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Horse Slaughter, Horse Welfare A Victim of Legal Maneuvering

In a move that surprised just about everyone who has been following the long and sad controversy over horse slaughter, U.S. District Judge Christine Armijo in Albuquerque Nov. 1 dismissed a lawsuit by the Humane Society of the U.S (HSUS) and other animal terrorist groups designed to uphold the nation’s inability to humanely and effectively deal with an overpopulation of horses and other equines.

The HSUS lawsuit alleged that that USDA failed to conduct proper environmental studies when it issued permits to Valley Meat Co. in Roswell, NM and Responsible Transportation in Sigourney, IA to resume horse slaughter.

The reason the ruling to throw out the suit came as a surprise is because the same judge earlier this year issued a temporary restraining order that effectively kept the plants dark, even though they could have resumed operations.

The surprise, however, didn't last long. Not surprisingly, HSUS and the state of New Mexico immediately filed an appeal in the 10thU.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. Three days after Judge Armijo threw HSUS out of court, the Appeals panel in Denver welcomed them back with open arms. The appeals court instituted an emergency injunction requested by HSUS, effectively shutting everything down again.

And that’s unfortunate, because America’s horses deserve better than the inhumane treatment they’ve received at the hands of HSUS.

While horse slaughter in the U.S. has been at a standstill for many years, horse slaughter in Mexico and Canada continues. So HSUS and its minions haven’t stopped horse slaughter, and they most certainly haven’t helped horses.

Without a way of humanely dealing with unwanted horses, abuse was sure to happen. And it has. When horse slaughter in the U.S. was shut down, the horse market fell apart, particularly for just plain ‘ol horses. And predictably, without any salvage value and expensive upkeep, horse abuse cases shot up. The stories of abuse, of unwanted horses hauled out to the country and abandoned, were numerous and heartbreaking.

The horse is a noble creature and it deserves our respect. Unlike those who oppose horse slaughter, however, I think we show respect for horses not by allowing them to starve to death, but by having the infrastructure in place to humanely end their lives under the supervision of USDA inspectors and veterinarians.

Whether or not horse slaughter in the U.S. resumes in the next week still remains to be seen, as there are other issues at play. The regulatory issues largely revolve around wastewater permits for the two plants. But for the plant owners and their employees, the regulatory hassles may be the lesser of their problems.

According to the Associated Press, Rick de los Santos, owner of Valley Meats in Roswell, is hiring security as he prepares to bring his plant back into operation. Over the past two years, he and his wife have received numerous death threats, AP reports, and last summer, there was a suspicious fire at the plant.

It’s truly unfortunate that the de los Santos have to fear for their lives, but it shows just how out of control the debate, and some of those who oppose horse slaughter, have become.

It’s time for those who oppose horse slaughter to come to their senses, lay down their swords (literally and figuratively) and do what’s best for the horses they claim to love. In the end, if they won’t, it’s the lawyers who get fat and the horses that will continue to suffer the most.

 

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Is The Corn Boom Pushing Land Prices Above Profitability?

Well, corn fever is moving closer to my geography and I'm unsure what to think or do about it. When I say corn fever I'm talking about the corn price boom that started with the ethanol subsidy changes in 2005 and has continued through today.

As everyone with any interest in agriculture knows it has driven farmland prices to record highs in the Corn Belt and that has dragged all other land values, including pasture prices, higher with it. It looks uncomfortably to me like classic land-price run-up before the fall.

Last week, I went to a land lease auction for what we in Oklahoma call school lease land. At statehood in 1907, our state charter set aside one section of land in every township as land belonging to the state's schools. The proceeds from their rental and from mineral leasing go to fund our schools.

To read Newport's entire article, click here.

 

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Does The Show Cattle Industry Need A Wake-Up Call?

One of my favorite hobbies is showing the cattle we raise. Since I was five years old, I’ve been helping my dad break bulls for consignment sales and prepare my 4-H steers and heifers for summer shows. I learned a lot from showing cattle. As a kid, they were my responsibility. I washed them each day, which allowed me to really bond with these calves and helped me to fall in love with the beef cattle industry.

Over the years, I’ve felt the sting of last place and the glory of a championship. Even though I disliked the taste of losing, my parents always reminded me that win or lose, at the end of the day, showing cattle was much more than a place in a class line-up.

As I grew older, I became aware of some of the short cuts other showmen took to gain an edge in the show ring. Again, my parents stressed to me that if you can’t win honestly, what is the point? I needed to be proud of the cattle I raised and the honest work I put in to get them ready for the show.

