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Articles from 2002 In March

The Sage Grouse Saga

Sage grouse, prairie chicken — or royal pain in the neck. Call it what you like, but this bird might soon become the spotted owl of Western rangelands. Designation of sage grouse habitat under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) could bring grazing to its knees in large areas of the Intermountain West and Northern Great Plains.

“Livestock grazing and other activities, as currently managed, are degrading sage grouse habitat and threatening this species with possible extinction,” says Mark Salvo, Portland, OR. He's grasslands and deserts advocate for American Lands Alliance and coordinates the sage grouse conservation project for several environmental organizations.

“We're pessimistic that most cattle operations in the West can co-exist with sage grouse,” adds Salvo. “Grazing and other activities ought to be reduced or eliminated to protect sage grouse and other sagebrush obligate species.”

Three Listing Petitions

Petitions have been submitted by environmental organizations to list as endangered three populations of sage grouse under the ESA. While listing petitions have not been filed for other sage grouse populations, environmental groups are closely watching bird numbers for other listing possibilities.

Historic sage grouse populations are unknown, but recent (1980 to present) declines are estimated to be in the range of 35-80%. Listing petitions estimate the size of the breeding population to be in excess of 140,000 individuals scattered across rangelands in two Canadian provinces and 11 Western states.

In response to the listing petitions, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has issued “warranted but precluded” findings for the Washington State population of greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) as well as its less widespread cousin, the Gunnison sage grouse (Centrocercus minimus). The latter is found in southwestern Colorado and a neighboring sliver of Utah. In both those cases, petitioning organizations are now suing FWS to gain endangered status under the ESA.

The third listing petition — for the Mono Lake, CA, population of greater sage grouse — is pending FWS review.

Sage grouse, though, aren't the Lone Rangers in the West's vast sagebrush sea (see map). As Salvo suggests, they are looking at protecting sagebrush habitat for hundreds of other bird, mammal, reptile and plant species. But, preservationists see sage grouse as a widespread indicator species for this huge ecosystem.

Looking At The “Science”

Ranchers, agency land managers and wildlife biologists are forming community groups in every Western state to head off sage grouse listing.

In northwest Colorado, Jean Stetson of Maybell is a rancher representative on local and regional sage grouse working groups. She would like to see more research regarding how current range management practices on public land impact sage grouse populations.

“There is little existing valid science that explores the relationship between grazing by livestock, and wild ungulates and sage grouse,” says Stetson. “We know improvement of habitat for grouse will result in improved grazing conditions.”

She feels it's time to come up with common sense solutions to sage grouse conservation. “We've seen it on our ranch — sage grouse and cattle can co-exist,” she says.

The Idaho Cattle Association (ICA) is doing everything possible to prevent an ESA listing of the sage grouse.

“We feel it's very important that any discussion related to sage grouse acknowledges the benefits that livestock grazing provides — and that habitat, monitoring and predators are all considered,” says Sara Braasch, ICA's executive vice president. “In Idaho we have five local working groups consisting of agency folk, ranchers, sportsmen, bird lovers, etc., that have been meeting to put together management plans.”

In Oneida County, ID, the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and pending management plan for the 47,600-acre Curlew National Grassland are driven by attention to sage grouse habitat, says Ken Eliason, president of the more than 30-permittee Curlew Horse & Cattle Association.

“If the drafters of the EIS were up front about their motives, they would state the DEIS is a sage grouse management plan, not a land management plan,” explains Eliason. “The fact is, sage grouse appear to be surviving at sustainable levels under current management.”

Action to repopulate sage grouse in Utah is “fast and furious,” says Brent Tanner, executive vice president of the Utah Cattle Association. “We have several sage grouse working groups that are targeting species rehabilitation.”

Tanner is optimistic that on-going research in Utah will show a positive interaction between livestock and sage grouse.

But while Salvo says the working groups are bringing attention to the plight of the sage grouse, he's generally critical of their efforts.

“They're largely political and aren't acknowledging the research that's been done on the negative impacts of grazing and other activities on sage grouse.” he explains. “Science shows us large numbers of cows and sage grouse can't co-exist.”

Salvo contends the working groups aren't addressing the tough questions — and says ranchers generally aren't willing to make the sacrifices that need to be made on behalf of endangered species.

Beyond Endangered Species

Stetson believes environmentalists are asking ranchers to make more than sacrifices. She reflects the sentiments of many ranchers that the sage grouse is being used as a vehicle to push ranchers off the pubic rangelands, much as the spotted owl was used nearly 20 years ago to curtail logging in Pacific Northwest forests.

“It's a land control issue,” she says. “If we're going to do what is truly best for the sage grouse, federal agencies need to stop their heavy-handed approach to land management. They need to encourage cooperation with public land users as well as private land owners.”

Salvo contends that the goal is to conserve and restore sage grouse populations, not necessarily remove ranchers from the public lands.

“It's not that we dislike ranchers,” replies Salvo. “We just dislike what their cows are doing to the landscape.”

Salvo admits there may be some “interesting cultural aspects” to what ranchers do. But, he contends grazing itself is antiquated and the sagebrush ecosystem is not able to tolerate heavy grazing use as it's been done for the past 150 years.

Salvo says it's clear that public lands grazing is part of an era gone by.

“Cattle are produced so much more quickly and efficiently in feedlots,” he points out. “There's a lot less business risk in raising cattle on private land or in feedlots. The production is much higher in feedlots, or in places like Florida or throughout the Midwest, than it is on Western public lands.”

He Doesn't Buy It

Ron Micheli doesn't buy any of it. As director of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, he says livestock grazing is a logical and sustainable way to manage and use public lands for everyone's benefit.

