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Articles from 2012 In November

Perhaps The Industry Needs New Allies

Perhaps The Industry Needs New Allies

The results of the November election saw rural America speak clearly – and lose resoundingly. While groups like the Republican Party have begun the process of soul-searching to determine what can be done to prevent such a defeat again, agriculture rarely responds that way. After all, we are used to getting outgunned – and losing – when it comes to political outcomes.

The truth, however, is that agriculture does pretty well when one compares our results with those of our opponents, especially considering that ag tends to run weak in two big weapons of modern politics – dollars and votes. For obvious reasons, agriculture just isn’t that substantial.

A Closer Look: Colin Woodall Provides A Nov. 6 Election Wrap-Up

My kids’ orthodontist has an eclectic mix of reading material in his office. While I was waiting in that office recently, I picked up a copy of American Hunter, and was fascinated to see articles about animal welfare, use of public lands, constitutional support of the private property rights, etc. Obviously, there are constituencies out there that have many things in common with agriculturalists.

Groups like the National Rifle Association, for instance, are already potent political forces. One article in American Hunter claimed there are more than 2 million pheasant hunters in the U.S.; that’s nearly triple the number of U.S. cattle producers.

I next picked up a magazine focused on prospecting and mining; there appears to be a lot of folks today who like to spend their time panning for gold. The articles in this magazine depicted that these aficionados are concerned about government over-regulation, and are staunch advocates of private property rights.

Picking up the local paper, I read about how the oil and gas industries are spending more than ever trying to influence policy, which they believe is the greatest threat they face. Another article discussed a U.S. Supreme Court case over logging roads that could threaten the entire lumber industry in the Northwest. 

I realize these diverse groups don’t share all of our values, nor would we agree on all the issues, but there would appear to be a significant overlap on key issues. I believe that a more coordinated and collaborative approach is the key to our industry continuing to be successful on the policy side.

There is no better example than the Democratic coalition. It consists of a wide and diverse group of special interests that share very little but the desire to win elections to advance their agendas, and they have done just that.

Perhaps our industry’s failing is that we’ve spent too much time trying to speak with one unified voice within our industry. While it certainly would be beneficial for the industry and increase our clout, the advantages probably pale in comparison to finding and collaborating with other groups that agree with us.

Another Perspective: Ranchers Need Permanent Estate Tax Relief

The death tax is one of those issues where this strategy has been employed. While it’s true we’ve had little success on this issue thus far, our alliance with small business and others who share our concerns has at least helped to keep the issue alive.

War, Marriage & The Cattle Business

War, Marriage & The Cattle Business

Military strategists strongly adhere to the principle of maneuver. It essentially holds that one should be clear about the goal, but flexible about achieving it.

Anyone who is, or has been, married understands the importance of flexibility. From a cattle industry standpoint, flexibility is a given, especially in times like today where things are changing rapidly. The goals don’t have to change, but it’s rare when the path to get there doesn’t change frequently.

Changing course without changing destination is the key. In marriage and in business, it’s easy sometimes to change goals when a change of course is dictated. All the gurus claim the key to being able to adjust is the desire to seek and accept feedback, as well as a willingness to make the corrections to get oneself or one’s organization back on the chosen path. Fail to listen to your spouse, your customers or the industry, and you’ll soon find yourself in a very precarious position. The trick is to keep moving forward, modifying your plans as the changing conditions dictate.

The military has always understood and appreciated the need for intelligence as a critical component in success. One can’t make a good decision without the facts; and having the facts means having accurate information.

We all tend to want to see the world as we want it to be, or to pick and choose the facts that fit our paradigm. Intelligence gathering, however, is about getting the real facts, regardless of whether they support our position. Self-help entrepreneur Brian Tracy says “the quality of the decisions you make will be in direct proportion to the amount of time you take to gather timely and accurate information.”

A third military principle is economy of force. This means that you expend only the resources necessary to achieve the objective. It also means you commit sufficient resources to achieve the objective once you have decided upon it. In an ironic way this means that you understand your time and resources are limited, you can’t commit everything to everything, and what you commit to you, you must do extremely well.

We all have to make sure we are putting our efforts into the right things. Is it important? Will it make a difference? Where you expend your efforts, and how you conduct yourself in the activities you engage in, reveals your priorities.

