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Friday, September 12,2008

Students encouraged to apply for Beef Industry Scholarships

by WLJ
Applications are being accepted for the 2009 Beef Industry Scholarship program, sponsored by the National Cattlemen’s Foundation (NCF) and the CME Group. All entries must be postmarked by October 1, 2008. Ten scholarships of $1,500 will be awarded to young people pursuing careers in the beef industry. The program encourages talented and thoughtful students who have demonstrated a commitment to a career in the beef industry, either through classes, internships or life experience. Graduating high school seniors or full-time undergraduate students enrolled at a two-year or four-year college for the 2009-2010 academic school year are eligible to apply. Applications must include a 750-word essay that identifies a key issue confronting the beef industry and suggests a solution. Applicants must also submit a letter expressing future career goals and two letters of recommendation. A full description of the scholarship program, submission requirements and an online application can be found at the NCF Web site: www.nationalcattlemensfoundation.org/scholarship.aspx, or by calling 303/850-3372. In addition to a scholarship, the first-place winner will receive airfare and lodging to attend the Cattle Industry Annual Convention and Trade Show in Phoenix, AZ, January 28-31, 2009. The Beef Industry Scholarship program is a cooperative effort of the CME Group NCF that was launched in 1989 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Live Cattle Futures Contract on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. The CME Group has been a leader in the live cattle market since 1964, and the Beef Industry Scholarship program exemplifies their commitment to the beef industry. — WLJ

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Friday, September 12,2008

New contact for popular program

by WLJ
In 1967, a South Dakota cattlewoman started a program that provided a big boost to promoting South Dakota beef. The plan seemed simple enough. While it might not be practical to give actual beef product as a gift, why not develop a beef certificate that could be given to others so that they could buy beef at retail stores or restaurants? Now, for more than 40 years, individuals, businesses or organizations have purchased the South Dakota Beef Certificate for a variety of occasions, from gifts for bridal showers and anniversaries and Christmas or as part of a special company promotion. The result has been tens of thousands of consumers buying and enjoying South Dakota’s favorite product because someone was thoughtful enough to give them a South Dakota Beef Certificate. Today, the organization that operates the program, the South Dakota Cattle Women (SDCW), has announced that there is a new contact for the South Dakota Beef Certificate program. Lindy Harkin, of Winner, has been hired to maintain the program. Other than a new contact person, South Dakotans will see no changes to this long-time and popular promotion tool. "We sell tens of thousands of Beef Certificates each year," says SDCW President Nancy Stirling Neuhauser. "We’ve been doing this as a service to the beef industry, and people have come to rely on Beef Certificates as a gift that they can package easily or send through the mail. Not only is giving Beef Certificates as gifts a great way to promote beef, but you’re also providing the recipient with a nutrient-dense and delicious protein that they will truly enjoy." Neuhauser says there have been other unique uses for the Beef Certificates, including purchase of thousands of dollars worth of the certificates by an organization to use through food pantries across the state. The idea for the program, explains Neuhauser, originated with Winnie Bones. President of what was then called South Dakota CowBelles, Bones had been impressed with a similar program in Nebraska and Texas. She developed and ran the early Beef Certificate program from her farm home near Sioux Falls for several years until it was moved to the South Dakota Stockgrowers office in Rapid City. There, Darlene Huettel, assisted by several other dedicated CowBelles—now called South Dakota CattleWomen—mailed out the certificates and kept the program’s records until 10 years ago, when Alice Hendrickson of Caputa, SD, took the responsibility, with assistance from the Black Hills Belles CattleWomen. When Hendrickson announced that she was retiring, the SDCW decided it was time to hire a full-time manager of the program, says Neuhauser. "We want South Dakotans to know that the Beef Certificate program is up and running and still in business, only at a different address and phone number," says Neuhauser. "We’re excited that we have a full-time person now to handle requests. We also want to thank the South Dakota Stockgrowers for allowing us to maintain the project in their office for so many years. It’s a time-consuming effort, especially during the holidays when Beef Certificates are especially popular. The effectiveness of this program is due to the efforts of so many people throughout the years." To order South Dakota Beef Certificates in $5, $10, $20 or $25 denominations, contact Lindy Harkin, P.O. Box 451, Winner, SD 57580, 605/842-9066, llharkin@goldenwest.net. Beef Certificates also continue to be available at various banks, through SDCW members, or through the offices of the South Dakota Stockgrowers in Rapid City or South Dakota Beef Industry Council office in Pierre. Beef Certificates are redeemable at most retail outlets and restaurants. — WLJ

