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Articles from 2013 In January

The Correct Balance Isn’t At The Extremes

conflict in cattle industry

When taken to an extreme or out of context, good ideas can find themselves in conflict, when they shouldn’t be. We’re all familiar with the sayings that “cash flow is king” and “it takes money to make money.” Both are valid, as a constant struggle for new or struggling businesses is having the cash available to invest in opportunities. Meanwhile, the number-one reason start-up businesses fail is a lack of capital.

These truisms are particularly valid in the cattle business because of economies of scale, as well as our industry’s capital-intensive nature, and the length of inventory turnover.

Business experts, bankers and financial consultants tell us we need to increase cash reserves, cash flow and sales volume gross and net. This isn’t just good advice, it is great advice! And we’ve seen a multitude of industries develop to serve this purpose by creating products that are designed to accomplish these goals.

These include the pharmaceutical industry, equipment manufacturers, seedstock producers, land-grant universities, feed/mineral/supplement manufacturers, and a myriad of consultants in veterinary care, nutrition, agronomy, marketing, etc. All these products and services cost money, but promise an increased value proposition.

Investing for value

I have that expensive antibiotic in my refrigerator, purchase semen from AI companies, and invest tens of thousands of dollars every year with breed associations. I do it because my investment in those products makes me more competitive and creates more benefit than their cost.

We look at the numbers and the research, and we make a decision to invest in a technology or not. Some work for us, some don’t. But it’s virtually impossible to imagine not having the use of these technologies to improve our bottom line.

Photo Gallery: Infographics Highlight Technology Efficiency In Beef Industry

Of course, there’s another side to the cash equation – one side is investment, and the other is waste. Some technologies don’t pay, or only pay in certain situations. Along with investing in good technologies, we’re also taught that we must be a low-cost producer.

I spent a great deal of time the last couple of decades looking at ways to lower costs and eliminate unnecessary spending. It’s probably a character fault, but I usually find myself going past optimum levels and having to correct.

At one point, I was running 300 registered cows while working full time, and I didn’t own a tractor, or even a safe working chute. I was low cost, but I was also sleep-deprived and failing to live up to my family responsibilities. I can’t tell you how many times I saved $100 and ended up losing $1,000.

I was on the verge of losing everything, because low cost at its extreme is not low cost at all. So, we now have a nice hydraulic chute, a feed truck, and an old but reliable loader tractor. While it’s difficult to quantify the economic impact of those purchases, we do know they’ve all paid for themselves many times over.

Of course, on the opposite side, I’ve also paid too much at times for something, or purchased something that didn’t return as it should. Being inclined toward the low-cost mantra, my mistakes were largely from not investing in the operation. There’s a huge difference between spending less and investing less.

My biggest failure in lowering production costs came as the result of benchmarking. I still believe in benchmarking, but only as a starting point to identify potential problems or opportunities. For instance, I would look at some average and conclude that I was doing well because I fed less harvested forage than average. Or, I would conclude that I needed to reduce my consumption of diesel fuel because I was using more than the average.

But looking specifically at my operation, I would discover that actually I was spending too much on hay, and being incredibly efficient with my diesel fuel usage. It was only when I went beyond benchmarking and began to really analyze various cost components, that I was able to make progress.

Some argue any expenditure is a bad expenditure, but everything must be analyzed in a broader context. Most things are a tradeoff and it’s the difference that must be measured.

The seedstock industry is a great example because it focuses on managing genetic antagonisms and the tradeoffs that exist. From time to time, this industry has sucked production out of cattle, which cost producers money. At times, we’ve also emphasized production to the point that the costs increased disproportionately to gains in value, which also cost producers money. Not surprisingly, the cattle with the lowest maintenance costs, and/or the cattle with the highest production/output, have almost always been the least profitable.   Being low cost is a combination of efficiency and production. Using just one side of the equation leads to problems. Similarly, we’re now seeing extremes as it relates to science; it’s about finding a balance.

Weighing the benefits

It’s become obvious that standing behind good science regardless of public perception can be problematic. However, the converse is also true – giving up good science in an attempt to appease the “anti-science” crowd can also cost the industry and its competiveness long term.

