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Articles from 1999 In January


Enter The Euro

This month, the euro begins its trek across 11 European countries in hopes of further cementing the market economy of the European Union (EU) into a more solid, competitive and easily traded marketplace. That could have an effect on U.S. agriculture - some of it good, some bad and much of it too early to tell.

East German cattleman Tino Schossler thinks the whole idea of a single European currency - the euro - makes sense. In fact, money masters claim that once the new currency is in place, EU countries will be better able to compete in a global market. But, Schossler is nervous about what it means to him in the short run.

After 10 years of rebuilding since the fall of the GDR (German Democratic Republic - formerly East Germany), Schossler has faced endless barriers to keep his 200-head cattle operation afloat. Now, instead of trying to figure out how to buy the land he farms, he's faced with another change and potential obstacle - the euro.

The advent of the euro means that Schossler and other European farmers will move away from the heavy government subsidy assistance that has allowed many of them to survive.

"For me, I'm not much for it (euro). What will the money be worth?" asks Schossler, who farms in northeastern Germany near Poland.

Impact On Europe Introducing the euro will be another step toward a more market-oriented economy for the EU. But farmers across Europe are wondering what the new single currency will mean for them.

This month, the euro enters the second of three phases where 11 of 15 participating EU countries start using it for non-cash transactions. Euro coins and bank notes officially go into circulation Jan. 1, 2002, during the third and final implementation phase. Six months later, the euro replaces the national currencies of the participating countries and becomes their only valid currency.

When final, there will be seven euro notes and eight coins. Notes will be worth 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 euros. The coins will be worth 0.01, 0.02, 0.05, 0.10, 0.20, 0.50, 1 and 2 euros. Like the U.S. monetary system, the subdivision of the euro is the cent; thus 0.14 euro is 14 cents.

"In three years, all the money I have in my pocket will be out of value," says Martin Schneidereit, executive director of BfT, the Association of Animal Health Industry in Germany. "Instead of having 600 marks, I'll have 300 euros."

Schneidereit is accustomed to working and traveling in European countries. He believes economic benefits will come with the euro by saving costs and enhancing international trade. And from a political standpoint, he agrees with former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl who supported a unified currency in hopes that a strong Europe would be able to keep peace.

Uncertainty Over Euro's Impact U.S. economists, like G. Edward Schuh, aren't at all optimistic about the euro. Schuh specializes in international economic policy at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs in Minneapolis,

"I think the euro will have a destabilizing influence. The reason: There's a lot of diversity in the economies of Europe and in their productivity," Schuh says. "They really should have different exchange rates so they can float against each other to take into account the differentials."

For the U.S., it's going to create a lot of uncertainty in trading all kinds of goods and services. And that's never trade promoting, Schuh says. In addition, he expects a long period of adjustment to get the economies on a common base.

Clamoring For Protection Countries whose currencies are overvalued will be clamoring for protection because an overvalued currency is equivalent to an import subsidy and a tax on exports, Schuh says. "You'll find that when countries really get protectionist is when their currency is overvalued relative to trading partners," he explains.

The Canada-U.S. border trade offers an example, Schuh says. If the Canadian dollar is weak and the American dollar is strong, it's equivalent to subsidizing imports from Canada. When that happens, Schuh says, "our ag people want more protection from Canada."

Jim Robb, ag economist at the Livestock Marketing Information Center in Denver, questions whether the euro will have a big impact on U.S. cattle producers at all. However, he points out that European banks are merging into larger banks, much like the pattern of the American acquisition fever.

"That means not as many small rural banks (in Europe), so producers will have to deal with big conglomerate banks. And that's usually more difficult," he says. "In general, European agriculture will have a harder time getting capital."

In addition, Robb says that going to a common currency will "take some of the monetary control from individual countries."

National Cattlemen's Beef Association economist Chuck Lambert doesn't think the switch to the euro will have much impact on U.S. producers. "But, it will ultimately simplify trade within the EU. Trade will be more transparent because they'll only have to worry about one currency, not 15," he says.

Moving toward the euro imposes some discipline on other European countries, Lambert points out, to meet the euro criteria. "It will bring Europe closer to one monetary and fiscal policy so you probably won't have high rates of inflation in any one of the European countries."

Their bigger problem, Lambert claims, centers around phasing out their government subsides under their protectionist Common Agriculture Policy (CAP). CAP subsidizes ag products at prices above the world price.

Euro And The U.S. Dollar "The biggest threat of the euro is that it could become so successful it would start to take away some of the advantages we have with the U.S. dollar being a main world currency," says David Henneberry, ag economist at Oklahoma State University.

"For example, petroleum is generally priced in dollars. But, it could be priced in euros."

He believes the EU will become a stronger marketing force for U.S. agriculture with the euro. He points out that the EU's shift to a common currency moves them to the fourth stage of economic integration as an economic union.

He explains that with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the U.S. is only in the first stage, or free-trade area, with reduced tariffs among the member countries.

"I predict that some of the same advantages the EU has will come to the U.S. from NAFTA if we look far enough into the future. It's guaranteed. We're looking 40-50 years out to integrate like the EU, so it will be a long time before we merge our currencies," he says.

"The European monetary system is pretty good already. So with the euro, they're moving from pretty good to something stronger. Europe is ahead of the curve," Henneberry says.

The euro - the new single currency for the European Union (EU) - will remove the need to change currencies in cross-border trade within the euro zone, economists say. This will reduce, but not remove, the transaction costs and, ultimately, make it cheaper for firms to make payments between countries in the euro zone.

Banks will still charge a handling fee, but they won't take an additional bite by buying the currency at one rate and selling it back at another, like they've traditionally done.

