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Thursday, December 20,2007

BEEF talk

by Kris Ringwall, North Dakota State University
Is it ever too dry to grow a plant? Now that we’ve had a frost, it’s time to reflect on our previous growing season. With the prices being offered for crops, most producers have to ask themselves if they could have squeezed out a little more production. Ranchers involved in animal production can look over the fence and see what farmers (those more involved in plant production) are up to. The Dickinson Research Extension Center (DREC) used that principle when Roger Ashley, Extension Service agronomist, and Dickinson State University student Wesley Messer investigated the possibility of double-cropping. Ashley and Messer presented their findings at the 2007 DREC field day in July. Messer began the report by noting that forage production has been limited to one crop per year by producers in past years. For many of us, that is very true. We convince ourselves that one crop is as good as we are going to get and that is it. Again, high prices and increased values certainly would beg the question of more production. “Due to land use constraints and the need to remain economically viable, producers need to strive for new ways to remain productive,” Messer said. “It may be possible with improved no-till equipment and management to harvest two forage crops in one year.” Allowing one’s mind to wonder and recalling various management decisions and operations that allow us to get a second crop off a piece of ground, Messer and Ashley turned to historical weather data at DREC. Their objective was “to look at 100 years of data and determine the theoretical potential to grow two forage crops in one year.” Using temperature and precipitation data available from 1905 through 2005 and the remaining data from a 15-year summary of the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network station in Dickinson, Messer and Ashley were able to accomplish their objective of calculating the daily evapo-transpiration and crop water use based on the Penman equation. “The Penman equation requires daily maximum and minimum temperatures, precipitation, average wind speed, solar radiation, dew point and relative humidity,” Messer said. Using peas and sorghum, Messer was able to calculate an estimate of the number of years that the crops would have been stressed (soil water equivalent was less than 4.4 inches of water in silt loam soil) or when the plants would have hit a point of no return, which is referred to as permanent wilt point (soil water equivalent was 0). When water stress occurs, yield will be proportional to the water deficit. The crop dies when water stress becomes extreme (permanent wilt point). Interestingly, in the 100 years of weather data examined, they estimated that field pea forage in the Dickinson area hit the permanent wilt point seven years. Sorghum, the second crop in the proposed double-crop scenario, was projected to be more difficult to produce because 18 years in the 100 years studied resulted in the crop hitting the permanent wilt point. On coarse, textured soil, the stress and wilt points will occur more often. “With proper management, advanced equipment and available soil water, it may be possible to successfully harvest two forage crops in one year,” Messer concluded. With prices the way they are, that sounds good and worth pondering as next year unfolds. Ashley said a producer from the Manning area whom he and David Twist, Dunn County Extension agent, are working with, provided an update on his second cut of alfalfa from a field toured during the DREC field day. “Earlier this summer, the producer harvested 2.1 tons dry matter (DM) of hay per acre for the first cutting,” Ashley said. He harvested an additional 1.4 tons DM per acre the week of Sept. 3. July and August were dry in the Manning area (about 1.5 inches total), so the added production was great.” The bottom line is to take some time to review the old concepts, but check into new ideas because technology keeps changing. Even if rain is scarce, with the right crop, techniques and an open mind, there is a chance the cattle will eat.

