Formulating mineral supplements for beef cows

A new publication from South Dakota State University offers tips on formulating mineral supplements for beef cows.

Written by SDSU Extension Beef Specialist Cody Wright, he says although ranchers can buy a commercial supplement for their herds, that practice can result in over supplementation and unnecessary expense.

“In many cases, commercial mineral supplements are formulated to provide in excess of 100 percent of the nutrient requirements for many different minerals. However, at least a portion of the minerals required by beef cows is provided by the feeds the cows are consuming. The formulation of supplements to supply only what the animal needs may provide an opportunity for cost savings,” says Wright.

SDSU Extension Extra 2064, “Formulating Mineral Supplements for Beef Cows,” discusses requirements, determining mineral supply in the diet, and formulating a supplement. The publication also discusses white salt and mineral sources.

Find the publication online at this link:

Hereford announces new hires

The American Hereford Association (AHA) and Hereford World has announced that Adam Cotton, Wichita, Kan., has joined the Hereford team and will serve as the Southwest region field representative.

In this position, Cotton will attend Hereford sales and events as well as assist breeders with marketing and genetic selection. He will also assist in educating members and commercial producers about AHA programs and other beef industry opportunities.

Cotton will serve as the communications link between the AHA and breeders in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.
Cotton grew up in St. Joseph, Missouri and his family had a cow/calf operation near St. Joseph. He has been involved in the cattle industry all his life and as a youth showed polled Hereford cattle, was involved in the American Hereford Association Junior Program, 4-H and FFA.

He spent two years at Blackhawk East Junior College in Kewanee, Illinois before transferring to Kansas State University where he graduated with a bachelor of food science and industry degree with a minor in business. Most recently he has been serving as a quality assurance technician with Farmland Foods in Wichita.

Additionally, Certified Hereford Beef has hired Heidi Tribbett, Sterling, Colo., to assist with the Hereford Verified program.

In this position, Tribbett will help beef producers enrolling cattle in the program and send out carcass data once the animals have been harvested. She will also have the responsibility for managing the commercial Web-site listing that connects buyers and sellers of Hereford and Hereford cross feeder cattle.

Tribbett comes from a strong beef background. First serving as an intern for CHB in 2005, then serving as a Meat Process Auditor for Safeway Inc., and now she and her husband have opened a retail meat market and smokehouse in Sterling.

Tribbett can be reached at or (970) 580-4503.

Three Key Industry Challenges To Growing Demand

The beef industry has long understood that from a demand standpoint the mission is quite simple. We need to increase the number of customers, increase the average value of a typical transaction, and increase the frequency of beef purchases.

  • Increase the number of customers. Population growth has helped us by default, and regaining access to foreign markets has and will continue to be a priority. All one has to say is “China” for one to get excited about the export prospects about beef demand.

    In other areas, the industry, while maybe not increasing the number of customers within various demographic groups, has done a very good job of stopping the erosion. Aging baby boomers, a younger generation that has grown up with a preference to chicken, changing ethnic mixes and a whole host of other factors have made this task a key priority.

    In addition to new beef cuts, new products and new marketing outlets, the branded and HRI revolution has resulted in far more differentiation in our product offerings. This allows us to better target specific groups with the aim of ultimately increasing market penetration within various segments. There remains tremendous opportunity in this area.

  • Increasing the average value of a typical transaction. Convenience and nutrition advances, coupled with brand equity and product differentiation, have helped in moving the industry forward in this regard. The new cuts and various efforts to increase the value of the round and chuck have been quite successful.

    And this has become increasingly important. With rising input costs, the need to increase transaction value is needed just to keep pace with inflation. Management and genetics have come a long ways in improving both the quality and consistency of the eating experience we deliver, but the opportunities in this area remain large.

  • Increase the frequency of beef purchases. This number is easily measured by evaluating per-capita beef consumption. Rising beef prices and falling disposable income is expected to drive this number significantly lower. It is this number that will indicate whether we are in for a couple of years of tougher times or whether we can actually expand the size of our industry.

    Compared to other industries, our segmented approach and the number of margin operators in between the fixed-cost producers (cow-calf) and the consumer has made it difficult to address these concerns. The beef checkoff allowed the industry to address this and reverse 25 years of falling beef demand, but inflation has taken its toll on the effectiveness of the checkoff program.

