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Articles from 2019 In January

Antimicrobial stewardship. What, exactly, does that mean?

Cows and antibiotics

Commentary; By Myriah Johnson

With livestock producers use of antibiotics under more and more scrutiny, there have been articles upon articles, news reels upon news reels about the topic. And some terms get thrown around that often confuse the issue.

For instance, antimicrobial stewardship. Then there’s antibiotic stewardship, or judicious use of antibiotics. What do they actually mean to us as cow-calf producers?

An antimicrobial is something that destroys or inhibits the growth of microorganisms but causes little or no damage to the host. The term “antimicrobial” is broad and encompasses microbes such as bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi.

Antibiotics are a subset of antimicrobials used to address bacterial infections. A major concern is that most microorganisms have the ability to adapt, making the antimicrobial designed to kill them ineffective. Once these infectious organisms become resistant to treatments, they can cause many issues, including increased length or severity of sickness and potentially death.

Antimicrobial stewardship

Being good stewards of, or judiciously using, antimicrobials is one way to ensure the drugs currently being used remain effective.

More broadly, most define antimicrobial stewardship with elements including:

  • Appropriate use
  • Improving patient outcomes
  • Reducing or slowing the spread of antimicrobial-resistant organisms, because some level of resistance will occur.
  • Decreasing environmental contamination and exposure to antimicrobial waste in the environment.
  • Decreasing environmental contamination and exposure is important because resistance genes can pass from one infectious organism to another. For instance, a resistant respiratory organism can potentially contribute to resistant salmonella or E. coli, which has a much greater threat to human health.

Looking for science-based solutions

In June 2018, I was fortunate to attend a meeting at Hy-Plains Feedyard in Montezuma, Kan., on science-based solutions to reduce antibiotic resistance in food animal production.

Dawn Sievert with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shared that in the U.S., 2 million people get infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year and 23,000 die. Antibiotic resistance is expected to grow and eclipse cancer as a cause of death. It was also noted that human and companion animal misuse is part of the problem, and they are working on that as well.

Ingrid Trevino-Garrison, state public health veterinarian for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, related that 60% of the roughly 1,400 species of organisms are zoonotic, or are able to spread between animals and humans. So, what we do as cattle producers impacts not only our animals but our fellow human beings.

Apply waste to the soil

Tim LaPara, University of Minnesota BioTechnology Institute associate professor, shared that fecal material is often rich with antibiotic-resistant organisms and even fecal matter from healthy humans and animals is a concern. LaPara said we need to hunt and kill the places where antibiotic resistance exists, and an easy target is animal waste and municipal wastewater.

As producers, one of the best things we can do is apply animal waste to the soil rather than let it accumulate or run off. Resistance declines over time when the waste is applied to soil. So, consider cleaning your weaning lots and rotating pastures.

Use all tools available to prevent sickness

We learned from Mike Apley, Kansas State University production medicine professor, that any new antibiotic is probably a remix of an old antibiotic. The last new group was added in 1978, and it is unlikely that any new group of antibiotic (if approved) would become available for food animals. To me, this says we have to be good stewards of what we have, and we need to use all the tools possible in preventing sickness in our animals.

Management practices matter

Randall Spare with Ashland Veterinary Center in Ashland, Kan., noted that only 1.5% of antibiotic use in beef production is in the cow-calf sector. Based on that, it’s easy to shrug off antimicrobial resistance and say, “We’re not the issue.”

But we learned from these specialists that animal waste is an issue, even from healthy animals. So, if 60% of organisms are zoonotic and antibiotic resistance is expected to eclipse cancer, it is an issue and begins with us as cow-calf producers.

Spare went on to say that management practices determine the use of antibiotics later in production. Everything we do as cow-calf producers is critical and matters. We naturally reduce the use of antibiotics with defined management practices, including:

  • Proper vaccination (timing and product)
  • Biosecurity
  • Nutritional management, specifically during gestation and post-weaning.
  • Colostrum management.
  • Cow body condition score immediately before and after calving
  • All of these should be considered as part of good health management and antimicrobial stewardship.

Collaboration needed to understand issues

As cattle producers, everything we do is influential in the life of each of our animals. That’s why it is critical to have a management plan in place and to follow best management practices.

It’s our responsibility to do all we can to reduce our animals’ need for antibiotics on our ranches and beyond. However, even when best management practices are applied, animals still get sick, begging the question, “Why?” As producers, we need to understand what we can tweak and how we can continue to improve our management.

Addressing this issue will require collaboration among cow-calf producers, stocker producers, feedlots and the rest of the beef cattle industry. We will have to follow animals through the entirety of their lives in a commercial setting to begin to understand these issues better.

