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Articles from 2007 In November

December Fencing Tip: Mistakes Made with an Offset Fence

December Fencing Tip: Mistakes Made with an Offset Fence

Sponsored Content by Gallagher Animal Management Systems

Offset fencing is simple, quick, and inexpensive. It can be used easily and effectively for salvaging old fence, or for protecting a new one or a number of temporary purposes. An offset power fence is inexpensive and simple, but there are two common mistakes made with an offset fence, and together, they completely destroy its effectiveness.

The most common error is the use of soft wire for the fence wire and for the offset bracket. High tensile wire should always be used for the fence wire and only spring steel wire for the offset brackets. The bracket must be able to spring back into place after impact or it will become entangled with the wire of the old fence and ground out.

The second most common mistake is the use of brackets that are too short allowing the hot wire to remain to close to the fence it’s attached to. Brackets should hold the hot wire 12 inches from the old fence. Some brackets you find on the market are only 4 to 6 inches.Another important factor, whenever possible, offset brackets should not be installed onto the posts of the old fence. They should be installed between the posts or adjacent to the posts if the fence is sagging badly. Installing between the old posts provides flexibility letting the wire spring back into position after impact by an animal or piece of equipment.The placement/height of the hot wire is also very important and it should be attached at two-thirds the height of the animal to be controlled. Two offset wires can and often are placed on the same fence. On one side, a wire is placed at 30 inches to contain cattle, and on the other side a wire is places at 8 inches to repel predators.Offset fencing must still be viewed as a system. One shortcut or one substandard component can destroy the effectiveness of the fence.

The Code Of The West

I use the term, "code of the west," a lot to signify all those things that are so great about our industry but are kind of unspoken intangibles. Of course, there never was a formal code truly defined, and I've read that Zane Gray first actually used the term, which has nothing to do with geography but rather a mindset.

Several people have written me to provide my definition of the code. Here's a partial list:

  • Don't ask about a person's past. In the West it was even frowned upon to ask a man his name. This guideline had a practical side in those days, as many people who moved West had a past they maybe didn't want to divulge. But it goes deeper than that -- namely, everyone should be judged based on the person they are today, not what they were.
  • Never steal another man's horse, never ride another man's horse without permission, and never wear another man's hat. Some things are intrinsically personal and are part of a man's very essence; those things should always be treated with deference and respect. The art of practicing this tenet today may not involve the hat or the horse, but more that everyone should strive to understand what's important to the other person and show proper respect.
  • Defend yourself when necessary. This has nothing to do with reckless bravado, just the exact opposite. A fight was always to be avoided because the consequences could be dire. Rather it's a recognition that some things are worth standing up for. A principled life is the only life worth living. It was recognition that, in the end, you must control your own destiny, and that's a task you can't delegate.
  • Take care of your own. There's big responsibility that goes with family, friends, and taking care of God's creatures. One does what's necessary to live up to that responsibility.
  • When you pass someone on the trail, don't look back at him. The practical side was that looking back implied you didn't trust him, and that was an insult. The deeper meaning is that a man should keep his eyes on where he's going. The unhappiest people in the world are those who spend their time looking back and counting the injustices they perceive were inflicted upon them.
  • Always fill your whiskey glass to the brim. One should live life to its fullest.
  • Be thankful and gracious. A man chooses to smile or frown, and his choice says a lot about the kind of man he is. A surly disposition is a sign of a quitter. Cowboys hate quitters.
  • Be courageous. Every cowboy with a hint of common sense is scared that first time he throws a leg over a bronc. Courage is facing those fears and going on.
  • Lend a helping hand. If someone's in need, you help them, be they a friend, stranger or enemy. The risk of helping is nothing compared to knowing you turned your back on someone when you were in a position to help.
  • Everyone is welcome at the campfire. Being hospitable to strangers has nothing to do with the stranger but it speaks volumes about the person.
  • Never shoot a man in the back. Even if the opponent can rightly be considered an enemy, you give them a fighting chance.
  • Be modest. Actions speak louder than words. In fact, if the actions are pure enough, words aren't even needed. A cowboy didn't talk much, or at the least he rarely wasted his words. Living is always more important than talking about it.
  • Take care of your horse. After the hardest and longest day, a true cowboy ensures his horse is fed, bedded and taken care of before the cowboy thinks about his meal or a warm bed. It's a reflection of one's priorities, and it makes you feel better.
  • Never cuss in front of a lady.
  • Be there for your friends. To have a friend you must first be a friend.
  • Don't complain about the cooking unless you are prepared to be the cook.
    If you can't support those you saddle up with, you shouldn't saddle up.
  • Ride for the brand.
  • Respect others. Stirring up dust around the campfire is either youthful indiscretion or pure ignorance.
  • Respect the land.
    Honesty must be an absolute in a world where a handshake is more binding than a contract.
  • Your word is your sacred bond.
  • If it isn't yours, don't take it.
    If it's not right, don't do it.
  • Take pride in your work and who you are.
  • Do what has to be done.
  • Be tough but fair.
  • Remember that some things aren't for sale.
  • Know where to draw the line.
  • Live by the Golden Rule.
Doesn't that sum up just about everything?

