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Articles from 2016 In November

What’s your priority, calving or rebreeding?

AI breeding cows

It’s not just chickens that have the dilemma of which came first. Every cow-calf producer faces a similar dilemma.

And that is, which comes first, calving or rebreeding? You might put all of your eggs in the calving “basket,” since a live, healthy calf is often first priority. But a calf is ultimately the result of a successful breeding period, and preparation for calving and rebreeding should occur simultaneously.

“Calving and rebreeding ideally occur within a relatively short, but very critical, 85-day window,” says Chad Zehnder, Ph.D., cattle consultant with Purina Animal Nutrition. “How a heifer or cow calves out at the beginning of the window will impact her ability to get bred at the end of the window, and how quickly rebreeding occurs will impact a cow’s ability to stay on a 365-day calving cycle.”

Here are four strategies you can implement now to prepare for spring calving and rebreeding:

1. Monitor body condition score

The body condition score (BCS) of a cow at calving not only affects colostrum quality, cow stamina (to get through birthing) and calf vigor, it also impacts the time until that cow starts cycling again.

“We want cows cycling prior to the breeding season so that when they come into heat during breeding season we have a better chance of getting them bred in the first 21 days. Cows bred early in the breeding season will result in calves born early in calving season,” says Zehnder.

Calf age has the biggest impact on weaning weight. Therefore, calves born in the first 21 days of the season are likely heavier at weaning. If you estimate that a calf gains between 2.25 to 2.5 pounds per day, every heat cycle is worth roughly 50 pounds. That’s why it’s so critical to get cows rebred on the first cycle.

Mature cows should calve in at a minimum of 5.5 BCS, but preferably at a score of 6. Heifers should calve at a minimum score of 6. Supplementation can help maintain a consistent BCS which can lead to cows breeding back quickly, optimized conception rates and heavier calf weaning weights.

2. Evaluate your mineral program

Mineral nutrition is one of the most commonly overlooked items on the calving and rebreeding preparation list.

“We tend to think about the importance of minerals either right at calving or before breeding, but we need to make sure we’re providing an adequate mineral program year-round,” says Zehnder. “Minerals are especially important 60 to 90 days before calving, since they impact colostrum quality, calf trace mineral status and calf health.”

Minerals also play a role in tissue repair, helping the cow’s reproductive tract repair from calving and prepare for breeding. If the tract is not fully repaired, a cow may have challenges being rebred or she may not breed back at all.

A program with highly bioavailable trace mineral sources can be of benefit, especially leading up to calving season and through breeding. The bioavailability of a mineral source alters the absorptive ability of the trace minerals eliciting their full benefit.

3. Discuss herd health with your veterinarian

If you don’t have a comprehensive herd health program, now is the time to talk with your veterinarian or animal health supplier to develop one. If you have a program, it can be beneficial to re-evaluate and ensure the protocols still make sense.

“Make sure you have a vaccination program in place for both cows and calves,” says Zehnder. “Since every operation has a different risk level in how and when they calve, the program should be specific to your operation and region.”

For operations with multiple employees, make sure everyone is familiar and comfortable with the program ahead of time. Getting everyone on the same page before calving begins can help ensure protocols are followed correctly and consistently.

4. Take time to troubleshoot

Calving and rebreeding are two of the most important events for an operation’s bottom line which makes it stressful when things don’t go as planned. However, an overreaction may make things even worse.

“It’s easy to get frustrated when there’s a bump in the road, but it’s important to take an objective approach when a challenge arises,” Zehnder says. “Troubleshoot and try to figure out what the true cause is versus making a knee-jerk decision.”

Involve your nutritionist, veterinarian, suppliers, employees and other key personnel to help work through a cause and solution. A team discussion can help identify the diagnostic work needed to find a solution.

Regardless of which takes priority in your mind, calving and rebreeding success is always in season.

“We need to think about that critical 85-day window year-round. Every management decision we make throughout the year should focus on a cow delivering a live, healthy calf and being bred back in that timeframe,” says Zehnder.