Checkoff Nominating Process Is A Nightmare

Checkoff Nominating Process Is A Nightmare

Here in Colorado, producers are solidly committed to the checkoff, but we were equally disenchanted with the fiasco that occurred last year relative to all the political hijinks. Colorado producers wanted to play a positive role in making sure that the selection process wasn’t subverted again, and board members would have the best interest of the industry and the checkoff at heart.

So we talked about the nominating process that seemed to be the cause of the majority of the problems the checkoff had needlessly endured. And we were assured that if we didn’t nominate old white guys, that our voice would be heard.

So all the major groups caucused, we agreed to support two candidates, and one was even a female of Native American heritage, certainly not an old white man. When the results were announced, a semi-old white man who is part of the Humane Society of the U.S.’s (HSUS) newly created Ag Advisory Council was the appointment.

It almost seems that if one is nominated by the vast majority of producers, or you actually make your living from the cattle industry, that those are criteria against appointment. There seems to be a concerted effort to ensure that those committed to the destruction of the checkoff, and opposed to mainstream industry practices and views, are represented. 

I think everyone was hopeful that the quagmire we endured last year over the political gamesmanship with the national checkoff was a short-term, once-in-a-lifetime issue. The checkoff and industry leadership had been working together, and as always the checkoff was doing great things to build demand. This shouldn’t be an issue, as building beef demand is something cattlemen can all agree on.

Admittedly, that is contrary to the wishes of groups like HSUS, but we will soon be in a similar position as before, where those opposed and committed to destroying the checkoff and the mainstream industry are once again in charge of the checkoff.

Here in Colorado, there are already serious discussions about what went so fundamentally wrong in the process. Perhaps there’s a solution, but the industry thought it was acting to eliminate what happened. The sad reality is that the checkoff has become as political as Washington, D.C.; and if the mainstream industry continues to be shut out of the process, we will have to consider if there isn’t a better way to build beef demand than with a highly politicized government program.

The checkoff shouldn’t need to spend precious political capital expenditures on behalf of the industry to make sure we aren’t attacked from within. Diversity is a good thing, but the overwhelming majority should also have a seat at the table. 

Tips For Selecting Replacement Heifers For The Beef Herd

replacement angus heifers

Managing reproduction starts with selecting replacement heifers. For a long time, I thought that a combination of performance records and visual appraisal would allow me to tell the good heifers from the poor ones. I have now learned different.

For a couple of years, we had a group of graduate students come to the ranch around weaning time to weigh, measure and evaluate our heifer calves. We were expanding our cow numbers and needed all the replacements we could get. The calves were weighed and scored for body condition and muscle. Measurements were taken for hip height and heart girth. The calves were scored visually for soundness and other possible qualities.

The heifers were then followed through three breeding seasons and the weaning of their first two calves. Any heifers that failed to breed in any year or that failed to wean a calf were sold. They were evaluated on their breeding success and the weaning weights of their calves.

Another Perspective: Commercial Producers Share Their Replacement Criteria

Nothing we evaluated, however, either by itself or in combination, could explain even 15% of the variation in the outcomes. We decided that we couldn’t predict outcomes to select the best heifers with the information we had. Since then, I’ve been very willing to let the bull and Mother Nature select replacement heifers, and have been very satisfied with the results.

Some might wonder why I seem to forego the power of genetic selection. I’ve come to believe that we get the most genetic improvement through the bulls we use, and then only slowly. While I’ve seen rapid genetic change in cattle herds, I’d hesitate to call a lot of it “improvement.”

I’ve seen a lot of herds that changed growth rates of calves very quickly, but they also ended up with bigger cows, lower pregnancy rates, fewer cows run and/or significantly higher feed costs. Using the method that follows, it’s possible to achieve very efficient cows that get pregnant. Proper bull selection can then move you slowly toward your market-related goals.

Mother Nature gets first shot

I give Mother Nature or the environment the first chance, but I do remove a few poor-doing and ugly calves at weaning (don’t we all have at least a few of those?). We then aim for the remainder to achieve 55-60% of their expected mature weight by the start of breeding season. If the calves weigh 450 lbs. at weaning and are expected to become 1,200-lb. cows, they need to gain about 1.25 lbs./day from weaning (at 6-7 months of age) until breeding season.

