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Articles from 2002 In January

Irradiation Information

Spring 2002 Bull Buyers Guide

New Products And Services

Hay enhancer

Inexpensively upgrade the feed value of poor-quality forage with the HaySaver Premium Hay Enhancer and nutritional supplements. The HaySaver is a tractor-mounted (3-point hitch) bale carrier that injects a 32% molasses-based liquid protein into round bales of all sizes as they're carried for feeding to cattle.

HaySaver's five steel injection spears evenly distribute in the bale (at 210 psi) one of two concentrated liquid supplement formulas — HaySaver Formula 1 and HaySaver Stress Formula. The first is designed for the overall cowherd, while the latter is specifically for starting calves, lightweight cattle, yearlings and stressed calves.

Said to be easier, less expensive and safer than anhydrous ammonia, the treatment cost is $7 for a 1,500-lb. bale.

Standard equipment includes a 30-gal. supplement tank, 3-point hitch brackets and color choices of John Deere green, New Holland blue and Massey red. Optional equipment includes a 50-gal. tank, front-end loader brackets, a hand gun with 15-ft. hose and quick coupling.
(Circle Reply Card No. 100)

Livestock Prods

Shevado International's Magic Shock Super 200 and Rechargeable Super 220” livestock prods are moisture-proof, heavy duty and rugged. The chargers at least double the highest output to input ratio of all competitors and offer a two-seconds “on” and a one-second “off” motor to avoid over-shocking livestock. In addition, there's a unique buzzer feature and a high/low output switch for animals of various sizes.
(Circle Reply Card No. 101)

Prod Tips

Magic Shocks, Rock-Solid shaft tips are one piece-molded and virtually unbreakable under normal use. Available on all nine Magic Shocks interchangeable prod shafts in either rigid fiberglass or flexible polycarbonate shafts.
(Circle Reply Card No. 102)

Skid-Steer Loaders

Case IH's new XT Series skid-steer loaders help improve operator productivity with advancements in operator comfort, work capacity and reliability. The three-model XT line — 40XT, 60XT and 70XT — is a small-frame line for work in tight spaces. Offered is an engine range of 60-85hp and lift capacities of 1,500-2,200 lbs. Other options include a hydraulic attachment quick coupler to drop and switch buckets from the operator's compartment, a 3,000-psi, high-flow hydraulic system and an automatic engine shutdown system when temperatures and pressures exceed normal ranges.
(Circle Reply Card No. 103)

Cattle Magnets

Prevent hardware disease with Red-D-Mag. Its steel focusing plates provide maximum strength while the FDA-approved red nylon coating allows metal to glide across the magnet's slick surface. Thus, metal can shift without escaping the magnet or perforating the stomach.
(Circle Reply Card No. 104)

Fence Sentry

Tru-Test's FenceAlert detects inoperative electric fence and flashes an alert. The internal battery unit clips onto the electric fence wire and detects low or intermittent voltages. The unit's flash can be seen up to a mile during darkness. The operator then can use a Speedrite Fault Finder to locate the exact position of the problem. FenceAlert is useable on 16-ga. wire to 1½-in. electrified politape. Water and weather resistant.
(Circle Reply Card No. 105)

Squeeze Chute

Moly Manufacturing's Ranch Extended Model Silencer is an all-purpose squeeze chute designed for moderate-sized cow/calf and stocker operations. Features equal-pressure head doors, opening head and tail door design, noise reduction system and an extra neck access per side gate.
(Circle Reply Card No. 106)

New Series Backhoes

Land Pride's 15, 25 and 35 Series backhoes offer dig depths of 6½-12½ ft. and bucket options of 9-36 in. The units feature a wide support base, large, steel footpads and a two-lever hydraulic valve for easy operation and control. Cylinders with Nitro-Steel, black piston rods provide superior wear and corrosive resistance, while a hydraulic swing cushion valve prevents shock loads at the end of swing travel.
(Circle Reply Card No. 107)

Compliance Guide

Gempler's Inc. offers a new 100+-page guide — “Labor Law Compliance” — to keep agricultural employers up to date on labor law. The guide covers child labor, sex discrimination, harassment and family and medical leave. The easy-to-read guide also includes a synopsis on how the laws affect employers.
(Circle Reply Card No. 108)

Cattle Sale Calendar

List your cattle free or browse upcoming sales on the Crystalyx redesigned Web site — Easy to use, Cattle Sale Calendar connects producers and important sale information via the World Wide Web.
(Circle Reply Card No. 109)

Heat Timer

The BoonTech, Electronic Heat-Timer lets breeders determine the exact time to breed. The calculator-sized device from ProBeef Australia consists of a mount-activated timer attached to the tail arch of the cow. The device monitors the pressure and time of mounting, and then it emits a flashing light signal every 30 seconds for the next hour and every hour after that up to 20 hours. Flashes tell how long since first standing mount. Each timer provides up to 50 heat cycles and will not be activated by rubbing.
(Circle Reply Card No.110)

Portable Chute

Complete portability is the advantage of Central City Scale's portable chute scale. With a working capacity of 5,000 lbs., the 3-ft. by 8-ft. chute scale offers one-man setup with hand winch and locking pin to raise and lower the single axle wheelbase. The adjustable drop pin hitch removes with one bolt.

