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Articles from 1998 In October

Feedbunk Detective

Bunk management in the feedlot can have a huge impact on animal performance. But attempts to increase feed intake in feedlot cattle have been based on intuition and observations of groups. Little is known about the feeding patterns of individual animals in a pen and how specific factors may affect them.

Researchers have traditionally studied cattle feeding patterns and intake by observing feeding behavior and recording the amount of feed left over 24 hours after feeding. The information collected usually consisted of pen-averaged data obtained from a small number (10-20 head) of group-penned animals.

More accurate feeding behavior and intake information has been obtained using "Calan Gates." Here, animals fitted with magnets gain access to the bunks through electronically controlled gates so that individual feeding duration can be determined. This requires training the animals how to gain access to the feedbunk. The disadvantage is that some animals are slow learners or never learn how to use these gates at all.

A New System From Canada A Canadian company recently developed an electronic feed monitoring system that documents the feeding patterns of individuals within large groups of cattle in a commercial setting. The GrowSafe(tm) system (GrowSafe Systems Ltd., Airdrie, AB) uses radio frequency technology and consists of an antenna mat lining the front of the feedbunk, a reader panel and a computer.

Animals are eartagged with a passive transponder that, upon contact with the antenna, sends out a signal that identifies each individual animal (emits their ID code). The system can record and identify all animals at the bunk simultaneously.

Information from each transponder is collected every 6 seconds when the transponder (animal) is within 19.5 in. from the antenna. The system enables a producer or researcher to monitor how many times an animal goes to the feedbunk per day, the locations they choose to feed along the bunk and the length of time at the bunk.

Through cooperation with Roche Animal Nutri-tion and Health, work with the Grow-Safe system is being conducted in commercial and research feedlots in the U.S. and Canada. These include the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research feedlot in Lethbridge, Alberta, Can-ada; and commercial lots in Alberta (Highway 21 Feeders in Acme) and the U.S. (McElhaney Cattle Co., Yuma, AZ; and Cactus Feeders, Amarillo, TX).

Preliminary studies show the technology successfully detects differences in feeding behavior under a variety of circumstances. A study funded by Pfizer Animal Health conducted at the Lethbridge Research Centre found that:

* Cattle switched from twice- to once-a-day feed delivery during a period of limit feeding made fewer visits and spent less time at the feedbunk.

* More importantly, the study found that the time individual cattle spent feeding was consistent throughout a trial. It also found that time at the bunk may be a very good indicator of differences in intake between days for an animal.

Alberta Agriculture beef specialists, in cooperation with Montana State University, found that healthy (untreated) steers spent more time at the feedbunk than "sick" (treated) steers during the first four days on feed at the McElhaney feedlot. The "sick" animals in that study came to the bunk at the same time as the healthy animals but they left the bunk earlier. This has great implications for being able to detect sick animals early, possibly in advance of the pen checker.

A Valuable Tool It's clear the GrowSafe system will be a valuable tool for researchers to test and document effects of a number of management and environmental factors on the feeding patterns and performance of feedlot animals. These factors could include anything from feeding regimes and diets, bunk design, animal handling protocols and stocking densities to the effects of weather and climatic conditions.

The system could also be used to compare different types (age, sex, breed) of animals. This means we could potentially identify and select the type(s) of beef animals which perform best under specific management conditions and environments.

Another use could be to get a better idea of how social dominance at the bunk affects individual feeding behavior. Understanding this relationship has implications for improving management strategies with regards to sorting, mixing and combining animals in the lot.

Numerous Advantages Radio frequency technology has several advantages over traditional methods of quantifying feeding patterns. Most important is that individual feeding behavior can be identified which prevents any masking effect that may occur as a result of per-pen averaging.

It also has advantages over the use of Calan Gates since it can be used in large pens (over 200 head) and still identify all individuals within that pen. Animals don't have to be trained to use the system, nor do the animals have to feed at a particular location along the bunk. The strongest point, however, is that the data collected will more accurately reflect what happens in a commercial feedlot setting.

The system may have some potential for use by feedlot managers as well. It could be used to detect sick animals early in receiving pens or to monitor poor or roller coaster feeding patterns caused by acidosis.

Availability and cost, however, put the use of the GrowSafe system out of reach for feedlot managers for the near future. It's not scheduled to appear on the commercial market for four years, and the current price (for 120 ft. of bunk) is about $40,000 (CAN). Once in commercial production, unit cost would drop to about $20,000 (CAN). Commercial feedyards would likely use the system to monitor the feeding patterns of newly arrived cattle in receiving pens.

For now, GrowSafe's greatest contribution will be as a research tool allowing scientists to get accurate information on bunk behavior and its relationship to performance. The usefulness of the system will only be limited by the ability to design industry relevant research projects.

Research trials are currently under way at all of the research and commercial lots mentioned previously. In the next five years, the feedlot industry can expect to see some interesting results and get new insights into bunk management as a result of this technology.

Consumer Lessons

Meat America Gourmet Outlet opened its doors to consumers in Overland Park, KS, in 1996. Customers throughout the greater Kansas City area flocked to the store as word spread of its upper-Choice, restaurant quality beef and superior customer service (BEEF, June 1997).

