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Articles from 2013 In November

Export Stakes Grow

Export Stakes Grow

If you follow beef exports, even occasionally, then you know how crucial they are to the fortunes of U.S. producers – $227.65/head of fed slaughter so far this year. Yet, the U.S. government continues to drag its feet on the farm bill and mull cuts to agricultural programs. At the same time, competitors to U.S. meat exports are upping the ante.

According to the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), the European Commission is proposing to more than triple its spending in the international marketplace to support the export of European Union (EU) agricultural and agri-food sector products.

Specifically, the proposal would boost European aid for agricultural exports progressively from €61 million ($82.5 million) in the 2013 budget to €200 million ($270.5 million) in 2020.

“In a world in which consumers are increasingly aware of the safety, quality and sustainability of food production methods, European farmers and small or medium-sized enterprises are in a position of strength,” said European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Dacian Ciolos. “The European agricultural and agri-food sector is well-known for the unrivalled quality of its products and its compliance with standards that are unmatched anywhere else in the world. With over €110 billion worth of exports already, this is a formidable asset for boosting growth and employment within the EU.”

“This proposal from the European Commission sends a clear message that I hope our Congress is listening to,” says Mark Jagels, USMEF chairman and a fourth-generation farmer from south central Nebraska. “With 96% of the world’s population living outside our borders, we need to focus our energy and resources on putting U.S. meat and other agricultural products on the world’s tables. If we don’t, our competitors in the EU and around the world will gladly take that business off our hands.”


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Dollars spent on U.S. export programs have proven to represent high-value investment over time.

“U.S. agricultural exports, which topped $141 billion in value in fiscal year 2012, support nearly 1.2 million American jobs,” Jagels explains. “They accounted for a $38.5 billion surplus in the balance of trade for the year – one of the few bright spots in our economy.”

Moreover, a recent study conducted for USDA says that the investment of USDA and checkoff funds in USMEF programs over the prior 10 years returned an average of $3.87 in net revenue to the U.S. beef industry per dollar invested. Net returns to the pork industry have been $7.42 for each dollar invested.

“Where better can we invest our tax dollars than in supporting agricultural exports that create jobs, bolster an essential industry and put tax revenue back into the government’s coffers,” says Jagels. “We need to take a cue from the EU and support agricultural exports rather than reducing spending on these essential programs.”



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cattle prices

Wintry weather and the Thanksgiving holiday disrupted normal cattle marketing this week.

“There were not enough sales of calves or yearlings for an adequate nationwide trend, but the few reported markets around the country were near steady in a light test,” said analysts with the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). Please keep that in mind when considering the weekly regional calf and feeder prices in this week’s BEEF Cattle Market Weekly. They reflect 112,900 head this week compared to 339,100 head last week.

Where calves and feeder cattle traded hands, though, demand remained robust, especially at special sales. For instance, steers weighing more than 700 lbs. sold $3-$5 higher at Green City Livestock Auction’s yearling special in Missouri Tuesday.

“With much cheaper feed compared to a year ago and finished cattle near the $130 mark, yearling cattle have been selling at all-time record highs this fall,” explained the AMS market reporter at Green City. “The 800-900 lbs. steers averaged $22-$24/cwt. higher than the yearling special from last year.”

Week-to-week, Feeder Cattle futures closed an average of $2.11 higher except for $1.40 and 65¢ higher at the back of the board.

Corn prices continue to erode beneath the weight of bumper yields and pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal to reduce the ethanol mandate.

 “The bottom line is that the EPA refused to push ethanol mandates above the so-called blend wall of about 10% of the U.S. fuel supply or above production capacities for advanced biofuels,” analysts noted in the bi-weekly CME Group’s Ethanol Report this week. “The EPA's ruling was a victory for blenders and the food industry, but was disappointing for the ethanol industry since the reduced mandate may mean lower ethanol demand and investment.”

Week-to-week, spot Dec. corn futures were 7¢ lower and then 3¢-4¢ lower in the next five contracts.

Tight cattle supplies continue to underpin calf and feeder prices.

Even though last week’s Cattle on Feed report surprised some with more October placements than expected (up 9.8%), Derrell Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist, offers some perspective.

“October placements were down 1% from the five-year average that includes last year, and were down 5.3% from the 2007-2011 five-year average,” Peel explains. “The latest October placement number was slightly smaller than the 2002 level and, with the exception of last year, was the smallest October placement since 1995. By any measure except last year’s record-low level, it is still a small October placement number. Seasonally, October is the largest placement month as feedlot inventories grow in the fall to a seasonal peak in December before declining to seasonal lows in August.”

Likewise, Darrell Mark, South Dakota State University adjunct agricultural economics professor, points out in his weekly Corn & Cattle Comments that the higher placement number in October was partly due to calves being placed earlier last year due to drought, which reduced 2012 October placements.

“This year, with improved pasture and range conditions in much of cow-calf country (except the western mountain states) and cheaper corn at harvest time, calf placements have followed a more traditional pattern of ramping up through October,” Mark explains. “In fact, monthly placements have increased 52% from June 2013 through October 2013 compared to an average increase in placements of 54% from June through October.”

Cattle supplies should get snugger, too, if producers follow through on herd expansion, which seems to be at the beginning stages, based on recent beef cow slaughter and feedlot heifer placement.

“The replacement heifer demand that has been very impressive the past month seems to be mostly done for now,” Peel says. “I expect breeding female demand to pick again next spring assuming forage conditions look favorable at that time.”

Markets this week also received a pre-Thanksgiving boost from wholesale beef prices and the cash fed cattle market.

Week-to-week, Choice wholesale boxed beef cutout value increased 3.96/cwt. Select was up $3.59.  

