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Articles from 2005 In November


U.S.-Japan Resumption "90% Sure" For Mid December

Michael Sommers, special assistant to President Bush for ag, trade and food assistance, told BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly that though he can't label the reopening of U.S. beef trade with Japan in mid December as being a "sure thing," he called it a "90%" done deal that "U.S. beef will begin to flow to Japan by mid December."

Major commitments are likely to come out of a planned meeting next week in Kyoto between President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi, says Sommers, who serves as a member of the National Economic Council staff. Sommers was in St. Paul, MN, this week to speak before the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council annual meeting.

Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Ryozo Kato told Senate Ag Committee Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) last weekend that Japan likely will decide in mid-December to resume imports of U.S. beef, the Kyodo News reported this week. The way was cleared with the recent finding by a panel of Japanese scientists that the risk of BSE being found in North American beef is "extremely low." Following a 28-day comment period, Japan was to rule on the status of U.S.-Japanese beef trade.

Regarding Japan's two-year-old ban on U.S. beef imports, a Kyodo News report this week quoted an official of Japan's Ministry of Ag, Forestry and Fisheries as saying: "We hope to manage to give a Christmas present to the U.S."

Actually the framework for resumption of U.S. beef trade to Japan was hammered out in October 2004. The agreement stipulated that only product from U.S. beef animals 20 months of age or younger would be eligible for export. From there progress stalled, however. For instance, it took five months for Japan to ease its 100% inspection rule for all Japanese domestic cows, a condition that was necessary for resumption of North American imports.

Just what the Japanese consumer response to resumed U.S. beef exports will be is still a question. The Kyodo News cited a poll this week conducted in October by the Internet polling firm, Interwired Co. The poll of 6,003 respondents found more than 60% somewhat concerned about the resumption of U.S. beef imports, the newspaper said. A total of 41.5% indicated an unwillingness to buy U.S. beef, and 22.5% indicated they would be willing to purchase U.S. beef. The remaining 36% were uncertain.

It's All About Relationships

Many producers are rightfully proud of their “quick-fix” skills, often characterized by the old phrase “held together by baling wire and duct tape.” However, the same attitude can creep into managerial decisions regarding the cow-calf operation, where such quick fixes can lead to bigger, unforeseen problems down the road.

Take weaning weights, for instance. A patch for low weights might be higher-milk females. More milk, however, could entail less efficient cows for your particular land resource, which could result in a bigger supplemental feed requirement or a forced reduction in stocking rate.

Barry Dunn, executive director and Endowed Chair of the King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management (KRIRM) at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, says 80% of such “symptom-focused” solutions never deliver the value expected. That's because the philosophy is rooted in some big misconceptions. These common misconceptions include:

  • The connection between a problem and its cause is always obvious and easy to trace.

  • Placing blame — others inside or outside the organization are responsible for the problem. They're the ones who need to change.

  • A policy designed to lead to short-term success will also assure long-term success.

  • In order to optimize the whole, you must optimize the parts.

  • The best way to implement change is to aggressively tackle many independent initiatives simultaneously.

Perhaps there's a better way

While this philosophy is often applied in problem solving, Dunn says the fixes often carry unintended side effects that can lead to bigger problems that are much harder to diagnose.

What's needed, Dunn says, is a different philosophy — one that adheres to principles such as these:

  • The relationship between problems and their causes is indirect and not obvious.

  • Don't point the finger. We all contribute to our own problems. Everyone is acting reasonably and responsibly; no one is to blame.

  • Most quick fixes make no long-term difference, and can actually worsen the situation in the long run.

  • To optimize the whole, we must improve the relationships among the parts.

  • Only a few high-leverage interventions are needed for a large systems change.

Dunn says such an approach runs counter to a culture more used to seeking quick fixes, but these latter tenets — the basis for “systems thinking” management — offer the potential for better long-term efficiency and results.

How systems work

Systems thinking is designed to help folks understand more deeply how an organization really operates by enabling them to focus on the relationships among the parts, not just the parts themselves. The management philosophy was the focus of the second annual, weeklong KRIRM lectureship entitled “Using a Systems Approach for Ranch Problem Solving” this fall. Leading the workshop was Mike Goodman, a principal of Innovation Associates Organizational Learning and a guru of systems-thinking management.

Goodman, a world-renowned lecturer and consultant, has a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) master's degree and studied under Jay Forrestor, the MIT Sloan School Of Management professor emeritus and founder of systems dynamics. Incidentally, Forrester grew up on a cattle ranch his family still owns in the Nebraska Sandhills, and often credits his years on the ranch for his ability to see interrelationships in complex systems, Dunn says.

