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Articles from 1999 In October

Selling calves by video auction

It's been a hot, dry, busy summer. We're nearly done with our haying. Today (Sept. 6), Lynn is cutting the last small field of alfalfa for a second cutting; when it's baled and hauled we'll be finished. We have mostly wild hay (grass) and only small fields of alfalfa, on which we sometimes get a second cutting - if we have enough water for a second irrigation and if the elk and antelope don't eat it up.

On areas we don't get a second cutting, we save the green regrowth to graze. We always wean our calves on pasture. The field aftermath usually lasts the calves from weaning until they're sold in mid-October.

This year, however, the fields are very dry. With the hot summer, our creek dropped drastically by late July and we didn't have enough water to irrigate the fields again after we got the hay off. There's a good green understory in the tall meadow grass, however, and it should enable the weaned calves to do well until we sell them.

Michael (our son) and his wife Carolyn have been busy with their custom haying. A few machinery breakdowns slowed them up, and Lynn used our tractor and baler to help with a couple jobs to help them catch up. They did a lot of all-night baling and cutting.

Andrea often took care of all three children, until school started last week. Lynn or I picked up Michael and Carolyn's kids from the bus after school when their folks were haying. Seems like old times, driving the two miles to the highway to get the kids - a step back 20 years to when we were getting Michael and Andrea off that same school bus.

A New Way To Sell Calves We sold our calves through the video auction this year for the first time and were pleased with the results. David Smith, the buyers' representative, came from Hamilton, MT, to video the calves. David was quite impressed with the mountains and the cattle. He liked the calves and was intrigued by our management and genetics - our short 35-day breeding season (and the correlation between high fertility and good feed efficiency) and our composite cattle tailored to our harsh conditions.

He told us these were the type of calves many of his buyers like - mountain cattle that have a lot of muscling and very little fat, in good physical condition from all their travel and climbing. He says calves growing up in these conditions are healthier (good strong lungs) and have more growth potential because they have the frame but not the fat and can gain weight swiftly.

Many of his buyers prefer range calves for these reasons, especially when feed is relatively cheap. The range calves are lighter than similar age calves off irrigated pasture but have the ability to gain faster.

The video footage he took during our five-hour ride through the high pasture - edited to fit into a one-minute time slot - showed the calves and the steep country they range in.

A New Marketing Method For Us The auction was Sept. 3 at Denver via satellite and we drove to Leadore to watch it and be available by telephone hookup to accept or reject the bid. It was fascinating to watch the different lots going through. The groups of calves were being sold about one lot per minute and it was interesting to see the various types of cattle and the country in which they grow up.

We felt our calves sold well. We got $88.75/cwt. for the steers, $82.75/cwt. for the heifers - about average for similar weight calves sold that day and a good price for a mixed load of steers and heifers. We'll probably sell our calves this way again next year.

This type of auction has several advantages over hauling the calves out to a sale or having to depend on just one or two local buyers. You pay a commission but you don't have to accept the bid. Your cattle are listed by lot in a catalog prepared ahead of the sale, telling the type of calves (breeding), estimated weight at time of delivery, when you want to deliver them and where they will be weighed.

Seems like a great way to sell calves. We just wish we'd started doing this sooner.

Coming Down The Track

Don't look now, that light in the distance could be a freight train of environmental regulation threatening to derail how some feedlots do business in the near future.

"The agricultural and livestock industries have an interesting environmental future ahead of them," says Tom Haren, vice president of Envirostock, a subsidiary of the Colorado Livestock Association (CLA) which helps producers comply to environmental regulations. "What happened to pork and poultry is a precursor, from marketing and integration to environmental regulation."

Obviously, this regulatory engine has been chugging toward and through feedlots for better than two decades, mostly as a vehicle for the Clean Water Act (CWA). Plenty of commercial yards already have reserved seating in the permit section, even if they don't like it, while other yards have yet to punch their tickets.

"We've had good regulations, but there has been little oversight and enforcement," says Haren. In Colorado, as well as a number of other states designated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to administer federal laws - designed to protect surface and ground water - compliance programs have been self-implementing.

The laws are there, but no one is looking over a producer's shoulder to make sure they follow the law, unless someone files a complaint. But, increased public scrutiny is changing that.

In Nebraska, for example, legislation enacted last year requires all confinement feeding operations to request an inspection from the state's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to determine whether or not a permit is required. While some states base the potential need for permits on the number of animal units, Nebraska looks strictly at the risk to polluting waters of the state. In theory, that means four bucket calves tied behind the barn could be considered a feeding operation.

"The purpose of the stiffer regulations was to go after the larger operations and leave the smaller producers alone, and you can't really do that. The Clean Water Act doesn't allow you to discriminate. Whether you're feeding 20 head or 20,000, you may have to get a permit. Of course, smaller producers will be the least able to comply because of the cost," says Troy Bredenkamp, vice president of technical services for the Nebraska Cattleman (NC).