For instance, it’s become popular in some circles to preach against the use of growth promotants, or for the slowing of genetic progress. As an industry, we’d be better off, they argue. There is some validity to that opinion. Growth promotants do increase the pounds produced per cow, and thus reduce the number of cows needed. But the converse is that we become less competitive with the other protein sources; without changing demand, the loss of tonnage is offset by increased production costs and reduced margins.

When it comes to the technology argument, there are two facets. One is consumer perception, in which good science occasionally may be perceived as a negative and eliminated to meet consumer expectations for our product. But such abandonments of good science are the result of our failure to educate consumers. However, given the strength of the opposition, this sadly will continue to be the inevitable result for some good technologies.

Another Perspective: The Balancing Act Of Consumer Perception

The other side is that, while some might prefer the marketplace that existed before the introduction of a technology, once the technology has debuted, it’s tough to step back from it. Once it’s out, it’s out. There may be seedstock producers, for instance, who long for the days before EPDs, but there’s no going back anymore.

Really, the either/or debate over low cost vs. high output/quality, or the use of technology vs. traditional production methods, are just red herrings. They are mythological at their foundation because the conflict between them is a construct of desire not reality. The absolutism of either side has been proven to be false.

What we need are better tools to make decisions based upon science, as well as more proactive approaches to promote good science or understand consumer desires and demands. This will allow us to respond in a timely manner and avoid costly missteps. The correct balance won’t be found at the extremes.

The Bulls Have The Bears On The Run

The Bulls Have The Bears On The Run

One can still build a case for pessimism in the cattle industry. After all, drought continues to be widespread. The overall economic picture continues to be dismal. The GDP actually shrunk in the last quarter of 2012, and unemployment levels – or at least the percentage of the eligible workforce actually working – are unprecedented since the days of the Great Depression. Meanwhile, spending continues to grow at unprecedented rates and the federal debt is growing at a rate that threatens the very survival of our economic system. In addition, demand will remain constrained unless the macroeconomic situation is addressed and that doesn’t appear likely. Input price risk remains so large as to make expansion largely unfeasible. Thus, there are some real issues for market bears to growl about.

A Closer Look: BEEF Reader Survey Finds Both Optimism And Concern

At the same time, the bullish sentiment continues to grow – to the point that many are predicting a stampede once the bulls are really let loose. There was certainly some good news this week. For instance the Jan. 1 cattle-on-feed numbers were down almost 6% compared to a year ago, and nearly 3% below the five-year average. That’s even more impressive when one considers the widespread drought conditions, which had most experts predicting that we’ve placed a higher percentage of the calf crop than we normally would have. All the market has been talking about for 18 months is the tightening of fed supplies, and still the number came in lower than what was expected. At this point, there’s no way to stop the trend – supplies are going to be tight and tight for a considerable time.

The placement numbers were more telling. We are placing significantly fewer lighter-weight cattle; the only category that was up was 600-799 lbs., which means we’re actually pulling more cattle ahead than is typical. That can only go on for so long; at some point, supplies will constrict even more.

But it isn’t just supply. The announcement that Japan will drop its 20-month age requirement on Feb. 1 and begin accepting cattle that are 30 months of age or less removes a major obstacle to exporting product to what used to be our number-one customer (and still our second largest market). The U.S. Meat Export Federation estimates this will equate to an increase of around $20/head for every fed animal in the U.S.

So, despite the global economic outlook, the demand side remains positive. The bulls have the bears on the run. 


Dealing With Technology Vs. Perception

beef industry technology

Our industry is realizing it must be better about identifying problematic issues and dealing proactively with them before they become PR nightmares. The examples are numerous.

First, there are the technology issues troubling our industry. We have always had a strong predilection to stand on good science, but the wide spectrum of potential threats we face today are so nuanced that all seem to require difference approaches.

For instance, lean finely textured beef (LFTB) improved food safety and lowered costs for consumers, while actually increasing revenue for the industry at the same time. Few anticipated LFTB being a problem; after all, it was a triumph of technology and a win:win situation for both industry and consumers.

Then, wham, LFTB was suddenly transformed into “pink slime,” and the value of every single head of cattle was reduced, as well as our industry’s competiveness and efficiency. In the end, the product line was so damaged perception-wise that it’s difficult to foresee it regaining acceptance.