If you’re around the show circuit, I’m sure you know of a few competitors who don’t always follow the rules. This isn’t unique to just the show ring; anytime you have a competitive sport, someone is going to try to gain an edge, honest or otherwise. That doesn’t mean it’s right.

 

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This past summer, the show industry was put in the spotlight when the “fluffy cows” trend hit mainstream media. Everyone wanted to know about those pretty show steers and how they got so much “pretty hair.” It was a chance for the industry to showcase the bright kids, high-quality cattle, and family-bonding that make up cattle shows.

However, a recent article appearing on MSN online titled, “U.S. Farm Kids Lavish Shampoo, Drugs On Prize Cattle,” is less than flattering to the show cattle industry.

Lisa Baertlein and P.J. Huffstutter write, “While performance-boosting drugs are banned in most human competitions, they are generally allowed on the livestock-show circuit. Many also get muscle-building livestock drugs added into animal feed. While performance-boosting drugs are banned today in most human sports competitions, Zilmax and other drugs of a type called beta-agonists are federally approved and generally allowed on the livestock-show circuit. For many contestants, the secret weapon of choice is Zilmax, a controversial feed additive sold by Merck & Co. Zilmax-based feeds can give show kids an edge in the headline competition for market-ready steers and heifers, say show sponsors and competitors.”

While there are some inaccuracies in the article, the tone doesn’t bode well for the beef industry. Of course, it was meant to be sensational. Zilmax, which was recently voluntarily pulled from the U.S. and Canada market while it undergoes additional study, is an FDA-approved product. This mainstream media outlet is taking some liberties in demonizing a legal product. It is not known why some cattle developed lameness when fed Zilmax in the last stage of finishing, and most did not, but the matter is under study while the product is under a voluntary recall by its maker.

What is your opinion on this issue? If it's legal, shouldn't producers have the right to use the products? Should its use be banned on the show circuit? Conversely, consumer perceptions about fluffy cows and livestock shows could quickly change, and the climate might not be so friendly. Do we need to police ourselves and make sure we are doing the morally acceptable (by society’s standards) thing when it comes to cattle shows? What about those who break the rules entirely? How should rules be better enforced at livestock shows? And how should the industry respond to this negative article? These are just a few of the questions I’m mulling over this morning, and I would love to hear your thoughts. Leave your opinions in the comments section below.

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BIF To Host Genetic Prediction Workshop

The Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) will host a Genetic Prediction Workshop in Kansas City, MO, Dec. 12-13 at the Holiday Inn KCI Airport and KCI Expo Center, 11728 NW Ambassador Drive.

The conference is designed to give academic, allied industry, breed association staff and cattle producers a forum to learn about and discuss the latest developments in beef cattle genetic evaluation strategies. The implementation of genomics technologies in national cattle evaluation systems will be the focus of discussion.

Speakers will highlight the experiences and current status of technology deployment at several major U.S. breed associations, experiences developing genomic predictions of genetic merit and alternate strategies for computation of genomically enabled EPDs. The conference will also feature discussion of planned modifications to the system used to compute the across-breed EPD adjustment factors at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center.

A USDA multi-state project (NCERA-225) focused on implementation and strategies for national beef cattle genetic evaluation will meet prior to the Genetic Prediction Workshop. This meeting will feature station reports and research updates from a number of committee members.

Registration for the BIF Genetic Prediction Workshop is $100 and includes a buffet breakfast, lunch, dinner and breaks during the conference. For NCERA committee members, an additional registration of $25 is required and includes a breakfast and break for this portion of agenda. Attendees must preregister for the events by Dec. 1. Online registration and full agenda is available at www.ksubeef.org in the Upcoming Beef Events section.

 

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Winterizing The Ranch, Plus Marketing Spring Calves

Winterizing The Ranch, Plus Marketing Spring Calves

We’re in a mad scramble around our place to finish the last of our winter preparations. The western part of the state was hit by a freakishly early storm in early October, but with November now here, steady inclement weather could be here to stay anytime now.

Among our last-minute preparations are a new fence and final work on a windbreak. We got started late on these projects due to state fairs, harvest, weaning and preg-checking, and this has been our first chance to get rolling with new fencing plans. We also spent the weekend baling cornstalks, which we’ll use to bed our cattle this winter.

Next on the list is making sure all the electric waterers are working in the lots, moving the last of the hay bales from the field to the home place, and figuring out which cows will need to be sorted off first once calving starts around the end of January.

