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Articles from 2016 In October

The Beef Checkoff

We’re teaching our partners how to sell more beef

Waitress wrangling a heap o' steaks

Kristina McKee works at a livestock auction market in Unionville, Tenn. Recently, she has seen first-hand how checkoff dollars are used to help increase beef sales to consumers.

Watch as she talks about the way checkoff-funded tools such as menu development and recipe options help restaurants owners increase beef sales. The checkoff also trains those working in the foodservice sectors about beef production so they can competently answer consumer questions.


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Alternative cattle marketing decisions for tough times

Alternative cattle marketing decisions for tough times

This year is turning out to be a tough year for beef cow producers, as fall calf prices have trended down most of the year. Starting in November 2015, I generated monthly October 2016 price projections for weaned steer calf prices, and each month’s monthly projection for October ’16 prices is summarized in Figure 1.

For January through April 2016, I projected some reasonable fall 2016 calf prices. Starting in May, my projected October 2016 prices went down, and my price projection is still going down through my latest September projection. My current analysis projects a planning price for an October 550-pound steer calf of $155 per cwt (Figure 1).

When this projected October 2016 calf price is applied to my eastern Wyoming-western Nebraska study herd, I project a $14-per-cow profit producing 2016 calves. This is down from $204 for 2015 calves marketed in October 2015. My 2016 breakeven calf price for my study herd is $149 per cwt. Yes, economic times are changing for ranchers.

October planning prices for 2016-weaned calves

The trend line of these 11 monthly projections is a minus $3.45 per month — fueled by the current cattle cycle expansion. My current projected fall steer calf price is some $40-plus per cwt lower than that projected 11 months earlier. Not a good indicator for the ranching sector, but a typical price signal as we approach the end of the expansion phase of the current cattle cycle.

While there is some talk about cattle prices turning around, I have no indication yet of any turnaround. This does not mean that it will not occur, it just means that a turnaround is not yet indicated in the data I use for my price projections. It may take a contraction in cow numbers to fully turn cattle prices around.

As the cattle cycle expansion phase comes to an end, triggered by low calf prices, there is a real economic incentive for ranchers to focus on selling more heifer calves and/or adding weight to their existing calves before marketing them.

Figure 2 presents my latest price history and suggested planning prices through next spring. The bottom line in Figure 2 is my projected slaughter cattle prices for specific marketing months.

Suggested cattle planning prices

Interestingly, I am projecting that September 2016 feeders placed in a feedlot will make some money. This has been true for lightweight feeders placed since July and for heavier feeders placed since August.

The red numbers in Figure 2 are used to analyze grass cattle. My budget for running grass cattle in 2016 projects a $32 negative return after paying for the grass. My budget suggests that grass cattle did not make a profit in 2016. 

In general, the last 12 months or so have moved cattle profits from ranchers to cattle feeders. Cattle feeders will tell you “it is about time,” as they have experienced a long dry spell. This is a typical process as we move through the expansion phase of the cattle cycle.

As ranchers put the brakes on the expansion phase of the cattle cycle, they will need to be creative in managing their beef cow herds. Instead of adding more cows, ranchers need to be selling more pounds from the existing herd. One way this can be done is by holding back fewer replacement heifers and selling more heifer calves. Another way would be by adding more pounds to calves before marketing them.

At this time, I am not sure what the economic impact of heavier culling would have on herd profits. Culling deeper would generate added cash flow, but I need to study the longer-run impact of this management action.  This is a subject of a future study.

My last two market advisers have suggested that ranchers take a hard look at some form of adding more weight to their weaned calves. Figure 3 presents my latest projections for three traditional weight-increasing marketing alternatives, compared with selling at weaning:

• selling 569-pound weaned calves in October (minus heifers held back for replacements)

• backgrounding weaned 569-pound calves to 875 pounds, to be sold in February 2017

• finishing 875-pound background steers to 1,300 pounds in a custom lot, to be sold in June 2017

• Grow and finish backgrounded steers to 1,300 pounds in a custom lot, to be sold in May 2017

Figure 3 summarizes the projected results. Even with the continued deterioration of cattle prices, I am still projecting some profit potential with adding weight to 2016 calves.

My projections suggest a 200% profit increase over selling at weaning by backgrounding. That is, going from $14 profit per cow and adding another $28 per backgrounded calf.

Finishing those backgrounded calves for a target $10 per head may be risky in today’s market. I question the economics of this marketing alternative — at least at this time. That decision can be made in January 2017, when this marketing alternative has to be executed.

Retained ownership through a custom lot is projected to generate $139 per calf. This looks quite favorable at this time.

Remember, I price the calves and feeders into the next marketing alternative at the going market price, so that means these profits are cumulative. For example, the $14 per cow selling at weaning and the $28 per calf backgrounded are cumulative.

When projecting your marketing alternatives, be sure that you price your calves into the next production phase at a fair market price so that you get a true picture of the profit potential of each production phase. I am not at all sure that all ranchers do this when considering adding weight to their calves before marketing. Do not subsidize your last production phase with the profits made from earlier phases.

project alternative marketing stragegies

My conclusion from Figure 3 is that there is some profit potential from backgrounding and/or retained ownership of your 2016 calves. Again, do not use my numbers; see what your numbers suggest.

