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Articles from 2007 In March


Beef-Demand Strength Surprises Pundits

The $100 question this spring has been, "Will beef demand be strong enough to give packers some margin at these higher price levels and allow us to sustain the strong fed prices we've been experiencing?"

Many industry pundits have been surprised by the strength of beef demand, but improvement is needed to maintain these types of fed prices. The industry is finding it difficult to gauge beef demand as it has in the past. The hard numbers and economic indicators used to be strong indicators of consumer attitude, but beef demand softened significantly last year during a time of strong economic performance. The trend then reversed itself in the first quarter of this year, with beef demand rising in the face of leading economic indicators that were solid but softer than expected.

I think the reason for this disconnect between consumer attitude and actual economic performance is that 2006 was an election year. Despite a very strong economy, the media were willing coconspirators in raising doubts about the economy and shaking consumer confidence.

Since the Democrats took over the House and Senate, the economic rhetoric from the mainstream media has mellowed drastically. Part of the change can be attributed to more media emphasis on the war in Iraq, but there's also been a significant change in the media's depiction of the economy over the last several months.

As a person with a fairly strong conservative bent to my politics, I'm not advocating the U.S. elect a liberal president, but I definitely think we'll see far more favorable reporting of economic conditions with a Democratic administration in power.

The biggest driver in demand change is no longer economic conditions, but rather how the media depicts those economic conditions.

Are You Prepared To Document Your Animal Welfare?

This week, Burger King announced its plans to eliminate the use of crates among its pork and poultry suppliers. Cynics will say the chain is talking the talk more than walking the walk, as its initial plans are to procure only 2% of its eggs and 10% of its pork from such sources, but Burger King is a very big customer for eggs and pork.

It's true that Burger King can't procure enough of such product at the current time, but the chain is among a growing number of food providers responding to consumer demands. It may be activist groups that are driving the animal welfare bus, and their goals may be drastically different from those of cattlemen, but it would be a mistake to not appreciate that the American consumer is the engine of growth for this movement.

History tells us there will be small premiums paid initially, until the industry adopts enough of the techniques and technologies to meet the demand. And eventually, what were premiums will become discounts as such practices become the de facto industry standard.

Irrespective of the premium and discount arguments, a large percentage of the consuming public seemingly is concerned about animal-welfare issues and wants accountability. Such assurances on animal welfare likely will be packaged right along with other health assurances, including preconditioning, and source-, age- and genetic-verification programs.

Study Links Mom's Beef Diet & Male Infertility

A story making headlines this week claims a link between infertility in adult males with the amount of beef consumed by their mothers during pregnancy. The study published in the British journal, Human Reproduction, speculates that the culprit is growth implants and "other zenobiotics" in beef.

The study of 387 American men born between 1949 and 1983 -- and all fathering children without medical assistance -- purports that sons of mothers who ate more than seven beef meals/week had a sperm concentration about 25% lower than men whose mothers ate less beef. The London Telegraph reports lead researcher Shanna Swan as saying: "Theoretically, the fetus and young children are particularly sensitive to exposure to sex steroids. Therefore, the consumption of residues of steroids in meat by pregnant women and young children is of particular concern."

The American Meat Institute (AMI) countered that the study should be viewed only with "a giant dose of skepticism" and "appears to be a health study in search of a health problem."

"In conducting this study, adult men who had already conceived children were told to ask their mothers what they ate decades earlier during pregnancy. It is a widely accepted fact that food recall can be notoriously poor from even a day or a week before, let alone multiple decades," says Randy Huffman, AMI vice president of scientific affairs.

Huffman says the study's most glaring fault is "the purely speculative conclusion that certain chemical components of beef were the cause of associations observed between the questionnaire responses and the count of sperm in the male subjects." The study includes no lab analysis of the compounds suggested to be contained in beef, "much less the beef that may have been consumed by the mothers decades ago. To conclude that some undetected compound is the cause for an association seen in these data is of questionable validity," he says.
-- Joe Roybal

Twelve Questions On Natural Beef Production

South Dakota State University (SDSU) Extension beef feedlot specialist Erik Loe, Marshall county (SD) Extension educator Tyler Melroe, and SDSU Extension veterinarian Russ Daly answer some of the most common questions about natural-beef production.

  • What is "natural" beef, and what are "never evers?"

    First, all beef produced and sold in the U.S. undergoes an inspection process and is considered safe and wholesome. Natural beef is defined by USDA as being minimally processed and simply relates to post-harvest processing of the beef product. USDA is currently revisiting the labeling issue and is addressing "naturally raised," as well as "natural beef."

