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Articles from 1998 In November

Getting Ready For Irradiation

It's been nearly a year since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved irradiation of red meat last December. Since then, consumer awareness of the technology has grown, but when will we see irradiated red meat in the meatcase?

"Currently, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is putting the finishing touches on the preliminary rules from USDA. Until then, irradiation of red meat is on hold," says Dennis Olson, director of the Utilization Center for Agricultural Products at Iowa State University.

The preliminary guidelines will be given a 60- to 90-day comment period before final rules are issued, says Olson. That could be a six-month process.

But once in place, irradiation will provide a safeguard to control disease-causing microorganisms such as E.coli and salmonella in red meat. Irradiation also extends the shelf life of meat products and fruits and vegetables.

"There aren't going to be comments on whether it's safe or not," says Olson. Most discussion will concern labeling, packaging and other technicalities, he says.

For example, because irradiation occurs after a product has been packaged, new packaging must be approved that is also compatible with irradiation, Olson says.

Since ground beef is an item that requires little packaging he says that could be one of the first to find it's way into test markets.

And while it may be a few months before irradiated red meat finds its way into the meatcase, grocery stores are getting ready to offer other irradiated food products, says Anna Matz of the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA).

"We've seen a real surge in interest and acceptance of irradiated food products in the past few months," says Matz. According to a new report by GMA and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), 80% of consumers say they would be likely to purchase a food product for themselves or their children if it was labeled, "irradiated to kill harmful bacteria."

Based on this acceptance, Matz says grocery stores could gear up to offer a line of irradiated food products to consumers. "Chicken, pork, fruits and vegetables are already approved."

Al Kober, meat and seafood merchandising manager for 16 Pennsylvania-based Clemens Market stores, says he's ready to offer irradiated products. He hopes to have irradiated poultry in the meatcase by January.

"We're going to give consumers a choice, much like the choice for natural beef or organic fruits and vegetables," Kober says.

Once industry sees how test markets respond to irradiated products, Kober predicts more companies will begin to offer irradiated foods.

Consumers can expect cost for irradiated products to be about 10 more per pound, Kober says.

For more information on irradiation, a copy of the report "Consumers' Views on Food Irradiation" or to take a virtual reality tour through an irradiation facility visit the GMA website

Girding The Grid

Put a bunch of cow-calf producers, stocker operators, feeders and a packer in a room at the same time and fireworks are likely. Or are they?

Cooperation was the spirit as more than 400 industry people met in September to review progress of the Great Nebraska Formula Grid Out. The Grid Out is an agreement originally signed by 140 feeders who agreed to sell cattle only on negotiated prices for a two-week period.

The group contends that a steady supply of formula cattle keeps packers from bidding aggressively on the cash market. The lower cash prices result in lower formula cattle prices, which in turn keeps cash prices down. These feeders want packers to bid on pens of cattle, rather than calling for delivery under prearranged deals that determine price at a later date.

Now known as United Cattlemen for Negotiated Marketing (UCNM), the group strives to educate producers about eliminating non-negotiated live cattle marketing practices.

"Every industry has a watershed moment," says Alan Janzen, president of Nebraska Cattlemen and owner of Circle 5 Cattle Co., in Henderson and Brewster, NE. "I think a lot of us are at that moment. We want to focus on non-negotiated selling. Non-negotiated prices result in inventory we give up to the packer for a period of seven days."

While non-negotiated selling is a common practice, Janzen says it isn't the only marketing tool available.

Chris Dinsdale, president of Dinsdale Brothers, Palmer, NE, says nothing is more important than the discovery of live price and feeders have to work to get it. The fourth generation cattle producer emphasizes cooperation among feeders and packers to achieve a recognized market price.

Producer's Share Drops There's been a 20% drop in the producer's share of the total beef retail dollar in nearly 20 years, says Les Messinger, a commodities broker and member of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Citing USDA statistics, the 25-year cattle feeder says producers received 64% of the retail dollar in 1979 and just 44% in 1998 (see Table 1).

"In other words, if market steers sold in August at $58/cwt., there are $1,582/head total beef dollars available," Messinger says. "The producer receives just $696 per head. This drop can be traced to early 1994, when captive supply kicked in."

"Every segment of the cattle industry is controlled by the packer price," Messinger says. "Participating in captive supply is a selfish, self- destructive, long-term move."

If a packer begins a month with 30-50% of supply on hand, it can depress the market $5-7/cwt. in a tight market and $5-12/cwt. in a burdensome market, Messinger says. "These drops can help create up to $14 million more profit per week for the packer," he adds.

While packer profits have historically been high, retailers are now squeezing packers the same as packers squeeze producers, Messinger believes. However, he suggests that if these final two segments of an industry are making record profits and the others are hurting, something is very wrong.

Reduction in live cattle price is mainly a function of the loss of market share of the total beef dollar, Messinger says. For example, the total fluctuation of overall retail beef prices since 1990 has been $0.19. During the same time, live cattle prices have dropped from $78.70/cwt. to $58/cwt.

Packer profits may be getting squeezed, however the Big 3 packers' share of slaughter has increased dramatically, growing from 36% in 1980 to 84% today.

"Formula pricing gives no price protection at all," Messinger says. "You can use futures contracts to gain protection. In fact, the main foundation of the futures industry is providing price protection."

Government Not the Answer The efforts of UCNM haven't gone unnoticed by elected officials. Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel encourages creativity among all commodity groups.