I really encourage you to spend some office time this year generating your own analysis of alternative marketing programs for your 2016 calves. The rewards could be very significant. In my opinion, this is the phase of the cattle cycle where the rewards for time spent in the office are the biggest.

Harlan Hughes is a North Dakota State University professor emeritus. He lives in Kuna, Idaho. Reach him at 701-238-9607 or [email protected]

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6 must-have components in your ranch's 10-year plan

6 must-have components in your ranch's 10-year plan

As a cattle producer, keeping up with daily and seasonal tasks can leave limited time for special projects. So, when someone asks if you have made time in your schedule to develop a plan for what your business will look like in 10 years, you may chuckle and say, “That’s on the other to-do list — the one I haven’t made yet.”

Whether the next generation may be ready to take over the reins, or you are still in the prime of being active in your agricultural enterprise, Mike Gustafson, agricultural consultant with Tygus Partners LLC, says you need to answer this very important question: What should my business look like in 10 years?

“Aligning all stakeholders toward a mutually agreed-to business plan is an untapped power within farms and ranches. Too often, decisions are based upon the current commodity prices of cattle and inputs. There may be several family generations working together, and the answer to the 10-year plan provides the decision-making compass for everyone involved,” says Gustafson, who specializes in strategic planning for farms, ranches and agricultural businesses across the Midwest and is based at Sioux Falls, S.D.

Gustafson has developed steps cattle producers should take, along with important questions they need to ask and answer, as they work toward the development of a vision and core values for their business in the next 10 years.

Plan-building components

There are several factors that help determine how you will fare implementing your 10-year plan.

Employees/family members. Farms of the past often included only family members; but today, with increased size and scope, many farms have nonfamily employee members or extended family members with a significant role in the operation. Gustafson explains that when you study your business, study who you are hiring, how they are being trained and if they fit your culture. Pay particular attention to the next generation of family members. Do they share the passion and commitment to be that next generation?

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Many successful cattle producers will talk about how their businesses are always improving because the employees are capable and the business culture allows for them to provide input to new improvements. “When an employee sees that the owner[s] listens and then implements their new ideas, the trust and commitment for all employees can be a great motivator.”

Communication.Once you have determined what your 10-year plan will look like — live it and feel it, communicate the plan to your entire team.” Farmers and ranchers have a passion for agriculture; that’s why you do what you do. As the leader of the business, lead by example. “Make sure your employees know you appreciate their contribution, keep them engaged in the business and communicate often with them. This demonstrates your dedication, and they will work above and beyond for you,” Gustafson says.

Standard operating procedures and checklists. “First, every person and business has their own individual way of how they want things done. There is nothing wrong with that,” Gustafson says. “But your preferences of work style must be documented, so you can communicate it to key people who influence your business: employees, veterinarians, nutritionists, etc.”

For example, if these individuals worked with other operations in the past, you want them applying your standard operating procedures when they come to your ranch, not those of the neighbors or past employers.

Secondly, part of standard operating procedures are checklists and how your team views them. Airlines have checklists they comply with before a flight can take off — critical steps to ensure safety and security. Your business should have checklists, too.

The question is, how do your employees react to these checklists? If your employees think following checklists is a nuisance, rather than a critical task, you have an issue. Will these employees help you reach your goals? “You need complete buy-in from employees. In fact, you want your employees to say, ‘Mr. Supervisor, can you come see if I am doing this right?’ ”

Technology. “Technology should change the way you do business and the way you view your business. If not, how will you succeed in 10 years?” Gustafson explains that if you are too busy with day-to-day tasks, are not open to trying new technologies or flat-out neglect them, you will fundamentally be in a different place 10 years from now than your competitors will.

One example is the technology of mapping the bovine genome. Originally, it cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and was not available to most cattle producers. Today, the cost is as low as $50. With new technologies available, be aware and educated on these advancements, then select those that support your 10-year plan. Overall in your 10-year plan, you are applying the right people with the right standard operating procedures and the right technologies to deliver the results.

Customers. You stay in business because you deliver value and/or products needed by customers. For beef producers, customers include everyone from the packer to the consumer. The standard operating procedures and adoption of technologies for your farm will be influenced by your customer. As you go forward, it is critical to think about each of these steps in relation to your customer.

“Current consumers want to know more and more about food production, so don’t fight it,” Gustafson says. “Implement steps to provide them with information about your product; be transparent; and open your business up for consumers to come see what you produce and how your business impacts them, the community and feeds the world.”

Finances. Don’t fixate on the totals in your profit-and-loss or balance sheet. Those totals are a result of all of the decisions you have made in your business.

If you want to improve your P&L or balance sheet, look back into your operation and change the decisions that produced those financial results. “Go through the steps identified in your plan, make the needed changes, and your outcomes will reflect the improvements.”