Many of these customers became weekly shoppers, primarily for beef but also for spices, sauces, meat thermometers and other meat items the store offered.

A lot of customers were part of a growing number who leave supermarkets without buying beef. Research from the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) shows that 33% of customers can't find the item they want at the meat counter. Of these, 12% walk away without buying anything.

It's a portion of this market segment that MeatAmerica captured, and it's one that bears watching because it shows signs of growth.

But the Kansas store closed late last month. Another store in LaJolla, CA, closed in late August. Both were victims of the August demise of BeefAmerica, the parent company headquartered in Omaha, NE.

Customers Won Customers walking into MeatAmerica were greeted by personnel trained in customer service who knew meat quality and recognized customer needs. In fact, personnel of all levels often shopped alongside the customers, helping them with every detail of meat selection and preparation.

When Sharon and Don Will drove by and saw MeatAmerica Gourmet Outlet, they stopped in for a trial run. It turned into an ongoing relationship between MeatAmerica and the Olathe, KS, couple.

Sharon and Don follow the professional barbecue circuit and the beef, as well as pork, bought at the store has won them several awards.

The Wills won't let MeatAmerica go easily. They've told Richard Bearde, Kansas City area manager, they'd follow him to whatever meat facility he moves - even 50-60 miles away.

"If I had advice for beef producers, it'd be not to be afraid to charge for quality," Sharon says. "We will pay for it."

Consumers will definitely pay for beef, even in lower-value cuts if they perceive the meat has value. NCBA's meat purchase diary indicates consumer purchases of 80-89% lean far outweigh other ground varieties.

Additionally, NCBA's latest research, Single Source, indicates that cuts such as T-bones, filets and boneless chicken breast get higher ratings on tenderness, taste and quality. There is a correlation between the fact that consumers believe cuts that are more tender are worth more money.

Why A Restaurant? "Why go to a restaurant and order a steak when we can eat better at home," says Gloria Giles, an Overland Park, KS, MeatAmerica customer. "I never order steak in a restaurant anymore." Giles is no stranger to food marketing, either. She grew up in the grocery business. Her father had the first self-service supermarket in the Kansas City area in 1940.

"It's not just the quality I liked," Giles says, "I appreciated the education the staff gave me. They told me what cuts were good and why."

According to the Beef Information Center in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, 83% of people surveyed say they use cooking instructions. Of those surveyed, 66% prefer instructions to be on the wrapper. While this is a bit different than MeatAmerica's approach, it shows consumers are receptive to education.

Lisa and Tom Schatzle of Olathe, KS, first stopped in the store in mid-March. Tom, originally from New York City, says area manager Richard Bearde got him to try some corned beef.

"I've had corned beef all my life, but never had any this moist, this tender or this good," Tom says.

He and Lisa agree the meat is worth its premium price.

"We thought it would be expensive," Lisa says. "But, we found it to be a great value. I compared a roast from the supermarket and had about 2 lbs. of waste. A similar roast from MeatAmerica had practically none."

This follows current trends in retail cuts. On average, beef sold at retail has 27% less fat compared to 10 years ago.

Did the MeatAmerica crew create new beef customers or move some away from poultry? Perhaps both, perhaps neither.

An important finding resulting from Single Source is that people don't buy beef, they buy cuts. Annette Robbins, director of NCBA market research, says it's important to understand what people believe about cuts. She says the beef industry must become more competitive in all dimensions important to consumers, including taste, convenience, healthfulness, price, quality and value. It's primarily the boneless, skinless chicken breast market that's growing so quickly, she adds.

It's likely MeatAmerica met consumer expectations in all dimensions. Professional meat experts and professional customers made a great combination for the beef industry's first upper-end retail experience. Judging from customer loyalty and demand, the two groups will partner again.

"The customers are the ones who grew this store," says Chris Ludlow, merchandising director. "They're the ones who made it what it was."

Will this formula be recreated in the near future? That's yet to be seen. The recipe is there. It's up to the beef industry to follow through.

Natural Disasters

The right insurance is a lifesaver when disaster strikes. The wrong insurance can be worse than the disaster itself.

Examining your feedyard insurance package each year can be tedious, but in today's business climate it's a task that shouldn't be taken lightly, says Pete Fish, client project manager with Insurance and Consulting Associates (ICA), Kansas City, MO.

ICA is an agent for Firemen's Fund Insurance Company specializing in risk management and insurance services for auction markets, commercial feedyards and swine confinement operations.

"Basically, if it doesn't smell, we don't insure it," Fish says.

Fish and ICA associates Mike Young, Julie Steinbock and Lola Holmes manage an exclusive nationwide contract with Firemen's Fund to service the feeding industry. ICA's philosophy is simply to protect the assets of a client's business, Fish adds.

Smelly animals aren't strangers to Steve Parks. Area manager for livestock operations based in St. Joseph, MO, for The Hartford, Hartford, CT, Parks has written policies for everything from a local 4-H club with 20 head of calves to feeders feeding 125,000 head per year. Staying close to the producer is key to Parks' business and The Hartford philosophy.

Approaches To Coverage "There are several approaches to offering coverage," Mike Young, ICA managing partner says. "ICA's method is to develop a relationship with the feedyard management and ideally become a part of the management team.