"Government isn't the answer to this situation," Hagel says. "It's far better for the industry to come together to find creative ways to market cattle. Practices established by this initiative could well be a model for other commodities to use."

This self-repair approach isn't unlike the method Brett Gottsch, partner of Gottsch Feeding, Elkhorn, NE, proposes.

"Your customer is relying on you to get the highest possible price you can for his product, not the high compared to everyone else," he says. "We cannot let the packing industry inventory all the cattle we have for sale every week. Show half or one third of your show list to one packer and if his bid isn't high enough to buy that list, that's all he sees. Keep them out of your yards except to look at those specific pens.

Gottsch believes the U.S. beef industry chose the easy route down the road of value-based marketing. "We've given no incentive to the packing and retail sectors of our industry to help us develop the product the consumer wants," he says.

"Instead, we gave them an easier way to create margin by using the inventory we've given them in the name of value-based marketing to increase the farm-to-retail spread. There's nothing wrong with value-based marketing - we have to negotiate a base price first," he says.

Gottsch says that prior to the Grid Out, there were as many as 45,000 head of non-negotiated cattle movements. Three weeks after the Grid Out started, the number dropped to less than 7,000.

Captive Supply Scary Selling cattle almost exclusively on cash bids is the norm for Wagonhammer Cattle Co., Albion and Bartlett, NE. Jay Wolf, president, says the formula or the grids that he's investigated result in premiums too small to be part of a true value-based system. In his view, they're small premiums for captive supply."Undoubtedly, cattle marketing has changed - for the worse," he says. "It's hard to raise the price when a packer has several days' supply on hand.

"Captive supply remains a powerful allure in our industry," Wolf adds. "It allows managers to say, 'I got a premium on the cattle,' despite the fact the market is depressed by their own marketing practices."

Wolf suggests producers not give their business to yards participating in or contributing to captive supply. He also recommends that cow-calf producers not sell directly to feedyards that participate in these practices.

"It's our responsibility," he says. "Peer pressure works in this industry. The government isn't going to help us, and I don't think we want it to."

However, there are some benefits to feeders and packers in a captive supply situation, according to Dick Monfort, The Monfort Co., Greeley, CO.

"Forward contracting does give the packer room to shift inventory around and more easily meet the demand of a specific week," Monfort says. "And there are benefits to feeders. You've always got a home for the cattle, it's a way to get paid a premium and it simplifies marketing."

Monfort doesn't sell his cattle on a formula, but rather on a cash basis. "Captive supply didn't get us into the trouble we're in today," Monfort says. "But, it may keep us there."

It's Not Easy Extra value and marketing on a carcass merit basis enticed John Roberts, vice president of Roberts Cattle Co., Lexington and Lincoln, NE, to try formula pricing.

"Initially, we liked it," Roberts says. "Then we became somewhat satisfied and gradually got to the point we totally disliked formula pricing."

Having sold cattle on the cash market the past several weeks, Roberts is convinced the Grid Out significantly helped his company's efforts. He says they've obtained competitive prices and hope to sell on carcass basis soon.

"The return to the cash market isn't easy," he says. "In fact, it's a lot more work. But, selling in the cash market is the right thing to do."

Feeders comprising the United Cattlemen for Negotiated Marketing (UCNM) have clear goals. The UCNM mission statement outlines the group's agenda:

"To identify a means by which to affect changes that lead to a restoration of a healthy level of competition between buyers and sellers in the fed-cattle marketing arena, while still allowing carcass merit pricing of cattle and access to data that will allow producers to continue genetic improvements that will lead to enhancements in quality and consistency of beef products."

The group has outlined alternative marketing mechanisms. These include:

* Maintain a competitive bidding environment including as many packers as possible on week-to-week basis.

* Establish a competitively bid grid marketing mechanism where numerous packers bid a base price (as well as premiums and discounts) with none being assured of acquiring a given feedyard's market-ready inventory on a week-to-week basis.

* Aggressive enforcement of the customary seven-day time frame that buyers have to take delivery on cattle (including weighting cattle over to packers and billing for expenses incurred if cattle aren't shipped within seven days.

* Use Chicago Mercantile Exchange Live Cattle futures and options contracts for risk management purposes in lieu of forward contracting cattle with packers.

* Report prices to any National Cattlemen's Beef Association-sanctioned marketing reporting service.

For additional information contact Nebraska Cattlemen at 402/475-2333. l

Selling Recreation

Part two on how strategic business management can add productivity and dollars by better using your operation's natural resources

Last month we discussed grazing systems as a way to achieve more efficient, profitable utilization of the natural resource asset. The icing on the cake in terms of long-term benefits, however, is that a grazing system will result in increased wildlife.

Hunting, fishing and a place just to "stretch your legs" is becoming more unique and of greater value. Ranchers often take this resource for granted and allow friends, neighbors, distant relatives or mere acquaintances to take full advantage of a privilege that should command compensation. Literally thousands of dollars are available to you if you make the sacrifices necessary to accommodate John Q. Public.

Opportunity Galore Okay, so there's opportunity, but how do you get started and what does it mean financially?

First, closely evaluate what it is you have to offer and what audience it would attract. It may behoove you to bring in a wildlife specialist to help determine this, but certainly to help establish a wildlife management plan. A wildlife consultant may charge anywhere from $250/day to a percentage of the take, but he brings an outsider's perspective that will result in more options and greater flexibility.

If yours is a smaller operation and lacks adequate landmass, cooperation with neighbors is normally your only option. The environment, the manager, then the management techniques will determine the product or products that offer you the greatest market potential.