Gustafson explains the financial enemy lurking in your operation is profit leaks: those processes that allow a persistent drain of revenue and resources, but are extremely hard to find by just looking in your accounting system because they typically don’t show up in your ledger. When you analyze each step in your business and determine where these profit leaks are occurring, you may be able to add significant dollars to your bottom line just by making some simple adjustments.

When you carve out time to answer the question “What should my business look like in 10 years?” you place your business on the road to the future. If you haven’t done this yet, it should be on the top of your to-do list — the one you have already written. During the planning process, your decisions will map out a future and create a vision you can then identify, document and communicate to all who influence your business. But most importantly, you’ll have a road map all shareholders can support.

B. Lynn Gordon. Ph.D., is a freelance writer from Brookings, S.D.

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2016 BEEF Trailblazer Award: Grant and Dawn Breitkreutz

2016 BEEF Trailblazer Award: Grant and Dawn Breitkreutz

Minnesota bills itself as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” In actuality, there are 15,291 lakes of 10 acres or more in the North Star State, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). What’s more, the combined miles of all the state’s lake shoreline — 44,926 miles — add up to more than the combined lake and coastal shorelines of California.

So it’s little wonder that Minnesota places a high priority on water quality. And one of the latest wrinkles is a state mandate that all public waters (rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands) average a 50-foot buffer of perennial vegetation on their banks.

With seeding of the buffer areas required by Nov. 1, 2017, the mandate poses a challenge to many Minnesota landowners. But Grant and Dawn Breitkreutz, who farm along the Minnesota River near Redwood Falls, aren’t among them.

“Most of our buffers are 75 to 300 feet, and we had that in place before the mandate came down,” Grant reports.

It’s that kind of forward thinking that earned the Breitkreutz family the 2016 BEEF Trailblazer Award.

The beefed-up buffer strips are the result of mindset and management changes the married couple have made over the last two decades in a bid to boost their land’s forage production and carrying capacity. Along the way, they also improved the operation’s soil and water quality, and cut their operating costs.

“Because we farm along the creeks and rivers, we squared up our fields and put buffers along the waterways. We felt it was better to use that land for cattle production than for crop production. Since the buffer statute allows you to hay or graze those buffer areas, it won’t affect our operation at all as far as staying in compliance in the future,” Grant explains.

Cows graze every acre

The couple and their 17-year-old daughter, Karlie, operate Stoney Creek Farm, a three-generation cow-calf, farming and custom-feeding operation located 9 miles northwest of Redwood Falls. The operation’s 150 commercial Red Angus cows aren’t yarded unless they’re being worked or weather conditions merit it.

Instead, their cows intensively graze 450 acres of pastureland paddocks and 350 acres of no-till cropland interseeded for fall and winter grazing. They also graze public land through an agreement with the Minnesota DNR, which not only provides additional pastureland but also helps the state manage the health of its land.

In fact, cattle graze every acre of pasture- and cropland on Stoney Creek Farm. “We began experimenting with cover crops and fall grazing in 2002, and we started to see improved cattle gains, better cattle health and fewer problems in the fields with weeds and insects. So we just won’t go without planting a cover crop now,” Grant says. “We’re of the mindset that cattle on the ground improve soil health because they cycle nutrients directly to the soil, and the hoof action on the soil is beneficial as well,” he says.

Soon after they were married, the couple took over the farm, which consisted of 58 cows and 125 acres, from Grant’s parents in 1997. They began the transformation by splitting just one pasture in half to see how the cattle and grass would perform.

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The experiment was a success and, over time, all their original and rented pastureland was divided into a total of 39 paddocks. In addition, they added more than 20,000 feet of aboveground waterline, 15 water tanks and three all-season waterers to allow cattle to graze cover crops on cropland.

“When we started rotational grazing, we had severe riparian damage to our stream banks and creek banks. When we situated our stock tanks farther away from those riparian areas and gave our grasses plenty of time to rest, our riparian areas healed up and the bare spots in the pastures filled in,” Grant says.

Cattle industry champions

Their conservation efforts have earned them wide recognition, including the 2010 Minnesota Outstanding Conservationist Award from the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and 2015 Cattlemen of the Year recognition from the Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association (MSCA). This year, Stoney Creek Farm was named one of seven regional Environmental Stewardship Award honorees. The overall winner will be named during the National Cattle Industry Convention in Nashville, Tenn., in February.

2016 BEEF Trailblazer winners
Dawn and Grant Breitkreutz, and their daughter, Karlie, operate a farming and ranching operation near Redwood Falls, Minn., called Stoney Creek Farm. Farming acres are 100% no-till with the use of cover crops, and cattle intensively graze every acre of crop and pastureland. Their stewardship management is drawing kudos from both industry and government sources.

But perhaps the most far-reaching contributions of the Stoney Creek Farm experience are its efforts to help to educate other producers and government land-use officials of the benefits of using cattle in resource management.

“The countless hours Grant and Dawn spend learning more about sustainable farming practices are matched by the number of hours they spend promoting these practices, and the culture of conservation, to fellow cattlemen as well as consumers,” says Ashley Kohls, MSCA executive director.