“Ranchers provide habitat for wildlife, clean water and, most of all, open spaces,” says Micheli. “They do all that at virtually no cost to the American public. The alternative is development — development that is anything but environmentally friendly.”

The sage grouse is a perfect example of how the ESA is being used as a surrogate issue to influence land management, explains Micheli. “It has nothing to do with promulgation of the species. It has everything to do with achieving a goal that's far beyond the purpose of the ESA. We see it happening time and time again.”

Micheli challenges environmental groups to back up what they contend with facts. He also points out that the prairie ecosystem has had grazing as one of its components for centuries.

“To say livestock grazing is the reason for the demise of the sage grouse is simply not based on fact,” he says.

Ongoing Conservation

State fish and wildlife biologists tend not to believe grazing is leading to the demise of the sage grouse. Sage grouse management guidelines were first published in 1977. Strategies included the development of conservation plans in each state and province.

“They are looking at facts as opposed to emotion and don't have the surrogate agenda that some groups have,” says Micheli.

The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies adopted a memorandum of understanding in 1996 to develop and implement sage grouse conservation plans. These efforts are underway and significant progress has been made, explains Jack Connelly, Pocatello, ID. He's gamebird research program manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

“Sage grouse populations in some areas have stabilized and are modestly increasing,” says Connelly. “A threatened or endangered listing under the ESA is discouraged, as listing would erode or destroy community support for conservation plans, increase federal involvement and decrease local involvement.”

“It's firmly believed that conservation plans provide a positive alternative to mandated management dictated through federal listing under the ESA,” adds San Stiver, Reno, NV, Nevada Division of Wildlife.

Taking No Chances

Still, Jasper Carlton, executive director of the Biodiversity Legal Foundation, says local conservation planning was not saving the Gunnison sage grouse from extinction.

“Despite conservation agreements between government agencies and private parties, the Gunnison sage grouse has continued to decline,” he says. “This is a rescue mission.”

The Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA) isn't taking any chances that ongoing conservation efforts will work for sage grouse populations. ONDA wants cattle off the range, now.

Through an Internet-based form letter, ONDA is asking Web surfers to make their voices heard. Their focus includes the Lakeview, OR, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) district office, which is currently preparing its final Resource Management Plan/EIS for the Lakeview Resource Area.

“This new plan will set management direction for the next decade,” say ONDA organizers. “Urge the BLM to adopt a stronger plan which excludes livestock grazing and off-road vehicle use from proposed Wild and Scenic Rivers, critical fish and wildlife habitat, sage grouse leks and all Wilderness Study Areas.”

Micheli sums it up best for the ranching industry.

“If the sage grouse is listed under the ESA the impact will be huge,” he states. “It will be the driving force for every decision on public lands use in the West.”

Oral Rehydration For Calves

Annual losses to the beef industry from neonatal scours runs into the tens of millions of dollars. The losses come not only from calf mortality and treatment costs, but also from lost performance in the surviving calves.

The cause of scours ranges from infectious viral, bacterial and protozoan origins to nutritional imbalances and toxin consumption. The most important scours control factor is to ensure that calves receive an adequate amount of high-quality colostrum. This can't be stated enough.

In the first few weeks of its life, a calf's ability to react to stress isn't fully developed. It can't maintain body temperature as well as an adult or older calf. Wet conditions and wind are the two most severe weather stressors. A dry, comfortable, warm place for calves to rest, along with frequent nursing, are the main needs of a newborn calf.

Supportive Therapy

The basic treatment of scours should be supportive therapy. This includes electrolytes, dextrose or glycine, probiotics and an alkalizing agent along with antibiotics as needed for secondary infections that may occur.

A common treatment has been to remove the calf from its milk source — whether that's the cow or a bottle — and give it only electrolytes. Electrolytes were designed to rehydrate the calf, reduce blood acidosis, provide some energy and restore chemical balance in the calf's metabolic system. They were never intended as a complete nutrient source.

The calf may survive a few days on only electrolytes and what little body fat it may have, but the calf needs an energy source along with a source of protein, minerals and vitamins for its metabolism. However, if the calf has not nursed for several days, then high-energy rehydration solutions are necessary for calf survival.

The best remedy for calf scours, however, is prevention. That means good pre-calving nutrition.

In one study, cows producing calves that died from scours had colostrum with lower levels of vitamins A and E, copper and zinc. Another study showed that calves with scours caused by E. coli had lower system concentrations of copper, zinc, magnesium and vitamin A.

We know that vitamin A is critical to maintaining a healthy surface lining of the bowel. Therefore, it stands to reason that vitamin A is important in calf scours. Stress and disease both increase the requirement for vitamin A.

It's also been shown that in some cases, oral vitamin E and selenium will reduce the occurrence of scours.

The one area of calf scour treatment that is grossly neglected is the resulting acidosis in scouring calves. Fecal losses of bicarbonate, as well as decreased blood flow and volume from dehydration, increases the production of lactic acid in diarrhetic calves. This limits the kidneys' ability to excrete waste products.

Scour therapy should include an alkalizing agent to buffer the system. Non-correcting of this acidosis may explain many death losses in scouring calves.

The main objectives of oral rehydration should address the following:

  • restoration of fluid volume,

  • replacement of lost electrolytes, especially sodium and potassium,

  • correction of acid-base imbalance and

  • maintenance of energy levels throughout the treatment period.

Restoring the fluid volume should be the first priority in treating calf scours. With increased fluids, blood pressure rises, enabling the calf to stabilize circulatory balance and also helping to maintain acid-base balance.