Don't overlook any possibilities. One ranch I work with markets prairie dog hunts at a $100/day. One man's trash is another man's treasure.

Before you decide to go full-bore into the recreation business, contact your insurance agent and attorney. The insurance agent will advise you on coverage options and their cost. An attorney will detail your legal exposure and ways to avoid a possible lawsuit.

Ready For Customers Okay, you've made the conscious decision to develop and market your natural resources. You've established the product or products that are to be marketed. Your liability insurance is in place and you have your "hold harmless" waivers in hand. Now what?

You can't just go down by the gate and wait for your first customer. You need to promote.

Word of mouth is always the best sales tool but it requires pleasing the customers you already have. So, advertise in recreation/hunting/fishing magazines or send them press releases. Consider providing a "free" weekend to the editor of one or more of the magazines, which promotes products similar to what you are selling. You can also target businesses looking for places to entertain clients and potential clients.

In the second or third year, develop a flyer and send it to prospective customers or rent a mailing list and mass mail. Promotions must be multi-faceted and reach many potential customers.

The problem is that this all costs money. Start by developing a business plan that includes a recreational enterprise that has a planned and budgeted promotional plan. What you spend on promotions is determined by your potential to produce income. Typically, promotional expense is the second largest cost category and may constitute as much as 35% of your recreational enterprise budget.

Advertising rates are as varied as the colors of the rainbow. To have someone write and mail a press release for you will normally cost $250-1,000. Fliers can run 8-75 apiece. Mass mailing bulk rates range from 18-32, or more for heavier packages.

Mailing lists also vary in cost, but normally can be purchased for 2-10 per name. If renting or purchasing a mailing list, target a magazine where you've had success getting press releases printed before. Be certain the magazines you target hit the desired market for your company.

Establishing Your Prices To establish prices for your services, call operations utilizing the same or similar recreational enterprises. A big part of the price structure is simply Economics 101: supply vs. demand. But creating demand and your ability to service the customer plays an even bigger role.

Some of my clients charge the following:

* Dude Ranch type situation: $5,000 for five days and six nights (up to six people) with many activities requiring an extra fee.

* Whitetail deer: $1,500-5,500

* Antelope: $500-1,000

* Bobwhite quail: $250-500/gun/day

* Ringneck pheasant: $275-400/gun/day.

* Trout fishing: $150/person/day

Often, recreation can provide $3-10/acre in additional revenues, with little or no additional capital expenditure and a budgeted expense of 50-$2/acre or less. As producers, you should establish your property as "sacred ground." Access by the general public should always be for a fee.

My clients have a net income from various recreation products of as little as $1,200 to as much as $100,000. Smaller operations should consider cooperating with neighbors to form hunting or fishing clubs. The financial reward for each member should be according to the individual level of participation. Costs should be split according to the percentage of benefits.

Substantial Income Potential The bottom line is that a recreation enterprise has the potential to produce a substantial amount of additional income previously left on the table. It's not for everyone, but if you choose to participate, carefully choose the degree of participation and people contact.

It can be as little as leasing the land to your accountant or attorney's hunting club by the acre. In this form, you have little, if any, personal contact compared to an intensive recreational enterprise like a Steamboat Springs dude ranch.

Whatever you decide, make it work for you first. You are the landowner. If you want to save some hunting or an area for yourself, put it in the lease agreement. If no one accepts your offer, you're no worse off than before a recreational enterprise was dreamed up.

Strangers usually turn into friends on Ron and Lois Wanner's Knife River Ranch. Since 1996, the Golden Valley, ND, family has operated a "ranch vacations" enterprise as a means of diversifying their beef cattle and grain operation. So far, guests from 25 states have taken advantage of the Wanners' year-round ranching and outdoor vacation experience.

The Knife River Ranch has quickly become a popular destination for vacationers, hunters and family reunions. The Wanners offer six cabins with views of the scenic Knife River, a lodge, bath house and Lois's ranch-style meals (utilizing Knife River Ranch beef). Lodge and bath house facilities are handicapped accessible. The operation includes Ron, Lois and their three children: Rebecca (17), Adam (15) and Justin (9).

Ron had long desired to diversify his 7,000-acre, 330-cow commercial cattle and farming operation. He knew that there was a thirst by Americans for the ranch, both for relaxation and sport. "We love the ranch and we just wanted to share it," Ron says.

Game is plentiful on the ranch. The winner of the Remington Wildlife Stewardship Award for upland game management, Ron has long managed to protect and preserve wildlife on his land. The property is a wonderland of deer, game birds and fishing.

"The extra cash flow has helped. In farming and ranching, you typically have just a one-time payday. The vacation business gives us money every month," Ron says.

Spreading The Word The biggest challenge, he adds, is just getting the word out. He says he's spent over $9,000 in sport shows and advertising. But they had a four-fold increase in guests this year over last. And, they received additional exposure this year by winning the Private Travel and Tourism Entity Award from North Dakota Tourism officials.

The Wanners don't want their business to grow beyond what the family can handle by itself. The enjoyment and a desire to provide personalized service are the reasons.

Ron estimates a 15-year payback on construction of the facilities that allow them to accommodate 30 people at one time. But, he feels that word of mouth and reasonable rates protect them in the event of a general economic downturn.

"We tend to draw out-of-state people who are used to spending more than we charge. We also work to keep our prices reasonable, and offer various family packages that will fit any budget," Ron says.