Goodman told attendees, “Systems thinking is all about trying to figure out why something is happening, not what to do about it. It's a system that's 90% diagnosis and 10% treatment, rather than the 10:90 ratio generally used in quick-fix responses.”

Goodman likens the situation to a floating iceberg. The iceberg's very peak is the easily recognizable symptom or event. Beneath that, but still above the waterline, are trends and patterns, which also are fairly easy to discern with a little study.

The largest portion of that iceberg, however, lies obscured beneath the waterline, he says. These are the forces and pressures operating within the system, something that's not so easily understood or dissected.

The events or symptoms, he says, can be reacted to, while trends and patterns can be anticipated.

“But if we can understand the underlying structure well enough, we can change it,” Goodman says. “This is the opportunity to influence the events and patterns in our favor.”

Asking “why,” not “how to”

In the KRIRM workshop, 20 participants split into five work groups for the week were charged with examining a specific and chronic, long-standing, ranch-management problem. The topic of study in each group was posed as a “why” or “how come” question, rather than “how to.”

For instance, “Why don't cow-calf producers incorporate more technology in their operations?” was one study group's focusing question. Other groups' areas of study dealt with calf marketing and the cattle cycle, managing for both cattle and wildlife, and adoption of intensive grazing techniques. The next three days were spent in applying various tools of systems thinking to the problem.

The aim of the week's exercise, Dunn says, wasn't to produce specialists in systems thinking. In fact, the discipline is a lifelong learning process — much akin to learning an entirely new language with all it prerequisite vocabulary, structure and rules.

But, Dunn says, even in its simplest form, the discipline is applicable in ranch management because it forces managers to respect the interrelationship of components.

Systems thinking is utilized by some of the world's largest business organizations. It's a sort of a pumped-up consumer version of the beef industry's Integrated Resource Management (IRM) program where the effect of a management change in one aspect of a beef-cattle operation is considered in other operation components.

Systems thinking is a principal component in the KRIRM master's degree program, which accepted its first students in fall 2004. The program's aim is to train students in all areas of ranch management — from range and wildlife management to finance and personnel management. It's a two-year, intensive study program that accepts two students each academic year.

Where most graduate degrees are research degrees, Dunn says this degree focuses on case studies where students function in a natural system and complete case studies on the most well-managed ranches in the U.S. For more information, visit http://krirm.tamuk.edu/.

Systems thinking on the ranch

Jason Sawyer, a Texas A&M University assistant professor in beef cattle nutrition and management in College Station, participated in the week-long KRIRM workshop this fall. He says he found the workshop “a great introduction to systems thinking. It gave me some insight into how to take a set of tools from outside of agriculture and learn to apply that thought process to production agriculture problems.”

He believes the systems dynamics process could help ranchers greatly in “operation clarity.”

“I think it would help producers better recognize their problems and opportunities, as well as the ruts they've fallen into,” Sawyer says.

“In is simplest form, it's just being aware of interrelationships. It's a systematic way for producers to evaluate the big picture and really hold their business at arms' length,” Sawyer says. “Most producers are so close to the situation, they don't realize how connected these various components really are.”

Resources

To learn more about systems dynamics, check out these sources:

  • “The Fifth Discipline” by Peter M. Senge. ISBN 0-385-26095-4.

  • “The Fifth Discipline Field-book” by Peter M. Senge, Richard Ross, Art Kleiner, Bryan Smith and Charlotte Roberts. ISBN 0-385-47256-0.

  • Pegasus Communications at www.pegasuscom.com

  • System Dynamics Society at www.systemdynamics.org

  • MIT Sloan School of Management at http://mitsloan.mit.edu

Going All Out

Upon meeting Jackie Moore for the first time, you quickly learn he's not into nuance. At first introduction, he measures you up with the intense eye of a practiced appraiser — someone who's spent almost ¾ of his life in the livestock auction business.

His handshake telegraphs his confident nature. In his corner of the world, he moves like the heavyweight champ, exchanging greetings and flinging one-liners in all directions to a public that all seem to know him.

He admits to having a short attention span — a trait he says serves him well in his chosen profession. He seems to operate at just one speed — flat out. And indecision — in either word or action — isn't something he seems to wrestle with. Sample some of these quotes:

  • “I don't like whiners. I don't want to associate with whiners or work with them. There's too much opportunity and life's too short to waste your time whining.”