Using Agricultural Research Service statistics, Bredenkamp says there are approximately 5,600 cattle feedlots in the state. Of those, 600 have a one-time capacity of 1,000 head or more.

According to Renee Hancock, unit supervisor of the Nebraska DEQ, there are approximately 35,000 cattle, swine and dairy operations in the state. Of those, she says 94% have 1,000 head or fewer. To date, the agency has issued approximately 1,600 permits.

DEQ anticipates 20,000 inspection requests this year. Frankly, between that, routine inspections and new construction inspections, the new legislation places a daunting burden on a staff of 10 people. So, the reality is it may take them a while to find anyone who fails to request an inspection.

"For the smaller operations (under 1,000 head), we want to be able to, if possible, exempt them for waste control facilities and the need for a permit," says Hancock. And, rather than fine producers who are out of bounds, she says DEQ is more concerned about helping producers comply.

Currently, the NC and other groups are working to get an amendment passed that would exempt operations with fewer than 300 head from the inspection and permitting process. "Our approximation would be that this provision would eliminate 60-80 percent of all producers from having to request inspection," says Bredenkamp.

Upping The Ante Even if the amendment passes, some producers still face vexing challenges. Dean Settje of Settje Agri-Services and Engineering at Raymond, NE, says, "What they've inadvertently done is create a huge problem with the permitting process and the cost of compliance to producers." His firm designs facilities and management systems for producers that meet EPA specifications.

"The thing that really changed in the last 10 years is not only do you need to look at surface water but also ground water and nutrient management or non-point pollution," Settje says. "What do you do with the nutrients when you spread them? Are you doing it in a friendly manner?"

Permit applications that used to consist of a few pages now run 50-60 and must be approved by a professional engineer. As if that wasn't enough, a measure called Unified National Strategy for Animal Feeding Operations is being bandied about in Washington, DC. It looks beyond the point-source pollution defined in the CWA and seeks to regulate non-point sources as well.

Depending on the size of the operation and problems encountered, Settje estimates the cost of complying to current regulations ranges from $10,000 to $200,000 for operations that must obtain a permit. That includes everything from putting up dams to catch run-off, to building lagoons and developing irrigation systems for nutrient management (applying waste to surrounding fields). This estimate doesn't include the annual cost of compliance once a permit is issued.

For perspective, the owner of a 1,000-head yard called Settje recently. His bank requested the feedlot be inspected by DEQ. As it turns out, a permit is required. "He has 1,000 head and it will cost him $50,000 to come into compliance.

"You'll get the argument he should have been in compliance already, but from a practicality standpoint, the laws weren't always that way and they weren't enforced. Now the banker is forcing the issue.

"We're seeing a lot of that," says Settje. With costs in mind, he says "I think we'll see the closure of lots of small lots in the next five to six years, and the expansion of commercial cattle feeders."

Of course, that could place as much extra pressure as opportunity on larger feeders, even though they can dilute cost of compliance over more head. For one thing, you need enough land for waste management and application.

"Some feedlots are built next to a river, and they're landlocked on the other side by a county road, so there's no place to build a new lagoon without abandoning pens or buying land next door," says Settje.

But even money can't find extra ground in some places. Trevor Tuell, CLA director of natural resources says some cattle feeders along Colorado's front range have turned to composting manure to deal with the challenge.

Moreover, Bredenkamp explains if the cost of compliance forces larger yards to grow in order to accommodate capacity given up by smaller operations, sooner or later the same folks hollering at the hog industry will turn their gaze more intently upon cattle.

Taking The Bull By The Horns "If you want to be extremely technical, it would be rare not to have someone go in and find something wrong with most every operation. That doesn't mean they're polluting the environment. It means they may not have a form they need, or their logbook may not be up to date. A lot of the violations we're finding are bureaucratic ones," says Haren. Organizations like NC and CLA are helping lead members through self-assessments to pinpoint potential environmental problems.

Although compliance in Colorado is still self-implementing, Haren explains more feeders are making the investment.

"It's a liability. It's the same reason you get car insurance. Colorado, like most states, carries fines and penalties for violations. Now that the public is more aware, liability has increased," says Haren. "We are trying to encourage members to address it on their terms rather than on the regulator's terms."

That's the approach Drinnin Feedlots Inc. of Columbus, NE, took several years ago when they set out to build waste management facilities, allowing them to obtain state and federal permits. This is a 3,000-head-capacity yard.

Mike Drinnin explains, "We are within two miles of a watershed. The filtration system we had worked fine, but couldn't handle major rainfalls." He worked with NCA, Settje and DEQ to come up with a system that does. He estimates 2-5% of their daily cost goes toward environmental compliance.

Many producers view government as a threat, but Drinnin says Nebraska's DEQ has been excellent to work with. "They're helpful and responsive to our ideas ... If you're open and willing to work things out, they are willing to help," he says. What bothers Drinnin more than enforcement and the regulations themselves are the adversarial relationships emerging in the agricultural industry as a result of the environmental debate.