Some U.S. economists believe U.S. businesses also are likely to benefit as the European market evolves. With consumers better able to compare the price of goods and services in different countries, competition will increase across the EU, causing prices to fall.

As Europeans begin their move toward the euro, they'll also share a single interest rate, set by the European Central Bank, and a single foreign exchange rate policy. The euro will likely have a major impact on the business environment within the participating countries, and the rest of the trading nations.

Cattleman Tino Schossler, 33, is grateful for the freedoms he and his East German farmer friends have enjoyed since the fall of communism in 1989, the year known to the locals as the "change."

Before the change, Schossler worked as an accountant on a state-run East German 1,000-cow dairy that employed 80 workers. Now, in his region, only 400 cows and 10 people are needed to work and produce the same amount of milk.

He says his biggest problem in operating the farm today is finding qualified labor, despite a 26% unemployment rate in his area.

Across eastern Germany, employers are finding that they can run their businesses with a mere 10% of the employees once used under communism. "Those 10% are efficient and hard workers," says Schossler. "But, they're hard to find. They're just not used to working," he says.

Acquiring Land Schossler is in the process of buying the land he's leasing from the German government, although it's doubtful he'll ever be able to purchase all of it. Land in his area sells for about $4,000 deutsche marks/acre or about $1,000/acre (U.S.).

The operation has 250 hectares (618 acres) of grassland and 400 hectares (988 acres) of cropland (corn, sunflowers, barley, wheat and rye), 117 beef cows, mostly Charolais, and 150 dairy cows. Since he's taken over, he's moved from primarily dairy to beef.

Like most German farmers, a quota and subsidy program is in place. But after 2006, there are no government guarantees. Schossler believes only larger farms will survive. He's positioning himself by staying diversified. He's also finishing an agricultural engineering degree.

"If the crop subsidy is eliminated, I'll add more cows and stay in beef and dairy," he says. Still, he believes there will be some sort of direct payments for grazing programs, wildlife conservation and projects to help protect the environment.

Schossler says he works much harder now than under communism, but he likes it. "I work more hours but I get to make higher-level decisions. And I get to work with cattle, crops and bankers. Before, I wasn't allowed to think."

War on the West

In the 19th century range wars, ranchers cut fences, burned buildings, shot livestock and each another. As the millennium nears, a new range war has broken loose with cattlemen on the defensive against an unseen enemy - the radical fringe of the environmental movement.

In this war, environmental terrorists strike isolated ranches on the western range with the goal of driving ranching from public grazing land. The terrorists eschew showdowns at high noon in favor of sneak attacks. Their weapons? Fence cutters, assault rifles and the torch.

They have left a widening trail of damage across 10 western states where public range is essential to ranching. Cattle have been shot, water tanks destroyed, corrals and buildings burned, and fences cut.

But the war on ranching is only part of the picture. The radical fringe has targeted virtually the entire economic underpinnings of the rural West - oil and gas, logging, hydroelectric power, mining and tourism.

In Utah, radicals bombed a fur cooperative. In Oregon, they burned a hydroelectricplant. In Washington, they sabotaged logging equipment. In Montana, they disrupted the Montana Mining Congress with a bomb threat. And in Colorado, a group called the Earth Liberation Front claimed credit for arson that caused more than $12 million in damage to a Vail ski lodge.

The October fires in Vail may be the costliest example yet of environmental terrorism. But some observers predict worse to come. "The magnitude of it is only going to get bigger," predicts Barry Clausen, a California-based expert on the radical environmental movement.

Ironically, the breadth of the terrorism movement may play to the advantage of ranchers. If ranchers had to battle terrorism alone, they might lack the clout needed to get action from law enforcement, Congress and western legislatures. But the ranchers have allies in every major western industry. Ranching, mining, oil, logging and tourism together carry considerable political and economic clout.

The war on the West only recently has gotten much public attention. Typically, ranchers have been reluctant to publicize sabotage. "They're not reporting it for fear the publicity will encourage it," says Julie Bousman, spokeswoman for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

But as the range war escalated, ranchers have begun reporting terrorism to authorities and the media. The ranchers have little choice. What began as harassment has turned into a campaign that could drive them out of business.

Deadly Acts Of particular concern is the growing wave of cattle killings. "If somebody shoots five head, you're looking at a $2,500 loss," says Betsy Macfarlan, executive director of the Nevada Cattlemen's Association.

"That could easily be the grocery and fuel bill for the next four or five months. If there's a mother cow and she's got a wet calf that's not old enough to be weaned, that's two animals you've lost."

Some ranchers have suffered far bigger losses. In Deming, NM, for example, 22 head were shot on one rancher's public grazing allotment. A water tank and windmill were damaged in the same attack.

While the ranchers have often been reluctant to publicize the war on the West, environmental radicals have not. One Internet posting urged readers to "Hunt Cows, Not Cougars," reports Clausen. And the fringe Earth First! group recently carried an article in its magazine entitled "Fence Mending 101." The article describes fence cutting techniques.

In this new range war, fence cutting is the most prevalent tactic. It can be done quickly and silently with little chance of detection. For example, extremists cut more than 200 fences in central Wyoming in the spring of 1997 - 60 of them at one ranch, the Clear Creek Cattle Co.

A group called Islamic Jihad Eco-Terrorists Inc. claimed responsibility. Signs left at fence-cutting scenes read: "Just in time for the Welfare Cowboys Convention," a reference to the annual Wyoming Stockgrowers' Convention that took place as the fencing was being cut.

Fortunately, fence cutting is often just a nuisance, especially if discovered quickly. At Clear Creek, the fence cuts were discovered early and only 20 or so cows had mixed with a neighbor's herd.

