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Articles from 1998 In April


Auction Markets Are Essential

In a Q&A feature with BEEF magazine, Clark Willingham, prior to assuming duties as National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) president, responded to a variety of beef industry topics. One subject in particular, the role of auction markets in a rapidly changing beef industry, sparked a reaction that culminated in the Livestock Marketing Association recently calling for its members to press for a referendum on the national beef checkoff. In this followup, Willingham answers some of the concerns that have surfaced.

What are your feelings toward the debate your initial interview has generated?

I'm surprised, frankly. First of all, the answers I gave to the interviewer's questions were my own personal views and not NCBA policy statements. I tried to be open and honest in my personal opinions and I was not misquoted. But, I do think my opinions are being misinterpreted.

How have they been misinterpreted?

Well, we've all been told that the beef industry needs to improve the quality and consistency of its product. I believe that's a true statement. But, I also believe most producers won't change until paid to do so. That's why I believe in value-based marketing - marketing finished cattle so the producer gets paid more for producing cattle that provide more value in terms of meat and by-products. A marketing system should reward cattleman who produce superior products.

Don't auction markets provide that?

I fully understand that our current auction market system rewards producers with the best calves with higher prices for those calves. I also know that the ten best calves in a string will not all produce the same value of meat when they're processed for the ultimate consumer.

All our studies confirm significant differences in value between the top calf and the bottom - even when looking at the best ten. But all of the calves were bought for the same money - and all were sold for the same price by the feedyard. The producer was not rewarded for the full value of his superior genetics. Regardless of the way a producer chooses to market his cattle, he should receive the maximum value for the animals he raises.

Some contend you foresee or advocate elimination of livestock auction markets.

That's not true and that's part of the misunderstanding. My BEEF comments were meant to position auction markets as the source for many producers to access new marketing systems and techniques. I know, and have publicly stated numerous times, that the livestock auction markets touch the vast majority of America's beef producers.

My personal vision for the future would have the livestock auction market be the place where the producer has the option to get market information, individual animal ID tags, individual carcass data, pool their cattle for better market leverage, partner on some or all calves or simply sell them.

In the one short year I'll be president of NCBA, I am personally committed to seeing all producers, down to the cow-calf operator, get a larger share of the consumer dollar spent on beef. That's why I said in the BEEF interview that if I were "Czar," I would require that "all finished cattle be purchased by packers on a value-based system." And to me that means getting paid on meat and by-product value - not a formula based upon live cattle cash bids.

If we can sell finished cattle on this value basis and receive individual carcass data, then we have a system that can reward individual producers or industry for improving quality. And, if we improve quality and consistency, we can improve consumer demand for beef.

So basically you're saying value-based marketing should be an option for all producers, regardless of size.

Exactly. Everyone needs to get paid for genetic improvements. All industry segments are vital to the producer getting the most for his cattle. As I said in the BEEF interview, "Auction markets are essential for the small producer to participate in value-based marketing."

An Alliance Start-Up

Kansans start small to get a taste of finishing their cattle.

Alliance can be a rather loosely defined term. That's fortunate for members of the Northeast Kansas Steer Futurity.

Started as a beef profit club in January 1996, the futurity is a cooperative effort of 16 livestock producers in Doniphan, Jackson and Jefferson counties, an area where cattle herds are generally smaller than in the western part of the state. The futurity offers participants the opportunity to feed cattle jointly, share rewards and work together to improve individual herds for long-term industry needs.

Bill Wood, Extension agent in Doniphan County, says the effort lets producers learn more about their cattle, examine feedyard and carcass data and begin making long-term breeding decisions based on this information. It also gives producers, who normally wouldn't have a full pen, a chance to retain ownership and feed their calves rather than sell them off the ranch.

Howard Jensen, a veterinarian and futurity founder in Troy, KS, took a leadership role for two reasons. "I treat animals for a living and I want to help make my clients as profitable as they can be," Jensen says. "I want them to continue to be a part of the cattle business, not only for their sake, but because I need a client base to stay in business."

In its first year, futurity participants agreed to an in-weight range of 550-700 lbs. Last year, the range was broadened (450-800 lbs.), but Jensen says plans are in place to work around this.

