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Articles from 2007 In February

Beginning farmer tax credits offered in some states

Over the past several decades, family farms (and by extension rural communities) have become more and more endangered. A number of states, including Nebraska and Iowa, have begun to address the difficulties associated with entering farming or ranching as a career way of life.

The greatest barrier to beginning farmers or ranchers is financial – basically a lack of capital (or access to capital). Farmland slated for transition to a new generation is often swallowed up by very large producers. Their access to liquid capital (due in large measure to government payments) drives prices beyond a beginner’s ability to compete for land or access to land.

As fewer and fewer family farms/ranches operate in Nebraska and Iowa and other states, rural communities and small businesses see their customer base dwindle. The result is fewer consumers, fewer taxpayers, fewer jobs, and fewer opportunities for people to remain in or move to rural areas of the country.

Nebraska and Iowa have implemented tax programs designed to encourage retiring landowners to work with persons wishing to enter farming/ranching. Stabilizing or increasing the number of family farmers/ranchers helps rural communities increase economic activity, broaden the tax base, and increase the number of taxpayers and jobs.

In Nebraska, the tax credit incentive to landowners who rent to qualified beginning farmers/ranchers was increased to 10% of rental income for cash rentals and 15% of the cash equivalent of share rentals. Share rentals typically provide for sharing of expenses and risks between the landowner and the tenant. They are especially beneficial to beginning farmers/ranchers, but result in somewhat greater risks for the landowners.

To be eligible, a beginning farmer/rancher in Nebraska cannot have a net worth above $200,000 (up from $100,000 in the original 1999 legislation). The beginner must also be a legal resident, demonstrate adequate farming or livestock production experience, and provide a majority of the day-to-day physical labor and management of the operation. Additional requirements can be found on the web at

Iowa’s law is similar to Nebraska. There is a 5% credit for rental income received with a cash rental agreement, and a 15% credit for the owner’s share under a share agreement. To qualify, Iowa beginners must have a net worth of not more than $300,000 ($600,000 for eligible partnerships); be legal residents; demonstrate adequate farming or livestock production experience or education; have access to adequate working capital, farm equipment, machinery or livestock; and "materially and substantially participate in farming the assets subject to the lease." Additional requirements and more information can be found at

Please contact your state Department of Agriculture to find out more about programs available in your area to assist beginning farmers and ranchers.

Black Ink: ID records don’t have to be high tech

Climbing into a tractor cab at a farm sale, you discover corn yield counts for the past 20 years. The crop rotations on the back 80, the river bottom and "John's place" are laid out in barely legible layers on the vinyl interior. To an outsider, this "chicken scratch" is useless information, but to the farmer who owned that tractor, it was priceless. He might have used it to pick different seed varieties or to change his weed and pest control from year to year.

What about the rancher who gets a new pair of gloves every calving season so he has a new place record each calf's birth date? After a 2 a.m. calving check reveals a baby on the ground, he writes about it on his glove. In the morning, that impromptu notepad still provides individual identification (ID).

In today's world of lightening-fast technology and computerized gadgets of every sort, some would have you believe that the only way to keep records is by computerized spreadsheets, electronic ear tags and chute-side scanners. Maybe you think someday you'll learn about all of those thingamajigs and start keeping records.

You don't have to wait for someday to start keeping detailed records on each and every head. Delaying your record keeping until you've learned every inch of a new technology might take years. Perhaps the mere thought of working all the kinks out keeps you from even trying individual ID. Some producers find that computers and digital files make them more efficient and organized, but if that's not your knack, don't let the lack of computer deter you.

It doesn't matter if you keep it by cow number or cow name; the important part is keeping those records. When you get back to the house, transfer that information from hatband, glove or hand into a more permanent form of documentation. You can get spreadsheets from Extension Web sites, use an accounting record book or make your own columns and rows with a ruler and pencil. You can develop a category for everything you want to track, from cow and sire numbers to calving ease and weaning weight.

Then you have a wealth of information to analyze and learn from. That notebook in your shirt pocket may be the ticket for keeping track of any details. But if you never open it again, there's not much point in entering the details in the first place. As a cattleman, you're also an animal scientist. Your herd data could just provide the next big breakthrough on your operation.