But fence cutting can lead to bigger problems if not discovered early. "If it would have been four or five days before the cuts were found, we could have had hundreds of our cows mixed with hundreds of the neighbor's cows," says Rob Hendry, co-owner of the ranch. "It would have taken at least a week to separate them."

And if fence cutting occurs along highways, it could lead to disaster if freed cattle wander into lanes of fast-moving vehicles. In that case, ranchers could face lawsuits filed by victims of car-cattle collisions.

Killing Cattle But it is the outright slaughter of cattle that holds the biggest threat. "Fence cutting is a nuisance crime," says Rob's wife, Leslie. "We can replace fencing. We can replace water tanks when they shoot holes in them.

"When they start shooting cattle, that's when it's really going to get dangerous. Once they start doing that, you know they're armed. So when you come across them, you don't want to confront them. They might shoot you.

"Econo mically, you can't survive if they start killing your money machine," she says. "We keep cows an average of 10 years. If they kill a mother cow you lose nine calves. Then you have to replace them."

The wave of sabotage has spurred state cattlemen's groups to offer rewards. But catching terrorists is difficult. In the vast unpopulated western range, there are almost never any witnesses. Cut fences and burned line shacks may not be discovered until terrorists have long since vanished.

"We've got ranches that run for hundreds of miles," says the Nevada Cattlemen's Macfarlan. "The rancher may not come back to a section for six months or longer. By then, the trail is pretty cold.

"Unfortunately, some of these causes are starting to get violent," she says. "They decide they can't get the message across through traditional methods, so they decide to destroy other people's livelihoods as a way of getting their message across. They don't care what damage they do. It's all for the cause."

Cut Off The Money Environmental terrorism runs on the same fuel as international terrorism - money. To stem the tide of eco-terrorism, ranchers and other targets must stem the flow of cash, says Clausen.

To do that, Clausen says victims must publicize acts of environmental terrorism. In the past, some victims have been reluctant to report fence cutting and other terrorist acts because they believed publicity would encourage more terrorism.

But Clausen argues that big-ticket donors who fund radical groups will be more likely to shut their checkbooks if instances of violence and sabotage are widely publicized. "People don't want to be connected to these things," he says. "They want to maintain a certain amount of respectability."

Publicity also encourages Congress and state legislatures to pass tougher anti-terrorism legislation. "Many Congressmen and Senators don't think it's a big issue," he says. "The reason they don't think it's a big issue is because nobody is reporting it. When it's reported and publicized, Congress will pass tougher laws."

Stemming the cash flow is particularly critical because terrorists can't operate without it. The money allows them to devote their time to sabotage instead of work.

Money also pays for travel, lodging, phone bills, computer costs, maintaining Internet sites and other expenses associated with terrorist operations.

Barry Clausen, an expert on environmental extremists, offers these tips for dealing with eco-terrorism:

* Take care not to damage evidence at sabotage scenes. Shell casings and spent bullets are evidence. So are tire tracks, footprints, burned out buildings and corrals, notes left by the criminals, samples of cut wire and even discarded trash.

For instance, when Wyoming authorities investigated fence cutting at Rob Hendry's Clear Creek Ranch, they made plaster casts of tire tracks and footprints in the area. "They handled it just like a crime scene, which it was," says Hendry.

* Equip every ranch vehicle with a pen and notebook to take down license numbers of suspicious vehicles. "If you see any vehicle that looks suspicious, write the license plate number down first, then if there's time get a description of the vehicle and its occupants," says Clausen.

The plate number can identify vehicle ownership, or in the case of rental cars, the name of the person who rented it. License plate numbers can be cross-referenced against computer databases of vehicles operated by known radical environmentalists. Clausen's firm, North American Research, maintains one such data base. North American can be reached by phone at 707/442-0115. Some law enforcement agencies may also keep such data bases.

* Do not confront suspected terrorists. People who shoot cattle are armed and should be considered dangerous. "If you get some wacko on the verge of getting caught, somebody could die," Clausen says. Instead, call authorities immediately.

Radical environmental groups believe wildlife would fare better if ranchers and their cattle were gone from public lands. But would it?

This may be a prime example of the adage "beware of what you ask for because you may get it." In this case, if the ranchers go, so may much of the wildlife.

If ranchers lose the use of public lands, many would go out of business. Private landholdings often are too small to profitably run cattle in the arid West where grass is sparse.

To make ends meet, failed ranchers would probably liquidate their private landholdings. Here's where wildlife gets hurt. Public lands are often the most barren stretches of the West. Streams and rivers usually flow through private landholdings. And if the rancher sells, much of the land will be carved into subdivisions and "ranchettes" - fenced tracts of 20 acres or so. Once that happens, wildlife is blocked from the water supplies needed for survival.

Many environmentalists realize this and they are campaigning to keep ranchers on public lands. But others are mounting an ever more violent campaign to rid the public range of cattle. If they get their wish, they may quickly find that the adage "beware of what you ask for" is as true today as the day it was coined.

Cheap grain offers opportunity

Cheap grain prices are the silver lining on the cloud of a depressed agricultural economy. And, the opportunity exists not only for feedyards but stocker operators and cow/calf operators as well.

"Cheap grain presents an opportunity for producers who are willing to manage their cattle differently," says David Lalman, beef cattle specialist with Oklahoma State University (OSU).

Last fall's chance to buy lightweight calves for $75/cwt., then hedge them for the same money on the April and May board disappeared quickly. But, the cost of feed still offers plenty of opportunity.

Cheap Gains From Grains In late November, Lalman calculated the value of weight gain at $65/cwt. "Assuming you can buy healthy calves with the genetics and condition to grow, we can pencil in a 28- to 35-cent-per-pound cost of gain for feed, using corn, milo or different feed by-products like corn gluten feed, wheat midds and soybean hulls," he says.