They also attract small family reunions, even other farmers and ranchers who want to get away and experience some different country. They're also seeing some success now in attracting foreign visitors who expecta true ranch experience.

"This is a working ranch, not a dude ranch," Ron says. "Our guests like to experience everyday things like fixing fence, checking bulls and working with the cows and being out on the open range."

Knife River Ranch Vacations is located in southwest North Dakota. For more information call 701/983-4290 or visit their website at

Putting E. coli and science in perstpective

Recently, Cornell University issued a press release to the consumer media promoting a research trial on E. coli. It contained sweeping, categorical statements that received big play.

Originally published in Science magazine, the research itself is interesting. The editorial comment in the press release is shocking, however, because theory is presented as fact.

The headline theory is that E. coli 1057:H7 can be eliminated by feeding hay to feedlot cattle five days before slaughter. The problem is that none of the cattle used in the study (all dairy cows) tested positive for 0157:H7. The researchers extrapolated this conclusion based on another one of their theories: that pathogenic E. coli can only come from ruminants fed grain rations.

Misleading By Omission Most distressing, the editorial comment implies that cattle are responsible for all 0157:H7 infections. Ground beef actually makes up a small portion of total infections. Fruits and vegetables (eaten raw) make up a much larger percentage.

The authors implicitly answer this by stating that manure is sometimes used to fertilize vegetables, totally ignoring the well-known human contamination route (more later).

Specifically, the researchers claim that the acidic nature of the human stomach can destroy E. coli. However, if the E. coli develop in a grain-fed ruminant, the acidic nature of the fermentation products makes the E. coli acid-tolerant (and able to survive the human stomach), they say.

The researchers devised a laboratory experiment to "prove" this theory. In the opinion of most scientists, however, "in vitro" (test tube) analysis should never be considered final proof. The "in vivo" (real) world can be quite different.

In this case, there is a lot of epidemiological evidence to the contrary. As mentioned, this theory overlooks the well-known fact that human to human contact is a common source of many types of pathogenic E. coli.

The Human Factor Indeed, in Third World countries, the most common source of pathological E. coli infections is contaminated water - water contaminated with human waste (a common cause of dysentery). With respect to E. coli 0157:H7, human to human contact is also well known to be a source of infection. Ladies have contracted it changing diapers. Children at day care centers have become infected through contact with a "carrier" child.

When I eat a hamburger, I don't worry about the meat (if it's well cooked), but the lettuce. OSHA requires farm workers to be provided with portable toilets and hand washing facilities. While we can be certain the potties are being used, we cannot be sure about the wash basins.

The Center for Disease Control has listed farm and food workers as a potential for contamination. This is the greatest worry - foods that cannot be cooked. (Lettuce is reported as the leading source of infections by E. coli 0157:H7).

The Acid Tolerance Theory Aside from the well-known fact that humans can be carriers, a little knowledge of ruminant nutrition and common sense would question this "acid tolerance" theory. While rumen fluid from a feedlot ration will be about pH 5.5 (vs. 6.5 for a hay ration), the human stomach is a pH 2.0.

The pH scale is logarithmic, meaning the acidity in rumen fluid from grain rations will be about 10 times more acid than forage rations, but it will be no less than 1,000 times less acid than the human stomach.

It is hard to believe the relatively moderate differences in pH for various rations can be the source of all pathogenic E. coli.

If there is an area of this research that is assuredly correct, it's that grain that bypasses to the large intestine would support larger bacterial populations. However, an all-hay diet would greatly increase the likelihood of fecal contamination (on the carcass). Therefore, it is vital we know if the "acid tolerance" theory is correct.

The Effects Of Hay Feeding As for the economic and practical aspects of feeding hay the last five days before slaughter, could we do it? The only unknown at this point is dark cutters. My gut feeling is that it would not be much of a problem, but there is enough concern in the industry that this should be researched.

In terms of cost, we would lose about 111/42-2 lbs. of gain/day for the five days. There would also be more "fill" on the cattle, thereby increasing trucking costs slightly. The net cost (excluding any potential problem with dark cutters) would run somewhere on the order of about $10/hd.

Certainly the cost would be reasonable. The real question is "does this hay feeding work?" We don't know. This study is little more than speculation. But even if works, there are practical considerations to ponder.

Most packers contend E. coli contamination comes not from fecal matter in the digestive tract, but mud and manure on the hide. Most contamination occurs when the hide is stripped.

Switching to hay would increase the volume of manure by 50 to 150% and make it much more liquid. Defecation would be more frequent, and with high-quality hay can be "projectile" in nature. The result is cattle confined closely before slaughter would have hides much more soiled with manure.

Therefore, while the "science" of this study is in question, there are some very serious practical questions as well.

Beef Act Violation Charged

In the first lawsuit of its kind, USDA has brought formal charges against Steve and Jeanne Charter, Shepherd, MT, for failure to pay the federally-mandated $1/head beef checkoff.

The government has proposed an $8,500 civil penalty, in addition to a requirement to pay $250 in actual checkoff assessments and $25.77 in late charges to the Montana Beef Council for two cattle sales: one involving 247 yearlings sold in October l997 and the other for three cull cows sold in April 1998.

On September 30, a lawyer for the Charters' filed a legal defense and request for an oral hearing with the Hearing Clerk of USDA's Office of Administrative Law Judges in Washington, D.C.

The Charters are pursing an open hearing to question USDA's authority in approving the 1996 checkoff reorganization. Their hearing request may mean they could receive the maximum civil penalty of $5,500 for each of the two sales or $11,000 total. This would be the first such lawsuit concerning the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) checkoff merger.