"While we offer coverage that includes property damage, business interruption, personal property, feedstuffs/hay and medical supplies among several other items, these alone are not our primary goal," he adds. "We spend a lot of time learning as much about the operation as possible, before even approaching the client.

"In doing so, we can bring forward a 'package concept' that offers coverages such as general liability, boilers and machinery, inland marine, auto insurance and so on."

This doesn't happen instantly though. A complete risk audit is conducted before any recommendations are made, Fish says. "These audits require a significant time investment on our part and include an on-site inspection of every aspect of the operation."

Based on these audits, ICA then recommends a coverage approach that puts the company into an exclusive arrangement between the feedyard and Firemen's Fund. Ideally, ICA becomes a risk management partner with the feedyard.

Parks says The Hartford approach begins with a basic coverage form consistent to all feedyard customers. Then, additional coverages are added based on individual feedyard needs.

"For instance, we have available coverage for losses due to measles, contaminated feed or water, freezing losses and others," Parks says. "Our basic trust is livestock - we're going to provide coverage for livestock for which we'll provide all coverages necessary. Liability and structure insurance policies are available from our farm department."

Types Of Claims There are as many types of claims as there are cattle feeders, but one claim is as consistent as its inconsistent cause - weather.

"Weather is by far the cause of most of our claims," Young says. "Inevitably, a blizzard will hit causing several deaths in several yards. At that point we have to act quickly."

Parks agrees that weather-related claims represent the largest percentage of claims The Hartford incurs. While pasture and feedlot policies provide coverage for losses caused by lightning, tornadoes and other perils, the largest dollar losses arise from blizzards and snowstorms.

In general, loss claims can be handled by mail or fax. After the company is notified, proof of loss is required.

Young says ICA requires that a qualified veterinarian perform a necropsy on 20% of the dead animals. Rendering receipts are then required for all deads. Payment is made to the feedyard based on the current market value of the animals.

Processes with The Hartford are similar.

"We want to be notified within 24 hours of a loss," Parks says. "We're not looking for final information at that point. The first responsibility of the feedyard staff is to maintain the health and condition of existing animals. Once that's done and the relatively simple amount of paperwork is completed, we can turn the claim around and return a fair market value payment based on animal loss."

Like most services, costs vary from feedyard to feedyard. Fish, Young and Parks all say variability results from individual feedyard needs and the level of risk involved.

"Whatever you do, don't make a buying decision based on price," Fish says. "Seek out policies that fit the specific needs of your feedyard, backed by reputable, highly-rated companies. Ratings services such as A.M. Best Company can help with this part of your decision."

Tough times in the industry present new ways of doing business for insurance carriers. The current market downside is a prime example.

"What the current market situation does for us is present new challenges," Parks says. "As operations consolidate and get larger, the more independent they become on items such as insurance. This means the responsibility comes back to us to work with them to develop a product they can use.

"Things are changing faster than ever now, but we've been here since the beginning of the feeding industry - we'll find the right keys to work in different situations," Park says.

Fish says ICA works on an account basis, rather than a commission structure. "As part of a feeder's risk management team, we'll find ways to adjust to different ways of doing business."

Selling Buyers On Beef

No matter how professionally it's done, if advertising doesn't move product, it's worthless. As beef and beef products compete for position in consumers' minds, retail communication is becoming more focused and based on extensive research.

"As the industry changes, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) has responded to the changes in the marketplace by bringing retail and foodservice marketing activities together," says Kevin Yost, executive director of channel marketing.

"Seventy-one percent of beef is sold via retail outlets and 29 percent through foodservice. We're integrating these marketing channels because these are the people who have direct contact with our consumers.

"Channel marketing takes research and consumer marketing messages into the channels where people interact with our customers every day," Yost adds.

History Channel marketing is in force now and with good reason. NCBA is directing more consumer promotion dollars into channel marketing as well as market research to focus and target messages.

Mary Adolf, NCBA vice president for U.S. consumer marketing, says a historical perspective shows where beef's strengths are.

"If we look at when the $1/head checkoff started in 1986, a big part of the marketing spending went to direct consumer advertising, such as 'Beef. Real Food for Real People.' " she says. "As we've moved forward with our marketing programs, we've recognized inflation's impact on checkoff dollars. It's required us to think more creatively about how to use these dollars effectively. We have to craft a plan that directs us to audiences that can yield the biggest bang for the buck.

"There's been producer involvement with our program development and they've asked us to openly evaluate the impact of checkoff dollars and what we're accomplishing in the marketplace. This in turn has challenged us to find how our product moves through the system and how we can best intervene with checkoff dollars," Adolf says.

Win Some/Lose Some The process turned up winners and losers, she says.

"Programs that consistently show results relative to increasing our market share are NCBA's foodservice marketing programs," Adolf says. "We've seen continual increases from the early 1990s to today. This includes increased numbers of servings in restaurants.

At the same time, poultry had its success as well, she says. While the beef industry is holding its own, it's evident the industry is being outspent and outmaneuvered by poultry. If the beef industry hadn't been working aggressively all along, the situation would be even tougher.

