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A Christmas call to action: Let’s battle food insecurity together

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Last week, a friend of mine who works in the pork industry challenged me to participate in the #GiveAHam challenge.

Accepting the nomination, our task as a family is to donate a ham to a food pantry near us this holiday season.

This tradition is one that is encouraged each year by the Minnesota Pork Board and the National Pork Producers Council. This year’s donations will be gifted to the Ronald McDonald House Charities.

The non-profit explains the fundraiser on its website saying, "During an extremely challenging year for so many, the commitment of American hog farmers to their communities has been on clear display, never wavering.

We have witnessed this first-hand with the Minnesota Pork Board and their generous donation this year of pork products to feed families.

“Now, the National Pork Producers Council is challenging you to give a ham to the House during the holiday season. Everyone loves a ham at the holidays and your donation will bring the smell and taste of home to families staying at the Ronald McDonald House.”

Learn more about this fundraiser here.

Locally, we have purchased hams to gift to our local food pantry as we participate in the #GiveAHam challenge, and while we are at it, we will donate some milk, butter, cheese, eggs and beef, as well.

Note, that when donating perishables and items that need refrigerated, it’s a good idea to call ahead of time to ensure your local facility has the storage space ready for your donation.

This year has been hard on so many people. With businesses closing, the loss of jobs, financial insecurities, illness and other hardships, this Christmas season could be a stressful and sad time for many families.

According to Feeding America, “In 2020, the novel coronavirus pandemic threatens the lives and livelihoods of people throughout the world. Before the crisis began, food insecurity in the U.S. was the lowest it had been in more than 20 years, and yet 35.2 million people, including 10.7 million children, we food insecure.

“The current crisis is likely to reverse the improvements that have occurred over the past decade as millions of people are newly experiencing food insecurity, alongside those who were experiencing food insecurity in 2020 because of COVID-19.”

Read more about the projected 2020 food insecurity rates by clicking here.

To address this growing problem in the United States, I challenge every single BEEF Daily reader to join me in battling food insecurity and warming the bellies of families who need a nutrient-dense meal this Christmas. Head to your local grocery store and stock up on nutrient-dense animal fats and proteins to gift to those who need it most this year.

Thanks to my friend, Jill Resler, for the inspiration. And thanks to our friends in then pork industry for this friendly reminder of one simple way we can impact our communities in a positive way while sharing our products for others to enjoy!

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.

Get bulls ready for breeding season

Curt Arens Bulls in field
GETTING THEM READY: Proper nutrition and a breeding soundness exam will help ensure that your bulls are ready to go for this upcoming breeding season.

Bulls can lose a lot of weight and condition during one breeding season. Young and thin bulls, especially, need extra attention and nutrition over late summer and winter to get them ready for another breeding season.

Kacie McCarthy, Nebraska Extension beef cow-calf specialist, said the overall nutrient requirements of bulls varies, depending on size and age. She gave an example during a recent University of Nebraska BeefWatch webinar.

A younger bull weighing 1,200 pounds at the beginning of a 90-day breeding season might go into the season with a body condition score of 5. After 90 days of breeding, that bull might be down to 900 pounds in weight and have a BCS of 3.

The goal would be to offer late-summer and winter grazing for that bull with grain or byproduct supplements and proper minerals to bring him back up to 1,500 pounds and a BCS of 6 before the next breeding season.

Breeding soundness exams

In addition to nutrition, producers need to worry about winter frostbite of scrotal tissue on the bulls, and the effect of that on sperm quality.

“Sperm quality impacts pregnancy rates,” McCarthy said. “We recommend doing breeding soundness exams on bulls you buy, or bulls you already own, 30 to 60 days before breeding season to help identify potential problems and ensure they are satisfactory breeders."

While the BSE is only a snapshot view of the overall semen production of the bull, it can help screen potential problems.

The procedure, performed by a veterinarian, looks at the general physical health and the bull’s nutritional status and BCS. The exam looks for structural defects and potential disease conditions that would affect breeding performance.