Help keep cows productive and in the herd longer by supplementing your forage with solutions available through the Purina® All Seasons Cattle Nutrition Program. Talk to your local Purina representative to learn more, or visit to start your feeding trial. 

Material on BEEF Briefing Room comes directly from company news releases. Source: Purina Animal Nutrition

Smaller cows win, and that includes their calves in the feedlot

Smaller cows, more profit

A North Dakota study shows smaller cows can produce more ranch profit, even when feedlot closeouts are applied to their steer calves.

Researchers at North Dakota State University took the data from the university’s own two cow herds, one averaging 1,050 pounds and the other averaging 1,450 pounds, and blended in cowherd data from Minnesota farm management records (FINBIN). This allowed them to compare data for a 100-cow, traditionally managed spring-calving herd with that of a May-calving, 120-head herd of smaller-framed cows. The same land mass would run either herd.

They needed the FINBIN data because all the university's cows, large and small, are now managed in a later-calving system with longer grazing into the winter timeframe.

I just published a synopsis of this research project on the Beef Producer website and you can read the annual report from NDSU.

The chart I've provided here gives a quick look at the numbers from the study. You'll see the first two columns are labeled FLOT for feedlot and include data from the half of steers that went to the feedlot each year. The labels (SF) are the smaller versus the larger (LF) steers. In the FLOT segment, these steers came out of the cow-calf program early and went straight to the feedlot.

The right two columns are labeled GRAZ and cover the grazing period for the steers kept on the farm to graze through the winter. Again, they are separated by large-frame and small-frame steers.

The gist of the story is this: Smaller cows were about $65 per head cheaper to keep and produced steer calves with total carcass value about $250 lower, and had a net return per steer of $74 less. However, because the steers and their dams were cheaper to feed and especially because they produced more tons of quality fed beef, they produced more profit.

NDSU beef specialist Kris Ringwall notes the smaller-framed cows produced about a 10% increase in revenue versus the larger-framed cows, based on steer calf performance all the way through the feedlot.

The smaller-framed cows' total finished-steer net return was $4,517 greater, when extrapolated to a herd of 120 cows averaging frame score 3.8 and weighing about 1,050 pounds, versus a herd of 100 cows averaging frame 5.5 and weighing about 1,450 pounds.

Herd figures showed smaller-framed cows earned $49,308 ($821.81 on 60 steers), while larger-framed cows earned $44,791 ($895.82 on 50 steers).

Grazing costs and returns were not immediately evident in the charts, but could be figured from the grazing chart in the Beef Producer article or from the annual report. Grazing average daily gain was 2.34 pounds for large-framed steers and 2.13 pounds for small-framed steers. Cost to put on each pound of gain was 60.78 cents for large-framed steers and 55.67 cents for small-framed steers. Therefore we could assume it cost $1.42 per day to graze the large steers and $1.19 per day to graze the small steers.

You can plug in your own reasonable price to weigh against the cost, but if they were both worth $1.50 per pound, the added 2.34 pounds on the larger steers would be worth $3.51 and the added 2.13 pounds on the smaller steers would be worth $3.20. In that case, the daily profit per steer would be:

  • Large steer profit = $2.09 per head per day
  • Small steer profit = $2.01 per head per day

In looking at this project and data, it's very important to note the major cost-saving differences in cow management and not focus solely on cow frame score.

There exist three primary management differences between the two herds as they appear in the research project. Ringwall identifies these as major cost-cutting practices:

1. Later calving date decreases labor and cow feed costs.
2. Lower overhead with an intensified, multiple-crop rotation that includes cover crops, harvesting some crops and grazing the majority of the acreages by cows, calves and yearlings. Grazing lasts much longer into the fall.
3. Reduce cow frame score to decrease inputs and increase ranch output.

Ringwall says the later calving date discounts the idea of selling these smaller calves at a fall weaning and makes carrying them through a winter grazing program even more important.

Alan Newport is editor of BEEF Vet and Beef Producer, sister publications to BEEF.