"We've had struggles, too," Adolf adds. "We've had award-winning advertising, but it has to be supported by ample budgets to effectively reach consumers. The industry hasn't supported it at that level, however. We saw extremely positive effects from the 'Beef. It's What's for Dinner' campaign gaining 72 percent awareness and a 13 percent increase in consumer intent to buy our product. But did it move the needle? Did we see increased sales relative to poultry at the retail level? No."

Adolf says a big challenge beef faces is that almost everyone in the U.S. eats beef in one form or another. Because this is such a gigantic audience, it's very expensive to reach it with advertising messages as often as needed.

"We need to drill into this large audience and find where our best and most valuable consumers are and then find out how we get to those consumers with an impactful message with limited dollars," Adolf says.

The Present It's at this stage where NCBA faces its current challenges. It's gearing up with a new arsenal.

"We just completed a large consumer market research project we call 'Single Source,' " Adolf says. "This involves a purchase study panel and a diary purchase study that tracks consumer purchases at home and away from home. We've never been able to match up individuals before to measure how these eating patterns differ. On top of this, we've overlaid a comprehensive attitude survey seeking input on attitudes related to preparation, food safety and price issues."

Research shows that when consumers go to the grocery store, they don't go to buy beef. They go to buy specific products, such as ground beef, 90% lean, 80% lean and so on. Plus, consumers have varying reasons about when and why they purchase these products.

No single reason stands out about why certain products are purchased, but there are many issues to why they don't buy. Often it's a lack of knowledge about how to prepare the product, the amount of time needed to prepare it, or they're confused about the vast array of cuts. The strongest reason for buying? The family likes it.

"From a marketing perspective, that tells us they actually enjoy consuming these products, but they're not buying them for a variety of reasons," Adolf says.

She adds that nothing in the research shows a limit to the use of ground beef. In fact, consumers love its versatility and convenience. And although a good portion of beef moves as ground, it's the lowest-value product. The goal is to develop products for which consumers will pay more.

"This research has helped us define our strategy and refine who it is we should be targeting," Adolf says. "We're targeting the convenience-orientedfood preparer who is willing to frequently purchase and repurchase convenient pr oducts. We've also isolated age brackets, income, working styles and other characteristics.

"We've peeled back the layers on consumers," she says. "Consumers say one thing, but research shows it doesn't match up with their behavior. We've now linked their behavior with their attitudes. By doing so, we can get at the heart of what will make people buy specific products."

It Takes Time No success happens overnight. The beef industry, Adolf says, has had to create "repurchase" of its products. "We're trying to build an entire new product category," she says. "This takes time directed at the consumer and time and energy directed into the channels, including foodservice, retailers and manufacturers."

NCBA's channel marketing is taking this consumer behavior research to retailers under the umbrella of "category management." This uses consumer behavior data and point-of-sale data to make decisions about promotion elasticity, price elasticity, product mix and meatcase layout.

"It really affects how the retailer merchandises our product," Yost says. "We're trying to make it easier to shop for beef. Consumers are confused by the varying anatomically-based names we have for beef products.

"What we're doing with our overall consumer marketing is to draw consumers to the meatcase believing beef is convenient and versatile," he adds. "Channel marketing's goal is to deliver on that by working with retailers to lay out meat by cooking methods or food combinations.

"We're sending messages to consumers with a call to action to buy our products. They must have a good shopping, buying, preparation and eating experience for it all to come together," he says.

NCBA is working with the top 25 retail chains in the country. These chains account for 60% of all retail beef volume.

"Retailers are our best partners to help us move forward," Yost says. "They interact with our consumers every day. They see them react to beef, chicken, pork and seafood. We're calling on retailers several times a year to help them understand why beef is important to their business. In return, they're helping us better understand consumers."

Yost says retailers have responded well. In the last two years, NCBA has built a co-marketing focus where it shares its tools and objectives to match with retailers' marketing objectives. To some degree, 90% of the 25 grocery chains are using NCBA materials.

"We approach our retail partners in an integrated fashion," Yost says. "Based on our research, consumer confusion creates to loss of purchases. For example, 33 percent of consumers couldn't find an item they wanted when they approached the meat case. Of those, 12 percent walked away taking with them dollars that could've gone into the beef supply chain."

NCBA, he says, is helping solve this by creating an environment for the success of "easy" beef: easy to shop, select and prepare. This includes new products; for example, a 7-bone chuck roast vs. a pre-cooked pot roast.

"Our job is to help retailers simplify the meat case, create a convenient section and build sales in major chains," Yost says.

The beef industry is no different than any other company marketing products through retailers, Yost maintains. "We have to prove ourselves every day. If we can create more product sales for the retailer and the producer, we will have done our job."

Cross-Country Cowboys

September 17, 1996, was a dreary day for managers Maurice and Steve Grogan. The Stillwater, MN, father/son team was up earlier than normal, prepping for the long-haul trucks that would transport the 350 cows they'd developed over the past 38 years. The herd was being shipped cross-country, two states away, to more spacious, less developed range near Saratoga, WY.

Despite efforts to keep the Hereford and Red Angus herd on the 2,700-acre Kelley Land and Cattle pastures in Minnesota, the Twin Cities metropolitan area continued to encroach on their operation. In fact, they're scheduled to lose 950 acres of the operation to a new park reserve.