Let the records help you hone management strategies or genetic decisions.
Comparing years of information to each other can provide you a clear picture of the effects your changes have actually made. Perhaps the records will reveal a trend towards increasing birth weights. A few extra pounds each year didn’t seem like much, but seeing a 5% increase in calving interval could become a problem in no time. Perhaps you’ll be able to trace longevity and efficiency back to heifers retained out of one or two cow families. The list of discoveries could go on and on.

Connecting this type of data to carcass information can give you an even better idea of where your herd's headed, and let you take the wheel. Whether you're retaining ownership or cooperating with a feedlot or cattle buyer, tracing harvest information back to the dam and sire is one of the most important steps you can take to add value. You can identify the calves that will make you the most money and then produce more of them.

Keeping detailed, individualized records can provide a great return on investment in the long run. If you use that information, payout is the same regardless of whether the data storage is in a hard drive in your office or those old boot boxes in the basement—whichever is easiest for you to use.

Online image gallery helps ID plants

A useful website to help identify plants is the Noble Foundation’s online Plant Image Gallery at It is divided into sections on grasses and grass-like plants; forbs; and trees, shrubs and woody vines. Each section contains an index of common names, scientific names and family. Multiple full-color photographs of each entry enhance a user’s ability to correctly identify the plant in question.

The "Image Gallery Search Engine" is a new tool that allows users to choose criteria about an unknown plant from dropdown menus and then run a search for potential matches.

"It can be very time consuming to browse the gallery if you have no idea what you are looking for," says Chuck Coffey, a pasture and range specialist at Noble and one of the co-creators of the site. "The user will now be able to take a plant to the computer and work through the search engine in an attempt to identify it."

The new search engine is enhanced with pictorial keys for menu items such as leaf structure and fruit type, letting users see drawings and definitions of the characteristics and choose the right one for the plant they want to identify, Coffey says.

Coffey stresses that the closer users are to southern Oklahoma and North Texas, the greater the likelihood of them finding plants in Noble's Plant Image Gallery that are common to their region.

Cowman Commentary: Coping with $4 corn

According to recent reports, current corn ending stocks are at their second lowest level in 45 years. Higher corn prices have had an immediate and major impact on feeder cattle prices. There is speculation that we’re in this for the long haul; in other words, we can expect feed costs to be at a higher plateau for years to come.

The environment we work in has changed. It always has been the size of the corn crop, livestock numbers and the export markets that pretty much dictated the corn price. Now crude oil prices will be one of the factors we'll watch closely as the country finds an economic equilibrium between oil and ethanol in the years to come.

The most recent Cattle on Feed report indicates a shift toward placements in the north and fewer in the south as proximity to ethanol plants impacts cost of gains.

Years ago I heard cattle people say that high corn prices meant high cattle prices, that cheap feed wasn’t necessarily good for the cattle industry. I always had to scratch my head on that one, as that statement seemed to fly in the face of common sense.

Thinking about it, there is some truth in this old adage. First, high grain prices offer the greatest incentive for feedlots to stay current. One only needs to look at the graphs of average carcass weights and the increase in Yield Grade 3s and 4s in recent years to figure out that we’ve come through a period of relatively cheap corn. Fed cattle prices have been higher than the cost to add a few extra pounds. Feedlots responded, increasing the tonnage on the market, which in-turn provided packers with an excuse to beat-up feeders in the marketplace.

High corn prices also put more pressure on competitive meat production, pork and poultry. Cattle have an advantage, we can fall back to increasing forage utilization and shorten the dependence on grain, but you can’t run the chicken flock on wheat pasture.

Beef and dairy cattle also can utilize the distiller's byproducts from ethanol production, wet or dry. There are greater limitations, even using the dry product, for hogs and broilers. The biggest obstacle is that the amino acid profile of the distiller’s product is so similar to that of the protein in corn that it does not serve as a good protein supplement for non-ruminants.

Within beef breeds there are differences in feed efficiency that will become increasingly important in this environment. Just as consumers have readily moved away from the gas-guzzling SUV, feeders will no doubt seek the breeds and breed combinations that are going to feed more cheaply, and convert better than the "corn-guzzlers" that have been popular recently. All of this makes the case for Gelbvieh influence and the documented advantages we’ve always touted for SmartCross cattle.

Meat Animal Research Center data, as well as research at many universities, support the theory that the leaner, growth breeds, including Gelbvieh, have the edge in feed efficiency. British breeds deposit more fat; energy-wise that comes with a high price tag.