Yes, there are things that other sectors can do better, and they are working on it. But we must do our part, too. So, the next time you use an antibiotic, think about if it is the proper dose, the best antibiotic to use, or if it’s just what you have on hand. Antimicrobial stewardship matters to us all, and it’s our responsibility to tackle it.

Myriah Johnson, Ph.D., is economics program leader and agricultural economics consultant for the Noble Research Institute, Ardmore, Okla.

Use livestock to create firebreaks

Alan Newport Cows grazing pasture
Controlled grazing of livestock along naturally existing firebreaks such as roads may be the cheapest and best method to help combat fires. Besides a probable cost advantage, livestock offer another advantage over mowing, which leaves the fuel on the ground.

Frequency and severity of wildfires in the West and in the Southern Plains suggest every grazing manager should consider developing firebreaks prior to fire season. While there are a number of ways to create a fire break, it’s a task that may be best done with controlled grazing of livestock.

In the 11 westernmost states, cheatgrass is wreaking havoc on native plant communities unsuited to frequent fire. Every firestorm reduces native plants and gives the cheatgrass more chance to create more firestorms that will further expand its range. Typically these occur in summer, after the cheatgrass has set seed and dried.

In the southern half of the Great Plains, which is dominated by warm-season grasses and forbs, the early spring is a virtual tinderbox as dry forage plants and a growing load of shrubs and cedars stand ready to ignite. High winds and low humidity dominate the region, and though some years are worse than others, most years offer at least some dry, windy days that can push wildfire through the landscape and potentially burn tens or hundreds of thousands of acres.

In either situation, controlled grazing of livestock along naturally existing firebreaks such as roads may be the cheapest and best method to help combat these fires. Besides a probable cost advantage, livestock offer another advantage over mowing, which leaves the fuel on the ground.

Livestock actually consume the forage, says Scott Cotton, area Extension educator for the University of Wyoming and a former wildfire firefighter. Cotton has also lived and worked in Montana, Colorado and Nebraska.

Cotton says people who haven't faced serious range fires tend to underestimate their danger. Rangeland fires normally have the fewest responders, move much faster and cause more deaths than would a forest fire under comparable conditions.

Cotton and others in the West recommend grazing managers consider dominant spring wind direction and then plan fire breaks along roads on that windward edge of the property, grazing the forage short enough to significantly shorten and slow the flames and give firefighters a chance to stop the fire. Flame height and speed of travel are directly affected by how much fuel is available, assuming the same relative humidity, temperature and wind speed.

An Idaho publication explains this phenomenon in sagebrush ecosystems under less extreme environmental conditions. In the absence of sagebrush cover, if fine fuel loading is less than 627 to 728 pounds per acre, fires will sustain only under environmental conditions characterized by less than 15% relative humidity, temperatures exceeding 84.2 degrees F, dead fuel moisture less than 12%, and wind speeds greater than 9.9 miles per hour. When fine fuel loading is above 1,904 pounds per acre, fire will spread under a wide array of environmental conditions.

These conditions would be at least similar in similar ecosystems and under similar conditions in the Southern Plains in the spring.

"Under extreme conditions, characterized by low fuel moisture and relative humidity, and high temperature and wind speed, wildland fires are driven more by weather conditions than by fuel characteristics. Therefore, as fire weather conditions become extreme, the potential role of grazing on fire behavior decreases and may become meaningless," those authors warn.

Nonetheless, the majority of fires are not of this worst type.

Cotton says once you have chosen the area to graze down a firebreak, you should set up an electric fence 200-300 feet wide along the road and put the livestock into it.

“Based on your ecosystem and grass species, the timing of grazing will vary,” he says.

In cheatgrass country, it's possible to graze the plants while in a relatively high-quality state. In dormant, warm-season grass country, you would ideally want to graze it down in winter with animals in a lower state of nutritional requirements or you might graze it heavily and use protein supplement to attain reasonable performance.

Cotton also says you might ideally want to include multiple species of livestock, depending on the types of plants present in your firebreak. Cattle are going to concentrate more on grass and some forbs, while sheep and goats will eat more forbs and shrubs.

He says once the firebreak is ready, you should notify your neighbors and your fire department about its presence.

Although this is not necessarily new technology, it remains generally poorly used.

Screen Shot 2019-01-31 at 11.43.37 PM.pngCotton adds, "Targeted grazing trials by Texas A&M and Utah State University reduced grass and brush, including mesquite, to create fire breaks in the late 1990s. Research on using livestock to control fire risks have been underway since 1927 at land grant universities. Zimmerman and Neuenschwander wrote one of the most significant papers on the subject in 1984, which was published in the Journal of Range Management."