    Second, most natural-beef programs have generally adopted "never-ever" policies that are in line with their customers' demands. Never-ever signifies no growth implants, no antibiotics (including ionophores), and no animal by-products in the feed.

  • What are the primary variables to consider when raising cattle for natural programs?

    They are: Identifying a market; understanding the natural program's specific production protocol, record keeping, purchase price of feeder cattle, vaccination program and diet formulation; and managing excluded cattle. Production protocols will vary among different natural-beef programs. Check with each program on the allowable use of ionophores, coccidiostats, implants, MGA, dewormers, antibiotics, estrus synchronization hormones (culled replacement heifers), and beta-adrenergic agonists (e.g. Optaflexx(R), Zilmax(R)).

  • What does a producer lose by not using ionophores and implants?

    Ionophores and implants improve feed conversion and increase rate of daily weight gain. SDSU research shows suckling calves can add 20-30 lbs. when implanted. Moreover, there can be a total of an additional 70-100 lbs. of bodyweight when a proper lifetime implant strategy is used.

    Meanwhile, ionophores improve the energetics of ruminal fermentation by modifying the fermentation end-products. This modification increases the amount of feed energy available for the ruminant to use for maintenance and growth.

    The bottom line to not using implants and ionophores is that animal bodyweight is decreased by 70-100 lbs. and feed conversion is 10-15% less, respectively. This decrease in feed conversion may increase the feed cost of gain by 3-5¢/lb. of gain.

  • What does a producer lose by not using feed-grade antibiotics?

    Feed-grade antibiotics are used to decrease liver abscesses and to aid in control of bovine respiratory disease (BRD) complex, among other health problems. Liver abscesses impact cattle performance and can decrease carcass yield.

  • Is vaccination allowed under natural programs, and are there other animal-health considerations in targeting the natural-beef market?

    Vaccinations for conditions such as BRD and liver abscesses are not only allowed but critical to the health and well-being of animals in which the use of antibiotics isn't allowed. Illness is costly to a natural feeding program -- not just in treatment costs but because treatment usually means the animals are no longer eligible for the "natural" label.

    Other health challenges may include: increased susceptibility to rumen acidosis, bloat and liver abscesses. Because of these issues, nutrition, bunk management, biosecurity and facilities take on added importance when natural-feeding programs are considered.

  • How do you manage cattle treated with antibiotics, which invalidates them for the natural program?

    Foremost, raising and/or purchasing cattle that have been on an optimal preventive medicine program and managed to reduce stress (e.g., at weaning time) is of utmost importance. Your estimate of the potential morbidity rate will aid you in determining how much you can pay for the cattle and what your breakeven will be.

    Identifying and treating cattle as soon as signs of illness are observed will improve the response of cattle to treatment and, therefore, the productivity of the individual animal. However, in never-ever programs, treated animals must be properly identified and excluded from being marketed as natural.

  • Are there ways to compensate for those lost efficiencies?

    An aggressive marketing program that identifies premiums for naturally raised cattle is step one. Second is placing healthy and growthy calves into a finely tuned management system with appropriately formulated diets. Use of direct-fed microbials (DFM) can be considered, but understand that research results have reported variable responses to these products. Additionally, the cost of DFMs is similar to, or greater than, the cost of ionophores.

  • What sort of premiums are possible by raising natural beef, and do they outweigh the extra production costs?

    Premiums in natural programs vary tremendously. In spring 2006, premiums approached $20/cwt. for market cattle. However, early February 2007 bids for natural cattle have only been about $2/cwt. over market.

    Some programs offer other incentives, such as guaranteed premiums and assistance in transport costs. If markets for naturally raised cattle aren't secured ahead of time, the premiums that would be obtained through conventional marketing outlets usually don't allow compensation for lost production efficiencies. However, the opportunity to receive premiums like last spring would still offer greater returns over conventional market cattle.

  • What difference does breed of cattle make in producing cattle for the natural market?

    Breed is extremely important to fit the target market. Typically, quality-based programs, which reward premiums for cattle with superior marbling, are a 75:25 ratio of British to Continental heritage, while cutability-based programs (which reward high red meat yield) will be the inverse, or a 25:75 ratio of British to Continental heritage.

  • If a producer is raising cattle that would qualify for a natural program, what steps are needed to access that market?

    Let buyers know you have the kind of cattle they may be looking for. Be proactive by communicating with your stockyards, or directly contact individuals involved in procurement from natural-beef companies that seek your type of cattle.

  • If corn prices are high, are you better off raising cattle for the natural or the conventional beef market?