    There is no shortage of plans or tactics to drive the three tactics above. The sad fact is that there’s simply a shortage of dollars to implement them. If the industry is serious about realizing the potential and prosperity that awaits it, it’s time for us to increase the funding for demand-building activities that will make it happen.

Befriending Birds: Integrating wildlife conservation with livestock production

If someone asked how many cattle you ran on your ranch, surely you’d know a number. But if you were asked how many species of birds and wildlife could be found on your land, would you know? Would it be important to know?

Tammy VerCauteren with the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory in Fort Collins, CO, wants to get landowners thinking about those latter questions and to help them realize the important role birds and other wildlife play in rangeland settings.

VerCauteren, who works as an outreach director informing land managers about integrating bird conservation with rangeland management, says birds are ecologically and economically important to the environment.

Why birds are important
Economically, birds can mean big business. With nature-based tourism now the fastest growing segment of the tourism industry in the U.S., VerCauteren says many landowners are finding that offering wildlife or birding activities on their land can offer value-added opportunities. She reports that one in three of all Americans consider themselves bird watchers. And, a 2001 survey found that over 80 million American’s participated in some form of recreational activity related to fish and wildlife.

But even if nature tourism isn’t one of your ranch’s future goals, wildlife – particularly birds – also play critical ecological roles by helping keep rodents and insects at manageable levels.

“Birds eat insects and rodents; they spread seeds; and serve as prey for a diversity of other wildlife species,” says VerCauteren. As examples, she tells that a Baird’s Sparrow will collect an estimated 135 insects – mostly grasshoppers – daily to feed its young, and a pair of Ferruginous Hawks will kill roughly 500 ground squirrels, prairie dogs and rabbits in a single breeding season. These activities by birds help suppress insect and rodent populations, often keeping them below outbreak levels, VerCauteren points out.

She adds that since birds are closely tied to the available habitat structure (height and density of vegetation), they can serve as indicators of habitat change, which in turn can reflect changes in land management strategies and range health. “A healthy bird community should be a healthy grassland for livestock as well,” she says. So if something starts to decrease the diversity of bird species or populations, it may indicate a decline in range health that needs to be addressed.

Lastly – and perhaps the most important factor in conserving grassland birds – are the implications it has for the future. Not only will it mean future generations can enjoy a diversity of species, but implementing beneficial conservation efforts for birds and wildlife may also help keep management strategies within the hands of land owners and operators rather than being dictated by regulatory action. This is becoming even more critical as contentious issues continue to arise with sensitive, threatened, and endangered species.

How to manage for birds
Given all those reasons for the importance of birds and other wildlife, what can you do to manage for more of them on your land?

VerCauteren suggests land managers start by recognizing the habitat requirements of grassland birds. This includes looking at bare ground, species composition of the vegetation and structure of the vegetation.

“Birds need habitat with diversity. If it all looks the same, you’re not going to have as many birds. So we encourage landowners to try to keep a mosaic of conditions to meet the broader needs of birds,” she says. VerCauteren offers these guidelines for effective bird habitat:

Focus on habitat structure. VerCauteren says grassland bird communities are generally influenced more by habitat structure than the particular species of plants in the habitat. Structure consists of many factors including height and density of vegetation, topographic features, ground cover and man-made structures, and is important in providing nesting substrates and opportunities for feeding, resting, and perching.

So, the more structurally diverse a habitat is with grass, shrubs, forbs (flowering plants), etc., the more species-rich the bird community found there. For example, some species require taller, denser vegetation, while others require short vegetation, for attracting mates, nesting and brood rearing, Therefore, VerCauteren says grasslands with a patchy structure will provide opportunities for multiple species to co-exist.

Pay attention to species. While structure can be the biggest factor impacting bird habitat, it doesn’t mean plant species composition isn’t important. For instance, in the case of Sage Grouse, not just any shrub species will meet the habitat needs – these birds need sagebrush.

VerCauteren suggests that if you don’t have a large land mass that can offer diversity of habitat structure, perhaps you should focus on critical birds that are key to your area and the habitat you can provide.

