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Articles from 2019 In February

Cattle Market Weekly Audio Report for Oct. 27, 2018

Calf and feeder steers and heifers sold from $2 per cwt lower to $2 higher this week, amid the heaviest auction volume since last January, according to the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS).

“Feedlot break-evens have been running in the red and buyers have backed up incoming cattle prices as a result,” explained the AMS reporter on hand for Thursday’s sale at Billings Livestock Commission in Montana.

Related: Industry pushes for USDA regulation of fake meat

“Preconditioned calves continue to sell with the best demand, with buyers discounting most calves lacking a booster shot, or with no vaccinations at all…Transportation continues to be an issue as trucks are tight with many contract calves moving in the country. Buyers are reluctant to purchase calves without immediate transportation as heath concerns snowball the longer calves are under stress.”

Related: Industry pushes for USDA regulation of fake meat

Calf and feeder prices could get a boost from the fed cattle market, which finally broke higher after six weeks of about steady money.

Related: Wet conditions delay winter wheat grazing

Week to week, Choice boxed beef cutout value was $5.54 higher Friday afternoon at $213.47 per cwt. Select was $4.59 higher at $198.83. That’s an increase of $10.76 for Choice over the last two weeks; $6.55 higher for Select.

Week to week on Friday, the Down Jones Industrial Average was 756 points lower. The daily close ranged from 608 points lower to 401 points higher. Similarly, the broader-based S&P 500 was 109 points lower week to week, with the daily close ranging from 84 points lower to 49 points higher.

Related: Wet conditions delay winter wheat grazing

“Stocker budgets for winter grazing still look quite favorable, unless grazing delays stretch out too long and cut excessively the days available for winter grazing,” says Derrell Peel, Extension livestock marketing specialist at Oklahoma State University, in his weekly market comments.

Peel explains precipitation in Oklahoma for the past month is the second most on record (187% of normal); the most all time in the last 90 days.

“Producers may, in fact, be looking to stock a bit heavier than usual with potential for better than average wheat forage production this winter,” Peel says.

At the same time, the bountiful moisture is delaying some planting and development.

According to the most recent USDA Crop Progress report (week ending Oct. 22), 72% of winter wheat is planted, which is 1% less than last year and 5% less than the average; 53% has emerged, which is 3% less than last year and 5% less than the average.

Listen to Wes Ishmael's Cattle Market Weekly Audio Report every Saturday morning on the BEEF magazine website. This is your report for Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018.

Wheat deadlines push feeder cattle to markets

Feeder cattle numbers at the test auctions are starting normal seasonal increases as we approach the March 15 insurance deadline for cattle to be moved off of wheat that is going to be evenutally harvested.  The prices were steady to $3 higher for all weights.

When we turn to slaughter cows, there were 7,000  head of cows at the twenty test auctions from Pennsylvania to Idaho and the Southern Plains. Prices were $2-3 higher, regaining more than what they lost last week. Cow meat prices continue to climb higher, but at a slower pace than a month ago. The cow cutout is still $7 below last year yet.



MIDDAY Midwest Digest, Feb. 28, 2019

A Wisconsin man ran down an Illinois state trooper last month. The man is charged with reckless homicide.

A man was driving the wrong way on a freeway in St. Louis.

In Michigan, police officers are swabbing saliva to check for drugs. The pilot program is being expanded.

At Commodity Classic, many farmers left behind bad weather. 

Fire safety officials are reminding homeowners to clear vents outside the house.

Southern Illinois residents are bracing for rising river waters.


Photo: Evgen_Prozhyrko/Getty Images


MORNING Midwest Digest, Feb. 28, 2019

Last weekend's storm left lots of snow across the Upper Midwest, making it difficult for some to reach their livestock.

People in Southern Illinois are bracing for rising waters this weekend.

Michigan police may begin swiping saliva to check for drugs.

An Iowa college announcer got in trouble for referring to an opposing team member as King Kong.

The mayor of Oklahoma City has rid the city's airport of "cow tipping" t-shirts.

Great maternal herds are few and far between

Great maternal cowherds

I am aware of only a few great maternal herds. I am sure there are some of which I am unaware, however, the point is: there are not nearly enough. By great maternal herds I mean those that achieve pregnancy rates of 92-96% through good years and bad with little hay feeding and minimal supplementation of protein and minerals. 

