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Articles from 2010 In December

Opinion: Will 2011 Bring A More Amiable Industry?

Many industry leaders can be heard commenting these days about how nice it would be if the industry would focus on important issues and quit wasting valuable political capital and time fighting among themselves. Nobody can argue about the validity of this line of thinking, but honestly I don’t see it happening.

Sure, a resolution of the GIPSA rules controversy will quiet things down, just like the lull that occurred after mandatory country of origin labeling was settled. But a new issue will undoubtedly emerge and expose what is increasingly looking like an irreconcilable divide within the industry.

The harsh reality is that while something might be good for the industry as a whole, it may not be good for individual participants. Plus, new methods, new technologies and new ideas aren't always welcomed by certain segments.

I read an article this week about the decreasing value of cornstalks and how improved machinery and harvesting techniques have halved the amount of corn left in fields after harvest. It seems that improved genetics have produced plants that put less into the stalks and more into the ears – all great things if you're a corn farmer but bad news if you're leasing cornstalks to graze.

Improved cattle genetics are a wonderful thing, and nobody can remain competitive without utilizing modern genetics. But without increased demand, these increases in cow efficiency have resulted in fewer cows and a smaller industry. I’ve heard a similar argument made by some regarding implants; if everyone would agree to forgo the efficiency improvements made by such technology, then we might be better off, they contend. But just as you can't put toothpaste back into the tube, we'll always have those who embrace change and benefit from it, and those who resist it and want to legislate it away.

Nor is the rate of change in our industry expected to subside. Rather, it will accelerate and that means the divisions within our industry will likely only grow deeper.

Increasing competition may mean more winners but it also means more losers. Increased competition also means that winning becomes more difficult. Just take a look at the level of competition in college football. It could be argued quite easily that the three most dominant teams of this decade were Florida, Texas and USC, all of which closed out the decade with subpar and mediocre seasons. I love reining horses, and while there were great horseman and great horses 20 years ago, the winning runs back then wouldn’t even make the finals today.

The situation today all equates to more uncertainty, more incentive to bend the rules, and ultimately more conflict as people look to preserve their position. During good economic times the differences may not seem as large but they are still there.
-- Troy Marshall

Five Security Tips For Your Farm Or Feedlot

Today, America's food producers are under attack. Extremists are attempting to use emotional images and scare tactics to discourage Americans from eating meat, milk and eggs because they do not believe that we have that right, according to the Animal Ag Alliance (AAA).

Managers must be wary in order to protect their way of life. Food production is a matter of national security, and it’s absolutely critical that we do everything we can to protect it. AAA offers these five security tips:

1. Identify where your facility is vulnerable. Employee safety should be your first priority. Provide good lighting in parking areas. Do you use video cameras as part of your security system? Create a plan for working with local law enforcement and media if you become a target.

2. When hiring, check references closely. Call previous employers; don’t just take the applicant's word that they have farm experience. Find out if their previous experience was “undercover” or legitimate. If you work with a temp agency or labor office, educate them about the threat that activists pose. Most infiltrators are young and often use their university ID instead of a driver’s license when applying for a farm job.

3. Ask straightforward questions during interviews. Has the applicant ever changed his or her name? Ask if they are currently working for an organization that is paying them to collect information about your company. Ask if they intend to use any equipment that can collect audio, video, or still photographs. Establish a policy that either prohibits their use or requires that all such tools be declared upon being hired and can't be used without prior consent. Provide these questions and have them answered in writing, and ensure the application is signed.

4. Require that all new hires sign an animal-care agreement. Train all employees in animal handling and specify that any employee who observes or receives information about animal mistreatment must immediately report that information to a supervisor. Failure to do so should be cause for dismissal and potential criminal charges.

5. Watch for suspicious activity. Do certain employees come in unusually early or late? Pay attention to cafeteria or break-room discussions about new hires that don’t fit in or those that seem overly curious about your company. -- Animal Ag Alliance release

Horse Rescue Facilities Overwhelmed, Underfunded

The dire predictions made in 2007 when the last horse slaughter plant in the U.S. was forced to close appear to have come true, according to research at University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

Veterinarians there surveyed nonprofit equine rescue and sanctuary organizations to quantify the extent of their ability to care for the estimated 100,000 horses/year that are unwanted or abandoned. What they found seems to confirm much of the anecdotal evidence that has surfaced since the Humane Society of the U.S. and other animal rights groups were successful in passing legislation to ban horse slaughter in the U.S.