Side panels are 5 ft., 4 in. high with a 20-in.-high solid side base panel. Side panels are made of 14-ga., round steel tubing. Chute comes with digital indicator that operates on 12-volt DC or 110-volt AC and can connect to your printer option.
(Circle Reply Card No. 111)

Trailer Line

M.H. Eby Inc.'s Maverick LS Series of versatile livestock trailers is designed for small- to mid-sized farm, ranch and livestock operations. Designed to be pulled with lighter duty trucks or sport utility vehicles, the models feature a reduced width of 6 ft., 5 in. for improved visibility and handling. Bumper hitch trailers come in floor lengths of 13 and 16 ft. and inside heights of 6½ and 7-ft. Gooseneck trailers feature a 16-ft. floor length and inside height of either 6½ or 7 ft.
(Circle Reply Card No. 112)

Wire Filled Gate

Behlen Country's wire-filled gate comes complete with hinges, screw hooks and chain latch. It features 6-ga. rods in a 2- × 4-in. pattern and comes in lengths from 3 to 16 ft. Bolt-on hinges allow easy reversal when hanging two gates together.
(Circle Reply Card No. 113)

Spray-On Coating

Perma-Tech polyurea, a high-performance, sprayed-on industrial coating, solves maintenance and sanitation problems in commercial livestock operations. Applied to barn walls and floors, Perma-Tech UX-397 creates a durable, seamless monolithic membrane that can withstand rigorous maintenance and sanitation procedures. Applied directly over the existing contrete floor with minimal preparation and at a cost of $7/sq. ft., it's a cost-effective alternative to the ongoing maintenance required by uncoated concrete.
(Circle Reply Card No. 114)

Economical Tractor

New Holland's TL Standard tractors (66- to 82-PTO hp) are especially well suited for loader work and haying. Available in 2- or 4-wheel drive, and with a cab or ROPS, the tractor is powered with a proven, 4-cylinder, 283-cu.-in. New Holland engine. The 12 × 12 SynchroCommand transmission allows an operator to shift and shuttle on the go. High-capacity, 14.5 gpm hydraulic flow from the gear pump assures dependable hydraulic operation and fast cycle time.
(Circle Reply Card No. 115)


Miraco's #6300 livestock waterer is specifically for large feedlot and dairy applications. All poly construction with urethane insulation, the 6300 is 12 ft. long, 22 in. wide x 22 in. tall with a 100-gal. capacity. Bottom slope and two large drains allow fast, easy cleaning. Available with electric heat or constant flow.
(Circle Reply Card No. 116)

Hay Tarp System

Farmboy Online's hay cover protects hay from weather damage at a fraction of the price of building a shed. The Farmboy Advantage” hay tarp system allows hay to be covered within minutes with an 18-oz. tarp that's UV-protected, mildew resistant, waterproof and leak-proof, with a cold crack rating of -45° F and a grab-tensile strength of 325 lbs.

The system consists of a tarp housing and hardware system made of 16-ga. aluminum for durability and portability.
(Circle Reply Card 117)

Steady cash can beat the cycle

If power is borne in simplicity, then the notion of dollar cost averaging (DCA) the annual investment for replacement heifers is downright nuclear in its potential.

“The secret of economics is always figuring out what everyone else is doing, then doing just the opposite,” says John Lawrence, director of the Iowa Beef Center at Iowa State University. That means the typical cyclical approach to expanding and reducing the cowherd — keeping more heifers when prices are increasing and selling more when prices decline — runs counter to buy-low, sell-high profit logic.

Consequently, Lawrence explains maintaining the same dollar investment in heifers purchased or retained each year can return more jingle over time. That's compared to either maintaining constant cow numbers by replacing the same number of heifers or by maintaining the same annual cash flow by selling more or fewer heifers.

Dollar Cost Averaging

Lawrence explains it this way. If a producer focuses on a constant annual heifer investment — say the percentage of the herd you plan to replace each year multiplied by the 10-year average price of those heifers — in effect, the producer will be doing just the opposite of the cycle. He's selling more heifers when they are worth more and retaining more of them when they are worth less.

Over time, that means a producer will sell more cattle and at higher average prices relative to the market. The spread in annual returns, however, will be more significant than focusing on a constant herd size or cash flow.