A Closer Look: LFTB – “Too Valuable To Waste”

Another issue concerns growth promotants, which carry no health risks and improve efficiency. These products improve producer economics, reduce feed costs, increase production per animal, and create a leaner/healthier product. Environmentalists should love such products for their effectiveness in lowering the industry’s environmental impact, and the health community should applaud the responsible use of these FDA-approved products. After all, we’ve all heard the stories about the use of illegal products and unapproved protocols being used in countries where these products have been banned.

The whole beta-agonist debate is another. Europe utilized it as a non-tariff trade barrier, as a way to protect domestic industries that aren’t competitive with the U.S. The result has been almost a global public relations campaign against sound science.

Here in the U.S., opportunistic marketers saw a similar opportunity, and the natural/organic market has taken the lead in playing off the concerns created by the international community. Today, the science is still clear cut, and perhaps even more so because the earlier studies indicating potential problems have been refuted and found to be false. Yet, consumer perception continues to move in the other direction.

The bottom line is that this technology could be lost. The great irony would be that it was never about the science, but rather trade barriers and marketing schemes. That, however, doesn’t make the issue any less real.

Then there are antibiotics, an issue that is even more complicated. The truth is that antibiotic resistance is growing and it’s a real problem. The use of antibiotics has often been misstated and misinterpreted by opponents of animal agriculture, but not entirely. No one would recommend the elimination of antibiotics, but the political winds are such that we will see a reduction in availability of certain compounds and more restrictive guidelines in use.

A Closer Look: The Future Use Of Antibiotics Will Be More Limited

The challenge here is to get involved in public policy, not only to counter the rampant misinformation from opponents, but also with the acknowledgement that the course has been set. Changes are going to occur, but how do we make sure that the changes are appropriate and, if not totally sound scientifically, at least reasonable from our perspective?

Other issues, such as the environment, endangered species, open space, etc., are more complicated and dynamic. Increasingly, we’re finding that traditional enemies may be allies and vice versa. Who would have thought a few years ago that we would be working today with groups like the Sierra Club to ensure open space and reasonable protection of species?

The biggest hit came from traditional ally

Meanwhile, who would have dared think that our industry’s traditional allies would end up posing the greatest threat? As an industry, we still haven’t come to grips with the fact that the greatest frontal attack ever successfully launched against this industry was implemented not by the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) or Greenpeace, or even a media-generated public hysteria. It was our by our traditional allies and fellow agriculturists within the corn industry.

The corn industry’s goal wasn’t to reduce the size of our industry by 10% or more, even though that’s been the result. Plus, many of us are diversified operators; thus, while the cattle industry was permanently altered, the benefits of ethanol subsidies may have exceeded the costs for some.

Perhaps it’s because we have historically been allies, and that we still are a major customer of the corn industry. Whatever the reason, the most damaging external event with the longest-lasting impact has happened with little more than a whimper from our industry. Ranchers should have been staging cattle drives on Pennsylvania Avenue to counter the most damaging public policy ever directed at our industry. Yet, for whatever reason, we failed to mobilize.

Sadly, the policy is now so engrained that it will likely never be reversed; perhaps the wisest thing is to focus on adjusting to the new realities. But it also makes sense to dissect how such a bad policy – one that will forever make our industry smaller and less competitive – was enacted. This is a battle we lost, and the corn lobby did their job in transferring fortunes from consumers and the cattle industry to their industry.

Our recourse is to adjust and find the new balance, and we are well on our way. Cow numbers and cow-calf operators have declined; feedlots are being mothballed; production is moving to areas that have better access to distillers byproducts; and packing plants are closing. The industry will shrink, but it will once again find equilibrium.

Yes, our industry lost the battle over ethanol; we were overwhelmed and outmaneuvered politically. Ironically, we should have had consumers, environmentalists and energy companies on our side. Most of them did eventually align against the policy (consumers and environmentalists belatedly so), but none face losing what we have lost.

Perhaps no one wants to admit failure, but our industry has had little discussion or self-reflection about how we can prevent a recurrence of something similar. The billions being transferred annually out of this industry are now permanent. Assigning blame is probably pointless, but analyzing how we ultimately were unable to do anything but watch as 10% or more of our industry was eliminated by a pen stroke might be worth more than a passing conversation.

Another failure or two of this magnitude in the public debate, and we’ll need to consult with the sheep industry for direction as how to proceed.