    With elevated corn prices, increasing efficiency is critical. Consequently, as the price of corn rises, the cost of gain for natural cattle increases at a greater rate than conventional cattle. In the current scenario of high corn prices, even greater premiums for natural cattle are necessary for profitability.

  • Where can I find more info on natural-beef production?

    Familiarize yourself with natural-beef companies' protocols, which is widely available on company Web sites. And look for info from a variety of sources, including Extension personnel, private technical consultants and veterinarians. SDSU has a Web site devoted to production issues of raising natural cattle. Visit sdces.sdstate.edu/, then click on "Natural Cattle" at the left side of the page, immediately under "Conference Info."
-- Lance Nixon, SDSU Agricultural Information

U.S.-South Korea FTA Frenzy Continues To Deadline

Final moves and posturing to make the March 30 deadline for forging a free-trade agreement (FTA) between the U.S. and South Korea were frenetic on Thursday, with even the heads of state wading into the fray. South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and President George W. Bush talked via telephone for 20 minutes on Thursday and exchanged their views on the remaining obstacles, including automobiles, agriculture and textiles, reports the Korea Herald.

"The two leaders agreed to instruct their respective governments' FTA negotiators to be maximally flexible," said Roh's spokesman Yoon Seung-yong.

On Wednesday, Bush urged Japan and South Korea to reopen their markets fully to U.S. beef and said opening markets to American beef is a part of U.S. foreign policy. In remarks before Capitol Hill-visiting members of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association on Wednesday, Bush said Congress needs to pass a number of pending trade deals and reauthorize his Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which expires July 1. TPA allows the administration to negotiate trade deals with only an up or down vote by Congress.

"Every time we break down a barrier to trade, someone who's raising a cow will have an opportunity to sell that cow into a better market," Bush said. "My attitude on trade is 'you treat us the way we treat you -- and then let's compete.' "

Meanwhile, in reference to the pending FTA, South Korea's Roh suggested his willingness to give up one or two things to help conclude the trade negotiations with the U.S., saying "a deal is supposed to be mutually satisfactory. Otherwise, the deal can't be concluded," the Korea Herald reports.

He says agriculture is by far the most difficult of all remaining issues, which also include automobiles, textiles, anti-dumping remedies and pharmaceuticals.

Regarding U.S. beef, the U.S. requested on Tuesday a "written timeframe" by this weekend for fully reopening its market to U.S. beef. South Korea rejected the U.S. demand, saying it couldn't do so ahead of the World Organization for Animal Health's (OIE) final report on health risks of U.S. beef expected in May.

South Korean sources told the Korea Herald that South Korea will probably be able to protect its politically sensitive rice market in the deal in exchange for opening its beef market wider to U.S. imports.
-- Joe Roybal

Beef-Demand Strength Surprises Pundits

The $100 question this spring has been, "Will beef demand be strong enough to give packers some margin at these higher price levels and allow us to sustain the strong fed prices we've been experiencing?"

Many industry pundits have been surprised by the strength of beef demand, but improvement is needed to maintain these types of fed prices. The industry is finding it difficult to gauge beef demand as it has in the past. The hard numbers and economic indicators used to be strong indicators of consumer attitude, but beef demand softened significantly last year during a time of strong economic performance. The trend then reversed itself in the first quarter of this year, with beef demand rising in the face of leading economic indicators that were solid but softer than expected.

I think the reason for this disconnect between consumer attitude and actual economic performance is that 2006 was an election year. Despite a very strong economy, the media were willing coconspirators in raising doubts about the economy and shaking consumer confidence.

Since the Democrats took over the House and Senate, the economic rhetoric from the mainstream media has mellowed drastically. Part of the change can be attributed to more media emphasis on the war in Iraq, but there's also been a significant change in the media's depiction of the economy over the last several months.

As a person with a fairly strong conservative bent to my politics, I'm not advocating the U.S. elect a liberal president, but I definitely think we'll see far more favorable reporting of economic conditions with a Democratic administration in power.

The biggest driver in demand change is no longer economic conditions, but rather how the media depicts those economic conditions.
-- Troy Marshall

Working With Your Vet Is An Investment

It's the end of March and you awake to find your cows in an average body condition score of 4.8. Calving is underway and you worry herd fertility will suffer. This is the most costly time of the cycle to put weight on cows -- early lactation.

Or consider this: 30 days into the feeding period, you have a major wreck on a bargain-priced group of calves. You put $9.25/head into them at processing with various vaccines, vitamins and new "preventive" treatments -- and paid for a bargain-priced, mass-medication program. Was it just money down a rat hole?