"One thing that concerns a lot of producers across the state is that we're evolving into a time when we have rural neighbors against rural neighbors. That's frightening to the agricultural industry as a whole," says Drinnin.

While it's convenient to lay blame for increased public scrutiny at the doorstep of other species, mega-operations or corporate ownership, the train left the station a long time ago.

"Bottom line, we are in an industry with the potential to impact our environment. There are a lot of common sense things that come into play, regardless of regulations," says Haren. "I think our industry needs to be aware we are responsible for fixing these things."

Faint Of Heart

The first time you encounter Brisket Disease (also called Dropsy and High Mountain Disease) in the pasture, or a similar malady in the feedlot, your emotions are likely to range between wonderment and hopelessness.

At first, range cattle appear weak and lethargic but they have no fever. Next, the telltale swelling starts to appear in the brisket and the abdomen. Soon after, those cattle die unless they're diagnosed and treated quickly.

For pasture cattle bred and raised above 5,000 ft., or for those cattle moved to the high country for summer grazing, veterinarian Tim Holt says, "It can easily affect 3-10 percent of a herd." In his practice at Town and Country Animal Hospital in Gunnison, CO - 8,000 ft. elevation - Holt has seen High Mountain Disease (HMD) impact as much as 60% of a single herd. He has specialized in HMD for 20 years.

In the feedlot there's a disease with similar symptoms to HMD that some veterinarians prefer to call Right Heart Failure (RHF), since it works differently than HMD. It's just as devastating, however, and there's no practical way to treat it, even if it's diagnosed. The best you can hope for is getting them to the locker plant before their symptoms become so pronounced that they're condemned.

"We lose probably close to 150 head with it each year," says Dave Sjeklocha, a veterinarian and cattle manager at Farr Feeders in Greeley, CO. Although the feedlot sits at about 5,000 ft., Sjeklocha doesn't believe the RHF problems they encounter have anything to do with altitude. He explains, "Based on what I've seen, I'm not convinced Feedyard Brisket (RHF) has the same causative agents as High Mountain Disease."

How It Works In The Pasture Above 5,000 ft. elevation, Holt explains all mammals, including humans and cattle, respond to lower levels of oxygen by shunting blood to the upper portion of the lungs where there is more oxygen. Although this shunting process is normal, cattle experience an exaggerated response through a process called vasoconstriction, which in turn results in pulmonary hypertension. Compounding the problem is that cattle have lungs that are too small relative to their body size.

At the same time, Holt explains cattle also experience a process whereby the small pulmonary arteries thicken, reducing the blood flow into and through their lungs. This process is called pulmonary arterial hypertrophy (PAH), and is the heritable portion of HMD.

The exaggerated shunting of blood into the lungs, combined with the level of PAH cattle inherit, results in pulmonary hypertension. This often results in right heart hypertrophy and congestive heart failure. That's what kills them.

If diagnosed early, Holt says most cattle experiencing HMD can recover if they're moved to elevations below 5,000 ft. However, some lung and heart damage may have already occurred.

Holt also teaches ranchers how to treat cattle affected by HMD by draining the pleural effusion out of the animal's cavity. This fluid results from congestive right heart failure. Without treatment, accumulation of this fluid causes rapid heart failure.

Holt says HMD can be treated with many of the drugs used in human medicine, but their practical use in cattle is limited by their high cost.

"Cattle that are genetically susceptible to HMD are more prone to developing the disease in the presence of any other respiratory factors such as asthma, pneumonia, lung worms and chronic cold temperatures, which all add to the hypersensitive state," he says.

That's the good news. HMD brought on by altitude can be managed and reduced through genetic selection. Holt explains the PAH that can result in RHF is highly heritable (more later).

While altitude might be a contributing factor to RHF in the feedlot, Bob Glock, DVM and director of the University of Arizona Diagnostic Laboratory, says feedlot cattle that succumb to the disease end up on the back side of the oxygen curve, but for different reasons.

"In the feedlot, cattle at some point develop this huge rumen and are constantly full, and they develop fat that occupies body cavities," Glock says. "Like humans, it takes more pressure to pump blood, and the hypertension can develop at lower altitudes because of these complicating factors."

Even so, the same genetics at work with HMD may contribute to RHF in the feedlot. Sjeklocha says, "It has been my perception that 90 percent of the Feedlot Brisket we see in this yard is in cattle that are black haired and black hided." That's not tossing mud at any breed. Holt points out there are sweeping genetic differences within breeds and between them.

Underscoring this genetic notion in the feedlot, Sjeklocha explains they can bring native cattle out of high country and have no RHF problems. Conversely, they can buy native cattle out of the Kansas Flint Hills, as an example, and see all sorts of RHF problems.

Managing Around Brisket RHF may be futile to treat in the feedlot, but genetic selection can lower the incidence of HMD at pasture-level.