Consider Grass-Alfalfa Mixture Over Pure Alfalfa

Are you going to plant a new hay field next spring? Instead of automatically planting pure alfalfa, think about mixing some grass into the planting, writes Bruce Anderson in his Nov. 28 edition of "Hay & Forage Minute."

The University of Nebraska Extension forage specialist says hay growers in his area often plant new fields to alfalfa without considering other alternatives. For lots of folks, pure alfalfa is the best choice, but mixing in some grass, like orchardgrass, with alfalfa might be better for some.

Anderson points out these advantages of a grass-alfalfa mixture:

  • If you regularly feed more than 5-6 lbs. alfalfa/day to stock cows in winter, they're probably getting more than enough protein but maybe not enough total digestible nutrients (TDN). Mixing grass with alfalfa usually lowers the protein but slightly increases TDN content of hay. Thus, cows could actually receive a more balanced diet.
  • If you sometimes graze your hay fields, grass will reduce the risk of bloat.
  • In the field, grass can grow in areas where alfalfa isn't well-adapted, or fill in spots as alfalfa dies out. This is preferable to weeds invading the bare areas.
  • Grass-alfalfa mixtures often dry out more rapidly after cutting than pure alfalfa, so rain damage to hay may be minimized. And if it does get rained on, the mixture usually suffers less injury, both in the windrow and in the bale.
  • Yield-wise, protein per acre may be less with the mix, but total tonnage will be about the same or higher than pure stands.
  • Most of the grass yield will come at first cut, so regrowth will be mostly alfalfa.
  • Selling a mixture can be more difficult though, because dairies prefer pure alfalfa and grass is more difficult to grind.
-- Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska

Paul Hitch Resigns As NCBA President-Elect

The news came as little surprise this week as Paul Hitch, a Guymon, OK rancher, cattle feeder and farmer, announced he would step down from his position as president-elect of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA).

It was a decision he'd been pondering for some time, and it was a decision he didn't reach quickly or easily. But in the end, he felt it would be unfair to both NCBA and his family to assume the presidency this February. Hitch has cancer and is in the fight of his life.

For those who know Paul, the fact that he based his decision partly on what's best for NCBA is also no surprise. Throughout his leadership positions with NCBA, one characteristic came through time and again -- his ability to put his own personal interests aside and work with and for all cattlemen to achieve what's best for the industry as a whole.

He served as chairman of the Texas Cattle Feeders Association and in various leadership capacities within NCBA, including chairman of the Live Cattle Marketing Committee at a time when a number of contentious issues were being debated. That experience resulted in tremendous personal growth for Paul and allowed him to develop an ability that will be missed in NCBA.