There are many herds that get good conception rates by relying on much winter hay feeding and good doses of supplemental protein and minerals and sometimes even grain and TMRs. Those are not great maternal herds because there is a high probability that they are unprofitable because of high input costs—especially in the tough years.

As I continue to work as a speaker for livestock producer meetings, I hear more and more stories of herds where conception rates were in a range of 90-96% a decade or two ago. Now they struggle to get conception rates exceeding 80%. 

As I question further, it becomes apparent that their cows have gotten too big, are trying to produce more milk than their environments will allow and have too little or no heterosis. These cows have lower body condition in spite of often being fed much more in the winter. The owners are now either running fewer cows or buying more feed.

The great maternal herds are the ones that are most profitable at the ranch level. The cows have these characteristics: very good fertility; longevity; inherently good body condition; good udders; good feet and legs providing good locomotion; disease and parasite resistance; calving ease; young age at puberty; good dispositions and great mothering ability—this does not mean a lot of milk but the ability to deliver a healthy calf, stay mothered up on pasture moves or long drives and teach the calf how to eat and live in its environment. 

These cows may not wean the biggest calves, but the calves grow well for the environment in which they are raised. While the calves may not perform as well as terminal sired calves in the feedlot, they should have very acceptable growth rates and feed conversion if they are slaughtered on time. The calves may even excel for the grass-fed niche.

The great maternal herds are characterized by cows that get pregnant as yearlings and again as 2-year-olds. They are good mothers raising good calves to an acceptable weaning weight. They maintain good body condition using mostly grazed feed with minimal supplementation. 

Because of their self-sufficiency, they enable a significant reduction in the need for overheads such as calving facilities and tools, hay making and feeding equipment along with labor and fuel. These herds produce greater turnover as a result of their innate fertility and survivability.

Several steps can be taken to improve maternal traits in herds:

  • Over time, reduce dependence on fed feeds and supplementation.
  • Keep most of the heifer calves and expose them to bulls and shorten the breeding season to as little as 24 days. You may want to take several years to get this done.
  • Over a few years, shorten the calving season to 30 days for cows, but don’t shorten the breeding season. Create the discipline to cull the late-calving or late-bred cows before the next calving season. You may make the cut-off date a little earlier each year until you get the season as short as you want it. Once you get stabilized at 30 days, a high percentage will calve in the first 30 days. You will also be able to sell some good bred or late-calving cows to terminal breeders looking for good cows. Offer some each year and soon the buyers will come.
  • To make good maternal cows, only select bulls whose dams have always calved as a result of first cycle conception. If you select a bull from a first calf heifer, make sure that she also has calved in the first cycle as a 3-year-old before you make that selection.
  • Then stick to the cow culling protocol.
    • All open cows
    • All dry cows
    • All cattle with bad dispositions
    • Those that need to be handled
    • Those that raise poor calves
    • Ugly (your definition, but don’t be too tough)

Opens and dries which will make up most of the culls. If you routinely cull the others for several years, you soon won’t have many to cull in any given year and you will like your herd. 

You see, you are letting nature and the bulls select your cows. The ones that fit your environment and management will be the ones that conceive, survive and stay. If they don’t fit, they won’t last nor do you want them to. The mothers of your bulls should be selected in the same way you select your cows.

Many of the emails I receive express an interest in reducing the size of cows. I think that is probably good in most cases; but, most importantly, you are trying to increase fertility and longevity while reducing inputs. You won’t do that if you continue to use the type of bulls that got you into big cows with poor fertility.

Impact of cattle imports from Canada and Mexico

Canada and Mexico trade

Following a weekly Industry At A Glance column and last month’s monthly column addressing beef demand and its influence on fed cattle prices, I received some feedback from readers.    Much of the correspondence was seemingly more focused on the importance of supply – specifically the influence of imports. 

For example, one reader noted, “The real market dynamics would seem to be impacted by the loss of COOL. Demand is more supplied with foreign beef marketed as U.S. beef.” Then, there was this question, “…what is the dollar value of beef imports coming into our country?” 

That very topic was addressed in this column last year and will be updated in coming weeks with new USDA data - see beef exports versus imports. The discussion highlighted exports, but also noted that, “…many producers often ask, But what about imports? Don’t they offset the value of exports? …Last year’s exports exceeded import value by $1.6 billion. In other words, beef’s ‘trade balance’ was positive and the beef industry benefitted from its trade status.”

