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Does Supplementation Pay?

If you look at the research that Rick Funston and his University of Nebraska colleagues have done on the effect of supplementation on cows grazing winter range and cornstalks, the take-home message is a bit confusing. Even in cows not supplemented with protein in the third trimester of pregnancy, body condition score and rebreeding percent were acceptable.

“But what have you done to that unborn calf?” Funston asks. That's the real story in the value of providing a protein supplement to cows grazing winter forage, he says.

The three-year study looked at the value of providing 1 lb./day of 28% protein supplement to cows grazing both dormant winter forage and cornstalks. The supplementation was provided three times a week from Dec. 1 to Feb. 28, the last trimester of pregnancy. Following the winter grazing period, cows were managed in a common group and fed hay and a protein supplement. During the trial, half the cows grazing winter pasture were given a supplement and half weren't. Likewise, half the cows grazing cornstalks were supplemented and half weren't.

Cow effect minimal

The effect of protein supplementation on the cows was minimal, with a few notable exceptions, Funston reports. For cows grazing winter range, a significant percent of the supplemented cows calved in the first 21 days of the calving season, compared with the non-supplemented cows — 83% vs. 62%, respectively. Cows on stalks showed no difference — 78% of the cows in both the supplemented and non-supplemented groups calved in the first 21 days.

But, calf birth weight was greater for cows grazing stalks compared with winter range and tended to increase with supplementation. “This is somewhat surprising,” Funston says, “because previous research using the same cow herd did not find differences in calf birth body weight due to supplementation of dams grazing winter range.”

In addition, pre-breeding cow body weight and body condition scores (BCS) increased in cows grazing corn residue and receiving supplementation. Cow body weight at weaning and BCS were not affected by supplementation, but cows that grazed cornstalks the previous winter were heavier at weaning than those that grazed winter range, despite similar BCS.

Fetal programming effect

The real effect of protein supplementation was seen in calves, and that effect began while calves were still unborn, Funston says. Steers from supplemented cows tended to have heavier final weights in the feedlot and heavier hot carcass weights in the packing plant.

This was particularly true with steers from cows on winter range; there, steers from supplemented cows hung an average hot carcass weight of 825 lbs., compared with 789 lbs. for steers from non-supplemented cows. Meanwhile, steers from cows on cornstalks were very similar, with an average hot carcass weight of 820 lbs. from supplemented cows, and 819 lbs. in steers from non-supplemented cows.

The big difference was in quality grade. Steers from cows given a protein supplement on winter range graded 82.5% Choice, compared to 77.8% of the steers from non-supplemented cows. The difference was even greater from cows on cornstalks. There, 86.8% of the steers graded Choice from the supplemented cows compared to 64.4% from the non-supplemented cows. “We're impacting marbling before that calf's even born,” Funston says, depending on the nutritional plane of the cow during late pregnancy.

The heifer mates showed some interesting trends, as well. Actual weaning weights tended to be heavier for heifers on supplemented cows. On winter range, heifers from supplemented cows weighed an average of 509 lbs. at weaning, compared to 480 lbs. for heifers from non-supplemented cows. And, cows grazing corn residue and fed a supplement weaned heifers averaging 513 lbs., compared with 505 lbs. from cows on stalks but no supplement.

The big difference was seen in pregnancy rates. Of the heifers from cows fed a supplement on winter range, 90.5% settled in a 45-day breeding season, compared to 77.1% of the heifers from non-supplemented cows. Of the heifers from supplemented cows on cornstalks, 87.8% settled, compared to 83.3% from cows that didn't receive any supplement.

The reason for the more pronounced difference between winter range and cornstalks is likely because corn residue has a higher nutritional value than dormant native grass, Funston says. “The quality of the forage appears to be higher in energy and probably most parts are higher in protein than winter range.”

Grazing crop residue is a long-standing winter production option in areas where stalks are available. But Funston was surprised at how little research had been done to quantify just how valuable it can be compared with other winter-grazing systems.

“Both systems can be very cost-effective ways to decrease production costs, which is very important in today's economy, by reducing the amount of harvested feedstuffs you feed,” Funston says.

Based on his data, it's probably advisable to supplement your cows, especially during the last trimester of pregnancy, to prevent adverse effects on the unborn calf and to make sure your cows maintain body condition.

“But it doesn't take a lot,” he says. “We only supplemented 1 lb./day of a 28% distillers-based cube.” Yet in a few very important areas, they saw a significant response.

Madam chairman

Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) is chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, taking over from Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA). Harkin gave up the helm of the 184-year-old committee to assume chairmanship of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which was previously held by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), who died last month.