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Myths and facts: is internal parasite control necessary?

Those worms nestled all warm and comfy in your cattle’s digestive system are sucking more than energy and performance from your cattle. It’s a silent sucking sound, but the money leaking out of your wallet is very real.

In fact, it’s estimated that the cattle industry loses about $3 billion each year in lost weight gains, poor feed conversion and increased disease because of internal parasites.1 With the financial impact and animal welfare concerns on cattle operations, it is important for producers to understand parasite control, as well as the misconceptions about parasite control.

Here are five parasite control myths that might be putting a producer’s management program at risk.

Myth No. 1: All active ingredients in parasite control products have the same efficacy.

There are different active ingredients and different classes of dewormers, which should be used strategically on an operation for effective parasite control, advises Mark Alley, DVM, managing veterinarian with Zoetis.

Products such as DECTOMAX® Pour-On or DECTOMAX® Injectable provide both extended therapy and good efficacy against both adult and inhibited Ostertagia, the brown stomach worm. However, in populations of cattle where Cooperia, Nematodirus or Haemonchus are an issue, white dewormers such as VALBAZEN® Suspension may be a better selection. It is important that a producer has a discussion with his or her veterinarian or animal health provider to determine which is most appropriate.

Myth No. 2: My animals look fine, so I don’t have a parasite resistance problem.

“Parasitologists agree that no dewormer provides 100% effectiveness against parasites,” said Dr. Alley. “We make the assumption that all parasite control products are 100% effective, but even with 50% kill of parasites, producers will see a clinical improvement in the animals.”

Dr. Alley says producers can’t tell visually if there is a resistant parasite problem in the herd. They need to work closely with their veterinarian to diagnose resistant parasites and establish a strategic deworming program.

Myth No. 3: Parasites cannot withstand winter’s cold temperatures.

“It is a mistake to think it gets cold enough to kill parasites over the winter,” Dr. Alley said.

Parasites can simply overwinter in cattle or pastures. While winter may take its toll on many things, studies demonstrate that infective larvae were able to survive on pastures during winter months.2,3

Myth No. 4: Antiparasitics can be administered to work at a producer’s convenience.

Timing is critical for administering antiparasitic products. Often, producers deworm when it’s most convenient for them, rather than when it’s most effective to control parasites. Dr. Alley recommends year-round parasite control, both in the fall and again in the spring before summer pasture turnout.

Myth No. 5: Dosing to the average weight of the group is adequate.

It’s important for producers to not only match the dewormer to the type of parasite challenge but also to administer each dose per the animal’s calculated weight. Incorrect dosing has been identified as a major contributor to the development of resistant parasites. A common practice is to dose products to the average weight of the herd, rather than to the individual weight of the animal. In this case, half the herd could be underdosed.

For more information about parasite control, please visit with your animal health adviser or Zoetis representative.


Material on BEEF Briefing Room comes directly from company news releases. Source: Zoetis

1 Bagley C, Healey MC, Hansen D. Beef Cattle Handbook: Internal parasites in cattle. Accessed October 24, 2016.

2 Tritschler J. Internal Parasite Control in Grazing Ruminants. Petersburg, VA: Virginia State University.

3 Smith HJ, Archibald RM. On the Survival of Overwintering Bovine Gastrointestinal Nematode Larvae During the Subsequent Grazing Season. Can J Comp Med. 1969;33(1):44-47. Accessed October 24, 2016.




Hereford photo contest announced

If any ‘ol picture is worth a thousand words, what’s a picture of a Hereford cow, calf, bull or crossbred worth? Recognition for your ability with a camera and maybe $100.

The American Hereford Association (AHA) is once again hosting a monthly "Hereford Shots" photo contest for all Hereford and photography enthusiasts.

Each month the AHA will have a different theme for photo submissions. A panel of industry experts will judge entries and select the top five submissions each month.  Those entries will vie for a "People's Choice Award" on the AHA Facebook page.

Submitted photos could be used in Hereford marketing and promotional projects including ad campaigns, social media, newsletters, the AHA website and the Hereford World.

