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Moving Beyond Marketing 101

Our local cattlemen's group was getting ready to sponsor an educational marketing meeting, and I asked a good friend and very progressive producer if he was planning to attend. He laughed, and responded, "Why would I do that?"

I knew what he meant. Strapped for time, it's difficult to justify unless something new or innovative will be discussed. And he wasn't expecting a message any different than the one he's heard for 20 years -- precondition your calves, document performance measurements, improve genetics, take responsibility for your marketing program, etc. But he's already implemented those suggestions and is focusing now on improved implementation.

He knows the value of selling uniform load lots, of taking advantage of niche-marketing opportunities. He's already experimented with supplying natural cattle, and is providing age- and source-verified cattle.

In his mind, these are all "Marketing 101" items either advocated for more than 15 years or extremely well publicized over the last several.

He also understands that during the recent lows (number-wise) in the cattle cycle, demand has been so strong that premiums for superior management and genetics have been marginal. The premiums may not grow but the discounts surely will as we move into the expansion phase of the cattle cycle. When supplies are tight and demand strong, there's very little punishment for failing to meet customer demands.

He sees no point in investing his scarcest resource -- time -- listening to messages he's already internalized. He's a graduate of Marketing 101 and has even taken a lot of 200- and 300-level classes. He's ready for a graduate-level paradigm that will expose him to new ideas and take his marketing program to the next level.

He understands he will have to give up some independence, and likely become part of some sort of alliance and/or branded-product network that ties the system together from conception to consumption. He understands he's now in the courtship stage, and while he will never be committed to these new partnerships like he is to a marriage, the similarities are striking -- choosing the right someone is critical.

But he also believes that in our politically correct world, he won't hear any of that at a public meeting. Sadly I suspect he's right.
-- Troy Marshall

How to spot a sick calf

After calves are weaned and being backgrounded, monitor the calves for signs of sickness. Gerald Stokka, former Kansas State Extension beef veterinarian and current senior veterinarian with Pfizer Animal Health, says in most cases the cause of treatment failure is usually due to not treating an animal early enough during the course of the illness.

To that end, Stokka says, "It is important to recognize the behavior of healthy animals." For instance, he says healthy animals should be bright eyed, have a good hair coat, demonstrate curiosity, and be grooming themselves and others.

Appetite can also be a big indicator. "Bunk management is critical. A lot of times with high performing calves the temptation is to feed the daylights out of them. But we can push calves too much and create respiratory disease by the way we feed them. So it is important to monitor historical feed intakes."

Calves with droopy ears, dull haircoats, poor appetites, runny eyes and nose should be pulled, have their temperature taken and be further evaluated and treated if necessary. Stokka points out that 101.5 degrees F is the normal temp for a calf, however in feeding situations, up to 103 degrees can be considered normal for a calf because environmental temperatures can influence rectal temperatures of calves. Thus, on a hot day, calves might have a slightly higher temperature.

To gauge an animal's response, monitoring temperature alone after treatment isn’t enough, according to Stokka because a fever may persist for a few days after treatment. Instead, weight gain is one of the most important things to pay attention to. (Thus it is a good idea to have scales on your chute.)
"If the animal is back on feed and gaining after treatment, that’s the best indicator," Stokka says.

Parasites can also be a factor that suppress appetite and the immune system, so be certain parasite control is part of the health program both at the ranch and in the feedyard.

Vet Advice: Seven steps to calving success

As fall turns to winter, it's time to lay the groundwork for a successful calving season. Here are seven tasks to do now to greatly influence your calving success, weaning rate and rebreeding rate next year.

1. Preg-check your cows. The most cost-effective measure you can do this fall is to be sure you’re only feeding pregnant cows through the winter months.

Imagine owning a business where you have 100 employees. What would you do if 10 of them never showed up for work all year long? Would you still pay them like the 90 workers who put in a full day every day?
Of course not; yet, this is exactly what you’re doing if you feed an open cow all winter long. She gets paid and you don’t.

2. Vaccinate for health. Are you on a herd health plan with your veterinarian? If so, this may be the time of year to vaccinate cows to help prevent reproductive diseases or neonatal calf disease.
Many herds vaccinate for the wrong diseases at the wrong times, or don’t vaccinate for diseases they could prevent. Don’t waste money. Ask your veterinarian which vaccinations are needed this fall.