Lawrence studied the impact of these three strategies over a 30-year time frame (Table 1). Average total revenue, return over total economic cost and return over cash cost were all highest with DCA and lowest by employing a strategy of constant cash flow. What's more, accumulated cash associated with DCA was 34% higher than maintaining herd numbers at a constant rate, and 56% higher than focusing on cash flow.

“If anything surprised me (in this economic model) it was that using cash flow as a strategy turned out to be such a train wreck; you are essentially eating your seed each year,” he says.

Specifically, when cattle are worth less, producers are selling more of the factory to meet pre-determined cash flow. That means they have less cash flow to expand the factory when doing so is more expensive.

Moreover, the fact that the DCA strategy works in Lawrence's economic model, using real world numbers, speaks to the fact that few producers embrace the principle. If everyone was doing it — buying and selling opposite the cycle — obviously, it couldn't work.

Getting Started

Of course, cash flow is the very reason plenty of folks haven't considered it, let alone employed such a strategy. Lawrence points out a producer must have a strong financial position to weather the wide annual return swings that come with DCA. Or, he says, a producer needs diverse enough enterprises to buffer the impact of the swings.

Although Lawrence's model assumes retained heifers rather than purchased ones, he says the impact of the strategies could be more significant with purchased heifers that at times can be purchased for less than the cost of production.

Moreover, along with cash flow, Lawrence says land use must be an imperative consideration. To DCA, producers must have the land flexibility to retain more heifers some years or contract the herd during others. Stocker cattle, crop ground and lease acres are all means to flexibility. The model above assumed a flexible land base rather than fixed.

Consequently, adding and subtracting enterprises from year to year in order to maximize use of the land impacts the returns described above. When Lawrence incorporated a stocker enterprise in his model to balance land utilization, he explains: “Dollar cost averaging generated returns over cash costs 22 percent higher than maintaining a steady herd size, compared to 33 percent in the analysis that assumes complete land flexibility.” A similar but diluted advantage also occurs in accumulated herd net worth.

There's nothing exact about this method. Rather than an absolute prescription, Lawrence says, “This is an alternative strategy than can serve as a guiding principle on how to manage the herd.”

For more details about Lawrence's DCA model compared to maintaining the herd at a constant size, cash flow at a constant level or investing based off a 10-year rolling average, check out his complete report at under “cow/calf management,” then “economics.”

Table 1. Annual revenue and return (1970-1999)

SS = Maintaining herd at a steady size from year to year

CF = Maintaining cash flow at a constant rate from year to year

DCA = Dollar cost averaging the same investment in replacements each year

RAV = Retaining the 10-year average value of replacements each year

Total annual revenue ($)
Strategy Maximum Minimum Average
SS 64,707 26,877 43,676
CF 65,081 14,002 36,417
DCA 96,218 24,710 47,374
RAV 75,119 22,504 43,853
Annual return over total economic cost ($)
Strategy Maximum Minimum Average
SS 19,406 -16,332 -1,817
CF 2,872 -11,172 -924
DCA 37,465 -21,146 108
RAV 27,792 -17,577 -449
Annual return over cash cost ($)
Strategy Maximum Minimum Average
SS 27,178 -7,861 4,869
CF 6,387 2,873 4,152
DCA 48,054 -14,900 6,474
RAV 35,934 -12,399 5,581
Source: Iowa Beef Center/Iowa State University

Northwest Entrepreneur

BEEF: What's your vision for Agri Beef? Where would you like to see the company positioned in five to 10 years?

Rebholtz: As a cattle feeder — and within our other divisions — we're currently positioned in the middle of the beef industry. Our goal is to figure out how we play that role — how we affect the profitability of a cow/calf producer and the profitability of a packing plant.

We'll try to get closer to our customers at all levels. Then, we'll be able to manage our system to somehow take part in that value creation.

Segment division in the beef industry is disappearing. The price margins in the industry are going to tighten, so the question is how can we expand the margins? The best way is to take costs out of the system.

We know there will be opportunity in exchanging information on the ranching and feedlot sides. We've learned a lot about that from our animal health division (MWI) where we do a lot of business electronically.

BEEF: With cattle numbers dropping and a looming over-capacity facing the cattle feeding business, are you concerned about where you will find cattle?

Rebholtz: Yes. A lot of external factors — like urban sprawl, environmental restrictions, water issues, proliferation of hobby ranches — will make it much more difficult to find cattle. We've been working to fine tune our feeding operations and design our systems for that eventuality.

The feeding and packing industries will face pressures of over-capacity. But, that also creates opportunity for additional profit, assuming we can find sound operations that are willing to develop relationships throughout the system.

BEEF: Will there continue to be a place for family ranching as we've traditionally known it, at least within Agri Beef's sphere of influence?

Rebholtz: We sure hope so. I think we're at a point where we can provide a standard service and share with ranchers the linkages we have built throughout Agri Beef and our packing associates.

There's a lot of information we can share with producers to help them overcome production inefficiencies. There's also room for improvement in marketing practices.