In a 2002 book from the University of Nevada Press, "Cattle in the Cold Desert," the authors concluded properly applied livestock grazing, which has been removed or over-controlled across many public lands, is exactly the prescription to help decrease cheatgrass-based fire problems.

The idea is slowly drawing attention in the far West, with the Bureau of Land Management experimenting with the idea on a few of the millions of acres it manages. Perhaps the same technology can help with fire problems in the middle of the nation, as well.

Newport is editor of Beef Producer and BEEF Vet, sister publications to BEEF.

Pumper truck vs flames graphic courtesy Scott Cotton, U of WY

2019 CattleFax Outlook: Weather, market outlook encouraging

Kevin Good
Kevin Good shares his market insight during the CattleFax Global Protein and Grain Outlook at the Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show in New Orleans.

It’s probably hard to imagine, for all those caught in the incredibly cold weather gripping much of the nation, that there is warmer weather coming. But keep the faith—it will.

That’s part of the prediction that Art Douglas, the long-time CattleFax weather man, gave at the CattleFax outlook session during the Cattle Industry Convention in New Orleans.

We’ve been a classic El Niño pattern, Douglas says. “This is an ideal situation for bringing storms into the West Coast. California has already had good rains and boy, they’re getting ready to have a long period of above-normal precipitation,” he says. “We’re going to see good storms starting to develop along the West Coast again, they’re definitely going to be moving into western North America. And eventually, probably by the time we get later in February, they’re going to be in the Southern Plains, too.”

Looking at the spring forecast, Douglas is forecasting a very mild spring all the way from Washington and Oregon across the U.S. to New York and relatively cool conditions in Texas. “Unlike most El Niños, this El Niño looks like it’s going to be relatively wet in the Pacific Northwest. On the other hand, in the Corn Belt, which has been relatively moist ever since last summer into the fall and winter, it’s going to be dry,” he told the beef producers in attendance.

“And I think this dry forecast is going to be good for planting. So we’re going to dry out the forecast, it’s going to be warm, have early planting and there shouldn’t be planting delays.”

Going into summer, he predicts a ridge of high pressure through the Northern Plains. “That ridge of high pressure is going to pick up some dry air out of Idaho, Montana and dump it down into the Corn Belt, which is something we need to watch out for. On the other hand, that high pressure will pull moisture from the monsoon in Mexico in to the Southwestern United States.

“We translate that into the forecast for the summer, temps remaining warm in the northern tier of states associated with that ridge and good moisture coming out of Mexico into Texas all the way through Arizona and New Mexico, up to Colorado and Utah. And again, we have that dryness in the Midwest that we have to watch out for. I’m not forecasting a drought, but a dry spring followed maybe by a dry summer. So there could be a spotty drought that develops through the Corn Belt.”

Cattle price outlook

CattleFax analyst Kevin Good dusted off the crystal ball for the markets. As always, there are a number of factors that will affect cattle prices in 2019. On the plus side is continued strong beef demand both domestically and in export markets. But exports are an area of concern and need to be watched. And we’ll have a larger total supply of cattle and beef to work through.

The CattleFax outlook for prices looks to be a little softer than last year but still good. For fed cattle, the group predicts a steady market, with an average price of $117 per cwt. with a range from $100 to $130. Feeder steers (750 pounds) are predicted to be down $3 from 2018, with an average of $147 per cwt. and a range of $130 to $160. 5-weight calves should trade in a range of $140 to $185 per cwt. with an average of $164.

In the cow market, CattleFax predicts utility cows will trade around $55 with a range of $42 to $62 per cwt. There could be a slight uptick in herd growth, Good says, predicting bred cows will trade between $1,200 to $1,800 per head, with an average of $1,550.

MIDDAY Midwest Digest, Jan. 31, 2019

The NCBA convention is happening in New Orleans. Jennifer Houston, from Tennessee, is the new president.

Foxcon, Taiwan electronics giant, says it won't build a plant in Wisconsin, employing 13,000 blue collar workers. 

Do you remember lining up for a sugar cube containing a polio vaccine? There's been a polio-like illness showing up across the country. It's called AFM, and a fourth case has been confirmed in Nebraska.

It's time for Prairie Farmer's annual "Favorite Farm Dog" contest. Enter the contest.


Photo: debibishop/Getty Images

Cash trade vs. fed cattle basis; what’s the deal?