Monthly "People's Choice" winners will be published in the Hereford World and recognized online.  In December, the 11 monthly winners will compete for the 2017 photo of the year on the AHA Facebook page. The winner will receive a $100 gift card.

Entry deadlines are the first of each month. For example, January entries are due Jan. 1. The top five entries will post to Facebook by the fifth of each month, and voting will remain open until the 10th of each month.

Photos must be high quality, high-resolution and submitted electronically. Digital submissions must be 300 dpi, minimum 8"x10" and in JPG format. To submit, e-mail or dropbox images to         

All photos become the property of the AHA. The AHA reserves the right to use any images submitted for the Hereford World or for any AHA or Certified Hereford Beef marketing purpose.

Monthly themes are as follows:

            January: Herefords in the Snow - Hereford cows/calves/bulls must be the focus of the image with a snow/winter theme.

            February: Hereford Love - Show us how you care for your Herefords. Farmers and ranchers working with Herefords should be the focus of the photo.

            March: Herefords Up Close - Hereford cattle up close must be the focus of the image.

            April: Herefords in the Spring - Hereford cows/calves/bulls must be the focus of the image with a spring theme.

            May: All About the Bull - The Hereford bull must be dominant in the photo. Suggested poses include ¾ front or rear-view, a group of bulls, or a bull with cows and/or calves.

            June: The Momma - Photo must feature the Hereford cow. Calves or bulls may be in the photo but the focus must be on the cow.

            July: Unbeatable Baldies - Photo must feature baldie females or calves. The photo can also include a Hereford bull, but that is not required.

            August: Hereford Juniors in Action - Hereford youth must be the focus with a Hereford also in the photo. Examples include working cattle, feeding, showing, fitting etc.

            September: Out to Pasture - Scenic cowherd shots. This can include only Hereford cattle or can be a commercial herd with a Hereford bull and baldie calves.

            October: Working Cattle - Images of working cattle. Examples include administering shots, branding and sorting cattle.

            November: The Sale Ring - Images of Hereford or Hereford-influenced cattle in a sale ring. Images can be from a production sale or a sale barn. This includes any image related to sale day.

            For more information about the Hereford Shots contest, contact Kaylen Baker at

Material on BEEF Briefing Room comes directly from company news releases. Source: American Hereford Association


How to understand the new credit cards

How to understand the new credit cards

The credit card industry continues to generate a confusing array of terms. Here’s what you need to know about the different types of cards:

Magnetic stripe and signature. Sometimes dubbed “stripe and swipe,” these cards have been used in the United States for the past several decades. Customer information is stored in magnetic stripes which are easily duplicated to make counterfeit cards.

Who’s liable for fraud: Banks incurred responsibility for transactions made with counterfeit cards. Retailers were responsible for charges made with stolen credit cards.

Chip and signature. These new cards are better protected against counterfeiting because customer information is contained in a chip that is difficult to duplicate.

Who’s liable for fraud: Retailers who have not installed the new chip readers now incur responsibility for charges made with counterfeit cards. Retailers also continue to incur liability for charges made with stolen cards.

Chip and PIN. Used in much of Europe but still rare in the U.S., these cards replace signature authentication with numerical PINs. Liability remains the same as chip and signature cards.

The term “EMV enabled” refers to cards and checkout systems that are compliant with the new chip technology. EMV stands for “Europay, MasterCard and Visa.”

All eyes on Cuba in wake of Fidel Castro’s death

The world history books marked the death of Fidel Castro, at the age of 90, last week. Some are mourning the loss of the “revolutionary icon” — a term used by many U.S. media outlets. Many others are celebrating the death of a tyrant who stole family businesses, locked up those who spoke out against him and killed even more who got in his way.

Love him or hate him, with the death of Castro, the agricultural community is watching and waiting to see what moves President-Elect Donald Trump will make once he takes office.

Will he undo the executive orders President Barack Obama made to loosen up travel and trade for American tourists and businesses to enjoy in Cuba? Or will relations with Cuba strengthen under Cuba’s current leadership, Raul Castro, at the helm?