“Coming from a seventh-generation Arkansas farming family, and as a farmer's daughter, I know my father is smiling down on me today,” Lincoln, a Helena, AR, native, said. Lincoln has served on the Senate Agriculture Committee since being elected in 1998. During a stint in the House, she served on the House Agriculture Committee.

Postponed

Due to current economic conditions, BEEF staff has reluctantly decided to postpone the 2009 BEEF Quality Summit, which was set for Nov. 10-11 in St. Joseph, MO. We thank you for your support of the BEEF Quality Summit over its successful three-year history, and also for your continued support of BEEF magazine.

With surveys indicating that 95% of past participants considered the BEEF Quality Summit content valuable and attendance worthwhile, BEEF staff is exploring alternative ways of delivering the BEEF Quality Summit content to our audience. So stay tuned!

BEEF Tech

Grinder mixer

Frontier Equipment claims its GX1117 Grinder Mixer saves time, money and effort in mixing livestock feed. Self-contained hydraulics eliminate the need for drive belts, chains and gear clusters, and the 14-in. mixing auger can be equipped with an optional weigh scale for consistent, accurate mixing. In addition, a 135-bu. capacity and a large cab-controlled unloading auger allows for easy filling of bins and feeders.

The grinder mixer also comes equipped with a 21-in.-wide, PTO-driven hammer mill and eight-section banded v-belt for a positive drive.

For more information, visit www.johndeere.com.

Updated website

Destron Fearing, a leading developer, manufacturer and marketer of electronic radio frequency and visual ID devices, has updated its website. The new site features enhanced product data and more detailed international sales contact information. This new website provides an effective resource for individuals to gain information regarding cutting-edge technology in the world of animal ID. Visit www.destronfearing.com or call 1-800-328-0118.

Sickle-bar mower

Frontier Equipment's SB3108 Sickle-Bar Mower boasts all the features of the SB11 Series, but the 92-in. cutting swath offers 23 in. of additional cutting width. The cutting arm ensures a ground-level cut by flexing from 75-90° to handle the most challenging cutting conditions, with cutting height easily set via adjustable skid shoes on the cutterbar. Compatible with 25- to 50-hp tractors, its PTO-powered sickle bar is belt driven with a manual tension adjustment, while bolt-on cutterbar knives can be individually removed and replaced quickly in the field.

For more information, visit www.johndeere.com.

ATV models

Yamaha Motor Corp., U.S.A., introduces its full 2010 model year ATV product line, including a new sport ATV designed specifically with the trail rider in mind, the YFZ450X. In total, Yamaha will produce 17 ATV models for 2010, including its Grizzly utility line and Raptor and YFZ sport lines. The YFZ450X is new to Yamaha's sport ATV line and replaces the original YFZ450 for tight woods and trail riding. It is 46.1 in. wide with optimized suspension, fuel injection and a cast aluminum-steel hybrid frame.

For more information, visit www.yamaha-motor.com.

Revolutionary forage

Masters Choice Research and Development division has created an alternate route to lower feed costs — MasterGraze BMR. It's a high sugar level, specialty forage that can be harvested in many versatile ways including grazing, haylage or balage. The forage's extensive tiller network brings massive amounts of feed tonnage per acre compared to summer sudans, while the brown mid-rib characteristics make the tonnage more digestible than other silage varieties. Lab analysis shows MasterGraze BMR has protein levels of 15-20% and low lignin content, making the whole plant up to 30% higher in digestibility than other forages.

For more information, call 866-444-1044 or visit seedcorn.com.

Handheld weighing

ClicRweight claims its handheld cattle-weighing device accurately calculates a single animal's weight by using optical imaging technology to acquire a three-dimensional image of an animal from a distance of 10-15 ft. While conventional scales are mechanical, require maintenance and calibration, and often necessitate transportation of cattle to a weighing facility, the company says the ClicRweight optical weighing device seamlessly and easily incorporates into existing business practices, saving money and time and reducing stress for both ranchers and cattle.

For more information, call 866-460-2941 or visit www.clicrweight.com.

iPhone/iPod apps

Would you like to know the projected breakeven and cost of gain for a lot of cattle, any place or anytime? Just download the Cattle Breakeven Calculation App from the iTunes App Store to an iPhone/iPod touch. Then input several pieces of information to calculate projected breakevens, cost of gain, days on feed, ADG and estimated ship date plus more.

For more information, contact Hi-Plains Systems at 800-327-8295 or visit www.hiplainsystems.com.