However, that inherently leads to the next question: “What is the influence of live cattle coming into our country?” This week’s graph specifically addresses those trends.  

Canada and Mexico trade

There are three sources of imported cattle that contribute to the beef supply: feeder cattle from Mexico, feeder cattle from Canada, and slaughter cattle (bulls, cows, steers, heifers) from Canada.  

A couple of items are important:

  1. Mexico feeder cattle – Imports peaked in summer 2012 due to severe drought in the country, but over time, the 52-week moving average has averaged 1.125 million head.
  2. Canadian feeder cattle – Imports peaked around 675,000 head in July ’08 but have since consistently trended downward and finished 2018 at 194,000 head, a 70% decline from the peak.
  3. Canadian slaughter cattle – Imports also peaked in ’08 (September) at 900,000 head and have also declined ever since – finishing 2018 at an annual pace of 425,000 head, a 53% decline from the peak.

In total, the three sources of cattle represent approximately 1.88 million head during 2018; that’s compared to a total U.S. slaughter last year of just slightly more than 33 million head.

It’s also important to note feeder cattle make up the overwhelming bulk of cattle imports (nearly 80%) – cattle imported by backgrounders and feedyards (i.e. cattle producers – NOT packers) and represent an important means of generating value for their respective businesses.  

Cattle imports from both Canada and Mexico have long been a source of controversy within the beef industry. Based on this data, what’s your perception of the importance of those cattle? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below. 

Nevil Speer serves as an industry consultant and is based in Bowling Green, KY. Contact him at [email protected]

5 industry insiders share thoughts on advancing antimicrobial stewardship

Rounding up cattle

By Kindra Gordon

How can the beef industry improve efforts for judicious use of antibiotics? Five industry representatives shared their thoughts during a panel discussion at the 2019 Cattle Industry Convention in New Orleans. Here’s what they had to say:

Mark Harms, a seedstock producer at Lincolnville, Kan., noted that he has the opportunity to interact with variety of producers and reports “some are very aware, some are not,” regarding antimicrobial stewardship. “There is a lot of fear [among producers] that the government is coming down on us and is going to take away our weapons [antibiotics],” Harms stated.

“In my opinion, fear shouldn’t be the focus. Instead, we need to work on doing things right and choosing responsible use [of antibiotics].”

Tom Talbot, a veterinarian and cow calf operator at Bishop, Calif., noted that the cow-calf sector only uses 1.5% of all antibiotics in industry today. “That’s good that it is a small amount; the calf doesn’t suffer many stresses until it leaves the ranch,” Talbot said. But he added, “However, the health report back from the feeder, it’s an eye opener.”

Thus, Talbot suggests the cow-calf sector must ask, “What can we do to aid those up the chain to minimize use of antibiotics down the road?” He calls for “getting the basics done on the ranch” – such as castration and preconditioning – so animals can be as healthy as possible as the move to the feedyard.

He continued, “We [cow-calf producers] need to recognize that young and not weaned – that’s a high-risk calf. We need preconditioning and backgrounding to get animals off their mothers, that’s what it’s all about. We need to be conscious of what the next guy up the chain has to deal with.”

Representing the feedlot sector, Tom Portillo, veterinarian and manager of animal health for Friona Industries, stated, “To become better stewards of antimicrobials, we must decrease the number of sick animals. … to me that’s got to be the focus.”

Portillo advocates doing a better job in three areas to decrease cattle morbidity. They are risk assessment, case definition and population management.

He describes risk assessment as gathering information on where cattle have been and how they were handled. With that history, he says feeders can better plan pen density, feed and health protocols.

“Traditionally, no one has worked very hard to get much background information. If we shared more background information through the production chain, I think we could manage more effectively. It would allow us to minimize antibiotic use by minimizing disease.”

Second, Portillo calls case definition, “a big factor going forward.” He noted that currently, treatment of a certain percent of false positives is acceptable, but said, “We can’t be as liberal with that in the future.”

He added, “The opinion ‘I think he’s sick’ is too subjective. Rectal temperature and weight loss are pretty good objective indicators, but we are going to need more chuteside tools for diagnosis to justify use of antibiotics.”

Portillo says positional behavior technologies that track frequency of animals going to water and feed offer potential to improve case definition, and he reports that an electronic stethoscope is available but accuracy and applicability have been questionable. He also anticipates chuteside blood tests will eventually be developed. He says, “We have to get technologies that are rapid, accurate and affordable.”