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Friday, September 12,2008

Fed cattle prices steady to weaker

by WLJ
A broad-based sell-off in the commodity markets last week and the Goldman Sachs commodity roll limited expectations for improved cash trade last week. At mid-day last Thursday, there was only light trade in Iowa and Minnesota reported at prices between $149 and $153, with most trade in the $151-152 range dressed basis although volume was too light to call the trend. Analysts were calling the week’s trade steady to weaker with live trade in the southern Plains expected in a range of $98-99 when it developed. Prior week trade came at $99 in the southern Plains, while fed cattle in Nebraska sold from $98-99. Iowa/Minnesota live sales ranged from $97-97.50 with dressed sales from $153-156. The commodity sell-off last week led to some erosion among those who expected continued upward movement in beef prices as the industry heads into the fourth quarter. However, some carry-over from lackluster August marketings and improved feed efficiency means that some of the fourth quarter supplies are likely front-loaded, DTN analyst John Harrington explained last week. That, combined with a slowing export market as the U.S. dollar rebounds, is putting more pressure on the domestic market, which is unable to sustain prices at high levels, he said. "Disappointing beef and pork prices at this time may suggest that surging export demand through the first half of the year hid the exact softness of domestic demand. Now that the sizzle has come off foreign demand, struggling hometown demand is painfully clear," said Harrington last week. However, the news may not be all bad for cattle feeders who are relying on the market to reach projected levels in order to improve margins before the end of the year. "If the early fall is front-loaded as suggested, it could bode well for the manageability of fed supplies next month. The same factors that may force producers to swallow hard this month could cause the October offering to be even tighter than originally anticipated," Harrington noted. Cow beef markets also showed some slight weakness last week as producers begin to send culls to market. Analyst Troy Vetterkind, Vetterkind Cattle Brokerage, said last week that the prices in the next two weeks should be taken advantage of before they begin to decline seasonally. "The bulk of your better-yielding cutter and boner cows (are bringing) $53-$63," he said. "We are probably close to seeing the best of the slaughter cow market for the rest of the year in the next couple of weeks." The cow beef cutout slipped back slightly last Thursday during morning trade to $138.64, with the 90 percent trim trading at $173.25 and the 50 percent lean up to $94.45. USDA estimated cow and bull slaughter for last Thursday at 25,000 head, steady with prior week numbers. Fed steer and heifer slaughter remained robust last week at an estimated 510,000 head, compared to the prior week’s holiday-shortened total of 387,000 head. Despite some stagnation in the beef prices, last week’s tally was well above year-ago totals of 491,000 head harvested. Much-improved packer margins from year-ago levels are responsible for the current chain speeds at packing plants. Last Thursday, HedgersEdge.com estimated packer margins in positive territory at $14.85 per head, well above last year’s per-head losses. The current profitability of packers is largely the result of improved boxed beef prices, which come on the heels of sharply higher exports from year-earlier numbers. Last Thursday’s morning Choice cutout stood at $160.26, up slightly from the prior day’s trade and well above year-ago prices of $146.05. Likewise, Select values were at $153.78 compared to year-earlier prices of $139.32. What remains to be seen is how export markets will hold up if the world economy continues to cool, and whether or not domestic demand can fill the void to support prices if it does. — WLJ  