“Fed cattle often rally seasonally into Thanksgiving and the days just beyond, but not necessarily as sharply as this week,” explained Penton analyst John Otte on Friday. “Beef often faces lackluster buying in early November as retailers feature ham and turkey.”

Increasing wholesale prices and the shorter week helped boost cash fed cattle prices. In Wednesday trade, live sales were $2-$3 higher at $132-$134/cwt. Dressed sales were $2-$3 higher at $209-$210/cwt. As of mid-day Friday, the only region that hadn’t reported trendable sales for the week was the Texas Panhandle.


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Live Cattle futures were up an average of $2.28 through the front three contracts week-to-week. They were up an average of $1.44 across the rest of the board.

“I expect cattle and beef markets to move mostly sideways for the remainder of the year, though boxed beef could rebound slightly in early December,” Peel says. “Continued decreases in cattle slaughter and beef production through the end of the year will help support prices near current levels for fed and feeder cattle.”

“There still does not seem to be anything to fear on the horizon that could knock these record cattle markets off their pedestal,” AMS analysts say.



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More Consumers Are Realizing The Dishonesty Of The Animal Rights Industry

More Consumers Are Realizing The Dishonesty Of The Animal Rights Industry

Moral high ground: A position or point of view that is ethically superior or more reputable in comparison to others. 

Some people claim the animal rights (AR) industry has captured the moral high ground when it comes to animal agriculture and how we care for food animals. Whether or not the statement is true, the very suggestion of validity should cause concern for those of us in agriculture, though I find it hard to believe that the AR industry has a claim to any moral position at all.

Truth has the greatest moralistic value, and dishonesty is the surest way to destroy one’s reputation. At the recent American Association of Bovine Practitioners’ annual meeting, Jerry Stokka, a DVM, friend and North Dakota State University associate professor of livestock stewardship, discussed animal welfare and some of the misinformation/propaganda being spread. He stressed that the stewardship of truth is our responsibility, and we must be good stewards.

I believe that if the AR industry has the moral high ground, its lack of honesty will be its downfall. And there are plenty of instances of dishonesty within the AR industry. One of the most recent involves the Meatless Monday campaign, which the AR industry aggressively supports. As this campaign approached its 10th anniversary this fall, the Animal Agriculture Alliance (AAA) contacted participants of the Meatless Monday campaign to see if they were still participating. AAA learned that half of the institutions listed as participants were no longer participating in the campaign.

  • Of 56 kindergarten through 12th-grade schools listed as participating, 64% no longer or never participated.
  • Of the 155 colleges/universities listed as participating, more than 43% no longer or never participated.
  • Of the school districts listed as participating, more than 57% no longer do.

Furthermore, AAA also discovered that several of those listed as participants were never participants and had asked to have their names removed, but the Meatless Monday campaign had refused!

In another example, several AR industry organizations were charged with racketeering when it was discovered that a material witness against Ringling Brothers earned a substantial salary from those groups while the case was being developed. One group has already agreed to a $9.3 million settlement, and the case is still pending for the other groups.

With the extensive battery of attorneys on the payroll of many of these AR organizations, it will likely be several years before this case is fully settled. But the fact that these groups were charged with a crime most commonly associated with organized crime indicates the corruptive stumble of a movement once considered by many to be a noble cause.


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A third illustration of less-than-honest behavior is AR industry advertising. Television ads featuring sad images of dogs and cats in cages insinuate involvement in animal shelters, and are one of the most powerful fundraising techniques for these groups. Yet, many of the groups featured in those ads (The Humane Society of the United States in particular) spend very little money to help these shelters: often less than 1% of their budget.

There are many other instances of dishonesty within the AR industry, which is one of several reasons why it’s become referred to as an industry as opposed to a movement. It’s become a fundraising and lobbying industry, rather than a movement truly focused on animals. If dishonesty is necessary to garner support for a cause, is the cause truly worthwhile?

People don’t like to be lied to, duped or manipulated. In the past few years, many people have learned that the organization they were supporting wasn’t what it represented itself to be.

This is where the moral high ground is ours: We must be good stewards of the truth. We must continue to look for ways to improve animal welfare and be straightforward with our consumers. Once again, honesty is the best policy. 

Dave Sjeklocha, DVM, is director of animal health for Cattle Empire LLC of Satanta, KS. He can be reached at [email protected]'


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Year-End Analysis Shows Replacement Costs Are Surging

heifer replacement costs

Man, do I like selling feeder calves when cattle feeders are making money! My mid-October analysis indicates cattle feeders made $95/head sold in October, while replacement feeder prices were at an all-time high. Instead of a price discount at weaning, there was a price premium at 2013’s weaning. It looks like the production and marketing for my study herd made some money in 2013.

Regardless of the ultimate marketing choice, I urge ranchers to always look at the economics of selling weaned calves. A beef-cow enterprise year should end its accounting year with the weaning of that year’s calves, regardless of the final marketing alternative selected.

I’ll focus this month on a detailed analysis of a study herd’s gross income for the cowherd, and the total cost of all replacement animals. This ranch has maintained a static herd of 250 cows for the last several years, but the rancher is considering expansion for 2014. He needs as much detail as possible to help him make a decision. I’ll summarize his production costs next month.

production parameters for cowherdMy study herd consists of 250 bred cows in the Jan. 1, 2013, herd inventory. Figure 1 summarizes this herd’s production parameters. The number of females exposed in the 2012 breeding season was 294 head (250 mature cows and 44 virgin heifers). Meanwhile, 256 live calves were weaned for an 87% calf crop.