Along with the economic recession that began in 2008, other factors have precipitated the increasing number of unwanted, potentially neglected and abused horses in the U.S., the researchers say. Horse rescue organizations reported that financial hardship, physical inability and lack of time to care for horses are the most frequent reasons that horses are relinquished, followed by seizure by law enforcement agencies for neglect or abuse.

However, for every four horses taken in by horse rescue organizations, only three were adopted or sold between 2006 and 2009, and many facilities refused to accept additional horses because of lack of resources. The survey found that funding was the greatest challenge to continued operation of nonprofit equine organizations, with maintenance costs for the care of a relinquished horse averaging $3,648/year.

The estimated maximum capacity for the 326 registered nonprofit equine facilities in the U.S. identified by the California researchers is 13,400 horses, well below the estimated 100,000 horses that become unwanted or abandoned in the U.S. every year.

“Nonprofit equine rescue and sanctuary facilities appeared to be struggling with insufficient resources to meet increasing demand for accepting, caring and providing sanctuary or finding new homes for unwanted horses in the U.S.,” the researchers conclude. “Without additional resources, the nonprofit equine organizations can’t predictably expand to provide quality care and rehabilitation for more than 13,700 horses, only a fraction of the estimated 100,000 unwanted horses in the U.S.”

See the report at
-- Burt Rutherford

Nutrition Label Regulations Positive For Beef

USDA has been busy in the last weeks of 2010. Planning meetings have been set for regulatory changes, proposals have been made for voluntary restrictions of growth promoting antibiotics and newest to the list is the new label requirements for meat and poultry.

The Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (FSIS) recent regulations require that 40 of the most popular cuts of meat and poultry, along with packaged ground and chopped meat and poultry, must be labeled with nutrition requirements effective Jan. 1, 2012. These labels have been previously mandated for other food products since 1993 and the recent consumer trends have pushed requirements to other protein products as well.

“More and more, busy American families want nutrition information that they can quickly and easily understand. We need to do all we can to provide nutrition labels that will help consumers make informed decisions,” explains USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The nutrition labels will include the number of calories, along with the grams of total fat and saturated fat a product contains. Additionally, any product that previously listed a lean label must accordingly state its fat percentage, with intent of making the lean-to-fat ratio clearer for consumers.

Examples of major cuts of raw, single-ingredient meat cuts that will carry nutrition labels include beef whole cuts such as brisket or tenderloin steak. Examples of ground or chopped meat include hamburger and ground turkey.

NCBA issued a positive response to the new rule. Kristina Butts, executive director of legislative affairs, issued the following statement:

“NCBA supports nutrition labeling on beef products and is pleased to see USDA moving forward with this effort. We believe this information is helpful in educating the public on the important contribution beef makes to a healthy diet.”

The statement does, however, address possible shortcomings, including the increased costs for retailers and others in the food-production change. Nonetheless, the benefits seem to be evident, particularly considering how easily consumers will be able to compare nutrition benefits of beef products with other lean protein sources.

Meanwhile, reports that the national beef checkoff introduced a new tool for processors seeking to comply with USDA’s new nutrition labeling rules. The “Nutrition Database for Meat and Poultry Products” is based on USDA's “Nutrient Database for Standard Reference,” providing accurate nutrient information for nutrition-labeling posters and signs.

The release notes that consumers are likely to be surprised to learn beef is a good source of 10 essential nutrients. It also points out that checkoff-funded research has shown retailers who implemented on-pack nutrition labeling programs increased meat department sales, while customers were more likely to be loyal to stores that offer labeling programs.

The Federal Register notice announcing this rule can be found at
-- Jamie May

Ranchers Tell Of Utilizing Snow For Livestock Water

South Dakota ranchers Reuben and Connee Quinn have relied on snow in winter pastures for more than 30 years. They say cattle do well with snow as their only water source if they know how to use it and have adequate snow that’s not crusted and hard.