Kohls says the couple has presented information about cattle producers’ conservation efforts and public grazing in the state before more than 850 farmers, elected officials, state and federal agency heads and employees, and business professionals.

Among these, she says, have been Jason Weller, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) chief, and leaders and executives of numerous multistate and international companies, such as McDonald’s, Cargill, General Mills, Dannon, Monsanto, The Mosaic Co., Unilever and the Walton family.

“In 2015, Grant and Dawn served the Minnesota cattle community by participating in nearly 75 in-person meetings, 32 of which involved elected officials or government agencies; more than 25 media engagements; and over 4,000 miles traveled that year alone,” Kohls says. “Their continued commitment to the cattle industry in Minnesota is second to none, and they’ve also been a stop on the MSCA’s summer beef tour, which annually draws more than 800 people,” she says.

Cattle and wildlife

One important outreach, she says, is the couple’s work with wildlife managers in the North Star State. “In an effort to increase the access of public land to cattle farmers to graze, Dawn and Grant continue to work to educate waterfowl production area (WPA) and waterfowl management area (WMA) managers employed by the DNR and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about what cattle can do to help increase the quality of wildlife habitat on public land in Minnesota,” Kohls says.

She says the efforts have resulted in an increased emphasis in the state on the importance of grazing versus prescribed burning as a land management tool. “This past spring, Grant and Dawn were invited to speak to all the WMA managers in the state of Minnesota to increase awareness and educate them on the benefits of grazing. It would be a win-win for farmers, wildlife and taxpayers,” Kohls says.

Grant, who serves as chairman of MSCA’s Cow-Calf Council, sees such interaction as a vital role for the state’s beef industry. “In my area, what has really impacted the cow-calf producer is the purchasing by the state or other agencies of private land and gifting it to the DNR.”

That takes away the ability of the cow-calf producer to use that land, he says. “That’s why I’ve been working with the state so hard over the past eight years to get cows back out there on that land as a management tool.”

He says that controlled burning is the primary land management tool used by the DNR in his area. “We’d like to have the state manage its land the way we manage our land — with cattle. Cows don’t care if it’s windy or if it’s raining; they’re out there managing that land. And doing so not only will save the state money, but it will also help save the cattle industry we have here in the state,” Grant explains.

Winning converts

The Breitkreutzes appear to be winning converts to the concept. Jeff Zajac, the DNR area wildlife manager based in Redwood Falls, has worked extensively with the couple and is impressed with what he’s seen.

“The best way to describe the Breitkreutzes is ‘professional.’ I’ll describe what we want done with a piece of wildlife management area, grassland management-wise, and they always have a very good idea on how to manipulate the cattle in order to achieve the results we want. And they always follow through on what they say they’ll do,” Zajac says.

Of the 14,000 acres under his jurisdiction, Zajac estimates that about half are grassland acres, and perhaps less than 10% of those 7,000 grassland acres use cattle to improve wildlife habitat. He says prescribed burning remains by far the DNR’s most favored land management tool, but he likes the all-weather versatility that cattle grazing offers.

“The biggest thing we’ve been able to do with cattle is to suppress non-native grasses, such as smooth brome, bluegrass and other species that suppress the native plants we want — bluestem, indiangrass, switchgrass and native wildflowers. We can improve the health of the native prairie, because properly managed cattle are very good at suppressing those non-native grasses,” he adds.

Zajac says the Breitkreutzes perform another important service for him — technical advice. “If I need to know anything about cattle, fencing or grazing, they are usually the first people I’m going to call. And they’ve been really good ambassadors. They do a lot of outreach to wildlife professionals, as well as within their own cattle community, talking about their rotational grazing systems,” Zajac says.

Getting started

Like many farmers, Grant says he was initially hesitant about working with government agencies, especially on a voluntary basis. In fact, he says he researched the commitments that came with cost-sharing programs available under the NRCS for several years before he actually applied.

“When we finished our first contract under the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), I was amazed how smoothly it worked. We built a great relationship with the people in our local NRCS office during that process, and we’ve done a lot of work with them since then,” he says.

EQIP is a voluntary program under NRCS that provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers to plan and implement conservation practices that improve soil, water, plant, animal, air and related natural resources on agricultural land and nonindustrial private forestland.

The first EQIP contract for the Breitkreutzes involved water development and fencing — specifically the installation of 2,900 feet of pipeline and two water tanks, and splitting a 47-acre pasture into nine parcels. Since then, the couple has participated in four more contracts.

Those early results also piqued their interest in holistic management classes, Grant reports. “It began with a three-day class at the University of Missouri led by Ian Mitchell-Innes from South Africa. He taught us how to use high-density grazing, and how to monitor pastures and keep records. We then went home and started working on it,” he says.

Today, Stoney Creek Farm uses 39 grazing paddocks, well over 20,000 feet of aboveground waterline, 15 water tanks and three more all-season waterers that allow the family to graze their cattle on cover crops in the fall.

Along with increased forage production, Grant reports they began to see improved water filtration on their soil, and less runoff. They also realized their pasture vegetation was filling in, producing more forage and appearing healthier.