Equine reproduction laboratory at CSU names new leaders

Two leaders in Colorado State University’s renowned Equine Sciences programs are gaining new responsibilities as part of a larger effort to strengthen internationally recognized teaching and research on campus.

Dr. Jerry Black, a veterinarian and associate professor in the Department of Animal Sciences, will become director of the CSU Equine Reproduction Laboratory, a leader in horse reproductive technologies and genetic preservation. As director, Black will oversee day-to-day operations of the Equine Reproduction Laboratory in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Black will retain his position as director of the undergraduate Equine Sciences program in the College of Agricultural Sciences. The undergraduate program offers one of CSU’s most popular majors, with about 400 enrolled students training for professions in the horse industry.

In addition, Jason Bruemmer, a professor in the Department of Animal Sciences, will fill a new role as associate director of the Equine Sciences undergraduate program. Bruemmer has been a faculty member in both the Equine Sciences undergraduate program and the Equine Reproduction Laboratory for more than 15 years.

“We’re very pleased to have Dr. Black and Dr. Bruemmer take on new leadership roles in both our undergraduate equine program and the CSU Equine Reproduction Laboratory. As they help guide two of our stellar CSU horse programs, the university will strengthen and streamline programs to help meet the needs of students, horse owners and the horse industry,” said Craig Beyrouty, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences.

Dr. Mark Stetter, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, said the faculty shifts are a step toward establishing a new CSU Equine Sciences and Health Institute that would draw together multiple equine programs. 

“We envision an institute that will continue to conduct cutting-edge research, which assists the equine community with everything from orthopedics to reproductive techniques, while also educating undergraduates and future veterinarians,” Stetter said. “Regardless of where the public comes in contact with the university, we want CSU to continue to lead the way in helping animals, people and the planet.”

For 30 years, researchers at the Equine Reproduction Laboratory have developed reproductive techniques benefiting horses and preserving bloodlines. Multiple techniques used today in human and animal reproduction assistance were pioneered at the laboratory, including semen freezing and cooling, embryo transfer and other advanced reproductive procedures including intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) and advanced methods of semen and embryo preservation.

A new 12,200-square-foot Equine Reproduction Laboratory is under construction on the Foothills Campus and is expected to open in the spring. Fire destroyed the original main laboratory building in 2011.

“The equine community relies on these facilities, which is why we’re making a business decision to bring all the pieces together in one place for our clients and the public we serve,” said Colin Clay, chair of the Department of Biomedical Sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Black obtained his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree at CSU before spending most of his decorated career in California, where he founded the Pioneer Equine Hospital. For the past several years, he has served as director of CSU’s Equine Sciences program, one of the top undergraduate equine sciences programs in the nation. He has been prominent nationally in equine veterinary and industry associations: Black is past president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, vice chair of the American Horse Council, and director of the National Cutting Horse Association.

The Equine Reproduction Laboratory is part of the Animal Reproduction and Biotechnology Laboratory on CSU’s Foothills Campus.

“Few other organizations in the world conduct the kind of specialized research in equine sciences that CSU does in one place,” said Thomas “Tod” Hansen, director of the Animal Reproduction and Biotechnology Laboratory. “Since the 1940s, we have built a reputation of excellence in animal reproductive techniques – in many cases, research that has been translated into human medicine.”

Shorthorns Select Champions In The Yards At National Western Stock Show

Roger Allen, Homer, IL, evaluated 18 high quality pens of Shorthorn and ShorthornPlus Pen Bulls and one pen of Shorthorn Heifers on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013 at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, CO.
Champion Pen of Five Purebred Bulls was awarded to Jungels Shorthorn Farm, Kathryn, ND. This impressive set of February and March bulls had an average weight of 1,100 pounds and scanned an average rib-eye area of 14.3 square inches.  
KOLT Cattle Company, Seward, NE, claimed the Reserve Champion Pen of Five Purebred Bulls. These five March and April bulls posted an average weight of 1,010 pounds.      
In a highly competitive pen of three show, judge Allen selected Jungels Shorthorn Farm for his Champion Pen of Three Shorthorn Bulls. This March trio of Jake's Proud Jazz 266L sons averaged 1,021 pounds with an average scrotal circumference of 35.0 centimeters.    
Reserve Champion Pen of Three Shorthorn Bulls was owned by KOLT Cattle Company, with sons of SULL GNCC Asset and SULL Red Rock 9351.  
Champion ShorthornPlus Pen of Five Bulls was awarded to Jungels Shorthorn Farm with a high quality set of JSF Medicine Rock 46W and JSF Top Hand sons. These half blood March and April bulls had an average rib-eye area of 15.0 and a weight per day of age of 3.60.
Champion ShorthornPlus Pen of Three Bulls was driven by Jungels Shorthorn Farm. This group posted an average weight of 937 pounds and was sired by Jake's Proud Jazz 266L and Mapleton Colonel Gus 71U.
Stepping Stone Ranch, Edson, KS, was awarded the Reserve Champion Pen of Three ShorthornPlus Bulls. These May bulls sired were sired by SSRB How About Me 73 and had an average rib-eye area of 13.8.
Leveldale Farms, Mason City, IL, claimed the Champion Pen of Three Shorthorn Heifers. This trio of February and March heifers weighed 802 pounds and had an average rib-eye area of 12.3.    
Complete show results can be found at