High-volume rake

An operating speed as high as 15 mph allows New Holland's H5980 heavy-duty wheel rake to meet the rigorous demands of hay growers requiring high-speed, high-volume, flat-land raking. Eight, 60-in. raking wheels on the left side and nine on the right rake an area up to 30 ft., 3 in. wide, and the offset design turns all the crop, ensuring uniform drydown. With no center kicker wheel, the operator can drive faster, and convenient hydraulic adjustment allows the operator to change windrow width from the tractor seat to produce a finished windrow as wide as 72 in.

For more information, contact your local New Holland dealer or visit www.newholland.com/na.

Cob harvester

Vermeer Corporation offers a limited number of CCX770 Cob Harvesters for the 2009 harvest season. The CCX770 is self-contained and tows directly behind select corn-harvesting combines to collect and unload cobs. Because the CCX770 has its own engine, it minimizes undue stress on qualified combines.

The cob harvester's patented separation system redistributes leaves and husks back to the soil for a sustainable approach to harvest agricultural biomass. It offers unloading capabilities from 9 ft., 7 in. to 15 ft., 6 in. maximum dump height, holds up to 8,000 lbs./load of material, and unloads in 90 seconds.

For more information, visit www.vermeerag.com.

Cow-calf opportunity

Opportunities, even necessity, to add weight beyond the weaning pasture and before the feedlot continue to grow.

Even with record corn yield predicted, and corn prices projected to hover around $3/bu. — substantially lower than last year — forage still wins the race for cost of gain. That should be more pronounced this year with bumper hay and forage crops across much of the nation.

Plus, it's not like calf prices are all that enticing to sellers; and that was before the fall run began.

Despite heady average cow-calf profits earlier this decade, there has been no economic incentive for herd expansion, according to Kevin Good, CattleFax market analyst.

“Expansion will require substantially higher cow-calf prices, and that takes significantly higher fed-cattle prices,” Good explained to participants at this year's Cattle Feeders Business Summit, presented by Intervet-Schering-Plough. As such, CattleFax expects beef cow numbers to remain flat for at least another couple of years.

So, much like last year, more cow-calf producers will likely have the economic incentive to keep and market their spring calves as yearlings.

“I think we'll continue to see more cow-calf producers extend forward to stocker and backgrounding and more cattle feeders extend back to it,” Good says.

Ironically that's true despite a cattle-feeding capacity too large for dwindling cattle numbers and the fact that fewer average days on feed for the remaining cattle equates to even more excess capacity.

But, stocker opportunity for cow-calf producers comes not only in keeping cattle longer to add weight and sell into more favorable seasonal markets. Existing stocker operators also represent more options.

“We put together load lots among two or three smaller producers. They usually have their check within 30 minutes. If the cattle get here before noon, we don't shrink the cattle. And we don't charge them a commission. Add it up and it can be a $40-$50/head advantage to them,” says Brad Etheridge of Thomas Cattle Buying Service (TCBS), Williston, FL. He's describing the situation for area cow-calf producers who sell their calves directly to TCBS and bring their calves to them.

That's not an advertisement. As a finalist in this year's National Stocker Award (NSA) competition (see “Accountability First and Always,” page S4), Etheridge is simply describing one facet of his order- buying and pre-conditioning service.

Likewise, Leo Hollinger, Jr. at Camden, AL, has been in the stocker business for the better part of four decades. A while back, he began offering a weaning service to producers in the area. Besides straightening out the calves, he commingles and sorts the cattle into load lots that bring more to their owners than if each producer sold less than a load lot on his own. Hollinger and his wife, Jeannie, (Hollinger Cattle Co.) are this year's NSA winners (see “Spread the Risk,” page S2) in this issue's special section.

Whether producers are adding the weight themselves, marketing into that sector or partnering through the phase, the stocker sector and its operators should be considered when marketing rather than selling.

Of course, many cow-calf producers are already familiar with the notion. According to last year's landmark BEEF National Stocker Survey, 64.6% of stocker producers are also cow-calf operators. Many of them buy calves to stocker along with their own.

Like the supply shock-absorber it serves for the industry overall, the stocker sector continues to offer increased flexibility. That's something worth more these days.

Ask Etheridge to name the most significant challenge facing his business in the past decade, and he'll tell you, “Things have changed so much in the last 10 years, the way business happens so much faster, the biggest thing is our willingness and ability to adapt to that change.”

No matter the economic climate, Hollinger points out, “There's always opportunity out there somewhere.”

Read all about this year's NSA finalists and winner in the special section inserted in the middle of this issue.

Redefining the industry

America's beef cattle industry has conjured up many male macho images in its long history. Think The Marlboro Man or John Wayne. Yet it's also been notable for having women in its leadership ranks. This is in part a reflection of cattle ranching, where husband and wife are often business partners.