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Friday, September 12,2008

Feeder cattle market mixed as managers face tough decisions

by WLJ
Wild fluctuation in the corn markets and uncertainty over the large variation in harvest predictions has led to an up-again, down-again feeder cattle market. Buyers looking to place cattle on feed have had a tough time recently in deciding whether to take heavier, bunk-ready cattle over the attractive prices on quality, lighter-weight calves which have seen a decrease in demand as corn prices stay high. The fall calf run has started and has been fairly heavy in many auction markets around the country, but for feedlot operators without a comparatively cheap source of feed, questions concerning the corn markets have caused many buyers to remain cautious. Although finding forage at reasonable prices hasn’t been easy, recent analysis in some of the major feeding areas has shown that cheaper gains can be had by backgrounding cattle on grass before switching them to corn. Prospective buyers have already started switching their attitude and have begun searching for lighter cattle at decent prices to run as stockers. Darrell Mark, professor of ag economics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, recently spent time examining the historic breakevens when comparing systems that feed out either lightweight calves or yearlings in the feedlot. As buyers begin putting pencils to paper and the corn markets continue to shake, the research takes on greater importance. "As corn prices have more than doubled in the last two years, cattle producers increasingly look for alternatives to finishing calves exclusively in feedlots on high concentrate rations," Mark said, pointing out that feeders have traditionally placed a high proportion of fall-weaned calves on feed in the fall and sold them as fed cattle in May before seasonal summer price declines. "However, as feeding cost of gain has increased from about $50/cwt to nearly $100/cwt in the past two years, livestock operators have more incentive to background calves during the winter and following summer on forages and delay placing the cattle on feed until they are long yearlings at the end of the summer grazing season," he noted. "However, one factor that must be considered before changing the production system is cattle size. Large-framed, heavy calves weaned in the fall may have to be fed as calf-feds to minimize overweight carcasses." Mark points to UNL research which examined the performance of both calf-fed and yearling feeding operations from 1996 to 2007. Findings indicate that the difference in returns between the two systems is relatively small (around $4 per head), but highly variable, as shown in Figure 1. Average returns to the calf and yearling systems were $20.83 per head and $16.77 per head, respectively, but ranged from losses exceeding $175 per head and to profits greater than $350 per head. In the ten years of the study where both systems were directly comparable, Mark notes, the yearling system was more profitable than calf finishing in four years and less profitable in six of the years. There also seemed to be little correlation between higher profits in the yearling system and high corn prices. "As cattle feeders, backgrounders and ranchers considering retained ownership look ahead to this fall’s calf crop, decisions need to be made whether to place calves on feed or background them through the winter, and possibly the following summer, and not place them on feed until they are long yearlings next fall," he explained. "Assuming cattle performance in these systems is similar to the previous years in this study and using forecasted prices as of late August 2008, it appears that the yearling system could generate returns of $69.48 per head, compared to $2.40 per head for calves placed directly on feed and targeted to sell in May 2009." Last week’s sale at the Oklahoma National Stockyards in Oklahoma City, OK, saw receipts of 11,721, where compared to the previous sale, feeder steers were steady to $1 higher, with feeder heifers mostly steady. Calves were steady to $4 higher, with the advance coming on the weaned kinds. The run included a string of fresh, ranch-raised calves sold in large bunches to very good demand. Demand for feeder cattle was good with widespread buyer participation. Demand was moderate for steers over 850 lbs. and heifers over 800 lbs. as these cattle were in light supply. Average quality of the offerings improved some last week. Steers weighing 720 lbs. sold for $113.15, while heifers weighing 727 lbs. sold at $108.17. The Joplin Regional Stockyards near Joplin, MO, received 7,000 head of cattle last week, where compared to the previous sale, steers were steady with instances of 600-800 lb. steers steady to $1 higher. Heifers under 650 lbs. were steady to $2 higher, with weights over 650 lbs. steady. However, several lower-quality heifer calves were $1-2 lower. Demand was moderate for calves, and moderate to good for yearlings. Feeder steers weighing an average of 730 lbs. brought $111.93, while heifers weighing 722 lbs. sold for $105.45. Last week’s sale at the Winter Livestock Feeder Cattle Auction in Dodge City, KS, offered 2,425 head for sale, where compared to the previous week, steers from 600-900 lbs. and heifers from 650-950 lbs. were weak to $2 lower. Steers weighing 600 lbs. and heifers weighing 650 lbs. and under carried a lower undertone, though there were not enough for an adequate market test. Buyers paid $114.25 for steers weighing an average of 724 lbs. and $103 for fleshy heifers weighing 735 lbs. There were 3,000 cattle received last week at the Huss Livestock Market in Kearney, NE, where steers and heifers traded steady to $3 lower. Demand was moderate to good and trade activity was mostly moderate. Some 43 percent of the heifer offerings at this sale were spayed. Steers weighing 719 lbs. brought $110.88, while 741 lb. heifers were good for $107.71. Good demand was noted for the 851 cattle received last week at the La Junta Livestock Commission Company in La Junta, CO, where compared to the previous sale, steer and heifer calves were steady to $1 higher. Yearling feeder steers and heifers were steady. Steers with a full weigh-up of 804 lbs. brought $108.85, while heifers weighing 860 lbs. sold at $95.50. The Torrington Livestock Commission Company in Torrington, WY, offered 1,200 head at last week’s sale, where steers and heifers were steady to $2 lower in a limited test on moderate to good demand. Buyers paid $109 for 767 lb. steers, and $105.51 for heifers weighing 773 lbs. A good run of 5,614 head was seen last week at the Miles City Livestock Commission Company in Miles City, MT, which had the first reported sale of fall feeder cattle. No trend was available due to no recent sale, though demand was good for several thin-fleshed packages. Steers weighing 736 lbs. sold at $110.48, while 724 lb. heifers brought $105.09. Last week’s sale at the Stockland Livestock Auction in Davenport, WA, saw receipts of 968 head, where active trade and moderate to good demand was noted for all offerings. No trend could be established due to a dark market as a result of the Labor Day holiday the previous week. Steers weighing an average of 724 lbs. sold at $101.03, while 784 lb. heifers were good for $89.50. — WLJ