The pounds weaned per female exposed averaged 494 lbs./cow. The herd’s annual culling percentage was 14% of the Jan. 1, 2013, beef-cow inventory. Heifer conception rate was 80%, and 1% of the cowherd died during the year.

Let’s now review October’s weaning prices. Figure 2 presents my eastern Wyoming/western Nebraska October sale-barn price summary for mid-October 2013. Clearly, these are record October steer calf prices, as 550-lb. steer calves averaged $198/cwt., and 800-lb. steers averaged $163/cwt. Figure 2 also illustrates the overall increase in calf prices over October 2012 calf prices.

Meanwhile, my study herd’s steer calves averaged 569 lbs. and sold for $192/cwt. The heifer calves averaged 554 lbs. and sold for $188/cwt.

eastern wyoming sale barn numbers

Figure 3 summarizes the 2012 and 2013 actual prices for eastern Wyoming/western Nebraska, with projections for 2014. Projections for 2014 weaned calves are comparable to this year’s favorable prices.

The biggest surprise for me was this month’s reduction in the discount prices for heifers relative to steers. Figure 4 presents the calculated price line for eastern Wyoming/western Nebraska steers, and a second line for heifers at the same markets. The difference between these two lines at any given calf weight is the heifer discount. Over the total range, the heifer discount averaged $13.54/cwt.

The six higher points on the heifer price line illustrate the market premiums for “fancy” heifers, which had a discount of only $5.56/cwt. Thus, we now have record steer-calf prices and a narrowing heifer discount. All of this adds gross income to the 2013 beef cowherd.

October 2013 sale-barn price

If I look at only those heifers between 500-700 lbs., which would be my recommended weight for replacement heifers, the discount is only $3.50/cwt. Good quality, fancy replacement-heifer calves are approaching the price of steers at comparable weights. The market is now signaling that ranchers are starting to hold back replacement heifers.

Figure 5 presents the 2013 gross income calculations for this 250-cow study herd. The two important numbers in Figure 5 are “gross income/cow” and “herd replacement costs/cow” in the bottom right of the chart.

gross income

Figure 5 shows that a total of 211 calves (128 steers and 83 heifer calves) were sold for a cash income of $230,077 ($143,769 for steer calves and $86,308 for heifer calves). Calf sales, however, generated only 85% of the total gross income.

Cull animals accounted for the other 15% of cash income, or a total of $42,113. Nine open heifers were culled for a market value of $8,543, while 32 cull cows brought $29,440, and three culled bulls brought $4,130. No bred cows or cow-calf pairs were sold this year.

Gross cash income generated by this herd totaled to $272,190 ($230,077 calf sales + $42,113 cull animal sales), or $1,089/cow. This is a record high.

While the market value of the 44 heifer calves retained totaled $46,029 and was produced this business year, it wasn’t an actual cash income. The herd’s total value of animal production (VAP) this year was $276,106 ($230,007 + $46,029). Cull animal sales aren’t included. Thus, the VAP for this herd was $1,104/cow.

The heifer development enterprise cost this rancher $555/head, or $24,420 — the cost of developing the last set of heifers from 2012 weaning until preg-check in fall 2013. Add in the $39,366 lost market value of not selling the replacement heifer calves at 2012’s weaning, and the total economic cost of developing these replacement heifers came to $1,450/replacement heifer. This is the cost before preg-checking.

Probably the most shocking number in Figure 5 is the economic cost of replacement animals for this herd. The economic cost of replacement females, plus replacement bulls, totals $329/cow in the Jan. 1, 2013, inventory. This number has really increased in recent years.

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


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Just In Time For Thanksgiving, Montana Helps SD Ranchers After Atlas

Today is Thanksgiving, and I’m spending the day surrounded by family, eating turkey (how I wish it was beef...) and enjoying the company of my loved ones. I hope it never becomes a cliche, but Thanksgiving is our reminder each year to be thankful for how fortunate we are and to count our many blessings.

Thanksgiving is also a time to get into the spirit of giving and help those in need. There are so many people who need our help -- the hungry, the homeless, the sick, the elderly, and our veterans. However, these days, every time I have a bad day on the ranch, I know that someone else has it worse, particularly my neighbors to the west who were struck by the winter storm Atlas in early October.

The storm killed tens of thousands of cattle, and while the devastation will impact the beef industry for years to come, there are many who are stepping up in this time of giving thanks and helping others to help soften the blow of the loss of these cattle.


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I’m so grateful for the Montana-based group, Heifers for South Dakota. Last week, 45 bred heifers and cows were sent to my home state to help the ranchers in need. Another additional 400 head of cattle, including yearling and bred heifers have also been sent to ranchers from neighbors in Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota.

What’s more, about $1.5 million has been donated to the Rancher Relief Fund. Ranchers who wish to receive aid can apply to the Rancher Relief Fund. The deadline is Dec. 31, and the organization will then evaluate the need of the ranchers and how many folks are requesting assistance before deciding how much funds each rancher will receive, according to a Fox News report, which you can read here.

While some federal disaster assistance might be approved, it’s certainly not guaranteed, especially since Congress can’t pass a farm bill. So in the meantime, the good folks in rural America are showing the rest of the world how to help their own. I’m so proud to be part of an industry that graciously and generously helps friends in need. Even though my family didn’t lose any cattle in the storm, it’s so nice to know there are people out there who are willing to rally together to provide a helping hand.

So this Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for the beautiful weather we’ve been having, the health of my family and my cattle, and the generosity of complete strangers who have inspired me to give more and do more for others.

Happy Thanksgiving from my ranch to yours!


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Meat Matters

10 Years After The Cow That Stole Christmas

cow that stole christmas

Do you remember how you heard the news of the U.S.’s first BSE case? I do. I was Christmas shopping on Dec. 23, 2003, when my cellphone rang. That’s when I heard about “the cow that stole Christmas,” as a USDA official later dubbed it.