Consider management implications. According to VerCauteren, management factors can greatly influence the available habitat structure for birds including the use or non-use of fire, haying, grazing, and methods of invasive species control.

As an example, heavy spring grazing year after year in the same pasture may reduce, or eventually eliminate, cool-season grasses in that pasture. This can be detrimental to early-season nesting birds that require a cool-season grass component.

As a solution, land managers should be aware of the habitat needs of birds and wildlife and try to integrate those needs with their rangeland management. Strategies might include:

  • Implementing a rotational grazing system that varies the grazing patterns and timing in pastures annually.
  • Using fire as a tool to create disturbance and alter habitat structure.
  • Waiting to hay areas until after July 15, when most birds are finished nesting.
  • Altering use in riparian areas to allow birds to utilize the area. Or, using escape ladders to protect water quality and minimize loss of birds and other wildlife in stock tanks.
  • Establishing native shrubs, legumes or forbs to add diversity to the habitat. Avoid establishing monoculture stands of forages.
  • Considering stocking rate. Overstocking will reduce habitat quality for most species of wildlife and birds.

Of these suggestions, VerCauteren emphasizes that there is a balance between livestock and wildlife. She says, “Grazing is a critical tool and birds need different levels of grazing to keep diversity in their habitat. Grazing can also be an effective tool for invasive species management.”

For producers interested in enhancing bird and wildlife habitat on their lands, VerCauteren says there are many partnership opportunities available for funding through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, state agencies, and several private and state incentive programs. Contact any of these organizations for more information.

Visit the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative website

Include drought plans in pasture lease agreements

Drought can really play havoc on pasture leases, says University of Nebraska forage Extension specialist Bruce Anderson. All too often, pasture leases fail to include an appropriate plan to adjust to this problem, he points out.

Without a plan, both the landowner and the tenant are at risk. The landowner risks having the pasture become overgrazed, resulting in future weed problems, reduced production, and lowered value.

The tenant risks poor performance or health of the livestock due to less forage and lower quality feed. This can lead to higher supplemental feed costs or being forced to sell the cattle.

So, who decides when drought has lowered pasture production low enough to remove the cattle? And, what should be the adjustment in the rent payment?

Anderson says, “Unfortunately, I can’t give you a specific answer. Instead, now is the time to discuss these issues as landlord and tenant. Usually, it is best to design the lease so both the landowner and tenant share in the opportunity and risk associated with drought by adding an appropriate escape clause due to drought. Be sure to list the length of the grazing period and the lease. Also make sure that stocking rates are specified in the lease, adjusting these stocking levels for increased cow size if necessary. And get it all in writing to avoid any misunderstandings later.

Anderson concludes, “Drought can cause a lot of headaches. But if you’ve planned ahead, making sudden adjustments to your pasture leases won’t be one of them.”

Getting The Most Out Of CRP

Regulations now allow use of some Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) fields as pasture or hay periodically. But some advance thought work is needed to make the most of this opportunity, says Bruce Anderson in his Hay & Forage Minute newsletter.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln forage agronomist says that for years CRP could only be utilized in an emergency, and then it often was so late that little value was available. With restrictions loosened, Anderson says producers need to look at what kind of feed currently is available from most fields, then imagine what that will be like after July 15 when use can begin. In most cases, much old dead trash exists so yield of new green growth will be low, and weeds may be a problem.

One of the best ways to improve yield and quality of CRP forage is a prescribed burn in the spring. This removes old, dead trash, promotes new green growth, and controls some weeds and trees, Andersons says. But before you burn, be sure you can burn both safely and legally.

Weed-control options will vary based on the weed problems in your CRP. Thistles and broadleaves often are controlled best using herbicides like Grazon and Milestone. For specific recommendations, visit your local Extension office to review the options.

He says that most CRP fields have had no fertilizer for many years. As a result, yields often increase nicely when nitrogen, and sometimes phosphorus, fertilizers are applied.

“I wouldn’t spend money on fertilizer though, until you have removed the old, dead growth and have controlled most of the weeds,” Anderson says. “Think ahead. Can hay or pasture from your CRP fields improve your livestock program? Then take care of it so it can work for you.”
-- Bruce Anderson, UNL – Hay & Forage Minute

Is It Important Or Easy?