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Thursday, December 20,2007

Beef Talk

by Kris Ringwall, North Dakota State University
Structural problems, poor performance and/or behavior were the reasons for culling three bulls at the Dickinson Research Extension Center the other day. The bulls were sold to two different buyers for a total of $3,831.35. After the trip to town, the bulls weighed 2,095, 2,085 and 2,145 pounds. They had weighed 2,210, and 2,210 and 2,270 pounds walking out of the lot three days earlier. The issue of shrink or fill is real. Given the volume and capacity of these bulls, the 5.5 percent shrink during the marketing process is somewhat typical. (I will save the shrink discussion for another article.) The cash for reinvestment into the future herd sires is nice and now is the time to review the remaining animals in the bull pen. Are the performance expected progeny differences (EPDs) of the remaining bulls up to the challenges of this year’s spring offering of bulls? The center maintains a line of Hereford bulls for use following artificial insemination of the cowherd. After culling issues are resolved, all producers should go to their respective breed association Web sites and check out how their bull pen rates in the industry. For the center, a quick review of the American Hereford Web site at www.hereford.org was in order. Following a quick review of the Hereford home page, as well as a quick look at the Hereford verified program, I clicked EPD Inquiry and proceeded to enter the center’s list of 3-year-old bulls. By simply typing the registration numbers, which in this case are 42287234, 42287389, 42287422, 42287429 and 42287459, the genetic value of the center’s remaining 3-year-old bulls popped up on the screen. The neat thing about the Hereford Association’s Web site is that the average for all similar age bulls can be printed at the bottom of the listing. I was able to determine quickly that all these bulls should sire calves that are above the breed average for weaning weight and yearling weight, based on their above-average EPDs for weaning weight and yearling weight. In fact, four of the bulls rank within the top 10 percent of the Hereford breed for weaning weight, and three of the five bulls rank within the top 10 percent for yearling weight. Four of the bulls have heavier than average birth weight EPDs, although calving experience with these bulls on the center’s mature cows has not been a problem. These bulls have sired cows that are average for milk production. Four of the bulls are predicted to sire calves with less than average 12th-rib fat at 365 days of age and three are expected to sire calves with greater than average ribeye at 365 days of age. Two of the bulls are expected to have greater intramuscular fat at a year of age. The data led me to conclude the bulls are fit, sound and have good performance behind their pedigrees. None of the older bulls are the superstars that excel in every trait, but they are good, solid performance bulls that will produce a calf crop with value in today’s market. A similar procedure needs to be done for all the younger bulls as well. There is no use hauling feed to bulls that aren’t predicted to produce calves with additional value. Following a spring semen evaluation to assure fertility, these bulls are good to go. Now, all that is left to do is count the breeding groups, determine the number of groups that are short bulls and start looking at bull sale data. Bull sales are always a good way to pass the winter months, but just make sure the homework is done and don’t buy bulls you don’t need. May you find all your NAIS-approved eartags.

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Thursday, December 20,2007

Beef Talk

by Kris Ringwall, North Dakota State University
The phone rings. The producer answers and the voice on the other ends says, “We have a question on one of those calves you sold. Could you pull its record? We shipped it yesterday.” This reality check will be said repeatedly as the beef business moves into the future. Individual animal (and producer) accountability is arriving fast and the days of optical illusions may very well end soon. The Dickinson Research Extension Center experienced firsthand the illusions of the beef industry. Recently, the center attempted to source and age verify 21 purchased calves. More than 14 percent of the tags were not readable in the calving book. The Quality Systems Assessment (QSA) form, with all relevant questions left blank, was signed by the producer and returned to the center. This simple transaction only scratches the surface. Add on tag loss, replacement and corresponding data spillage throughout the marketing channels and the question pops up, “Are you really ready for accountability?” Not only that, but on arrival at the feed yard, the calves were tagged with QSA tags, with the assumption all forms were signed. What is overlooked in the industry is that these processes take time. We all need to take that time to read the fine print, give some thought to what we are signing and verify what we are signing. The phone call about a calf is no illusion. The road for beef producers has split. The first path is to meet a changing world with progressive enthusiasm. The other path is to fine-tune the art of optical illusion and continue down the path of yesterday. I’m sorry if some are offended, but the beef business is full of optical illusions. There seems to be a significant portion of the industry willing to accept change, provided no change is actually made. The discussion is good, the cowherd withstood the blizzard of 1987 and recent droughts. So what is there to change? A wake-up call should be the enormous efforts made to open the export market to Japan, only to find the vast majority of cattle in the U.S. don’t qualify. So what is the fundamental problem? Briefly, the beef industry has been, and appears to want to continue to be a lot- or pen-based business operating at a self, predefined “speed of commerce.” Individual accountability is not capable of keeping up with that “speed of commerce.” Today, beef product development is good, consumer demand is even better and the industry is meeting the challenges presented. Don’t encumber business with individual accountability is the motto. Individual animal identification, traceable and verifiable back to the individual producer, buyer, seller, backgrounder, feedlot owner or packer, is simply not desired in the present mode of doing business in beef. Pros and cons can be made and even by the pros, considerable underestimation of cost is evident. Unfortunately, such an environment is ripe for illusion. Optical illusions appear compliant, but in reality only shuffle accountability down the line until, ultimately, the original producer signs the form, picking up the slack in the marketing chain. QSAs or PVPs, (don’t worry about what the letters stand for, that is the least of your worries) may fill files, but don’t tag calves. The forms state very clearly that all the individual calf data is available at the ranch, is fully auditable, and can be verified for every calf. I have seen many calving books. I suspect there are very few that would meet the criteria, unless handwriting has improved, pencils sharpen themselves, ink doesn’t run or hands were washed each time the book was opened. Who is kidding whom? Remember, a group is only a conglomeration of individuals. May you find all your NAIS-approved eartags.