Calves can do that on grazing and reasonable supplementation if the grazing is available. If quality grazing isn't available the entire time, lower-quality feedstuffs like grass hay can be used. If the hay is less than about 12% protein, a little alfalfa or other protein supplement could be added.

I don’t pamper these calves in any way. I prefer to push the edge on minimizing feeding and force them to graze. Remember, if you are calving just before or after the start of green grass, the heifer will have two or more months on green grass before breeding. The heifers can gain very rapidly and compensate for a slower winter gain. (However, I would not change from feedlot development of heifer calves to this minimal input approach in one year.) The environment is now beginning to select those heifers that can, and can’t, do what we want.

Prior to breeding the heifers, we booster their weaning vaccinations and administer the initial shots for lepto and vibrio. We also would cut a few more heifers – those that had wintered poorly or been doctored, some poor dispositions and a few “too tall-too narrow” females.

Now is when the bull or the artificial insemination (AI) technician joins forces with the environment to help in the selection process. If using bulls, I like to expose the heifers for no longer than 30 days. In my experience across several ranches, we’ve had pregnancy rates from 65% to 85%, but they get better with time, and your ability to predict them gets quite good after two years.

If you start with 150 heifers, a pregnancy rate of 67% will result in 100 pregnant heifers. If your pregnancy rate is 80%, you can start with 125 heifers and get 100 pregnant. Remember, in most situations, the open heifers are a nice profit center.

Some ranchers like to use AI on first-calf heifers. I know of one large ranch that heat detects and uses AI for five days, then gives a shot of Lutalyse®to the heifers that have not been inseminated and continues to heat detect and AI for another five days. That’s the breeding season – no cleanup bulls. They’ve been achieving pregnancy rates in the low 60% range, which gives them all the replacement heifers they need.

Breeding Resource: Research Looks At Heifer Synchronization Protocols

I know of another ranch that is considering putting bulls with heifers for five days, giving a shot of Lutalyse®, pulling the bulls, and then heat detecting and inseminating for five days.

Neither of these ranches want all the cattle handling required by the more sophisticated synchronization programs.

There are three key steps to selecting replacements in an effective reproduction management program. The formula includes:

  • A low-cost wintering program with minimal gain.
  • Expose significantly more heifers than needed.
  • A breeding season of 30 days or less. With 30 days of breeding, you will have some calves as much as 10 days early and still be calving 40 days later. At that point, you can induce the rest and get done quickly.

By eliminating the “poor doers,” the poor dispositions, the doctored, the unsound and the ugly ones at weaning and pre-breeding (This is not a big number – only a few) and then those that fail to conceive, you have a real nice set of bred heifers that were bred in your environment with low cost.

Burke Teichert, consultant on strategic planning for ranches, is retired as vice president and general manager of Deseret. He can be reached at [email protected].

Why The Fuss About Food?

food morality discussion

“You have to look at food in a whole different way,” says Kevin Murphy with Food Chain Communications, a Kansas City-based food and issues management consulting group. That’s because the food morality movement has seeped into every aspect of American culture.

He says that when cattlemen think about a conversation about food, they think it’s actually about the food. Not anymore. “Food has become a social metaphor,” he says. “Food is a platform into all kinds of social issues from global warming, sustainability, all the way to labor to treatment of animals to treatment of people.”

In short, as many activists will admit, food is the new tobacco.

In an analysis of all the headlines that appear every day, Murphy found food to be a significant part of the media conversation. “If you want to take a red cord and weave it through the stories, this is what it comes down to – it’s the ethics of food and food animal production.”

Another Perspective: A Retailer Speaks On Beef, Consumers & The Future

That means ranchers and farmers will need to learn to speak that language. “Food today is going to be continually presented under the prism of food morality,” Murphy says. “So when you ask yourself about what you’re doing, you have to look at what you do through the prism of food morality.”

Which means ag must reclaim the moral high ground, which the anti-beef activists are working tirelessly to undermine. Traditionally, ranchers and farmers have argued from the camp of reason and science while anti-beef activists argue from emotion and ethics. In that argument, emotion and ethics will always win.