Typical therapy for a mildly dehydrated calf is about 2 qts. of fluid/dose. This needs to be repeated every five to six hours as the calf will lose another 5% of fluid in this time. We often mistakenly think that one treatment will take care of the problem. Generally, the calf needs about 10% of body weight or 1 gal. for an 80 lb. calf each day of treatment. Severely dehydrated calves will require more fluids.

Replacing lost electrolytes and adjusting pH is also necessary along with supplying some energy needs. These may be accomplished with the oral administration of a high-quality electrolyte solution.

The electrolyte solutions used should contain electrolytes, especially sodium, potassium, chloride and bicarbonate, and an energy source. Probiotics also may be beneficial, but this is controversial at this time.

Rehydration's Goal

The goal of rehydration is to keep the calf alive and functioning so that it may heal the gut. Just stopping the diarrhea may not be the cure.

David Wieland is a nutrition consultant specializing in cow/calf, feedlot and horses. Based in Shepherd, MT, he also publishes a subscription newsletter. Contact him at 406/373-5512 or [email protected].

New! 2002 Feed Composition Guide

To download a PDF file of the 2002 Feed Composition Guide,

click here

. (This requires Adobe Acrobat Reader, a free download from


Numbers and networking

I have decided that being knee-deep in mud and manure is much more my style than being neck-deep in paper work. However, thanks to this big belly of mine, I'm still occupying a chair in our office and going through the daily grind of debits and credits.

I used to think that a long day on the back of a horse or in the pens was grueling, but this desk jockey work can really wear you out! All joking aside, being in the office full time is hard work but a valuable learning experience.

This time of year we're finishing end-of-the-year financials and preparing for the dreaded tax time. Like everyone else, we do what we can to manage our tax consequences. This is something that I'm currently learning a lot more about. The balancing of income and expenses is as much of an art as roping a steer.

Sad but true, the rest of the crew is still keeping busy on the ranch without me. We are pretty much finished with calving and are very pleased with our calf crop percentage.

We started processing calves in January. Each calf is ear marked, branded and given four vaccinations. We vaccinate with an eight-way clostridial, a respiratory complex, a pinkeye shot and a copper booster. This combination has worked very well for us. Our calves have a good health record both on the ranch and after sale.

We started cutting hay the first of January. Yes, January. That's not a typo. We will cut hay until April. During that time we'll cut about 300 acres and round bale around 2,000 bales of hemarthria. We sell the majority and keep a small amount for extremely dry or wet times.

Besides ranch work, our schedules have been full with meetings — another necessary evil of today's world. These meetings steal valuable time from ranch work, but sometimes the relationships established at the meetings far outweigh the cost and time.

For instance, the annual Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show in February is one event we try to attend yearly. It's a great time to gather information on products, services and potential outlets for our calves. The most enjoyable part is meeting ranchers from around the country and learning their challenges and management styles. The national convention is a great networking tool for cattlemen.

In addition, the Florida Cattlemen's Association holds quarterly meetings throughout the state. The February meeting was to be held in Tallahassee, the state capital. It's a great opportunity for Florida cattlemen to meet with our legislators and share our concerns.

I won't get to attend this year, but my brother Wes and one of the ranch cowboys are going. Taking the time to meet face to face with legislators and tell them our issues has been very helpful to all of Florida's cattlemen, including us.

It's difficult to justify the expense of the trips and time away. However, when serious issues such as water or property rights emerge, it sure is beneficial to already have a relationship established with these officials.

Despite the change in job description and our busy schedules, all is well in South Florida, both with my “growing” family and ranch work. I hope all is well with you.

Mary Anne Cruse, brother Wes, their parents and grandmother operate Ru-Mar Inc., a large commercial cow/calf operation in South Florida. Her e-mail address is [email protected]

New Fencing Products

Solar Unit

Power up to 10 miles of electric fence with the LIS10 solar fence controller from Zareba Systems. Features built-in carrying handle and mounting bracket for installation on a variety of posts and flat surfaces.
Circle Reply Card No. 101

Electric Fence Rope

Parker McCrory Manufacturing introduces Baygard electric fence rope. The ¼-in. rope is available in high-strength premium grade or an economical standard grade. Premium grade features high visibility and excellent weathering and conductivity. Both grades are UV-resistant and available in 656-ft. spools.
Circle Reply Card No. 102

Post Driver

Self-contained HSS/P hydraulic post drivers from Worksaver are designed for low maintenance and long life. The drivers use their own hydraulic pumps, motors and reservoirs, eliminating risk of oil contamination.
Circle Reply Card No. 103


Cameo Fencing introduces AgriBraid, a pure white braid made of polyester fiber. Treated for UV stability, its ¼-in. diameter has a higher breaking point than polywire or tape.
Circle Reply Card No. 104


Kiwi Fence Systems Inc. offers the Double Lock Staple. Cut from 8-ga. wire, the galvanized staple is available in four lengths — 1¼-, 1½-, 1¾- and 2-in. For additional holding strength, two barbs are on each leg of the 1½-, 1¾- and 2-in. staples. Also features a narrower formed radius to reduce mushrooming in dense wood.
Circle Reply Card No. 105

Pull Handle

The E-Z Pull Handle, from E-Z Products, can be used as a quick-and-easy grip for small, easy-to-pull rods used in electric fencing. Two handles may be used for pushing when the ground is soft.
Circle Reply Card No. 106


Gogate from Dennis Steel Co. uses a gate treadle activated by a vehicle tire to open gates without electricity or battery-operated remote control devices. A Firestone air spring discharges ethylene glycol to automatically unlatch, open, latch in open position, and close and latch the gate.
Circle Reply Card No. 107