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Friday, September 12,2008

49BeefBits

by WLJ
Texas Beef Council cuts budget Following a lengthy budgeting process, the Texas Beef Council (TBC) Board of Directors approved a $6.36 million Checkoff program budget for Fiscal 2009 that includes beef advertising, marketing, nutrition outreach, promotions at consumer events and in retail, export efforts, foodservice communications and more. The new budget reflects a $490,000 decrease from last year. "With Checkoff collections significantly down again, leveraging Checkoff dollars is more important now than ever," said TBC Executive Vice President Richard Wortham. "TBC works very hard to partner and align ourselves with retail and foodservice companies and beef industry organizations that are willing to contribute to our demand-building programs in efforts to stretch the Checkoff dollar as far as possible." Korean demand for U.S. beef strong Chuseok, or Korean Thanksgiving, has had U.S. beef flying off the shelves in South Korea. Consumers, burdened by steep inflation, are looking to U.S. beef, which is much cheaper than the homegrown variety. The Korea Meat Import Association (KOMIA) has said that some 30 tons of U.S. beef was sold in the association’s nine directly-run stores in just a few days leading up to the holiday, three times more than usual. "It seems there was a huge potential demand for U.S. beef, although the social atmosphere did not allow it to surface. Sales of U.S. beef will dramatically increase after Chuseok," said the president of KOMIA. According to the National Veterinary Research and Quarantine Service in Korea, over 10,000 tons of U.S. beef has passed inspection in just two months. Tyson to liquidate 20 million shares Springdale, AR-based Tyson Foods recently announced that it intends to offer 20 million shares of common stock for sale, as well as $450 million in convertible senior notes due 2013, and use the proceeds from both to grow its business. "Net proceeds from the offerings are expected to be used to repay portions of the outstanding borrowings under Tyson’s accounts receivable credit facility and for other general corporate purposes such as acquisitions, strategic investments and initiatives to grow the company’s business," Tyson said in a news release. Analyst Farha Aslam wrote that he predicts the cash will be used for foreign investment. "We believe that the bulk of the proceeds will be used to fund international acquisitions—in China, Brazil, Mexico and India." Korea to send additional inspectors South Korea has announced it plans to send inspectors to U.S. slaughterhouses to ensure those facilities are following proper export protocol. Seven experts from the National Veterinary Research and Quarantine Service will be sent to 22 U.S. meat processing and packing facilities. If approved, the number of eligible U.S. meat exporters will expand to 52. "They are to check if the facilities can safely remove specified risk material and properly control the age of animal that can be slaughtered for export to South Korea," a Korean official told a local news agency. Included in the list of plants the inspectors will visit is the Omaha, NE-based Nebraska Beef Ltd., in order to determine the measures the company has taken to counter the E. coli outbreak of earlier this summer. Beef trade limits domestic supplies Domestic beef supplies will remain tight due to increased beef exports and fewer beef imports, according to Kansas State University Ag Economics professor Jim Mintert. The combination, Mintert said, of larger exports and smaller imports meant net beef trade for January through June was down 553 million pounds compared to a year earlier. The Livestock Marketing Information Center (LMIC) forecasts per capita beef supplies this year will fall 2 percent below 2007 levels. This prediction assumes beef exports will grow 27 percent by 2008, while beef imports will fall 21 percent. Based on first half actual performance, Mintert said per capita beef supplies could decline more than LMIC has predicted. Mintert believes these tighter domestic beef supplies will help support prices across all beef marketing sectors. Agriprocessors faces child labor charges A criminal complaint has been filed by the Iowa attorney general’s office against Agriprocessors, Inc., a kosher meat packing plant in Postville, IA. The lawsuit accuses Agriprocessors of violating child labor laws such as illegally employing minors at a meat processing or rendering plant and exposing minors to dangerous chemicals. Other charges include employing persons under age 16 for more hours per day and more days per week than the law allows, and employing persons under age 16 in positions that involve operating power machinery. The violations allegedly occurred from September 2007 to May 2008, when immigration officials raided the plant and arrested 389 people on charges of identity theft and using false identification to gain employment.