The lesson: Scenic mountainous areas of the West are not the only land parcels where development is squeezing ranchers out of business.

In Minnesota, farmland is turning into homes and shopping centers at the rate of 24,000 acres a year. That's 66 acres a day or an acre every 22 minutes, says Lee Ronning, executive director of 1000 Friends of Minnesota, a growth management organization that helps preserve farmland and build livable communities.

Most of Minnesota farms being plucked out of production for development are in the seven-county metro area. Census figures, Ronning reports, show that metro area farms declined 21% from 1982 to 1992, from 5,662 farms to 4,489 farms.

Kelley Land and Cattle-Minnesota - owned by Cynthia Kelley O'Neill - is part of that exodus, but just a part. Like many other businesses, its found a creative way to restructure its standard operating procedures, and ultimately become even more involved in the cattle business.

Kelley Wasn't Caught Off Guard With housing developments popping up around them faster than dandelions on a spring lawn, it was inevitable they'd soon feel the crunch from building development. So in the mid-1980s, Kelley O'Neill, Cynthia's son, along with four other family members, began an aggressive search to find a new location in Wyoming where they could eventually move the Minnesota herd.

Wyoming was a natural choice since O'Neill had two brothers already living there. "We also liked the land availability and the lack of population," O'Neill says. "Also, annual cow supplemental feed costs are less in Wyoming than Minnesota. And, we've now found that our annual per cow labor cost is four times higher in Minnesota than Wyoming."

By 1990 they'd put together three Saratoga, WY, ranches - under the Kelley Land and Cattle-Wyoming name - with 48,000 BLM, Forest Service and deeded grazing acres. In addition, they have 4,000 acres of irrigated hay and pasture. Kelley O'Neill is president of both the operations. However, he spends most of his time on the farming and sheep side of the business located in Rushford, MN.

In 1993, O'Neill hired University of Minnesota animal science graduate Mike Crimmins, who became full-time manager in 1995, to run the newly acquired ranches.

"When we got the Minnesota herd here in 1996 we were already increasing our existing numbers to get fully stocked," says Crimmins. "In the spring of '96 we had 1,000 cows. By that fall we'd increased another 1,000 cows by adding the Minnesota herd along with some we bought from Texas, Montana and Idaho.

"Now, we're fully stocked at 2,000 mother cows. Plus, we can run 1,000-1,200 yearlings," he says.

Acclimate To High Country "When the Minnesota cows arrived here we ended up losing three to brisket disease, or high altitude disease," Crimmins says of the 6,800- to 8,000-ft. elevation at the Wyoming operation. "The Minnesota cows now had to walk farther for grass. Also, they didn't seem to want to trail well with our other cattle. Initially, 90 percent of the (Minnesota) herd was in back.

"We had problems with some of the bigger straight Herefords in the mountains, too. They were a biological type that didn't fit well in the Wyoming environment. We culled about 30 because they failed to maintain body condition and conceive," he says. The Hereford/Red Angus crosses did okay.

Now, the herd is about 50% Red and Black Baldie, Red Angus and Gelbvieh. Normally, the ranch retains ownership on cattle through two feedlots in Wiggins and Fort Morgan, CO.

Kept Minnesota Connection Long distance ranching isn't popular, but Kelley Land and Cattle has found a creative way to continue using the lush, green grass of Minnesota to its advantage. Although they no longer winter cattle - except a few cows - on the rolling hills at the Stillwater location, they're using it to develop heifers from their Wyoming herd.

"We've changed the whole operation to grass and need larger groups to rotate through our 55 pastures," says Maurice Grogan. "We can do a better job of utilizing our grass with larger groups of stockers and heifers, not cows."

Since subdividing pastures and using shorter duration, more intensive rotational grazing, O'Neill says it's a better fit for yearlings. "Higher forage quality would be wasted on strictly a cow-calf enterprise."

Right now, they're running two groups, about 500 head each, on 1,600 acres. Cattle are moved every three to four days and pastures are given a 30-day rest. Pastures are only grazed about 15 days a year.

Those pastures, overseeded with red clover, are producing terrific gains, Grogan claims. Steers are averaging up to 2.56 lbs./head/day while heifers are up to 2.2 lbs./head/day on a 150-day grazing period.

Heifers Travel To Minnesota In January, 1998, Grogan received all 818 light heifer calves (380 lbs. each), born in May-June, from the Wyoming ranch. "We sorted off the heaviest end and developed and then bred 315 of those in July," says Grogan. "We've continued to run them on grass and we'll ship them pregnant back to the Wyoming ranch in November to replace about 300 cows being culled from the main herd."

The rest, about 500 head, will be marketed as open feeders. Another 200 purchased from Missouri will be developed and sold as bred heifers.

It's a system that Crimmins and the Grogans believe works well. "It takes away one group of cattle we don't have to put in a grazing rotation," Crimmins says. "There's also less labor involved because we don't have to artificially inseminate here. Besides, they're set up for it in Minnesota."

In addition, Crimmins thinks that by sending heifers back to Minnesota, they develop better with better grass. "Here, we'd have to supplement. In Minnesota, grass alone with almost no supplement works," he adds.

