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Articles from 2012 In February

Heifer Breeding Soundness Exam

Cattlemen are usually familiar with the need to conduct a breeding soundness exam on their bulls. But Buddy Faries, Jr., veterinarian with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, says it's just as important to conduct a BSE on your heifer prospects, and use the results of that exam in your selection decisions.

Jude Capper On Brain Food

Jude Capper On Brain Food

“Nothing moved us into bigger brains faster than the consumption of animal products. Yet, it’s clearly documented that fats from animal products improves brain function. Let’s put the low-fat craze behind us and move forward by embracing the right portions of real food and real food only,” says Trent Loos, on a recent episode of Loos Tales. Loos interviewed Jude Capper of Washington State University on the importance of protein and fats in the diet for optimal brain function.

On this topic, my most-recent column in BEEF, “Diets Push Beef’s Healthy Role,” also highlights the importance of animal proteins in the diet, featuring the work of authors Gary Taubes and Loren Cordain.

Here are a few highlights from the podcast. Click here to listen to the entire segment.

“The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently indicated the third-leading disease by 2020 will be depression. I continue to see affluent individuals who read a bunch of stuff -- I didn’t say credible stuff -- but stuff, and they are consuming less milk, meat and eggs and the foods that attribute to mental health. How do we change the perceptions out there?” Loos asked Capper.

“Ultimately, it’s all about balance. Some of the fatty acids we find in fish, grass-fed beef and dairy have a major impact on vision, brain function, depression and mental illnesses. If we end up deficient on these fatty acids, we are going to have serious issues. We need to get over the perception that fat is bad, particularly that fats found in dairy and meat are worse than fats found in olive oil. Oleic acid, which is prevalent in olive oil, is also found in grain-fed beef. This offers us protection against heart disease and diabetes. Overall, it’s important to have a balanced, healthy diet that also tastes great, too,” said Capper.

“Every time I turn around, I hear of some doctor who talks about eliminating fat from the diet, not understanding how this all works,” replied Loos.

“The danger is there is so much misinformation out there, so you pick up something on the Internet or the newspapers, and it filters into our brains as this insidious idea that milk and meats are bad. What we need to do is to make a more concerted effort to help get the messages to the medical community.”

“Do not be misguided about fat. The University of North Carolina stated that pregnant mothers who eat eggs and bacon for breakfast have smarter kids. Obviously, your mom ate a good breakfast when she was pregnant with you, Jude,” concluded Loos.

For me, I always jump-start my mornings with high-quality proteins and fats, and it helps me to feel full and focused through the rest of my day. For dieters, I think a quality breakfast helps eliminate snacking on junk through the day. And, for hard-working ranchers in the high-stress time of calving season, it’s the perfect fuel!

Conventional wisdom warns us against too much fat and protein in the diet. What are your thoughts? Do you agree with Capper that animal proteins and fats are brain food? Do you try to spread the good-nutrition message of animal protein? What’s your favorite breakfast to start off your day?

Managing Today’s Downside Risk Is Critical

Managing Today’s Downside Risk Is Critical

Business and markets are inherently related. However, strict focus on markets can prove misleading when trying to assess the realities of business. That contrast has been an important theme within the beef complex during the past 6-12 months; February was certainly no exception. The market surged in mid-February but margins remain tough all around.

Cattle feeders managed to hang tough and bump the fed market up to $129. That action was driven by renewed strength over on the wholesale side – the Choice cutout now encroaching $200. Higher prices always mean stronger profits – right? Nope. In fact, neither packers nor feeders are in desirable positions.

From strictly a market perspective, February’s market surge shouldn’t be interpreted as an “all-clear” signal. Much of it stemmed from slowing chain speed to create some room for margin; cattle feeders failed to exploit that strategy and gave all the benefit back to the packer. That just prolongs the string of bad weeks. It hasn’t happened yet, but at some point the packer has to push back. It’ll likely begin if or when downstream buyers abstain because of higher prices. That could prove very disruptive to the market.