Government and industry officials handled the discovery and subsequent publicity impressively. That was no surprise, seeing that they had been preparing for such an event for much of 2003. But no one could have imagined the financial damage the cow, ironically a Canadian-born Holstein, was set to inflict on the industry — damage that continues to this day.

The cow more than stole Christmas. She cost the industry billions of dollars in lost exports of beef cuts and variety meats. She added tens of millions of dollars of new operating costs for beef processors that continue to this day, and forced them to make many millions of dollars in new capital expenditures. New BSE-related rules also resulted in revenue losses after products were banned from the food supply. The loss of most export markets also briefly forced domestic beef and live cattle prices lower.

Export bans produced by far the largest cost. Seventy-five countries immediately shut their doors to U.S. beef. Presupposing that export values had remained at 2003’s $3.856 billion level in succeeding years, the industry lost $8.829 billion from 2004 to 2008 inclusive. Values in 2009 were down $774 million on 2003, but that was largely due to the global recession. Values finally exceeded the 2003 total in 2010, and reached $5.511 billion last year.

The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), however, had forecast that export values would keep increasing after 2003. With this in mind and the fact that the industry is still losing export values because of continued restricted access, USMEF says lost export sales are estimated to have cost the U.S. beef industry $16 billion from 2004 through 2012. This equates to around $65/head in live cattle terms.

Total U.S. beef industry losses arising from the loss of beef and offal exports during 2004 alone ranged from $3.2 billion to $4.7 billion. That’s according to a study by Kansas State University (KSU) published in April 2005. The study’s analysis included the increase in beef available on the domestic market, which KSU researchers concluded depressed domestic prices below levels they would have attained if exports were possible.

Live cattle prices fell by about 16% in the week after the announcement, the study noted. Consumer surveys at that time suggested that domestic beef demand could fall by as much as 15%. However, prices recovered in early 2004, as it became clear that U.S. consumer demand had been impacted only minimally, if at all. In fact, market data on beef disappearance and retail prices suggested that consumer demand for beef actually strengthened in the first half of 2004, the study found.


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All this suggests that the biggest lesson of the BSE case was that the U.S. government and industry prepared well for any domestic fallout, but drastically underestimated the reaction of the major international markets for U.S. beef. An allied lesson was how technically challenging it was to reopen two of the largest markets: Japan (in December 2005) and South Korea (in September 2006). Both openings saw subsequent closures after discoveries of vertebral material and bone fragments in beef shipments.

Another lesson involved the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). It took 9½ years for OIE to grant the U.S. “negligible” risk status for BSE. The new status might help persuade some of the 22 countries with full or partial bans on U.S. beef to relax those bans. Five South American countries, China and two others still ban all U.S. beef and cattle.

Ten years after its first BSE case, the U.S. continues to battle to regain pre-BSE market access.

Steve Kay is editor and publisher of Cattle Buyer's Weekly . See his weekly cattle market roundup each Friday afternoon at


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Early Fall Blizzard Holds Lessons For Ranchers On Nature And Consumers

atlas blizzard consumer outreach

There are certain moments in the beef industry’s history that U.S. cattle producers aren’t likely to forget anytime soon.

For instance, December brings back memories for me of the “cow that stole Christmas.” This, of course, refers to the first case of BSE in the U.S. in 2003.

Meanwhile, April 2012 will always remind me of when the industry was “pink-slimed.” And, after this past fall, when I think of 2013, I’ll probably reminisce about the freakish winter storm called Atlas that hit my home state of South Dakota in early October.

The early fall blizzard dumped up to 5 ft. of snow driven by 70-mph wind gusts in some areas. At press time, total cattle losses were still unknown, but tens of thousands were thought to have perished. The storm’s wrath was projected to amount to a $1 billion impact on the state’s beef industry, with the economic repercussions lingering for years to come.

While hurricanes on the East Coast get months and months of coverage, this Great Plains weather event was largely ignored. Winter storm Atlas barely raised a blip in the mainstream media, and what coverage there was died quickly.

Another thing I found surprising in the storm’s aftermath, and almost as concerning, was the response by some of the public. It was disappointing to read some of the comments from readers in response to mainstream news reports from the blizzard. Here’s a sampling:

  • Didn’t everyone know this storm was coming? Why weren’t they better prepared?
  • Why were all the cattle out in the open and not moved into barns?
  • If cattle are used to being outside in the winter, why was this storm such a big deal?
  • Why didn’t everyone just move their cattle to winter pastures before the storm hit?
  • It seems odd that so many cattle would die. Didn’t the ranchers try to save them?
  • Don’t ranchers already get a lot of subsidies and price supports from the government?
  • Ranchers are all rich anyway, so what’s the big deal?
  • Aren’t the ranchers just looking for a handout?
  • Ranchers raise these animals for slaughter, so they don’t really care about them anyway. Isn’t it all about the money?

I don’t have the space here to address all these comments and questions, but I think it’s clear that there is a lot of need for education of the public about not only how their food is produced, and the inherent challenges, but also the deep emotional bond that cattle producers feel for their animals. And the only people who can get this done effectively are those of us engaged in the business of raising cattle.

Of course, there were also very positive comments and strong expressions of support and sympathy expressed online regarding winter storm Atlas, its effect on ranchers and the lost cattle. But the common thread among negative comments was that ranchers are lazy, greedy and careless. We know this is patently false, but I was still appalled to read comments like that coming not only from consumers, but from other ranchers across the country.