“We then stopped spraying and fertilizing our pastures, and decided to do the same on the croplands. That’s what we’re diligently involved with now — working to change that soil structure on our cropland to what we have on the pastures,” he says.

Another benefit, he says, is improved cattle health. “Our overall cattle health has changed unbelievably. Our veterinary bill is today 25% of what it used to be, and we’re running close to three times as many cattle.

“I attribute a lot of that to getting the cattle out on healthy land and eating healthy feed. We used to yard cows probably five months of the year, now it is four to six weeks — or worst case, two months. In fact, that’s why we started custom feeding cattle again — we feed about 750 head each year — because we had these yards and barns that were no longer being used,” Grant explains.

2016 BEEF Trailblazer
Dawn, Grant and Karlie Breitkreutz take an impassioned approach not only to their farming and cattle operation, but also to working with state and federal wildlife agencies to help biologists understand the important role that cattle grazing plays in proper land stewardship, and to talking to consumers about the effort that goes in to producing safe, wholesome beef.

The couple say that changing their operational mindset wasn’t easy. “It was kind of lonely going through it at first, really lonely. People didn’t necessarily laugh at us, but comments were made that we were leaving three weeks of grazing on our pastures.

“Of course we were, but if we had grazed those extra three weeks in the fall, it would have cost us six weeks of grazing the next spring, plus add more weed pressure.” Grant says.

Dawn says it’s a constant learning process. “You get challenged every year as to whether you want to continue to do this or not. But when you look at the benefits of the changes you’ve made, that’s what really keeps pushing you to continue,” she says.

“Grant and I both say that we fought Mother Nature for a long time, and Mother Nature always won. Now we try to think how nature is designed, and we try to do the things that are in sync with it. It’s just a lot less fight,” Dawn says.

Among the resources beyond NRCS that the couple routinely use are the Redwood County Soil and Water Conservation District, the Holistic Management Institute, South Dakota Soil Health Coalition, the Burleigh County (N.D.) Soil and Water Conservation District, and Minnesota’s Sustainable Farming Association.

They retain close relationships with several holistic management practitioners and cattle specialists. One particularly valued resource is Eric Mousel, University of Minnesota regional educator for cow-calf management, in Grand Rapids.

“In my opinion, the Breitkreutzes are among the top operators in our region in terms of the way they manage their cattle and their resources. They are really cognizant of how all these things are related, and they incorporate that into their management program,” Mousel says.

More widely, however, Mousel lauds the role the couple play via their involvement in MSCA and with the University of Minnesota. “Grant and Dawn have done an outstanding job in promoting what we’re trying to do as an industry, both from the policy perspective and the general consumer knowledge perspective. Their contributions in those areas can’t be understated, and it’s absolutely amazing what they’ve accomplished,” he says.

2016 BEEF Trailblazer winners
Stoney Creek Farm’s Red Angus herd features both spring and fall calving programs, but most calves hit the ground in April and May. In late October, those spring calves go onto cover crops until December or longer. “Our calves don’t even look back for their mamas when they go on cover crops,” Dawn Breitkreutz says.

Grant says the operation’s ongoing goal is to keep improving the soil health. “We plan to keep learning and keep improving as we go. It’s actually fun to implement new practices and watch the results. I’m not a person who is tied to tradition; and Dawn didn’t grow up on a farm, so she wasn’t born and raised with the notion of ‘We’ve got to do it this way.’ She’s a great partner.”

That ethic has rubbed off on their daughter, Karlie. “Dad is passionate about creating something that is going to last,” she says.

He adds that the gates at Stoney Creek Farm are always open to anyone who wants to learn more about stewardship, including other producers who are looking to improve their conservation practices.

“Hopefully by doing what we’re doing here in retaining the integrity of our land, soil and water, there will be something here for our daughter, Karlie, if she wants to take over,” Grant says. Adds Dawn, “This is what God gave us, so we want to take the best care of it that we can, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Joe Roybal is BEEF editor emeritus and a freelance writer and editor. Contact him at [email protected].

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Giving cattle injections? Do it right

Correct product correct procedure correct needle Those are the keys to a successful and certified vaccination process
Correct product, correct procedure, correct needle: Those are the keys to a successful and certified vaccination process.

If there’s one thing that most cattle and most cattle producers can count on, it’s that shots will have to be given, even in natural or organic production systems. The simple truth is that vaccines, injectable vitamins and minerals, antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs and other animal health products are administered to virtually all U.S. cattle.

But it’s not as simple as just inserting the needle and pushing the plunger or pulling the trigger. Injections should always be administered properly to minimize residues and injection-site lesions, and reduce risk of reactions and side effects.

George Barrington, a veterinarian with Agricultural Animal Clinic Services at Washington State University, says Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) programs have worked well in helping stock producers understand the importance of proper injections. 

“BQA has become more important to producers and veterinarians, to ensure that we are producing a wholesome product and to decrease chances of drug residues and lesions that result in carcass cutouts or meat blemishes,” he says.