Nevil Speer Fed cattle basis

During the past several weeks, Industry At A Glance has focused on cash trade trends in the fed cattle market. The discussion primarily stems from a recent petition filed by the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) against USDA regarding the agency’s plan to withdraw implementation of the GIPSA Farmer Fair Practices Rules (otherwise referred to as the GIPSA rule). 

The petition has subsequently been denied. But as noted in previous weeks, given the long history of this issue, it’s likely additional legal challenges will occur.  

As quick review, last week’s column highlighted the relationship between cash trade and volatility. The industry has seemingly found an extended equilibrium where cash trade represents one-fourth of all cattle traded on a weekly basis. And for some in the industry (e.g. OCM), that level is insufficient. They voice concerns that reduced price discovery subsequently causes artificial deflation in cash prices and increased price volatility from week to week.

Fed cattle basis

Last week’s discussion noted that despite declining cash trade, in terms of absolute dollars, weekly volatility is the same now as it was when cash trade was more than double the current level. And from a percentage of total steer/heifer value, volatility has actually declined over time.  

As noted above, though, there’s a second issue that needs to be addressed: Artificial price deflation. There’s no way to determine exactly what cattle should be worth—or would be worth if negotiation levels were increased.

However, if a distinct trend was developing it would most likely show up in the form of basis (cash minus futures). That is, cash price trends would begin to deviate sharply from what’s occurring at the CME—turning sharply negative IF declining cash trade was unduly influencing the market.

This week’s graph addresses that very issue. It outlines the relationship between nearby basis (cash less futures) and cash trade. Interestingly enough, while cash trade has diminished, basis has actually trended more in a positive direction (not the other way around), with runs up to +$6 along the way. 

As such, it seems cash trade has worked well in tandem with the futures markets; actually benefitting sellers along the way as cash trade levels have declined.  

Speer serves as an industry consultant and is based in Bowling Green, Ky. Contact him at [email protected]

Meat Market Update | Choice cutout rebounds after out-front sales jump


The weekly average Choice cutout, which includes all types of sales, including the daily Choice cutout, was $212.11, $1.56 higher and rebounding above last year.

The out-front sales were 1,215 loads. This is compared to only 543 loads sold for the week in the daily box beef cutout.   

The big news this week was that the largest out-front sales included 1.7 million lbs. of Choice round products that were very close to steady compared to the same average formula prices. Additionally, 1.4 million lbs. of Choice loin products that were $23-52 dollars per cwt higher than the same formula prices. These big out-front sales are no doubt helping the weekly average Choice cutout go higher after many weeks of downward pressure.

Ed Czerwien is a market analyst in Amarillo, Texas. From the heart of Cattle Feeding Country, Ed follows the cattle and wholesale markets to keep beef producers up-to-date on the market moves that affect them. He previously worked with USDA as a Market News reporter. Ed is now semi-retired and continues to work with cattle trade analysis.

More feeder cattle prices, higher prices

Winter weather slowed down slaughter cows, but couldn't stop more feeder cattle from heading to town. There were nearly 13,000 head more at test auctions than the previous week and thankfully, feeder cattle prices jumped quite a bit higher after two weeks of lower prices.

Slaughter cow numbers continue to drop because of winter storms and consequently, cow meat prices jumped higher again this week which pushed the slaughter cow prices easily $3-6 higher.



MORNING Midwest Digest, Jan. 31, 2019

Cancelling classes used to rarely happen. But with this polar vortex, many schools cancelled classes, from elementary to universities.

Twenty-two states saw sub-zero temperatures during the weather events. Ten states had mail delivery suspended. Six states had colder weather than the south pole.

Tyson Foods is recalling 18 tons of chicken nuggets because they may be contaminated with rubber. They were manufactured in November.

Nebraska chose its next state poet.


Photo: cmannphoto/Getty Images

Farm Progress America, Jan. 31, 2019

Max Armstrong continues his look at Jennifer Houston, the incoming president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association with a look at her ideas and how she sees the role of the organization. Houston shares a look at key topics the organization will approach in the coming year.

Farm Progress America is a daily look at key issues in agriculture. It is produced and presented by Max Armstrong, veteran farm broadcaster and host of This Week in Agribusiness.

Photo: NCBA

Producers needed to develop cow facial recognition software

jackson cow map small3.png

Earlier this week, I shared some information about a Chinese company that is working on software that uses artificial intelligence to recognize and identify individual cows on a dairy farm to monitor animal health and wellness.

Here in the United States, Cargill has also invested in similar technologies that would help producers manage their individual animals based on facial recognition.

READ: Emerging technology could identity cattle through facial recognition

Following my blog post, I was delighted to hear from Josh Jackson, University of Kentucky (UK) assistant Extension professor of livestock systems, who shared with me how UK is working to develop and hone facial recognition software for cattle.