Although taking full advantage of the equation in a drylot situation requires more management and equipment for feed storage and delivery, Lalman says "the most efficient management technique is program (limit) feeding."

Depending on the gain target, he says producers can limit-feed a grain ration at 1.7-2% of an animal's body weight each day and achieve cattle gains of 1.75-2.25 lb./day. Rations are typically 80-85% corn, with the remainder a commercial supplement, either top-dressed or blended with the corn. "The nice thing about feeding whole shelled corn in these rations to calves is that no forage is required," Lalman adds.

This same opportunity exists for stockers to get more mileage out of dry forage and wheat pasture cut short by the Southwest's extreme heat and drought last summer.

"When I ordered feed for winter cattle, I had a range cube made that is mostly grain, so I can extend the grass I have for winterwith the energy in the cube," says Jim Link of Link Cattle Co. at Crowley, TX. Besides running stockers for 35 years, Link is also director of the ranch management program at Texas Christian University.

Link estimates his dry forage supply heading into winter was half of normal, but using the grain cubes means he may only have to run 25% fewer stockers. "The cubes will raise the cost of gain a little over what it was, but I've got to fill my grass since I'm committed to it," says Link, echoing the fixed-cost challenge faced by others in the same situation.

"They have to keep feed costs down to where they can do it for the same cost of standing forage," says Lalman. While feed costs per pound of gain increase with supplementation, he explains increased stocking rate and extra gains per acre make the total cost of gain similar or less than normal.

For perspective, Lalman says a blend of high protein soybean meal and corn fed at 1% of body weight per day, in addition to dry pasture or hay, should offer gains of 1.25-1.50 lbs./day (Table 1). Feeding the same mix at 1.5% of body weight should coax gains of 1.75-2 lbs./day.

Economics require producers look beyond the reality that feeding cereal grains decreases the digestibility of forage, according to Lalman. "We can make these cattle gain 1.5 pounds per day by feeding 1 percent of their body weight. The key is to add enough protein to minimize the reduction in forage digestion." Some producers in southern Oklahoma are utilizing this strategy with rations that are 25% protein.

Likewise, supplements can help extend wheat pasture opportunity. That's especially important in Oklahoma - normally the nation's Mecca of green gold - where Lalman estimates there is only enough wheat pasture for half as many stocker cattle as normal.

One-Third More Stocking Rate In an OSU study conducted several years ago, researchers were able to increase stocking rates on wheat pasture by roughly a third by feeding wheat pasture cattle approximately 4-6 lbs. (0.75-1% of body weight) per day of a concentrate supplement. The supplement, comprised of wheat midds and soybean hulls, was tested against a grain-based one.

"Although results indicate no difference in performance, the high-fiber supplement was consumed more readily. Consequently, supplement type should be based on the lowest cost ingredients. And, a key component in these supplements is an ionophore such as Bovatec or Rumensin, which boosts gain another 0.2 lbs./day, while reducing the risk of bloat," Lalman says.

Besides the opportunity for cheap gains, Link says anyone who can warehouse cattle now should be in a good situation headed into 1999. "We can't keep liquidating females at the rate we have been without coming up with a supply shortage," he says.

Moreover, Link points out that the dog-eared rules of the cattle business still apply, whether or not producers agree with them. "There will be some people who didn't do a good job of risk management this year that will lose leases or ranches. Historically, when it's bad for someone, it's good for someone else."

Snow and downsizing

It was snowy and cold in early November and we feared we'd have to bring the cows down from mountain pasture, but we left them there in hopes the snow would settle. Once they're brought down to the fields and easier grazing, there's no going back to the mountain, so we gambled and left them rooting through 8 in. of snow for their grass.

Weather moderated and snow melted, so our cows kept grazing through November. We deloused and vaccinated the bulls. They'll winter on pasture on the upper place, with hay when snow gets deep.

We winter our bulls on pasture rather than in a corral. They are more athletic and fit by spring. These crossbred bulls (our own composite mix) are efficient and don't need pampering.

We also deloused the weaned heifers and moved them to a new pasture. November 17, we moved the cows from the 320-acre mountain pasture to the adjacent 160. By November 28, that grass was pretty well gone so we brought them down to the Gooch place.

Here, there is still some aftermath on the hayfields and a lot of bunch grass on the big hill behind the fields. There's several week's good feed left, but on December 3 we had snow - 10 in. of it on the upper place and 8 in. down here - so that ended the grazing.

Twice Daily Feeding Temperatures dropped dramatically (10 degrees at night and mid 20 degrees's daytime) so we put the cows on full feed and hay twice a day. Cows get more food from twice daily feeding since they clean it up better. It's better for younger cows, too, since we don't have them sorted out yet - they're more able to get their share. Unless cattle have some grass to pick at and we're just giving them an early morning feed to get them going in cold weather, we always feed twice a day - especially after they calve. That way, we have two chances each day to check the babies for sickness.

We had cold wind in early December and the temperature never got above 20 degrees. Unless it moderates and the snow settles, this looks like a repeat of 1997 when we had deep snow in early December, lost four weeks of grazing and ended up buying hay in the spring.

If this snow stays and we go to full feed this soon, we'll be short hay again. Most years we don't get this much early snow.

In mid-November we sold 22 young cows to a rancher across the valley. We're selling 79 more (32 bred heifers, and 47 mixed age cows) to our son and daughter-in-law. They'll move them to their place at Mackey as soon as this stormy weather moderates.

They've wanted to increase their herd by buying more of our cows. We're just waiting for their banker to approve a loan. We were hoping to be able to sell them some more good cattle (we sold them 45 cows last year), giving them the benefit of our 32 years of genetic selection, and it looks like it's going to work.