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Thursday, December 20,2007

BEEF talk

by Kris Ringwall, North Dakota State University
The annual bull buying season starts—time to bone up on EPDs While the development of expected progeny differences (EPDs) is complicated, the application of EPD numbers to bull-buying techniques is reasonably straightforward and simple. At this time of year, most producers are preparing for the future as they gear up to purchase bulls for their cow herd. These purchases, which start with solid relationships between the seed stock supplier and the commercial beef producer, have a huge impact on the future of the beef business. The livestock periodicals are filled with bull advertisements. The business of selling bulls is very competitive and lots of prospective bulls are at the bunk being fed for their two minutes in the sale ring. Not all of the evaluating can be done ringside. The bottom line in bull buying is that one is purchasing the DNA, in other words, the genetics, that a particular bull will pass on to the calf crop. The DNA is evaluated for most production traits utilizing EPDs. By comparing the value of an EPD for one trait from one bull to the next, a bull buyer can quickly get a feel for the relative likelihood that a bull has the needed DNA to work in a producer’s program. While the development of EPDs is complicated, the application of EPD numbers to bull-buying techniques is reasonably straightforward and simple. If the bull’s structure is sound and has the capacity and desire to breed cows, the objective is to bring home the bull with the right DNA that matches producer expectations of next year’s calf crop, as well as the fat cattle some 20 to 24 months from now. As producers of cattle, we are involved on a daily basis with production and management decisions that influence the type of cattle we raise. The end result is many individual opportunities to create the right mix of genetics (DNA) to meet the local criteria involved in the management of the farm or ranch where the cattle are produced. A major focus for most producers, more often than not, is the cow. The cow is a long-term commitment. Her presence will grace the countryside for years. Creating the right cow is essential because a cow must meet the rigors of her environment head on and survive, produce a calf and re-breed on time consistently. The selection of the bull that goes with each cow and the appropriate evaluation are really the essence of the management that allows producers to make permanent change within the operation. Changes include the gradual replacement of the cow herd and producing calves that meet the current demand at the marketplace. This process has been greatly enhanced and streamlined by the inclusion of EPDs, but sadly, cattle often are presented for sale without the EPD information listed. The utilization of EPDs still lags and often is misunderstood, even after several years of educational efforts by all the major breed associations. One case in point, a recent publication came across the desk that had 76 bull advertisements in it. Only 35 ads actually presented some type of EPD information on either the bulls being sold or the sires of the bulls being sold. Forty-one ads listed no EPD information, but relied on sire names and key words to promote their cattle. There is no question that some bulls are well-known in the industry and bull buyers will shop for sons of certain bulls. Yet, the EPD information is a very simple way for anyone to peruse a lot of information quickly and locate breeding programs that may have an early indication of being relevant to one’s own operation. EPDs are modern tools to give a solid indication of the genes or genetic makeup of a bull and ultimately, that is what one is buying. The bottom line, use EPDs and only buy the right DNA.