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Friday, September 12,2008

Testing forages will pay dividends

by WLJ
Forages for winter feed will be in short supply in many areas of North Dakota that experienced moderate to severe drought during the 2008 growing season. That shortage will create emergency situations in which livestock producers will use nontraditional feedstuffs and hay from Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands as a substantial portion of the ration for their animals. However, some of these forages may be low in nutritional value and high in nitrate, resulting in livestock that are undernourished or at risk of being poisoned by nitrate. Having the forages tested is the best way for producers to know the quality of feed their livestock is consuming, according to Kevin Sedivec, North Dakota State University (NDSU) Extension Service rangeland specialist, and Greg Lardy, NDSU Extension beef cattle specialist. Emergency forages with the potential for nitrate toxicity include small grains such as wheat, barley and oats; late-season crops such as corn and sunflowers; and weeds such as kochia and pigeongrass. Small grains that were planted for grain but harvested for hay due to drought stress conditions will have a greater risk for toxic levels of nitrates. Sedivec suggests producers collect a core sample from three to five bales from each field and send them to a reputable laboratory for nitrate level testing. NDSU publication V-839, Nitrate Poisoning of Livestock, will help producers interpret the test results. The publication is available online at http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/an sci/livestoc/v839.pdf. Producers who have high nitrate levels should visit with their local county Extension agent for recommendations on feeding high-nitrate feeds. Lardy says predicting the nutritive value of other emergency forages, such as hay cut on CRP wildlife land, as well as crop residues such as corn stalks, is difficult without utilizing the services of a qualified nutrition laboratory. Using book values for these types of forages can lead to erroneous conclusions about forage quality. He strongly encourages livestock producers to test these feeds for nutritional components and, if pertinent, nitrate levels. Certain CRP lands in the region were eligible for haying beginning Aug. 2. Nutritional quality can vary dramatically with CRP hay. Nutritive quality depends on when the field was last hayed or grazed, timing of haying relative to forage maturity, and the proportion of alfalfa to grass, as well as precipitation. In many cases, much of the hay from CRP and wildlife lands harvested in August will be deficient in protein and energy for most classes of livestock, the NDSU specialists warn. Minerals and vitamins, especially Vitamin A, also can be deficient. Producers should have their hay tested for protein, energy, calcium, phosphorus and Vitamin A. CRP hay, as well as most grass-dominant hays, harvested in August will have a crude protein value of less than 7 percent and digestibility value of less than 50 percent. However, if the CRP or hay field was green when harvested or contained greater than 30 percent alfalfa, nutritional quality can approach 9 percent to 11 percent crude protein and digestibility greater than 55 percent. If the field was brown and dry, crude protein can be as low as 5 percent and digestibility less than 45 percent. If the CRP field has not been cut for three or more years and standing litter is high, nutritional quality will be well below the needs of all classes of livestock. Testing forages will allow management decisions that improve livestock productivity, as well as improve overall profitability of the ranching operation, the specialists say. They add that producers should implement feed supplementation programs if the nutritive value of their forage supply is low to balance the ration and ensure healthy, productive livestock. More information on forage quality is avilable in NDSU Extension publication AS-1251, Interpreting Composition and Determining Market Value. It’s online at http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/ansci/dairy/as1251w.htm. — WLJ

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Friday, September 12,2008

Unruhs will be recognized as Ranchers of the Year

by WLJ
Mercer County cattle producers Shawn and SheVele Unruh will be recognized as the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association’s (NDSA) Ranchers of the Year at the NDSA Annual Convention Banquet in Minot, ND, on Sept. 27. Unruhs were nominated as the District 4 candidates before being chosen by the NDSA Board of Directors to receive the state honor. The couple and their children, 16-year-old Denver and 12-year-old Shawnee, ranch in partnership with Shawn’s mother Sharon and their nephew, Austin Jensen, and his wife Destinee south of Zap, ND, on the family’s third-generation operation. Shawn’s sister Shantell, her husband Dean Hartman and her daughter Rikki Jensen are also involved in the day-to-day work on the Unruh ranch. Unruhs run 460 commercial Angus cow-calf pairs and 10 horses on 8,000 owned and 1,600 state- and private-leased acres. The family also maintains a small band of purebred Angus cattle in order to raise some of the herdsires they use on the ranch. Unruhs calve their heifers in early March and their cows in mid-March. They wean the early calves in mid-September and the older calves in mid-October. They send their steers to Kim Knutson of Dunn Center, ND, where they are backgrounded for 60 to 90 days. They have sold their steers through Superior Livestock Auction for many years. "We have received excellent feedback from the buyers about the quality and performance of the Unruh cattle," said James Erickson, their Superior Auction representative. "It is a pleasure to know and work with a family that is dedicated to ranching." Unruhs breed all their heifer calves, either naturally or through artificial insemination. They retain about 150 for their own herd and then market those remaining as commercial bred heifers off the ranch. Protecting the ranch’s natural resources is a priority for the Unruh family, especially since they keep their cattle on grass 365 days a year and only feed supplemental hay from January until spring green-up. To ensure the best quality and most abundant grass over the years, Unruhs have crossfenced their pastures and enhanced their watering systems by adding three wells, 10 miles of pipeline and 18 water tanks to employ a more efficient rotational grazing system and to encourage better utilization of grasses in even the most remote portions of their ranch. Unruhs believe in the value of performance testing and have been enrolled in the Cow Herd Appraisal Program (CHAPS) for many years. Before the advent of CHAPS, Shawn’s father, Floyd, bought an early-day Apple computer, taught himself how to use it and, with the help of their long-time county agent, Allen Schmidt, set up his own spreadsheet system to record everything from performance information to the ranch’s finances. Unruhs still have the reams and reams of paper documenting the birth dates, birth weights, weaning weights and other measures of the family’s calf crops from more than 40 years ago. The information serves as a benchmark of where they’ve been and how far their cattle have come. Floyd and his dad Ed, Shawn’s grandfather, were known for their innovative thinking and astute management skills. The pair brought the first Santa Gertrudis bulls to North Dakota in the late 1960s, crossed them with their Hereford cows and marketed some of the first Brahman-hybrid cattle in the U.S. The hybrid vigor of those foundation females is still evident in the Unruh herd today. "Both Ed and Floyd, 57- and 56-year NDSA members, respectively, have passed away now, but their commitment to family, the land and their cattle lives on through the daily labor of those remaining on the Unruh ranch," said NDSA Vice President Jack Reich of Zap, a family friend and neighbor. "The Rancher of the Year Award will be a tribute to Unruhs’ three generations of excellence in the cattle business." — WLJ

