facilities. Producers can go to the Web at http://www.tahc.state.tx.us and sign up electronically, or call 800-550-8242. Approximately 200 premises identification numbers have been issued statewide, Hillman said. However, electronic ear tags, database infrastructure and other aspects of the system are still in development, hinging on the amount of federal money allocated for the system. Electronic ear tags could be ready for distribution to those with premises identification numbers by mid-year, Hillman says. By 2006 mandatory premises identification could be required, but 2008 is more realistic before required participation in the animal identification program is implemented, he says. If an outbreak of the highly contagious hoof-and-mouth disease were to hit the United States' beef industry, the identification program would allow animal health officials "to get ahead of the disease." "We've got to have that ability," he says. The goal of the national identification system, in cases such as hoof-and mouth disease, is to identify any suspicious animals within 48 hours and all the places they have been. Consumer confidence and strengthening food safety are other advantages the program would bring. — WLJ

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Monday, March 7,2005

USDA: Beef production to slow

by WLJ
Beef production will be slower than expected after Canadian cattle are allowed back into the U.S. this month, the Agriculture Department said. Cattle prices should remain relatively high because of competition between U.S. and Canadian packing houses, according to a report issued by the Agriculture Department’s chief economist. Banned since the discovery of BSE in May 2003 in Alberta, live cattle imports from Canada are scheduled to resume on March 7. “Based on increased slaughter of steers and heifers in Canada, U.S. packers will have to compete more aggressively for the pool of slaughter-ready cattle, somewhat dampening an expected decline in fed steer prices.” Average prices for slaughter-ready cattle should be $80 to $85 per 100 pounds (45 kilograms), the report said. The 2004 average was $84.75. Commercial beef production is estimated to be 25.7 billion pounds (11.6 billion kilograms) this year. That’s 400 million pounds (180 million kilograms) less than the department had projected for 2005. The change was because Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns decided not to allow meat from older Canadian animals into the U.S. on March 7. Now, imports of meat as well as live cattle will be restricted to animals younger than 30 months. The brain-wasting disease is thought to pose less of a risk to younger animals. The department also dropped its estimate for cattle imports, saying it expects Canada to ship about 1.3 million head to the U.S., not two million as previously projected. Ranchers have been seeing near-record prices for cattle, and a ranchers’ group is suing to keep the border closed. A meatpackers group is suing to open the border even wider, expanding what’s allowed to include older animals as well. Packers say the ban has cost the industry more than $1.7 billion in revenues. — WLJ

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Monday, March 7,2005

Tyson fined for environmental violations

by WLJ
Tyson Foods Inc. Springdale, AK, will pay an $18,400 fine to settle several environmental violations that occurred last year at its Temperanceville, VA, poultry processing plant, according to the Virginian-Pilot (Hampton Roads, VA) newspaper. The newspaper said processor will also upgrade the processing plant. The State Water Control Board, which next meets on March 15 in Richmond, must approve the settlement. The board can alter the terms but usually adopts what state regulators have negotiated with violators. According to a proposed settlement with Virginia regulators, problems surfaced at the Accomack County complex last May, when an inspector from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality saw wastewater spilling from an earthen holding pond into a local stream. Processing plant wastes were seeping onto the ground from a malfunctioning pump station nearby, according to case records. The newspaper said the plant reported another wastewater spill two months later about the same time regulators were noticing high levels of copper, a toxic material, in Tyson discharges. Tyson operates its own sewage system at the plant. Under a state permit, the system releases thousands of gallons of treated wastewater per day into Sandy Bottom Branch, a marshy tributary of the Pocomoke Sound and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay. Sandy Bottom is classified as impaired by the state environment department, meaning it does not meet clean-water standards in this case because of too much copper and phosphorus. State officials said Tyson has maintained a strong environmental record during its years in Temperanceville. But for its recent problems, the company received four violation notices in June, July, September, and November 2004—and the $18,400 fine. In letters from Tyson officials, the newspaper said, the company blamed a combination of bad weather, bad timing, poor housekeeping and tighter state regulations for most of the troubles. Heavy rains in April and May last year overwhelmed the holding pond, which accepts wastewater from the 35-acre processing plant complex. This, combined with some pumping outages and sediment buildup in the pond, largely caused the overflows in May and July, company officials said. In response to the incidents: • The earthen berm has been raised and thickened by 113 percent to prevent future overflows. • Although the copper concentrations exceeded state limits, the company said they should not be considered harmful or toxic. • Tyson spent $75,000 last year on a chemical additive to neutralize copper—which it said worked most of the time. • The company is studying continued high measures of copper in its discharges, and may ask the state to revise its stricter copper limits, first imposed in 2000. — WLJ