Don’t Be Fooled By A Pretty Bull Picture

It’s bull sale season, and that means seedstock producers are looking for help from graphic designers, advertisers, marketers and photographers. These professionals offer a keen eye and a creative outlook to make a set of bulls stand out in the crowd. This time of year, my mailbox is crammed full of bull sale catalogs, fliers and pamphlets -- all glossy and smooth, with the promise that each bull photographed is better than the next.

And, while a pretty picture can certainly help a seedstock producer sell his cattle, a buyer would be wise to look deeper into his next purchase. As a purebred breeder myself, I know that a good picture is a useful tool for our customers to view, especially if they are purchasing a bull sight unseen. However, other tools such as EPDs, carcass data and DNA information should also be evaluated by a commercial cattleman looking for his next herd sire. I certainly encourage our customers to read the data that goes along with each bull.

Kris Ringwall, North Dakota State University Extension beef specialist, offers a great reminder for folks attending cattle auctions this time of year to do your homework before raising your hand to bid on a bull.

“We enjoy pictures, but we also should enjoy data. Bulls may be very similar in phenotype, in other words the picture, but their genotype may have no similarity at all.

“The point is that true bull selection rests with understanding the data. The action of buying bulls should be a process of sorting through the data first and then looking at the bull.

“The process of buying bulls actually is, or at least should be, fairly methodical. Although data terms may baffle a bull buyer, always check out what the trait abbreviations and the many expected progeny differences (EPDs) values mean. The breed association websites have good glossaries or just ask other breeders.

“Keep in mind that no picture is going to relay the information that is needed. Only breed association EPD data will, which is critical in making long-lasting bull decisions. Great bulls have great numbers. Learn to read them and just don't bid on poor bulls.”

Seedstock producers need to be transparent and not hide behind pretty photoshopped images of their bulls. Backed by solid numbers, the good bulls will still find their way to the top. As a buyer, the hope is always that you can afford what your homework has revealed as your top pick.

In fact, BEEF readers reported in a recent survey published in BEEF’s February issue that they expect the strong market for bulls seen in the last year or two to continue into 2013.

Of those who bought bulls in 2012, 22.1% paid $2,000 to $2,999; 15.4% paid $3,000 to $3,499; and 10.1% paid from $3,500 to $3,999. A few (8.1%) went bargain shopping, paying from $1,000 to $1,999, but just as many (8.5%) paid from $4,000 to $4,499, while 3.6% paid from $4,500 to $4,999, and 7.5% paid more than $5,000.

And those planning to buy bulls in 2013, don’t expect prices to back up any. Most (51.3%) think prices will resemble those of 2012, while 25.9% expect higher prices. Only 2.4% expect prices to be less than 2012, while 20.4% don’t plan to buy bulls in 2013.

The majority of those who anticipate higher bull prices in 2013, at 57.7%, think prices will jump 10-15%, while 30.3% expect an increase of 10% or less. Only 9.1% expect prices to increase 16-20% and 2.9% expect prices to increase by more than 20%.

Are you in the market to buy a bull or several bulls this year? If so, which breed do you prefer? How have sales been averaging in your neck of the woods?