As an industry, we tend to fall into comfort zones and don't spend time developing different marketing options. The survivors will be the people that take the inefficiencies out of their marketing practices. That's something each person has to look at and evaluate for himself.

BEEF: Speaking of markets, as a rancher and feeder in the Pacific Northwest, are you being hurt or helped by Canadian fed cattle imports?

Rebholtz: We need to somehow continue to welcome those fed cattle supplies in order to keep our packing plants open. I hope cow/calf producers can see that, too. If we lose a packing plant, we'll lose a market.

BEEF: What do you, as a big supporter of the beef checkoff, say to those critical of the program?

Rebholtz: I think the checkoff has been a benefit to all beef industry segments, especially in the areas of food safety, new product development and consumer education. If we lose the checkoff, then we must rely on the packing industry to support those activities.

I envision companies like Tyson, Excel, ConAgra and Farmland doing their own promotion and research and development. But, they would be looking at projects shorter term in nature and with a more immediate financial return to them, as opposed to a more focused, longer-term industry perspective, which the Beef Board tends to have.

I also think that the checkoff has helped some smaller food companies like Harris Ranch, Farmland, RMH Foods, etc., compete with the big boys. More competition helps these companies differentiate themselves and eventually benefit the producers.

Without the checkoff, the evolution of the industry would slow down, and we'd lose a lot of credibility as beef producers. We have to get beyond the antagonistic relationships between the industry segments of the industry. I think that has a lot to do with the checkoff controversy.

BEEF: Agri Beef always has been innovative in marketing and procurement. What are some of your newest ideas?

Rebholtz: Look at our Web site. You'll see where producers can list cattle they have for sale. Agri Beef managers can look at the listings and buy or basis contract cattle, partner on feeding cattle or simply discuss retained ownership opportunities with sellers.

We also have a feedback system for group carcass and performance data on cattle. This gives ranchers an opportunity to sell direct before calling the video rep or loading up for the sale barn.

We also have listings of cattle we've procured and available for re-sale. You can “shop” around Agri Beef Co.'s feedyards in Idaho, Washington and Kansas. When you find a set of cattle you're interested in, just click on the lot number and fill out the form. We'll get back to you.

And, with MWI — we're initiating some programs where we can again get closer to our customers, in this case, veterinarians.

We've set up a “pharmacy” system where a vet can prescribe a product, and we'll ship it out under the name of the vet to his or her client. It saves the vets from having to maintain a huge inventory and relieves them from a great deal of financial risk.

BEEF: Look in your crystal ball. Where's the beef industry headed?

Rebholtz: I see a further segmentation in consumer beef markets, which will create more marketing opportunities. There will be the white tablecloth markets, the middle-of-the road steakhouses and markets for branded products as well as continuing markets for lower-cost commodity beef. And, there will be branches within each of those segments that will provide production opportunity.

There will be a shakeout in the alliances, but it will be slow, and the fallout will depend more on the business efforts of the alliance than necessarily the type of beef marketed.

Remember that people will seek out the sources of the foods they prefer and become loyal customers. But those people want to be more than consumers. They want to become part of the process. That's where readily available production and processing information will become more important.

We have a great industry, and I'm really excited about our future.

Editor's Note: Paul Christopher Rebholtz, 34, passed away Oct. 16 in an Elmore County, ID, plane crash. Paul worked with his brother Robert at Agri Beef until May 2000 when he began his entrepreneurial venture XY Genetics. Our condolences to Paul's wife, children and the entire Rebholtz family.

In 1978, Bob Rebholtz incorporated his livestock feeding businesses into Agri Beef Co., based in Boise, ID. With two feedyards under his arm, Rebholtz moved Agri Beef forward on an underpinning of high-tech information systems and economies of scale in procurement, management and marketing of fed cattle.

Later, Rebholtz expanded Agri Beef by attaching businesses designed to support the feedyards. The idea of the ancillary enterprises was to help reduce the cost and price risks associated with feeding.

A recognized cattle industry innovator and leader, Rebholtz died of cancer in January 1997, leaving his family with one of the nation's largest agri-business empires.

Today, his son, Robert Rebholtz, Jr., 37, holds the reins, and he's guiding Agri Beef into a new era of innovation and expansion. Surrounded by a cadre of old and new managers within the company's several divisions, Rebholtz couples youthful exuberance with a great affection for the beef industry.

Cattle Division

Cattlefeeding is the backbone of Agri Beef. The ninth-largest cattle feeder, Agri Beef produces more than 350,000 fed cattle and manages 40,000 head of customer calves each year.

Agri Beef's holdings include Snake River Cattle Feeders, American Falls, ID; el Oro Cattle Feeders, Moses Lake, WA; and a partnership in Supreme Cattle Feeders LLC, Liberal, KS. The latter acquisition moved Agri Beef into a partnership with Farmland Industries Inc. and National Beef to form the Farmland Supreme Beef Alliance (FSBA).