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Monday, March 7,2005

Texas groups request Japanese sanctions

by WLJ
The leaders of two Texas producer organizations say the Bush administration should impose economic sanctions on Japan due to Japan’s unwillingness to open its market for U.S. beef. According to Bob McCan, president of Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, efforts by the Bush administration and industry have gone the extra mile in proving U.S. beef is free from BSE, but Japan continues to stall on the issue. “Japanese consumers are expressing a desire and need for safe and wholesome U.S. beef,” said Texas Cattle Feeders Association Chairman Charlie Sellers. “The time has come for us to take these efforts to a new level, especially in light of the significant trade deficit with Japan.” The two leaders, in a letter sent to the Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico delegations in Washington, DC, requested congressional support to help the cattle industry resume international beef trade. It has been over a year since the United States’ only case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy was discovered in a Canadian cow. Japan immediately closed its border to imports of U.S. beef, and negotiations to reopen that crucial market have apparently stalled in spite of continued efforts by top administration officials in the ensuing months. Since the major export markets for U.S. beef closed Dec. 23, 2003, cattle producers have suffered an economic loss of $3.1 billion. Sellers, McCan and the members they represent now believe the time has come to impose economic sanctions. “We don’t take economic sanctions lightly,” the two leaders said.”Japan is an important trading partner, which only underscores the need to restore common sense to BSE import rules now.” — WLJ

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Monday, March 7,2005

Vaccine developed to prevent cattle liver abscess

by WLJ
It's a pretty safe bet you won't hear this request from your kids: "More liver, please." If you do, however, there will be no shortage of the iron-rich delicacy most kids love to hate thanks to a vaccine developed by Kansas State University professors. T.G. Nagaraja, a professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology in K-State's College of Veterinary Medicine, and M.M Chengappa, university distinguished professor of microbiology and department head of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology, have developed a vaccine that prevents liver abscesses in cattle. The vaccine was recently given approval by the United States Department of Agriculture. The KSU Research Foundation and Schering-Plough, a global science-based health care company, have a licensing agreement to market the vaccine. Schering Plough Animal Health corporation further developed the product and worked with USDA to get license approval for the vaccine. According to Nagaraja, abscesses are a common malady found mostly in grain-fed cattle, the result of an aggressive feeding program. He said about 20 to 40 percent of the grain-fed cattle in feedlots are afflicted with abscesses, which cannot be detected until the animals are slaughtered. While the organ is condemned and not used, in most instances the remainder of the carcass is approved for sale. "If you look at the animal you can't tell if they're abscessed or not," Nagaraja said. "They look normal, so they don't show any clinical signs. The only time we see the problem is when animals are slaughtered." The abscesses are caused by bacteria present in the rumen, the first of four compartments that comprise a cow's stomach. That compartment contains numerous microorganisms beneficial in assisting the animal digest food. According to Nagaraja, who began researching the vaccine 14 years ago, the liver is a very well defended organ. So much so that he calls it the "Pentagon" because it has "so many systems" of defense. However, under certain conditions, when this bacteria crosses the stomach wall and gets into the blood stream, it is trapped inside the liver, producing a toxin that kills white blood cells or leukocytes, which generally defend the body from germs or infections. The vaccine prevents abscesses from occurring by neutralizing the toxin, a protein. Once injected into the animal, antibodies are produced that act on the protein. When the bacteria goes into the liver and produces the toxin, antibodies neutralize it and allow the leukocytes to survive. These white blood cells can, in-turn, kill the bacteria. "That's not a new concept; it's been done with other bacteria," Nagaraja said. "But it was new for this organism that we were able to identify strains that are able to optimize conditions for production of large amounts of leukotoxins." According to Nagaraja, abscesses are a significant economic liability to producers, packers and consumers. He said the liver condemnation, which he estimates to cost about $5 per head, is just one of the economic losses of this disease. Occasionally, the entire carcass must be condemned because the abscess in rare instances causes adhesions to other organs or ruptures, spilling pus into other organs. Economic impacts may also include reduced feed intake, reduced weight gain, decreased feed efficiency and decreased carcass yield. According to Nagaraja, reduced animal performance is the major economic impact of the problem. — WLJ

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