There’s much to be done in preparation for Mother Nature’s most challenging season, but we’ve got a pretty good system in place now to deal with whatever she throws at us. What preparations do you take to get ready for winter?

 

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Last week, we gave away10 pairs of Heat Holders® socks by asking readers a series of questions. In case you missed the previous conversations, here they are for you to review and join in:

What Makes A Cull Cow?

• What Do You Look For At A Cattle Sale?

• Which Forages Do You Utilize In The Fall?

• When Do You Market Your Calves?

Thursday’s discussion talked about the best time to market spring-born calves. Three final winners were chosen to take home a pair of Heat Holders® socks. Our winners are Doug, Flatrock Farms and Jim Holder. Congratulations!

Doug writes, “The best feeder sale in my area is the day after Thanksgiving. If I am going to sell that is the day. If I sell my calves are weaned for a minimum of 2 weeks, crimped, vaccinated and tagged. I usually keep them over winter but with feeder prices this year I am leaning towards selling in November.”

Flatrock Farm says, “A group of 10 of us will sell our calves in July for November 1st pick up. They are weaned early September, vaccinated 2 rounds of shots & bunk broke. We average 40 head each but together the feedlots & buyers will talk to us & they must be Angus & Gelbveih cross(50-50) with heavier influence of Angus if not. They are weighed at the farm twice, then weighed on truck scales then into the pots. We go off of the November future price for the contract.”

Jim Holder adds, “I check Harlan's and others yearlings price prediction for next year, long range moisture prediction, recall the nuisance trait of tending yearlings and then flip a coin?”

Thanks to everyone who participated in last week’s conversations. I hope to hear from you on upcoming blog topics. Thanks again!

 

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Carcass Weights Decline and Grade Increases

carcass quality and weight change from zilmax withdrawal

More carcasses are lighter and are earning higher quality grades than a year ago, say analysts with the Livestock Marketing Information Center (LMIC). They say both are due, in part, to the voluntary removal of the beta agonist Zilmax from the market.

According to LMIC, 63% of federally inspected cattle graded Choice from January 1 to the middle of September this year. That was less than 1% more than the same period a year earlier. For the weeks of October 12 and October 19—the most recent data sets—Choice grade climbed a stunning 4.2% and 3.4%, respectively compared to a year earlier.

At the same time, dressed steer weights (federally inspected) were 5 lbs. less and dressed heifer weights were 11 lbs. less than a year earlier, for the week ending Oct. 5.

LMIC analysts explain average carcass weights have trended higher year-over-year for decades. Year-over-year declines have been associated with harsh winter weather.

“Removal of Zilmax has likely been the major factor raising the quality grade of cattle,” LMIC analysts say. “Dressed weights have probably dropped modestly year-over-year due to two factors: the elimination of Zilmax and also a ratcheting-up in feedlot turnover rates (often measured by marketings compared to the on-feed inventory). When cattle supplies are tight, feedlot turnover rates typically increase because packers are bidding aggressively.”

 

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Feedlot Heifer Bulge May Be Nearing End

feedlot heifer bulge

Overall, Thursday’s delayed Cattle on Feed report will likely be viewed as slightly bullish. Compared to analysts estimates ahead of when the report was originally scheduled, there were fewer cattle on feed October 1, fewer placed in September and more marketings (see below).

What surprised some is the percentage of heifers still on feed.

“Many analysts, including ourselves, expected heifers to represent a smaller share of the on-feed inventory,” says John Otte, Penton market analyst. “The logic: strong returns to beef and respectable returns to dairy encourage producers to expand both the beef and dairy herds. Apparently, the lure of pricy feeder cattle has enticed cow-calf producers to let feedlots have heifers and stash their cash in the bank.”

Heifers were 36.2% of the on-feed inventory October 1, compared to 35.4% a year earlier and 36.0% two years earlier.

However, the elevated heifer percentage could represent the waning bulge of increased heifer placements that occurred heading into summer.

“Heifers on feed dropped sharply in the last half of 2012 then increased relatively in the first half of 2013,” explains Derrell Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist. “By July of this year, heifers on feed were still down year over year, but down only 3.5% compared to a 9.5% decrease on January 1, 2013. It appeared that more heifers entered feedlots in the first half of the year. This is further indicated by the fact that heifer slaughter has been higher by 2.7% since July after being down 3.7% year- over-year, in the first half of the year. This bulge in heifer slaughter should be nearly finished and decreasing heifer slaughter is expected for the remainder of the year.”