"Our goal is to tighten our weight ranges and have two placement dates," he says. "We'll also hold to tighter parameters overall to make things fairer. The bottom line is to increase productivity and decrease costs."

Producers also agreed to wean at least 30 days prior to delivery and perform all vaccinations with brand name products. The $25/head entry fee is applied to the total feedyard bill when cattle are sold.

Though relatively new, the futurity is working well. Wood says he's seen amazing cooperation and interest among producers and others in the area.

"As we work with smaller alliances, we need to work toward similar genetics in our cow herds," he says. "The results we're getting in this project will convince more producers to work with us."

Genetics, Jensen says, will be packer-driven. "We don't want to be in the discount market."

Plus, he adds, the benefits of the alliance aren't exclusive to producers who retain ownership. "These producers can still sell their calves at the local sale barn," Jensen says. "With the reputation for quality gained from feeding, it's likely they'll get a better price for their cattle here at home."

Keeping Nebraska Supplied

An open-air classroom educates Nebraska students on the fine points of feedyard management, and provides Husker State feedyards with a better-prepared supply of prospective employees.

The age-old employment dilemma: Employers want real-life experience. But, how does a prospective employee get that experience without a job? Well, a University of Nebraska program is helping provide feedyard employee prospects with just that.

When Terry Klopfenstein, University of Nebraska animal science professor, first started teaching in the late 1960s, he started helping students get summer internships. This activity has since grown into a course (Animal Science Internship - Beef Feedlot Management) where students spend nearly a full semester working in a feedyard.

"In the mid- to late-'80s, we were getting a lot of calls from owners and managers of feedlots needing good people in feedyard management," Klopfenstein says. "I felt one of the most important things I could do was develop a program where I could actually train people to be feedlot managers."

Not For All Students "We're not trying to meet the needs of a lot of students. We want only those who desire to be in this program," he says. "We expect them to have the background that a bachelor's degree implies."

Klopfenstein says most of the participating students have completed their undergraduate program when they enter the course. But, there are a few who may be short a few hours and use the internship to complete graduation requirements.

"The coursework for this program isn't like normal coursework," Klopfenstein says. "When you've got five or six students in a class, you don't lecture; you have discussions. We try to review some of the material they may have forgotten. We conduct projects where students make presentations and lead discussion. The technique is an active one.

"Students are here because they want to learn," he adds. "They're here for eight weeks and then out working in their internships."

Typically, four to six students are enrolled in the program, according to Klopfenstein. There were 10 students last year and it looks about the same for this year. In total, 40 students have gone through the program and 20 feedyards have participated. With normal turnover, he says, there are about five manager openings each year in Nebraska.

Range Of Jobs The students work at participating feedyards and are paid the going rate for starting labor. Generally, they're learning every aspect of the feedyard, including maintenance, truck driving and mill management. Some students are put on special projects or move from one job to the other.

"The students are well accepted by the feedlots," Klopfenstein says. "The yard gets a good employee and, more importantly, a potentially permanent employee who can move into management. I think a lot of managers are stimulated by the students asking questions and challenging procedures. And, nine times out of 10, the student is a better-than-average employee."

Klopfenstein says some feedyard managers view the internship as a great opportunity, others perhaps see it as labor. He tries to fit students to each location.

"The value of the internship is that the student and the feedyard are involved," Klopfenstein says. "Yet, there's no long-term commitment if the student and the feedyard discover they're not perfect matches."

It Pays Off Final grades are determined by Klopfenstein using coursework evaluation and input from feedyard managers. But students get two things from an internship, Klopfenstein says.

"They usually have a job opportunity if they've done well. The downside is that some feedyards can't hire them right away. And secondly, students have developed good work references from the feedyard and from me," he says.

Feedyard managers' input is important. Klopfenstein says he's never talked with a manager who didn't say accounting was one of the most important courses students can take. A strong dose of marketing and personnel management doesn't hurt either.

"It's a lot of work, but rewarding to the students, especially when they're recognized as good employees by the feedyards," Klopfenstein says. "One student was at a feedyard only two weeks when management turned over the feedyard to him for a week. It's opportunities like these that make it worthwhile."

Trial By Fire

Some claim forage-fed bull tests are a better indicator of on-the-job breeding performance.