In a statement made following the news of Castro’s death, Trump said, “Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights. Though the tragedies, deaths and pain caused by Fidel Castro cannot be erased, our administration will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty.”

READ: Trump condemns Castro as ‘brutal dictator,’ by David Jackson for USA Today

Later, Trump indicated his intentions on future relations with Cuba by tweeting, “If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal.”

While the future is uncertain, Yahoo Finance is bullish on what’s ahead for Cuba as the Herzfeld Caribbean Basin Fund, Inc. (CUBA) is surging in the marketplace with a 12% return on Monday.

READ: ‘CUBA’ is surging following Fidel Castro’s death, by Melody Hahm for Yahoo Finance

Some members of the GOP are pushing for an easement of Cuba trade relations, which would benefit agricultural businesses in the U.S. However, Republican Florida Senator Marco Rubio, whose parents were born in Cuba, backs Trump’s strict policy with Cuba.

According to, Rubio sat down for an interview with CNN’s State of the Union over the weekend and stressed the importance of the U.S. focusing on its own security while encouraging Cuba to move toward democratic policies.

In the interview, Rubio said, “We should examine our policy toward Cuba through those lenses. And if there's a policy that helps that, it remains in place. And if it's a policy that doesn't, it's removed.”

READ: Trump’s threat to end Cuba detente may rouse GOP opposition by AP reporter Richard Lardner

The U.S. agricultural community is speaking out on their hopes for Cuban-American relations going forward.

Gene Hall, Texas Farm Bureau director of public relations, recently wrote about his previous trade missions to Cuba saying, “Our group included a congressman, Texas rice industry officials and Texas rice farmers. Castro was charming and gracious. I reminded myself of political prisoners locked up not far away and, of course, the Cuban Missile Crisis, played out when I was a terrified 8-year-old child. Cuba has potential as a neighbor and trading partner, but communism is the one obstacle it will never be able to overcome. Castro’s sins should be buried with him as both sides look forward to a better day.”

Meanwhile, Kevin Paap, Minnesota Farm Bureau president said in a recent interview with Dow Jones Business News, “Every other country in the world has diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba, and what we don't want to do is lose that market share to the European Union, Brazil, Argentina.”

I’m curious to know what the beef industry community thinks will happen following the death of Castro. Do you think Trump will be firm on requiring the Cuban regime to allow more religious and business freedoms before trade relations can continue? Do you think rural America would benefit from a normalization of trade with Cuba? Do you see the U.S. embargo coming to a full and complete end? Do you think Raul Castro, who has said he plans to step down in 2018, will loosen the reins or pass on the baton to a more democratic leader?

There are many unanswered questions to think about. Time will tell. In the meantime, let me know your opinions in the comments section below.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or Penton Agriculture.

3 questions to ask when crunching production numbers

Markets are down and every dollar counts. Now is the perfect time to make sure your cow-calf enterprise is as productive and efficient as it can be. As you crunch numbers and determine the ways you will weather this lull in the cattle cycle, ask yourselves these three questions:

1. What did it cost to produce a calf this year?

Aaron Berger, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension educator, suggests that cow-calf producers analyze their costs of production right after weaning to determine the actual costs for producing a pound of weaned calf.

Berger says, “Unit Cost of Production (UCOP) takes into account both product produced and input costs. Knowing UCOP allows a manager to look forward, utilizing both present and projected input costs with production numbers to make informed decisions. You can’t change last year’s cost of production numbers, but with good information, you can make management changes that will impact the upcoming year. Cow-calf producers who know UCOP numbers and understand the interaction between costs and production can implement strategies to effectively manage resources to meet business and personal goals.”

Read more about how to calculate your UCOP by clicking here.

2. Have I completed a ranch inventory?

Sean Kelly, South Dakota State University Extension range management field specialist, says during times of belt-tightening, completing a ranch inventory is imperative so producers can efficiently utilize what they have available on the ranch.