You must monitor weather conditions and have an alternative water supply – or a place to move the cattle – if snow runs out or becomes crusted. “You walk a fine line, but use of snow can help cattle utilize pasture that’s poorly watered,” Connee says.

The Quinns ranch in far southwestern South Dakota. “Water development in this arid country is a challenge,” Connee says. “Utilizing snow allows us to take advantage of pastures with excellent winter protection and winter grass that, when supplemented with protein, can meet nutrient requirements of pregnant cows.”

Use of snow in place of water hasn’t changed the production of their cattle. “We still get a 90+% weaned calf crop,” she says. Conception rates and weaning weights have stayed the same, whether cattle are using snow or water.

When Connee was growing up near their current location, her father’s cows did fine in winter, grazing far from any water. “It was common to see cows and horses wintered in this manner. I thought it was a normal management practice, until listening to Canadian researcher B.A. Young at a Wyoming range cow-calf seminar in the 1970s.

“He asked the audience if anyone had seen cows wintered on snow as the only water source and I was the only one to raise my hand. He presented research results from Canada that showed similar feed intake and weight gain for cows eating snow or consuming water,” she says.

Young found that eating snow is a learned experience; many cows quickly learn by watching other cows eat snow, but those with no role models may go thirsty before trying it.

He also looked at the effects of eating snow on body temperature. Heat created by digestion was adequate to offset cold snow. In field tests in western Canada, there were no increases in winter feed requirements of cows that used snow as their only moisture, compared with cows having access to water.

One experiment looked at average daily gain in feedlot calves, and there was no significant difference between the two groups. The only difference was that the “snow” group ate more slowly, alternating their eating with bouts of snow licking. Total amount of feed intake was the same.

In the late 1980s, the Quinns lost some leases and took several hundred cows to new pastures.

“We were pulling the cows into the watering area every day with cake to make sure they were drinking, because they weren’t coming to water on their own. It was the first time they’d had water available and weren’t trailing in to drink. They knew where the water was, but they preferred eating snow to the long walk,” she says.

“I tried to contact Young to consult with him about this, but found he’d moved to Australia. I was referred to Don Adams at the Range Research Station at Miles City, MT. After relating my story and learning about his research, we knew cattle can do all right, and we just let them eat snow,” she says.

Adams found that 2% of cows in his study drank no water during the study period (November-February). Only 65% drank water every day. The others drank every second or third day, eating snow the rest of the time. It was impossible to tell, by looking at the cows, which ones were drinking and which were using snow.

Quinn says cattle have to know how to use snow. “We’ve always been careful to put only mature cows in pastures where they may have to eat snow as their only water, keeping our replacement heifers, bred heifers and younger cows on water,” she says.

Then, in the winter of 2009, they had abnormal snowfall before Christmas. “We had 300 weaned heifers on winter pasture and couldn’t get to them for more than two weeks. They had no water and no supplemental feed during that time. When we were finally able to get out there, I thought we’d be lucky to save half of them, but they all survived. They had good protection from the storm in that rough country. We could see they’d been eating yucca on some of the ridges where snow had blown off a little,” she says.

Using snow for water enabled those calves to survive.

“Evidently they learned the hard way, as described by Young, or learned from their mothers in late spring or early fall. They all did well, and had a 94% pregnancy rate this fall,” she says.
-- Heather Smith Thomas

While Price Outlook Is Great, Industry Could Suffer

“It’s pretty easy to be bullish on cattle prices as forecasts call for still higher prices again next year. But it’s quite a bit harder to be bullish on the overall industry's market structure when it’s uncertain which operators will be around to enjoy those high prices,” says Darrell Mark, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension livestock marketing economist.

Mark says he’s bullish on prices because cattle inventories are at historically small levels. Conversely, he’s bearish on market and industry structure for the same reason.

“Clearly, the declining beef cowherd, low heifer retention, and small calf crop point to lower cattle supplies and beef production for the next couple of years, which alone is supportive to price levels. However, this continually smaller cattle inventory is becoming profoundly more important due to the long-run impacts it has on industry structure,” he says in the Livestock Marketing Information Center’s In the Cattle Market newsletter.