  • “This business has been good to me, but everything I try doesn't work out. I've made money and lost money in this business. But I tell you what — I'm always going to stay positive. By looking at me, you'll never know if I just made a bundle or lost a bundle.”

  • “All this bashing each other in public that's been going on in this industry doesn't do anything but hurt ourselves. I'll duke it out with anyone behind closed doors, but in public, I'll root for everyone who was in that room to do good.”

  • “There are an awful lot of folks in the livestock market business who are lazy and never strive to do anything beyond collect a commission, and I've told some of them that.”

Order buyer Joe Day of El Dorado, KS, who's bought cattle at JRS for more than 25 years, characterizes Moore much more succinctly: “He's got the biggest pair on anybody I've ever known, and you can print that.”

It's all he's known

Moore says he's a product of his upbringing — a small cow-calf operation his 79-year-old dad still runs, and 35 years spent working in the operation he now co-owns with Steve Owens, his brother-in-law and friend since first grade.

The 46-year-old Moore got his start at the old Joplin yards as a 13-year-old. He's never wanted to do anything else.

Owens went to college and became a certified public accountant. Moore stayed home and eventually bought a commission at the Joplin yards, which at that time was a faint competitor to the hefty livestock trade going on in nearby Springfield.

Driving by the old Joplin yards one day, Moore says the idea came to him to buy the operation. That's how his inspirations usually come, he adds, by stewing on the multitude of informational bits he picks up in his non-stop contact with business associates, clients and contacts.

In 1986 he, Owens, their father-in-law, and two brothers-in-law — their wives are all sisters — partnered up to buy the old Joplin yards, which at that time marketed 90,000 head/year. The partners built the current JRS facility in Carthage in 1995, which is today the nation's largest cow-calf auction. Moore and Owens bought out the other family interests in 2000.

Today, the JRS operation is one big extended family. Owens handles the financial side of the operation as vice president, while Mark Harmon, a friend to both of them since boyhood, serves as head of public relations and marketing.

“I pretty much have always handled the customers,” Moore says. “Steve has the business mind. I'm just a cowman and people person, and I've known most of the people we do business with all my life.”

A perfect partnership

“I'm the visionary, the idea man. I dream up the programs and it's the great partners and people I work with who figure out how to get them done,” Moore says. “I spend zero time in the office, and don't carry a calculator or a computer. I rely on business cards, buyers' cards, a cell phone and my good memory.”

Moore's wife Kristy, their sons Bailey and Skyler, and son-in-law Dusty Eldridge are involved in the business. Their daughter Amy Eldridge is a stay-at-home mother raising four children.

Steve's wife, Shelly, handles accounts payable, son Dalton is a freshman at the University of Arkansas (UA), and daughter Daley is married and also attends UA.

About 40 full-time and 60 part-time employees, with an average time of service of 15 years, are employed at the Carthage facility. It features 7.5 acres under roof with pipe fences that can hold approximately 7,500 head, with half of them in feed and water pens. In addition, 21 outside traps with feed and water have capacity for an additional 5,000 cattle.

Among the longtime JRS employees is Loyde Alumbaugh, who's worked the Joplin operation for 53 years.

“My dad broke his back when I was 16 and I had to go to work. I've been here ever since,” Alumbaugh says, after being introduced by Moore as we tour the JRS facility in his pickup. Alumbaugh leans into the truck window, looking past Moore behind the wheel, and adds, “Jackie Moore is my hero.”

“You're my hero,” Moore responds.

A total of 450,000 head of cattle, mostly 300- to 900-lb. calves, or $300 million in volume, sell annually through JRS from a client base of 22,000 sellers. More than 800,000 value-added program cattle alone have sold through the facility since fall 1997. Since June 2004, 200,000 cattle have sold carrying radio-frequency ID (RFID) nested tag sets.

I'll run while they sleep

“They were young, hard-working guys,” Day says with a chuckle as he recalls the frenetic energy Moore and Owens brought to the area with their 1986 purchase.

“Jackie was out beating the bushes. He wasn't afraid to take chances, and he ran the wheels off his truck calling on people. The commission men in the old stockyards didn't know what hit them,” Day adds.

Moore admits he sets a torrid pace.

“My philosophy has always been to go faster than anyone else. My deal is if they're asleep, I'm awake and trying to get their customers,” he says.

Moore says his drive comes from growing up, like Owens, on small farms in Stotts City, a little town not far from Carthage.

“I know how important these cattle and the income from them is to these folks,” Moore says.