 

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In the meantime, there’s no question that heifer prices are increasing relative to steer peers.

Using auction prices for Oklahoma City (basis 525 lbs. Medium-Large #1) Peel explains heifers were discounted to steers by an average of 11.6% during 2008-2012.

“So far in 2013, the discount has averaged a little larger at 12.8%,” Peel says. “In several specific cases last week, the replacement heifers were discounted only 2-4% from comparable steers, with some examples of heifers priced higher than steers… I expect the overall discount of heifers to steers of the same weight to be smaller on average for the next couple of years if herd expansion is indeed underway.”

Cattle on Feed Highlights

Cattle on feed October 1 (10.1 million head) are 8% less than a year earlier. The pre-report estimate was for a decline of 7.3%.

Placements during September (2.03 million head) were 1% more than the previous year. The pre-release estimate was for 1.4% more.

Marketings in September (1.70 million head) were 6% more than last year. The pre-report was estimate was for marketings of 4.3% more.

Heifers on feed (3.66 million head) is 8% less than a year ago, but they represent a large portion of the on-feed inventory than a year earlier; 36.2% this year versus 35.3% last year.

 


 

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Calf-Feeder Prices Maintain Counter-Seasonal Strength

cattle prices

“Most sellers are receiving unprecedented prices for the fall time period as the countercyclical prices for stocker calves and feeder cattle remain strong,” says Andrew P. Griffith, University of Tennessee agricultural economist, in his weekly market comments.

Steer and heifer calves sold mostly steady this week with instances of as much as $5/cwt. higher. The advance was mostly in the Southeast and the Southern Plains winter wheat region, according to the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Friday. 

“Plainer and smaller packages of un-weaned and unworked calves seem to fall farther behind their peers every week,” AMS analysts say. “Many areas have received their first hard freeze but buyers will continue to snub the high-risk cattle until the big strings peter out and the weather turns consistently cold.” 

Dwindling supplies of yearlings sold fully steady.

“Despite the seasonally large offerings of feeder calves, headcounts are noticeably lighter than usual throughout the circuit mostly due to multiple years of drought across major production areas and the sudden rise in heifer retention,” AMS analysts say. “These tight supplies should support price levels throughout the fall and winter, along with much cheaper feed costs as corn prices marked a three-year low early this past week.”

 “There is potential for stocker and feeder cattle prices to decline, but it is unlikely the bottom will fall out, barring outside factors,” Griffith says. “It is still important for producers to consider backgrounding calves and the opportunity that is currently available with such a management decision if the resources are available…”
 
Scant negotiated cash fed cattle trade continued through late Friday afternoon with scattered sales reported unevenly steady compared to the prior week: $132/cwt. on a live basis in the Southern Plains and $132-$134 up North. Dressed sales in Nebraska and Iowa-Minnesota were reported steady at $208, but too few to trend.

 

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The lack of cash market activity, wonderments about the market’s ability to maintain record-high prices, lower-trending commodities and a strengthening dollar pressured Live Cattle futures later in the week. That and a lack of non-commercial interest pressured Feeder Cattle futures sharply lower, especially at the front of the board.

Week-to-week, wholesale beef values continued to gain traction, however. Choice cutout was $3.63/cwt. higher week-to-week and Select was $3.74 higher week-to-week, and that was after dropping 57¢ and 97¢ Friday, respectively.

“We think one big reason for the recovery of the cutout is the resurgence in the value of fat beef trimmings (50CL beef trim),” Steve Meyer and Len Steiner say in Wednesday’s Daily Livestock Report. They explain 50CL beef trimmings averaged about 60¢/lb. last October, an unusually low price wrought by supply and demand disruptions associated with the controversy over lean finely textured beef.

“Fat trim supplies were backed up in the freezer for much of the summer and it took a while to work through the backlog and for packers to rework their processes to bring supplies more in line with available demand,” Meyer and Steiner say. By the middle of this week, fat trim prices were almost 50¢/lb. higher at $1.14/lb.

Incidentally, less beef cow slaughter in coming months—a key source of trim—means cull prices could blast higher.

“Market cows (cull cows) continue to be relatively strong for the time of year,” Griffith says. “If some of the cows in the herd are not meeting production standards, then it could be beneficial to market that cow and reinvest in bred heifers. A 1,200-lb. market cow would bring between $800 and $900 based on this week’s weighted average price. It could be advantageous for some producers to market two underperforming cows and replace them with one good bred heifer as it would likely reduce feed costs and improve production efficiency.”