Shannon Williams, Lemhi County Extension educator and BQA coordinator for Idaho, says most producers are doing things correctly. “When the last National Beef Quality Audit was released, data showed that the number of abscesses from improper injections was way down,” she says.

Read the label

To keep that momentum going, it’s important to read labels. “Pharmaceutical companies are always updating their labels,” says Williams.

“You can’t assume it’s the same as what you’ve become familiar with,” she explains.

Dosage or injection sites may change. Something that was given intramuscular (IM) in the past, or with an option for IM or subcutaneous injection, may now be labeled for subcutaneous use only.

“Today we are putting all subcutaneous products in the neck, rather than into any regions behind the neck,” says Barrington. Occasionally, when you are giving multiple shots on a small calf and don’t have enough neck area, you can inject under the loose skin behind the shoulder. 

Most important is to never put injections into the hindquarters. The rump was a traditional location for intramuscular injections, because it was the easiest place to reach when processing cattle through a runway without catching them individually.

It created problems with tissue damage and abscesses in the best cuts of meat, however.

Proper facilities

It can be difficult to give injections in the neck in a runway situation, when animals stick their heads down under the next cow or move backward and forward in the old-style squeeze chutes. The newer chutes with neck extenders are helpful, reducing the risk of having your hand or arm injured, syringes smashed, or needles bent or broken. 

“Handling facilities have improved, as has education of stockmen in proper ways to inject cattle. It might save some time during cattle-working to do it the old way, but you may pay for it later,” says Barrington, with problems at the packing plant such as excessive trim or condemned carcasses.

“The time spent to administer these products properly, in a site that will enhance rather than hinder Beef Quality Assurance, is worthwhile. There is also evidence that better tissue levels of certain products may be attained when administered closer to the head, compared to when they are given toward the hind end,” he says.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when giving injections to your cattle:

Cleanliness is next to godliness

“Never inject through a dirty hide,” says Barrington. “Make sure the site is clean and dry. I compare this to a human getting a flu shot; it would be unacceptable if the physician gave the injection through a dirty shirt or coat,” he says.

“We know that certain products tend to have more reactions. With others, it’s rare to see an issue even if you inject through a dirty hide. But with some products, unless the site is extremely clean, you are almost guaranteed to have a problem,” he says.

“Try to inject into a clean, dry area. You obviously can’t shave them all, but you can make sure the area is as clean as possible. Not taking time to clean off the area could result in a lot of time spent treating an animal,” says Barrington.

Occasionally, however, the animal is so dirty on both sides that even if you wipe it off, you would be injecting into a wet, dirty hide. In this situation, you need to wash the area and then dry it as best you can. If that’s not possible, you could inject into a cleaner area, like under the loose hide over the ribs, behind the elbow — in the girth area.

Williams says this is not a BQA injection site at this point, “but if I had to make a choice in a bad situation, I might use the area behind the elbow. Another thing a person might do is clean the dirty neck as best you can, go ahead and inject that animal, and then change needles,” she says

Needle length and size

Choose appropriate needle size and length for the product given, taking the injection site into consideration. A larger-diameter needle (no smaller than 16-gauge) is preferred for mature cattle with thick hides, because you’re less apt to bend or break the needle. Calves have thinner skin, and a smaller-diameter needle (18-gauge) can be used. “If the needle is too large, there’s more pain, and more chance of the product leaking back out through the larger hole,” Barrington says.

“Needle size is dependent on many things, including consistency of the product. Some are thicker and hard to force through a small needle,” he says. With a thicker product, it takes too long to give the injection, or you may have to apply so much pressure that the needle and syringe come apart in some cases. If a product is more fluid (less viscous), a smaller-gauge needle can be used.

Needle length is dictated by injection site and may also depend on the type of syringe used; longer needles are for intramuscular injections. For subcutaneous injections, when tenting the skin to slip the needle under, you’ll want a longer needle than what you’d use on a syringe gun that’s aimed at an angle into the hide.

“When injecting many cattle in a short time using a multiple-dose syringe, it’s easier to use a shorter needle placed at the proper angle, so there is minimal chance of entering muscle. Longer needles increase the chance that the product won’t be deposited subcutaneously,” Barrington says.

Location and dosage

When giving multiple injections to an animal, don’t put injections close together; space them several inches apart, or on different sides of the neck.

“If the label for an antimicrobial says to deposit no more than a certain volume in one site, there’s more likelihood of tissue residues if you put more than the recommended volume in one site,” says Barrington. The product may also be slower-absorbing.

“Residues are a concern, so follow directions. Every time you inject an animal, there is possibility of reaction. To minimize this you need proper restraint, proper needle size and proper technique, so you can administer the appropriate amount in the appropriate number of locations. If you have an 1,800-pound bull that needs a large volume of a certain product, you definitely need to follow label directions,” he explains.

“There are some products available that are intranasal or put into the mouth, rather than injections. Read labels and make sure you are doing it properly, and using the proper dosage,” Williams says.

Make sure your multidose syringe is giving an accurate dose each time. If it’s a big syringe and a small dose, such as 2 cc, is it injecting the full 2 cc’s, or is it off a little? For smaller increments, you might use a smaller syringe that’s more accurate.

