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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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Friday, September 12,2008

Fall best time to eliminate perennial weeds

by WLJ
Fall is the best time to treat perennial weeds in crops and pasture, said a University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL) specialist. Herbicides sprayed in fall weaken the weeds and then the winter kills them, said Bob Klein, cropping systems specialist at UNL’s West Central Research and Extension Center in North Platte. Spring spraying weakens weeds, but then they have ideal conditions to recover. Klein advised producers to spray when the weeds are actively growing. As they prepare for winter, they’re taking nutrients down to the roots to store them for winter, he said, and the herbicide also moves down into the roots, which adds to its effectiveness. Sometimes weeds become dormant as a result of drought, Klein said, but a lot of times we have good fall rains. Wait a week after a rain and spray when the weeds are growing again. A number of new herbicides, such as Milestone, have become available in recent years. Klein advised producers to investigate these new chemicals because some of them have really provided good results. These new products incorporate new chemistry and different modes of action. Different crops and different weed infestations will require different treatments, Klein said. To get the latest recommendations, Klein recommended getting a copy of UNL’s Weed Management Guide, EC130. It’s available at county extension offices, but also on the Web. It’s a large document, about 200 pages, so producers will probably want to print only the pages they need, he said. Not only are the product labels legal documents, they are also a source of important information about weeds the product will kill, what crops it can be used on and how long the residual action will last. Growers should be very careful in choosing an herbicide, taking into account what crop might come after the one they’re treating. With guidance from product labels and UNL’s Weed Management Guide, producers can make good decisions about herbicides, both old and new, for eliminating problem perennial weeds. — WLJ

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Friday, September 5,2008

Net farm income forecast up 10 percent

by WLJ
Net farm income is forecast to be $95.7 billion, 10.3 percent above the $86.8 billion farmers are estimated to have earned in 2007 and 57 percent above the 10-year average of $61.1 billion. Net cash income, at $101.3 billion, is forecast to be $13.9 billion above 2007. This would be the first time that net cash income has exceeded $100 billion. Net cash income is projected to rise more than net farm income because of the carryover of 2007 crops, which are being sold in 2008. The story for 2008 is the value of crop production which, at $188.8 billion, is forecast to exceed its previous record (set in 2007) by $38 billion, a 25 percent increase. Prices of major crops (corn, soybeans, wheat) were trending upward in late 2007 and continued doing so in the first part of 2008. The values of livestock production and livestock cash receipts are projected to increase about 6 percent in 2008. Higher sales are projected for all livestock sectors, but particularly for broilers, hogs, cattle, and eggs. In 2007, net farm income was at a record level and ended the year strong with many key economic indicators at very favorable levels. Commodity prices were above recent levels and in some cases (wheat, soybeans, corn, milk), continued to rise. Exports were strong as the weak dollar made U.S. commodities more competitive in international markets, and ending-year stocks of many commodities were low. Commodity prices continued to surge in the early months of 2008 and are expected to remain relatively high throughout 2008, even though they have backed off their highs for the year. Corn production is projected to be the second highest on record and soybean production is projected to be the fourth highest on record. Consequently, with large harvests to sell at high prices, the outlook for the farm economy as a whole is for another good year in 2008, driven by strong demand for feed crops, oilseeds, and food grains. There are many unknowns when forecasting farm income in the third quarter of the year, but based on the best information available on production and market conditions, the farm sector’s net value added to the national economy is forecast to be up 8.9 percent in 2008. Its projected value of $144.2 billion would be $11.7 billion over 2007 and 39 percent over its 1998-2007 average. The values of both crop and livestock production have trended steadily upward since 1970. However, the year-to-year movements in the two measures have not always been synchronized. In 2008, the rise in the value of crop production is expected to be nearly five times that of livestock. Feed costs are a large component of livestock expenses and the exceptionally high prices for feed crops are pinching livestock producers. Rising costs cause livestock producers to eliminate their least productive animals and cut back in less profitable areas of their operations. Net value added and net farm income have followed the value of commodity production over both the long term and in year-to-year fluctuations. Because farmers typically do not vary their production mix dramatically from year to year, purchases of production inputs have been relatively stable. Thus, the direction and magnitude of annual changes in the value of livestock production have arisen primarily from market prices for livestock and livestock products. On the other hand, variability in the value of crop production is determined by both market prices and production levels. Crop production varies with changes in yields due to weather, plant disease, and pests. — WLJ