Eyes, teeth, and feet and legs are evaluated, as well as the internal and external structures of the reproductive system. Scrotal measurements are taken and checked with the normal standards for the age of the bull.

Finally, a semen evaluation will look under a microscope at sperm motility and the morphological percentage of normal sperm, to see if these fall within satisfactory standards. Bulls that fail their initial BSE could be rechecked two to four weeks later to establish if they have improved and can move into the satisfactory category.

At the same time as the BSE, it is a good time to vaccinate bulls, control lice and flies, and check their feet and legs, McCarthy said.

“You should reintroduce the bulls to each other and give them plenty of room at this time to establish dominance,” she noted. “They will head-butt, so make sure there are no extra objects in the area that could make for injuries.”

Learn more by contacting McCarthy at [email protected]. Producers can view past topics and register for upcoming webinars at beef.unl.edu.

Ways to save fed hay

Curt Arens Bales of hay covered in snow in field
SAVE FEED: There are all kinds of options for feeding hay and other forages through the winter. Producers need to be mindful of the benefits and challenges of each method.

Making, transporting and feeding hay is a large investment in time, equipment and money. How can you reduce loss of hay during feeding to make that investment go further?

Each feeding method affects waste differently. If hay is fed unrestricted, cattle can waste 45% of the hay they are provided. Limiting feeding hay — so only what is required is fed — will significantly reduce waste.

Studies show that cattle fed daily versus fed every four days needed 25% less hay. That’s a huge amount, but labor and equipment costs increased slightly. A common and usually labor-efficient method of feeding is to feed hay directly on the ground by unrolling bales, distributing ground hay or loose hay, and bale-pod grazing. With any of these methods, there should only be enough feed distributed or available for one day. 

Bale-pod grazing, where bales are spread out across a field or pasture and temporary fence is used to confine animal access to one bale, might be another consideration. When it’s time for more hay, the producer moves a fence instead of moving a bale. Limiting access by these physical barriers — such as fences, bale rings, racks and feed bunks — can all decrease waste.

These methods work by reducing trampling and the animals' ability to lay down on the hay. The most effective physical barriers have solid side bottoms. This prevents the hay from being pulled out on the ground.

While these methods are effective, they require the purchase of additional equipment, and may add time and money spent for large herds or frequent moves of the feeding location. No matter the method, reducing fed hay loss will increase the return on the hay investment.

Schick is an assistant Nebraska Extension educator.

Source: UNL Forage Minute, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.

Farm Progress America, December 16, 2020

Max Armstrong shares insight from Dan Basse, president, Agresource who has been speaking virtually to groups saying 2021 will be a good year for farmers. And the second half will improve as more people get the COVID-19 vaccine. Max observes that a lot of the higher farm income in 2020 came from direct payments and Basse says it will help farm balance sheets, but Basse doesn't see more of those payments in 2021.

Farm Progress America is a daily look at key issues in agriculture. It is produced and presented by Max Armstrong, veteran farm broadcaster and host of This Week in Agribusiness.

Photo: maciek905/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Consumers gear up for beefy holiday meals

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I don’t know about you, but between the pandemic and the election, reading the news headlines this past year has been a mentally draining and exhausting exercise.

In today’s 24/7 news cycle, it seems things happen rapidly, and it can be a lot to digest if you’re trying to keep up.

With Christmas just a week away, I wish we could press pause on the hostility, divisiveness and ugliness of the world and just focus on what truly matters most — the holiday season, our loved ones and making memories together as a family.

Next week, I’m going to make a concentrated effort to do just that — even if the headlines get crazier than they already are and even when I have moments where my anxiety about what is to come feels like it’s through the roof.

I must remind myself that even though we have faced dark days collectively as Americans, we can still choose to be a light and create happy moments at home.

With the holiday season in full swing, I’ve noticed an uptick of positive beef stories in the news. This is a welcome reprieve from the typical rhetoric we see about beef cattle.

To me, these headlines reflect what our consumers are wanting right now — rich, tasty, comforting, celebratory meals to commemorate the holiday season — and of course, there’s no better way to do just that than with BEEF!