Women have played a key role through their state beef councils in connecting the industry with consumers. Some of the industry's finest leaders in recent years included Jo Ann Smith of Florida and Jan Lyons of Kansas.

The beef-packing industry, in contrast, has been male-dominated for much of its history. I hesitate to conjecture the reasons, but the “bloody” business of killing and cutting up animals might have something to do with it.

Only a handful of women have ascended to top positions in beef-industry companies or trade groups. One of the most notable is Rosemary Mucklow. She has spent the past 48 years in the industry, most recently as head of the National Meat Association (NMA), and is widely respected throughout the industry and the federal government.

It was therefore fitting that NMA offered Jody Horner her first opportunity to address an industry meeting since she became president of Cargill Meat Solutions last February. Horner had no meat industry background. But she is a 25-year Cargill veteran who has worked in grain trading and flour milling, corporate strategy, financial trading and human resources. Her last job was president of Cargill Salt.

As Horner told NMA, “this may seem to be a bit of a strange career path, but at Cargill it isn't at all unique. We like to move people around, give new talent new opportunities and give people big challenges and the support they need to be successful.”

Given Cargill's remarkable history, the way it moves its people around appears to contribute significantly to its success. It had its second-best year last year, despite the global recession, racking up $3.33 billion in net income from $116.6 billion in revenues. Other companies, and the beef industry, could take a leaf out of Cargill's book and look for more Jody Horners.

Horner's message to NMA was timely, given the drumbeat of negative media stories about U.S. agriculture and the meat industry. Corporate responsibility should be core to everything a company does, and telling the world the great stories of the industry is also very important, she says.

Horner also believes meat processors have to be open to dialogue with detractors. They must be willing to work with people who want to solve problems, but who at times don't see the world the way processors do. Horner cites how Cargill works with Greenpeace in Europe and Brazil, and what Cargill has achieved in the U.S. in environmental and energy innovation.

Horner also recounts a meeting she and Cargill Beef President John Keating had with a major retail customer. They did a traditional business review and ended the meeting talking about corporate responsibility. They mentioned that 30% of the beef Cargill sells the retailer is produced on renewable energy.

The retailer expressed surprise that Cargill hadn't mentioned it previously or offered this information as a brand attribute for his meat case. They then discussed the fact that about 50% of Cargill's contract hog farms no longer using gestation crates. The retailer asked why Cargill wasn't bidding for his pork business. The point is that corporate responsibility is also good for business, she says.

Horner's story is also a reminder of how consumers and retailers are forcing changes in the way we raise animals and produce meat. Topics such as corporate responsibility, sustainability, environmental impact and carbon footprint were scarcely mentioned 20 years ago. Now they are increasingly redefining the U.S. meat and livestock industry.

Steve Kay is editor and publisher of Cattle Buyers Weekly.

Bottom-line Breeding

Time, observed Sir Francis Bacon, is the greatest innovator. While that may be, a dose of cowboy logic can certainly help things along.

Take, for instance, the concept and practice of artificial insemination (AI). It's been around awhile now, and innovation over time has improved its ability to help cattlemen breed better cattle.

Now, splice in the cowboy logic, supplied in this instance by Carl Hansen, his brother Chris and dad Ed, who comprise both the brain trust and the elbow grease on the Hansen Ranch, a 350-head commercial cow-calf operation in northern Colorado near Livermore. While they've been easing into an AI program with their mature cows the past five years, they've approached it with a slightly different twist.

The Hansens buy genetically superior bulls, have them collected, and use the semen AI on a portion of their commercial cows.

That kind of bull doesn't come cheap — the Hansens will pay more than twice what they'd spend on an average range bull. But they don't mind. They've always paid good money for the best bulls they could buy. Carl's dad and grandfather both hold that buying bulls isn't the place to save money. “But realistically, you can only afford to spend so much on a range bull and make him pay for himself,” Carl observes.

And that's where the innovative cowboy logic kicked in.

The Hansens weren't new to the concept and practice of AI. They'd been breeding their 40-50 replacement heifers artificially since the mid '90s, so they had an idea of what they were doing and how to do it. And based on the success they saw with their heifers, they began to wonder if it might be feasible with their mature cows, too.

They first took their leap of faith five years ago, starting slowly at first, and gradually increasing the number of cows they bred AI every year. They bred about half their mature cows AI this breeding season and anticipate breeding their entire cow herd AI next spring.

Here's why

On the natural-service side, they pay an average of $3,000 for a good range bull. Assume $1,000 salvage value, and the cost is $2,000. “We figure our range bulls will last an average of five years,” Carl says.