"By utilizing Pulmonary Artery Pressure (PAP) testing, it is possible to predict which animals are experiencing PAH (blood flow resistance) and are susceptible to developing pulmonary hypertension," explains Holt. Moreover, since the PAH is at least as heritable as weaning and birth weight, producers can begin managing the challenge by using bulls with low PAP scores (see table 1).

The PAP measurement is taken by inserting a catheter through the jugular vein, then measuring the mean blood pressure in the jugular, ventricle and pulmonary arteries. To get an accurate score, Holt says cattle need to be at least a year old and should be at an elevation of at least 5,000 ft. for a minimum of three weeks prior to testing.

Plus, the higher the elevation when cattle are tested, the more accurate the PAP score. Holt and other researchers have tried to emulate chronic oxygen stress for PAP testing at lower elevations, but he says it just doesn't work.

At 8,000-9,000 ft. and a year of age, Holt says the test is virtually foolproof. Even at only 5,000 ft., he says the test will never yield a false high score.

David Danciger takes PAP testing an extra step at his TY-Bar Ranch in Carbondale, CO. In 1984, he began working with Holt to PAP test every bull and female on his ranch and has tested every calf since.

At $15/head, that takes commitment. But, Danciger says, "If you don't test the cows, you only have half the picture." By the end of this year, he will have PAP scores on 1,800 head of cattle.

Of course, there's a payoff. Danciger has no HMD in his herd, and customers buying his Angus bulls and females can select for PAP scores that go back generations. "It really helps sales. Customers don't have to PAP test the bulls and that has helped us a lot," he says.

Short of testing both sides of a pedigree, making PAP scores part of balanced bull selection can pay dividends. John and Zoe Albert of Moffat, CO, longtime TY-Bar customers, began using only bulls with a PAP score of 40 or less 10 years ago. Since then, HMD in their herd is mostly a memory. Before, John says they would usually lose at least one cow and calf to the disease each year.

"Every animal is different. We can have bulls that never develop the disease, but pass the susceptibility on to calves that contract the disease and die from it," says Holt. In the commercial herd, to accelerate the selection away from HMD, Holt suggests using bulls with low PAP scores, then testing any females retained as replacements.

"Testing is becoming more popular every year," says Holt. "Because of the market, it's becoming increasingly important to producers who are even close to high altitude."

Specifically, more commercial producers at high elevation want the information before they buy bulls, and commercial producers at low elevation want to know the risk before sending cattle to high country. For perspective, Holt PAP tests about 5,000 head each year.

Even with testing, Holt says, "I don't think it will ever become less challenging. As the cattle industry keeps changing, the number of AI sires tested for HMD just isn't there."

And too, there is the less defined RHF challenge in the feedlot. Sjeklocha says, "There is definitely a growing concern, and if we are going to eliminate it, we will have to address it through sire selection. I think it's important we address it fairly quickly."

Biotech & Vaccines

Milk cows and chickens made disease control a reality in the beef industry. In fact, the two critters helped make vaccines available to both man and beast. Though a bit oversimplified, 18th-century milk cows and their milkmaids were the forerunners of vaccines. In the late 1700s, an English country physician, Edward Jenner, noticed milkmaids exposed to cowpox didn't contract smallpox. It gave him the idea to inoculate a child with cowpox. Afterwards, Jenner challenged the child several times with the smallpox virus - he never fell ill. The early era of vaccines was born.

The science of vaccination is actually credited to Louis Pasteur. In the late 1800s, he was researching fowl cholera and after a lab shutdown, Pasteur inoculated some chickens with leftover Pasteurella. They didn't die. In fact, Pasteur found that they were protected from subsequent infection with fresh virulent Pasteurella. He repeated this with rabies, anthrax and other organisms.

We've Come A Long Way We've come a long way in little more than 100 years. Today, vaccines are targeted, accurate disease preventers when used properly.

Louis Perino, veterinarian and professor at West Texas A&M University, Canyon, TX, says the relative youth of immunology provides room for growth and improvement.

"We started by isolating bacteria from dead animals, putting it in others and if they died of the same disease, you knew you were on track," Perino says. "That falls apart in modern times with multifactoral diseases such as bovine respiratory disease (BRD) and scours.

"Multifactoral diseases must have several factors in addition to the organic causes, such as stress and dehydration, to occur. Merely inoculating the animal with an organism may not cause the disease," he says.

Fortunately, the ways disease-causing bugs are isolated and studied are more sophisticated now, Perino says. Researchers grow them, study them, analyze their DNA and determine which pieces of the bug are important to disease causation and prevention. This ability to isolate bits and pieces results in purer, more specific vaccines.

Biotechnology has improved vaccines in two areas, Perino says.

"First is pathogenesis, or the origin of disease. Biotechnology helps us better understand how a pathogen causes disease in its host," he says. "Secondly, biotechnology helps improve the manufacturing of vaccines by improving our ability to manipulate the bugs. If we know and understand which part of the bug an animal uses to protect itself, we can remove that piece, grow it and deliver it to the animal effectively."