The most recent addition to the Agri Beef cattle division is Boise Valley Feeders LLC, a joint venture with Ed Johnson and his son, Jeff.

Agri Beef expanded into ranching in 1988 with the purchase of the 1.4-million-acre IL Ranch near Tuscarora, NV. Now the nation's 24th largest cow/calf producer, the ranching division provides more than 5,500 calves for Agri Beef feedlots each year, along with about 9,000 lambs.

Agri Beef also has its own trucking division to transport cattle, grain and other commodities. A team of in-house livestock marketing specialists manages company-owned cattle and assists with marketing customer cattle.

Snake River Farms

Snake River Farms fills a specialized niche for high-quality Wagyu/Kobe beef markets in Japan and the U.S. With breeding stock from several Wagyu genetic lines native to Japan, Snake River Farms is directly involved with every step in producing highly marbled Kobe beef.

Through contracts with cooperating ranchers, Snake River Farms crossbreeds the Wagyu lines with selected Angus-based herds. Half-blood calves are purchased back from ranchers, and the calves are finished on a marbling-enhancing feeding program at Snake River.

Vet Products And Services

Purchased by Agri Beef to support its livestock health programs, MWI Veterinary Supply has expanded far beyond the cattle division. MWI markets more than 6,000 pharmaceuticals, supplies and pet foods to veterinarians.

Established in the mid-1970s by M.W. Ickes, DVM, MWI maintains a sophisticated online inventory and order-processing system and provides immediate access to inventory and pricing information. Orders are shipped from MWI warehouses located throughout the U.S.


PerforMix Nutrition Systems is Agri Beef's feed supplement and livestock nutrition company with production facilities in Idaho, Washington and Kansas. PerforMix produces liquid supplements for Agri Beef as well as feedlot, dairy, cow/calf and stocker customers in the West.

A team of nutritionists also provides a broad range of value-added services. These include ration formulation, feed analysis, ingredient break-even values, dairy records analysis and feed mill audits.

Winter Tetany

Grass tetany is a nutrition-related health condition that generally occurs when cows are grazing cool-season grasses in early spring or wheat pasture in the fall.

In reality, tetany can occur in some form at any time of the year. What's needed is feed with low magnesium levels and high calcium and potassium levels, or levels that are out of proportion during stress situations.

“Winter tetany” occurs in wintertime when cows are fed harvested feeds. Grass hays, including cereal grain hays, tend to be low in magnesium and need to be properly supplemented. Feeding legume hay may alleviate the problem, but it will not fix an immediate problem.

Non-legume hays may average 0.18% magnesium, but some hays may be as low as 0.03 to 0.05% magnesium on a dry matter basis. Forage levels below 0.18% magnesium are marginal, while levels less than 0.12% will predispose an animal to winter tetany. Low calcium levels and high potassium levels in the feed may also be contributing factors.

Cereal-grain hays and grass hays may be high in potassium, but calcium and magnesium levels may be low. A plant magnesium level of 2-2.5% is considered a safe level. Normal blood levels are 1.7-3.2 mg./dl in mature cows.

Mature animals are far more susceptible than younger animals because of their inability to mobilize magnesium from their bones to meet their requirements. This is especially critical during lactation.

Cows with young calves are more at risk than steers, heifers, dry cows and cows with calves more than 4 months of age, but heavy milking cows are the most susceptible to tetany. Also, cows that develop tetany are more prone to do so again.

Tetany-afflicted cows may show signs of nervousness, reduced feed intake, reduced milk production and muscular twitching along the face, shoulder and flank. It progresses to staggering, when cattle fall on their sides with the head thrown back, excessive salivation and grinding of the teeth. The time between the first signs and death may be as short as four to eight hours.

Therefore, treatment must begin as soon as possible. It's important to quickly get some form of magnesium into the animal and relocate the cattle until preventive measures can be taken.

The treatment of choice is an intravenous (IV) injection with calcium-magnesium gluconate because it gives the most rapid response. Drenching the animal with a source of magnesium, such as magnesium sulfate, or using a rectally-infused enema of magnesium sulfate are other options.

With an IV treatment, the blood levels rise rapidly but fall back to the previous level within three to six hours, so additional measures must be taken.

To prevent winter tetany on tetany-prone grass or harvested feeds (grasses, cereal grain hays), feeding alfalfa or other legume hay may reduce the risk. Cows at this time of year (precalving) should always have a mineral source available to them that includes a source of magnesium and calcium.

If a problem is suspected, additional magnesium may be added. In tetany-prone situations, chelated magnesium, which is more readily absorbed, may be called for. Remember, magnesium must be provided on a daily basis to prevent tetany problems.