The morning I met Moore at 7 a.m., he was moving briskly out his home's front door, coffee in hand, hungry for the day in starched, well-creased jeans and a bright red shirt. Just five hours before, he'd finished a 25-hour work shift on one meal after Owens, Harmon and he had put the finishing touches on the previous day's business.

About 10,000 head of calves — in lots of one head to straight pot loads — had been put through the sale ring, plus another 2,000 video-auction cattle. A total of 700 sellers were represented in the day's sale.

Late that night, the trio was still going, chatting to 150 or so customers and their families at an appreciation dinner in the Pierce City High School gym. They'd done the same thing the previous night in Springfield, two of 30 such JRS programs each spring and fall for customers, treating them to a free steak dinner and an educational session.

“It's a way to get industry information out to producers, and a chance to visit with them and show our appreciation,” Moore says.

After dinner, the night's program would include health and feeding information, the latest industry trends, and discussion on value-added calf-marketing opportunities. The big topic was the anticipated reopening of Japan to U.S. beef, and how producers could take advantage of healthy premiums likely for age-verified cattle.

“Our job is to work as hard as we can for our customers to make them aware of industry trends and opportunities,” Moore says. “We're not out to tell them how to run their operation.

“We want our customers to make all they can but it's up to them to participate. In most cases, JRS doesn't make any more money, and I tell them that,” Moore adds. “Because of that, I think the producer regards us as a more honest source of information.”

Assessing Imports

International beef and cattle trade has been the most cussed and discussed issue among U.S. cattle producers for the past decade. The consternation over imports reached fever pitch last spring with the debate over resumption of Canadian fed- and feeder-cattle imports.

Doomsday forecasts had many believing the combined effects of post-BSE lost export markets and a flood of imports would return the industry to a crisis position.

But, by early fall 2005, fed-cattle owners were again testing the $90/cwt. benchmark — far from the low-$70s feared by some within the cattle industry.

To get a perspective on current import-related price relationships, BEEF chatted with two Montana State University agricultural economists. For more than 10 years, Gary Brester and John Marsh have researched and analyzed the effects of beef and cattle trade and its impacts on the U.S. cattle industry.

BEEF: Significant reductions in cattle prices were expected following reopening of the Canadian border to feeder- and fed-cattle imports. But, since then, we've seen increases in prices for those classes of cattle. How do you explain it?

Brester: We predicted a $1-$2/cwt. reduction in fed-cattle prices and $3-$4/cwt. reduction in feeder calves. That's expected because we knew U.S. consumers would have access to more grain-fed beef.

In fact, we saw prices drop to about the range we predicted for about 2-3 weeks after live-cattle imports resumed, but they recovered quickly. This underscores the point that, in addition to trade issues, other factors also influence cattle prices.

Recent cattle prices are the result of strong market fundamentals: healthy consumer demand for beef and short cattle supplies. Corn prices are still reasonable, lower than many predicted earlier this year. Interest rates are still relatively low. While energy prices are increasing, the major factors for a feedlot are still prices of corn, cattle supplies and interest rates.

BEEF: Feeder cattle prices are typically seasonal. How do prices across the country this fall compare to those of a year ago?

Marsh: Fed- and feeder-cattle prices were slightly higher on Oct. 1 this year relative to a year ago. It's apparent that, in addition to trade with Canada, other factors influence beef and cattle prices.

Brester: The biggest price impact of the Canada border reopening occurred in Canada. Canadian packers were able to purchase fed cattle from Canadian feedlots at relatively low prices while the border was closed. The fact other countries also closed their borders to Canadian beef exacerbated that issue. The Canadian industry exports a significantly higher proportion of their production relative to the U.S.

Once the border opened, Canadian cattle feeders were provided a “new” outlet for their animals. Some thought the majority of Canadian fed cattle would go to the U.S. However, Canadian packers couldn't allow their plants to slow or shut down. So, they bid competitively with U.S. packers to keep those animals in Canada.

Marsh: Indeed, far fewer cattle were actually exported to the U.S. in the past few months relative to a couple of years ago. Canadian cattle exports from July 18-Oct. 1, 2002 (the last “normal” trading year), were only 37% of the cattle they exported in 2005. This decline is a result of the 20-25% increase in Canadian packing capacity, coupled with lower Canadian cattle inventories.

BEEF: If the Canadians have increased their packing capacity, and we're bringing in more beef, doesn't that serve to impact prices on this side of the border?