Kelly explains that a ranch inventory should include four categories of resources including: natural, financial, human and physical.

He writes, “Slower winter months ahead on the ranch are an excellent time to work on a ranch inventory. The first attempt will be the most time consuming. Each passing year, the ranch inventory will become more detailed, accurate and useful. Having a list of all available resources to ranch with will allow a ranch manager complete a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.”

Follow Kelly’s two-part series on completing a ranch inventory by clicking here.

3. How can I tighten the breeding season and improve reproductive rates?

Les Anderson, University of Kentucky Extension beef specialist, reminds us that while we can’t control the markets, we can control our productivity and efficiency. To improve upon those things we can control, he suggests tightening your breeding season window.

Anderson writes, “The first step to increasing reproductive rate is establishing and limiting the breeding season. Controlling the breeding season increases revenue and decreases cow costs, leading to an increased opportunity to profit.”

Read Anderson’s four-part plan for tightening the breeding season by clicking here.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or Penton Agriculture.


Is your ranch ready for VFD in 2017?

If you need a veterinarian to sign a VFD so you can buy medicated mineral but n

In just a few weeks, the veterinary feed directive (VFD) will become effective. That means when Jan. 1, 2017, rolls around, everyone in the cattle business will face a new and different landscape regarding the use of antibiotics in animal feed that are medically important for humans.

That changing landscape means if you don’t have a valid veterinary client-patient relationship with a veterinarian, you’re rapidly running out of time.

In a recent survey of BEEF readers as well as practicing bovine veterinarians, 55.7% of the 912 beef producers who responded say yes when we asked if they have such a relationship with their veterinarian, 25.7% say no and 18.6 don’t know (Figure 1).

That means 44.3% of the respondents may very well find themselves confused as well as unable to obtain the medicated feed and mineral they have been accustomed to buying over the counter at their feed store or co-op. If these results are reflective of the beef business in general — and they probably are — lots of folks have a lot of catching up to do.

The other side of that equation, however, is the availability of veterinarians. The flight of veterinarians from rural practice to urban and suburban practice has long been a point of consternation with beef producers. If you need a veterinarian to sign a VFD so you can buy medicated mineral, but no veterinarian is available to visit your operation, that’s a problem.

Of the BEEF readers who rated the availability of large-animal veterinarians, 59.2% say it is adequate in their area. Beyond that, 21.7% say there is a slight or seasonal shortage, 13.7% see a significant shortage and 5.4% have a severe shortage (Figure 2).

When we asked veterinarians the same question, the results were similar. Of the veterinarians who responded, 61.2% say availability of veterinary services is adequate, 22.9% see a slight or seasonal shortage, 12.3% see a significant shortage and 3.5% have a severe shortage (Figure 3).

Looking ahead, when readers were asked if they are concerned about a future shortfall in the availability of large-animal veterinary services, 32.4% say not presently, but 34.9% had concerns about the long run. In the shorter term, 17% say they see a shortage looming and 15.8% say there is already a shortage of veterinary services in their area (Figure 4).

Veterinarians agree. Of the 229 bovine vets who responded to BEEF’s survey, 39.7% say they’re not presently concerned about a future shortfall of availability of large-animal veterinarians graduating from veterinary school. However, 26.6% say there could be a problem in the long run, 17.9% see it coming soon and 15.7% say there already is a shortage of large-animal vets coming out of the nation’s vet schools (Figure 5).

So does that translate into difficulty scheduling a veterinarian to visit your operation? Perhaps. When we asked readers how often they had difficulty scheduling a veterinarian for routine services or consultation, 52.1% say seldom and 31.5% say never. However, 13.9% say usually and 2.4% say nearly always or always (Figure 6).

Going back to the discussion about the VFD, what does this portend for life after Jan. 1, 2017? For the 16.3% of producers who have difficulty scheduling a veterinarian for routine visits to their operation, it could well mean obtaining medicated feed or mineral may be difficult.