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Friday, September 5,2008

Finalists for 2008 Nebraska Leopold Conservation Award

by WLJ
Sand County Foundation and Nebraska Cattlemen (NC) are proud to announce the finalists for the 2008 Leopold Conservation Award in Nebraska. The Leopold Conservation Award, named in honor of world-renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, is comprised of $10,000 and a Leopold crystal. The award is presented annually in seven states to private landowners who practice responsible land stewardship and management. "These finalists were chosen from a number of exceptional, well-deserving candidates," said Dr. Brent Haglund, Sand County Foundation president. "This is proof that Nebraska ranchers’ long-standing ethic of conservation continues to flourish." The 2008 finalists (in alphabetical order): A.B. Cox—Valentine; Gosnell Ranch, Gordon and Sandy Gosnell—Maxwell; Hamilton Ranch, Dave and Loretta Hamilton—Thedford; Ridder Hereford Ranch, John and Mary Ridder—Callaway. The 2008 Leopold Conservation Award recipient will be recognized Dec. 11 at the NC Annual Convention in Kearney. The 2007 award recipient was Rod and Amy Christen of Steinauer and the 2006 recipient was the Wilson Ranch, Lakeside. For more information, please visit www.leopoldconservationaward.org, or contact Mike Fitzgerald, 402/475-2333, or at mfitzgerald@necattlemen.org. Sand County Foundation (www.sandcounty.net) is a private, non-profit conservation group dedicated to working with private landowners to improve habitat on their land. Sand County’s mission is to advance the use of ethical and scientifically sound land-management practices and partnerships for the benefit of people and their rural landscapes. Sand County Foundation works with private landowners because the majority of the nation’s fish, wildlife, and natural resources are on private lands. The organization backs local champions, invests in civil society, and places incentives before regulation to create solutions that endure and grow. The organization encourages the exercise of private responsibility in the pursuit of improved land health as an essential alternative to many of the commonly used strategies in modern conservation. The Leopold Conservation Award is a competitive award that recognizes landowner achievement in voluntary conservation. The award consists of a crystal depiction of Aldo Leopold seated on a horse and a check for $10,000. In 2008, Sand County Foundation will present Leopold Conservation Awards in Wisconsin, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Texas, Utah and California. The awards are presented to accomplish three objectives: First, they recognize extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation on the land of exemplary private landowners. Second, they inspire countless other landowners in their own communities through these examples. Finally, they provide a visible forum where leaders from the agriculture community are recognized as conservation leaders to groups outside of agriculture. — WLJ

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Friday, September 5,2008

Cull cow prices at record high, says economist

by WLJ
"This year, we’ve had some record high cow prices and we expect them to go even higher next year, said Jim Robb, director of the Livestock Marketing Information Center. During a recent Open House at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Gudmundsen Sandhills Laboratory, Robb said the demand for hamburger has increased dramatically as the U.S. economy has slowed. This is an area where cow/calf producers need to focus some of their management attention. Even though cow slaughter in the U.S. has been very high, mostly in the southeastern states and California, beef imports from Australia, New Zealand and South America have declined dramatically. So the domestic supply of cow beef is very tight. "The U.S. cow herd is shrinking. The North American cow herd is shrinking, the South American cow herd is shrinking, and the Australian cow herd is shrinking. So we’re looking at tight supplies ahead," Robb said. He predicted a new all-time high fed cattle prices. By 2010, calf and yearling prices might be on the trail of higher prices, but with high corn prices, they’ll be held down somewhat. Although the fed cattle market is supportive of yearling prices, it’s been a volatile time that will probably continue for a while. The overall ag sector is more volatile because of the ethanol/energy interaction, international trade, both imports and exports, and an overall weak U.S. economy in terms of consumer spending. The exchange rate helps determine how much beef we import and export. It has a major influence on the price of oil and the cost of production. Consumers look into the grocery meat cases and see chicken and pork as well as beef, Robb said. Historically, there’s been major competition for consumer dollars there. But the pork and chicken industries are beginning to adjust rather quickly to the higher grain prices by cutting their numbers. In addition, exports of chicken and pork have been very robust, decreasing their availability domestically. So in contrast to most years, there’s less competition for consumers’ dollars. While beef imports have decreased, exports are increasing. South Korea is buying U.S. beef again. "We’re exporting about half what we sold there before BSE, but we’re making progress," Robb said. Despite market volatility, Robb said prospects for the next couple of years will be brighter than they are today. — WLJ