Slowing Down We've decided to quit leasing the extra place we've rented for 28 years and cut down our cow herd. Our landlord has been increasing the rent price with each five-year lease renewal, and it's now going up annually. It was already too high, and we were just continuing the lease because it fit in so well with our place (together the two made a nice family sized unit), but with low cattle prices it's become impossible.

We've decided it's time to slow our pace and just take care of our own place and the cows it can support. This will make our haying, irrigating and calving easier. We don't want to ever "retire," but maybe it's time to make things a little easier so we can continue to ranch and still enjoy it. Neither Lynn nor I have our old endurance. We don't want to get to the point where we can't handle the work and end up resenting the very thing we love. We want to always be able to work on the land and enjoy our cattle.

NCBA'S 1998 Stewards

Regulatory pressures, erosion prevention, water management and wildlife protection are representative of the challenges met by this year's National Cattlemen's Beef Association's (NCBA) Environmental Stewardship Award Program winners. Each operation exemplifies the long-term thinking and foresight that caught the eyes of program judges.

"This year's winners prove that proper land management and incorporating proven management strategies contribute to environmentally sound, profitable operations," says Clark Willingham, NCBA president.

Winners will be honored during the annual NCBA meeting in Charlotte, NC, February 10-14. The national winner will be announced then.

The award is presented by a committee that includes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, American Farmland Trust, The Nature Conservancy American Sportsfishing Association, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Environmental Protection Agency and academia and beef industry representatives.

The award is sponsored by Dow AgriSciences, LLC.

Concentrated livestock operations are under increasing regulatory and political pressure in the U.S., but the Greig Family of Estherville, IA, has always been ahead of the curve.

John Greig Sr., started his seedstock farm and feedlot in 1936 and began to invest in a total manure management system in the early 1940s. Sons Hugh and John Jr. have taken over that progressive attitude of stewardship.

Today, the farm includes a 2,500-head capacity feedlot, 200-head cowherd and 300 stockers. They use an anaerobic lagoon, wastewater holding pond and a wastewater irrigation system. Feedlot manure is used as an economical source of fertilizer, freeing 600 acres from the use of chemical fertilizers, increasing soil fertility and maintaining clean streams.

All marginal land (more than a 4% slope or lying in a floodplain) has been pastured. These are rotationally grazed and regularly interseeded to provide more feed for cattle and habitat for deer and geese.

Fences protect the Des Moines River, while spring-fed ponds have been dug and fenced away from the cattle. These ponds are stocked with fish and are nesting areas for wildlife. The overflow provides water for the controlled grazing paddocks and calving barn, as well as water, heat and air conditioning for the family home.

Surrounding the newest feedlot pens, the Greigs have planted several species of pine and hardy flowering shrubs to serve as cattle windbreaks and to reduce any odors between the feedlots and town. In addition, the areas that adjoin the windbreak were planted to switchgrass creating habitat for pheasants and wild turkey.

In the early 1990s, Greig and Co., Inc., participated in a feedlot runoff control project, jointly sponsored by the Department of Natural Resources, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Iowa State University Extension Service. The farm was used to demonstrate feedlot runoff control structures, their operation and maintenance requirements to livestock producers from across the state.

In their on-going efforts to cooperate with environmental, conservation and cattle groups, the Greigs have hosted hundreds of farm tours, including guests from Asia, the South Pacific, Africa, Europe and North, South and Central America.

Minimizing erosion, improving water quality and protecting riparian areas are a priority for Poplar Hollow Farms and its owners - Carl and Edna Bryson, their son Charles and his wife JoAnn.

Located in the western North Carolina Appalachian Mountains, the Bryson family operation grazes 80 cattle on the river bottomlands and uplands along the French Broad River. To improve water quality and protect riparian areas, the Brysons limit the cattle's access to streams and the French Broad River.

Cattle also utilize a gravity-fed watering trough fed from a spring and encircled by a concrete slab to prevent mud. In areas without springs, they've built seven cattle watering ramps to limit access to streams and creeks, while meeting the cattle's need for water.

Concrete slab feeding pads are used for winter feeding. The Brysons also use them for manure collection and to control soil erosion. Manure collected from the feeding pads is spread on pastures to promote vegetation growth and reduce fertilizer costs. Feeding cattle on the pads also reduces cattle stress and weight loss by eliminating deep mud around the feeding areas.

Stream bank stabilization has been a constant effort along the eroding banks of the French Broad River and its tributaries. Banks are lined with stone riprap to prevent serious erosion and water degradation. The Brysons have participated in riverbank stabilization projects and experiments that use naturally adapted vegetation to hold the banks and benefit wildlife and fishery resources at the same time.

The Bryson Family has hosted tour groups to share with their visitors how they care for the land.

Reforestation and water management projects are just part of the long-time stewardship program of Rally Farms. A registered Angus beef and crop farm owned and operated by Jesse and Gayle Bontecou, the operation includes a total of 120 cows, 30 replacement heifers and four bulls.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) built a 100-acre lake on Rally Farms to provide a greater water supply and create an aesthetically pleasing recreation spot and fish habitat.

Birds have flocked to the site, including several blue heron, snowy egrets and several eagles. There is also a riparian buffer strip maintained along the lake, which is being protected in the USDA Conservation Reserve Program.

Contour strip cropping is used on Rally Farms, allowing them to produce small grains to a greater degree and provide a rotation beyond just corn to hay. Soils are subject to less erosion and wildlife graze field edges without having to walk through the fields.

Most of the farmed acreage at Rally Farms is gently rolling with some steeply sloped pastureland. The farm was reconfigured by some of the longest diversion ditches ever constructed by the NRCS in 1949. Today, these same ditches have greatly enhanced the cropping ability of the soils while providing excellent erosion control. Grouse, quail and pheasant use the ditches as cover while deer use them for grazing.