Fence System

Constructed of helically woven copper wires in a braided polyester rope, the Electrobraid Fence system offers low maintenance and a 25-year guarantee.
Circle Reply Card No. 108

Monitor Strobe

Kencove introduces the MFA electric fence monitor strobe. The battery-powered product starts blinking when the voltage on the fence goes down to one of two selectable minimum voltages. Clips onto the electric fence and can be seen from up to a mile away.
Circle Reply Card No. 109


The Polystrand HTP is a high-quality horse-friendly fence from Centaur HTP Fencing Systems. It has single-strand fence rails made of 12.5-ga., galvanized high-tensile steel embedded in an HTP polymer coating. The rails' smooth ¼-in. outside diameter makes them highly visible, minimizing animal injuries. They come in white, black or brown and in 1,000-ft. rolls.
Circle Reply Card No. 110

Post Driver

The standard post driver from Jet Co. Inc. handles up to 8-ft.-long and up to 8-in.-diameter posts. It drives wood or steel posts into wet or dry ground and into rocky or sandy soil.
Circle Reply Card No. 111


The Irrigate from Ecklund Drive Thru Gates is designed for rotational grazing. The gate allows irrigation pivot towers to move through fence lines while maintaining a livestock-secure fence. Its 2-ft., 10-ga. stainless steel gate rods have integral coil springs that return the gate to center while reducing pressure exerted against the post and pivot tower.
Circle Reply Card No. 112

Fence Tool

A labor-saving tool, the Slip Clip lets you stretch or repair barbed wire while it's still attached to the steel T-fence post. Works on line fence, letdowns and hay yards. The durable, all-metal product from Dwyer Manufacturing is hot-dip galvanized for a long-lasting finish.
Circle Reply Card No. 113

Post Hole Diggers

Land Pride offers three types of posthole diggers that feature tubular yokes and booms, plus reliable Pengo augers. They include hydraulically driven bucket-mounted and three-point tractor-mounted diggers as well as skid steer-mounted models.
Circle Reply Card No. 114

Power Fence

Up to 1,000 acres of multiwire fencing can be powered by the MBX2500 energizer from Gallagher Power Fence. Its adaptive control technology holds a minimum voltage on a fenceline at all times, and it operates on 110 or 220 volts with battery backup. Instant and accurate information on stored energy and output, fence and ground voltage are displayed digitally.
Circle Reply Card No. 115

Arming alfalfa against acid and aluminum

A new genetically modified alfalfa may increase productivity in poor soils, according to researchers at the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

In the southeastern U.S., millions of acres of pasture have acid subsoils that limit the productivity of forages. When crop roots in acid soils take in aluminum, the aluminum inhibits root growth and reduces a plant's yields.

Researchers at ARS are developing a new alfalfa that tolerates acid soil and aluminum by adding a gene that causes alfalfa's roots to produce more organic acids that render aluminum nontoxic. In experiments, the genetically transformed alfalfa grew longer roots in acid soils that contained aluminum. The added gene also increased the plant's ability to naturally produce and transform atmospheric nitrogen into a form that stimulates plant growth.

However, the genetically modified alfalfa does not grow as well as standard alfalfa in non-acid soil, researchers say.

ARS researchers are also studying the genome of barrel medic, a close relative of alfalfa, because many of its genetic markers can be used to find genes in alfalfa. They hope to find genes that would give the plant improved resistance to diseases and enhance its ability to fix nitrogen.

For more information, contact the ARS information staff at 301/504-1617 or visit

An alternative to silage barley, a new rye variety is palatable to livestock and may reduce feed costs, according to the Lethbridge Research Centre in Alberta, Canada.

With yields and nutritional quality almost identical to barley, AC E-1, a perennial cereal (PC) rye cultivar can be grown as a silage crop. It can also be grazed before the heads start establishing ergot, the only disease noted to affect the forage.

The winter-hardy, dryland crop is a three- to four-year perennial that produces at least two crops/season and has rapid spring growth. PC rye matures a few weeks earlier than barley and may help promote soil conservation. PC rye also may reduce feed costs by as much as 20%, researchers say.

The cultivar is being commercialized this fall through Kenneth C. Long Seeds Ltd., Spring Coulee, Alberta, and should be widely available to producers by 2003.

For more information, contact Surya Acharya, Lethbridge Research Center, at 403/317-2277 or visit

A sturdy rangeland grass being considered for livestock feed, switchgrass may also help curb soil runoff, say ARS scientists.

In a recent study of stiff-grass hedge planting, researchers compared narrow, parallel strips of switchgrass and gamagrass. The hedges form a porous barrier to flowing water, which researchers used to determine the depth of water that different widths of hedges can retain before being bent over and overtopped.

Switchgrass was able to withstand pressure and hold back sediment and water better than gamagrass, researchers say.

Next, researchers will focus on the ability of switchgrass hedges to protect the soil from concentrated waterflow on very steep slopes that are already eroded.

For more information, contact ARS information staff at 301/504-1617 or visit

A tiny iridescent beetle may help halt the aggressive spread of a noxious weed, say ARS researchers. ARS is considering releasing the tortoise beetle as a biocontrol agent for tropical soda apple (TSA).

A resilient weed found primarily in the Southeast, TSA infests pastureland by outcompeting forage grasses. What's more, its prickly foliage drives cows from shaded areas, leading to heat stress.

Researchers say the tortoise beetle chews holes in the upper leaves of the plant, significantly reducing the weed's survivability. And it has a distinct preference for TSA, so it's not likely to devour non-target plants.