Regarding population management, Portillo indicated that protocols for acclimating animals upon arrival – to new herd mates, pen conditions and ration changes – are also important to minimize disease risk and need for antibiotics.

That said, Portillo also emphasized, “Yes, we do need to minimize antibiotic use, but when there is a need for using them, we must also make sure we do so in a responsible, legal manner.” He called for administering antibiotics as labeled and with consideration to residues, withdrawal times, and food safety.

Lastly, regarding supplier and retailer claims on sourcing “antibiotic-free” proteins, Portillo commented, “I’ve been disappointed in claims some retailers are making because they are either unrealistic or we [the beef industry] are already doing some of those things. It creates a lot of confusion [with consumers]. For the future, I think the beef industry needs to define what antimicrobial stewardship is…We design it and we build it, and then it becomes the standard.”

Glenn Rogers, veterinarian and current president of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP), said antimicrobial stewardship requires “the right attitude” by everyone within the beef industry. He added, “There needs to be a concern about the potential for unintended consequences. Management must use antibiotics strategically and not as a crutch.”

Given the positive press the industry’s Environmental Stewardship Award program has received, Rogers suggested a similar effort could be designed to recognize those operations that have reduced antibiotic use and moved toward antimicrobial stewardship. “Let’s put it front and center,” he said.

Bob Smith, veterinarian and Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) Advisory Group chairman, stated his belief to reduce antibiotic use “requires systems thinking, including things such as biosecurity and biocontainment.” Smith outlined this should include education of employees for clinical signs, follow up by management, and managing stress of animals through appropriate timing of protocols.

One step toward that effort he says, “We have to time things [like vaccinations] to manage around stress to get a payback from using them.”

In addition to training through BQA, Smith encouraged producers and feeders to form a relationship with their veterinarian and get them involved in the operation. He points to nutritionists as a resource as well, and suggests involving them to teach pen riders what to look for in manure as an indicator of sick animals or those eating improperly.

Smith also sees a need for improved chuteside diagnostics and says the industry must develop a better system to quantify the need and use – or decreased use – of antibiotics.

Eventually, he hopes the availability of better vaccines to prevent disease, along with genetic selection for heritability of health [or disease resistance] will exist. “We need to support gene editing; it offers a great potential opportunity to reduce our use of antibiotics,” he said.

“I’m excited that over the next 10 years we are likely to see several new technologies developed for a better systems approach to antimicrobial stewardship.”

Eliminating cattle production will not solve climate change

Cows on pasture

By Colin Woodall

On February 7, dozens of reporters and TV camera operators dutifully lined up on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol to listen to a 29-year-old freshman U.S. House member discuss the introduction of a new non-binding resolution. 

An announcement by such a junior House member rarely generates so much attention from DC’s cynical press corps. But the freshman was media darling U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the non-binding resolution was the much-hyped (so-called) “Green New Deal.”

Now, if you heard anything about the introduction of the Green New Deal, it probably had something to do with “farting cows.” Thankfully, that colorful term does not actually appear in the legislative language of the resolution.

Instead, it was included in a talking-points document that (briefly) appeared on Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez’s website. The document’s authors lamented the fact that while they believed they could, in the next 10 years, retrofit every single building in America, build a national “smart” grid, and get rid of essentially all of America’s fossil-fuel burning cars, they “aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast…”

The fact is Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez apparently doesn’t know one end of a cow from the other. Getting rid of “farting cows” shows a level of ignorance that we haven’t seen in Congress until now. This misguided belief stems from the activist notion that doing away with cattle and beef production in the United States is going to have a major impact on the world’s climate. 

This idea, of course, is patently ridiculous. Direct emissions from cattle in America account for approximately 2% of our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions in any given year. And of course, American cattle producers have already made tremendous progress in sustainability efforts: compared with 1977, the U.S. today produces the same amount of beef with 33 percent fewer cattle.

While we remain 100% committed to improving our sustainability and continuing to act as responsible stewards of our land and our planet, the cold, hard fact is that folks who are ringing the alarm bells about climate change are not being honest when they say getting rid of cattle production in the United States will have a significant impact on global temperatures.

The Green New Deal’s rollout exhibits an utter lack of specifics about how to reach the proposed emission goals. The portion of the Green New Deal resolution that deals with agriculture only says that the federal government should be “working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible…”

But how do they propose—exactly—to achieve that? As always in Washington, the devil is in the details, and we noticed that the folks who tell us to “do more” on climate change are usually extremely scarce on details.