"It was a lightning-rod committee," he told me recently. "All these emotionally charged issues came to a head in live-cattle marketing. And I somehow managed to adjudicate that and get meetings started on time and pretty much ended on time and get decisions made. And at the end of it, nobody really hated me. We all finished and agreed we were still friends, even though not everybody got what they wanted. But if you didn't get what you wanted, at least you felt like you had an honest hearing."

Hitch prides himself on that -- being an honest broker and giving everyone a chance to be heard. "My agenda (as committee chairman) was to further the interests of cattlemen and NCBA. Now sometimes I had an ax to grind, but I tried very hard not to grind it."

With his decision, he can now focus on the two most important things in his immediate future -- spending as much time as possible with his wife, Linda, his two sons who are now a part of Hitch Enterprises, and his grandson. And fighting his illness so he has as many days as possible ahead of him to savor that precious, blessed time with his family.

Under NCBA bylaws, the association's vice president, Andy Grosetta, a rancher from Cottonwood, AZ, moves into the president-elect position. Grosetta will succeed John Queen as NCBA president at the upcoming annual meeting in Reno, NV in February.

Quarantine Aims To Halt Progress Of Fire Ants

Hay producers and truckers should be aware of USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) rules restricting movement of hay out of fire ant-quarantined areas. Extremely dry conditions in the Southeast have increased hay movements, and some growers may not be familiar with the quarantine rules.

Paul Shell, plant inspection and quarantine manager with the Arkansas State Plant Board, says that if a hay producer is in a fire-ant quarantine area, that hay must be certified before it can move out of the quarantined area.

"The hay can be moved if the producer receives certification indicating the hay was not stored on the ground and was moved off the ground to a concrete or asphalt pad within 24 hours of being cut. Hay can't be certified for movement outside of the quarantined area if it was stored on the ground," he says. Inspections cost around $50 in Arkansas.

Fire ants are a problem throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, southern Arkansas, as well as parts of Tennessee, Texas and North Carolina. A few isolated areas in California and New Mexico are also affected. The quarantine is to prevent the insects from spreading to new areas.

Shell suggests hay producers call county Extension agents or APHIS for specific rules pertaining to their locations.

For more on fire ants, and links to quarantine info, visit There you can also sign up for the free weekly electronic newsletter.
-- eHay Weekly

Survey Reveals Consumers' Animal-Welfare Concerns

As the farm animal care debate ensues, the American Farm Bureau Federation polled consumers on their opinions. In cooperation with Oklahoma State University (OSU), more than 1,000 individuals nationwide were polled by telephone on farm-animal welfare.

F. Bailey Norwood, OSU assistant professor of agricultural economics, says the survey results point to three lessons for the livestock industry.

  • The public cares far more about human welfare and farmers than farm animals. As a social issue, the financial well being of U.S. farmers was twice as important as the well being of farm animals. Human poverty, the U.S. health care system, and food safety were found to be more than five times more important than farm-animal well being.

  • Consumers understand animal welfare is a result of their shopping decisions, in addition to farmer decisions. A majority of consumers believe their personal food choices have a large impact on the well being of farm animals, and that if consumers desire higher animal-welfare standards, food companies will provide it.

    Thus, when consumers choose to purchase traditional meat instead of more expensive meat raised under alternative production systems (e.g., organic meat or free-range meat), they understand their purchase directly determines the level of animal care provided. If consumers are happy purchasing traditional meat, this signifies they approve of the animal care provided on traditional farms.

  • Consumers are much more accepting of the use of gestation crates for sows if given a reason for the crates other than reducing production costs. For example, only 18% of consumers agreed with the statement, "housing pregnant sows in crates is humane." However, when the statement is modified to, "housing pregnant sows in crates for their protection from other hogs is humane," 45% agree with the statement.
Given the difficulty of educating consumers, the use of such crates may always present a public relations problem. Plus, as this question shows, even when educated on gestation crates, they are still opposed by a majority of consumers. However, what the survey does suggest is that efforts by organizations to educate the public are not in vain.
-- American Farm Bureau Federation

Calculating the cost of raising meat goats

A new budget spreadsheet from South Dakota State University can help producers calculate the costs of producing goats for the meat goat market.