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As we move on from the blizzard of 2013, there is an important lesson for those of us in agriculture to take to heart. There are many misconceptions out there about the beef business and food production in general. And as consumers’ firsthand familiarity with production agriculture continues to shrink, it will become increasingly more important for livestock producers to look beyond our own pasture gates and invest the time that is needed to educate consumers about where their beef comes from.

Once the dust settles — or, perhaps more appropriately, the snow melts — our industry needs to focus on education and consumer outreach. We know the role of ranchers in the well-being of their livestock is critically important, but just as important is our responsibility to share that message and our positive story with consumers. 

Amanda Radke is a South Dakota rancher and editor of BEEF Daily.


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U.S. Beef Exports Stymied By Lack Of 48-Hour Traceback

48hour traceback

“Calves should not be part of a witness protection program. When the rest of the world and our competitors are identifying their animals, why can’t we?”

That was the question posed by a cattle feeder who was part of the strategy team  — representing all industry sectors — that developed recommendations relative to the 2011 National Beef Quality Audit (NBQA). The results of the latest audit, heralded as the most comprehensive to date, were released last summer.

That audit identified the lack of knowing how and where cattle are raised as among the primary quality challenges for U.S. beef, just behind food safety and eating satisfaction. The NBQA also identified the scarcity of written protocols and recordkeeping as a key barrier to industry success.

Both require individual animal identification (ID) and the ability to track individual cattle as they move from sector to sector. That latter part seems only practically possible with the use of electronic ID (EID).

According to “Cattle Identification Practices on U.S. Beef Cow-Calf Operations,” a report from the National Animal Health Monitoring Service (NAHMS), 46.7% of operations surveyed applied at least one form of individual ID to calves, accounting for 64.8% of the calves. This information is derived from the most recent periodic NAHMS survey of cow-calf operations.

Among that same group, 66.1% of the operations used some form of individual ID on at least some of their cows, accounting for 79.1% of beef cows (see Figure 1).

Plastic dangle tags were the most common form of ID (50.4% of operations and 57.5% of cows). EID was the least-common form of ID (0.8% of the operations and 1.2% of the cows).

For perspective, 38.1% of the cows on 24.2% of the operations were identified with brucellosis vaccination tags.

In a related NAHMS study, “Recordkeeping Practices on U.S. Beef Cow Operations,” 83.3% of cow-calf operations kept some form of records. Of those, 19.9% kept records with a computer (17%) on the operation, or away from the operation (2.9%).

At the feedlot level, 75.6% of feedlots with 1,000 head or more of capacity received at least some cattle with individual animal ID, accounting for 28.7% of the calves received. That comes from the NAHMS “Cattle Identification on U.S. Feedlots” study published in September.

The percentage of cattle tagged with individual ID at the feedlot (1,000-plus head) increased from 30.8% in 1999 to 45% in 2011. The percentage tagged with group/owner ID increased from 75.1% in 1999 to 85.5% in 2011.

Three barriers to EID progress

Plenty of folks once figured that by now, most every head of cattle in the marketing channel would boast an individual EID tag. They thought information tied to individual animal identity would flow between industry sectors, making the business more profitable while providing consumers with a more dependable eating experience.

“It all boils down to cost,” says Dale Blasi, a Kansas State University (KSU) Extension beef cow specialist. He also serves as director of KSU’s Animal Identification Knowledge Laboratory.

beef cattle traceback and id
Illustration by Dennis Wolf

As an example, Blasi looks at the free “Estimating Costs of Radio Frequency Identifications Systems” calculator at You input component costs, including interest, for the system you have in mind, and then receive an annualized cost per head. An example page considers 250 cows with EID tags costing $2.25 each. Throw in a wand reader and other essentials, figure 6.5% interest, and you’re talking a cost of $7.21/head.

As cattle prices increase, EID costs less on a percentage basis, but it still represents an added cost.

Technology continues to challenge some, too. Blasi explains that low-frequency EID tags — currently the most common technology — are limited by the “read range.” If you want to scan the tag with a hand-held reader to retrieve the number, for all practical purposes, the cattle need to be in the chute or alley leading up to it.

Keep in mind that Blasi has likely put every ID technology and device brought to market within the last 12 years or so through its paces.

Ultra-high-frequency looks promising

Ultra-high-frequency (UHF) EID offers a much wider read range, and can capture every ID number from groups moving past a “read panel.” But, you have to figure out how to dial down the read range to scan that one single tag out of a bunch. In addition, Blasi says there are still unknowns surrounding high-frequency, including how environment affects technology performance.

“There could be a lot of interesting applications,” Blasi says. Adding other technologies to the mix, he mentions active tags — those that contain a battery — that can transmit information to a receiver constantly. Or, what about using a mobile phone and cloud technology rather than a computer to capture information transmitted from tags to readers?

Really, the potential uses are limited only by the imagination. “Think of tying ID technology to other technology like drones, and you could conceive of how the banking industry might be interested to monitor client inventory. Or how you could verify stocking rates to regulatory agencies,” Blasi says.

Arguably, adopters of EID technology so far have had to modify their existing systems to fit the technology, rather than plugging new technology into an existing system.

“There’s been some tweaking of the technology, but very little has changed,” Blasi says. “Without a definitive direction from government or the industry, a lot of ID technology companies have been in a holding pattern.”


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So far, there has been insufficient incentive for producers to modify how they do business in the name of ID, besides investing in the necessary equipment. But some producers certainly uncovered the incentive long ago. Between production efficiencies gained through individual animal management and increased marketing options, these folks say it more than pays for the equipment and the process. Of course, some of these same folks will almost apologize to visitors for noticing they spent money to put EID tags in their cows.

There’s no regulatory incentive, either. Compliance with the mandatory Animal Disease Traceability (ADT) program that began in March can be achieved with a metal clip tag. 