Researchers also have found that a combination of late summer mowing, fall herbicide application and normal winter conditions can prevent TSA survival.

For more information, contact Charles Bryson at 662/686-5259 or e-mail [email protected].

Cattle eat more out of an open feeder than a closed feeder because they generally don't like to stick their heads into an enclosed area, New Mexico State University (NMSU) researchers have found. Cattle will eat about 30% more of a complete salt and mineral supplement when it's served up in a simple open feeder rather than a covered vane feeder.

Researchers say that cattle like to keep a close eye on their surroundings because they fear predators. In addition, a cover limits the number of cattle that can feed on the mineral supplement at the same time.

Covered vane feeders are more appropriate in areas with lots of moisture, especially when the mineral isn't checked often, researchers say. Cattle consumption dips when moisture causes the mineral mix to solidify.

Regardless of feeder type, relatively little of the mineral mix is lost to weather or wildlife. Each year, a producer ends up needing to buy just one extra sack of supplement, researchers say.

For more information, contact Mark Petersen, NMSU, at 505/646-1750 or e-mail [email protected].

“Research Roundup,” is compiled by Diana Barto. E-mail submissions to [email protected] or fax to 952/851-4601.

Basics still the bottom line

While attending the 2002 National Western Stock Show in Denver, CO, it was an honor to attend the first presentation of the North American Limousin Foundation Pioneer Award. My father, J.J. “Bud” Prosser, was the recipient. He was honored for his major role in implementing artificial insemination in the commercial setting and the importation and dissemination of Limousin genetics. It was a proud and a sobering event.

It's hard to look forward without reflecting on where we've been. Since 1975 steer carcass weights have increased from 560 lbs. to more than 740 lbs. Total cow numbers have declined by more than 12 million head (Table 1), while production/cow has jumped by more than 200 lbs. (Table 2). Today, we produce 22% more beef with 71% of the cows (Table 3).

We can attribute a great deal of the credit to the introduction of Continental cattle and crossbreeding along with new management practices.

I remember my father preaching to producers to utilize heterosis to enhance their bottom lines. The accumulation of data over the last 50 years reinforces what he promoted 30 years ago.

Simple crossbreeding systems that combine Continental and English cattle, tempered by genetics that deal with environmental needs, are still incredibly important for commercial producers' profitability. Proven genetics that capitalize on maternal heterosis while producing a quality product for the end consumer is still the goal.

Maybe Tom Lasater said it best, “Cattle breeding is a relatively simple endeavor. The only difficult part is to keep it simple.”

In the future we will probably see even more changes. For one, we're moving toward a predominance of name-branded retail products. In the last five years, we've seen case-ready, name-brand products increase from less than 20% to more than 50% in the nation's top three retail chains — Wal-Mart, Kroger and Safeway.

Today, fewer retail chains are dependent on fewer suppliers who are supplying a larger percentage of case-ready products. As this percentage continues to grow, it will seriously impact the price producers receive for their calves and yearlings.

That's because pricing or even bidding on feeder cattle will depend on whether the calves fit the name-brand specifications or not. Currently, all three alliances producing cattle for Wal-Mart, Kroger and Safeway require Continental X English in their genetic specifications. Remember, it took only a few short years to go from hanging carcasses to boxed beef.

I don't know what the future holds, but one thing is for sure. Producers who utilize heterosis to capitalize on their environment while producing progeny that excel in the pasture, feedlot and in the meat case will continue to be profitable.

Therein lies the challenge. Seedstock producers must produce genetics specific to commercial cattlemen's needs while meeting the specific requirements of the feeder, packer and retailer. This doesn't mean every seedstock producer must produce cattle that will fix each and every commercial cattleman's problem. Rather, it means that responsible seedstock producers must forge relationships with commercial customers to identify opportunities and assist in finding solutions. Designing a complementary crossbreeding program is most likely part of the solution.

I hope that 30 years from now, my father's grandsons, Warren and Spencer, are not still trying to sell the simple concept of crossbreeding but are well down the road of profitability. I hope they have the vision to produce genetics that meet the specific production needs of their customers and continue to improve the palatability, consistency and healthfulness of beef for the retail consumer. Returning beef as king of the meat counter should be our common goal.

Bob and Judy Prosser own and manage the Bar T Bar Ranch near Winslow, AZ, their family operation since 1924. It includes a commercial cowherd and cattle feeding, as well as seedstock herds producing Gelbvieh, Angus and Balancer (Gelbvieh X Angus) bulls and females. Contact them at 520/477-2458 or 520/289-2916 or visit

Start Here

There are few mysteries surrounding the importance of getting cattle started successfully before turning them out to grass, wheat or onto a grower yard ration.

“I think that's where the money is made in this business, getting them bought and started those first 30 days. After that, anyone can grow them,” says Dennis Bradford of Jetmore, KS. He's run stockers year-round for better than 30 years. Now, his son, Steve, has joined him in the operation. They run most of their stockers on wheat or in their grower yard.

Unfortunately, there's still plenty of wonder about how exactly to accomplish that starting process. In a world where it seems art often looms as large as science, the basics are constant. But variables associated with weather, pathogen loads, nutritional value and the cattle themselves swing widely from year to year and from season to season.

Just ask Mike Cather and his father, Bob, of Cather Farms at Anthony, KS. They've run stockers for decades. They do about two-thirds of their business on wheat pasture or sorghum silage and the other third on summer grass; they'll retain ownership in most of them through the feedlot.

“We don't have any secrets. We treat our fair share of cattle. It's just a lot of time and hard work,” says Mike.