SDSU Extension beef specialist Ken Olson says meat goat production in the US has been increasing significantly and that trend is expected to continue over the next two decades.

“Meat goats can be incorporated as a stand-alone production enterprise or as a complement with beef cattle,” says Olson. As opposed to cattle, goats can take advantage of rough forages, shrubs and provide control for certain noxious weeds.

Find the Excel spreadsheet by going to the South Dakota State Economics website.

Talking about money

At a farm conference a few years ago, I sat in on a presentation for women on how to deal with stress. It was an eye-opener. The speaker asked for a show of hands on how many of the 100+ women in the room were feeling stressed. Almost every hand went up. When probed further, it became clear about 90% of them were stressed because they knew their husbands were stressed but not talking about it.

The women didn't know their husbands' problem. Nor did there seem any way to find out.

I talked to a number of men at the conference. For most of them, the stress was money; prices were down and they didn't know what to do. Many weren't sure they could make it another year but weren't talking to their wives about it due to fear, pride or maybe shame.

This created a doubly dangerous situation. The men couldn't benefit from their wives' counsel. Meanwhile, the women were frantic about what was bothering their husbands and, not knowing what it was, assumed the worst. It meant these couples couldn't work together to find a way out of their tough spot.

This situation isn't only hard on a bank account, it's hard on a marriage.

These men are not alone in refusing to talk to their wives about money. Surveys done by the Capital One credit card company show almost one-third of all adults have never had a conversation about finances with their spouse.

In an American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) report, Thomas Murchy, Jr., a probate lawyer in Maynard, MA, says, “I've seen hundreds of cases where spouses and family members have absolutely no knowledge of what someone left behind. They're forced to spend days, even weeks, trying to learn about various benefits and assets, when they're trying to cope with the pain and suffering of their loss.”

If it's complicated for urban couples, it's double or triple so for ranchers and farmers. A lawyer I knew in Alberta, who dealt mainly with farm and ranch couples, cited dozens of cases where the husband died and the wife ended up losing the ranch because she had no idea of its financial structure. What the creditors didn't get, the lawyers and taxman did. Creating a retirement plan together, and planning what to do if either of them died, would have saved these women untold grief.

Even if you don't die (statistics say one in five men reading this article will die before age 65), you need to talk to your wife about money. When do you want to retire? How much money will you need? When will you have it? If something happens to you, what's your plan for your spouse's financial security?

If you find it hard to talk to your wife about finances, get help from a third party — a financial planner, lawyer, accountant or even a trusted relative. Do it today.

You could do something like my friends Tom and Margaret did. They went away to a mountain resort for a weekend to do some skiing, hot-tubbing, dining out and, in between, talked about their financial plan.

By the way, if you think chocolate and roses are great for wooing your wife, try communication about money, and watch what happens!

The Evolution of Carcass Ultrasound in Beef Cattle Operations

The term “evolution” must be used loosely, since the history of Centralized Ultrasound Processing only dates back about a decade. However, drastic changes have occurred in how cattle producers in all aspects of the beef cattle industry use carcass ultrasound data. This short history lesson will not only explain the trends, but also define why guidelines and rules were established for breeding programs.

The Beginning
In 1998, much of the initial research that garnered carcass ultrasound as we know it today was already completed. Diving into the research behind ultrasound could take another issue of Carcass Ultrasound 101 in itself. Nevertheless, a set of guidelines were established between the American Angus Association and The Centralized Ultrasound Processing (CUP) Lab at Iowa State University. In short, these rules required that scans be sent to one location for analysis.

A highly trained group of technicians would then interpret the images and send the results to the respective association for genetic evaluation. The main goal was to deliver consistent, unbiased, and accurate interpretations, aiding in the formulation of Expected Progeny Differences (EPD). This protocol is still followed today, and deserves much of the credit for the growth of ultrasound in the seedstock business.