Yet, the need for information tied to individual animal ID continues to grow. As the latest NBQA report points out, “The knowledge level of consumers is increasing, and they want to know more about how and where the animals were raised. Animal well-being is an attribute identified by retailers, foodservice and packers who want to ensure the animals have been raised humanely before harvest.”

The report goes on to say that, overall, the origin of cattle, how they were raised, and food safety are the categories “with significant odds of being identified by companies as ‘non-negotiable requirements’ prior to purchasing. Additionally, retailers mean what they say when they call a specific quality category a non-negotiable requirement, and are not influenced by a discounted price.” 


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Calving Checklist: Everything You Need To Know & Have Before Calving

calving checklist

It’s a century-old motto for millions of Boy and Girl Scouts, but “be prepared” is a cardinal rule for calving time as well.

At calving, you want everything on hand that might be needed, and all facilities and equipment functional and ready for use, says W. Mark Hilton, DVM, who’s also a Purdue University professor of beef production medicine.

If you have short breeding and calving seasons, it’s probably been at least 10 months since last year’s calving, and your focus has been on other tasks. But some calves can arrive early, and that’s no time to be searching for that box of obstetrical (OB) gloves you bought last year, or scrambling to move machinery you stored in the calving barn last fall. Act early to make sure you have what you need and that it’s in good working order.

A checklist for the cow

Among the important things to have easily accessible, Hilton says, are OB chains and any medications you might need.

“Keep oxytocin and epinephrine on hand. If you’re dealing with a malpresentation — the calf’s head or foot is back, or it’s breech — and you think you can fix it, giving the cow 10cc of epinephrine in the neck will relax her uterus, allowing you to push the calf back in for straightening,” he says. He advises checking with your veterinarian about epinephrine and its proper use.

Robert Callan, associate professor at Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Science, says disinfectant for cleaning up a cow before you check her or assist with a birth is a must, as well as for dipping the newborn’s navel. He says Povidone iodine (Betadine®) or chlorhexadine (Nolvasan®) both work, though the latter is more expensive.

Callan prefers using both the Betadine scrub and solution. The scrub contains a detergent and can be used to clean the cow’s perineal area; apply with a squirt bottle.

“The disinfectant solution is something you’d use diluted with water as a rinse,” he says. Have a bucket for wash water (water mixed with disinfectant solution), a scoop for pouring water/disinfectant over the back end of the cow to clean her up, or squeeze bottles (like empty dish soap bottles) for squirting warm water/disinfectant solution onto the cow.

“Roll cotton works well for scrubbing and cleaning. It holds a lot of fluid and works better than paper towels or rags,” Callan says.

In assisting a dystocia, good lubricant is a must. Callan explains there are two kinds. One is carboxy methylcellulose, an OB lube that comes in a 1-gal. container and costs about $15. He says it works best if a half-gallon of hot water is added to the gallon of lube.

“You can use a stomach pump and stomach tube to put it directly into the vaginal canal and uterus. Diluting the carboxy methylcellulose with hot water makes it easier to pump in, and warms it to body temperature,” Callan says.

The other type of lube (polyethylene polymer), J-Lube, is inexpensive, comes as a powder, and is convenient — you just add warm water. “One of the lesser-known things about J-Lube is that it can be fatal if it gets into the cow’s abdomen. If there’s any chance the cow will need a C-section, don’t use J-Lube,” Callan says.

A checklist for the calf

Disinfectant for a calf’s navel stump is very important, Hilton stresses, particularly if calving indoors. “Herds that calve or are housed inside a barn are more at risk for many problems, including respiratory disease, navel ill and scours in baby calves,” Hilton says.

But don’t assume you won’t have problems just because you calve on grass. In addition, some operators with traditionally easy-calving cows can become complacent. That can lead to not being prepared for an emergency.

So make sure you have everything necessary for newborns — elastrator rings if you band bull calves at birth; injectibles like vitamins A, D and E, selenium and vaccines; and ear tags for calf identification, etc. Ear tags may be simply nylon/plastic write-on tags for in-herd ID, or you may want official USDA 840 AIN (Animal Identification Number) tags, which make it easier if calves need a health certificate for interstate transport or other regulatory functions later in life, Callan says.

Here is another point where the “be prepared” motto comes in handy. If you don’t have tags purchased and ready, calves may be a lot harder to catch and tag when they are several days old, he adds.

Callan recommends giving newborn calves vitamins A, D and E, particularly if their mothers were on dry forage before calving, or if pasture quality is poor due to drought.

“Have it ready, and don’t use last year’s bottle that’s been sitting there with dust on the top, and already had multiple needles going into it. Product contaminated with bacteria can result in injection-site infections. In addition, vitamin E preparations have short expiration dates. Injectable vitamins are inexpensive, and it’s best to start with new bottles each calving season,” he says. 

Callan advises having colostrum replacer or frozen colostrum from last year, or planning to obtain colostrum to freeze from early-calving cows. “If you buy a colostrum product, make sure it’s a replacer, not a supplement,” he says, stressing the wide variety in quality.

A colostrum product should have a minimum of 100g of Immunoglobulin G (IgG), an antibody isotype, in each dose. “Ask your veterinarian what to buy,” Hilton says. “There’s huge variation in quality and effectiveness. Make sure you have something with research data behind it.”

Callan says frozen colostrum from one of your own cows is superior to any commercial product. To freeze colostrum, he advises using 1-gal. Ziploc® bags. Collect 1-2 quarts of colostrum from a mature cow after her calf has nursed. It’s best to collect this within six hours of birth.