Producers are the best defense against tetany. As part of management, a complete feed analysis should have been run on the feed or pastures at some time. If a producer has a known problem with tetany or suspects a problem, the feeds in question should be analyzed specifically for magnesium, calcium, nitrate and potassium.

When the feed analysis information is known, a “tetany ratio” can be calculated by the producer, vet or nutritionist to see if the forage is tetany-prone. The formula is:

tetany ratio = % potassium

% calcium + % magnesium

If the ratio is greater than 2.2, then the forage is tetany prone and preventive measures should be taken.

If grazing wheat pasture, crested wheat or tall fescue — or feeding straw, cornstalks or other low-quality, tetany-prone roughage — the producer should be prepared ahead of time to plan preventive measures and reduce losses.

David Wieland is a nutrition consultant specializing in cow/calf, feedlot and horses. Based in Shepherd, MT, he also publishes a subscription newsletter. Contact him at 406/373-5512 or [email protected].

Protein blocks

When considering protein and energy supplements, there's often more to consider than price alone. One question ranchers often have is how well older, “broken-mouth” cows utilize protein blocks.

They have their limits, and many cattlemen expect more out of a range block than they are capable of providing.

“Standing dry forage and protein blocks won't sustain an old cow, especially if she's nursing a calf,” says Jon Griggs, manager of Maggie Creek Ranches, Elko, NV.

Dan Drake, Yreka, CA, farm advisor, says a major reason these old cows decline in production is due to their reduced ability to break down feedstuffs.

“Of course, this is primarily due to the loss of the mechanical tools — the teeth,” he says. The digestive system is dependent on small particle sizes for proper digestion.

“Because the particle size consumed by these old cows is increased, passage rate is slowed. Thus, consumption is reduced,” Drake points out. “Nutrient requirements of these old cows haven't increased, but consumption and feed efficiency have both decreased.”

Many producers feel blocks are hard on a cow's teeth, particularly broken-mouth cows.

“They feel blocks accelerate the aging process,” says Ron Torell, Elko, NV, area Extension livestock specialist. “Others say the blocks don't wear teeth faster. I've never found any research to substantiate either.”

Nevertheless, once a cow's teeth can't do the job, she needs to be placed on a nutrient-dense ration with smaller particle size and softer feed.

“At that point, we need to do more of the feed breakdown process for the cow,” says Drake.

Glenn Nader, Yuba County, CA, farm advisor, agrees but also feels many of these old cows have lost some of the villa in the lining of the digestive tract. This adds to the lowered feed efficiency and digestion.

“These old cows need to be pampered if they're kept for the last calf, says Nader. “They can no longer produce with the same feed and under the same conditions as the main cowherd.”

Rancher Brad Dalton, Wells, NV, feeds his short-term cows chopped hay with a concentrate. “If you don't provide that extra feed and care, all you'll get is a dink calf and a canner cow.”

Everything considered, Torell questions if blocks are the supplement of choice for these old, broken-mouth cows.

“Consensus is to sort these old cows off and place them on a better diet, which might include a micro-mineral package,” he advises. “Standing dry forage and blocks are just not enough.”

But, Griggs offers a dose of reality given current hay and cull cow prices.

“Look closely at the costs involved in keeping these short-term cows,” he says. “If it doesn't pencil out, the only option is to sell her.”

Soldiers of ill fortune

Forget international terrorism. Ongoing pocket-padding terrorist activities perpetrated by domestic environmental and animal rights activist groups pose a cataclysmic threat to agricultural producers and their industries.

“Recognize that there is a coalition out there, large and well funded, that wants to move America away from a corporate economy to what they believe would be a more bucolic lifestyle,” says John Doyle. He's director of communications for Guest Choice Network (GCN), a coalition of food and beverage distributors fighting to preserve consumer choice by battling activist fiction with fact.

Sure, there are the visible zealots like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), whose president said publicly last spring that she hoped foot-and-mouth disease came to America — far better for livestock to perish that way than be harvested for food.

And, there are the out-and-out felons like the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and Environmental Liberation Front (ELF) who have taken credit for such crimes as arson, theft and blowing up buildings.

But, Doyle says the most dangerous of these may be the ones many producers never hear of. These are organizations that promulgate a national agenda within local communities, decrying the environmental compliance of a livestock feeding organization, for instance. In fact, their agenda is really to do away with corporations (not just those in the agricultural industry), interstate commerce and technology.

“They're trying to sabotage corporate America, and they're using food because people can relate to that,” explains Doyle. “If you bring down the red meat industry, as an example, you accomplish the specific agendas of these animal rights and environmental groups while also accomplishing the broader agenda of doing away with agricultural corporations.” And, you set a precedent for dismantling corporations in other industries.

Here's how it looks at home. A feedlot wants to begin or expand. A local person starts a campaign against it for whatever reason. It appears this community member, while misguided, is at least sincere, so people listen. In fact, more often than not, Doyle says these locals are puppets for moneyed national movements waging war behind the scenes at the grassroots level.