Methods of inactivating pathogens have improved as well. Originally, pathogens were killed chemically or by heat inactivation, which affected vaccine efficacy.

"We're gentler today with how we kill the bugs and have the pieces we need survive. Plus, we've learned how to attenuate the bugs, or render them unable to cause disease," Perino says. "Once we know the DNA code, we target the mutation and perhaps even delete the gene that causes a disease.

"Adjuvants are better, too," Perino adds. "Our ability to enhance the immune response with adjuvants is key to making better vaccines. All killed vaccines contain adjuvants and they appear to be able to enhance some aspects of an immune response in live vaccines."

Perino adds that pathogenesis studies have increased understanding of how organisms create disease. This has allowed vaccine manufacturers to target, isolate and introduce fewer antigens to the animal. For example, understanding how Pasteurella causes pneumonia has resulted in vaccines containing the key fractions needed to build immunity. The latest generation of clostridials has fewer antigens as well.

Where We're Headed "The vaccines today are better, but those of 15 years ago were worthwhile, too," Perino says. "We continue doing the same things, but at a higher level because science and technology have advanced. We keep improving vaccine features we know are important.

"I'm excited about recent improvements that allow us to produce higher quality products and still provide disease prevention. Cytotoxin-based Pasteurella vaccines are a good example of how a vaccine targets the same tools the bug uses to cause disease."

Vaccines directly impact the larger picture, too. Perino says that a vaccine that prevents disease is one less instance of antibiotics that must be used.

Born To Raise Cattle

>From the time he was a small boy growing up in a village in Germany's Black Forest, Michael Wurzburger's dream was to work with beef cows.

His odds weren't good. Particularly before the 1970s, there were few beef cattle in Germany. Even today, the majority of beef herds have less than 10 cows. Fifty cows is a big operation.

But Wurzburger made his dream come true. Today, he's the manager of a 2,000-head cow herd, Germany's second largest.

Eyes On The Prize It wasn't an easy journey. Wurzburger grew up working on his uncle's dairy. He taught himself English because he knew he had to go where the beef cattle were if he was to learn the realities of raising and marketing them.

His first step was to go to Canada in 1973 to work on a ranch. In 1975, he signed on with a cattle station in Australia's Outback. Two years later, he was in South Dakota, employed on an operation with a beef cow herd and a feedlot. He stayed there until 1979 when he returned to Germany.

Feeling qualified by now to follow his chosen career, Wurzburger failed to take into account that German farmers might not be eager to embrace his ideas. Over the next few years he was frequently disappointed with the reception to the knowledge he had gained about beef cattle management and marketing.

The concepts were foreign to German producers and, for a large part, remain so. Cattle feeding as practiced in the U.S., for instance, is non-existent; butchers who slaughter one or two head at a time are the rule rather than packing plants. In addition, most cattle are killed at 600-700 lbs., traditional feedlot entry weights in the U.S.

The first few years after going back to Germany, Wurzburger worked with dairy cattle due to the lack of beef opportunities. Ten years ago, he began a series of jobs with larger beef cow herds, but found the owners unreceptive to his innovative ideas, too.

When Wurzburger was in South Dakota he became an avid reader of BEEF. A few years ago, when I was editor of BEEF, he wrote asking if he could obtain back copies of the magazine and invited me to visit him and his wife Pia on a farm near Heidelberg.

She's a riding instructor, an accomplished horsewoman skilled in breaking, training and showing. He said they were willing to relocate anywhere in the world to further their careers with beef cattle and horses.

At the time of my visit to the Heidelberg farm, he was in charge of a large dairy herd owned by a German pharmaceutical firm. But, he was holding fast to his beef cattle dream.

It was just over three years ago that things turned for the better. After he placed an ad in Germany's leading agricultural publication announcing his availability and qualifications, a multi-interest corporation liked what they saw.

They hired him to manage a 2,000-head beef cow herd, 65 bulls and 400-500 replacement heifers on 7,500 acres. The operation is located in northeast Germany, 10 miles from the Polish border and 30 miles south of the Baltic Sea.

The herd was established in 1993 on what had been a 10,000-head dairy collective in the Communist East German regime.

But, East Germany and the dairy cattle are gone, replaced by the beef cattle Wurzburger prizes so highly. Four purebred herds - Black and Red Angus, Simmental and Limousin - are maintained to produce replacement heifers. Limousin bulls are also sold out of that herd.

Wurzburger's system produces three-way cross replacement heifers, bred to Hereford bulls for their first calf and to Limousin for subsequent calves. Long term, he's aiming for an average cow age of seven years. He's almost reached his goal of every cow producing a calf every 12 months.

Bulls are kept on pasture with cows during a two-month breeding season, about 130 cows per pasture. Up to 250 heifers are run per pasture, he says. Six weeks after bulls are removed, cows are pregnancy checked and opens culled.