The Charters' penalty could be reduced to $5,000 if they waive their right to an administrative hearing.

"An $11,000 penalty is a steep price to pay to get a hearing, especially given the state of the cattle market, but it will certainly be worth it if we can get things set right," the Charters said in a press statement.

"We don't really blame USDA for seeking to make an example of us in hopes of discouraging others from checkoff protests and maintaining orderly collection. We do blame them for taking an improper role as 'kingmaker' for NCBA and are convinced they exceeded their legal authority in approving the l996 checkoff merger plan," the statement went on to say.

Beef Board's Role "CBB (Cattlemen's Beef Board), the Montana Beef Council and USDA were unsuccessful in repeated attempts to encourage Gerald Murnion and Jeanne and Steve Charter to voluntarily comply with the Act," says Alysia Smith, manager of collections and compliance for the Cattlemen's Beef Promotion And Research Board. "After these efforts failed, we had no other choice than to take this legal action. Anything less would be unfair to producers who do pay."

The national beef checkoff is administered by the Cattlemen's Beef Board, a separate entity made up of 111 board members - 104 of them producers - appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture. CBB oversees the collection of the checkoff, certifies state beef councils, implements the provisions of the federal order establishing the checkoff and evaluates the effectiveness of checkoff programs. Funds can only be spent for promotion, research and information programs designed to increase demand for beef and veal.

"One of the features producers like most about the beef checkoff is that it is fair - everyone pays, no one gets a free ride," Smith points out. "The national checkoff replaced old state-by-state checkoff plans where a few cattlemen paid for promotion and information programs that benefited everyone."

Reduce Risk

Iowa State University (ISU) economist John Lawrence is convinced the U.S. beef industry faces some serious challenges in the coming millenium, but he isn't as bearish about cattle prices during that period as some forecasters.

Cattlemen, he says, are making serious reductions in cattle numbers. Heifer retention is down and the cow herd is getting older.

He also believes peak slaughter is behind us, but feedlot losses will filter back to the feeder cattle market this fall. Prices will depend on corn and fed-cattle prices, with prices weakened by recent feedlot losses.

The demand picture remains troubling as large supplies continue into winter. Beef's market share will continue to decline from the current 63 lbs./capita on a carcass basis because the nation will produce 10-15% fewer cattle by the year 2000, he says.

"The growing share of exports means fewer pounds for the U.S. consumer to buy," he says. "When spread over one percent more people each year, the number gets smaller. Does that mean consumption will drop to 25 percent? Maybe?"

Despite this harsh environment the next two years, Lawrence believes the outlook is not all bad. Hedgeable profits are there on fed cattle at current feeder and corn prices. He predicts an Iowa-based price range on Choice steers at $62-64/cwt. the first quarter of 1999.

For the cow-calf producer, Lawrence suggests considering retaining ownership through slaughter. Regardless, there are opportunities for innovative operators with good quality cattle who can read market signals and participate in programs that help them gain and use information. Profitable times are ahead in the cattle industry.

But don't look for a miracle, he warns. Instead, he suggests supporting new programs like Iowa Quality Beef (IQB).

The IQB program was launched last month to give smaller, independent producers in Corn Belt country more clout. Its unique feature is electronic identification (EID) for absolute source verification from calf to consumer.

The Iowa Cattlemen Association (ICA) and ISU Extension workers and supporting groups are busy applying special electronic eartags to cattle throughout the state. The Bloomfield Livestock Market at Bloomfield, IA, will use the pilot program in its special IMBIO (Iowa Missouri Beef Improvement Organization) sales this fall.

The venture is sponsored by ICA with assistance from the Iowa Beef Center, a broad Extension-based support group headed by ISU's Lawrence. Financial support is provide by such agencies as the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

Be An Entrepreneur "We talk about moving into a knowledge-based mode," Lawrence says. "Smart people will win - those with good innovative ideas and entrepreneurial savvy and information to make the decisions, and who have the marketing and managing skills to use that information."

The successful cattle producer will probably be full-time managers who have resources and use technology and skills to make the right decisions, he adds. "Their limitations in this very capital-intensive business will be how to get hold of those resources - like land and cattle to put on that land.

Future For Smaller Producers But what will happen to the thousands of smaller, independent producers like those in Iowa corn country who also own creek pasture or timber that can be utilized only by cattle or ruminants?

"In many cases those producers have cows. But, they also have other interests, such as crops, and haven't kept up on beef industry information or technology," says Lawrence.

The solution could be "vertical cooperation," a phrase Lawrence and others coined a half-decade ago in the pork industry. That's what you do when you hire a professional feedlot manager to feed out your calves.

"Find someone with a full-time cow herd to rent your grass," says Lawrence. "The full-time cow herd operator will deliver the cows and calves, bring in a portable corral and work them, and get them at weaning time. But, the farmer will take care of them."

Lawrence has another term he calls "horizontal integration." That's not a packer or feedlot running the cow herd, but another cow herd owner working with a landowner who also provides daily management, he says.

"If I can put more money in your pocket, or make your quality of life better by not calving or chopping ice in the winter, you might be interested," he adds

Of course, you can network producer to producer as long as you want to, but you still have to go vertical to reach the consumer, Lawrence says. There are three ways to achieve the end goal:

* Integrate ownership;

* Contractual integration;

* Or simply have better communication and coordination between segments in the chain.