For perspective, he points to the Summit on Sustainable Hog Farming held in North Carolina last winter. Following that meeting, Doyle quotes Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as saying: “We are going to put an end to this industry. We're starting with the hogs, then we are going after the other ones (beef and poultry).” Kennedy is founder and president of a group called the Water Keepers Alliance (WKA).

Among other things, Doyle explains that summit outlined a strategy for activists to sue large animal feeding operations in at least five states on the grounds these operations collude to deny citizens clean water. Their rhetoric also pits small operations against large ones, and corporations against sole proprietors. Among WKA's prosecutors are those who successfully sued the tobacco and asbestos industries.

Since then, GCN has tracked WKA involvement to local fights about the expansion of livestock feeding operations. Bottom line: Producers are forced to wage a legal war against national powers, not some local individual with a bone to pick.

“That's one of the issues,” says Trent Loos, a livestock producer from Norris, SD. He organized a meeting of Midwest livestock producers to hear firsthand from Doyle what they're up against.

“You can spend $10 million building a business,” Loos says, “then you have to spend another $1 million to defend it.”

And Doyle points out that these organizations, which exist to change public sentiment, are proliferating. There were 6,000 of these non-government organizations in 1990 compared to 27,000 in 1999.

Their funding is proliferating as well. Between 1992 and 1998 alone, funding for three of the most vociferous groups more than doubled to $62.7 million (see Table 1).

Radicals As Bedfellows

The salt in the wound is the fact that some of the organizations involved are those agricultural producers would least suspect.

As an example, mention Farm Aid to most producers, and they probably have a soft spot for its founder, singer Willie Nelson. But, public record tax documents gathered by GCN reveal that Farm Aid has contributed to The Alliance for a Responsible Swine Industry (ARSI). ARSI is part of an anti-hog media campaign that includes well-known radical stalwarts like the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Sierra Club and the Environmental Information Center (EIC).

Incidentally, Doyle says NRDC and the Sierra Club are both clients of a Washington, D.C.-based outfit called Fenton Communications, led by David Fenton. Besides founding the EIC, Fenton orchestrated the Alar apple scare in 1989 launched by NRDC, Doyle says. He later bragged that the effort made him about $700,000.

“Groups like these are in business. This is how they make a living,” says Doyle.

While volunteer members may believe in the organization's agenda, he says, “the leaders of these organizations know exactly what it's about, making money and accomplishing extreme political agendas.”

Then, there's a group called the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). Despite the fuzzy feel of its moniker, Doyle explains, “In a public plea for the U.S. government to sue U.S. meat industry retailers, Neal Barnard, PCRM president, said, ‘While many legislators are rightly concerned about lives and money lost to tobacco companies, they're ignoring the devastating effects of meat consumption… Meat consumption is just as dangerous to public health as tobacco use. It's time we looked at holding the meat producers and fast-food outlets legally accountable.’”

Again, through public record tax documents, GCN discovered that the PCRM received a grant of $432,524 in 1999, all of the charitable contributions made by the Foundation to Support Animal Protection (FSAP) that year. The president of FSAP at the time was Barnard. The vice president was Ingrid Newkirk, president of PETA. Newkirk signed the FSAP tax form, which listed its address as the same one used by PETA.

Carrying this a step further, GCN has tracked contributions from such groups as PETA to more radical individuals. These are people known to commit arson, destroy property and commit other general mayhem in the name of animal rights.

Call it a legal shell game, immoral skullduggery or just a cosmic coincidence, but Doyle says this type of common funding is typical. Trace the funding of groups like these, and you'll discover some well-known consumer brand names. GCN will unveil a list at in January.

Battling The Invisible Goliath

“You can't acquiesce and roll over thinking these groups are going to go away. They aren't. They have a multi-decade agenda, and they're making progress every year,” says Doyle.

That's one reason GCN took root a couple of years ago. Rather than fight unfounded, sensational claims levied at a particular food or beverage product, its members seek to ensure consumer choice by demanding activist groups substantiate their claims. Through efforts like tracking non-profit tax returns and sharing information with the world via their Web site at, GCN has already made some groups uncomfortable enough to pull in their horns.

Tim Gannon, founder and executive vice president of Outback Steak House, which serves about 2 million meals a week, explains his firm's GCN membership this way: “It's real simple. We want to be actively engaged in the debate. We don't want a one-sided extremist group controlling the debate.”

After all, every time an activist group entices the public to buy into its fiction, consumers lose one more choice, and the cost of business increases. Gannon uses iced tea as an example.

Just a few moons ago, fresh-brewed iced tea was the standard at most restaurants, including fast-food outlets. Now, lots of them have gone to serving that manufactured-tasting, pre-brewed tea. Why? Gannon says an activist group concocted some research indicating that the equipment associated with brewing tea might serve up more bacteria than pre-mixed stuff.