So we at NCBA decided to respond by releasing a few questions that we expect all citizens, journalists, and agricultural producers will ask of those who urge us all to do more from a policy standpoint about climate change.

You can read them all here, but in a nutshell they are:

  1. What specific policy changes are you proposing?
  2. How much would your proposed policy changes cost?
  3. Who will pay these costs, and how?
  4. How much would your proposed policy changes impact global temperatures down the road?
  5. And, oh by the way, please show your math on all your calculations above.

After giving these questions some thought, it is easy to see that the Green New Deal, and other baseless political appeals for a meat-free vegan utopia, are just that—baseless.

Woodall is NCBA senior vice president, government affairs, in the Washington, D.C. office.

Does one good deed deserve another?

Helping neighbors

By Bruce Derksen

We in the cattle business are often busy people who tend to focus on our own lives to such an extent that we miss what is going on in the lives of others. But when we notice that a neighbor needs help, we do what needs to be done. When the need arises, we step up. 

In the agricultural community, these types of actions are often “business as usual” and have been for as long as I can remember. When neighbors experienced a loss or had a need, farmers and ranchers would come together to lend a hand, bringing their families and equipment to help with seeding, harvesting or whatever task was required. And it wasn’t tied to returning a previous favor, but a natural reaction to anyone who could use a hand.

An example of this happened every spring at a feedlot where I was used to work, when we would help an older neighbor process his small group of cows and calves. I’m sure there was never a need for him to ask for help, it was just a case of us arranging a date when we would all show up. 

This neighbor’s age and health really didn’t allow him to work his small herd alone any longer, so every spring we would set aside a few hours, fill a box full of medications and antibiotics, syringes, needles, disinfectants, dehorning and castrating equipment and anything else we could think of and with a purpose in mind, we would arrive at his farm. 

My pen checker’s life could be very routine, but days like this offered a reprieve from the usual.  Old Sonny, my trusted mount, would get a chance to stretch his legs in the wide-open spaces rounding up the small herd and I would get a break from the saddle to use some muscles I wasn’t sure still existed. 

The basic design of our neighbor’s facilities were a couple of ancient pens and a small alleyway that led to a hand operated headgate wired to some half-rotten posts. Laying about in disarray were similarly rotten panels used as gates or to cover holes in the fences should the need arise, and there definitely was a need. Baler twine and wire were in greater quantity than actual nails. 

His cow-calf herd was a very mixed group consisting of newborns to fall and winter calves from the season earlier, plus heifers as well as old cows surely on their last legs. Almost every color of the rainbow was represented with both wild and quiet animals sporting horns and hooves of varying lengths. A handful of familiar looking open females would be scattered within the mix, looking suspiciously like the ones he had promised to send to market during our last springtime visit.

Of course, due to the condition of the facilities and the variations of age, size and ailments of the animals, this task of processing calves and treating cows wasn’t a normal job, so a short huddle and a good plan was always in order before we began. As younger folks tend to do, the junior members of our crew were anxious to display their strength and would volunteer for wrestling the calves at the headgate. If any youngsters were inclined to be hesitant or shy to volunteer, they would be conscripted by those of us who considered ourselves older and wiser. 

We would handle the syringes, drug bottles, ear-tagging, implants and dehorning if necessary, along with the obligatory assignment of castrating those in need. Although the day would begin in a disorganized, chaotic and semi out-of-control way, as everyone became more aware of their duties, the process would begin to run smoother. Before we knew it, all the calves, big and small, would be processed and ready for the summer. Likewise, the cows with curled up horns, ski hooves and pink eye would be treated and back with their babies.

All in all, we’d have a good day advancing the “one good deed doesn’t deserve another” cause for someone who needed it. We’d be dirty, tired and sore, but there was always something about voluntarily lending a hand that lifted the soul.

Obviously, there were financial and time costs to our own operation, but I don’t remember anyone in our crews ever grumbling or complaining about those days. Plus, our reasoning never hinged on whether the receiver of our good deed had provided help in our direction. 

That wasn’t the tipping point. We just saw something we could do to help and did it. One good deed is just a natural thing.

Derksen is a freelance writer and feedyard pen rider in Lacombe, Alberta, Canada.