There are some time-proven hedges, though.

Buying Opportunity Up Front

First, Bradford explains, “I'm a guy who gets in cattle from the Southeast. We fight health problems all the time. We've learned that the order buyer makes a lot of difference, as does the freshness of the cattle.”

Over time, Bradford discovered some order buyers were letting producers take their calves back home after a sale before collecting them for the trip West, adding time and stress to the calves.

This practical experience is underscored by science. A University of Saskatchewan study, for instance, found that even though an average load of 60 steers represented 20-30 producers, there was less risk of fatal fibrinous pneumonia in calves assembled by fewer buyers. A total of 32,646 spring-born steers were included in the study.

For perspective, the 2000 Beef Stocker Survey conducted by Kansas State University (KSU) uncovered the same thing. Smaller stocker operations (2,500 head). At least part of the reason points to the fact that the small operations in the study run more of their own cattle or buy the calves themselves. As the number of buyers used by a stocker operation increased, so did the risk of morbidity.

None of this is an indictment of order buying. It merely points to the fact that whether a stocker operator purchases cattle at the local sale barn himself or via an order buyer, knowing the sources and limiting them enhances the bottom line by decreasing morbidity and mortality.

As for up-front considerations, both operations also say that while the quality of cattle they can buy has improved, they've had to start buying better cattle to be competitive.

Where they used to buy an inexpensive calf and get along, Mike says they've been forced the last five years or so to upgrade the quality of cattle they buy.

“We were having a hard time selling them (as fed cattle),” he says. “They didn't hang real well and the discount wasn't there to make it work on the purchasing end.” In other words, they can't buy the second-tier cattle cheap enough to cover the discounts those cattle incur coming out of the feedlot.

Of course, price still drives plenty of the ultimate profit equation. “I pencil out ahead of time, figuring out what weights to buy,” says Bradford. “Sometimes you can buy the lighter ones and cheapen things up. Other times you can buy the heavier ones for the same money (gross), and they just give the weight to you.”

In the same vein, Bradford adds, “I think sometimes we were guilty of trying to hold the price down and steal the calves.” Today, if he can find verified preconditioned calves, he'll pay more to get them.

Nutrition Lays The Foundation

Once the calves climb off the truck or meander out of the weaning pasture, nutrition — and the cost of it — can be the difference between profit and extra work and added loss.

“If the calf is eating good, that's 90 percent of it,” says Bradford. “Get good feed in front of them, and don't be a cheapskate. If the calves aren't eating, the vaccines just don't work as well.”

Whether they're aiming calves for grass, pasture or their growing yard, the Bradfords start all of their cattle virtually the same way, with the exception of how much feed they'll push.

About two to three weeks ahead of turnout, Bradford explains, “If they're staying in the yard, we'll bump their ration up to where they're gaining 2 lbs. per day. If they're going to grass, we'll use more of a maintenance ration where they're gaining 1.5 lbs. per day.”

At Cather Farms, Mike likes to start incoming calves on prairie hay, top-dressed with corn or soybean hulls. Over time, they move from prairie hay to native grass or sudan, then for silage.

Plus, the Cathers use a nutritionist to help them fine-tune rations for the stocker operation, aimed at giving them a leg up in the feedlot. “Twenty years ago we didn't have a nutritionist, but he's probably made us as much money as anything over the last 10-12 years,” says Mike.

At the Cargill Ranch near Medicine Lodge, KS — primarily a cow/calf operation that stockers its own calves or takes in others on a gain basis — part of getting calves ready for grass starts with maximizing pasture nutrition the year prior. In this case, the Cargills have taken to cross-fencing stocker pastures so they can rotate their grazing. They also rotate stocker and cow pastures each year.

With that in mind, Chad Cargill explains, “When we get cattle in, we like to break them to an electric fence. It seems like if you can break them to it in the pen, you can save a lot of hassle in the pasture.”

The Cargills have taken some pain out of cross-fencing pastures with hot wire by using fiberglass fence posts, light cable and a solar charger. That way if cattle get bunched up and spooked or a deer's eyes are bigger than its leap, the fence just lays down and stands back up rather than getting torn up.

“If we take in cattle, we've gone to intense grazing for 90 days,” adds Chad. “Get them in, get them off, let the grass rest, and it seems like it does a lot better the next year.”

Incidentally, the Cargills say they're also encouraged by a recent KSU trial they were part of. By providing a commercially available energy supplement that contains an intake limiter, they were able to extend grazing on available forage. Plus, the cattle came out of the feedyard 19 days sooner than the control group.

The Value Of Prevention

Assuming correct nutrition is in place, each of these operators next focus on health management that includes both physical and nutritional stress reduction.

The Bradfords strive for minimum stress and chute time on arriving calves. They vaccinate calves for the basic bovine respiratory disease (BRD) complex upon arrival, but wait 10 days to vaccinate with Blackleg, boosters, implant and the rest.

“We started giving the calves a multi-mineral shot,” says Bradford. “Since we've done that, we feel like we're getting a better response from the vaccines; there are fewer pulls and re-pulls.” The cost is $1/head.

Bradford also explains they moved away from metaphylaxis on arrival. “We felt like by mass treating them we were doctoring cattle that did get sick later than we would have otherwise, and our vaccines weren't working as well on the second shot,” he says. “Plus, it saves us $5 per head.”

At Cather Farms, on the other hand, where they do mass treat all of sale barn calves they receive, Mike explains, “I think we've gotten better on animal health. We're better able to avoid the wrecks.”