Year-Round Calving Calving is year-round, but 50-60% are born in March-June, the remainder about equal each month. During inclement weather, close-up cows and heifers are brought to bedded pens in the former dairy buildings. Mothers and calves go back to pasture three days after calving.

In Germany, it's customary to leave bulls intact, but Wurzburger castrates at two months of age. Calves are sold for slaughter at 600 lbs. and dress an average of 56%. Spring-born calves reach that weight in seven months, while it takes nine months for the other calves to reach that weight, he says.

"All our calves go into baby food," he says. "It's the only way we can make money because we get twice as much as selling to butchers. We receive 10 marks (1 mark is about $1.55) per kilogram (2.2 lbs.) of carcass weight.

"People want natural foods. We can't use chemical fertilizers on pastures or medications in calves. If we treat a calf, it is out of the program and we sell it to someone else to feed," he says.

While he can vaccinate to protect against IBR, BRSV and PI3, Wurzburger says growth hormones or ionophores are out. "Our main health problem is parasites so we worm twice a year and use pour-on and eartags against flies."

About 5,000 of the 7,500-acre farm is in pasture, with a well in each pasture to supply water. Three treatment centers are located at strategic points in the pastures for handling health problems. In the spring, temporary fences ensure forage utilization.

"We take two cuttings from the pastures - wheat and rye grass with grass underneath - and it all goes into silage, so we have to buy all our hay," Wurzburger explains. "All our cows, bulls and bred heifers are kept outside on 1,500 acres of winter pasture and are supplemented with hay and silage."

Wurzburger figures a cow with a calf needs 26 lbs. of dry matter per day, plus protein and mineral. He's fortunate to have the land to keep the cattle outside year around.

"The largest herd in Germany is a few miles away and has 3,000 cows. They don't own their land and have a lot of restrictions placed on them in the lease," Wurzburger says. "They can't use winter pastures, for example, so they have to stable the cows then."

The farm has 65 horses - Quarter Horses, Appaloosa and Criollo, an Argentina breed - which Pia oversees and shows against the top horses in Germany.

Wurzburger learned the value of using horses to work cattle when he was in South Dakota and he didn't hesitate to introduce the practice to the 10 employees assisting him with the cattle. Initially, he says, they were skeptical. Now, however, they're true believers that horses are the way to work cattle.

Fair-goers sample irradiated beef

Irradiated beef made its debut at the Minnesota State Fair last month and was well received by consumers.

More than 300 lbs. of irradiated ground beef were served to fair-goers by the Minnesota Beef Council (MBC) during the 12-day event held in St.Paul. It's the first time irradiated beef has been offered to the public since it gained FDA approval nearly a year and a half ago.

The beef samples were given out along with information about irradiated food products as part of an on-going effort by the MBC to educate consumers on the benefits and safety of irradiated red meat.

Irradiation is the only known method to eliminate E. coli in raw meat. More studied than microwaving, heating and freezing combined, food irradiation has been shown to have no effect on taste, texture or appearance.

Among the nation's largest attended state fairs, the irradiated burgers were willingly sampled by consumers. "Less than a dozen negative comments were received," says Mower Co. Cattle Association president John Bhend.

Most consumers were curious about the product, and once their questions were answered they supported the irradiation process, according to Karen Holtmeier, director of nutrition and consumer information for the MBC.

That reaction is what the MBC was hoping for. "Our plan was to start promoting irradiated beef early, so when consumers see it in the store they are familiar with it," she says.

The state fair samples also created a positive media-frenzy, MBC staff granted several print and broadcast interviews throughout the two-week-long fair.

Coming Soon Holtmeier says Minnesotans can probably expect to see irradiated beef in the marketplace early in the year 2000. An irradiator is currently being built near Sioux City, IA.

Minneapolis retailers have already expressed interest in stocking irradiated beef products, she says.

And, studies confirm they should have demand. Research conducted at the University of California - Davis indicates 60-80% of consumers are willing to buy irradiated food products.

Irradiated meat will cost about 2-5 cents more per pound, Bhend says.

Mill Forever

No doubt about it, a feed mill begins deteriorating the moment you start it. But there are ways you can prolong its usefulness and, in a sense, make it last forever.

"A mill is like an airplane," says Fred Fairchild, associate professor in Kansas State University's Department of Grain Science and Industry. "There's a lot you can do to keep it in good working order. You'll replace parts along the way but, if taken care of, a lot of the material will last indefinitely."

A preventive maintenance plan that starts the minute the mill is completed is the best assurance for longevity and return on investment. Fairchild says regularly checking and servicing equipment on a scheduled basis is far more cost effective than fixing equipment in a crisis situation.

"For every $1 of preventive maintenance, you'll save $5 in repair expenses," he adds. "Another advantage to a preventive maintenance program is that mill operators can more easily determine which parts are working well and which aren't. Using maintenance records and input records, the crew can quickly determine what's causing a problem and what's needed to repair it."