Antimicrobial Use, Resistance Symposium White Paper Released

Antimicrobial use and resistance and a start toward seeking resolution on these polarizing and often misunderstood issues are topics addressed in a White Paper developed by the National Institute for Animal Agriculture. The White Paper contains a synopsis of presentations given by 13 human health, animal health and environmental health scientists and professionals and the results of four interactive sessions involving all attendees at the “A One Health Approach to Antimicrobial Use & Resistance: A Dialogue for a Common Purpose” symposium in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 13-15.
“This White Paper takes the complex subject of antimicrobial use and resistance and breaks it down into issues that need to be addressed, factors that need to be considered and actions that need to be taken in order to improve human, environmental and animal health,” states symposium co-chair Leah C. Dorman, DVM, Director of Food Programs, Center for Food and Animal Issues, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.
Symposium co-chair Dr. Jennifer Koeman, Director of Producer and Public Health for the National Pork Board, encourages individuals to share the antimicrobial use and resistance symposium White Paper with constituents within agriculture as well as those outside of agriculture.
“This White Paper can be used as a tool to further engage in open dialogue with all stakeholders, strive towards adopting a One Health mindset and move toward consensus on a path forward,” Koeman adds.
The Antimicrobial Use and Resistance White Paper is available online at You can also view many of symposium’s PowerPoint presentations and hear the audio in full online at http://www.animalagriculture.or.
The National Institute for Animal Agriculture provides a forum for building consensus and advancing proactive solutions for animal agriculture—the beef, dairy, swine, sheep, goats, equine, poultry and aquaculture industries—and provides continuing education and communication linkages for animal agriculture professionals. NIAA is dedicated to programs that work towards the eradication of disease that pose risk to the health of animals, wildlife and humans; promote a safe and wholesome food supply for our nation and abroad; and promote best practices in environmental stewardship, animal health and well-being. NIAA members represent all facets of animal agriculture.

Study Shows Carbon Footprint Of Different Cattle Production Stages

cowcalf carbon footprint

Scientists have long known that cattle produce carbon dioxide and methane throughout their lives, but a new study pinpoints the cow-calf stage as a major contributor of greenhouse gases during beef production.

In a new paper for the Journal of Animal Science, scientists estimate greenhouse gas emissions from beef cattle during different stages of life. They show that, depending on which production system farmers used, beef production has a carbon footprint ranging from 10.7 to 22.6 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent/kg of hot carcass weight.

According to study co-author Frank Mitloehner, an associate professor in the Department of Animal Science at the University of California-Davis, one source of greenhouse gases was surprising.

“If you look at everything that contributes to greenhouse gases through the beef supply chain, then it is the cow-calf that produces the greatest greenhouse gases,” Mitloehner says.

In the cow-calf phase, the cow gives birth and nurses the calf until the calf is 6-10 months old. During this time, the cow eats rough plants like hay and grasses. The methane-producing bacteria in the cow’s gut thrive on these plants.

“The more roughage is in the diet of the ruminant animal, the more methane is produced by the microbes in the gut of the ruminant, and methane comes out the front end,” Mitloehner says.

In feedlots, by contrast, cattle eat mostly corn and grains, which the methane-producing bacteria cannot use as effectively.

Methane is one of the most important greenhouse gases. Methane has a greater capacity to trap heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

The beef industry has been paying close attention to greenhouse gas emissions in recent years.

“We are doing a lot to measure and mitigate our impact," says Chase Adams, director of communications for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

In a 2011 paper for the Journal of Animal Science, researcher Jude Capper showed that the beef industry today uses significantly less water and land than 30 years ago. The industry has also reduced its carbon footprint by 16.3%/billion kg of beef produced.

According to Mitloehner, beef producers can further reduce their carbon impact by using new technologies like growth promotants. However, consumers are often uncomfortable with these methods, and they choose organic beef or beef with reduced amounts of growth promotants.

“The technologies many consumers are critical of are those that help us receive the greatest environmental gains,” Mitloehner says.

The study by Mitloehner and his colleagues is titled “Carbon footprint and ammonia emissions of California beef production systems.” It can be read in full at

Remembering A Valued Team Member & Friend

Bill Antisdel memorial
<p> Bill Antisdel worked at Nichols Farms for 33 years. He was a great cattlemen and industry friend.</p>

Gary Antisdel called me the night that his son Bill passed away and said, 'Dave, you’ve had Bill longer than I have.' He was right – Bill was on the Nichols Farms team for 33 years. He was only 55 when he passed away on Jan. 24. During that time, we’ve more than doubled in size.