Is it important or is it easy? – I believe there’s magic in that phrase. This simple question can do wonders for fixing your time-management issues and ensuring your efforts are aligned with your priorities.

In order to set a goal, monitor progress, even validate that a goal has been accomplished, one must have some sort of metric or standard. I’m amazed how much information we collect and analyze, and how little substantive progress we sometimes make.

I’m convinced the reason we measure a lot of small impact drivers is because they’re easy to measure. Meanwhile, we avoid some of the important things because they’re difficult. A financial example of this is the importance we place on memberships, subscriptions, registrations, sale prices, sale weights, costs per ton, etc. Yet we often neglect to calculate return on investment, feed efficiency, compositions of gains, customer satisfaction, membership enthusiasm and passion, and the like because they’re more difficult to measure.

As a seedstock producer, I’m a huge advocate of utilizing EPDs; they have been and will continue to be our most important tool for making genetic progress. Still, we all know people who have been faithful in using them in their selection program, with marginal results. While they made progress in their selected traits, mature size, fleshing ability, structural correctness, fertility, disposition, udder quality or a host of other factors got out of balance in the process, thus negating the positive impacts. Their genetic decisions ultimately were made on what was easy to find instead of what was truly important.

The story of how VHS beat out Betamax in the video marketplace has become a business axiom. The lesson is that that the Beta folks had all the stats and were superior in everything they measured, but they failed to understand that the really important factor in determining success was early and rapid acceptance in the marketplace. Meanwhile, VHS wasn’t lucky; they just understood the key ingredient to achieving success in the marketplace.

We should all take a hard look at what we’re measuring and ask ourselves if we are measuring and using that information because it’s easy or because it’s important? There is a difference.

Resources for Beginning Farmers/Ranchers

Beginning farmers and ranchers seeking information and advice may find this question and answer series helpful:

Q. I want to start a farm, raise my family there, and provide quality food for people. Please send me anything that will get me started.

A. There are lots of opportunities today for people who look beyond typical commodity crops and who build solid businesses. The quality of life in raising a family on a farm has tremendous benefits as well. The short answer to your question is to treat your farm as a business so you have enough profit to stay on it, and to learn from people who are already doing what you want to do.

ATTRA is the sustainable ag information clearinghouse for enterprise ideas, production practices, and marketing; check its website for online documents and references. The USDA SARE program also has a number of publications that can help with marketing or raising crops and livestock . The USDA National Ag Library Alternative Farming Center has lists of resources for many farming topics. Your local Extension office can also link you with publications and experts for your area.

Q. I want to make my living from a small farm. Is that still possible?

A. There are literally hundreds of enterprises you can run from a farm or ranch based on the natural resources, history, or culture of the area or based on your skills and interests. Farm/ranch startups need high-margin enterprises and limited risk, particularly those that entail skilled labor and management.

A recurring recommendation for highest profit is with certified organic crops; low-cash-input enterprises reduce risk, such as grass-based livestock, dairy, and poultry operations. The most efficient approach is to “stack” enterprises that feed each other, using the same land base or facilities. That’s obviously not limited to startups, as crops and livestock are integrated enterprises on many farms.

Q. How do I get the money to buy farmland or start farming/ranching?

First, treat your farm/ranch as a business. Make a budget and cash flow projection to be sure all your decisions lead to profit BEFORE spending any money. Any lender will want to know that as well, so they can be assured of getting repaid.

Second, don’t expect free money. There are no grants for farm startup, but there are a number of loan programs. Start with the USDA Farm Service Agency, with offices in most counties. All states have low-interest beginning farmer loans through USDA Farm Service Agency: farm operating, farm ownership, and down payment loans. USDA also offers beginners special payments and access to the NRCS conservation programs. Look at our financial resources document. Resources in many states are listed here.

Third, consider other options to debt. Starting small, creating a work-in arrangement, or running a subscription market garden can reduce your need for cash. Look on these websites for examples: CFRA: Successful Linking Strategies for Beginning & Retiring Farmers and (a series of case studies).

Additionally, many states have ‘aggie bond’ programs for land or housing purchases that give tax breaks to the seller. Some parts of the national Farm Credit System offer loans for beginners. Several states have direct loans (not just for beginners), and some have loan guarantee programs.