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Thursday, December 20,2007

BEEF talk

by Kris Ringwall, North Dakota State University
A review of a good sale catalog The procedure for buying bulls should be fairly methodical. While the process can be as encompassing as one wants, we can not forget that the genes are what is needed for herd improvement. The number of sale catalogs received can be overwhelming, but the future return on the time investment of reviewing catalog information is critical. Looks can be deceiving, so that is why homework is necessary. A good catalog starts out with a friendly welcome and factual information about the sale. This information is fairly common, but certainly is needed. Of critical importance is a very clear and obvious phone number and contact information. (In today's world, cell phone dependability is important.) Next should be a detailed explanation of the information in the catalog that all readers can understand. Breeders are notorious for descriptive jargon, lingo and clichés that mean a lot to the inner circle. However, there is a question that you should ask. Would a newcomer to the breed know what is being presented? Trait abbreviations and even Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs) vary from breed to breed. A list of only numbers may seem great within a breed, but common courtesy should be extended to the newcomers. The various numbers should be labeled properly to make the reading of the information more understandable. These notations lead up to some very important notes. Right up front, a herd should present the average EPD values for the various traits the breed evaluates, followed by the average EPD values for the bulls and heifers being sold. Additional information could be provided for the breed, such as the trait values for the top 25 percent of the breed, or maybe the top 1 percent of the breed, depending on the strengths within the herd of the bulls or heifers being sold. For the bull buyer who is not aware of the breeders within a breed, the review of producers who print the average EPD values for the calves makes the initial screening so much easier. The individual numbers are important. However, why not start with those herds that are selling bulls or heifers that are above average for the desired traits? This is a quick and easy way to authenticate the future performance of bull candidates. Once the overall performance of the herd has been determined in relationship to the breed, the fun begins, which is the selection of bulls within the sale offering. Armed with the average value for all the traits analyzed within the breed, the producer easily can find and sort bulls based on their ranking within the breed. After evaluating the feedlot performance of cattle from the Dickinson Research Extension Center, we realized we needed more ribeye and a greater degree of marbling. Picking up a bull catalog, in this case a Red Angus sale catalog, the Red Angus average marbling score is 0.06 and the ribeye area average is 0.01. A quick check of the reference sires reveals there are 18 reference sires, but only seven that are above average in both ribeye area and marbling. Of those seven, two bulls are in the upper 25 percent of the breed. No doubt, these genetics would help the center. The job is to go and find the sale prospects, scanning all the sons of the reference sires that meet our criteria. The next step is scanning all the bulls for their own performance, since both the cow and bull ultimately determine the genetic value of the bull. One vote of confidence is that through the years it is obvious more people are picking the top bulls because the bidding dollars seem to quickly jump on the bulls the center picks. That is a good thing for the industry, but a little frustrating when the wallet doesn't have an equivalent roll of money.

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Thursday, December 20,2007

BEEF talk

by Kris Ringwall, North Dakota State University
Someone you should get to know—your waste management professional Change in the world of livestock is not new and comes in many forms. Today, the most obvious is the little spots that are starting to show up on the hillsides as spring calving gets under way. The spring sun certainly brings a new light to the operations and it doesn’t take much time for the newborn calves to take advantage of the weather. These are good changes because the inventory is growing again. Along with inventory growth comes the opportunity for additional revenue. Great news for producers, but you quickly notice the term “revenue” was noted. Revenue was used for a reason. Revenue and profit are two different things. The careful guidance of inputs and outputs ultimately will determine what side of the profit or loss column the numbers end up on after expenses are subtracted from revenue. Expenses are something that all operations need to deal with. If one thing seems for certain, expenses (costs) seem to go up progressively. Not only do the same old things seem to cost more, there also seems to be more things on the list that need to be part of the operation. A good example is the ever-pressing need to better understand waste management concerns and the associated costs of dealing with impacts on the environment. Unlike the welcomed change in inventory through new calves, managerial changes related to waste management and associated nutrient management programs seem to be set aside. However, spring is a good time of year to get a better handle on the operation’s current impact on the environment and find out if there are some concerns that need to be addressed. For most operations, business as usual will be the more likely answer to the question, but putting off the question because of feared ramifications does not negate the need to ask the questions. The basic question still begs an answer. Is the cattle or other type of livestock operation an animal feeding operation? Is the size of the operation large enough to be considered a confined animal feeding operation? Does the operation affect the waters of the state? Are there other impacts that could be negated with managerial changes? Has the operation grown to the point that managerial practices now have more impact? These questions are not unlike a pain in one’s side. One could ignore the pain and hope life will go on. Perhaps it will, at least for a while. However, if the pain does not subside, eventually one needs to consult with professional, well-educated people to find an answer. Sometimes the answer is simple, such as cinching one’s belt too tight. A simple mental adjustment that one does not fit into a size 32 waist anymore not only makes life more pleasant, but also brings a level of acceptance of where life is today. In a few cases, the answer is more difficult to accept. That pain in the side may be linked to some difficult issue that needs to be aggressively confronted in order to have some assurance of a future. There is no question that not finding an answer is inappropriate. In regard to the future of any livestock operation in North Dakota, or any state for that matter, do not delay. Ask the question and call for some professional help. In North Dakota, North Dakota State University’s Dickinson and Carrington Research Extension Centers have professionals ready to help your operation get a handle on environmental issues. Teresa Dvorak is available at the Dickinson Research Extension Center at 701/483-2348, ext. 108. Ron Wiederholt, Carrington Research Extension Center, can be contacted at 701/652-2951, ext. 112. Scott Ressler, North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, is available at 701/223-2522. These professionals are there to serve you, so don’t delay asking the question. Are you an animal feeding operation and what is it that you need to do? The stockmen’s associations and university Extension Services in all states should be able to offer the same services as North Dakota.