In an attempt to satisfy the short-run demand for beef with a smaller cattle inventory, the industry has been slaughtering more females – both cull cows and fed heifers, he points out. In fact, even back in May 2010, heifer slaughter accounted for around 28% of federally inspected (FI) slaughter. By the end of 2010, over 30% of FI slaughter was fed heifers.

During that same time, cow slaughter increased from 17% of FI slaughter to more than 20%. Steer slaughter dropped from about 53% to 47% of FI slaughter. “The problem, of course, with trying to maintain beef production in the short run by elevating female slaughter is that it leaves fewer females in the breeding herd, which makes beef production in the long run that much lower,” he says.

Mark says the female-to-steer slaughter ratio has been increasing for the past five years and neared 100% in 2010. The historical impact on beef cow numbers is fairly evident when this ratio is at or above 100% – cow numbers decline for several more years. It isn't until a female-to-steer slaughter ratio approaches 90% that the beef cowherd inventory begins to increase.

“The declining size of the beef cowherd and resulting calf crop has important implications on the cattle-feeding and beef-processing sectors. Each has been running below capacity for the last couple of years, which is economically inefficient. Most margin businesses such as these would prefer to be close to 90% capacity or more,” Mark says.

But he points out that cattle feeders in Nebraska were closer to 75% last summer. While that’s increased to more typical levels this fall, it isn't true for cattle feeders in parts of the country with higher costs of gain.

“If the long-run trend toward fewer cattle continues, that suggests that there will be fewer feedyards and fewer beef packers and processors as well. Not only would that be devastating for the families and companies that find themselves squeezed out of the market, but it would have a significant impact on employment and other indirect impacts on the rural communities where they are located. Further, this isn't isolated to the feeding and processing sectors of the industry. Cow-calf producers will be similarly affected,” Mark says.

Long-term beef demand is another issue. Commercial beef production is forecasted to decline 2% in both 2011 and 2012, while commercial pork production will be steady in 2011 and up 1-2% in 2012. But poultry production is expected to grow about 2% in 2011 and 3% in 2012.

“As the beef industry continually produces less beef each year, consumers necessarily will eat less beef and prices will rise. Although it depends on the relative quantity and price changes and the elasticity of demand, this will likely translate to a decrease in beef demand. Further, higher beef prices could cause consumers to shift away from beef to poultry. While this isn't a certain outcome yet, the stage appears to be set for this to play out,” Mark says.

“The biggest ‘if’ in this scenario is whether consumers will return to higher levels of beef consumption once retail supplies of beef begin growing, which will be several years down the road. If they don't, the size of our industry could forever be reduced, unless exports grow even more rapidly than they have been.”

So, what’s a producer to do with information like this that is apparently bullish on prices and somewhat bearish on the industry structure? For the cow-calf producer, it’s time to create heifer-development budgets and weigh those returns against potential feeding profits, Mark says. Meanwhile, the cattle feeder needs to make plans for operating at lower capacity.

“There will certainly be a lot to sort out in the upcoming year, but cattle producers as a whole always do the 'right' thing according to the economic incentives in the market. The resiliency of the industry will therefore continue into 2011 and beyond, but we need to be prepared for it to look a little different by the end of this next year,” Mark says.
-- Darrell Mark, LMIC’s In The Cattle Markets

Faith. Family. Farming.

sistas.jpg Growing up, we were taught to have our priorities in order. For us, that meant faith, family and farming. These values were instilled in me and my sisters from a young age; like many ranch kids, these priorities provide the foundation with which to lead a fulfilling life in adulthood.

For my family, that meant we were always in the seats at church each weekend, cattle chores came before anything else, and we knew if we worked hard together, we would have time to play and have fun, as well.

img_2853.JPG As the oldest of three daughters, I'm blessed to have two younger sisters who I have shared many experiences and created countless memories with.

n1500180050_30081827_5505.jpg Courtney is a freshman at South Dakota State University studying Spanish; she hopes to one day be a professor. Kaley is an eighth grader and, although we are nine years apart, there couldn't be two people more alike than Kaley and I. Our sisterhood is a close one, and some of the fondest memories I have with these two girls is showing cattle.

kaley.jpg Whether it was washing calves twice each day in the heat of the summer or clipping bulls in the winter, we have spent thousands of hours over the years in the barn with cattle. I bring this up because we are taking three calves into town for the Corn Palace Winter Calf Show today, and there is nothing I like better than hanging out with my sisters and working on our seedstock. There's something about siblings that brings fun into a childhood, and I'm so thankful to have shared mine with Courtney and Kaley.