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Friday, September 12,2008

Genetic link to health traits

by WLJ
A groundbreaking study at Colorado State University (CSU) may lead to early identification of animals with less susceptibility to feedlot diseases, especially bovine respiratory disease (BRD). "This landmark research is providing us with greater insight into the genetic markers responsible for improved feedlot health, a promising significant breakthrough for the beef industry," says Dr. Nigel Evans, vice president of Pfizer Animal Genetics. The study is the first of its kind and is sponsored by Pfizer Animal Genetics and the National Beef Cattle Evaluation Consortium (NBCEC). "Pfizer believes in the opportunity to marry genetics and disease susceptibility to initiate significant improvements in animal health," says Evans. "This study reinforces the importance of research that will lead to economically relevant management solutions for beef producers." The study design and funding originated from NBCEC, a group of universities focused on furthering genetic evaluations of beef cattle. The organization had recently completed a pilot study at Iowa State University that showed encouraging results for genetic control of pinkeye, says NBCEC Director Dr. John Pollak. As a next step, the group decided to focus on the most prevalent disease in feedlot cattle: BRD. "As an organization, one of our goals has been to identify genetic traits related to animal health, which is difficult on a large-scale industry level," says Pollak. "Focusing on animal health, we identified BRD as one of the obvious diseases on which to focus our efforts. We hope the study results will lead to panels of markers indicative of animals less susceptible to BRD." Pollak identified multiple specialists to serve as members of the research team, with Dr. Mark Enns of CSU as the lead researcher. The ongoing research combines multiple past study designs to create a unique methodology focused on genetics under commercial feedlot conditions. "Our goal with this study is to maximize producer profitability through healthier animals, improved animal welfare, and the use of effective genetic management tools," says Enns. "By identifying key genetic markers, the industry can better develop tools for producers to decrease morbidity and mortality, resulting in more profits for beef producers throughout the industry." The study, which began in 2007 and ends next year, involves more than 3,000 steers. All animals originate from one large commercial beef operation and are being fed at a Colorado commercial feedlot. All animals have been genotyped and performance and health traits will be monitored throughout the research while overall health and carcass quality will be charted after harvest. The first-year data already is being used to discover and identify possible genetic marker panels that are indicative of animals less susceptible to common feedlot diseases. Currently in its second year, researchers are beginning to validate research results. Data from the study also is being utilized by Pfizer Animal Health Veterinary Medicine Research and Development. Pfizer is looking at the synergies between animal health and genetics to develop therapies that will improve the health of the animal, says director of Livestock Pharmaceuticals Dr. Jeffrey Watts. "Pfizer believes the Colorado State University research will help us in developing new products which can be tailored for certain management protocols that fit the needs of the animal subpopulations in the feedlot," says Watts. "For example, in the future it may be possible to design pharmaceuticals to fit animals based on their genetic predispositions for carcass quality, tenderness and susceptibility to common feedlot diseases." "We may find that as we improve animal growth and productivity, animals will remain susceptible to certain diseases," adds Watts. "From a protocol standpoint, we will be able to recommend different management regimens to treat common feedlot diseases and improve the overall performance based on an animal’s specific genetic makeup." — WLJ