“Place 1 quart of colostrum in the gallon bag to freeze. This size of bag works better than a smaller one because it has greater surface area when frozen flat, and can be thawed quickly in warm water,” he says.

Plan disease-control program

If you plan to collect and test ear notches on calves for bovine viral diarrhea (BVD) virus, Callan advises doing it at tagging. The ear notches can be stored in separate tubes in the refrigerator or freezer, and then passed on to your veterinarian for BVD testing, Callan says.

Depending on the situation and herd health program, newborn calves might receive clostridial vaccines like perfringens type C and D, or an oral E. coli vaccine. He advises working with your herd health veterinarian to determine if cows should be vaccinated precalving, or the calves vaccinated at birth.

A few packages of electrolytes are also handy in the event of scouring. Your veterinarian can recommend the best products, as quality varies. But if you’re caught shorthanded, Callan says a homemade batch consisting of ½ tsp. salt, ¼ tsp. “lite” salt, and ¼ tsp. baking soda can be dissolved in 2 quarts of warm water.

And finally, in case of emergencies, have your veterinarian’s phone number memorized, posted on the wall, or in your cellphone.

Calving facilities and equipment

Prior to calving season, do a walk-through of your calving setup. This includes the calving barn, pens for assisting problem births and potential shelter during inclement weather.

“Make sure you have proper restraint — a head catch or place to tie a cow, a halter and rope — and good lighting,” Callan says. You don’t want to have to depend on flashlights in the middle of the night.

He says it’s also wise to pressure-wash or steam-clean every hard surface in calving facilities; and strip out the base of barns or stalls, and throw in some new dirt or lime. Have fresh bedding on hand in a convenient location, too, Callan says. 

“Make sure your calf chains or straps are clean and handy. The calf puller should be cleaned up, and within easy reach in the barn/calving stall. Be sure to check for rust or damage, and address any problem before you need it. A halter and rope can also be useful. A long, soft cotton rope for casting a cow for easier delivery (after correcting a malpresentation) is good to have on hand,” he says.

A calf or lamb nipple and bottle are handy if you need to feed colostrum. A nasogastric tube and funnel, or an esophageal probe feeder should also be part of your equipment.

“Check the tubes you used last year and replace old, stiff or dirty ones. An old tube can crack if the plastic goes bad over summer. You don’t want to discover you need a new one in the middle of the night,” Callan says.

It’s all about being prepared, he says. It can make life much easier and potentially save a calf.

Pasture management for pairs

Another important planning aspect for calving is where you’ll put calving cows and cow-calf pairs. Robert Callan, associate professor at Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Science, says the Sandhills Calving System is a proven system for decreasing scours and other infectious diseases.

“This system takes advantage of multiple calving areas to reduce buildup and transmission of pathogens from older calves to younger calves. One pasture area is used for calving at the start of calving season. After that, the animals that have not yet calved are moved to a new pasture every 1-2 weeks, depending on herd size and pasture availability. The cow-calf pairs already on the ground stay in the pasture they calved in,” Callan explains.

“If you don’t have a multiple-pasture setup, you might put up temporary electric fencing to divide pastures so it will work when the cows start calving. But don’t wait until the ground freezes if you plan to build some new fences,” he says.

Things to have on hand

  • Halter and rope
  • Disposable long-sleeve obstetrical (OB) gloves
  • OB lubricant in a squeeze bottle
  • Plastic bucket for wash water and/or plastic squeeze bottles for wash water
  • Rags or roll cotton for washing the cow
  • Clean OB chains/straps and handles
  • Calf-puller
  • Oxytocin and epinephrine
  • Suction bulb for suctioning fluid from the nostrils of a calf that’s not breathing
  • Iodine or chlorhexadine for disinfecting navel stumps
  • Flashlight (with batteries that work!)
  • Injectable antibiotics for cows/calves, prescribed by your vet
  • Sterile syringes and needles
  • Bottle and lamb nipple for feeding a calf
  • Stomach tube (nasogastric tube) or esophageal feeder
  • Frozen colostrum or packages of commercial colostrum replacer
  • Electrolytes
  • Toolbox to hold/carry needed items in one handy place

Heather Smith Thomas is a Salmon, ID, rancher and freelance writer.


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BEEF Readers Say They’re Dedicated To Herd Expansion In 2014

beef cow expansion plans

All it took was a little rain and some green grass, and the appetite for heifer retention, long suppressed by withering drought, is growling again. According to a survey of BEEF readers, almost half of respondents say they are in full expansion mode.

When asked “What are your plans concerning your cowherd size in 2013-2014?” 33.5% of respondents indicate they plan to expand by 1%-10%. Another 13.4% say they plan to expand by 11% or more. However, 38% say they’ll stay with about the same number of cows they’ve carried the past year, while another 4.7% say they will stay with the same number of cows but add other enterprises to the operation, such as stockers or a commercial heifer development program.

Very few respondents indicate they plan to cut herd size in the coming year. Only 4.8% indicate they will get smaller by 1%-10%, and another 2.5% plan to cut back 11% or more. Of those who plan to cut back, age and drought are the primary reasons for cutting back; 35.7% said they’re getting older and want to cut back, and a similar percentage say drought is still a concern. In addition, 16.7% say feed costs are still too high and 14.3% say land is too expensive.

Of course, weather and other factors can quickly change the best of intentions. In fact, in 2011, 33.7% of cow-calf producers responding to a January BEEF survey reported their intention to expand their cowherd size by 1%-10% that year, while 19.1% planned to expand by 11% or more. A combination of continued drought in major parts of cattle country, high inputs and a shaky economy altered many of those intentions.