"We hope we're being efficient and saving money, too, despite trucking costs," says Crimmins. "Even though our labor costs will be transferred there, we think the confined area in Minnesota is less labor intensive than here. Also, the better grass and higher gains there(Minnesota) should benefit both our operations."

Trucking costs vary, but backhauling saves money. Last year, for example, trucking ran $1.60/mile with backhauls, or about $38/head roundtrip (400-lb. calf from Wyoming to Minnesota, and an 800-lb. bred heifer from Minnesota back to Wyoming.)

"The calves all made it back to Minnesota in good health. We didn't have one sick calf and we were a little worried about that," Crimmins says.

Before shipping to Minnesota, Wyoming calves were preweaning vaccinated, weaned and boostered.

Other Pluses To The Program "If we'd kept replacement heifers here in Wyoming, we'd need more pastures and extra help to AI," Crimmins says. "Regardless, we'd still run the yearlings because they run on different pastures. If we kept heifers, we'd have wanted them closer to headquarters to keep an eye on them." Up to this point, only heifers are AI'd; cows are bred natural service.

Eventually, Kelley Land and Cattle operators hope to ship some of their better, older cows to Minnesota for breeding. "By doing that, we could produce adapted bulls to return to Wyoming," O'Neill explains. "The Minnesota scale of operation allows us to take better care of our extremes ... namely our replacement heifers and our older, environment-proven cows,"" he adds.

In addition, O'Neill says he likes developing heifers in Minnesota because of the ranch's traditions of working with the University of Minnesota, especially on reproduction technology and research. In fact, they're currently involved in a breeding research project.

Although O'Neill says the jury is still out on how successful the Wyoming-born heifer development program works, it seems to make sense on paper. "It dovetails the two sets of resources - Minnesota and Wyoming," he says. "As long as their mothers pass the test in Wyoming, meaning they conceive, rear an adequate calf and remain in the herd with minimal supplemental feed, I believe the freight is cost-effective." L

Smart Grazing: Part 1

Nine out of 10 cattle businesses I work with could improve their bottom line by better managing their range land resources. The number one way is to adopt some type of grazing system.

Hear the phrase "grazing system" and most people picture an elaborate wagon wheel grazing cell with miles of high tensile fence, dozens of gates, mile after mile of water line and a pickup load of float valves. In fact, I have yet to implement a grazing system where that is the case, at least initially. More often, a system can be designed to fit the current pastures.

Types Of Grazing Systems * Continuous grazing. Here, a certain number of cattle are placed in each pasture for the duration of the grazing season. No matter the number you place in the pasture, this "system" leads to overgrazing because the cattle will continuously graze a preferred spot, never allowing the plants to recover.

* Rotational grazing. This system involves two or more pastures that are each only grazed once during the growing season. The order in which the pastures are grazed should vary each year so that each pasture is grazed at a different point in the growing season.

This system provides a 20% increase in cattle numbers over continuous grazing. More of the available forage can be utilized due to the time allowed for the plants to recover without grazing stress during much of the growing season. Thus, if our ranch ran 100 cows with continuous grazing, it would run120 cows with rotational grazing.

* Intensive grazing. This system involves numerous pastures that are grazed several times each season and may allow a 30-50% increase in stocking rates over continuous grazing. If we can run 120 cows on our ranch with rotational grazing, we can raise that number to 140 cow-calf units.

This is really an intensive "management" system because high stocking rates require higher levels of management skill, frequent cattle moves and monitoring grass to maintain pasture condition.

The critical factor is the rest period for grass recovery. In bunch grasses, a minimum of 30 days' rest is required during the rapid growth stage and 60 days during slow growth. Generally, a minimum of 8-10 pastures or paddocks are required to implement this type of system. However, these don't all have to be the same size or have the same forage quality or quantity. The system is adjusted to account for these variables.

What's The First Step? The key to planning a grazing system is information. First, take an inventory of your ranch and determine the exact size of each pasture, water locations and their capacity. Then, the carrying capacity or production level of each pasture must be calculated.

In determining carrying capacity and production levels, you can contact a local grazing specialist or hire a consultant. The consultant I work with is Kathy Miles-Burnham, a professional range management specialist. She can be reached at 888/296-3619.

Miles-Burnham has combined her expertise in range science with cutting edge technology available for precision farming. The result is a system for precision range management.

The precision comes from the accurate maps developed using GPS (global positioning systems) and aerial or satellite imagery. Once a base map is created, then data gathered from topography, soils maps and range surveys by the NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) and on-site range sampling can be layered in a database or GIS (geographical information system).

This is used to produce a range inventory or carrying capacity for the ranch. From this, she can economically design a grazing system that optimizes forage utilization with little, if any, capital outlay.

Miles-Burnham is also working to develop a method for measuring carrying capacity by analyzing infrared imagery to determine the pounds per acre of forage production. Thus, scientifically determining your range inventory and removing the guesswork of the old eyeball technique.

* One ranch I work with had a continuous grazing program with two pastures and 200 cows in each. They did this because it had been done that way for 50 years, and the pastures were about the same size.