3. Deworm all animals. There is controversy on the ideal time to deworm a beef cow. As the prices have decreased on all dewormers, we feel deworming cows after a hard freeze (less than 28° F) is a cost-effective procedure. Eliminating parasites as cows go into the most costly time of the year to feed them will nearly always pay dividends.

4. Body condition score. When your veterinarian palpates your cows for pregnancy, have him/her also body condition score (BCS) each cow. If cows are thin, it’s much easier to add weight earlier in the winter than later. A cow needs to be in BCS 5.5-6.0 at calving, and a heifer needs to be in BCS 6.5. The goal is to have them at ideal BCS at least 1-2 months precalving so you don’t have to play catch-up close to calving time.

One BCS is roughly 75-100 lbs., so if a cow is in BCS 4 on Nov. 1 and due to calve March 1 she needs to gain 150-200 lbs. in the next 2-3 months. (Get the full scoop on BCS and supplementation by going to http://www.beefcowcalf.com, and writing "body condition score" into the "Search Titles" box on the opening page.)

Cows that need to add body condition likely can’t do so on hay alone. A cow’s energy requirement can be met much more easily and cheaply with grains or by-product feeds. By-products such as corn gluten, soybean hulls and brewer or distiller’s grains are some feedstuffs that can be used to add energy and/or protein to a cow's diet.

5. Separate heifers from cows. Separating bred heifers from adult cows during the winter feeding period through calving and pasture turnout will pay big dividends in calf health and heifer rebreeding rates.

Studies show first-calf heifers lack the breadth of immunity of adult cows. These heifers then pass on less maternal immunity to their calves. As a result, all calves in the herd are much more likely to get sick. First-calf heifers are also at a competitive disadvantage in feed consumption. A larger, more aggressive adult cow is always going to get more than her share of available feed.

6. Feed for reproduction. Many trials show an advantage to feeds that contain polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as whole soybeans or safflower seeds, 30 days precalving to enhance subsequent reproduction. For details on these programs, check with your Extension beef specialist or your herd health veterinarian.

7. Provide windbreaks, not barns. Cattle in areas that experience harsh winter weather need protection from the elements, most notably the wind.
Windbreaks can be made of wood, metal or stacked round bales of hay. Cows that have access to windbreaks consume up to 13% less feed than those with no protection.

In some herds, we see cows crowded into a barn or shelter during parts of the winter. We think we’re doing cows a favor by giving them shelter, but actually we're doing the opposite. The cows urinate and defecate in the barn and it becomes a mess. The cow’s hide becomes wet, requiring more energy for the cow to maintain body heat.

From a health standpoint, we now have a cow with manure on her legs, abdomen, udder and teats. When her calf is born, its first meal is not the life-giving colostrum we desire, but a mixture of mud and manure that covers the cow’s lower body. Lock your cows out of the barn before winter sets in so they acclimate to the cold. Instead, use the barn as a windbreak for the cows.

Beef production is similar to any other business. The more you plan ahead, the better the results will be.

W. Mark Hilton, DVM, is a clinical assistant professor of beef production medicine at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN. His columns regularly appear in BEEF magazine

Blach shares current market trends

If you were to focus on the 6% increase in beef production in 2006, you might think the cattle market is poised for a major correction. However, according to Randy Blach, executive vice president of Cattle-Fax, the market has held its own this year.

"We've seen fed slaughter increase 800,000 to 900,000 head this year over last year and production is up 6%. Yet fed-cattle prices are only going to end up $1.50 to $2 lower than they were a year ago. So we've gotten along very well," Blach told members of the Texas Cattle Feeders Association (TCFA) and Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) at their joint meeting in mid-October.

The reason fed-cattle prices have held up reasonably well in the face of higher supplies is demand, both domestically and internationally.
Blach says aggregate beef demand in the U.S. has been a little softer this year. "But I think it's important that we step back and look at what's really going on," he says, explaining, "Demand is growing for Choice, the upper two-thirds of Choice, Prime and beef sold in many branded-beef programs. Choice price is higher even though Choice beef supplies are up 2% for the year. So we're not seeing the same softening in demand on the higher quality products that we’re seeing in aggregate."

On the international front, Blach says the trend toward regaining lost export markets continues to be important.

Regarding the drought situation, he says we have definitely slowed the rate of expansion on the nation’s cow herd. "It looks like cow numbers will be up 1% in 2007. Fed cattle slaughter will likely increase another 500,000 head in 2007 and beef production will increase about 2% for the year compared with 2006," he projects.