The latter is the goal of Iowa Quality Beef, Lawrence contends. "It's better coordination through the system, yet maintaining individual ownership of assets," he explains. "Not that you dictate how that is done. The highway is built and the information bus is on the road. Now, the individual cattle producer has to choose how to use it."

Hazards of overgrazing

The old National Cattlemen's Association used to refer to ranchers as the first environmentalists. That was not P.R., it was the truth. The difference between ranchers and most of today's self-appointed environmentalists is that ranchers truly understood the interplay between flora and fauna. They genuinely understand resource management. Urban environmentalists, on the other hand, do not believe in intervention by man. Typically, they believe that everything should be left to nature.

Hunting, or otherwise removing animals for slaughter, is considered cruel. In reality, it's humane. Left on her own, nature will control animal populations. But nature is inexorably cruel. Nature controls animal populations through starvation, disease and predation.

Ranchers and other genuine land managers realize that you manage land for the flora, not the fauna. As the amount of forage declines, you must remove a portion of the animals. If you don't, overgrazing (and starvation) will result.

Urban environmentalists typically believe that overgrazing is a result of domestic livestock, not wildlife. That is nonsense. If you want to see overgrazing by wildlife, go to Yellowstone Park ... where scores of elk and bison starve to death each winter.

I once asked a wildlife biologist at Yellowstone how he could justify allowing those animals to starve. His reply? The carrion makes good feed for coyotes and bears. To me, that type of thinking is sick. It's a total lack of compassion.

Sound Ecological Policy To the "back-to-nature" types, predation is the answer to population control (and justification for reintroduction of wolves). The reality is that weather, not predation, is nature's primary population control agent.

During droughts, predator and prey alike starve to death. The only humane and ecologically sound policy is for educated principles of range management to control animal populations ... not the whims of nature.

Ted Turner, who has bought up enormous amounts of ranchland, has taken a lot of criticism for his widespread reintroduction of buffalo. With all due and sincere respect, I would have to say that Turner's move to repopulate the West with buffalo is probably well intentioned, but not based on sound principles.

Actually, there's nothing wrong with buffalo. The problem is that it has been reported that Turner is tearing out all the crossfences. In essence, instead of practicing rotational grazing, he'll be involved in continuous grazing.

Continuous Grazing Is Harmful Knowledgeable range managers have long recognized that continuous grazing is not a viable system. No matter what the animal population, overgrazing will occur. The reason is that range forage must be cropped like hay. You let the animals graze it, and then remove them. The plant will then regenerate from energy reserves within the roots and crown.

Most range grasses require at least three to eight weeks to replenish the energy used during regeneration. If animals are allowed to regraze before the energy reserves have been replaced, the plant will die. A lesser quality plant, such as sagebrush or mesquite (often called invader plants), will ultimately replace it. Under continuous grazing, that's exactly what will happen. Animals will selectively regraze the lush, tender regrowth.

In the 1800s, bison roamed the West and, as a general rule, they did not overgraze. They did not overgraze because there were no windmills or other developed water sources. Water, not grass, limited animal numbers. As areas were grazed down, buffalo had to move as much as a hundred miles or more for grazing near water. (There was little opportunity for grazing regrowth.)

The invention of barbed wire is often credited with the overgrazing of America. While that may be true, it was the advent of the windmill that allowed animal numbers to expand. Fences simply confined the animals and allowed regrazing (overgrazing) to occur.

But while fences created the problem, they also can alleviate the problem. By concentrating animals and moving them in a timely manner, range condition can be restored (grasses replacing less desirable plants).

Water's Role In The Environment What the urban environmentalist must also understand is the importance of water development in relation to wildlife. The windmills and other wells ranchers drill and maintain benefit wildlife as much as livestock. Because of water development, today we have more deer, antelope, elk, quail, turkeys, grouse, doves, as well as non-game or non-native species, such as chukars, than existed during the 1800s.

Incredibly, even people within Bruce Babbitt's BLM do not understand this. They want to restrict water development on some BLM lands. I'm quite sure it's not the range conservation officers or other range scientists with BLM who want such changes. It's the seat-of-the-pants bureaucrats in Washington.

It's time to let professional range managers make the decisions. It's also time the public realized that ranchers are their allies in the maintenance of wildlife populations. In addition to the invaluable water resources ranchers maintain, ranchers also put out supplemental feed.

Armchair biologists often claim that wildlife do not need supplemental feed. That's totally and completely wrong. The mineral and protein feeds ranchers provide their livestock are also consumed by wildlife and, in some instances, have a highly positive effect on their reproductive rate. Certainly, the benefit is not as great as water, but it is significant. (Without water development, wildlife in many Western states would only be about 1Ž3 of what it is today.)

Listen and You Will See

Avoid stress on the animal. Avoid stress on yourself. Sounds like a good plan. That's the obvious result of Monty Roberts' method of "starting," instead of breaking horses in the traditional manner. Roberts is author of the popular book, "The Man Who Listens To Horses."

Less obvious is the trust built between the horse and trainer - trust that allows the horse to help its owner because it wants to, not because it's forced into doing so.

A similar trust can be created between cattle and their handlers, Roberts says. And, it's not hard to attain once you're in the right frame of mind.

"I've spent more time studying the psychology of the flight animal than anyone I'm aware of," Roberts says. "It is somewhat different than the work of Colorado State's Temple Grandin. My work slides into a gray area that overlaps hers and others in our respective industries."