Check out these headlines below to see what I mean!

1. “Disney shared their recipe for beef bourguignon just in time for a holiday meal” by Kristin Salaky for delish.com

Salaky writes, “The meal features ‘fork-tender beef brisket with savory flavors of bacon-infused wine sauce over crushed buttery red potatoes,; according to Disney, and with a description like that, how could you not fall head over heels for it?

“Though it sounds super fancy, the recipe is actually pretty straightforward and features many ingredients you probably already pick up on a typical grocery run, such as onions, mushrooms, butter, and bacon. Add in some upscale ingredients like sherry vinegar and red wine and you've got yourself the perfect winter date night meal.”

2. “Chef holiday recipes” featured on Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner.

Make beef the star this year and serve a delicious, chef-inspired, holiday meal. These dishes were created by celebrity chefs including Hugh Acheson, Jet Tila, Amanda Freitag, Antonia Lofaso and Brooke Williamson.

3. “22 slow-cooker beef dinners for winter” featured on Eating Well

According to the article, “Enjoy a hearty and satisfying meal with these slow-cooker beef recipes. Alongside the beef, these recipes have plenty of veggies, like slow-cooker friendly carrots and potatoes, plus plenty of flavorful spices to create a delicious dinner. Recipes like Slow-Cooker Braised Beef with Carrots & Turnips and Slow-Cooker Korean Beef & Cabbage Stew are comforting and perfect to combat the cold winter weather.”

4. “Need a holiday entree? Few dishes beat beef short ribs for festivity and repeatability” by JeanMarie Brownson for West Hawaii Today

Brownson writes, “While the pandemic safety precautions mean those tables will go unused, my kitchen will not. I will cook with pleasure for loved ones — wearing a mask and washing hands frequently. Then, I’ll package my expressions of love in small containers to deliver safely to front doors. We can all reheat our holiday meals and eat together on FaceTime.

“Successful reheating of all these dishes factors into my menu planning. Few entrees beat beef for festivity. A roast proves difficult to turn into small meals; steaks don’t reheat well. Instead, I’ll braise beef short ribs. These meaty cuts sport full flavors that actually improve when made in advance.”

5. “How to make classic beef Wellington” featured on NBC Boston

This video highlights the classic and show-stopping Beef Wellington!

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.

New strategy in battle against invasive cedars

Curt Arens Controlled burn in field
FIRE IT UP: Prescribed fire is one of the most comprehensive tools available to farmers and ranchers in their battle against invasive eastern red cedar. Fire does especially well when control measures are first employed on smaller trees located on intact grasslands, and then working back into mature stands.

What if we’ve been going about reclaiming grazing lands from encroachment of invasive eastern red cedar trees all wrong? There is no denying the issue.

Between 2005 and 2015, cedar seedlings in Nebraska doubled to nearly 275 million. The Nebraska Forest Service estimates that 333,134 forest acres in cedar in 2015 amounts to about 22% of the state’s forested area.

Thanks to mechanical removal and other means, the spread has slowed since 2009, and the state’s cedar forest declined by 30,000 acres between 2013 and 2015. However, the problem remains monumental, and the state’s rangeland and livestock producers are negatively affected if the problem isn’t controlled.

At a series of recent workshops sponsored in part by the Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition, Nebraska Cattlemen and the Sandhills Task Force, Nebraska rangeland ecologist Dirac Twidwell told producers that our strategy so far is flawed.

Rather than dumping endless resources into the worst areas of encroachment, and trying to tackle large cedar trees and clear vast areas, Twidwell suggested trying something new. He believes that the best and most efficient use of resources is to start in areas of rangeland where cedar trees are just beginning to invade, clearing those areas first, and then working back into the worst spots.

Starting with grasslands

“This strategy is more effective when people consider the ecology of encroachment, which starts with the reproduction pathway,” Twidwell explained. “Spread into grasslands comes from a seed source, and 95% of cedar encroachment in the Nebraska Sandhills occurred within 200 yards of a seed source.”