The Bontecous have reforested 38 acres of upland on Rally Farms. The plan involved planting 1,200-1,500 white pine, Norway spruce and larch trees on one field, while black locust were planted on another field.

Hunting and fishing are allowed to a select number of individuals in exchange for their labor on Rally Farms. This gives the individuals a chance to learn the farm boundaries and provides them with a greater understanding of the farm operations.

Ensuring an adequate water supply on wide expanses of upland prairie was a challenge for Tom Jones when he established his farm near Midland, SD, 106 years ago. It's still a major focus for his grandson, Ralph "Shorty" Jones, his wife Maxine and their two sons, Scott and Barry.

The Jones Family Ranch drilled an artesian well in 1980 and installed 16 miles of pipeline with two stock dams tied into the system. Using stock dams to store and widely disperse the water sources over the range, pipes pierce the dam grades for gravity flow to tanks below the dam, protecting pond hedges and improving watering conditions for the cattle.

Trees and shrubs are grown along the riparian areas. They also defer grazing on riparian areas until winter and early spring to maintain and promote grass cover on streambeds.

The Jones Family participates in the Upper Bad River Demonstration Project. The project brings water and cross-fencing together to better utilize the upland prairie and re-establish native trees and shrubs, as well as reduce the amount of oil sediment that reaches the Missouri River.

To capture snow for additional moisture during the coming crop season, the Joneses leave foot-wide strips between every swath when cutting prairie hay.

Their stewardship has provided an abundance of wildlife on the ranch. The Jones Ranch provides habitat for deer, antelope, pheasant, grouse, songbirds, hawks, eagles and coyotes.

Optimum use of the grass resource, protecting threatened species and maximizing wildlife habitat are three focal points of stewardship for Ray Marxer. A 24-year employee of the Matador Cattle Co., Marxer has managed the ranch since 1990.

Owned by Charles and David Koch, the Matador Cattle Co. maintains a cattle herd of 6,400 to 6,900 cow/calf pairs and 800 stocker cattle.

In cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the Sierra Club and Montana State University (MSU), the Matador Cattle Co. implemented a rest-rotation grazing system 23 years ago. The system is a three-pasture rest rotation where 1/3 of the range is rested each year and seasonal use of the land is alternated.

The program has been a success, increasing vegetation and reducing erosion. It also supplies winter range for a number of elk, mule deer and moose, and is a popular fishing and hunting location.

Working briefly with the U.S. Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Bureau of Land Management, Marxer is working to re-establish fish habitat for the threatened West Slope Cutthroat Trout.

Along more than two miles of Bear Creek, the Marxers and cooperators are reseeding stream banks and temporarily fencing portions of the waterways in coordination with the existing federal land management plan.

Marxer conducted a study to scientifically measure the effects of livestock grazing, wildlife grazing and natural geologic function on streams and nearby vegetation on a portion of the ranch. Through intensive photo monitoring and consultations with MSU plant and animal science professionals and U.S. Forest Service and Resource Concepts, Inc., Marxer successfully defended their environmentally friendly Forest Service grazing practices. The results of that study are published and available through MSU-Bozeman.

The Matador Cattle Co. is a key sponsor, host and advocate for Conservation Day. Coordinated by the Beaverhead Range Science Committee, Conservation Day teaches the area's seventh graders "on-the-ground" lessons in conservation.

Besides giving local tours and workshops on the ranch, Ray and his wife Sue have hosted World Wide Country Tour's "Big Sky Tour" since 1989, hosting an average of 200 guests per summer.

Why we feed grain

Demand for beef remains on a steady decline. There are many reasons for this, some rational (convenience, price, consistency, cheaper alternatives) and some not. In the nonsensical column fall the "philosophical" reasons that make some consumers feel it is "wrong" to eat beef.

Probably the silliest is that eating beef "destroys the rain forest." This idea stems from the fact that South American rain forest is often cleared to create pasture (or it becomes pasture after the fragile rainforest soil has been exhausted by cropping).

Actually, only about 1% of the U.S. beef supply comes from South America. Due to Hoof And Mouth disease restrictions, this beef must be cooked and canned. (Argentina was recently declared to have Hoof And Mouth-free areas, but Argentina has no rain forest.)

It Makes Environmental Sense The reality is that if you eat fresh beef, you are not contributing to deforestation. However, you might be helping ease landfill problems.

In the feedlot sector I have essentially evolved as a by-product specialist, and philosophically feel very good about it. I do a great deal of work for feedlots near major metropolitan areas where fibrous foods and industrial by-products would create major disposal problems.

Instead, we've taken such items as whey, coffee grounds, candy, cardboard, onions, beet tops, chili powder, peanut hulls, potato waste, various fruit pomace products, as well as the usual brewery and bakery waste ingredients, and incorporated them into useful cattle rations.

Of course, not all cattle are fed by-products. Most are fed grain. With many well-meaning people, this is another bone of contention. Many urbanites genuinely believe this takes grain away from starving people in Third World countries.

Once again, this is not consistent with reality. USDA Secretary Dan Glickman recently requested that 20% of our cropland be put into the Conservation Reserve Program; in other words, taken out of production. The current domestic farm crisis stems from the fact that the world is awash in grain.

Earlier this year, I did some work in China. Years ago, China had food shortages. Today, through the privatization of agriculture, China has surpluses.

During my China visit, the wheat harvest was so large they didn't know what to do with it. Storage was inadequate to keep it for domestic use, and transportation was inadequate for export. Cattle feeding was being considered as an option.

But not all cattle in China are fed grain. As in the U.S., by-products come into play. China has an enormous cow herd that is maintained to dispose of billions of tons of rice and wheat straw. This material would otherwise have to be burned, thus creating an environmental problem.