Keep records

“Be systematic in how you give injections, and keep records. It helps if you consistently give a certain vaccine at the same site. Knowing that you give product A in the left side of the neck, rather than randomly on either side, will help you identify what might have caused a reaction. Occasionally, certain batches of a product are associated with reactions. If you don’t know where you gave the shot, you can’t determine if that product was associated with a problem,” Barrington says.

“Often we are giving more than one injection. Always put the same vaccine in the same syringe. Mark syringes, or put color-coded tape on them so you never make a mistake,” Williams says.

Heather Smith Thomas is a rancher and freelance writer based in Salmon, Idaho.

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Clean water is crucial for cattle in winter months

Clean water is crucial for cattle in winter months

One of the attributes that makes cattle useful is that they can adapt and thrive in many environmental conditions and climates. No matter how well-adapted, though, they need a chance to adjust to seasonal changes.

As temperatures grow colder, for example, cattle grow a longer, thicker hair coat. This, and a layer of fat under the hide, provides insulation to reduce heat loss and minimize cold stress. Changing temperatures in the fall combined with shorter days and longer nights stimulate appetite, growth of winter hair and other physiological changes.

As days get shorter and colder, feed intake increases, and passage of feed through the gut speeds up as cattle need more fuel to keep warm. Feed requirements may go up 10% to 25%. These changes increase heat production and help the animal withstand winter temperatures.

To process that additional feed, the digestive tract needs adequate fluid. That’s why it is important to provide adequate water during cold weather. A cow’s water requirements are not as high in winter, however, as in summer, when she’s losing water in various ways to dissipate body heat, but she must drink enough to handle the demands of ruminant digestion and increased metabolism to prevent dehydration and impaction.

“In winter, we often don’t think about water requirements for cattle, but the body’s demand for water is important whether it’s hot or cold,” says Terry Mader, Mader Consulting, Gretna, Neb., and professor emeritus, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “This can be a challenge, however, when temperatures drop well below freezing, or water supplies are diminished due to lack of rainfall,” he says.

winter weather and water concerns
Winter is always challenging for cattle. Not only do they have to battle the cold and rustle enough groceries for both themselves and their growing fetuses, but they also have to find enough water to keep their digestive systems working properly.

“We don’t always get ice broken or have sufficient open water. In cold or wet conditions, if cattle can get out of the wind, they don’t always move out of sheltered areas to go to water. Sometimes they only go to water every second or third day,” says Mader.

“Ruminants have a large storage reservoir to draw on, but it’s not ideal to go that long without water; it’s difficult to maintain normal metabolic function if they have to continually draw on that reservoir and deplete tissue stores. Regarding diet and the amount of water in the rumen — and how much of it can be absorbed and still maintain normal function — there is still a lot we don’t know,” he says.

Vital nutrient

What we do know, however, is that water is one of the most important nutrients; animals can’t live very long without it. Pregnant animals need plenty of water available for the fetus, and lactating animals require additional water for milk production. 

“We don’t know how much we can restrict water and have cattle remain healthy, but unlimited access to clean water is best. Our work with heat stress shows that even in hot weather, animals don’t like to drink really cold water. They prefer it about 60 to 70 degrees [F]. In winter, if water is close to freezing, some cattle may not drink an optimum amount,” he says.

In hot conditions, cattle dehydrate quickly. “They need access to water every six hours, particularly in a feedlot. In winter, they may go 24 to 48 hours without water. Physiological status won’t be ideal if they go 24 hours without water, but they continue to function. By 48 hours, it becomes more problematic,” says Mader.

“In extreme conditions, experiencing stress, cattle don’t always have a sense of thirst [whether it’s heat stress or cold stress] due to overriding factors. The animals’ priority is to deal with the stress and survive. Depending on stress level, cattle may not be consuming enough water,” he says.

“There is also a tendency to urinate more with stresses such as shipping, handling, moving or severe cold stress, depleting the body’s water reserves,” he adds. Cold stress may increase metabolic use of water, and cattle urinate more because the body is getting rid of anything extra that must be kept warm. If cattle are not drinking enough, they dehydrate.

Terry Mader
“We don’t know how much we can restrict water and have cattle remain healthy, but unlimited access to clean water is best.” Terry Mader

“There is a definite relationship between feed intake and water intake unless they are consuming a high-moisture feed,” says Mader. But high-moisture feed for pasture cattle doesn’t mix well with severely cold weather; it’s difficult for cattle to eat a high-moisture feed because it will freeze. 

“Any animal with health issues or running a fever is experiencing stress that can override thirst, which can result in inadequate body fluids. You don’t always see subclinical issues, so it becomes extremely important that cattle have good access to clean water at all times,” Mader says. Providing water is also important from an animal welfare standpoint and is good animal husbandry.

Cattle need ample water for normal rumen function, good feed mixing in the rumen and to maintain normal gut motility. “I’ve seen cattle on dry feed with inadequate water that become constipated, with very firm manure. Microbes in the rumen need a fluid environment to function best,” Mader says. Rumen microbes need adequate protein and moisture for optimum fermentation.