A map created using satellite imagery and GPS, however, showed us that one pasture was actually 400 acres larger. Meanwhile, a range survey indicated the smaller pasture actually had greater carrying capacity. The two pastures were included in a grazing system without any modification or cost, and we added another 140 cows.

* Another client ranch in the Nebraska Sandhills was able to bring 300 cows home from previously leased property ($120/cow-calf unit) and sell 1,202 tons of prairie hay at $45/ton - all because of better resource utilization. The one-time cost of system design and fence and water modifications was $7,513, while the annual return was $90,090.

Adding More Cows * Another ranch was able to take in 15% more outside cows (570 cow-calf pairs) at $145/pair for the five-month grazing season for an additional $82,650 in gross revenues. Better range management and the implementation of a rotational grazing system made this possible. This one-time cost of system design and fence and water modifications was $29,500; annual return was $84,650.

Besides producing more revenue, custom grazing of outside cow-calf pairs created an "off-season" cash flow that helped decrease money borrowed on the operating note. That reduced interest expense by over $2,000.

* On a ranch in Florida where we employ this practice, a herd of 250-275 cow-calf pairs grazes 17, 24-acre paddocks for no more than two days at a time. With intensive grazing and winter annuals we are able to support one cow-calf unit per 31/44 acre year-round, without substitution or supplementation. This helped decrease production costs to $273/exposed female (EF), or $.055/lb. of beef weaned.

The Benefits The economic benefits of improving your utilization of range resources are apparent. If our example 100-head ranch above took in cows on a per head per season basis, such as is done in the Nebraska Sandhills, for $145/cow-calf unit, the calculation is easy. Implementation of rotational grazing will garner an extra $2,900 over continuous; intensive grazing will be $2,900 over rotational and $5,800 over continuous.

The short-term economic benefit of a grazing system is the least important advantage. What's truly magic is the improvement you will see in the cattle, the way they handle, their performance and, most importantly, the change in the range.

You'll see greater plant diversification, which serves to lengthen the grazing season and provide for a healthier grazing environment. There will be less wind and water erosion, and a better capture and utilization of precipitation. You will also see a dramatic improvement in wildlife, the topic of next month's article.

Dehydrating Chicken

American consumers could save $3 billion per year, thanks to U.S. cattlemen.

In early September, USDA published for public comment a new rule prohibiting meat and poultry processors from adding water to their products unless it is necessary to meet food safety requirements. Any extra water weight would have to appear on package labels.

In the past, chickens were allowed to gain as much as 8% in water weight in processing (turkeys 9%) without disclosure. Beef, pork and lamb were allowed no water weight gain.

The proposed rule is the result of a lawsuit brought by a group of cattlemen and consumers over inequities in federal meat inspection. The suit, led by Wythe Willey, an attorney and cattleman from Cedar Rapids, IA, registered a huge victory in July when the 8th Circuit Court sided with them, saying the poultry water standard was not based on science.

A Federal District Court judge then directed the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to issue new regulations on added water for poultry. The new rule is in response to that court decision.

By the time of the July decision, the lawsuit had grown to include individuals from 28 states and support from the national trade organizations for cattle, pork and sheep.

Cattlemen Need to Get Involved With publication of the proposed rule, the next few months will bring an intense public relations battle as poultry industry interests fight to save or salvage their traditional federal inspections advantage, Willey says.

"This is, unfortunately, a very political issue. We really had to drag them kicking and screaming this far. It will now be a big public relations battle to enact this zero percentage water in chicken. The other side is really going to battle to keep it."

Willey urges cattlemen to become a visible voice during the comment period. Comments must be received on or before Dec. 10, 1998. Submit one original and two copies of the written comments (labeled as docket number 97-054P) to: Docket Clerk

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Food Safety and Inspection Service

Room 102, 300 12th Street, SW

Washington, DC 20250-3700.

"I hope cattlemen send millions of letters. This is an issue we're definitely on the right side of," Willey says. "There is no argument that you can scientifically apply that water belongs in one and not the other. And that's what the U.S. District Judge ruled last July - that the poultry regulations on added water were based on 'arbitrary and capricious' standards."

Northern Exposure

In Alberta there is a slogan, "If it ain't Alberta, it ain't beef." Those words have turned into a success for Canada's first branded beef product - Original Alberta Beef.

The concept for the branded product got its start three years ago when XL Foods, a small Canadian-based packer, conducted surveys to see what could be done to get consumers to eat more beef, says Rod Coughlin, procurement manager for XL Foods.

"We found that consumers want portion control, a consistent product and when they find quality they'll eat it again," says Coughlin.

"A cheaper price will not create demand, it's quality," he adds.

XL Foods, whose Calgary plant kills 850-1,000 head/day, was also looking for a way to position itself in a market dominated by large companies.

"XL is a smaller company, therefore our goal is niche marketing offering a higher quality product," says Coughlin.

From those ideas the Original Alberta Beef program was born. Last year 100,000 cattle qualified for the program.

Like many branded programs, Original Alberta Beef has it's unique specifications, but XL Foods prides itself most on their beef quality assurance specifications that start with each producer.

Meat Program "What we've done is told the producer this is what the consumer wants, and they've got to meet that recipe. Every year they (the producers) get a little better," Coughlin says.