Brester: U.S. beef prices are impacted by available supplies. Essentially, the Canadian fed-cattle industry adds to this supply if U.S. consumers have access to that beef. One can expect similar price impacts whether we import beef or import cattle.

We've experienced plant slowdowns, even closures, at U.S. facilities that historically augmented their supplies with Canadian imports. Decreased efficiency translates to higher costs for those packers. They, in turn, can't pay as much for fed cattle. Don't overlook that very important secondary impact of restricting live-cattle imports.

Marsh: That cost efficiency is very critical to packers — and is especially harmful for smaller packers without the deep pockets of their larger competitors. It also hurts ranchers and cattle feeders who must suddenly truck cattle farther, as well as the ancillary industries that have built businesses around existing packing plants.

BEEF: What's going on with imports from other countries, primarily in the form of lean trimmings? Why can't we produce enough lean beef to meet the demand for ground beef?

Brester: First, it's inappropriate to say the U.S. as a government imports beef. It is companies operating in the U.S. that make the import and export decisions.

The problem is we don't produce enough lean-beef trimmings from our grain-fattened animals to meet U.S. demand for relatively lean ground beef. Hence, the U.S. imports lean trimmings to blend with domestic trimmings to produce the leaner hamburger demanded in retail and food service.

The question really is, what's the most efficient use of our resources? Does it make sense to grind lean cuts like sirloin, tri-tip, chucks, rounds, etc., to satisfy our ground beef demand?

If I'm a cattle producer, I could sell my calves to a grass finisher to grow out and market for grinding. These animals would be leaner and help meet the demand for lean ground beef. Alternatively, I can sell my calves to a feedlot to be grain-finished.

Given the preferences of U.S. consumers, which finisher can pay me more for my calves today? It's the feedlot finisher, not the grass finisher.

Marsh: We're much better off importing lean-beef trimmings from Australia, New Zealand and Uruguay where this type of beef is raised. That allows us to keep our higher value grain-fed beef for domestic consumption. Hopefully we can return in the near future to selling that high-valued beef to other countries that can't produce that type of beef themselves.

BEEF: What about cull cows and bulls for grinding?

Brester: We use our cull cows primarily for grinding, but there aren't enough to meet the demand. Plus, they tend to be sold seasonally, and even most of our cull cattle are still too fat to grind without blending with a leaner product. Furthermore, these supplies are even more limited during the expansion phase of the cattle cycle.

BEEF: What's the outlook for the next year and beyond?

Marsh: While retail demand for table-cut beef and hamburger has weakened this year, it's nothing to worry about at this point. But, we'll need our export markets back as we start building cattle inventories.

Brester: And, let's face it, with current relatively high cattle prices, there isn't a rancher out there who wouldn't want to sell more feeder calves. That takes more cows for breeding. Those rational decisions will eventually increase our domestic supplies.

If we could get Japan and South Korea back, holding everything else constant, the net effect would be to increase fed cattle by $2.50/cwt. and feeder prices by $4/cwt.

Perhaps the most worrisome component for the coming year is higher energy prices' impact on consumer expenditures and the travel industry. Reductions in either will reduce beef demand.

Marsh: While we'll see prices softening going into next year, demand is still solid. There would have to be a shock to the market for there to be any kind of a “bust” in cattle prices.

Holiday gifts

Black & Decker offers a few gift ideas to make life and work easier in your car, truck or SUV.

  • Black & Decker's 100- to 1,000-watt power inverters (left) convert a car's 12-volt DC power into 115-volt, AC household power.

  • The Electromate 400 — a cordless, portable AC/DC power supply — offers 450 amps of starting power for your vehicle. It can be used to plug in laptops, video game consoles, TV/DVD or small household appliances. The Electromate also includes a built-in inflator for inflating vehicle tires and sports equipment.

  • The V-3 Million PowerSeries Spotlight (right) is a valuable tool during power failures or as a long-lasting worklight. It's cordless and rechargeable, offering either single or twin beams of light.
    (Circle Reply Card No. 101)

Horse maintenance

CattleCo-Equine Division's V.M.F.+Hay Equine Supplement allows horse owners to provide vitamin and mineral requirements for maintenance to light to moderately worked horses without the expense of grain rations. V.M.F+Hay uses vitamins, minerals and fats to balance a legume, mixed grass and grass hay diet. It's a good way to increase calories in the horse's diet, while stabilizing blood sugar surges caused by a high-starch diet.
(Circle Reply Card No. 102)