2013-2014 beef industry expansion plans

Producers optimistic in long term

Folks in agriculture are die-hard optimists, and respondents to the latest survey feel good about the future. When asked their plans regarding cowherd size for the next 3-5 years (2014-2019), 31.5% of respondents say they plan to expand 1%-10%, while another 24.2% say they plan to expand by 11% or more. Combined, more than half of the respondents (55.7%) indicate they will continue growing their cowherd for the next few years.

Another 29% plan to stay with the same number of cows they have now, and 6.2% plan to add other enterprises to the mix. Only 3% say they plan to cut back by 1%-10% in the next 3-5 years, while 1.9% will pare down by 11% or more. Another 1.6% plan to get out of beef production but not retire, and 2.7% plan to retire in the next 3-5 years (see Figure 1).

plans for cowherd size for next 3 years

The picture becomes even more interesting when looking at the geographical breakdown of respondents. While producers in all regions indicate plans to expand, the largest percentages aren’t in the Great Plains.

Switching to a shorter-term outlook, the region with the highest percentage of those who plan to increase their cowherd size in 2013-2014 is the East North-Central (WI, IL, IN, MI and OH). In total, 60% of respondents from those states indicate they’ll expand either from 1%-10%, or 11% or more. Close behind is the East South-Central region (KY, TN, MS and AL) at 57.6%, followed by the South Atlantic (MD, DE, WV, VA, NC, SC, GA and FL) at a combined 52.1%.


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Next in line are producers in the West. The Pacific region (CA, OR and WA) showed that 50% of respondents from that area plan to expand, while 47.4% of producers in the Mountain states (MT, ID, WY, CO, UT, NV, AZ and NM) said they plan to grow their herds in the coming year.

Riding drag are producers in the Plains states. Of the respondents in the West South-Central states (TX, OK, AR and LA), 46.6% indicated they’ll add to their cowherds, while 40.6% of producers in the West North-Central region (ND, SD, MN, IA, NE, KS and MO) said they plan to add more females to the herd (see map above).

How they're expanding

Heifer retention is far and away the chosen method of growing the cowherd by BEEF survey respondents, with an 80.8% tally mark. Another 40.9% say they will buy replacement heifers (totals add up to more than 100% because some respondents will both keep heifers and buy replacements). Another 12.3% will cull fewer cows, and 2.8% plan to lease cattle or run them on shares.

retaining replacement heifersIn fact, when considering their 2013 calf crop, 76.6% of respondents plan to keep females back for breeding (see Figure 2). Of those, 37.2% say they’ll keep 20% or more of their 2013 heifers to develop and evaluate as brood cows. Another 21% plan to keep 6%-10% of their heifer crop; 14.7% plan to retain 1%-5% of their heifers; 14.3% plan to hold onto 11%-15%; and 12.8% say they’ll keep back 16%-20% (see Figure 3).

The incentive for heifer retention comes from a combination of Mother Nature and market signals. When asked “Why are you retaining heifers?” 48.9% said, “The market is telling me it’s time to expand,” while 44.6% say, “Have the pastures, and the drought is over.” In addition, 18.8% of respondents bought or leased more land, and 13.6% are adding a partner or family member to the operation. Figures add up to more than 100% because of multiple answers (see Figure 4).

Some respondents, however, don’t plan to keep their heifers. The market is also the primary factor in the decision by readers not to retain heifers. Of those respondents, 38.9% said they took the girls to town because feeder prices were so high. Another 19.1% said they’re getting older and want to cut back, while 14% are still dealing with drought and say they don’t have the feed or forage to justify expansion (see Figure 5).

beef industry expansion plans

However, 33.1% of respondents had other reasons for not keeping heifers back for breeding. “There’s as good of quality out there for sale, and I get a calf sooner,” one reader remarked.

Earnest about holding heifers

Earlier in 2013, industry analysts speculated that cattle producers attempted to begin herd expansion in 2012, but drought and high prices drove many of those heifers to town. BEEF readers indicated they kept heifers in 2012, but seemed to buck the trend of letting them go early.

Almost 71% of respondents say they kept heifers in 2012 for breeding purposes, with 28.6% keeping more than 20% of their 2012 heifer crop, and 23.6% keeping 6%-10%. An almost equal number split the difference — 14.5% of respondents kept 16%-20% of their heifers, and 14.7% kept 11%-15% of their 20912 heifer crop. Another 18.6% kept 1%-5% back.

However, 62% said “no” when asked if they sold some or all of their 2012 retained heifers as feeder cattle. Of those who did sell, the majority (57.9%) sold less than 25% of the heifers they kept back to develop into breeding stock. A little over 19% sold 26%-50% of their retained heifers; 14.2% sold 51%-75%, and only 8.7% sold 76%-100%.

Analysts have also speculated that, because of drought and the culling that ensued, the cowherd is younger than in years past. BEEF readers, reporting on their cowherds, seem to bear this out.

On average, survey respondents run around 300 cows. Respondents report that 42.6% of those cows are from 2-5 years old, and 42.5% are 6-8 years old. Only 14.9% of the cows are 9 years or older.

Bull prices continue to climb

BEEF also asked readers about bull-buying trends in 2013. Just over half the respondents, 54.5%, bought bulls in 2013 and 65.1% said they paid more in 2013 for bulls than they paid in 2012.

On average, respondents paid around $3,500 /bull in 2013. Of those who bought bulls, 36.6% paid between $2,500 and $3,499/head for their bull power, and 23.5% paid from $3,500 to $4,499/head. Another 18% paid less than $2,500 for their bulls, while 14.4% paid from $4,500 to $5,499/head. The remaining few respondents (7.5%) paid $5,500 or more for their bulls.

Marketplace indicators show herd expansion is underway, and BEEF readers are apparently aggressively acting on signals by holding heifers.


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