Likewise, when BEEF asked readers how often they have difficulty obtaining emergency veterinary services, 27.1% say never and 52.3% say seldom. However, 17.1% say usually and 3.5% say nearly always or always (Figure 7).

Digging deeper, BEEF asked readers how often a veterinarian visits them annually. Relative to the VFD discussion, 9.4% say never. Most producers, at 39.6%, see their vet once or twice a year; 30.9% have a vet on the place three to five times annually; 12.1% see their vet six to nine times and 8% see a vet 10 times or more (Figure 8).

Producers who see their veterinarians several times a year tend to use them as consultants instead of mobile emergency rooms. When readers were asked if they usually develop an overall herd health plan with the advice of a veterinarian, 60.9% say yes while 39.1% say no (Figure 9).

Yet it appears that there is more a veterinarian can do in terms of consulting with an operation. When asked if readers have worked with a vet in developing a biosecurity plan for their operation, 10.6% say yes and 89.4% say no (Figure 10).

Of those readers who use their veterinarian to help develop a biosecurity plan, they include a wide range of practices to ensure they don’t buy a herd health wreck when they bring cattle onto their ranch. The top three biosecurity practices readers use are prompt disposal of dead animals, purchasing feed from reputable sources and vaccination (Figure 11).

In general, however, BEEF readers are satisfied with their veterinarian, with 58.6% checking that box on the survey. Another 21% are somewhat satisfied and 16.5% are satisfied. Proving that there will always be glitches in any relationship, 3.9% say they’re not satisfied (Figure 12).

And then, while there is much that producers and veterinarians can agree on, there’s always room for discussion. When we asked producers how they think their veterinarians would rate their operation for ease, comfort and safety of the veterinary work performed there, 1.2% had to be honest with themselves and say poor. Beyond that, 32.9% say adequate, 48.8% say better than average and 17% say outstanding (Figure 13).

Do veterinarians agree? Nope. When we asked veterinarians the same question, the results were a little different. Of the veterinarians who responded, 15.9% rated their clients’ facilities as poor, 53.3% thought they were adequate, 26% say better than average and 4.8% say they’re outstanding (Figure 14).

So, if you run out of things to talk about in the sale barn café, ask your veterinarian what he or she thinks. Just be ready for the answer. 

Busted corral? It might cost you more than you think

moving cattle

Pondering that busted corral and the cost to fix or repair it seems straightforward enough. Especially when margins are thin, fix what’s needed and put up with what you have.

When considering the full cost of ownership, though, such a decision can be the most expensive one, according to Lee Creech, of M.C. Quantock at Lloydminster, Alberta — a major seedstock provider in Canada. He’s also a second-year graduate student at the King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management (KRIRM) at Kingsville, Texas.

Creech offered a worksheet for comparing the economics of corral options at this fall’s KRIRM Holt Cat Symposium on Excellence in Ranch Management. He offered a hypothetical example of an operation using the same pole corral for branding and weaning since about the time Moses was a baby.

This hypothetical rancher keeps repairing it, keeps needing five extra hands six days each year in order to gather and work the cattle, keeps absorbing the odd injury to cattle and humans. Creech compared the total cost of ownership over the next 20 years of using the old corral with building a new facility with wood or portable panels.

The decision is laughable when considering only the up-front costs (Figure 1). Standing pat and paying nothing or shelling out more than $20,000 for materials and labor seems a no-brainer. Then, you pencil through Creech’s considerations.

Understand, the numbers in the example don’t matter — everyone’s will be different — but the process of consideration does. Likewise, rational assumptions must be used where future values are unknowable.

Doing nothing costs, too

Besides materials and labor to build new corrals, there’s maintenance. “We have to consider money spent today versus money that will need to be spent in the future,” Creech says. “Realistically, we don’t need as much money today for maintenance as we’ll need in the future.”

In his example, he figured replacing 20% of the portable panels over 20 years; 50% of the cost of new construction for new wood corrals; and 90% of the cost of new wood construction to maintain the existing corrals.