Fed-cattle prices in 2007 will be slightly softer, but not significantly different from what cattle feeders experienced this year. "We'll still end up averaging $84 to $85 on fed cattle in 2007 and have a practical range from the low $90s to the upper $70s," he predicts.

"I would look for a more significant price correction on feeder cattle and calves," he says. "A lot of that will be attributed to higher grain prices along with shrinking margins and loss of equity we’ve experienced at the fed-cattle level."

Moving Beyond Marketing 101

Our local cattlemen's group was getting ready to sponsor an educational marketing meeting, and I asked a good friend and very progressive producer if he was planning to attend. He laughed, and responded, "Why would I do that?"

I knew what he meant. Strapped for time, it's difficult to justify unless something new or innovative will be discussed. And he wasn't expecting a message any different than the one he's heard for 20 years -- precondition your calves, document performance measurements, improve genetics, take responsibility for your marketing program, etc. But he's already implemented those suggestions and is focusing now on improved implementation.

He knows the value of selling uniform load lots, of taking advantage of niche-marketing opportunities. He's already experimented with supplying natural cattle, and is providing age- and source-verified cattle.

In his mind, these are all "Marketing 101" items either advocated for more than 15 years or extremely well publicized over the last several.

He also understands that during the recent lows (number-wise) in the cattle cycle, demand has been so strong that premiums for superior management and genetics have been marginal. The premiums may not grow but the discounts surely will as we move into the expansion phase of the cattle cycle. When supplies are tight and demand strong, there's very little punishment for failing to meet customer demands.

He sees no point in investing his scarcest resource -- time -- listening to messages he's already internalized. He's a graduate of Marketing 101 and has even taken a lot of 200- and 300-level classes. He's ready for a graduate-level paradigm that will expose him to new ideas and take his marketing program to the next level.

He understands he will have to give up some independence, and likely become part of some sort of alliance and/or branded-product network that ties the system together from conception to consumption. He understands he's now in the courtship stage, and while he will never be committed to these new partnerships like he is to a marriage, the similarities are striking -- choosing the right someone is critical.

But he also believes that in our politically correct world, he won't hear any of that at a public meeting. Sadly I suspect he's right.

Hereford Breed Focus: Champion of Efficiency

How many times did you either talk about or at least think about the high cost of fuel this week? Coffee shop talk has reverted from the discussion of calf and cull cow prices to "What did you pay for diesel or gasoline?"

We have all been hit by the escalating cost of fuel, but none have been hit harder than American farmers and ranchers….higher input costs means just one thing for the cattle industry – we’re going to have to learn to become more efficient.

The average producer might say that it's going to be hard to squeeze blood out of a turnip, but we may not be squeezing the turnip hard enough yet. As an industry, there still seems to be a lot of waste in our production systems. Some breeds are infatuated with marbling. Feedlots still get cattle too fat. As seedstock producers, we tend to get our yearling bulls overly fat to make them weigh more and look more appealing at market time.

We spend a lot of time putting up hay instead of evaluating systems to reduce feed inputs. We still look at enterprise success by evaluating weaning weights and market price instead of total pounds weaned per acre and overall profit. With economic pressure, our mindset is likely to change and so will our perception of valuable traits in selection decisions.

Efficiency may have to come in several areas such as cutting back on unnecessary inputs, stressing animals to their biological potential, and relying on genetics that can survive and reproduce with fewer inputs. How on earth are we going to get it done? One thing is for sure, those traits in cattle that we thought to be sexy, such as maximizing pounds of weaned calf, increasing the marbling of our product, etc. may just get a little less important in the big scheme of things.

How about reducing feed utilization, identifying cows that can rough it and still get bred, spending less time worrying about calf weights and more time worrying about live calves born and weaned, developing cows that will last longer and reduce replacement cost, and last but not least, less concern on single-trait selection for carcass traits or those mysterious DNA marbling markers.

Hereford Strengths
For the last three decades the Hereford breed has gotten a bum wrap. Sure there were functional things the breed needed to work on, and we’re all aware of those stereotypes, deserved or not. However, there has always been something locked into the genetic fabric of Hereford cattle that, despite all of the selection pressures over the years, both helpful and harmful, has never been bred out.

The fact remains: the Hereford breed is the hardiest, toughest and most efficient bovine beast to walk the cold northwestern scab rock, high desert plains, western sage, dry bluestem and hot fescue climates.