If producers manage cedars by only cutting mature, reproducing trees, then landowners can never catch up to seed distribution. “That means that they have to come back to cut again in the future,” Twidwell said. “Manage the seed, prevent seedlings from becoming mature and anchor efforts to healthy grasslands.”

After that battle is won, then push back against the more mature stands, he added.

“Multiple management options have the potential to manage the encroachment process,” Twidwell said. “There is no silver bullet. But only fire has the potential to manage all phases of encroachment at once, because fire consumes seed, kills seedlings and can kill mature trees and larger stands.”

At a low cost of only $5 to $10 per acre, no other tool at a landowner’s disposal has the potential to do all four things at once like fire.

The best success stories in winning the battle against encroachment have been where landowners have banded together to use prescribed fire to burn grasslands before cedar trees become a visible problem. “These areas have been shown to be more capable of preventing grassland loss,” Twidwell added.

“Woody encroachment is a national rangeland problem, and it is taking land out of agricultural production,” he noted. “It shows we have weakness in our management, and it is tied to trees.”

Intact rangelands are most resilient to woody encroachment, but to prevent the expansion and loss of intact grasslands, new seed-producing trees must be prevented.

“The Great Plains still has some of the most intact grasslands remaining on the planet,” Twidwell said. “The Sandhills produced more than 30 billion pounds of total grass production last year.”

But no state or region has fixed the cedar problem once encroachment has taken over, he said. “Don’t wait to act,” Twidwell said. “You can’t control the problem just on your own property. We are seeing the need to band together and to scale up and think bigger. The areas where we see landowners cooperating and working together are the areas in the Great Plains where we are seeing the greatest success.”

Learn more by contacting Twidwell at [email protected].

Farm Progress America, December 15, 2020

Max Armstrong looks at some interesting shifts in food consumption caused by the pandemic according to Andrea Graves at Oklahoma State University. Individuals turned to food for increased wellbeing both physically and mentally. The quarantine has also sparked a renewed love for home cooking, bread baking, air fryers and breakfast.

Farm Progress America is a daily look at key issues in agriculture. It is produced and presented by Max Armstrong, veteran farm broadcaster and host of This Week in Agribusiness.

Image: Abehoidar/iStock/Getty Images News

Connecting with kids to promote ag literacy in a pandemic

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Yesterday, my daughter and I spent the day at the South Dakota Beef Industry Council’s (SDBIC) annual committee meeting.

We were there to pitch a project idea to the promotions committee, and as always, it was interesting to be part of the process — to see the work and decision-making in action and to hear from other potential contractors and learn more about their project proposals that will be considered for the upcoming year.

And proud mom moment — my buttons about burst watching my six-year old give her first speech! Next stop, ABC’s “Shark Tank” with hopefully a pitch for a million-dollar business idea that will fund the ranch!
Taking off my mom hat, let’s focus on beef promotion and the challenges we face in this arena.

Much has been said about the Beef Checkoff in recent years, and while this blog isn’t intended to get into the politics of this dollar tax or the ongoing legal challenges the program is facing, I do want to remind producers that everyone is welcome to the table to share ideas, offer input and bring up concerns about the program and how it is run.

The dollar tax is being collected, so I figure it’s my role to stay engaged and make sure it’s being used wisely!

Which is what brought me to the meeting yesterday.

In my opinion, I see a distinct and clear void that needs filling, and it’s in our public school systems.

I’ve always preached the importance of agricultural literacy, and most of you know that I’m a children’s book author and co-owner of a publishing company called, Ag Storytellers. With four books in our library, it’s a passion of mine, as well as my teammate and illustrator Michelle Weber, to present factual information to young people to help them connect the dots about where their food comes from.

I believe it’s important to share our stories and get in front of groups to build relationships and make connections.

However, this is becoming nearly impossible in light of the current pandemic. Parent volunteers aren’t able to visit classrooms. Farm tours aren’t happening. Connections aren’t being made as easily.