More specifically, the Cathers administer a four-way BRD vaccine upon arrival, then they booster it 10-14 days later. As well, Mike explains, “When the cattle come in, we try to keep each load separated for 30 days before we commingle them.”

In Bradford's operation, he says, “Really, to do it properly here, we need to have a calf 45 days before turning it out.” He says any sooner than that they tend to be ahead of some secondary sweats that are tougher to treat once the cattle are out to pasture.

While the days of preparation vary be operation, Chad echoes a stocker basic: “We want to have them ready to go to grass when it's ready and not have to be doctoring them.”

That's another reason the Cargills like their rotational approach. Besides boosting gains, or perhaps partly because of it, Colin Cargill explains they have fewer flies to contend with. Make no mistake, face flies and horn flies cost plenty of performance.

As an example, according to USDA's Agricultural Research Service a few years back, horn flies alone cost U.S. livestock producers approximately $700 million annually in reduced weight gains and reduced milk production for nursing calves.

In the stocker pasture, specifically, KSU's Dale Blasi explains, “In studies, the impact of horn flies can range from 10-40 lbs. per stocker. And, the economic impact of face flies due to the impact they have on pinkeye incidence accounts for approximately 18 lbs.” All told, KSU estimates flies cost that state's beef industry $130 million -$150 million annually.

While some folks get results rotating between fly tags with different active ingredients, the Cargills use their pasture rotation, then spray the cattle on pasture if needed. They lay down a line of cake in the middle of the pasture, then use a hydraulic sprayer they have attached to their cake truck.

Likewise, the Cargills fight potential foot rot up front. “In this country we get quite a lot of foot rot,” explains Colin. “We went to taking away salt and put out iodine blocks. That seems to prevent a good bit of it.”

Assuming that a case of foot rot is caught early, initial treatment costs can easily reach $20/head by the time medicine, lost performance and labor costs are accounted for, explains Blasi. Because zinc is a trace element that's been linked to skin and foot health, he explains a number of field trials evaluating zinc supplementation strategies have been conducted.

In one three-year, KSU stocker steer trial, adding 100 lbs. of 50% zinc methionine/ton of free-choice mineral increased daily gain by approximately 0.10 lb. per day and reduced foot rot incidence by 55%. About 20% of the advantage in live weight gain was attributed to the reduced incidence of foot rot.

Moreover, each of these operators emphasizes working in concert with their local veterinarians enables them to craft prevention and response plans unique to their operations and geographic locations.

“One thing we're fighting is that a lot of antibiotics have been taken away from us, so it's tougher to start cattle today, even though we should be smarter,” says Bradford.

In other words, even after three decades of experience, Bradford says, “We're still learning how to start calves.”

For more information about starting stocker calves, check out the fact sheet at or at

More Fence, Less Hay, Better Water

It was with the idea of bumping up forage productivity on their Ozark, AL, commercial cattle operation that had Chris and Monica Carroll first start kicking around the idea of a controlled grazing system. It did that, and more.

With help from USDA, specifically the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Farm Service Administration (FSA), the Carrolls, including Chris's father and partner, Heyward, embarked on a production and conservation makeover for 4C Land & Cattle Co. They shaved weeks off their winter hay feeding, cleaned up the creek running through the farm and provided a wildlife haven for deer, turkeys and quail.

A trip to the fall '98 grazing school at the University of Missouri's Forage Systems Research Center at Linneus set the events in motion. Monica, then an NRCS employee, wanted to become more proficient at developing grazing plans for the producers in her county. Husband Chris, interested in the idea of a management-intensive grazing system on their ranch, joined her.

“We had a very mild, back and forth rotation,” says Chris. “When we went up there, we saw the benefits of a more intensive system and worked it out so we could move them in a circle.”

Actually, it turned into two separate rotation areas for the 300-cow herd. One pasture is divided into six paddocks of approximately 45 acres each, while the other pasture is made up of four paddocks. The perimeter is made of five-strand barbed wire and the dividing fences are one strand, all electric.

The forages are nothing exotic. Separate pastures of Pensacola and Tifton 9 Bahia grass, both commonly grown, warm-season perennials, are the mainstays.

“Pensacola and Tifton 9 really work well together,” says Chris. “Tifton 9 helps extend the grazing season.”

Auburn Extension agronomist Don Ball agrees. “Tifton 9 does seem to provide additional days of grazing in the early spring, but especially in the late fall and early winter, at least before the really cold weather hits.”

Stretching The Season

The Carrolls stretch their grazing season even more by stockpiling the Bahia grass.

“We try to stockpile another 30 days worth,” says Chris. “We let it grow from mid August until mid September. With a real mild fall, we won't have to supplement.”

Their winter forages are ryegrass and clover. The Carrolls let the cows graze the Bahia down short, then broadcast the ryegrass and clover seed.

“We try to plant it by the end of September and let the cows walk it in when it is wet,” says Chris. After the cows tramp it in, he takes them off until the forage is 6-8 in. tall.

“It's pretty expensive to plant the ryegrass and clover,” Chris comments. “But it has helped us tremendously extend our grazing season — especially in the late winter and early spring. That's when we need it.”

The Carrolls let the forages dictate when to move cows to the next paddock. They try not to let the Bahia grass get below 2-3 in. high and leave at least that or another inch or two for the ryegrass.

“The more foliage you leave, the more photosynthesis and quick re-growth you'll get,” says Chris.

Ball comments, “Grazing height is not nearly as critical with Bahia as it is with other species. It has a lot of leaves down near the soil and stores a lot of food in the rhizomes.”