Iowa and Nebraska have tax credits for landowners who rent to beginners. Connecticut makes grants for farm expansion. Iowa supplements down payments for low-income borrowers. California FarmLink runs ‘matched savings account’ and direct loan programs. If your state does not have such programs, you could help get them started.

Q. I want to farm. I’m looking for a beginning farmer class so I make fewer mistakes.

There are two types of beginning farmer courses to look for: ‘how to farm’ courses, which should have some hands-on or go-see elements; and ‘business planning’ courses, which cover the financial, planning, and goal-setting elements of a farm business. If you're new to it all, you may need both to best reduce your risk of costly mistakes.

In addition to its library of how-to publications, ATTRA has links to information on college degrees, training programs, and on-farm internships, which range from four-year programs, to online classes, to weekend workshops, to season-long job shadowing.

Business plan information is available from a number of sources, but look for one that brings a farm perspective, such as ‘Farming Alternatives’, available from Cornell Extension (1988, 88 pages, $8).

Moreover, it’s unlikely that you (or anyone else!) is passionate or skilled at all three essential elements of running the business – production, marketing, finance – so your planning can identify how you'll overcome your weak areas.

Many new farmers benefit from the advice of an experienced farmer. Seek out a mentor who knows the things you want to learn and who cares about your success. Meet such folks at sustainable agriculture conferences and farm tours.

Add deworming to the spring herd health list

Deworming cows and calves in the spring is a smart business move for producers looking to earn more profits. A representative study documented an advantage of at least 20 pounds in weaning weight of calves from cows treated for parasites over controls.

“Spring treatment tops my list for smart parasite control strategies,” says Dr. Bert Stromberg, parasitologist and professor, University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine.

“Producers get more production advantages by controlling parasites in the spring than only at weaning. With spring treatment, cattle can grow without a parasite load holding them back.”

He says the best strategy is to treat cows at turnout and then process calves at about 8 weeks of age, when they start grazing for themselves and picking up parasites.

“Treating the cow is extremely important to the welfare of the calf,” Dr. Stromberg says. “We find that the health of the cow significantly impacts the calf’s success during the first half of the grazing season. A cow that is parasite-free produces more milk, which means better gains for the calf.”

Spring parasite control also is a strategic way to reduce overall long-term parasite problems.

“Controlling parasites in cows prior to turnout reduces pasture contamination. This is especially effective in Northern climates where cold winter temperatures can reduce parasite populations on pastures,” says Dr. James Hawkins, Consultant for Merial Veterinary Professional Services.

Cows and calves are not just vectors for parasites — they are multipliers that can pass millions of eggs during the grazing season. Parasite control reduces pasture contamination and prevents episodes of illness or reduced productivity.

“Parasites affect cattle in numerous ways. Heavy parasite loads may reduce an animal’s ability to produce a strong humoral and cell-mediated immune response, making vaccines less effective,” Dr. Hawkins explains. “That’s a one-two punch because calves that face health challenges are more likely to weigh light at weaning.”

Products used in spring should control key parasites, such as Ostertagia ostertagi (brown stomach worm), liver flukes and any other parasites of local concern.

“But cattle move parasites throughout the country, especially when drought forces producers to liquidate herds,” Dr. Hawkins says. “And with parasites such as liver flukes, a producer can’t always tell just by looking which animals are infected.”

Cattle infected with liver flukes can cost producers in reduced pregnancy rates, weaning weights and rate of gain. Not all parasite control products control liver flukes, so producers need to make sure they use a product labeled for liver fluke control, such as IVOMEC® Plus (ivermectin/clorsulon).

Producers using IVOMEC Plus this spring also can take advantage of the IVOMEC Challenge. The challenge allows producers to prove to themselves — risk-free — that spring parasite control in cows and calves yields enough extra pounds at weaning to cover the cost of treatment and more.

“Producers should definitely control parasites in cows and calves in the spring,” Dr. Stromberg advises. “The return on investment can be significant, more than paying for the cost of treatment. Producers can see an increase in weaning weights and that is ultimately how we get paid in this business.”

For more information, please see

2008 Photos

Photos from the 2008 BEEF Quality Summit

Quality - A Solution to Rising Costs
November 6-7, 2008 - Colorado Springs, CO