Once again, teaching the Chinese how to treat the straw (with ammonia) made me feel good to be part of the cattle industry. The fact is that cattle, when managed properly, can have a positive impact on the environment.

Misunderstanding Within Our Ranks Many folks within our own industry do not truly understand why we feed grain to feedlot cattle. Many cattlemen believe grain is fed to enhance the flavor of beef. Not true. Grain is fed to decrease the cost of gain. Grain contains much more energy than forages.

As a crude example, feed conversions on grain run about 7.5:1. At a current cost of about $80/ton, the feed cost of gain would be about 30 cents/lb. (this excludes interest, vet expense, etc.). If we fed hay, the conversion would be more on the order of about 20:1. At $60/ton, the cost of gain on paper would be twice as much (about 60 cents/lb.). In reality, it would be even higher than that.

The reason is the cattle on grain would gain roughly 3 lbs./day. The cattle on hay, no more than 1 lb./day. In essence, it would take three times as long, and thus we would have three times as much interest and yardage expense (as well as more exposure for death loss).

This brings us to the fallacy that some people tell us we should "grass fatten" our cattle. On good quality grass, cattle can gain from 1.25 to 1.75 lbs./day - but only for about five months out of the year (during the growing season). During winter in most areas, those cattle would stand still or even lose weight. Instead of 150 days in the feedlot on a grain diet, grass fattening would take two to three years.

It also means we would have to cut down on the cow herd, to make room for the slaughter cattle that are usually hauled off as calves or yearlings. The bottom line is that if we went to "grass fattening" we would only be able to produce 30 to 40% as much beef as we do today.

The fact is that grain feeding is not an extravagant practice of an affluent nation. It is a practical, efficient method of production that increases the supply of beef, while decreasing the cost.

ITEM: On page 27 of the December issue, Dr. David Steffen responds to my October column on "polio." He states that the lack of response to oral thiamine may be due to sulfate toxicity. He further states the symptoms and pathology are similar.

This is incorrect. The symptoms are substantially different. Only the pathology is similar. Dietary thiamine is not prophylactic for true polioencephalomalacia, and can occur on well balanced rations. Sulfate toxicity requires contamination or formulation error.

High $70s, low $80s by spring

November again reversed the direction of the cattle market. Fed cattle in the Amarillo area drifted slightly lower, ending the month in the low $60s.

The monthly average was up $1 higher than October. The feeder cattle market also weakened slightly in November but not as much as the feds. As more heavier feeders moved into feedlots during the month, the price directions varied considerably by weight groups.

USDA Viewpoint The Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently released its "Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Situation and Outlook Report." This is an important analysis and contains some excerpts about cattle and beef worth quoting.

* Large female slaughter continues to point toward lower cattle inventories over the next couple of years. Although feedlot placements have been below year-earlier levels since midyear, on-feed inventories remain well above average and fed cattle marketings will continue large through mid-winter with weights remaining seasonally heavy.

However, the prospects of reduced beef production over the next two to three years and the recent concessional beef sales to Russia will help support prices during the transition to lower supplies.

* Profitability will return to the industry in 1999, but record pork and poultry supplies will hold down price gains.

* Drought has affected female retention over the past couple of years, with large numbers of heifers again placed on feed this past spring and summer. Thus, even as cattle inventories declined, beef supplies increased. Beef cow and heifer slaughter remain large, reflecting continued poor forage prospects in most of the southern states.

Although moisture conditions are much improved, pasture and hay prospects remain poor for the 1998/99 winter supplemental feeding period.

* Beef output in 1998 will be near record levels largely the result of dry conditions in much of the southern half of the country. This will be the largest production since 1976 when massive herd liquidation was beginning from the record 1975 cattle inventory of 132 million head.

* Per capita beef consumption is expected to decline from 68 lbs. in 1998 to about 63 lbs. in 1999. Retail prices for Choice beef averaged $2.74 in September and $2.75 in October and are expected to begin a moderate rise over the next couple of years.

* Choice fed steer prices averaged near $59/cwt. this summer and are expected to average in the mid-$60s by late this fall and the mid-$70s next spring as the cookout season begins. Prices for yearling feeder cattle should rise well into the mid-$80s next spring and through the second half of 1999.

Cattle Feeding Cattle and calves on feed for the U.S. slaughter market in feedlots with capacities of 1,000 head or more totaled 10.76 million head on November 1. That's 2% below a year ago, but 7% above the November 1996 level. Even though the total number is down, California, Colorado, Oklahoma and South Dakota reported larger inventories.

Marketings of fed cattle in October were 1.77 million head, 2% below the October 1997 movement but 4% above 1996. States with larger marketings were New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

Placements of cattle and calves into feedlots in October totaled 2.83 million head. That's 3% below October 1997 and 6% lower than in 1996. Colorado and Kansas - actually recorded larger than year-ago placements.

Feeders placed on feed by weight groups were substantially lower in every category except the heaviest weights. This same situation occurred in September, emphasizing the increased interest in heavier feeders.

Expectations For 1999 This year should bring smiles to most cattlemen. Fed cattle prices are expected to improve, reaching the high $60s to mid-$70s by the second quarter. Feeder cattle and calves will respond to the improved fed cattle market. By early spring, feeder prices should be solidly in the high $70s to low $80s.

Full Circle

For Joe Burt of Flora, IL, hay feeding, barn cleaning and manure handling is a full-circle proposition that's both labor and land friendly.

Burt's operation includes 700 acres in southern Illinois where he raises corn, soybeans, wheat, red clover and red top. His herd consists of 116 brood cows, 75 calves and 125 feeder calves. All calves are fed out and replacement heifers are selected out of his calves.

Burt's cows are confined from Thanksgiving until mid-April, with all calving done in the barn.