A Closer Look: Science Vs. Perception Is The Industry Struggle

Back in 1904, Russia sent some officials to the U.S. to find out what makes America great. The team said that America finds its strong roots in the power of its soil. “But they said the American farmer does much more than that. He supplies the country with its moral fiber,” Murphy says.

“What happened between 1904 and 2012 that we’re allowing somebody to paint us as immoral and unethical people?” Murphy asks. “The farmer is the great moral agent. And I get angry because they (farmers) don’t want to get into communication (with consumers) and fight. But unfortunately, today, we have to win that battle or we’ll be repositioned.”

Social Media -- Changing The Way Ranchers Do Business

Social Media -- Changing The Way Ranchers Do Business

Yesterday, I attended the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association’s 64th Annual Trade Show and Convention in Huron, SD. The day kicked off with an estate planning session and ended with a prime rib dinner and the entertaining theatrics of beloved cowboy poet, Baxter Black. One of the hottest topics of discussion at convention was using social media as a part of your ranch routine.

“Social media has changed the way we do business,” says Season Solorio, director of issues management for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). “Breaking news is now found on Twitter, not on the 5 o’clock news. From the beef industry perspective, we look for what people are saying about cattle ranchers online. There are only 2% of us who are raising food, but 100% of us have to eat, so we have to do a better job of getting the word out.”

She shared 10 tips from the Ag Chat Foundation on using social media:

• Know your purpose.
• Listen and engage in conversation.
• Participate in the community.
• Always take the high road.
• Follow the leaders.
• Converse from an agricultural perspective.
• Monitor trends and thought patterns.
• Share best practices.
• Get answers to problems.
• Have fun.

A good example of a Facebook status update that sheds a positive light on agriculture comes from a recent post by Debbie Lyons Blythe, a Kansas-based cattle rancher and feeder. She writes, “I really need a quick nap right now, but there is a calf that looks sick and needs attention. When I think of how miserable he must feel today in the cold wind, I'm not tired anymore and will head out to take care of him. He should be up and at 'em soon!”

While using social media may seem too complicated for the typical rancher, the next generation is incorporating these tools into their everyday operations. Whether it’s using Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Pinterest, YouTube, Google+, or Instagram, Solorio says your social media posts should be original, genuine and passionate. Build relationships online and join in conversations. Be respectful and offer your unique insights from a rancher’s perspective.

“There are two ways to engage with others online -- proactively and defensively,” explains Solorio. “ is a proactive approach that helps people have a great beef-eating experience. Very differently, there’s a smaller segment of our consumers who have tough questions about how their beef is raised, and so for those people, we have created a new website called, which helps debunk common myths about beef by addressing them head on. Both of these sites also have a presence on Twitter and YouTube, as well.”

If you’re using social media to advocate for agriculture, let me know. Post your Twitter handle, Facebook page link or blog site in the comments section below. And tell us what drove you to become a digital advocate for agriculture.

U.S. Cattle Market Should Remain Strong, Volatile

The U.S. cattle market should remain relatively strong for 2013 and average 4-8% higher than in 2012, according to Walt Prevatt, Auburn University Extension economist.

“As should be expected, the 2013 cattle market has the potential for some big price swings,” says Prevatt in his annual U.S. beef cattle situation and price outlook.

Abrupt changes in one of several factors could add a lot of volatility to cattle market prices, he says. “Cattle farmers will need to search for ways to lower their unit cost of production and ways to enhance market prices in order to achieve profitability during 2013,” he says.

Factors to watch next year, says Prevatt, include the current weak U.S. economy, high levels of unemployment, lack of consumer confidence, political gridlock and chaos at all levels of government, and other issues.

“There is little wonder why future economic uncertainty is fresh in the minds of many
U.S. citizens,” he says. “The decisions made on these issues are believed to have an overwhelming effect on business and consumer spending and our future prosperity.

Unfortunately, there is not convincing evidence about what the future holds.

“Consumers, at least for right now, are spending less and saving more. Only time will tell if this may be the start of a longer term shift in consumer behavior.”

"U.S. beef demand has felt some challenges the last three years due to high unemployment and tightening consumer grocery budgets," says Prevatt.

To read more, click here.