They ranch in the foothills of the Rockies, running one bull/15 cows. Giving the bull the benefit of the doubt, Hansen calculates it will sire 75 calves over its five-year productive lifetime. “You take that against your $2,000 cost/bull and you have a $27/calf average,” he says, admitting his figures will change from year to year based on market prices.

“On the AI side, you go with a $7,500 bull with the same salvage value. Then I add another $1,000 on top of that with the collection of 500 straws of semen at $2/straw, and that gets you back to your original $7,500/bull cost,” he says. “If we figure 64% conception (a conservative estimate that they usually beat), we should get 320 calves out of those 500 straws. Put that against your $7,500 bull and you've got a $23/calf cost.” Add $5 for the cost of AI supplies and the cost per calf is about the same as natural service.

Given that they use their high-dollar bulls as part of their clean-up crew, the associated costs of keeping bulls are no different. And they've been able to reduce their bull inventory by at least half on the cows they breed AI, which cuts cost and adds more dollars per cow.

Bottom line is quality

But the economic benefits described above really aren't the bottom line for the Hansens. “The number-one thing we've seen is it's improved our replacement heifers dramatically,” Hansen says. “And that has a direct effect on our overall herd quality.”

Beyond that, their focus is to achieve a consistently high overall conception rate. In 2008, that was 96.6%, a 1.5% increase over the last three years. Of that, they figure they're getting a 67% conception rate from their AI breeding, based on the number of calves born the first week of the calving season.

On top of that, they've seen a 12% increase overall in the number of cows that calve in the first 21 days, with 87% of the entire herd calving in the first cycle. “That's huge,” Hansen says.

While a lot of factors go into achieving a consistently high AI conception rate, Hansen thinks part of their success is because they do all the breeding themselves. They start heat checking and breeding the morning they synchronize, continuing to heat check and breed cows for the next 72 hours.

Three days after they synchronize, they mass breed their cattle in bunches of 100 each. But in every batch there are always cows in standing heat the morning they begin mass breeding. Those are sorted off and bred later in the day. This system, they believe, yields higher conception. “I don't know how much,” he says, “but I've got to believe it helps.”

And they've seen a 5% increase in weaning weights, which last year averaged right at 800 lbs. for their steers. That increase, Hansen says, comes primarily from having more calves born early in the calving season.

Management considerations

Their goal is a 45-day calving season. Breeding begins April 5 with their first-calf heifers; everything they'll breed artificially is bred by April 12. They calve in January-February and with their AI program, the bulk of the calves are born early in the calving season. “And that's where you get your weaning-weight increase,” he says.

A 5% increase in weaning weights isn't the only reason they began their AI program. But it's not a bad bonus prize. “The way we look at it, we're increasing our weaning weights by bringing the bottom end up,” Hansen notes. And their buyer tells them the calves perform well at the feedyard and packing plant.

Their cowherd is largely Angus-based and the cows in the AI program have been bred to Angus bulls, although last year they bought a black Gelbvieh to use AI. Their AI cows are typically seven years of age and younger, with the balance, the older cows, bred natural service to black Gelbvieh bulls.

In the five years they've been breeding their cows AI, they've purchased and collected three bulls. This breeding season, in addition to buying and collecting a new bull, they bought some semen, as well. “We figure we can probably spend as high as $20/straw on semen and still be ahead of the game,” Hansen says. “And, you can get a pretty good bull for $20/straw.”

Management considerations

He says embarking on an AI program has increased the intensiveness of their management. “We haven't done it (AI) a lot, but we have done it enough to know that every part of the chain in that process is very important and if you don't do every one of them right, you're not going to get the results you want. That's all the way from conditioning your cows to synchronizing them, heat checking and the time you spend breeding. There are a lot of variables.”

However, he says if you've got a good set of working pens and a decent chute, you're equipped to handle AI. “It's a lot of effort, but you know your results will be good.”

Part of that extra effort is the record-keeping necessary to ensure their matings are correct. Just as with a purebred herd, he says they have to keep good track when they start selecting females. “In a cowherd of 350, by the time you use 500 straws of semen, you need to be looking for a different bull. It's like everything in the cattle industry; you've got to plan down the road a little ways.”

Based on their experience with their heifers, they felt comfortable moving into AI with their cows. But they still began slowly, learning as they went and building their program in steps. And, Hansen says, they're still learning as they go, adjusting and adapting as time goes on.

“The AI program has allowed us to buy a much higher quality bull and keep our costs down,” he says. “Over the last three years, we've seen some very good results. But we just started. This was only our fifth spring, so we have a lot to learn and a lot more avenues to go down. But, at this point, it's worked very well for us.”