Pass the salt

“Water is also important to maintain good electrolyte balances in the body. Every process in the body is driven by the ability to move nutrients across cell walls. The body is mostly water. Good cellular health, gut function, nutrient utilization, normal metabolic function [and keeping the body at proper temperature] all depend on adequate supplies of water,” Mader says.

Adequate salt is also essential; sodium and chloride are important electrolytes.

Trey Patterson, general manager of the Padlock Ranch, Ranchester, Wyo., has seen situations where producers were supplementing cows, and the supplement contained no salt. “If cattle don’t have salt, water intake goes down and then feed intake goes down. Some of those cows will be gaunt and, over an extended period, become emaciated,” he says. 

That’s why you need proper balance with a certain sodium level in the forage. Cattle need all of these things together: feed, salt and water. You can’t have that balance upset too much or something will suffer.

winter wonderland gallery

Breathtaking photos of winter on the ranch
The first snow hit parts of the Midwest this week. Mentally prepare for the winter wonderland with these stunning photos. See photos here.


We generally think of dehydration and electrolyte loss only occurring during hot weather and heat stress due to water loss via sweating, panting, etc., according to Greg Hermesmeyer, TechMix LLC. “Dehydration can also occur in cold weather, and as cattle become dehydrated they are losing key elements: sodium, potassium and chloride.”

Those electrolytes are crucial to the body, especially at the cellular level, for proper metabolic and biological function (such as carrying nutrients in and out of the cells), muscle function and other basic physiological functions, he says. “We want to make sure we replace these and keep good electrolyte balance.”

Cattle that are shivering to stay warm also use energy, depleting reserves of energy and water. “At the cellular level, when cattle lose electrolytes, there is major loss of sodium and potassium. Then the cells are unable to function properly. Cattle need important elements replaced to restore proper cellular metabolism and function,” Hermesmeyer says.

Let’s be safe out there

When cattle are in big pastures, you need to monitor them and know what’s happening. “We are adamant about having water available to cattle all the time,” Patterson says. This may mean breaking ice, tank heaters, frost-free tanks, moving water — whatever it takes.

One time-honored way of providing winter water is chopping ice. However, chopping ice at the edge of a reservoir, pond or small stream can be difficult when ice gets thick and water levels change. 

“Ice may go clear down into the mud. Make sure you are getting through it into adequate water, so cattle can get a drink that’s out of the mud,” Patterson emphasizes. If this happens, the water has receded and you are working farther out — and cattle have to walk on ice to get to the water.  

“When we’re concerned about cattle getting out on the ice, we put an electric fence across the corner of the pond or reservoir. We drive a post on one side, pull the wire across a corner and drive a post on the other side, fence off the rest of the reservoir and put a charger on the fence,” he says.

This way, cattle only have access to the 10 or 15 feet that allows you to get the ice away from the mud, with access to water. “You can always move the fence if you need to, but it keeps cattle from getting farther out where they might fall through,” Patterson explains.

Heather Smith Thomas is a rancher and freelance writer based in Salmon, Idaho.

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TV show follows lives of next generation ranchers

When I hear the phrase, “reality TV,” it’s hard not to immediately think of shows like The Bachelor, Keeping Up With The Kardashians and The Real Housewives. These faux, partially-scripted dramas showcase the lives of the rich and famous, and they aren’t even close to any reality those of us in rural America live in.

Although it doesn’t happen often, it’s always refreshing when something a little more “real” is successfully launched on TV, particularly if it celebrates agriculture. I recently watched a preview of an exciting series called “American Harvest.” After a well-received first season that followed a multi-generation farm family in Minnesota, the show is back with a second season. 

Photo Credit: CarbonTV

Airing on CarbonTV, season two of American Harvest follows Leah Johnson, a full-time manager at Red River Marketing and part-time help at her family’s farm. The show also introduces us to Chad Olsen, a custom harvester who operates his business from Texas to Canada.

We also meet Josh and Liz Fiedler, who have recently taken over Josh’s family’s century-old farm after a 15-year hiatus away. A fun side note: I went to college with Liz, who also works as a nurse to support the farm, and it will be fun to watch her share her passion for agriculture unfold on the small screen.

The show follows these millennial farmers and ranchers as they tackle the challenges of volatile market swings, business risks and transitioning their operations to the next generation.

"Viewers loved season one for its authentic portrayal of the high-stakes American farming industry," says Daniel Seliger, EVP of content and marketing at CarbonTV, in a recent press release. "Season two continues the story with a focus on the passion and commitment of the next generation.”

Tune in to watch American Harvest: Next Generation by clicking here and let me know what you think. Be sure to share and help spread the word about this reality show that actually represents the reality of many who live and work in rural America.

For any millennial ranchers who are reading today’s blog, I also encourage you to check out AgUnited’s recent article titled, “10 tips for getting your start in agriculture.” Written by Rebecca Christman, the list offers advice for young people tackling the day-to-day struggles of farming and ranching. Check it out here.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or Penton Agriculture.

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