The pioneer breeders who utilized carcass ultrasound technology mainly scanned bulls. Since the power of carcass EPDs was not yet realized, many breeders simply passed the information out to sale attendees to help them make bull buying decisions. Nearly 84% of the animals submitted to CUP in 1998 were bulls. Breeders quickly recognized potential problems with the “bulls-only” method.

Ultrasound data collected on sale cattle left the farm as soon as the gavel hit the auction block, and feedback carcass information was hard to come by after a bull was sold. Along with this, actual ultrasound measurements often misled customers into selecting older animals rather than the carcass bull that really fit their needs.

Since the poor carcass genetics were still marketed rather than being eliminated from the breeding population, progress at the commercial level was slowed.

As a result, two changes occurred very rapidly among breeders using ultrasound: Carcass and/or Ultrasound EPDs found their way into sale catalogs and more heifers were scanned and submitted to genetic evaluations. From 2004-2007, just over 40% of the animals submitted to CUP were heifers.

The emphasis of EPDs versus actual data and the influx of heifer scanning helped to intensify the selection for superior carcass genetics and allow breeders to make faster progress on carcass traits.

Here’s an example: Breeder A scans only bulls; Breeder B scans both bulls and heifers. Breeder A recognizes a handful of bulls that do not meet the goals of his/her operation. However, simple economics tell Breeder A to market those inferior bulls anyway. The dams of these bulls (which may be the source of the problem) are now bred back and due to calve in less than 30 days. Most likely, Breeder A will keep those cows around at least one more year, as conventional wisdom tells him/her not to sell productive cows.

Breeder B, on the other hand, scans his potential replacement heifers just after the bull sale. Using a combination of EPDs, ratios, and age-adjusted data, Breeder B culls poor carcass heifers from the breeding herd. Breeder A has poor carcass bulls and an inferior bred cow in the prime of her life. Breeder B has a consistent group of bred heifers that meet the goals of his/her operation.

The Commercial World
Using the same selection scheme, commercial cattlemen are also using carcass ultrasound as a tool for herd improvement. In recent years, increasing numbers of commercial heifers are using the CUP system or a chute-side interpretation of carcass traits in their replacement heifers.

Since some commercial operations collect birthdates, age-adjusted values are often useful. Other producers rely on a tight calving window to compare animals from the same calf crop. Regardless of how the data is adjusted or analyzed, commercial operations are using ultrasound to establish benchmarks for carcass traits or set threshold levels that each animal in the breeding population must meet (i.e. >2.5%IMF or >10.5in2 Ribeye Area). Agreeably, using actual scan data can be risky, but many producers believe the potential reward outweighs the risk.

It is more difficult to gauge the evolution of ultrasound in the feedlot sector of the industry with the ebb and flow of the fed cattle market. Dr. John Brethour dedicated a large portion of his career to ultrasound research in feedlot cattle. Numerous carcass contest champions and success stories can be attributed to his work.

However, mainstream acceptance of ultrasound as a viable feedlot tool is much more market driven when compared to purebred breeders and cow/calf operators. Without a doubt, ultrasound has found a place among feedlots interested in niche markets and specific grid premiums.

For example, some grids pay for a ribeye size that fits a consumer window of acceptability. Ultrasound can identify those cattle, but only if the premium warrants the price of scanning. If the incentives for Premium Choice and Prime carcasses increase as well as the discounts for overfed cattle, the use of ultrasound as a tool to find those individuals will soon follow.

Ultrasound technology is a brief history lesson at best, but its impact on all sectors of the beef industry is significant. The best summary of ultrasound comes from a simple analysis of the numbers. From the start of centralized processing, the number of field technicians has grown from roughly 20 to over 170 active scanners. CUP processed just over 9,000 head in 1998.

Over 200,000 head of purebred cattle will be submitted for genetic evaluation in 2007. The demand for the science has driven the growth and availability of the technology for producers of all sizes and scopes. For certain, live animal ultrasound will remain a useful carcass tool for any cattle producer who takes advantage of the technology.