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Friday, September 5,2008

Annual directory connects hay producers and buyers

by WLJ
As a service to hay producers and buyers, the Colorado Department of Agriculture publishes the Colorado Hay Directory annually. The 2008 edition of the directory is available to the public at no cost. "Hay continues to be one of Colorado’s top crops," said Wendy White, marketing specialist for the Colorado Department of Agriculture. "The directory helps Colorado’s hay producers market their hay, and is a valuable resource for buyers across Colorado and the nation." The 22nd edition of the Colorado Hay Directory features more than 100 producers and brokers of hay as well as companies that provide hay-related products and services. Categorized by region, each listing includes the type and amount of hay available, bale type and size, whether or not laboratory analysis is available, certified weed free status and identifies organic hay. The Colorado Hay Directory is published by the Colorado Department of Agriculture in cooperation with participating Colorado hay producers, the Colorado Hay and Forage Association, Colorado State University Extension, and with support from Anderson Alfalfa, Dr. Fish Fertilizer Co., Hutchinson Western and Wagner Equipment Co. In 2007, Colorado produced nearly 4.4 million tons of hay valued at $597 million. Production of hay in Colorado for 2008 is estimated at 4.2 million tons. The directory is available online at www.coloradoagriculture.com and at www.coloradohay.org. For more information or to request a copy of the 2008 Colorado Hay Directory, call the Colorado Department of Agriculture at 303/239-4115. — WLJ

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Friday, September 5,2008

Texas cow/calf producers being squeezed

by WLJ
Even though the cattle industry continues to round up good prices for cattle, Steve and Morita Schoeneberg of Louise, TX, wrestle with higher input costs in their operation. The Schoenebergs operate a 600-head cattle ranch on about 1,800 acres along the Texas Gulf Coast, southwest of Houston. While they grow most of their own forage, they feel the effects of high fuel and fertilizer prices. "More and more with the cost of everything, I feel we are just spinning our wheels," said Morita, who attended the 54th annual Texas A&M University Beef Short Course while her husband stayed home to work the ranch. The Schoenebergs feel the effects of the three Fs—feed, fuel and fertilizer—as Texas cattle ranchers deal with lower profit margins despite higher cattle prices. That theme was repeated several times during the beef course held on the central Texas campus Aug. 4-6. According to the Standardized Performance Analysis (SPA), a program administered by Texas A&M to examine the financial health of ranches, the total cost to maintain each female in a herd in 2007 was $590.33, and the 2007 cost per cwt. of weaned calves was $116.90. Stan Bevers, professor and extension economist for Texas A&M based in Vernon, TX, said costs accelerated since 2002, and he believes costs will rise more in 2008. "You look at the increasing costs of inputs over the last six months or so, especially if you look at corn prices, and we most likely will have over $600 costs per cow for 2008," Bevers said. In an analysis of 71 herds in eastern Texas and the Panhandle completing the SPA program since 2003, the largest cost for cow/calf producers is purchased feed. Feed averaged $80.38 per breeding female, or about 14.5 percent of total operating expenses in 2007. This includes supplements, forages and minerals purchased. The cost is influenced considerably by high corn prices, he said. Corn’s price is viewed much differently by cow/calf producers than by corn farmers in the Midwest. While many cow/calf producers blame ethanol and its boom for higher prices, other factors affect feed prices, said Steve Amosson, professor and extension economist with Texas AgriLife Extension. "Ethanol seems to get all the headlines of why we have higher prices, but oil prices, exchange rates and speculative funds all also have an effect on increased feed costs," Amosson said. Oil prices are by far the number one problem that faces all of agriculture, he said. To the cattlemen, ethanol represents a thorn in their side. But what could be ethanol’s saving grace, at least to the cattle industry, is distillers grain. With more corn going to ethanol production, there will be more distillers grain for the cattle industry. Other livestock feeding enterprises, such as hogs and poultry, cannot use the product as readily as cattle feeders. "Distillers grain is a positive part of the game for cattlemen," Amosson said. Fertilizer prices doubled Another input that affects ranches’ bottom lines is fertilizer. Most fertilizer prices for Texas cattlemen have at least doubled in the last several years. These costs are set to increase, with little hope for a significant decline in the immediate future, said Vincent Haby, Texas A&M System Regents Fellow and professor of Texas AgriLife Research located in Overton, TX. Diammonium phosphate (18-46-0), the basic fertilizer used in many blends for grass in Texas, retails for as high as $1,300 a ton, and potash (0-0-60) fertilizers costs up to $825 a ton, Haby said. Even sulfur (S) has recently increased by $350 to sell for $725 a ton and is expected to increase in the third quarter of 2008. "The rising price of fertilizer has some Texas cattle producers deciding they can no longer afford to apply them to their grass," he said. Ranchers can eliminate or reduce fertilizer used on grass to cut input costs, but that can reduce land productivity. Haby suggested producers carefully consider the economics of not fertilizing. Use soil test recommendations to fertilize at an efficient level without over-fertilizing. If producers do reduce the fertilizer application rates, they should be ready to reduce livestock numbers. "You just have to lower the number of cattle on that grass if you reduce the application rate; there is no way around this," he said. Stockpiling feed As with many ranching operations in the eastern part of Texas, the Schoenebergs stockpile winter feed. They plant ryegrass and allow the cattle to winter graze this forage. This eliminates feed, mainly hay, costs. Part of their land includes grass and hay land that is under center pivots. She said they are at the point of not wanting to run the pivot because of the ever-increasing cost of fuel. They also debate whether to continue to fertilize their grass as they had in the past. Every year, the cost to fertilize their pastures increases and they have to do something to cut into their rising input costs. "I think in the long run, we will have to reduce our cow numbers," Schoeneberg said. "I know it seems backwards, but if you reduce some of your production, you are going to do better to make a profit and ... that is what we are trying to do." As for the future, Schoeneberg hopes as they alter how they operate the ranch, they will survive a challenging time to ranchers. Raised a city girl and married into the ranching business, she has tried to learn as much as possible about the industry to operate as efficiently as they can. The Schoenebergs have three adult sons, but all three have jobs away from the family ranching business and show no interest in returning to the ranch someday. She understands why they would want to pursue other careers, given that cattle ranching in Texas is not a very easy job, especially now with such high input costs. "I have hope for the future, but the way it is going currently, we are heading down one spooky trail," she said. — WLJ