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Thursday, December 20,2007

BEEF talk

by Kris Ringwall, North Dakota State University
Life does not come easy Perhaps the absence of sunlight may be dragging the day down. However, the knowledge that this will pass and brighter days are ahead certainly should reinforce the positive. Tramping through snow (dearly needed moisture), while attempting to get an assessment of the current calving scenario, is never easy. There are times when reports of twins and triplets certainly boost the available calf numbers, but the loss of any calf is always significant. The greatest impact is standing over a lifeless calf wondering what else could have been done. This business we call the cow business and our struggles to come out to the good, despite all that Mother Nature can throw at us, can weigh heavily on our shoulders. Some of the more dramatic scenes in many of the popular medical shows on TV capitalize on our human emotion as the scene goes to the ultimate degree to keep life going. The gallery, not only those watching, but all who are present in the scene, add to the impact of the lost hope, agony and ultimate defeat, as the doctor looks at the clock and says, “Let’s call it.” For those out saving calves, the audience is pretty sparse unless one counts the snowflakes. If one is lucky, the ranch cat or dog is not far away. However, more than likely, it’s just you, the cow and the dead calf. The cow, even though she soon will be ready to take on an orphan calf, ponders what is wrong with the lifeless calf as this not so welcome human intercedes. Life must go on, but that does not make the job easy. The masses, all those pending consumers, never get the point that somewhere, sometime, someone brought a life into this world that ultimately provides our tomorrow. A great moment, but not all the moments are great. If one is not careful, the whistle in one’s voice that is so prevalent when the first calves hit the ground is long gone. The smell of soiled coveralls, the feel of perpetual dampness and the ultimate stickiness of things best never served on a plate tend to grind on even the most optimistic producer. One certainly does wonder just what is good and what is bad. If we turn to some typical commercial herds that are involved with Cow Herd Appraisal Performance Software and the North Dakota Beef Cattle Improvement Association, the percentage of calves that die, based on the number of full-term calves born, is 3.35 percent. In other words, for every 10,000 calves, 335 die. One could say that is acceptable, if one accepts that death is inevitable, at least at some time. If one looks back on the last five years, the percentage of calves that died prior to weaning was 3.80 percent in 2001, 3.48 percent in 2002, 3.57 percent in 2003, 3.04 percent in 2004 and 2.85 percent in 2005. Granted, most of these calves died during calving and that is, what it is. The bottom line, one can’t despair, but nevertheless, for every 10,000 calves born, there are 335 returning to Mother Nature sooner than we would like. The 10,000 calves would be a couple of good sale days at a typical livestock auction in the fall. As the trucks line up to haul the calves off, it would take, given a typical weight of 562 pounds around weaning time, 112 trucks loading around 50,000 pounds of calf to haul the calves to their next destination. As for the 335 dead calves, four trucks would remain empty. Chin up, the calves that make it will have a good start on fresh grass. Life does not come easy.