Jeff Sternberger, manager of Midwest Feeders, Ingalls, KS, echoes Fairchild's recommendations. And he's seen the process work on both old and newer equipment.

Midwest crews operate two mills - a flaking system serving one yard on the west side of the road, and a newer one on the east side. Sternberger bought the original west yard in 1992, including a roller mill. As the yard neared a capacity of 12,000 head, he added a flaking system to accommodate the capacity that grew to 20,000 head. When the yard expanded to the east, the original setup was duplicated with a few modifications to accommodate the extra 15,000-head capacity.

"There's a lower initial investment, plus operating costs are lower on a flaking system compared to some high-tech batching mills," Sternberger says. "We wanted reliability, simplicity and high-quality feed. Both of our mills are very user-friendly."

Besides ease of operation, the mills at Midwest offer relatively easy maintenance procedures.

Doug Althouse, assistant yard manager and feed foreman, says a common-sense maintenance approach keeps equipment running smoothly.

"Everything is greased according to recommended schedules," Althouse says. "Plus, we have daily visual checks on items such as belts, rollers and the like. The feed reports tell us quickly if something needs adjusting. Once starch availability on a dry matter basis gets away from the 70 range, we start tweaking the system.

"Our parts inventory is rather large," he says. "We pick items that eventually break or wear out and keep them on hand. This includes motors, other large parts, bearings, belts and so on. This lets us repair the mill on the spot and keep working."

Keep Track Each of Althouse's procedures falls in line with expert recommendations. K-State's Fairchild says developing a systematic process to track maintenance activity lets you expense and determine which pieces of equipment are costing more than necessary.

While each feedyard operates differently, Fairchild points out several items that make documenting maintenance easy and provides a quick overview for anyone checking records.

First, a basic equipment identification list is the foundation of a solid maintenance program. Each piece of equipment should be identified in some manner, whether by number, cost center, location or otherwise. Second, a master list showing each ID number and the related piece of equipment should be compiled as well.

Third, he recommends an equipment list that details key parts data, sizes and parts suppliers. This can be supplemented with a supplier sheet listing all feed mill related suppliers and how to contact them during regular business hours and off-hours.

Finally, keep maintenance schedules on each item. Some forms list types of procedures done, when and by whom. See Figure 1 for an example. A simple maintenance calendar can be compiled as well, showing specific dates to perform maintenance tasks.

Safety First Maintenance, however, isn't much good unless equipment is operated safely. Safety considerations were a primary reason Sternberger modified the design of the second mill installation.

"The arrangement of our older mill requires unloading grain trucks to cross the path of feed trucks," Sternberger says. "Odds were that, sooner or later, a collision with another vehicle was going to happen. Our new mill is situated so that moving vehicles don't have that challenge."

The attention to safety detail is evident from bottom to top. A series of strict rules include hearing protection, an employee is not allowed in a bin alone, nor can an employee climb a ladder without another person present. Similar, common-sense standards hold true for employees throughout the feedyard.

Safety Standards Common sense is the greatest contributing factor to safety, but there are basic standards that should be followed. Jack Haning, a compliance officer with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in Lubbock, TX, says the agency will help explain safety guidelines.

"Most feedyards try to do the right things when it comes to safety," he says. "But, they may not use all the resources available to them. Feedyards are welcome to come to us for information - anonymously if they want. Our goal is to reduce fatalities and disabling injuries."

Helping employers understand standards is part of OSHA's compliance assistance activities, independent of enforcement inspections. Its staff will explain standards related to electrical wiring, personal protective equipment, dust control and other items during remodeling and new construction. Photos for OSHA staff are particularly helpful when questions arise about projects. Haning says feedyard owners should bring photos or even video to help them determine the best method of completion based on current regulations.

"We enjoy good working relationships with other Texas agencies such as the Texas Department of Agriculture and the Occupational Safety and Health Consultation branch of the Texas Workers Compensation system," Haning says. "Information about individual yards isn't shared between agencies, but we do work together to develop informational programs when requested."

Feed mills fall under OSHA section 29cfr1910.272 which covers grain handling. Other standards are applicable as well, depending upon each situation. An OSHA office can provide interpretation of the guidelines or you can get a copy from its Web site at

K-State's Fairchild stresses that safety is an attitude that has to exist in the CEO through to the entry-level worker. Althouse agrees: "It's a matter of common sense, a few ground rules and daily use of both."

Buying Protection

Fatal accidents, explosions and fires are rare occurrences in the cattle feeding industry. But they do happen. Just one incident can cause massive personal and financial upheaval.

Feedyard management can help eliminate accidents through periodic mill inspections that identify and help correct any shortcomings, says C. Reed Richardson, director of the Center for Feed Industry Research and Education (CFIRE). "No one sacrifices efficiency by being safe," Richardson says. "It's really the opposite. If you defer maintenance, you reach the point where you can't accomplish what you need to as a feedyard."