Therein enters concerns about potential consumer warning signs within the economy. Most notably, when it comes to gas price volatility, John Eichberger, vice president of motor fuels for the National Association of Convenience Stores, explains that “…for the consumer it’s emotional, not necessarily a logical purchase. They go to extraordinary measures [to avoid higher prices].” That becomes especially important in the spring as we emerge from winter hibernation – we’re starting 2012 at already-high levels. So, rising gas prices may, or be perceived to, assert their bite on take-home income – and could potentially curb overall consumer spending.

That’s especially important given the backdrop of new reports about the state of the consumer. Bankrate reports that 27% of Americans possess a lower level of financial security compared to a year ago (vs. only 24% reporting better security); meanwhile, 38% indicate they’re less comfortable with their savings level vs. last year (only 14% reporting being more comfortable). That’s the macro view; now, let’s turn our attention to the internal drivers.

Higher prices don’t equal better profits. That’s true for the packer and also manifested in the feeding sector. The illustration below highlights steady erosion of margin at time of placement (not to be confused with closeouts). This results from excess feeding capacity chasing a diminishing supply of feeder cattle (the “feed truck premium”) coupled with higher feed prices. Clearly, some of that lost margin is made up in other areas (i.e., grid marketing, hedging strategies, etc.), but the trend is important – enduring margin squeeze.

Margin compression is especially important from an investment standpoint. Consider that during the first 13 weeks of 2007, the crush margin averaged about $140/head; the most recent 13 weeks has that value around $80/head. Now, put that in perspective of capital-at-risk (initial feeder cost plus corn): $990/head in 2007 vs. current outlay of about $1,495/head. The risk-reward equation is upside down. Where does that leave us?

Margin pressure manifests itself in business execution and potentially impacts the market. The packer slows down throughput. The cattle feeder willingly obliges because of stabilizing feed prices and limited replacement supply on the other side of the sale. However, the market is subject to unraveling fairly quickly if: 1) The consumer begins to push back and/or, 2) front-end supply becomes sufficiently large to erode feedyard bargaining leverage.   If those factors manifest themselves, the situation could be self-reinforcing.

Are spring highs potentially in place? That remains to be seen. Either way, the run of late is impressive. It’s the result of many years of hard work. Who would have guessed in 2009 that fed cattle would be priced at $130, or Choice product at $200?

But it also means increased capital requirements to maintain business operations and tighter working margins all around; in other words, routine, daily business decisions are less forgiving. Return OF capital becomes the driver (vs. return ON capital). With that said, careful management of downside risk becomes ever more important. Remain objective, stay informed!

Buying A New Herd Bull? Do These 4 Steps First

how to buy a herd bull

Bull purchases represent a significant investment in a beef herd. Whether that investment results in a “nest egg” or a “goose egg” depends highly on a bull buyer’s preparation. Let’s discuss some basics.

Step 1: Don’t buy a new disease. While I’ve never had a producer intentionally bring a new cattle disease onto the premises, in reality this is how most new diseases enter a herd. Be sure the bull is a virgin or is tested for trichomoniasis if you live in a “trich” area. Bear in mind that trich is a devastating disease that is spreading into areas where it once was either absent or rare.

What about Johne’s disease, persistent infection with bovine viral diarrhea (BVD) and campylobacter? Ask the supplier if he’s ever had a positive diagnosis and, most importantly, get permission for your herd health veterinarian to call the seller’s veterinarian to discuss the health of the seller’s herd.

Be sure to ask specific questions about diseases you want to avoid buying. If the seller doesn’t allow this communication, I’d look elsewhere for genetics.


Step 2: Buy genetics that fit your herd goals. If you’re using bulls on virgin heifers, calving ease is a high priority. Using across-breed EPDs (Angus base), select a bull below +1 for BW EPD for a high likelihood of unassisted calvings.

For bulls to be used on cows, you should buy a bull with growth, maternal and carcass traits that fit your goals. I see many producers still looking primarily at calving ease when selecting a bull for cows. This is counterproductive as you’re likely limiting the growth of the calves and decreasing pounds sold.

As a general rule, low-birthweight EPD bulls tend to be lower in weaning and yearling EPD. Buy a bull for cows that will improve hybrid vigor (which improves health), growth and carcass.