Mobile ID tag readers

DAP Technologies and I.D.ology are partnering to make it easy to read ID tags in the field. DAP manufactures MICROFLEX 2240, mobile computing systems, which now works in conjunction with I.D.ology's LightningROD wireless reader. When using the technology, users imput the data about the tagged animal into the MICROFLEX hand-held unit. Each RFID tag is scanned with the LightningROD reader. Reader vibration signals a successful reading. It will read all ISO-compliant RFID tags.
(Circle Reply Card No. 103)

Controlled-release syringe

A controlled-release syringe — from NJ Phillips Pty Ltd., in partnership with Elanco Animal Health — is designed for use with injectable animal-health products. The Trigger-Lock Syringe is designed to enable veterinarians and producers to more accurately deliver vaccines and injectable antibiotics, and reduce the likelihood of unplanned injections.

The Trigger-Lock Syringe mechanism prevents movement of the plunger until it's manually released. The syringe is connected to the bottle using clear, plastic tubing, and the injection volume can be set in 0.5-mL increments from 0.5 mL to 5 mL.
(Circle Reply Card No. 104)

Inoculate application

Silage producers can save chopper time and wear with Pioneer's Appli-Pro Super Low Volume (SLV) inoculate application. Highly concentrated SLV comes in 2.5-liter bottles and eliminates need for a water tank. The operator just adds water to the bottle, shakes it and screws the bottle onto the applicator, through which compressed air delivers a 10-mL/ton application rate. Regular tap water can be used to fill the bottles since the inoculate contains a dechlorinator to kill the bacteria. Each applicator holds two bottles, each treating 250 tons of silage.
(Circle Reply Card No. 105)

Security system

Motorola's homesight Solution is a do-it-yourself security system. Designed to keep livestock in and intruders out, homesight consists of cameras, sensors and software controlled from a desktop computer. While away, you can receive customized updates on a mobile phone or e-mail account. Cameras monitor any area you wish, while temp and water sensors monitor equipment malfunction or changes in livestock water or feed levels, building temps, etc. Meanwhile, window and door sensors provide notification and security, and power controllers can turn lights on before you arrive to the site.
(Circle Reply Card No. 106)

Livestock waterers

SPI adds two waterers to its Value Series — the VS20 and VS20E. The waterers feature double-walled, molded polyethelene; large, easy to remove drain plugs; quick-release d-clips and snap rings; foam rubber gasket seals; and a stainless steel hatch cover and access door. A 250-watt submersible heater is optional.
(Circle Reply Card No. 107)

2006 calendar

The 2006 Texas Longhorn Celebrity Calendar featuring ranch scenes and portraits of prominent Longhorns is available for Christmas. It features 18 photos selected from breeding programs in Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, California, Texas, Kansas, Florida, Utah, Oklahoma and China.
(Circle Reply Card No. 108)

Remote shut-off device

Fox Paws from Red Fox Enterprises is a small, wireless safety device worn on the belt or badge clip. It's designed to shut off machinery in event of an accident. It includes Fox Tracker — a wireless GPS unit using satellite signal — to shut the machinery down and alert the call center to a problem at that location. It's adaptable to almost any machinery — whether powered by electricity or fossil fuel. Up to four transmitters are available with each unit.
(Circle Reply Card No. 109)

Prove It!

As stocker operators purchase cattle, they should be aware of those that are moving through the marketplace verified for source and age,” says Cara Gerken, IMI Global vice president of quality services.

“When purchasing source- and age-verified cattle, stockers should take care to preserve the identity of them (more later). This will allow the stocker operator to market the cattle as source and age verified,” she says.

More specifically, preserving the identity of such cattle will enable stocker operators to market cattle into the growing number of Quality Systems Assessment (QSA) programs being developed by feedlots.

In a small, imperfect nutshell, QSA programs — certified by USDA — are a way of verifying that specific claims made about the cattle are true, in accordance with specific internationally recognized standards.

QSAs ensure specified product requirements are supported by a documented quality management system. It's a documented trail of verification that supports a product claim. In the case of verifying source and age, for example, a QSA program provides USDA-approved corroboration that the system used for verification is accurate enough to withstand periodic audits by a third-party source.

Never mind that verifying these kinds of cattle attributes still boils down to someone's word, no matter how much paperwork and red tape is wrapped around it. Fact is, a growing number of consumers want that word to be verified by someone who isn't involved in the transaction.

“Affidavits worked really well in supplying our domestic consumers. The difference now is we're dealing with international consumers and other governments who want more verification,” explains Clayton Huseman, Kansas Livestock Association (KLA) director of feedlot services.