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Friday, September 12,2008

Early calf weaning could be cost control strategy this fall

by WLJ
High fuel and feed costs are pressuring beef producers’ bottom line, but there are options to help relieve the financial pressure, a Kansas State University researcher (KSU) said. "Early weaning is a cost-control strategy that beef producers might consider," said K.C. Olson, who is a cow/calf nutrition specialist with KSU Research and Extension. Speaking at KSU’s Beef Conference Aug. 7-8 in Manhattan, KS, Olson said that producers may think of early weaning as a last resort, but a better approach might be to consider the strategy before the situation is dire. "Economic damage is almost certain when decision-making is delayed," he said. "The decision to wean early, for example, is most often made when the cow is perilously thin and feed costs are out of control." Early-weaned calves are no more prone to health, nutritional, or environmental problems than calves in conventional weaning programs, Olson said. And, there are well-established benefits in terms of calf performance, forage conservation and reduced nutrient requirements for cows. Weaning calves earlier than usual—at 30 to 150 days of age, rather than the more typical 240 days—takes them off of pastures, which both reduces the stocking rate and halts lactation in the cows. In turn, halting lactation earlier trims a cow’s nutritional needs and, therefore, its forage needs earlier. Because calves are functionally monograstric at birth, some producers may have concerns about whether a calf’s rumen can handle grain consumption early in life. But studies have indicated that the rumen develops as it needs to, Olson said. Beyond that, the things to think about when it comes to managing early-weaned calves are the same things a producer should plan for in traditional operations. Vaccination, parasite control, stress management, disease monitoring and treatment, diet composition and intake management are all important with early-weaned calves—just as they are for later-weaned animals, the researcher said. Considerations for pen layout, sanitation and animal comfort are still necessary, too. "All aspects of the nutritional management of early-weaned cattle should be geared toward encouraging dry matter intake," he said, noting that this also is one of the biggest challenges: "Overcoming the reluctance to eat is arguably the most important aspect of weaning management." Early-weaned calves are even more selective about what they’ll eat than traditionally-weaned calves are. This makes the composition of feed critical to a successful transition, he said. Palatability factors—moisture content, particle size and ingredients—are all key to the process. A clean and abundant water supply is also important. "Early-weaned calves are small, compared to calves weaned at conventional age," warned Olson, who told conference attendees that he’d seen plenty of cattle-watering devices that were the proper height for 600-pound calves, but not for 400-pound calves. Because calves are not accustomed to eating from bunks, he suggested that producers place an extra feed bunk and watering device in calf pens, perpendicular to the normal feed bunk. When calves circle the pen, they will encounter the feeding and watering devices. "Once a few calves encounter and use bunks and waterers, those behaviors will transfer quickly from one individual to another within the pen," he said. Many producers assume that early-weaned calves are lighter in weight and not as marketable, Olson said. Numerous studies have shown, however, that early-weaned calves fed concentrate diets in confinement have body weights equal to or greater than those of conventionally-weaned animals at the normal weaning time. "But the real advantage of early weaning is linked to the performance of the cow," he said. Data from several studies indicate that following earlier calf weaning, cows’ pregnancy rates are higher, the number of days from calving to conception are fewer, and significantly more cows cycle within 85 days of calving. The same research also found body weight at normal weaning time is higher in cows whose calves were weaned early, rather than at the more conventional times. Olson cited several studies in which cows lost either one body condition score or about 100 pounds of body weight over the course of 60 days. He estimated producers could save up to $140 per cow during winter 2008 if they prevent this cow body-weight loss by weaning calves 60 days earlier. Even selling a lighter calf immediately after weaning could bring a greater return ($40 to $80) to producer labor and management than waiting for a conventional weaning age. — WLJ