He used to feed hay in mangers. Then, he hit on a better way: He'd clean his barn every day and feed hay on the floor, windrow fashion as he would feed outside. He figured that any hay feeding benefits lost would be more than offset by getting all the manure onto his cropland. Besides that, he was sure the system would reduce labor.

Always looking for ways to cut labor, Burt decided 4- x 4- x 8-ft. bales would work best. Much of Burt's resulting efforts have gone toward figuring how to best to feed the 4- x 4-ft. slices from that big baler.

First, he built a wagon with a high bed that he drove through the feeding barn, sliding the slices off into a line of feeders that had a high profile. With a confinement system, Burt bedded the concrete floor with wheat straw. He equipped himself for rapid clean-out by building a scoop blade 8-ft. wide with a four-tine, hydraulically controlled grab fork.

He knew there would always be waste, but would it be a good tradeoff? He's been on the system for five years now and he likes the performance.

Less Labor The 25- x 200-ft. feeding area can be cleaned in 15 minutes. That's less time than it takes to scatter a windrow of bale slices. As for spreading the manure, it can go directly to the spreader or to a stockpile if field conditions do not permit spreading.

Feeding hay as Burt does requires care to prevent trampling of small calves by cows eager to get at the fresh hay. So, first thing in the morning, Burt and his crew separate the cows from the calves and make sure all calves are locked in their creep. In that creep the calves have access to a grain ration along with ground hay (the hay to prevent bloat).

The cows have access to an adjacent loafing barn where hay also is fed on the floor, but where manure and bedding are allowed to accumulate.

When they are allowed back in the feeding barn they pounce on the newly fed hay.

Promising Predictions

There will be few surprises for Ole and Shirley Redland this calving season, thanks to utilizing ultrasound technology to pregnancy check their cowherd last summer.

For the past four years, the Hysham, MT, couple has been using ultrasound as a crystal ball to look into their future calf crop. But these Red Angus breeders have found that ultrasound offers benefits beyond the simple yes/no answer of whether a cow is carrying a calf.

With the help of veterinarian and ultrasound technician Ralph Miller from Livingston, MT, the Redlands are also using ultrasound to determine fetal age and sex of calves. And that has helped them add efficiency and profitability to their cow herd.

"We sell commercial and registered females and have used ultrasound as part of our program to sell those cattle," says Ole.

By preg-checking with ultrasound, the Redlands are able to offer their customers the cow's expected calving date, sire information and the sex of her calf.

For example, by identifying females that are having heifer calves and females that will have bull calves, their customers have options to select what fits their operation. "This works well for those buyers wanting replacement females," says Ole.

How Ultrasound Works Ultrasound pregnancy detection is accomplished by inserting a transducer into the cow's rectum and directing sound waves toward the uterus. An image of the fetus then appears on a small screen.

Fetal sex determinations can be made between days 60 and 90 of gestation by locating the position of the genital tubercle, which will form the penis in males and the clitoris in females.

Fetal age is more difficult to determine, according to Miller. It is predicted by measuring body length between days 28 and 49 of gestation (see Figure 1) or dome width of the skull from days 50 to 90 of gestation.

Miller has been involved with ultrasound for over 12 years, and says the technique isn't something that's learned in a day. It takes finesse. The key is measuring the head in the correct place.

He worked with veterinarian Meg Cattel at Colorado State University to devise a chart correlating dome width of the head to days of age. Using artificially inseminated dairy cattle, Miller and Cattel compared dome width to fetal age on hundreds of cows until they felt their chart could accurately predict fetal age. (See Figure 2.)

Last summer, Miller used ultrasound to preg-check nearly 45,000 heifers and cows across the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. He predicts within two days of actual breeding date 85% of the time. The other 15% are within four days of actual breeding date.

More Management Options Being able to pinpoint breeding dates that exact has been valuable for Miller's customers, who are about half commercial producers and half purebred producers.

"I do a lot of ultrasound for people who've been hurt in spring storms," says Miller. Knowing the breeding date, allows producers to group cows by calving interval. Then, they only have to watch those in a particular calving interval in the event of a storm, he adds.

Identifying later calving females, or open females, also allows producers flexibility in their management decisions, Miller points out. For example, he sells the late calvers in his own herd. When he knows they're open, he tries to sell them early when the market is up.

The Redlands also have used the ultrasound information to cull late calvers and shorten the calving season. "When you knowhow long your calving season will be, you can better spend your time on other things," says Ole.

Miller says producers that AI are also apt to use ultrasound to preg-check. Knowing the time frame of when a cow was bred can help producers determine if the cow was bred AI or by a clean-up bull, says Miller.

Redland says his customers like having insight into which sire lines the females they purchase are bred to.

Another benefit of ultrasound is determining if it's a nonviable pregnancy (i.e., deteriorated membranes, no movement or heartbeat). "Were you to manually palpate you couldn't diagnose a non-viable pregnancy. You can diagnose those things with ultrasound," says Miller.

Ole admits ultrasound preg-checking is an extra step that requires handling the cattle in a hydraulic chute, record keeping and expense. Ultrasound pregnancy checking can cost $3-5/head. "But the rewards are worth it," he says.

"There's no question from the way it's growing that it's a technology that can do the industry some good," Miller says.

But he cautions that ultrasound technicians have to have integrity. "Emphasis must be placed on accuracy," Miller says.

To keep his predictions calibrated, Miller still gets the actual AI breeding date back from his customers after testing and compares it to his predictions.

After 90-95 days, the fetus's head is larger and it's difficult to predict age accurately, he says. Therefore, he recommends ultrasound pregnancy checks shouldn't be done after 90-95 days gestation.

"If you're off a few days, producers won't be watching the right animals when the big storms hit," he adds.