That recipe includes a very specific protocol for beef quality assurance measures, but is not breed specific.

"This is a meat program, not a cattle program or a breed program," says Coughlin.

"Every breed has its merits and works in the program. Usually it's a crossbred of British and Continental, but we've had cattle of every color in the rainbow nail it," says Coughlin.

By "nail it" Coughlin means cattle must meet the following criteria:

* Be finished on a high-grain diet for a minimum 120 days at an Alberta feedlot.

* Dressed hot carcass weight between 575-765 lbs.

* Injection sites in neck only, coupled with prescribed feedlot health management.

* Clean hide.

* No electric prods or excessive use of whips.

* Humane handling and loading (50 head maximum tri-axel or 45 head maximum per potload).

* AAA marble.

* Yield grade (59-64/A1)

* No brand.

* No by-product condemnation.

* White fat finish - no bulls, stags or heiferettes, no horns, no bruising, no hump.

Price discovery for the seller is the CanFax average of the previous week's price. In addition, if all of the above conditions are met a 10% premium will be paid.

If conditions are not met for brand, by-product condemnation and grade, the scale drops by 1-2%. For example, if none of the animals are branded, the producer will get a 10% premium, if they are branded it's a 9% premium. Cattle grading below 54% will not qualify.

"The worst a producer will do is the CanFax average," says Coughlin. Average premium through the program is about 75 cents to $3/cwt.

Of the protocol, Coughlin says, "If a new producer wants to come on board they must sign an agreement to the protocol. They are all mandatory. We'll forgive a few horns, however, butt injections are a big no-no."

Coughlin says there are four management strategies producers can utilize to help qualify for the Original Alberta Beef program: maturity of cattle, days on feed, implant program and genetics.

Alberta's Cattleland Feedyards assistant manager Norman Kuntz says he sees producers putting more emphasis on their management because of the program. Cattleland has two facilities with a combined one-time feedlot capacity of 40,000 head.

"We are seeing a significant increase in British influence in cattle because of Original Alberta Beef and its emphasis on marbling and carcass size," says Kuntz. He notes that producers are also paying more attention to implant programs so as not to dilute the marbling.

Kuntz says at Cattleland they also sort cattle for better marketing results.

Guaranteed Good Once animals qualify for the branded product, they must also meet specifications for a fabrication protocol which include:

* Carcasses being checked for cleanliness and bacteria,

* Before cutting the product is checked again to qualify for marbling and yield grade,

* Minimum aging of 14 days before going to the store,

* All cuts are trimmed to maximum 11/44-in. of fat, and

* Date of production is stamped on the product label.

Carcass information is sent to producers for free. Coughlin says their future goal is to identify producers with a good history and keep them in the program.

Because of their protocol, XL Foods also stands behind their product with a guarantee.

"In three years we've had two steaks returned to us," says Coughlin. "I'd say that tells us the consumer has accepted the product."

And don't let the name fool you. Original Alberta Beef can be found in grocery stores and restaurants throughout Canada's provinces.

"Quebec is a huge importer of Alberta beef. They love it," says Coughlin.

Many grocery chains carrying the branded product have found it is attracting repeat business from customers. He and Kuntz credit that to the product's consistency.

"The most consistent product we have in our industry is the Big Mac - not at the higher end of our product. Original Alberta Beef has addressed that and is being successful because of it," says Cattleland's Kuntz.

Breaking Wind

Orvil Klassen wanted to keep his cattle warm in the winter. And, he wanted to keep them cool in the summer. With a movable windbreak, he does both.

Klassen designed and built "walls" of galvanized panels on the north side of his 600-head feedlot at Mountain Lake, in southwestern Minnesota. In the fall, the panels stay in a vertical position to block the howling winter winds on the prairie. But in the spring, he swings the panels to a horizontal position to allow air movement and provide shade from the summer sun.

Klassen says he tried other types of windbreaks before he built this one. Perforated plastic wasn't strong enough. Planking worked, but not very well. "This is just a big improvement over that," Klassen says.

He says a farmer in his area first built a similar windbreak. "He, too, was concerned that there wasn't enough air movement," Klassen says. "The idea kind of came from him."

The windbreak is made of 20-ga. galvanized roof decking with 3-in. corrugates. Each movable panel is made up of four smaller panels, each 2-ft. wide and 12-ft. long. Five-inch spaces between the smaller panels provide a 20% opening. A brace unhooks to let the panels swing, and bolts hold the panels in position. Each movable panel is supported on either side by pieces of pipe.

The windbreak sits on a 2-ft.-high cement wall that Klassen installed to make scraping and cleaning pens easier.

Although Klassen built the break himself, out-of-pocket costs ran about $150 for each panel.

Klassen says the design works well. "It's super in the winter," he says. "In the summer, you do notice on a hot day that the cattle will stand underneath in the shade."

And while no windbreak is perfect, Klassen still likes his. "It's the best I can do," he says. "I like the concept."

Daniels Manufacturing Company, Ainsworth, NE, holds a patent on the commercial design of the windbreak. A 60-ft.-long Daniels windbreak sells for about $3,500. For more information on a Daniels windbreak, contact the company at 402/387-1891.