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Friday, September 12,2008

Cattlemen mull new, innovative ideas to save cash, boost profits

by WLJ
When it comes to saving money, Dennis Anderson and his wife Phyllis of Waxahachie, TX, already do a lot of things to help their ranch. The Andersons, who have a small cow/calf herd of about 25 Brangus cows just south of the Dallas/Fort Worth area in Ellis County, buy some feed in bulk, have changed the vehicles they drive, check their cattle less often, and even sell scrap metal from their farm. "Any little bit helps, especially these days," Dennis said. The Andersons also continue to look for other ideas, and that is why they joined cattlemen from around the world at the 54th Annual Texas A&M Beef Short Course. In meeting rooms full of cowboy hats, shiny boots and blue jeans, cattlemen gathered on the campus of Texas A&M University to learn what might allow them to be more efficient to survive challenging times of higher input costs. There are several tips and techniques cattle producers can use to limit feed, fuel and fertilizer costs, according to Jason Banta, extension beef cattle and livestock specialist with AgriLife Extension, part of the Texas A&M educational system, located in Overton, TX. Be careful with instinct In times of high feed costs, cattle producers’ first instinct is to cut feed costs. Some eliminate supplemental feed and others cut back on hay. The problem here, Banta explained, is that cutting back on feed is a slippery slope. If you cut back, too many cattle can lose Body Condition Score (BCS) and their conception rates fall. "When you move from a BCS of 5 to 4, conception rates will begin to drop considerably and instead of saving money you just cost yourself money, so you have to be very careful and think about the ramifications of cutting feed," Banta said. Matching calving season to forage production is something cattle producers should keep in mind. A good rule to remember is to calve 60 days before the best grasses are available because this will be when the mother cows will have the highest nutritional requirement. Plenty of forage will allow the cow to keep the proper condition to support a calf and get rebred, he said. Check cattle less often When it comes to fuel, one of the first things Banta tells cattlemen is to restrict their calving season to as small a window as possible so they can reduce the frequency of checking cattle. Many ranchers in this expansive state have several miles of land to go over; checking cattle every day or even several times a day can burn up quite a bit of fuel and oil. Banta said cattlemen should reduce the frequency of feeding cattle. "You have to be careful with this to make sure you are doing it appropriately, but there are protein supplements that can be fed a couple times a week and not every day." Banta also suggested producers re-evaluate certain self-feed products. These types of feed would save trips to the pasture. Using more fuel-efficient vehicles is another way to limit fuel. Instead of purchasing a full-sized, one-ton diesel pickup for checking cattle and hauling cattle once in a while, buy a smaller 1/2 ton pickup that gets better gas mileage, he said. All-terrain vehicles are another good fuel-efficient vehicle to get around a ranch. A smaller pickup means bigger trailers to haul livestock to town cannot be used. Consider a bumper-hitch trailer instead of a more expensive, larger gooseneck-hitched trailer, Banta said. If you need to haul a large number of calves to market, you could always hire someone to do the job. "When you do haul cattle yourself, make sure trailer loads are full to utilize the trip fully," he said. "Plan trips to town to combine chores together like getting feed and supplies." There are other forms of transportation that could save some fuel, said Ron Gill, an extension beef cattle and livestock specialist with AgriLife Extension located in Stephensville, TX. "Everyone has some horses there in the pasture; ride them out and check some cattle in order to save some money on fuel," said Gill. "Cheap fuel has allowed us to get sloppy." Apply enough fertilizer When it comes to fertilizer costs, both Banta and Gill suggested producers apply just enough fertilizer for the stocking rates and rainfall for their area. The only way producers can know this information precisely is to conduct soil tests on their land. Gill suggested producers concentrate their fertilizer dollars on the most productive soils for necessary hay production. Cattlemen should consider what happens if they stop fertilizing their grass. "There are some guys that are reverting back to some native species of grass that require less fertilizer, but these systems would also need a higher level of management to assure the grass remains vital," Gill said. Alternative sources of fertilizers are available to producers other than commercial fertilizers. Chicken litter, cattle or hog manure and biosolids are all viable alternative sources that can be used as fertilizer. The problem with these other sources is they are not nearly as accessible and plentiful as commercial fertilizers, he said. Banta also said producers should optimize their reproduction—purchase quality seedstock, consider the value of male and female calves, and consider the value of market cows and bulls. One of the areas many Texas cattlemen overlook is castrating their bull calves. About 60 percent of the calves that go to sale barns in Texas are still bull calves, according to Greg Goudeau, president/owner of Navasota Livestock in Navasota, TX. "If you don’t cut that bull calf, there is about a $4 to $8 a hundredweight discount on a 400-pound calf, up to a $7 to $14 a hundredweight discount on a 700-pound calf," Goudeau. "Just take the time to castrate your bull calves and right there you will get more for your calves." Cutting feed costs To cut down on their feed costs this year, the Andersons bought high protein range cubes in bulk. This lowered the price of the cubes, but the down side to this was they had to purchase a certain quantity. "We don’t have that many cows, and that many cubes will last us a while, but we did get the cubes at a discounted price," Dennis Anderson said. They also bought a different vehicle with better gas mileage. They drive about 45 miles to check cows sometimes, so they thought it was a good idea to invest in a more fuel-efficient car. "We just don’t check the cows as much now with the higher gas prices," said Phyllis Anderson. The Andersons also recycle scrap metal on their farm to get some additional income and to clean up their farmstead. They had a 20 x 30 foot barn catch on fire and burn down a while back, and they are in the process of hauling the tin from the barn to the metal recycler. — WLJ

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