Rather than fight the pseudo-science, Gannon says “A lot of companies switched to non-brewed tea with all of these preservatives and chemicals. It cost them millions of dollars to switch, plus they wind up with a product I don't think tastes as good. Consumers are the ultimate loser.” You can still get the real thing at Outback.

“Although these activist groups are small, from a media standpoint they are effective,” says Gannon. “And it's difficult for a red meat company (as an example) to say these groups are wrong in the claims they are making about red meat. It's easier for Guest Choice to say it because they represent all of these food and beverage industries.”

Indeed. Doyle explains, “Our mission is to shoot an arrow into the messenger of these bombastic claims and the credibility of the organizations behind them… All we're doing is protecting the freedom of choice. We can attack the messenger where trade associations have to defend their product.”

Doyle emphasizes an industry offense is essential because activist groups don't have to be accurate in what they say to be effective. Perception is king.

“The whole fight is about public opinion, and we are losing that fight,” says Doyle. “Being preemptive is the key because once an issue gets into the newspaper you're fighting a different fight. Once an issue gets to the regulatory level, it's all over.”

Destruction Standards

Doyle points out the structure of many activist groups is eerily similar to the terrorist organizations Americans have been forced to learn about in the aftermath of September's attacks.

  • Many of them exist as loose-knit cell groups beneath a broad umbrella organization.

  • There are few identifiable leaders.

  • They embrace the Internet for instant, cheap, anonymous communication.

  • They're funded by philanthropic. organizations, some who know what they're funding and some who don't.

  • They believe in terrorism and misinformation as effective tools.

Next, Doyle says the model employed by many activist groups is a straightforward lesson in how to erode a market:

  1. De-normalize the product, making the consumer feel uncomfortable consuming it because of health or other concerns;

  2. Demonize the product by making the consumer feel that when they consume it they are not only hurting themselves but others;

  3. De-legitimatize the product by leading consumers to ask for more government regulation and control of the product;

  4. Destroy the product by making it too expensive, too perverse or just too difficult to consume.

“Their goal is to frighten and shame consumers into their choices, then restrict production of products they're after through taxation and regulation,” explains Doyle. “Some people say that could never happen. Just 20 years ago how many people thought it would be illegal to light a cigarette in so many places, or that the Environmental Protection Agency would come out, as it did recently, and recommend parents not smoke around their children because they might be hurting their child's health?”

Consequently, producers have more at stake in these battles than consumers. As Gannon says, “We could switch our menu if we lost red meat, though it would be difficult. But, what would producers do?”

Home-Grown Defense

At least some are looking to turn the tables by using some of the activists' own strategy.

“We in the livestock industry are under attack, and we need to know how to move forward,” says Loos. He explains he organized the meeting between producers and Doyle because he wanted to see if they would share his reaction to information described in this article, information Loos had already learned from Doyle. They did.

Within weeks, Loos signed on as GCN coordinator of livestock and agricultural activities, and some producers signed on as members. The aim is to educate producers how to educate the public about the facts of their businesses on a local level.

Rather than leave this to existing trade groups, Loos explains, “We need an organization that is removed from the political arena and the issues that constantly divide commodity organizations. We need an organization that represents all commodities and defends all agricultural products so that it has more credibility than a trade organization that can only defend the product it represents.”

This initial meeting also gave GCN an opportunity to get closer to producers.

“I was shocked by how many of the producers sitting around the table had already been touched personally just by the Water Keepers issue that we're working on,” says Doyle.

In the meantime, there's no question GCN's efforts are making a positive impact for producers.

“The biggest thing we (GCN) have accomplished so far is drawing media inquiry to the bombastic claims made by these groups,” says Doyle. This media inquiry has caused some groups to alter their focus or their involvement with some of the organizations, he says.

Doyle believes they're beginning to impact the money flowing into these organizations. By tracking tax records and sharing the information with the public, Doyle explains, “At the very least, we'll see a restriction of contributions to these organizations because we're shining a very bright light on who's giving what to whom.”

Plus, GCN believes the facts will help challenge the non-profit structure of some of the groups, forcing them to play the game differently.

However, to win the battle, Doyle says producers must also play the game differently.

“You can't just call someone and rant. Producers must educate themselves on the issues and communicate with one another to share accurate information and validate it with an organization like Guest Choice. You can win the battle at the local level with accurate information,” he says.

After all, Doyle explains, “Local and county officials are not fools, and they do not like to be made fools of. These issues turn into a whole new ball game when local officials realize someone has presented them with an issue described as local that is really national in nature and is funded by national groups.”

Again, that's one reason tracking the money trail has been so effective.

“You shine the light on these groups, and they're like fungus; they'll dry up and blow away,’ says Doyle. “But you have to start with the light of information.”