These two examples involve assessing needs and risks, and then applying dollars and effort in the right direction. Did you have all the facts and a plan when you started out?

There are a lot of things of which I know just enough to be dangerous. These would include statistics, plumbing, electrical wiring, welding and pasture management, to name a few.

This lack of expertise doesn't stop me from trying, but how many times would I have been money ahead to consult an expert, if not just hire someone to do it? Will Rogers must have been thinking about this when he said: "It's not what we don't know that gets us in trouble, but what we know that isn't so."

I'm always more comfortable when I can bounce my proposed plan off a more informed and/or experienced person. This resource person should be someone who understands the entire system within which the challenge lies.

The best resource people also routinely turn to other people for additional information. In other words, they give you access to a network of resources it would take you years to develop on your own.

For beef producers, the person you're looking for is a beef-production veterinarian who's committed to the industry. These people are easily spotted by how they attack problems.

The veterinarian you're looking for will only give you an immediate answer if he or she is comfortable with their knowledge and has recently researched or been updated on the problem. Very often, they'll give you an opinion but pursue their resources for further research. Those resources may be notes from a continuing-education meeting, a journal article, a fellow practitioner, or an expert source in allied industry or academia.

What are some opportunities to benefit from your veterinarian's involvement? It runs the gamut from pinkeye prevention, feedlot-pen density, reproductive failure, post-treatment intervals for antibiotics, and new lameness challenges, to preventing dystocia, health challenges in grass cattle, alternative weaning strategies and grass tetany. The common factor in all these is a focus on using management skills to optimize production and avoid disasters.

The best way to stay abreast of new developments and strategies is to sit with your veterinarian and map out a program. Plan to get the most out of the session by keeping a list of recent challenges, as well as new products or management techniques you've heard about. Expect this to be a consultation service, just as you would retain a lawyer or accountant.

A management protocol that's several years old may be costing you in lost opportunities. Remember that it isn't just about adding new products or practices; sometimes there's money to be made by discontinuing something shown to be ineffective or even harmful.

Are you aware of everything your veterinarian offers? Some offer ration development for cowherds and Standardized Performance Analysis (SPA) programs. Others have completed advanced graduate and certificate programs in beef production.

Have you thought about input on changing your current facilities or building new ones? And who's better trained on the diseases that challenge your operation, and methods to prevent and treat these diseases?

Let your veterinarian know the skills and information you're looking for, and give him or her a chance to fill that need, find the resources you need or develop the required expertise? Most all the veterinarians I've taught over the years would welcome a chance to grow with you.

Invest your wealth of experience, along with that of your veterinarian, through routine planning sessions. It's not an admission of defeat to work with your veterinarian on a routine basis. Consider it an investment in your operation that doesn't require corn, hay or fuel.
-- Mike Apley, DVM, PhD, Kansas State University

Cattle Abortion:Identification & Prevention Checklist

The key to correcting the problem of abortions is to identify the cause, so abortions can be prevented in the future. However, the success rate for accurate bovine abortion diagnosis is only in the range of 25-35%.

Abortions often result from some incident that occurred weeks to months before the actual abortion. As a result, the cause is probably undetectable at the time of the abortion itself. In fact, many causes of abortions are unknown.

Mycotic (caused by mycotoxins) abortions may be seen in increased numbers in spring, due to cattle consuming moldy feed contaminated with mycotoxins. These abortions are typically sporadic and occur from four months to term.

Severe infection of the placenta will be seen, characterized by a leathery thickening of the areas in between the cotyledons. In about 25 per cent of the cases, the fungus invades the fetus, and red or white ring-worm-like lesions can be seen in the fetal skin.

If the fetus remains in the uterus for any length of time after death, postmortem degeneration will hide lesions. The afterbirth may be retained, causing even more problems.

As a preventative measure, it is essential to develop a checklist to help you and your veterinarian explain and diagnose potential abortion problems.

Key Questions To Ask
What is the problem?
Is it a failure to conceive or were the fetuses lost? Were the cattle pregnancy-checked? Or were the cattle open? Pregnancy failure rate in cows and heifers should be less than 5 per cent as a production-loss goal.

Which animals are involved?
What is the difference between the groups of cows that conceived and calved and those that did not? Were the cows home-raised or were new animals brought into the herd? Are the cows in good or poor body condition?

What age groups are affected?
What is their vaccination status? Were modified live or killed vaccines used? Modified live vaccines may cause abortion if given to pregnant cows or to calves nursing previously non-immunized cows; such a program must be initiated carefully.