Certainly the quest to resume beef exports to Japan has driven interest in QSAs as they're an approved means to verify cattle age for USDA's Beef Export Verification (BEV) program. This program requires cattle age to be traceable to live-animal production records. Based on negotiations last October, Japan indicated it would accept cattle coming through USDA's BEV program documented as 20 months of age or younger.

But, Gerken says QSA interest is also exploding because of domestic consumers.

“There's a growing trend for consumers to want to know more about their food,” she says. “Third-party verification is one method to assure consumers they're getting what they want. Verification helps make it authentic.”

Consequently, there's increasing need for each industry sector to prove product attributes by controlling and documenting the processes that created the product through programs like QSA.

QSAs also reduce the liability of purchasing cattle billed as possessing defined attributes. In the case of feedlot QSA programs for source and age verification, Leann Saunders, IMI Global vice president, says, “This approval gives packers added confidence in their own source- and age-verification programs and significantly reduces their risk when buying source- and age-verified cattle.”

Incidentally, a decade ago IMI began providing integrated software solutions and traceability technology for livestock. A growing part of the firm's business today revolves around helping customers develop and maintain USDA-approved QSA and process-verified programs (PVP).

“IMI developed and utilizes a program called USVerified.com to create and document quality management systems,” Gerken explains. “IMI also provides training and auditing services for quality management systems as organizations implement and maintain these programs.”

For feedyards that develop their own QSA programs — making cattle eligible for packers' QSA programs — approval means they can market to a variety of packer QSA programs without having to keep separate records for each. Nor do they have to comply with the different requirements that can exist among programs.

Crist Feed Yard at Scott City, KS, and sister yard, KC Cattle Feeders, became the first feedlots to receive QSA approval for age and source in April. At the time, Ty Rumford, general manager, explained, “We realized there was a need to supply as many source- and age-verified cattle as possible, and in a manner expected by our export markets. Our QSA program standardizes the way we conduct business and ensures our customers we have truly verified both source and age. We think it will be invaluable to both our producer and packer customers.”

Huseman emphasizes, “Interest is high, and there's a broad cross-section of feedyards working on QSAs.”

For perspective, IMI had three QSA customers in February. Today, the company is helping 65 packers and feedlots develop and maintain QSA programs. This is in addition to eight clients IMI helps develop and maintain PVPs, which are a more complex cousin of QSAs.

“The PVP requires more detail and covers a larger scope of activities than a QSA, such as source and age, in addition to other requirements like feeding management and genetics,” Gerken explains. “Conversely, the scope of a QSA program is very specific and defined.” Both QSA and PVP can qualify cattle for USDA's BEV program.

Verification dominos

Take a spin through the QSA programs approved by USDA thus far (www.ams.usda.gov/lsg/arc/qsap.htm) and you'll find all the major packers have one.

In cowboy terms, the packer QSA programs verify that packers know and can prove cattle entering their BEV programs fit the age requirement. In keeping with this, each packer's QSA defines the standards its suppliers must meet to be eligible for its QSA program; for approval, each packer must maintain a list of approved suppliers to its QSA.

For feedlots, this means conforming to the requirements of each packer's QSA and maintaining separate records for each, as mentioned earlier. Or, feedlots like Crist and KC Feeders can create their own QSA programs, which also includes maintaining their own list of eligible suppliers.

In turn, suppliers to feedlot QSA programs (stockers and cow-calf producers) can seek to qualify as an approved supplier to a feedlot QSA, or jump through the hoops to create their own, as feedlots are doing.

Keep in mind, stockers can ignore QSA and still market cattle to most, if not all, current feedlot customers. Conforming to a feedlot's QSA simply expands the value possibility. Even without Japan, major U.S. retailers, including McDonald's, are paying a premium for source-verified cattle.

That's really the primary potential advantage of creating your own QSA: taking control of your own marketing destiny, to a degree.

With age and source, for example, it could be that the way you procure and manage cattle wouldn't comply with a particular feedlot's QSA, whereas an approved program of your own could make them eligible.

Basically, a company's QSA describes how it will verify the product requirement, and how it will maintain its identity throughout production. This includes how employees are trained to follow QSA protocols.

So, for instance, a feedlot QSA might describe what records it uses and maintains to validate age and how it conducts internal audits to verify conformance to its unique QSA protocol.

There's a slug of other specifics, too (www.ams.usda.gov/lsg/arc/qsap.htm). That's why many operations enlist the expertise of a firm like IMI to guide them through the QSA process.