And although we have virtual options to make ourselves more transparent and accessible than ever before to students across the country and around the world, the challenge then becomes, how do we provide accurate beef information to young people if we never get the chance to meet?

The gap between producer and consumers starts at a young age. Disney movies humanize animals. Scholastic sends magazines to teachers and students that blame climate change on cheeseburgers. And in the midst of all the misconceptions and negative rhetoric, young people simply aren’t hearing from farmers and ranchers.

Earlier this year, I saw a teacher friend of mine post her Amazon book wish list for her second grade classroom. Curious about which books she was requesting, I checked out her list. Many were politically charged, which was troubling for second graders, but relevant to this blog post, there wasn’t a single book in her list of 50+ titles that related to food and agriculture.

And that’s where we can come in to step up to the challenge. I must note, this isn’t a pitch to sell my books. This happens to be a space that I work in, so I see the need and want to make a call to action.
We desperately need to promote agricultural literacy in schools. It needs to happen now! We need a plan for the 2021 spring semester. How can we reach kids in our communities when we can’t actually meet with them?

Here’s an idea.

Reference agriculturally-accurate books lists from the American Farm Bureau Foundation or National Ag In The Classroom. Check out the resources, books, learning materials and curriculum found on these pages, and from other independent authors and publishers in the agricultural industry, and share your favorites with educators in your community and state.

We may not be able to influence curriculum presented in the classroom, but we can at least attempt to bridge the gap by ensuring there are plenty fo agricultural books in the school libraries for kids to pick up and enjoy.

If we aren’t at the table, we aren’t part of the discussion. Let’s not lose ground this year in promoting food and agricultural literacy in schools because of the challenges that COVID-19 has presented.

I don’t know if SDBIC will accept our pitch, but I am personally committed to this mission of teaching kids about where their food comes from. It was icing on the cake to get my daughter involved. I’m sure proud of my passionate little South Dakota Junior Beef Ambassador!

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.

Tips for winter bull management

Curt Arens Bulls at feeder in field
STAY WARM: Making sure bulls have enough feed, minerals and water — as well as protection from winter elements — are simple steps in protecting your battery of bulls from frostbite and winter injuries.

When you remember that your battery of bulls contributes half of the genetics to your cow herd, it drives home the importance of bull fertility.

Winter is a time of risk for bull health and fertility, so management of the bulls during this time is crucial, said Kacie McCarthy, Nebraska Extension beef cow-calf specialist. McCarthy discussed winter care for bulls during a recent University of Nebraska BeefWatch webinar.

“Bulls are highly utilized, with 87% of operations using bulls as their primary breeding method, according to 2009 statistics from a USDA National Animal Health Monitoring System survey,” McCarthy said. “The bull workload during breeding season can range anywhere from four to 80 females.”

In addition, bulls can lose between 200 and 400 pounds during the breeding season, so they need to regain that weight — targeting a body condition score (BCS) of 5 to 6 — to prepare for the subsequent season.

McCarthy said that it isn’t uncommon for hardworking, dominant bulls to drop one or two BCS, depending on their age and maturity. She suggested taking special care of young bulls in the battery, because yearling bulls are still growing and will need to gain between 1.5 to 2 pounds per day to reach about 75% of their mature body weight by the next breeding season — and gain any weight back that they lost in their first breeding season.

Separate young bulls

“Once the breeding season is finished, in the postseason you want to group your bulls and separate the younger or thin bulls from the mature bulls, to help the young ones continue to gain,” McCarthy said. “You can turn them into a separate pasture and provide a good mineral program to help with growth and performance.”

McCarthy recommended paying close attention to selenium, which plays a key role in spermatogenesis, as well as zinc, which also plays a role in male fertility and is critical for sperm cell plasma membrane integrity. In addition, iodine can be added to alleviate any foot rot.

It also is easy to forget that the availability of fresh water is just as important for all bulls in the herd during the winter as it is in summer. Most sources say that a bull weighing 1,400 pounds or more will need at least 9 gallons of water daily at temperatures of 40 degrees F or less.