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Thursday, December 20,2007

Beef talk

by Kris Ringwall, North Dakota State University
In the process of developing the weekly BeefTalk column, new thoughts came to mind. Lots 4425, 5478 and 6270 from the Dickinson Research Extension Center produced sound scientific data. This week’s column summarizes three years of feedlot performance from a set of smaller- framed, crossbred Lowline steers. Lot 4425 arrived Nov. 5, 2004. These 22 head of 2003 spring-born, grass steers (long yearlings) had an average pay weight of 945 pounds and an average frame score of 4.4. The lot averaged 85 days on feed with 2.85 pounds of average daily gain (ADG), a feed efficiency of 7.6 and a harvest weight of 1,186 pounds. On the rail, lot 4425 was 0 percent Prime, 36 percent upper Choice, 41 percent Choice and 23 percent Select. The yield grade (YG) distribution was 32 percent YG 2, 55 percent YG 3 and 14 percent YG 4. The hot carcass weight was 4.5 percent 550 to 649 pounds, 90.9 percent 650 to 850 pounds, 0 percent 851 to 950 pounds and 4.5 percent 951 to 999 pounds. The ribeye area distribution was 9.1 percent less than 11 square inches, 90.9 percent 11 to 16 square inches and 0 percent more than 16 square inches. The value on the rail was $1,093. Lot 5478 arrived Nov. 11, 2005. The 26 head of 2004 spring-born, grass steers had an average pay weight of 996 pounds and an average frame score of 4.7. The lot averaged 95 days on feed with 2.73 pounds ADG, a feed efficiency of 8.4 and a harvest weight of 1,297 pounds. On the rail, lot 5478 was 8 percent Prime, 68 percent upper Choice, 24 percent Choice and 0 percent Select. The yield grade distribution was 16 percent YG 2, 60 percent YG 3, 20 percent YG 4 and 4 percent YG 5. The hot carcass weight was 0 percent 550 to 649, 64 percent 650 to 850 pounds, 32 percent 851 to 950 pounds and 4 percent 951 to 999 pounds. The ribeye area distribution was 4 percent less than 11 square inches, 96 percent 11 to 16 square inches and 0 percent more than 16 square inches. The value on the rail was $1,223. Lot 6270 arrived at the feedlot on Aug. 23, 2006. The 36 head of 2005 spring-born, grass steers had an average pay weight of 823 pounds and an average frame score of 4.8. The lot averaged 110 days on feed with an ADG of 3.03 pounds, a feed efficiency of 6.4 and a harvest weight of 1,179 pounds. On the rail, lot 6270 was 0 percent Prime, 49 percent upper Choice, 19 percent Choice and 32 percent Select. The yield grade distribution was 41 percent YG 2, 57 percent YG 3 and 3 percent YG 4. The hot carcass weight was 3 percent 550 to 649 pounds, 87 percent 650 to 850 pounds, 11 percent 851 to 950 pounds and 0 percent 951 to 999 pounds. The ribeye area distribution was 8 percent less than 11 square inches, 87 percent 11 to 16 square inches and 5 percent more than 16 square inches. The value on the rail was $1,074. The data shows that producers need to keep an open mind, to ask more questions and to probe deeper into various available options. This analysis will help producers utilize all the tools that are present within their toolboxes to improve their operation. The question the center set out to probe was simple. Would smaller-framed cattle (as represented by the Lowline breed) help lower calving problems in typical northern Plains first-calf heifers and lessen the labor requirement, yet produce a calf that was marketable in today’s market? The answer is yes. Before the phone rings too much, yes, there are other very good tools called expected progeny differences (EPDs) to aid in selecting bulls for calving ease. Yes, EPDs also work.