Next, Creech calculates the labor cost of what needs to be done with the corrals. His example requires 15 man-days in the summer to gather and brand calves, and then 15 more in the fall to gather and wean. So, 30 man-days at $100 per day.

“If the new corral means I can get by with four men instead of five, there are a lot of savings over 20 years,” Creech explains: around $10,000 in his example.

Finally, Creech says tax for the permanent structure (a fixed asset) must be considered. He adds an advantage to portable panels is that they are not a fixed structure.

Savings may be difficult to quantify

On the other side of the ledger, Creech considers dollars that could be saved from a new corral versus current expenditures. There are injuries to those using the corral. There are injuries to cattle, as well as shrink, depending on how a new facility will improve cattle handling.

In addition to reducing the need for labor as described above in Creech’s example, a new corral also increases time efficiency. Instead of needing extra help for six days, he figures he could shave a day from branding and from weaning. That’s worth about $13,000 to him over two decades.

After also considering tax depreciation and salvage value in the case of portable panels, the total cost of ownership is excessive for keeping and maintaining the old corral.

“This example is not an endorsement for portable panels or for building new corrals,” Creech says. “It’s an endorsement for looking at more than just how much money I have to pay to build new corrals."

Beef producers: Ask the right questions

Beef producers: Ask the right questions

“We took everything we thought we knew about the game, everything we thought made a championship player, everything we thought made a great team, all of the clichés in our industry we’d grown up to believe, and we tossed them out the window, and we said we’re starting over. Unless we can prove an idea’s relevance in today’s game, under today’s circumstances we’re just not going to believe it anymore.”

That’s Paul DePodesta describing the process that enabled him — then assistant general manager of the Oakland A’s — and general manager Billy Beane to transform a bottom-feeding franchise into a perennial winner at a fraction of the cost spent by big-market teams. The story is chronicled in the book “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game,” by Michael Lewis.

At this year’s annual convention of the Texas Cattle Feeders Association, DePodesta — now chief strategy officer for the Cleveland Browns — explained they started the process by asking what management guru Peter Drucker referred to as the “naive question”: If we weren’t already doing it this way, how would we start?

That led to wholesale changes in player evaluation and a new brand of empirical analysis known as sabermetrics.

Pondering the naive question seems especially salient for the cattle business, individually and collectively, following the recent election. Never mind who will occupy the White House.

Voters in Massachusetts voted to end certain livestock confinement practices by 2022, including veal creates for calves, gestations stalls for sows and battery cages for hens. The measure also restricts the sale of animal products in the state that come from these confinement practices.

Voters in Oklahoma defeated the proposed Right to Farm amendment that would have prevented that state’s Legislature from passing any law, “… which abridges the right of citizens and lawful residents of Oklahoma to employ agricultural technology and livestock and ranching practices without a compelling state interest …” A vote in favor would have helped prevent special interest groups, like The Humane Society of the United States, from forcing their will, as with the Massachusetts vote described above.

Of course, there are special-interest groups within the industry. Consider those supporting USDA’s recent decision to continue the rule-making process for the 2010 Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) proposed rules. The process was defunded early on because it would ultimately limit producer marketing options.

According to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), while USDA says it will exclude marketing arrangements, these provisions are outweighed by the competitive injury provisions of the GIPSA rule that do not require a showing of injury in order to claim a violation of the Packers and Stockyards Act.

“We don’t see any changes that could be made to the competitive injury and undue preference provisions that wouldn’t diminish marketing opportunities for producers,” says Tracy Brunner, NCBA president. “The fact is that value-added programs have supported higher prices and premiums for producers, even when markets are weak.”

Brunner says the GIPSA rules would jeopardize the future of these programs and add litigation costs. “Absent a required showing of economic harm to claim preference, these rules disregard a central tenet of our legal system and set out a regulatory framework for harassment based solely on the subjective appearance of preference.”

So, the naive question for the cattle business, both in daily management and in addressing regulatory and legislative challenges: If we weren’t already doing it this way, how would we start?

“We became relentless about asking the naive question, even when we became successful,” DePodesta says.