Industry At A Glance: Feedlot, Packing Overcapacity

Industry At A Glance: Feedlot, Packing Overcapacity

Relative overcapacity has spurred rivalry in the industry in both the feedlot and processing sectors. Increased competition for cattle by feedyards and packers ultimately bites into margins over time. That trend is especially clear when considering the live-to-cutout/offal spread. The metric peaked in 2003/04 but has been on a steady decline since.

That trend reflects the necessity of rationalization in the processing sector (given the unlikely event of cowherd expansion anytime soon). How much capacity needs to be removed from the sector to reverse this trend for beef processors and establish some stability from a margin perspective?

Similarly, which demographics of feedlots – capacity and/or region – are most at risk of downsizing or elimination in the face of tighter calf supplies? 

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.  

My Thoughts And Prayers Go Out To The Bud Williams Family

When you think about the gurus of low-stress livestock handling, the name of Bud Williams is likely high on your list. Renowned for his stockmanship skills, Williams is a long-respected figure in the cattle industry, and I’m sorry to report that he passed away on Nov. 25 from pancreatic cancer.

Williams was the originator of the “Bud Box,” a rectangular corral that replaces the traditional half-round “tub” crowding area to more efficiently move cattle. See a video here.

His wife Eunice writes on their blog, “Bud’s gone... Bud died today of pancreatic cancer. Bud and I have had quite a ride. Thanks to all of you for helping us make things better for the animals.”

His biography on their website reads, “Bud was born in 1932 on a farm in Southern Oregon, where he was raised with a variety of farm animals including work horses, dairy and beef cattle, sheep and hogs. After he and Eunice married in 1952, he worked on cattle and sheep ranches in Northern California. The main qualifications enabling him to perfect his method of handling livestock were his great powers of observation and pure stubbornness. He has always said ‘No cow is going to get away from me, she doesn’t live long enough.’ They also were able to rotationally graze without fences by taking any type of livestock (including weaned calves) onto unfenced ranges, teach them to stay as a herd.

“After their daughters left home, Bud and Eunice started traveling in earnest, only taking jobs that were difficult and interesting. They have had excellent results working both beef and dairy cattle, as well as sheep, goats, elk, fallow deer, reindeer, bison and hogs. They have gathered wild reindeer above the Arctic Circle in Alaska and wild cattle in Old Mexico and the Aleutian Islands, and have implemented remarkable increases in production in dairy herds as well.

“In 1989, after much urging from people he has helped through the years, Bud began actively teaching his stockmanship methods to a larger number of people in the hope his unique methods of working livestock will not die with him. For the 11 years ending in 2000, Bud and Eunice headquartered at Vee Tee Feeders Ltd. near Lloydminster, Alberta. This is one of the most northern feedlots on the continent. Since the bulk of the incoming cattle were freshly weaned calves, and the weather conditions were far from ideal, Bud felt the information he gathered there has special significance.

“Bud and Eunice lived together in Independence, KS, where they continued to work with livestock people around the world to spread the word about good stockmanship.”

Through the years, BEEF magazine has featured Williams’ ideas and philosophies on low-stress cattle handling.

Here are a few of my favorite articles:

Again, my thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Bud Williams. The beef industry has certainly lost an icon -- one whose influence will continue for years to come.

Do you have a favorite memory of Williams? How have his stockmanship tips influenced you and your operation?

High Hopes For Cattle Market Depend On Rain

For beef producers who have weathered two years of drought and related challenges, there was a feeling of optimism as they assembled in Santa Clara for the annual meeting of the California Cattlemen's Association (CCA).

Monterey County beef producer Kevin Kester, who wrapped up his term as CCA president at the meeting, says he expects beef prices to remain "very solid, if not potentially breaking all-time record highs going into next year."

A Closer Look: Record Prices, Inputs Ahead For Feedlot, Cow-Calf Sectors

A declining U.S. beef cattle herd and smaller cattle numbers in California fuel the prospects for continued high prices.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) will release its next statistical report on cattle numbers in January. According to its midyear report, the number of cattle and calves in the U.S. totaled 97.8 million head on July 1. That's 2% less than a year ago. Overall, it's the smallest cattle inventory since the agency began a July count in 1973.

"I think the report that comes out in January will show a decline in the California beef numbers. And obviously across the nation we will have a substantial reduction in beef cow numbers," Kester says.

To read the entire article, click here.