What are they fed?
Type, quality and condition of feed are all important factors to consider in abortion prevention. Moldy feed causes 3 to 10 per cent of all abortions. Remember, the inhalation of mold spores is just as dangerous as the consumption of them. Vitamin A deficiency may also cause abortions.

What bulls were the cows exposed to?
Consistency of performance throughout the breeding season and the exposure to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are issues that should be looked at, especially if the animals were on a community pasture. STDs that cause abortions include Brucellosis, Listeriosis and Trichomoniasis.

Do the affected cows have a common sire or dam?

When did the problem occur?

Were the fetuses lost at a certain stage of gestation?
A loss in the last month of pregnancy could be due to nitrates in the feed. Handling, trucking or any kind of stress may also trigger abortions.

Did it occur on pastures or when their feed was changed? Was this feed tested?
Was the feed free of nitrates? Abortion due to nitrates is accompanied or preceded by some evidence of nitrate problems in the adult animal, including chocolate-colored blood and bluish discoloration of non-pigmented areas of the skin or mucous membranes.

Were many cows affected suddenly, or did the problem pass through the herd slowly? Typical abortions occur at low levels of about 2% and are usually seen at the beginning of calving.

Where did the problem occur?
Did affected and unaffected animals reside in different pastures, paddocks or ranges? What were the field conditions and the stocking densities? Did the animals have to compete for feed and water?

Identify the cow that aborted and isolate it. Recover the aborted fetus and membranes. The length of gestation can be determined by fetus size and other characteristics:
2 months - mouse size
3 months - rat size
4 months - small cat size
5 months - large cat size
6 months - small dog size with hair starting to show
7 months - fine hair all over body
8 months - hair coat complete and teeth slightly erupted
9 months - incisors erupted

Submit as many fetus samples as possible to a diagnostic lab. The first calf to die is the most important; getting a diagnosis on this one may help to avoid any more abortions in the herd.

Call the veterinarian as soon as possible and keep him/her involved in the entire process. Notify the lab that you have a specimen to sample and send in to analyze. Collect samples; preferred specimens include fetus and blood samples from cow(s) that aborted.

The liver is often affected by abortive agents and should be examined and sampled. Lungs should also be sampled because they receive a good blood supply and will show any inhalation of bacteria in later gestation and fetal pneumonia.

Pack the fetus and placenta in double set of heavy-duty plastic bags and pack in ice (do not freeze), along with any blood or tissue samples. Get the package to the diagnostic lab as quickly as possible.

Without answers to the above questions, a veterinarian will have a difficult time trying to give a complete diagnosis. In addition, answers to these questions will help a producer determine whether a change in management practices is needed.

Spring oats supply quick forage

Great Plains livestock producers whose hayfields and pastures have been hurt by dry weather in recent years may want to consider planting oats this spring, says a Kansas State University extension agronomist.

"Recent winter precipitation provides an opportunity for producers who need a quick supply of forage from spring pasture, silage, or high-quality hay for next fall and winter," says Vic Martin. "Spring oats may be an option for producers in this situation."

While best-suited for hay or silage, oats can also provide high-quality pasture in April and May, until other grazing sites are available, says Martin, a grazing systems specialist at Kansas State University's South Central Experiment Field in Hutchinson.

He offers these production tips:

· Treat oat pasture as you would winter wheat pasture when determining stocking rates and when to place cattle in terms of vegetative growth.

· Grain production is not recommended under grazing oats, so the length of pasture production will depend on stocking rate and weather.

· Oats should be harvested for silage from late milk through early dough stages. Expect silage that tests about 60% TDN and 9% protein on a dry basis.

· Oats should be harvested for hay in the late boot to early heading stage. Harvested at the soft dough stage, hay should have an approximate TDN of 56% with 10% protein. A nitrate test is recommended when harvesting oats for hay.

· Before planting oats, check previous herbicide applications on the field. Oats are especially sensitive to triazine herbicides.

· Seed at a rate of 2 bu/acre when planting for pasture, although under good soil conditions, 3 bu/acre may be preferable.

· When oats are grown for hay or silage, fertility recommendations are similar to those for grain production -- 75-125 lbs of nitrogen per acre. But when they're planted for grazing, an additional 30 lbs/acre of nitrogen are recommended.

"Oats may be successfully planted no-till," Martin says. "However, growth and vigor are typically greater where pre-plant tillage is used."

In either case, a fine, firm seedbed is necessary for optimal production and winter annual weeds should be controlled either with tillage or with a burn-down herbicide prior to planting.

"Herbicides are available, although many are not permitted under forage production," he adds. "Before using any herbicides, producers should always check the label."