“The opportunity comes in the end of summer grazing and into winter grazing,” McCarthy said. “We have the opportunity here to use some of our resources like distillers grains and corn residue for winter grazing to help the bulls put condition back on before breeding season.

“The target for yearling bulls would be to gain 200 pounds and be at least 75% of their mature body weight before the next breeding season.”

Beating cold weather

“Cold weather impacts fertility,” McCarthy said. “Cold weather and windchill can result in infertility in bulls because of potential damage to scrotal tissue. It can cause blisters and scabs from frostbite.”

If there is tissue damage, spermatogenesis can take upward of 61 days to regenerate sperm cells for the next breeding season, she said. “The bulls should be reevaluated at least 45 to 60 days before bull turnout,” McCarthy noted. “That will be able to tell us a lot as far as semen quality.”

The impact from frostbite can range from mild to severe. So, offer good cold weather protection, with plenty of space, shelter, windbreaks and bedding to help protect the bulls from the frozen ground.

“Windbreaks help stop the wind and get the bulls out of the extreme conditions,” McCarthy said. “Think about adding bedding to the pens for dry cover, so we make sure the scrotums are not freezing and the bulls can maintain body heat.”

Learn more by contacting McCarthy at [email protected]. Producers can view past topics and register for upcoming webinars at beef.unl.edu.

Colostrum isn’t just for dairy calves

cgbaldauf/Getty Images Black calf lying on bed of straw
FIRST 4 HOURS: For adequate passive transfer, calves should receive 10% to 12% of their body weight in colostrum at the first feeding within the first four hours of life.

Typically, when I think of feeding colostrum, I think of a dairy farm. However, it is just as important to make sure newborn calves are getting adequate colostrum on a beef operation as it is on a dairy operation. Colostrum is the “first milk” produced by the dam and is high in immunoglobulins to help the calf survive disease and infection until its own immune system matures. Colostrum is also a great source of energy, vitamins, white blood cells and growth factors for the calf.

For adequate passive transfer, calves should receive 10% to 12% of their body weight in colostrum at the first feeding within the first four hours of life. After six hours, there is progressive decline in the efficiency of absorption. The passive transfer process ends 24 hours after birth. It is important to note that after a calf is born, oral stimulation starts the passive transfer clock.

Passive transfer failure

Failure of passive transfer occurs when a calf does not absorb an adequate amount of immunoglobulin from the colostrum. Prevalence of failure of passive transfer in beef calves has been reported to range from 11% to 31% in North America. While beef herds typically let Mother Nature take care of making sure calves receive adequate colostrum, you may want to consider intervening and helping calves that do not appear to be adequately nursing. Calves that experience failure of passive transfer are more likely to become sick or die in the first two months of life as compared to calves with adequate immunity.

A study conducted on beef herds in Quebec showed failure of passive transfer depended on the level of assistance the calf received in nursing. There were 221 animals in their study. Ninety-four of the calves had no assistance, 105 were led to the dam to nurse, and 22 were bottle-fed. The rate of failure of passive transfer was 22.3%, 18.1% and 4.6%, respectively. In this study, animals that were bottle-fed colostrum had the lowest percentage of failure of passive transfer; calves given no assistance or not led to the dam for feeding had the greatest chance of failure of passive transfer.

While bottle-feeding every calf may not be practical, helping those that seem to be struggling can help your bottom line. Failure of passive transfer may ultimately impair your profitability due to additional costs associated with treatment, reduced weight gain and an increased risk of calf mortality. The average total costs per beef calf with failure of passive transfer is estimated to be $95, with a range from $24 to $166.

As you prepare for calving season this year, consider ways you can enhance your colostrum feeding program. What changes can you make to your operation to ensure your calves have a good foundation? Being present at all calving times to ensure calves receive adequate colostrum soon after birth will help to minimize your farm’s rate of failure of passive transfer and set you up for success.

Schlesser is the Marathon County Extension dairy agent. This column is provided by the University of Wisconsin-Extension’s Wisconsin Beef Information Center.