CFIRE along with the Texas Cattle Feeders Association (TCFA) is promoting feed mill safety through a series of seminars they hold for mill management.

"Our objective with safety at TCFA is to prevent accidents, and to protect management should an accident occur," says Derrell Havins, TCFA's safety manager. "These seminars help us keep feedyard management up to date with what's going on with safety as well as how they can comply with the law."

Checklist Provides A Guide One of the key components of these training programs is a feed mill inspection check sheet (see Table 1). The check sheet helps feedyard personnel check the working status, cleanliness and efficiency of six key areas:

U fire protection equipment,

U maintenance,

U housekeeping,

U lighting system,

U heat and power, and

U feed storage.

By checking off the key questions, feedyard personnel can grade the status of their company. When there are deficiencies, they can solve them.

"Whenever problems are found, management must get together to resolve them," Richardson says. "All feedyards should have a safety folder or ring binder to guide the facility. The checklist should be added to this safety folder for each program and feedyard in the company. This should accompany any s afety programs that are required by law."

No Two Are The Same No two feedyards are the same, says Richardson. Certain items, like drainage or air control methods, will always vary. Thus, it makes sense for feedyard personnel to use the checklist as a guide, modeling it to meet their own needs.

Most feedyards should undertake quarterly inspections on their own, Richardson adds. These complement semi-annual inspections offered by groups like TCFA.

"As part of being a TCFA member, I go in and work with the manager on safety," Havins says. "I don't tell him what to do; I just let him know what problems I uncovered. But TCFA's inspection should supplement the feedyard's own quarterly inspection of fire extinguishers, wiring and other items. These inspections have to receive the full backing of management to be effective."

Many feedyards appoint a committee to conduct the inspections, Havins says. For instance, committee members might represent the mill, the shop, the processing area and the office. Together, they look for problems like exposed wiring. Because they don't work in the feed mill every day, the employees from outside the mill are more likely to see problems with new eyes.

CFIRE and TCFA began their feedmill safety programs in 1998 at the request of larger, corporate feedyards. So far, the meetings have been held in Lubbock, Dalhart, Hereford and Kingsville. Future meetings are being planned for additional sites in Texas as well as Oklahoma and New Mexico. Generally, mill managers and the first and second in command attend.

The focus changes depending on the area. Some topics covered have included housekeeping, eliminating fire hazards and explosions, mill inspections, safety policies and procedures, welding accident prevention and hearing protection. The goal is to do everything possible to prevent a controllable safety problem from becoming a nightmare.

"The seminars emphasize that a feedyard can't wait until it has an accident to consider safety," Richardson says. "If you have a fire in the boiler room and your feedlot is 40 miles from town, you've got problems if you haven't planned how to handle that emergency. We want feedyards to consider all possibilities before they reach that kind of situation."

We're In This Together

As BEEF Feeder heads into 2000, the industry that supports it is racing toward greater changes than it's ever experienced.

Veterinarian Jerry Rains is technical services manager for Hoechst Roussel. Speaking at the Missouri Farmers Association's recent Beef Innovators Seminar, Rains predicted a falling total cattle population and fed slaughter numbers close to 21 million head in 2002 compared to the current 24 million head. He also noted a move toward a higher proportion of black genetics and a focus on red meat yield at the packer level.

That latter factor should by itself be enough, he says, to push the industry toward individual animal identification and management. He's convinced that once line-speed instrument evaluation becomes viable, packers will be paying for cattle on three factors only: red meat yield, palatability (marbling score) and tenderness. He expects this to begin within two years.

Realizing this, how can you make best-bet cattle buying decisions without historical data on each animal?

Some have already made the switch to buying only source-verified cattle. Alan Janzen of Circle Five Feed Yards Inc., Henderson, NE, is one feeder staying ahead of the curve. He no longer accepts cattle where no source is known. His feedyard reaps the advantages of fewer trips through the chute and his customers reap better dollars, he says.

In trials he conducted in his feedyard, Janzen found the health-performance cost difference between two sets of known-source calves and sale barn calves was about $5.42/head or $1/cwt. The spread increased between the poorest lot and the best lot at $31.11/head or about $5.40/cwt.

Additionally, four years of Janzen's own feedlot performance data on known-source steers shows greater consistency in average daily gain, dry matter conversion and total cost/lb. of gain than sale barn calves.

But, this is just one major change reshaping the way you'll do business. More are coming. Your ways of doing business will change, just as the challenges of the next century will mold changes in this publication.

Our charge with BEEF Feeder is to provide the information you need to better cope, adapt and innovate to meet the coming challenges. With that in mind, I hope you'll help us out by passing on your thoughts on what type of information you want to see in BEEF Feeder in the coming year.

Think about the subject areas you want us to cover. Then, send those ideas by fax to us at 816/734-5313, or by e-mail to [email protected] Your name/address/phone is, of course, optional.

We're in this together.