He adds that the work Grandin has accomplished, as well as that of other handling experts, has laid substantial groundwork for the receptiveness of the message he presents.

Flight Animals Roberts says cattle, as well as sheep, horses and deer, are the epitome of flight animals. In addition to his lifetime with horses and time spent with cattle, he's spent more than 25 years observing wild and domesticated deer in England, Scotland and New Zealand. It's given him insight about how the flight mechanism works.

This flight response, or the desire to run from unpleasant stimuli, sets these animals apart from others. To a certain degree, this flight also can cost them their lives when they get ratcheted up because of trauma, such as getting caught in a fence, when the animal runs.

"Remember," Roberts says, "a flight animal has only two goals - to reproduce and to survive."

Though it seldom occurs with horses or cattle, deer can actually keel over dead from being literally scared to death because handlers don't know or understand their communication system.

"Because of this, whether deer, cattle or horses, it's important to respect the communication system of the flight animal," Roberts says. "Learn to understand their movements, their flight zones and their walking patterns." (See Handling Signals, page 48).

Temple Grandin, animal science professor at Colorado State University says Roberts moves similarly to other trainers.

"When working with horses in a round pen, Roberts stays just behind the horses' point of balance," Grandin says. "When he wants the horse to turn, he moves in front of the point of balance.

"Basically, all the trainers before and including Roberts, do one thing that's similar and that's use the flight zone and point of balance," Grandin says. "Roberts is able to demystify how the animal communicates and responds. This hasn't always been done in the past."

Roberts recommends we "de-complicate" our human thought process and try to "think" as much like flight animals as possible when handling them. Try to understand their needs of light, quietness and slow movement.

The Human Side His understanding of the need for greater efficiency in handling cattle motivates Roberts to encourage others to observe how they truly handle cattle. He respects the way animals have been moved in the past and the need to do it quickly. It's the "get 'em in the lot and run 'em on in" work style that Roberts says can effectively be changed.

He admits handling experts, including himself, haven't made changes in practice as palatable as they could have.

"We've often suggested handlers of any species manage animals differently," Roberts says. "However, we've met resistance because we've just said 'you should do it this way.' We've not demonstrated how much easier and more efficient it is to move animals using their own natural tendencies to get the job done. For those of us in positions to do so, it's in the industry's best interest if we present our recommendations in the right manner.

"It's not a case of my seeing something as the better way. It's a case of me or some other expert helping the owner or manager make up his own mind to incorporate different practices because it benefits him and his operation," he says.

Roberts' recommendations don't include a complete overhaul of most operations. In fact, he freely admits there are times when working cattle with horses is highly preferable to using mechanical means - primarily in range situations and moving cattle from pen to pen. But, he cautions against using horses and hot shots to load cattle. He prefers a good mechanical setup with solid sides, much like those designed by Grandin.

"Every human in the chain must be responsible," he says. "We have to develop methods to communicate to everyone from birth to slaughter that trauma of any kind creates loss in the animal. And, when an animal is hurt or killed, it should hit in the pocketbook."

Recommendations So, what does the world's most famous animal handler recommend when it comes to handling cattle? Roberts has a few suggestions.

* Animal comfort - "The absence of pain is exceedingly important - that should be our number one priority."

* Lighting - "The presence of light is critical too, as is a feeling of safety. Light has a lot to do with this. It can be artificial light, but natural light is far more superior. The flight animal that has no feeling of light, or of a space to go to, is truly a traumatized animal."

* Noise - "Get rid of as much unnecessary noise as possible. Try not to have metal gates slamming against others. Use rubber stops to minimize the sounds."

* Movement - "Quick movement causes stress, too. Make your moves deliberate and visible so animals can see you."

Transportation "It wasn't that long ago that we slapped wooden sideboards on a pickup and moved cattle up and down the road a few at a time," Roberts says. "In my estimation, they rode much more comfortably then than they do now, if for no other reason than the ride was much quieter than the trailers we use today.

"For the money we spend on transportation, we could spend a little more and make the cattle more comfortable from Point A to Point B, even if it is just from the feedlot to the packing plant."

Recommendations aren't just for the animal. They include pocketbook reasoning. To avoid costly bruising, Roberts suggests rubber bump plates where cattle typically rub as well as rubber stops where gates slide shut to keep noise down. As for the trailer floors, rubber floor mats would make for easier standing and lower the noise level as cattle load.

"If we could invest just a little more per head on transportation, I believe it would provide a substantial payoff in the long run," he says. "We'd have fewer bruises and fewer stressed cattle."

Judgment Day "Realize the horse will judge you for what you do," Roberts says. "So will other flight animals. If you make the necessary tasks more natural for them, they're more likely to go along with the need at hand. And, they'll do it without trauma.

"For 8,000 years, humans have dealt with horses (and other animals) on the basis of 'you do what I tell you or I'll hurt you,' " he says. "That's wrong. The flight animal has never had an agenda to hurt anyone. And not one of us was born with the right to say, 'you must or I'll hurt you,' toward animals or humans for that matter."

Roberts' methods work. Though he provides step-by-step instructions in his book, the proof is impressive when one sees him take a wild horse and in a few minutes have it completely in voluntary control. The horse didn't kick. It didn't buck. It and Robertsactually developed a form of communication. And the horse did it because he wanted to.