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Friday, September 5,2008

Researchers awarded grant to study link between E. coli, distillers grains

by WLJ
A research team headed by Kansas State University (KSU) E. coli O157:H7 expert T.G. Nagaraja has been tapped by USDA to study both the connection between feeding distillers grains and E. coli 0157:H7 in cattle and several strategies to reduce the presence of the naturally occurring pathogen in the animals. The group has received a $939,220 National Research Initiative in Food Safety grant. Nagaraja, a university distinguished professor of microbiology, said the issue of meat safety is receiving full attention from both researchers and the meat industry and is being addressed. "This research project will greatly enhance our understanding of the exact relationship between dietary distillers grains and E. coli 0157:H7 in cattle, as well as provide us with an opportunity to look at novel ways to mitigate the potential risks of feeding this valuable co-product," Nagaraja said. Distillers grains are a byproduct of ethanol produced from cereal grains that are used in cattle feed. They are rich in fiber, energy and protein. The research team will look at ways to reduce the amount of E. coli O157:H7 present, such as administering a probiotic, an experimental vaccine, and feeding brown seaweed, a plant shown to have an effect in reducing E. coli O157:H7 prevalence in cattle. In addition, they also will study whether feeding varied amounts of the distillers grain or making it dry or wet has an effect on the prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 detected in the feces. Along with Nagaraja, the research team includes KSU professors David Renter, Mike Sanderson and Dan Thomson, and doctoral student Megan Jacob. The grant builds upon the long history of KSU researchers focusing on food safety. An example of that work that has direct application to the consumer comes from meat scientist Melvin Hunt. "Despite care in food processing and provision, there is a possibility that food can become contaminated with potentially harmful bacteria," Hunt said. "Occasional recalls of potentially contaminated ground beef in recent years are a sign that safety checks are working—hamburger lovers do not need to give up their favorite food." Consumers need to be mindful that recommendations for cooking ground beef have changed. Generations have been brought up to think that when ground beef browns, it’s cooked. That’s no longer true, Hunt said. In the mid-1980s, KSU meat science researchers were asked to study the possibility of reducing the percentage of fat in ground beef without compromising taste and texture. As the KSU researchers studied ground beef with differing proportions of fat, they observed how the meats cooked and noted that some ground beef browned prematurely, before it had reached the safe-to-eat temperature of 160 F. The color of meat depends on the oxygen in the muscle cells, Hunt said. As an example, he explained that fresh ground beef is bright red because oxygen is incorporated into the meat as it is ground. As the meat ages, it loses oxygen, which causes the color to change. The oxygen in the muscle is carried by myoglobin, which is similar to hemoglobin that carries oxygen in humans. Observations during the study prompted researchers to recommend that temperature—not color—should be used as a test for doneness, Hunt said. In a restaurant, consumers are advised to order a ground beef patty cooked to at least medium, or 160 F. At home, they are advised to check end-point temperature with a meat thermometer. "Using a meat thermometer is the only sure way to tell if meat is properly cooked," Hunt said. The KSU researchers are among the more than 150 KSU experts working in the arena of food safety, animal health and agricultural health. More than $70 million has been dedicated to research in these areas since 1999. — WLJ

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29 30* 31*
 
 

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