Join me in the nostalgia today and share some stories of your childhood and spending time with your siblings. How many "chore-helpers" did your parents have? What was it like growing up on your farm or ranch?


Angus Bull Sale Averages on the Rise

Recent Angus bull sales continue to demonstrate tremendous demand for registered Angus genetics.

“We are hearing very positive sales reports from throughout the U.S.,” says Bryce Schumann, American Angus Association® CEO. “From California to Georgia, we’re receiving reports of excellent bull sale numbers in addition to a healthy female market.”

In fact, nationwide year-to-date figures show bulls are bringing an average $3,258 per head — that’s an additional $467 per head than this time last year.a

“This is in addition to our recent 2010 fiscal year-end numbers showing a five-percent increase in bull sale averages over 2009,” Schumann says. “It’s another reflection of the demand for superior Angus genetics.”

That demand has been unmistakable in Montana, says Andy Rest, Association regional manager. In just seven days — from Nov. 27 through Dec. 3 — a total 1,971 bulls were sold in seven sales to gross more than $7.1 million for an average of $3,626.

“These sales results are a tribute to quality breeding programs and the strong demand for Angus genetics,” Rest says. “The number of sales and the high-quality animals to be found during the week made it very economical for both commercial and purebred cattlemen to come see some of the best Montana genetics available.”

The state’s positive sales figures aren’t isolated.

Regional Manager David Gazda reports sales in the Southeast have been exceptionally strong compared to recent years. Cattlemen there are enjoying a healthy market for two-year-old bulls and steady demand for yearlings.

“Commercial cattlemen here and throughout the country are finding that black-hided, Angus-sired calves at market — regardless of the market they sell in — still demand the strongest prices,” Gazda says.

Stronger demand has been spurred by a recovering U.S. economy, a low cattle inventory and analysis forecasting a strong cattle market in the next 3-5 years, Gazda adds. Talk of increasing export markets has also bolstered Angus demand.

“We’ve seen really strong prices here in the Southeast for registered Angus bulls this past fall, and there’s a good reason for that,” Gazda says. “These calves sired by registered Angus bulls bring premiums to the commercial producer day in and day out.”

The American Angus Association is the nation’s largest beef organization, serving nearly 30,000 members across the United States and Canada. It provides programs and services to farmers, ranchers and others who rely on the power of Angus to produce quality genetics for the beef industry and quality beef for consumers.

For more information about Angus cattle and the American Angus Association’s programs and services, visit


Salmonella Newport Bacterial Extract vaccine with SRP® Technology now available from Pfizer Animal Health

Salmonella vaccine is an effective management tool to help control disease.

MADISON, N.J. — Dec. 22, 2010 — Pfizer Animal Health announces the availability of Salmonella Newport Bacterial Extract vaccine* with SRP® Technology, an effective management tool in the control of salmonellosis caused by Salmonella Newport. The Salmonella Newport Bacterial Extract vaccine with SRP Technology effectively controls infection and fecal shedding of Salmonella Newport, resulting in reduced disease incidence and improved herd performance.1

“The SRP Technology in the conditionally licensed Salmonella Newport Bacterial Extract vaccine uses the iron-gathering mechanism common to all Salmonella serotypes to control Salmonella Newport infection in vaccinated cattle,” says Gary Neubauer, DVM, senior manager, dairy veterinary operations, Pfizer Animal Health. “Antibodies generated by vaccination with the Salmonella Newport Bacterial Extract vaccine have been shown to recognize the siderphore receptors and porins (SRPs) of several common Salmonella serotypes.2”

Salmonella Newport Bacterial Extract vaccine with SRP Technology is an effective management tool to help control disease. Milk production and herd performance of cattle subclinically infected with Salmonella Newport can be improved through greater control of salmonellosis in vaccinated herds. A published study conducted in a dairy herd with no clinical signs of salmonellosis demonstrated that vaccination using the Salmonella Newport Bacterial Extract vaccine with SRP Technology resulted in 2.5 pounds more milk per cow per day in vaccinated cattle. There also was a reduction in somatic cell count associated with vaccination.1

Salmonellosis is an economically devastating disease to the dairy industry, and incidence is on the rise. According to the 2007 National Animal Health Monitoring Service report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 48 percent of all dairies were infected with Salmonella.3 The percentage of operations infected with Salmonella was nearly twice that of 1996, and over that same 10-year time period, the percentage of cows infected with Salmonella has more than doubled to 13.7 percent.