Data from the Gelbvieh Alliance clearly shows the advantages of combining Gelbvieh and British breeds, Angus or Hereford, in a designed crossbreeding program. This data was the basis for the development of the SmartCrossâ system and our promotion of the Gelbvieh breed as a component in crossbreeding.

The Alliance data, real-life data on thousands of cattle fed in major feed yards, provides proof that cattle that are 25 to 50 percent Gelbvieh with the remainder British, excel with higher average daily gains and better feed conversion rates than straight bred British cattle. This equates to substantially lower costs of gain—more important in this new feed cost environment.

Coincidentally that same mix of Gelbvieh and Angus provides the right combination of desirable yield grade and quality grade. Combine that with the cost of gain advantage and you have the best recipe for profitability in this situation.

At its recent Outlook Seminar, Cattle-Fax built a compelling argument that higher feed costs are not a short-term phenomenon. Crossbreeding with Gelbvieh makes sense for a number of reasons: it pays dividends for commercial producers over the long haul; cows with more productivity; feeder calves with more value; and fed cattle that hit the target.

Wayne Vanderwert is the Executive Director of the American Gelbvieh Association. He can be reached at 303-465-2333 or via email at [email protected]

Hay best for horses in cold weather

Although horse owners may think they're doing their animals a favor by adding corn to the diet in cold weather, hay is actually a better feedstuff for keeping horses warm. That’s according to South Dakota State University Extension equine specialist Mark Ullerich, who says there's a common misconception that corn or some other high-energy concentrate can help horses generate heat.

"In reality, allowing that horse high-quality, long-stemmed forages is a better way to help that animal maintain its core body temperature," Ullerich says. "Just keep in mind they will naturally consume more because their maintenance requirement will have increased due to the lower temperature."

Ullerich says horses benefit from the heat given off by microbes in the fermentation process that breaks down roughage such as hay. A feedstuff as corn, in contrast, might provide a quick shot of energy, but doesn't help the animal deal with the cold as well, Ullerich says. It is digested very rapidly and the associated heat generated is minimal.

Next tip: Time to Bone Up on EPDs

U.S. Red Meat Exports Continue To Increase In 2006

For the third consecutive year, Mexico led all markets in volume and value for U.S. beef and beef variety meats in 2006, reports the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

Meanwhile, overall exports of U.S. beef and beef variety meats worldwide increased 39% in volume to 655,920 metric tons (mt) and 50% in value to $2.04 billion in 2006 compared to 2005. This was despite no market access to Korea, and limited access to Japan. In Mexico, the volume of U.S. beef products increased 32% to 371,087 mt and value jumped 33% to $1.17 billion over the 2005 figure.

For a breakdown of export statistics by market, click here:

Meanwhile, year-end numbers show U.S. pork and pork variety meat exports continued their record-breaking volume growth for a 15th year, totaling 1.26 million metric tons (mt), a 9% increase over 2005. Their value also increased 9%, reaching more than $2.86 billion.

And exports of U.S. lamb and mutton plus lamb variety meat increased 55% in volume in 2006 to 13,934 mt and 66% in value to $27.8 million over 2005.

Producer Choice In Marketing Is At Risk

USDA's Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration published the final report of their Livestock and Meat Marketing Study, which was commissioned by Congress to determine the impact of alternative marketing arrangements (AMA). See "Report On Alternative Marketing Arrangements Released" elsewhere in this week's issue.

The study held few surprises, and confirmed what other studies continue to show. That is that the impact of AMAs is negligible and is likely beneficial to the industry as a whole. Nonetheless, the economic studies continue to be commissioned and the outcry to eliminate any move away from a commodity system will continue.

It's increasingly clear that the upcoming farm bill will be a focal point for those trying to eliminate producer choice in marketing their cattle. Economists and experts have always discounted this movement, believing that the numbers tell the story, but they've missed the point. This movement is against change, and it's about uncertainty and a fundamental belief that someone else is in control of the industry's future.

Two Feeds Publications Available Online

"Cattle, Corn, and Alternative Feeds" and "Coping with High-Priced Corn" are two publications from South Dakota State University Extension specialists designed to help cow-calf producers deal with the surging price of grain. Both are available free of charge and online.