Bill had been really sick for two years and most of us thought he was invincible – because he always had been. He seldom missed a day of work. He was in charge of 500+ Angus cows at Nichols Farms. He artificially inseminated them, calved them, and fed and cared for them. Bill ear-tagged all those calves at birth, but never needed to look at their ear tags to tell them apart – he knew them. Plus, he knew every calf their dams had ever had and the names of the people who bought them. If anyone called me (or anyone else) about Angus – the response was always “Call Bill.”

Bill was also responsible for all the crops at Nichols Farms, including running the equipment that planted and harvested them. He purchased the seed, fertilizer, insecticides, herbicides and other inputs. No farm machine had ever been invented that had too many levers, switches, or computer monitors that Bill couldn’t run them all simultaneously. His eye-hand coordination was a marvel to witness.

Bill loved growing corn and soybeans. He asked me if we could enter the corn and soybean contests that the local FFA validated. I said, “Bill you can enter them, but you can NOT have a contest plot where you pour on the fertilizer and plant 50,000 seeds so you can win. Nichols doesn’t show pampered perfumed cattle, and we darn sure won’t raise ‘hot house’ crops.

Well, Bill entered anyway. His contest plots were usually 24, half-mile rows in a 80- or 100-acre field. And he almost always placed in the top three. Plus, he won the whole thing once with a yield of 306 bu./acre of corn.

This year, we collected on our crop insurance. The insurance adjuster who covers several counties said we had the highest proven corn yields he’d seen. Our 10-year historic average was 205 bu./acre on our entire enterprise. He gave the credit to me, but the credit should have gone to Bill. And thank God that I told Bill as much, and did so every year.

Bill was intelligent and very well read on a multitude of subjects. Nichols Farms has participated in over 25 complex research projects with the best universities and scientists in the world. Bill never had a problem understanding the protocols, EPDs or standard errors. In fact, he savored it all.

Bill was a very kind person, both to man and beast. He loved to hunt, but he hated to kill. The Nichols’ crew knows that when a cow or calf is so sick they can’t get up, they are to be put out of their misery. Bill would care for the sick animals as if they were his own kids, but when it came time to euthanise them, he’d get someone else to do it.

Bill loved kids and dogs – in that order. Dr. William Sell was an economics professor from Auburn University who hunted pheasants on our property for several years. He raised and sold some of the finest Weimaraners in the nation. He gave Bill the pick of the litter out of his best bitch. Bill loved that dog, but one day she disappeared. Bill and his wife Nancy searched for her for weeks – but to no avail. Apparently, she’d been stolen.

No one has ever doubted that Bill’s greatest love was reserved for family. His love was coupled with patience, and his priorities were always about them, not himself.

Nancy, he loved you more than anything or anybody else on God’s green earth. In my 33 years of spending 6-7 days a week with him, I never heard him even once speak ill of you. And, I think everyone in this holy place of worship, especially me, wants to thank you for sharing him with us.

Read an obituary on Bill Antisdel.


Industry At A Glance: Auction Market Volume

kentucky auction market volume

Beef producers have been provided with a number of alternative marketing methods over the past decade or so. And it appears they’re increasingly taking advantage of those new venues. That reality is best demonstrated by the data below.

The illustration highlights auction market volume vs. beef cow inventory over the past 15 years in the state of Kentucky. Two important points:

• Market volume always exceeds potential calf crop in the state due to cattle from other states also being marketed through Kentucky’s auction markets.

• Both cow inventory (i.e., calf crop) and market volume have declined over time.

All that said, what’s most important is the rate of change. That is, market volume has declined much more rapidly compared to the decline in cow inventory. In fact, the difference between the two has plunged during the past six years; the two-year moving average is just over 40,000 head in 2012 vs. nearly 216,000 head in 2007 – a decline of over 80%.

kentucky auction market numbers

The bottom line is that it appears that producers in and around Kentucky are exercising new or alternative methods to sell/market their cattle – e.g., utilizing video or direct sales vs. auction markets. While auction market data isn’t available in most states, do you perceive these trends in Kentucky as representative of the broader industry? If so, how have new marketing venues influenced your business? What adjustments have you made over time regarding the way you market the calf crop? How do you see these trends progressing in the years to come?

Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.