 

 

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With 60% Of U.S. Corn Harvested, Things Are Looking Good

With 60% Of U.S. Corn Harvested, Things Are Looking Good

With over 60% of the corn harvested in the U.S., one would think that the better-than-expected yields will hold up to the end. It’s a good thing that yields have exceeded expectations, but it has some analysts pondering the question of why that would be the case.

Was the weather pattern more conducive than initially thought?  Are American farmers just so much better at what they do today with improved farming practices, equipment and genetic varieties?

The answer to both of these questions is probably a resounding “yes.” We see the same trend with harvest this fall as we saw with planting last spring. And that’s that today’s farmers can flat cover some ground in a hurry when they have to.

So while we’re debating why yields are as good as they have been for quite some time, what we still don’t know is just how big the crop yield will be. Of course, that depends on the final harvested acres count and yield. But one thing we do definitively know is that the cattle industry is far more competitive in the global protein market when we have abundant corn. Ethanol may have significantly decreased the size of our industry but, amazingly, it hasn’t greatly altered our competitive position. If someone wants high-quality, corn-fed beef, America is still the place to go.

 

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tax tips for drought sales of cattle

Halloween is past, but the fright continues for some folks facing end-of-year tax decisions. Delayed action on “drought sales” and consideration of revisions to IRS tax codes can conjure up a cold sweat for even the crustiest cowboy.

Stan Bevers, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension economist in Vernon, reminds producers that several features for 2013 income tax filings can have a greater financial impact than in the past.

Some involve the sale of livestock during the recent droughts, Bevers says. Hundreds of thousands of cows were sold in late 2010, 2011 and 2012 due to drought and its impact on pastures and water supplies. Calves that normally would have been grazed for later sale had to be sold early. A lot of that income was deferred.

“These provisions haven’t changed since this drought started in the fall of 2010,” Bevers says. “There are two situations. The first is Internal Revenue Code (IRC) 1033(e), where the rancher sells breeding stock (cows, bulls, etc). This is an ‘Involuntary Conversion of Assets.’

“The second situation is IRC 451(e), where the rancher sells calves in the current year, while normal business practice is for him to graze his calves until the following year and then sell them. The rancher doubles up his income. However, using this code, the rancher can defer his income from the sale of the calves until the next year just as if he had grazed his calves and then sold them the following year.”

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) also provides this information on IRC 1033(e):

• If the producer’s county is eligible for federal disaster assistance at the time of sale, the replacement period begins on the date that the livestock were sold and ends at the conclusion of the first taxable year after the first drought-free year for that area.

• If the producer resides in an area that hasn’t been declared eligible for disaster assistance, the replacement period begins on the date of the sale and ends two years after the close of the tax year in which the involuntary conversion occurred.

 

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IRC 451(e) provides for the one-year postponement of gain on the sale of all classes of livestock. NCBA says that in order to qualify for this election a producer must meet the following criteria:

Their principal business must be farming; they must use the cash method of accounting; they can show that under usual business practices, they would not have sold or exchanged the additional animals this year except for the weather-related condition; and the weather-related condition caused an area to be designated as eligible for assistance by the federal government.

Bevers says there are also provisions dealing with a ranch or farm’s expense deductions, filed using IRS Section 179. “The maximum amount you can elect to deduct for most Section 179 property you placed in service in 2013 is $500,000,” he says. “This limit is reduced by the amount by which the cost of the property placed in service during the tax year exceeds $2 million.”

IRS has extended a special depreciation allowance for certain qualified property acquired after 2007. “You may be able to take a 50% special depreciation allowance for certain qualified property acquired after Dec. 31, 2007 and placed in service before Jan. 1, 2014,” Bevers says.

He adds that additional revised tax provisions involve Social Security and Medicare. “For tax years beginning in 2013, the Social Security part of the self-employment tax increases from 10.4% to 12.4%,” he says.  “As a result, the self-employment tax is increased from 13.3% to 15.3%.

“The maximum net self-employment earnings subject to the Social Security part (12.4%) of the self-employment tax increases to $113,700 for 2013. There is no maximum limit on earnings subject to the Medicare part (2.9%).”

Other tax provisions for 2013 include setting the standard mileage rate for cost of operating your vehicle at 56.5¢/mile.

Bevers encourages producers to seek assistance from their accountant to determine how their operations are impacted by the tax codes. Find more on the NCBA tax information here.

Larry Stalcup is an Amarillo, TX-based freelance writer.

 

 

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