We all want cattle that will thrive in their given environment; a calf with poor vigor at birth starts life with a huge black mark. Calves should be born quickly and stand to nurse on their own within 30 minutes. Anything less isn’t acceptable, and such calves have a greater chance of morbidity, which can be a tremendous labor issue. Ask about calf vigor before you buy.


Step 3: Quarantine for 30 days. Every farm or ranch has pathogen exposure and most animals never show clinical signs of sickness. Their immune system fights off the disease and you never even know they were exposed.

However, take that “normal” animal, stress him, and put him right in with your cows with their normal pathogen load and the new bull gets sick. Thus, 30 days of quarantine is a small price to pay for improved health.

Your herd health veterinarian will likely recommend a vaccination and parasite-control protocol during quarantine based on the bull’s health history and diseases common in your locale. Call your herd health veterinarian to get advice on these preventive health procedures.


Cattle Health: 9 Tips To Prevent Pasture Bloat
Treatment for bloat can often be too late, so prevention is the key. Here are nine tips to prevent this cattle disease.


Step 4: Breeding Soundness Examination (BSE). If you’re purchasing bulls, they should have all passed a BSE before sale day. If you have other bulls in your battery, they all need to be tested before turn-out.

The cost-effectiveness of doing a BSE on every bull before every breeding season has never been higher. Nationally, about 10% of bulls fail their BSE; in my 28 years of being a beef herd health veterinarian, I’ve yet to go a year without seeing the devastating effect of having a sterile or sub-fertile bull in the herd where a BSE was not performed prior to the breeding season.

Investing in the genetic future of your beef cowherd is a critical step in your herd’s health and profitability. Be sure to spend adequate time analyzing your options before signing the check. 

W. Mark Hilton, DVM, is a clinical professor of beef production medicine in the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine, West Lafayette, IN.


Other helpful vet advice:

5 Essential Steps For Fly Control On Cattle

3 Beef Industry Challenges That Won’t Go Away Soon

Environment Is Critical In Preventing Neonatal Calf Disease

A “What If” Question On Antibiotics

5 Simple Steps To Up Your Cow Herd’s Profitability

To Synchronize Or Not?

It has been demonstrated that using estrous synchronization and artificial insemination (AI) can improve reproductive efficiency, productivity and profits of beef cattle operations. Producers should consider using these reproductive technologies in their herds this spring.

Without question, reproductive efficiency dramatically affects profitability in a beef operation. The reason is simple: you market total pounds, and reproductive efficiency sets the stage for increasing profitability. Using reproductive technologies such as estrous synchronization and artificial insemination (AI) will assist in improving reproductive efficiency and ultimately profitability in your herd.

By itself, AI offers numerous advantages over natural service. AI allows you to use genetically superior and proven sires. Thus, AI is the quickest way for most producers to improve genetic merit of the herd.

In addition, for heifers, AI allows producers to use a high accuracy sire for calving ease. AI also facilitates the specific matings of dams and sires to optimize progeny potential and maintain heterosis in crossbred systems or reduce inbreeding in purebred systems.

To see the full article, click here.

Consumer Interest In Beef Quality Grades Impacts Cattle Business

Beef quality grades and consumer interest do impact the cow-calf producer, according to Eldon Cole, University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist.
Cole recently polled consumers about their perceptions and preferences in beef purchases. At that same time, he was able to educate people about beef quality grades.

"My props were not actual cuts of beef, instead I used the USDA steak pictures with various degrees of marbling ranging from slight through moderately abundant. The corresponding beef grades range from USDA Select through Prime," says Cole.
Visitors looked at the pictures and made their picks. Not surprisingly, those choices varied a lot depending on the gender, age and economic means of the person making the selections.

Younger women mostly picked the Select grade (slight marbling). Men, regardless of age, sought more marbling, pointing to the Choice and some the Prime steak pictures. The Choice grades include marbling scores of small, modest and moderate. Prime beef requires abundant degrees of marbling. Others said the choice depended solely on the cost.

To see the full article, click here.

Are Hauling, Livestock Markets More Stressful Than Packing Plants?