“Salmonellosis is a pervasive pathogen that is hard to keep out of a dairy operation,” Neubauer says. “Producers should work closely with their veterinarian to implement a Salmonella control program. All stakeholders in the food chain should work together to solve the Salmonella problem.”

Salmonella Newport Bacterial Extract vaccine with SRP Technology is manufactured by Epitopix LLC. Pfizer Animal Health acquired global rights to the vaccine earlier this year and will become the exclusive distributor beginning in 2011.

For more information, producers should contact their Pfizer Animal Health representative or their veterinarian.

About Pfizer Animal Health

Pfizer Animal Health, a business of Pfizer Inc., is a world leader in discovering and developing innovative animal vaccines and prescription medicines, investing an estimated $300 million annually in animal health product research and development. For more information about how Pfizer Animal Health works to ensure a safe, sustainable global food supply from healthy livestock, fish and poultry; or helps companion animals and horses to live longer, healthier lives, visit

* The product license is conditional. Efficacy and potency studies in progress.

1 Hermesch DR, Thomson DU, Loneragan GH, Renter DR, White BJ. Effects of a commercially available vaccine against Salmonella enterica serotype Newport on milk production, somatic cell count and shedding of Salmonella organisms in female dairy cattle with no clinical signs of salmonellosis. AJVR 2008;69(9):1229-1234.

2 Epitopix, LLC. N-0005-136-142

3 National Animal Health Monitoring System. APHIS Info Sheet, Salmonella and Campylobacter on U.S. Dairy Operations, 1996–2007. July 2009, #N562.0709.

HSUS Says Michael Vick Can Own Animals, But Farmers Can't

6a00d83452e09d69e20148c6cd31c3970c-800wi.jpg Recently, the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS), which has worked hard to eliminate animal ownership of any kind, is now endorsing Michael Vick, who was convicted for dog-fighting. Confused? So was I when I read that HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle hypocritically said two weeks ago, “Michael Vick would do a good job as pet owner.”

This huge contradiction hasn't gone unnoticed, and Rick Berman editorializes in The Daily Caller (Washington, D.C.) that Pacelle's statements should, "raise more red flags than a Chinese parade."

In reference to the Vick endorsement, Berman notes, "If that seems out of the mainstream, or sounds like something your local humane society would never say, you’re on to something. It turns out that HSUS — despite the puppies, kitties and animal welfare messages in its fundraising materials — is actually an animal rights group. That’s a horse of a very different color. Think about the notorious wackos at PETA. HSUS is just PETA in a suit and tie. The two groups share the same goals, but HSUS goes about its work without naked interns or red-paint bombs.”

He adds, “No one should deny animal activists the right to argue for their preferred worldview. If Scientologists and Raelian cultists have free-speech rights, practitioners of the animal-worship religion should, too. But, when you’re a PETA knock-off with a bigger bank account, some transparency is in order. Especially when your staff includes a key decision-maker who has endorsed violence and arson.”

Yet, 71% of Americans think the organization is an “umbrella group” for pet shelters. And 59% of Americans think HSUS gives “most of its money” to pet shelters. That’s a lot of good-hearted folks who have been duped into sending their $19.99/month as the HSUS commercials urge people to do.

"It turns out that America doesn’t actually have a real 'national humane society,'" concludes Berman. "There simply is no big umbrella group that raises money for the pet shelter in your community. If you want to support your local humane society, you’re going to have to do it yourself. Don’t expect HSUS’s leaders to send your donation back into your community. They need that money to outlaw chicken nuggets."

It seems these key messages about HSUS are becoming more mainstream. As always, education is critical in showing Americans the true agenda of this anti-animal agriculture organization. What do you think of Berman's take on HSUS? If you agree, pass this article on to friends and family.