Along the way, Gerken says, “Any time a producer can start managing the process rather than the product, they can become more efficient.”

Preserving the identity

If a stocker operation wants a shot at becoming an eligible supplier for feedlot QSAs or wants to create its own QSA program, identity preservation will be key.

“Preserving the identity of calves purchased as verified for source and/or age means being able to clearly represent them as such,” Gerken explains. “As an example, if you purchase a load of stocker calves verified for source and age, and commingle them with a load of non-verified calves, you must be able to separate and represent the source- and age-verified ones from the non source- and non age-verified cattle.”

That means cattle must carry some method of ID, individually or by group, accompanied by the required records (BEV-accepted records can be found at www.ams.usda.gov/lsg/arc/bev.htm). This is why Gerken suggests stockers wanting to comply with QSA programs utilize USDA-approved data service providers. These range from ID service companies like IMI, to suppliers producers are already using for non-ID services.

For instance, maybe you purchase calves through a particular preconditioning program. Perhaps you buy calves from a seedstock supplier's customer buy-back program. Or, it could be a certain live or video auction you patronize frequently.

These and other allied industries aren't in the ID business, per se. But a growing number of them are either seeking QSA approval to qualify cattle for source and age, or they're teaming with QSA-approved data service providers to provide QSA qualification as a convenience to their customers.

If you purchase calves through such an approved QSA program, the calves should be QSA-eligible as long as you maintain their identity.

For more information, look for the QSA fact sheet at wwwbeefstockerusa.org, or visit www.usverified.com.

For more stocker production information visit beef stocker USA
www.beefstockerusa.org

Book CornerHeather Thomas pens new book

“Getting Started With Beef & Dairy Cattle” is the latest book effort by veteran rancher and ag writer Heather Smith Thomas. The 288-page book kicks off a new series of instructional books by Storey Publishing, called “Getting Started With,” which is aimed at newcomers to the livestock-production business.

In the spirit of the firm's established “Storey's Guide To Raising” series, which features more in-depth content for seasoned farmers, the “Getting Started With” series is written in simpler terms the beginner or young stockman can understand. The new book covers the basics on selection, care and feeding, breeding and calving, and management of both beef and dairy cattle, focusing on requirements and protocols for organic, grass-fed and natural raising methods.

“Getting Started With Beef & Dairy Cattle” is available in either soft cover (ISBN 1-58017-596-1) at $16.95, or hard (ISBN 1-58017-604-6) at $26.95. Order direct at 1-800/441-5700, or via Amazon, Barnes & Noble or BookSense.com.

Table 1. Average regional cow costs ($/head), 2004a
Region Feed cost Labor cost Interest expense Other costs Total cash cost per cow
Northwest 206 63 19 91 379
Southwest 196 42 25 7 270
Midwest 219 37 19 51 326
Southern Plains 185 52 29 51 317
Southeast 165 45 26 46 282
U.S. avg. 194 48 24 49 315
aAdapted from Cattle-Fax®, July 2005.

Western Hay Conference is Nov. 29-30

Registration is open for the 2005 Western Hay Business Conference and Expo, Nov. 29-30 at the The Ranch conference facility in Loveland, CO. Learn more by calling Cindy at 952/851-4698 or visiting www.hayconference.com.

Genetic selection meeting for large herd managers

A symposium focusing on genetic selection program opportunities for large commercial ranches is set for Dec. 9-10 in Kansas City, MO. Sponsored by the National Beef Cattle Evaluation Consortium, the program will focus on DNA testing for parentage and selecting the better-performing sires to manage genetic variation. Topics and presenters include:

  • Discussion of the Commercial Ranch Project and Bell Ranch Pilot Study (John Pollak).

  • Return-on-investment opportunities from the Commercial Ranch Project (Bob Weaber).

  • DNA testing for parentage (Alison Van Eenennaam).

  • Sampling strategies (Pollak).

  • Traits of interest (Dan Moser).

  • Decision-support tools (Mark Enns).

  • Research into heifer pregnancy, stayability and adaptability (Pollak).

  • DNA diagnostics tests (Milt Thomas and Richard Quaas).

  • Rancher panel (Keith Long, Paul Genho and others).

  • How to do it. (Pollak and Bonnie Long).

The program begins at 8 a.m., Dec. 9, at the Kansas City Marriott Downtown, and concludes at noon, Dec. 10. For more info, e-mail Pollak at [email protected], Susan Herbert at [email protected], call 607/255-4416, or visit: http://www.ansci.cornell.edu/nbcec/lhm_symposium/.