Jackson says they need producers help in developing this software. To assist in this endeavor, it’s as simple as snapping a photo on your cell phone.

Jackson says, “Here at UK, we are trying to develop and hone facial recognition software. This software is not for monitoring people but, rather, for identifying cows as part of our drone-related research. Several engineers, including myself, are trying to figure out how well this can work. We are turning to you, the public, for a crowdsourced solution.

“Crowdsourcing is a relatively new concept which is aided by the internet and social media. Crowdsourcing allows for many people to come together to find a solution to a problem. We are looking for help from anyone and everyone across the state and beyond, so please share this on your favorite social media platform tagging the photos with #ukcowmap. We need photographs of cow facial features or, in essence, the cow’s portrait. Please submit photos to [email protected]

Currently, Jackson and his team are looking at cattle on the UK beef farm and farms in the surrounding area to gather a diverse set of images of cattle within the region. However, more individual photos are needed to further enhance the efficacy of this software.

“We are looking for any and all cattle facial photos,” says Jackson. “We are trying to compile as extensive a database as possible. Therefore, we want pictures of bulls, heifers, calves, cows, steers of all ages. We are also looking for photos from all breeds: Angus, Charolais, Hereford, etc., and even a yak if you have one. It makes no difference to me if the cow is purple. We are expecting the identification of registered Angus/predominately Angus to be the most difficult to distinguish as they will lack the unique patterns that a Hereford could possess. Also, we are expecting a lack of contrast of features with the Angus to create further obstacles.”

He provides tips for taking photos and says, “Having the cows in a chute or head gate is preferred but not essential. Having a consistent background like a chute makes it easier to remove unnecessary aspects and process. Use the best lighting possible. Try to avoid using the flash as most cattle will be apprehensive of sudden bursts of light.

“Do you need a high-resolution camera? No. If you really want to take pictures with a high-resolution camera, by all means, go ahead, but cell phone quality is just fine, as most are 12 MP. Pictures where any of the cow’s facial characteristics are blurry are not ideal. Don’t get close enough for the cow to hit you or the camera/phone but do try to get the entire face in the photo. If you want to take several shots from different angles all around the face of the same animal that is perfectly acceptable, as well.

“Again, we will take all the photos that we can get. We don’t care if the cow is smiling, frowning, bellowing, ruminating, or pondering. Ears can be forward, back, to the side, or whirling all around. We need to characterize and train our program as much as possible.”

Ultimately, this gallery of images will help strengthen the programmers as they account for variables including lighting, hair growth and loss, age, flies, mud and other external factors.

So how will your photographs be used?

Jackson explains, “We are going to be using aspects and advances in machine learning to autonomously identify animals. Eighty percent of the cattle photos will be utilized for training and the remaining 20% will be used for validation. Most human-based facial recognition databases and programs would require anywhere from 10 to 10,000 photographs of subjects to properly train the algorithms.”

Is it worth your time? What’s the benefit for participating producers?

“The software developed could potentially be more applicable to you if it could actually recognize your cattle,” said Jackson. “For instance, I would like to envision a future where I could have my UAV go out and not only count but identify which animal is where.

“Assuming we can successfully identify animals in field, the next goal would be pinkeye detection and notification. That way, if there is an issue or if I needed to go check a specific animal, the drone would have found this animal for me (prior to it getting dark, of course).

“Also, we are trying to think of the future, as this could save many producers time and potentially money if disease events can be detected sooner. I want to make it easier to farm. As the adage goes, ‘We’ll never know until we try.’ So, with your help and #ukcowmap, we’re trying.”

In addition to facial recognition, UK researchers are exploring ways to automate recognition by ear tag numbers. Yet, this route has its challenges, as well.

“Ear tags can be covered by dirt, the distance can be too far, the tag can be stuck up in the ear or behind the fly tag, or the tag can be missing (5-20% of cattle ear tags are lost), to name a few of the factors,” he says. “We are also looking at different RFID systems or actively powered tags to help the UAV identify and locate cattle in the field. Thermal images can tell you a cow is there but not necessarily which cow.”

Again, if you feel so inclined, you can help the developers at UK perfect their facial recognition software by simply taking portraits of your cattle and posting them on social media using the hashtag #ukcowmap or emailing the images to [email protected]

I look forward to seeing how this software could be implemented on the ranch and in the feedyard in the years to come. This is a clear indication that new and emerging technologies will continue to enhance and improve the way we produce beef from pasture to plate. What a great and exciting time to be in the beef business!

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or Farm Progress.