The HBO’s movie a few years ago about Temple Grandin was inspiring and helped to share her experience with people who didn’t understand her gift or in my mind how cattle behave. Side note: these were cowboys who did not have the benefit of hindsight like I do, so I do not hold any grudges against them for not following a young autistic girl. To their credit, most of those people and the industry have changed, as that girl has shown herself to be correct.

I think when we look at stress in cattle, we have to look at individual operations rather than looking at specific sectors. Ten years ago, packing plants had more monetary resources and had people like Grandin to design their facilities, so they had an edge in design for humane handling. But progressive producers, feedyards and livestock markets have been quick to pick these methods up, to the point where entities must be compared to one another rather than being compared industry to industry. Last summer, I saw a system at the World Livestock Auctioneer Championship in Greenville, SC, that rivaled any other system – feedlot or packing plant. Cattle moved calmly through the ring with little aid of humans, other than opening gates.

People are more involved in a livestock market or hauling, and thus have more opportunity to cause stress. It all has to do with how cattle are handled and how cattle are loaded. Even in my short years, I have seen a dramatic change in the handling of cattle. More alleys are circular leading to loading or working chutes (allowing cattle to follow the curve as they want to do); more people are trained to handle cattle in a low-stress fashion than ever before. Knowledge is power, and information is flowing down the beef chain at a record pace. Though some operations struggle with unskilled, uneducated labor that would rather beat cattle than move them easy, I think that is moving to a smaller and smaller percentage.

To see the full article, click here.

NCBA President Responds To Greenhouse Gas Litigation

NCBA President Responds To Greenhouse Gas Litigation

Oral arguments for the petition filed by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and other members of the Coalition for Responsible Regulation were heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Feb. 28 and Feb. 29. The litigation challenges the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) finding that greenhouse gases (GHG) endanger public health and welfare, its rule to limit GHG from passenger vehicles and its “timing” and “tailoring” rules that govern GHG permit applicability at stationary sources. NCBA President J.D. Alexander issued the following statement following the oral arguments.

 “The fact EPA decided to impose a backdoor energy tax by regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act is unacceptable and scientifically unfounded. We are hopeful the U.S. Court of Appeals will put a stop to the aggressive agenda-driven regulations that never should have been promulgated in the first place.

“Congress debated and rejected a cap and trade program for greenhouse gases. EPA’s regulations are an attempt to force greenhouse gas regulations down the throats of the American people without congressional approval. We challenged EPA in court to take power away from the agency’s unelected bureaucrats and put it back into the hands of the American people.

“Agriculture is an energy intensive sector of the U.S. economy. Any regulation that is designed to make gasoline and electricity more expensive will have a direct, negative impact on farmers’ and ranchers’ ability to be profitable while also providing safe and affordable food for a growing population.

“The livestock industry works hard every day to be good stewards of the land and environment. But imposing energy taxes through EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases will mean fewer jobs, higher food costs and less growth and innovation. These are regulations we simply can’t afford and we hope the court will put a stop to EPA’s activist tactics.”

Will Lab-Grown Meat Catch On?

Will Lab-Grown Meat Catch On?

Would you eat lab-grown beef? This was the question I posed last week on the blog, and generated a pretty interesting discussion in the comments section. While most agreed that test-tube meat sounded awfully unappealing, there are a growing number of folks in the media saying, “why not?”

The argument is that fewer cattle will be harvested for human consumption, so test-tube beef would save animals. Additionally, proponents of the synthetic meat say fewer resources would need to be used. For them, the fake protein seems like a great option.

Already, $330,00 has been invested on the project to grow meat from bovine stem cells, according to TIME.

While I strongly oppose test-tube beef, for reasons listed in the blog last week, we want to know your thoughts on the topic.

The latest poll on the BEEF magazine homepage discusses how a Dutch researcher is utilizing bovine stem cells grown in a petri dish to produce the first-ever hamburger in a lab by this fall. Do you think consumers will ever warm up to lab-grown beef? Vote here.

With 48 votes in so far, 17% say, “Yes, the ‘ick’ factor can be overcome.” Meanwhile, the majority at 77% say, “Not in our lifetimes.” Another 6% aren’t sure.

What’s your take? Would you order a test-tube burger at a restaurant?