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Thursday, December 20,2007

Beef Talk: Reduce summer stress on calves by developing a vaccination program

by Kris Ringwall, North Dakota State University
May is always a busy time. The fun of the approaching summer, the warm air, occasional rain showers, and cows and calves strolling through the thick, green, cool-season grasses makes one appreciate rural life. At this time of the year, grass and calves grow at astonishing rates. Unfortunately, we all can relate to those days when all the calves didn’t bounce up like they should. After arriving at the pasture, a calf is missing. How does one know? It’s easy because the missing calf is the biggest, fattest, shiniest one in the whole pasture and stands out like a pillar of stone. The calf is spotted in an awkward position. From a distance, the odds look bad. The calf should be up. The producer already knows the outcome. Approaching the calf, the producer sees that the calf is dead, laid out flat. The producer’s heart sinks. The pride of the pasture is gone, succumbed to overeating too much of a good thing or perhaps an off day. The reasons are many, the result is the same. This example is one of many key reasons for the need to vaccinate calves. In this case, there is a group of clostridial diseases. Overeating is a common name for this example. The diseases are fairly common, so a routine vaccination is certainly highly recommended. The various programs are predefined by years of practical experience, knowing the cows and the environment where the cattle are going. The time spent now processing the calves for a summer of grazing needs to take priority. For some, the calves are worked in smaller groups at very young ages. Each group is moved to a cool-season pasture as they are worked. For others, the calves are not worked until all the calves are born and a major workday scheduled on the calendar. The workday often coincides with the available work force. The workday commonly is called branding, and the work force is more likely family and friends sharing time to get the work done. All this activity is very important because the work is hard, but more so for planning for the very near future. That very near future means the life of the calf or perhaps even the cow. Once cattle are turned out to summer pasture, the opportunity to catch up with the cows and calves is very limited. The equipment and labor needed seldom are available again until fall. The vaccinations that the calves, and perhaps cows, receive are the start of building a strong immune system through the summer program and possibly the rest of their lives. This is not unlike getting our children ready to start school. We can all relate to the many trips to the doctor’s office or county health nurse making sure that all the children have the required vaccinations prior to comingling as they start preschool, kindergarten or first grade. In fact, those vaccinations for children are so important that many are required by law. Our children simply are not allowed into group settings until they have received these required vaccinations. Perhaps the word required is a bad word to use because the industry is facing many issues regarding the long-term tracking of cattle. However, in this sense, the necessity of the vaccinations is very real. The consequences of not vaccinating are heavy on the pocketbook. The programs vary, so contact your local veterinarian and don’t skimp on vaccine. A dead calf simply is not a desired outcome. Visit and compare notes for the region and pick the right program for your area. If the conversation is short, start discussing the clostridial diseases and then build a program.

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Thursday, December 20,2007

BEEF talk

by Kris Ringwall, North Dakota State University
Cave images just can’t compete with cell phone text  Insight into the cattle industry is keen, but, as a producer, the ability to make use of that insight and convert that understanding to real impact is critical. The American Angus Association sponsored an effort to help categorize the many varied forms of producer managerial thoughts to produce a document that would be an excellent starting point for further discussion and understanding of the business we often simply refer to as “beef.” The initial outcome of that effort was the publication “Priorities First: Identifying Management Priorities in the Commercial Cow-Calf Business.” The document was summarized and authored by Tom Field, Ph.D., Fort Collins, CO. Field notes from the beginning that “for many cow-calf producers, the information age has spawned a massive flow of data and technical communications that borders on the unmanageable.” The use of the term “borders” by Field may be a bit of an understatement. Information overload is critical, often reaching total burnout. The symptoms are not so evident. A common outcome of information overload is disengagement, resulting in the lack of understanding, utilization and incorporation of technology or managerial processes that would improve the operation. When this sort of overload happens, it is easy to return to the coffee table and talk in terms of the past instead of the future. Life simply goes on without change. Not adjusting to change could, in fact, be perceived as a Neanderthal attitude, which leads one to be misinformed, resistant to change and perhaps somewhat stuck in the mud, much like the early cave dwellers. But rest assured, even then information was passed on, even though it may have been only a chiseled drawing on a remote cave wall. Information overload has many functions, but never should be set aside on the premise that enough is enough. For me, a real case in point occurred when I went to add another line to our family’s cell phone plan. As the children grow, the norm is quickly becoming total cell phone availability on a 24/7 basis, with no excuses. As the plan was reviewed, a newer plan was available that included unlimited text messaging. For those who don’t want to understand, have another cup of coffee, but I should warn you, the newer generation can communicate from a 1-inch by 1-inch keypad faster than I can talk on the phone. If we are to stay competitive, there better be someone on our side that is good at text messaging, enjoys very hot, flavored coffees, but still can feed a cow. So much for rambling. Field is right. We need to understand industry priorities and develop a framework from which to build. Not long ago, we had a good discussion involving the future of the animal industry published in the “Choices” journal (Volume 21, No. 3, 2006). In that discussion, BeefTalk focused on cattle and the future. Likewise, the publication “Priorities First” can serve as a similar template to allow for the sharing and deciphering of the findings of the group and use it as a means to keep moving. The cave dwellings were good, the drawings not bad, either, but the coffee was awful.  Today, the coffee certainly has improved, but the drawings are not so simple. On top of that, if those hard, callused hands can even hold a phone, getting one’s fingers to actually hit only one cell phone key at a time is a miracle. Yet, it makes no difference, it’s time. Enjoy the ride and look at some of the priorities. See what the future really has to say. More later.

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