When it comes to the ryegrass and clover, University of Missouri forage specialist Jim Gerrish says the Carrolls are on the right track, especially on the upper end of their minimum height.

“Particularly that far south, even in January, you'll have days when it does re-grow. Ryegrass has to rely on the residual leaf area for photosynthesis — it doesn't store much energy,” Gerrish says.

Gerrish, who runs the grazing school the Carrolls attended, says work in Missouri shows a big difference between ryegrass grazed to 1 in. compared to 3 in. When the livestock are moved off the ryegrass when it is still 3 in. in height, it starts growing faster in the spring and produces more forage.

Saved 60 Days Of Hay

The Carrolls have already seen the benefits of their carefully managed rotational grazing system.

“I figure we cut 60 days off our hay feeding,” says Heyward. “We feed an average of five or six rolls a day for 60 days. That is 300 to 360 rolls at $25 a roll — $7,500 to $9,000.”

“If we see we're getting into a situation in the fall where the grass quality is going down, we'll supplement them,” adds Chris. “The longer we can keep them on grass, though, the lower our input costs are going to be. It gets the mixer wagon off the road.

“Since we started rotational grazing, our forage has definitely improved,” he comments. “It evenly distributes the grazing and gives the land some rest. I think we produce more forage per acre.”

Ball isn't surprised. “You can get better utilization of forages with better grazing management,” he notes. “It's the same concept as feeding hay. If a producer puts up 60 rolls of hay, he shouldn't give his cattle all 60 rolls at once. They'll lie on it, trample it, deposit urine and manure on it and otherwise waste it. It's basically the same concept with the pasture if you give the cows access to all of it at once.”

The Carrolls have discovered better utilization isn't the only benefit. “It has made the handling of our cattle much easier,” says Monica.

Heyward agrees, “They are used to you moving them. You better not go over there and blow your horn.”

Improved water quality, at least in their case, is another big bonus. At the same time that Chris was designing the paddock layout, Monica eyed the creek running through the system.

“There was a lot of erosion,” she reports. “The cows were making a big mess along the creek banks, especially in the summer heat when they stood in the creek.”

Auburn agronomist Mary Miller-Goodman agrees with Monica's observation.

“Cattle can have a negative impact on water quality if they have uncontrolled access to a stream,” she reports. “This comes mainly from increased sediment caused by damage to the banks, which causes an overall decrease in water quality. If animals linger in streams, bacteria levels can increase as well.”

Water Quality Help

Fortunately, Monica thought of a solution. “When I was working for the NRCS, I learned about the continuous CRP (Conservation Reserve Program). I thought, ‘what better way to improve the water quality and tie it all together.’”

A version of the tried and true Conservation Reserve Program, the continuous CRP program is in place specifically to improve water quality.

“Several practices are eligible,” says Craig Peters, NRCS district conservationist for Dale County, AL. “Those include practices that get livestock out of streams, improve the habitat around streams for wildlife and establish grass or filter strips in farm land.”

NRCS provides the technical assistance, while FSA supplies the money. The Carrolls used the cost share and water quality incentive funds (90% of the project's estimated cost) to dig a deep well. They connected it to a system of 2-in. PVC pipes leading to a trough in the center of each paddock.

The troughs are discarded industrial tires, acquired for the cost of hauling ($15 to $20 each). The Carrolls packed a dirt pad with their bulldozer, ran the plumbing through the middle of the pad, set down filter cloth, then set the tire down on the filter cloth after trimming the top sidewall to the tread. They filled the bottoms of the tire with sacked concrete mix and put rock and crusher run around the outside. The result is fresh, clean water in a cow-proof package.

“They'll walk through the creek to get to a trough, then drink it down in a heart beat,” says Heyward. He adds, “It's a maintenance-free trough and it virtually eliminates a freezing problem.

“We like the watering system so well we're going to put troughs like it in our preconditioning lots,” he adds. His only complaint is it is hard to find the tires.

Since they were able to provide fresh water for their cattle, they could fence them out of the creeks and plant buffer strips for erosion control and wildlife habitat on the creek banks.

In January, a visitor spotted a wild turkey gobbler making his way through one of the buffer strips. Whitetail deer and coveys of quail are also a normal sight.

In addition, the Carrolls installed two creek crossings. In one, they built a dam and installed a culvert. In the other, they put in a hardened creek crossing for both cattle and farm vehicles. They scraped the dirt down 6 in., put filter cloth on the sides of the creek and geo-web in the creek bottom and then filled it with #4 stone. Next, they covered the whole crossing with crusher run.

“We drive a ton truck and a hay wagon across it, and it doesn't give a bit,” says Chris.

Miller-Goodman says this is another effective water-quality booster. “Controlled stream access can greatly reduce potential impacts on water quality by protecting the stream banks and reducing the amount of time cattle spend in the stream,” she says.

Peters comments, “The Carrolls have taken the initiative to improve their farm and sought all avenues available to improve the quality of their cattle.”

Then there is the ever-important bottom line. “It is cost effective,” says Heyward. “The savings in hay will pay for our part of the fence and watering system.”

Becky Mills is a rancher and freelance writer based in Cuthbert, GA.

For More Information

Interested in finding out whether your operation is eligible for continuous Conservation Reserve Program participation? Contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service office. Program eligibility and benefits vary by area and are subject to change due to the farm bill currently in progress. As for now, however, producers can apply until Sept. 30. You can also look at the NRCS Web site at

For more information on the Linneus grazing schools, contact Jim Gerrish, Forage Systems Research Center, 21262 Genoa Road, Linneus, MO 64653; call 660/895-5121, fax 660/895-5122 or e-mail [email protected].