Something biologically is fixed in Hereford cattle that allows them to survive on less and conceive with fewer resources than other breeds. No, Herefords are not the heaviest at weaning when compared to Continental cattle. Although very much adequate in terms of beef quality, they do not grade as high a percentage of Choice as Angus. Despite these facts, they are the "champion of efficiency." Considering the state of our economic environment, efficiency is where we need to hang our star.

In the months and years ahead, the Ameican Hereford Association (AHA) will be working in various parts of the country to document the incredible efficiency that Hereford cattle possess. Several research projects have been started to evaluate the economic benefit of Herefords in a crossbreeding system. The breed's heterosis effect, the value of cow productivity in a Hereford crossbreeding system, and the inherent feed efficiency that has been elusive to prove in past decades will be critically evaluated.

Those who have been utilizing Hereford cattle understand the efficiency and toughness built into the breed. At some point, the rest of the industry will recognize the Hereford breed as the “leader” and “champion” of efficiency.

This article reprinted courtesy of the American Hereford Association.

Make sure calves receive two doses of vaccine

Since a single dose may not be enough to produce an adequate level of herd immunity, North Dakota Extension veterinarian Charlie Stoltenow says giving a second dose is a kind of “insurance policy.” He emphasizes that two doses are especially important when administering killed vaccines because they don’t produce as strong an immune response as MLV vaccines.

Stoltenow advocates vaccinating calves against what he calls "the big four." These are: infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR), bovine viral diarrhea (BVD), bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV) and parainfluenza-3 virus (PI3).

"These vaccinations set it up so calves can better fend off other disease threats," he says. Additionally, he recommends producers consider vaccinating against clostridial diseases and Mannheimia.

25 Days To Election; Be Sure To Exercise Your Right

There are 25 days to the Nov. 7 election that will determine who controls the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Be certain to find out where your candidates stand on the important issues affecting U.S. ag. There will be many important livestock-industry and ag items considered next year by the 110th Congress, including the 2007 farm bill, ban on packer ownership of livestock, mandatory country-of-origin labeling, tax policy, and energy, just to name a few. On top of that, there are the wider, more important issues of the general economy, national security, etc. Study the issues, the candidates and make your voice heard.
-- P. Scott Shearer, Washington, D.C., correspondent

Win Some Great Electronics And Use Of A Tractor

Time's running out for you to get your trades finalized for MarketMaxx 2006. All of your simulated 100,000 bu. of corn and 50,000 bu. of soybeans must be "sold" by Oct. 31 to be eligible to win one of many great prizes in MarketMaxx -- the marketing game from BEEF sister publication, The Corn And Soybean Digest.

One year's use of a Massey Ferguson tractor (up to 250 hours) or combine (up to 100 separator hours) await the farmer players who sell their allotted corn and soybeans at the highest overall average price. Other prizes include a computer system, mobile computers, and high-speed satellite Internet service.

Only farmers at least 18 years of age are eligible to win. See the full rules at www.MarketMaxx.net.
-- Larry Stalcup

2005 Beef Quality Audit Shows Progress

The 2005 National Beef Quality Audit (NBQA) indicates significant progress has been made by all segments of the beef industry to improve overall acceptance of beef carcasses that enter the fabrication sections of U.S. processing facilities.

But the 2005 NBQA suggests there is still work to be done. The following 2005 NBQA nonconformities (lost opportunities) are based on a carcass base value of $130/cwt. and average carcass weight of 796 lbs.

1991 1995 2000 2005
Quality grade -$39.93 -$41.79 -$39.71 -$26.81
Yield grade -$24.60 -$10.27 -$18.32 -$20.92
Carcass weight -$3.74 -$3.85 -$2.33 -$4.94
Hide/Branding -$1.17 -$1.21 -$1.27 -$0.98
Offal -$0.76 -$0.89 -$2.07 -$2.03
Total lost opportunities/head -$70.20 -$58.01 -$63.71 -$55.68

A particular concern in the 2005 NBQA is carcass weights, which continue to climb higher. The average carcass weight in the 2005 audit was nearly 796 lbs. -- nearly 40 lbs. heavier than weights recorded in the 1991 audit. Specifically, the recent audit found the average weight for steer carcasses was 817 lbs., compared to 758 lbs. for heifers.

The number of Yield Grade 4 and 5 carcasses are up 2% from the 2000 NBQA and up 6% from the 1995 audit.

"We're not winning the war on fat. Not yet," says Oklahoma State University meats scientist Brad Morgan. "Cattle generally go to market fatter. About 15% are too fat, but still may not be marbled well enough."
-- Clint Peck