"Cattle, Corn, and Alternative Feeds," available at is written by Rebecca Schafer and Alvaro Garcia. The paper (SDSU Extension Extra 4036) discusses feedstuffs such as sugar beet byproducts, corn silage, corn stover, distillers grains, turnips, grazed corn stalks and wheat middlings as possible alternative feed sources for producers facing high corn costs. The paper covers factors to consider when shopping for alternative feeds, and calculating their relative feed value to that of corn.

Meanwhile, "Coping with High-Priced Corn" (Extension Extra 2060) is written by Cody Wright, Ken Olson, Julie Walker, Erik Loe, Alvaro Garcia, Bob Thaler and Jeff Held. It's available online at

For more on alternative feeds, visit the feed-value tables available at The annual listing -- the latest version of which will debut in the March issue of BEEF magazine -- includes the typical composition for more than 300 feeds typically fed to cattle and sheep. Compiled by Texas Tech emeritus professor Rod Preston, the tables have been exclusively published in BEEF magazine for the past 11 years.
-- Joe Roybal

Tips For Preventing Pinkeye

While it may seem premature to discuss a disease in March that tends to cause problems from June to August, now is the time to plan a strategy to prevent infectious bovine keratoconjunctivitis (IBK) or pinkeye.

One of the most common diseases in cow-calf and stocker operations, pinkeye is a complex disease that can't be prevented after the first case hits your herd. That's why it's important to plan early and act quickly.

Pinkeye is caused by a bacteria and/or virus along with a combination of predisposing factors. Moraxella bovis is the most common bacteria but Branhamella ovis and Mycoplasma bovoculi can also be involved. Infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR) virus may also play a role in some outbreaks.

Diagnosing pinkeye is relatively simple. Calves begin with some excess tearing and/or squinting, and the disease can progress to development of an ulcer in the center of the cornea. Some cases heal on their own while others need treatment.

As with any disease, prevention is the best strategy. Because pinkeye is a multifactorial disease, a broad-based prevention strategy is needed.

Face flies are the most important vector in transmission of pinkeye, but ultraviolet light, wind, dust, pollen, tall grass/weeds, and grass seed can also irritate eyes.

It's unrealistic to think we can eliminate face flies on a farm or ranch, but we can take steps to control them. Options include: fly tags, back rubbers, sprays, dusts, pour-ons and insect-growth regulators. The key to fly control is to have a plan in place that's both timely and effective.

If you use fly tags, do not apply them until there are around 200 horn flies/cow. If tags are put in too early, they can't perform to their optimum level and can encourage insecticide-resistant fly populations.

Tagging cows is more effective than tagging calves, but the best option is to do both. Check with your herd health veterinarian or Extension beef specialist for timing recommendations in your area. It's ideal to use a spray or pour-on at the same time you fly tag so you get a quick and significant reduction in fly numbers. Later in the year, timely sprays can also help to reduce the fly population.

Back rubbers and insecticide-impregnated flaps on mineral feeders can be used with good success. Be sure the products are placed in areas where they get frequent use.

Many nutrition companies market mineral mixes containing insect-growth regulators to control flies. Products include rabon, phenothiazine and methoprene. These products kill 80-90% of the fly larvae that hatch in fresh cow manure.

The key to these products' effectiveness is to start using them a few weeks before the first flies develop. This date will vary by region, so check with a beef specialist from the company that produces the product.

If you have other grazing cattle within about a mile of your operation, those flies could migrate to your herd. If you plan to feed one of these products, try to get neighbors with grazing cattle to do the same.

Another fly-control method is a fly trap, a device cattle walk through that mechanically "wipes" flies off the cows. While quite effective for horn flies, its shows limited effectiveness on face flies. (See for more information.)

There are a variety of vaccines on the market for pinkeye prevention and control. The concern is there seems to be many isolates of M. bovis that cause disease, and some vaccines contain one or only a few isolates. Check with your herd health veterinarian for recommendations for your herd.

To lessen the chance of mechanical irritation of the eye, pastures should be managed to keep forage in a vegetative state. If pasture gets mature and seed heads develop, the pasture should be clipped.

While IBR can be a cause of pinkeye, using a modified-live virus (MLV) vaccine during an outbreak has been reported to exacerbate the disease. If you're vaccinating nursing calves with an MLV IBR vaccine, do it well ahead of the pinkeye season.

For more on pinkeye, visit It's BEEF magazine's one-stop shop for information on hundreds of cow-calf production and management topics.
-- W. Mark Hilton, DVM, Purdue University