Cattle will move in the same manner by incorporating Roberts' recommendations and those of Grandin and other handling experts. More people are doing so. Grandin says requests for her training sessions are up considerably compared to years past.l

For more information about Monty Roberts: visit his website at or e-mail: [email protected]

Born in Salinas, CA, during the Great Depression, Monty Roberts spent his entire life with or on horses. Ironically, at times his upbringing sometimes mirrored that of the characters in John Steinbeck's, "The Grapes of Wrath," set in the same region.

His rearing consisted of hard work, economic challenges, a fearsome father and opportunities many others of the time didn't enjoy.

As a youngster, Roberts seized the chance to go to the high desert of Nevada to round up mustangs. It was here where he began to learn his way of "whispering" to horses. He was winning horse shows as early as age four and still continues.

He witnessed horses being broke in as many ways as there are horses and soon realized there must be a better way. As he developed his communication system with horses, he resolved there was no need for the rough methods he'd witnessed. This resolve is still with him today and is evident in Roberts' presentations, his touring appearances and even in his conversations. One can quickly tell there is a great "initiative" that motivates him, that causes him never to stop showing how to gain a horse's loyalty. To hear him tell it, he has no choice but to continue.

His work goes on, not just with horses but wildlife and cattle as well. He credits other "whisperers" who've gone before him and handling experts of today for breaking ground.

"There was a time when people weren't ready to understand a gentler way," Roberts says. "Now they are."

Handling Signals

The best facilities and the latest technology make handling cattle easier. But they don't make the manager. And, until the owner or manager is convinced that proper handling practices pay off economically, it's unlikely that employees will follow procedures day in and day out.

This economic incentive, according to Temple Grandin, Colorado State University (CSU), ensures that proper handling becomes the norm on any operation.

It's evident the economic signals are ringing loudly. Grandin says attendance at her handling seminars is increasing quickly, especially from the feeding industry.

People Are Ready Grandin says Monty Roberts' comments (see page 47) are true - people are at a greater readiness to understand and accept proper handling techniques. And, it's on people where she's focusing her training efforts.

"I'm placing the emphasis on training people to do things right," Grandin says. "Besides those who handle animals daily, it's important to train the manager of an operation. Without management's strong backing, a handling program likely won't stay in place. In fact, getting management's buy-in is the single most important thing at the ranch or feedyard. The enforcement of handling policies and leadership must be strong."

Grandin says too often people just want to buy the handling technology and not spend the time necessary to learn proper handling. And while this might initially make handling faster and easier, it's not an overall fix, nor will it result in long-term economic gain.

Frequently, it's simple fixes that help. While working with feedlots to eliminate electric prods in the processing area, Grandin says she may only need to demonstrate easy procedure changes such as opening the backstop or tying up chains to reduce the noise of banging gates and panels.

Reduce Trauma "Anything you can do to reduce noise reduces trauma," Grandin says. "Corrals should be solid, but they don't have to be noisy. Rubber bumpers on gates and doors significantly lower noise levels.

"Give the cattle light and lots of it," she adds. "Try to make it shadow-free light, too. Translucent plastic panels can help achieve this if you're ret rofitting a processing area. The more natural the light, the better. Cattle will move toward light, but balk at darkness."

Bruising is a costly problem that can be reduced quite effectively, as well. "There's no accountability for injuries caused by personnel," Grandin says. "All the technology in the world won't stop the bruising, but economic incentive will. As long as bruise losses can be passed from the producer to the packing plant, there's no motivation to reduce them."

In the early '80s, Grandin conducted a survey that showed cattle sold on a liveweight basis had twice as many bruises as cattle sold in the carcass. The economic incentive of producers being responsible for losses when sold in the carcass reduced rough handling, she says.

Cooperatively, all segments of the industry can reduce bruises by at least 15%, according to a 1993 Strategic Alliance field study. This results in savings of $2 million per year. A comparison of the 1992 National Beef Quality Audit and the 1993 field study is shown in Table 1.

"As people start building alliances, we're going to have more interest in things like this," Grandin says. "But, as long as we have a segmented market, it will continue. We have to start protecting our interests more.

"One of the first things we should consider to reduce trauma is equip trailers with air ride suspensions," she says. "It reduces stress because the cattle aren't bouncing up and down.

"The suspension device is about equal to the weight of one feeder calf, it's not that heavy and the benefits returned will outweigh the costs in the long run," Grandin says. "People who show horses have learned the value of this device as have moving companies. We protect our furniture more than our cattle."

Grandin suggests to reduce noise in livestock trailers, use rubber door pads and floor pads or sound-deadening bedding.

Overloading or improper loading can create stress, sickness or death. Death losses are often greatest when temperatures are near freezing and rain or freezing rain blows into a truck, causing the hair coat to lose its insulation.

Grandin recommends the loading densities in Table 2 to ensure lower stress hauling.

Picture Memories Grandin says animals remember events in pictures. Keep this in mind as you move cattle. "For example, if a horse happens to flip backwards in a trailer the first time he's loaded, he'll be scared of all trailers," Grandin says. "If, however, he flips backwards in a red trailer the 20th time he's loaded, he'll be scared only of red trailers."

She says cattle are much the same. If the first time they enter a squeeze chute is traumatic, it's likely they'll balk at all squeeze chutes.

Cattle also operate on instinct, such as their flight zone and the point of balance. Grandin says to always walk on the edge of the flight zone so the animal can see your movements (See Figure 1). To move them forward, walk behind the point of balance. Conversely, to move them backward, walk in front of the point of balance.

"Using these techniques, you actually use the behavior wired into the animal," Grandin says. "Learn the difference between learned animal behavior and instincts and you'll move them more efficiently, with less trauma."

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