Gain tests of 120-150 days on high-energy feeds have long been a seedstock producer's barometer of bull quality. Such tests grow young bulls fast, make them look better for sale, and illustrate the bulls' genetic ability as feed converters and to sire calves that do well in the feedlot.

In the past decade, however, some stockmen have begun to find fault with this system. The reasons:

* Overfat young bulls that are infertile (too much fat deposited in the scrotum interferes with sperm production and viability);

* Unsoundness (feet and leg problems from too much weight too soon on immature bones and joints, and founder due to high grain diets);

* A lack of stamina during breeding season. Many young bulls coming off feed tests "fall apart" when they're forced to rough it in the real world.

* Some question the wisdom of striving for genetics that create larger animals with fastest gain on grain. This runs counter, they say, to the focus of building economical and profitable cow herds that raise good calves and breed back quickly on the forages available without expensive grain supplements.

A Slow Evolution Because of these concerns, some bull tests have modified their feeding programs. In addition, a small but growing number of seedstock producers are raising bulls on forage alone. These breeders feel such bulls will perform better for their customers if developed under more natural conditions.

Joe Gotti, an animal science professor at Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, TX, agrees. Gotti runs a 15-year-old forage test. The facility grows out 80-100 bulls each year, all consigned by breeders. The test puts January-March bull calves on forage for a year beginning the third week in October. The bulls winter on small grain pastures (oats, rye and ryegrass). In summer, they graze hybrid Bermuda grasses and hybrid millet grasses.

The forage bull test is open to all breeds but most enrollees are Simmental, Gotti says. Daily gain averages 2 lbs./day. While these bulls don't grow as fast as grain-fed bulls, they eventually get just as big. And, while forage tests take longer, they are as economical as grain tests, he adds.

Gotti says research that tracked forage test bulls after sale found bulls stayed in their breeding programs longer than grain-fed bulls. "They are bought by ranchers who use them under a wide variety of conditions. Buyers like them because they're ready to go to work and stay sound longer," Gotti says.

Forage tests demonstrate that bulls don't have to be raised on grain for development or testing. With the knowledge that too much fat can damage a young bull's fertility and future soundness, even some performance gain tests are cooling down rations, not pushing bulls as fast, and striving for more moderate gains and better results on breeding soundness exams (BSE).

A wise bull buyer will look as closely at how a bull is grown and fed as at EPDs (expected progeny differences), sire summaries and all the other information useful in making selections, Gotti says.

Ready For Work Doc and Connie Hatfield helped pioneer this type of breeding and feeding program at their High Desert Ranch in Oregon. The Hatfields were breeding high-performance cattle in Montana 32 years ago with Charolais-Shorthorn crosses. By the mid-1970s they changed focus from "big" to "fault-free" and began creating a Red Angus-Hereford-Tarentaise composite. The Hatfields moved to the Oregon desert where the cattle could work on their own in a natural environment without so much intensive labor, fossil fuel and fertilizer input.

"It's not the ranch's job to produce what the cow needs to perform. It's the cow's job to perform on what the ranch can best provide," Doc explains.

Kit Pharo, a Cheyenne Wells, CO, breeder, credits the Hatfields with inspiring him to develop a similar type of efficient cow herd. Pharo raises Angus, Red Angus and composites (Angus-Hereford-Tarentaise), intensively grazing on rotated pastures with very little harvested roughage. His philosophy is low input costs and fertile, efficient cattle.

Pharo and wife Deanna began raising their own bulls 12 years ago when they couldn't find the bulls they wanted. Pharo now has a niche market producing seedstock for others who recognize the value of efficient and fertile cattle.

He calves in April and May so cows can be on grass instead of hay. Weaned bull calves are left on pasture. In November, some go on a 100-day feed test with a little grain (to sell as yearlings); the youngest go on a forage test (all grass, no grain).

The forage-raised calves are roughed through winter, then put on grass. They grow well that next summer, Pharo reports, then they're roughed through the next winter for sale as two-year olds. The Colorado producer says these older forage-tested bulls are more mature and able to handle a heavier workload. "Since they've never been confined to a pen or fed a high-concentrate ration, they're healthier with much better feet and legs," he says.

The bulls he sells as yearlings get minimal grain in a grass/hay ration designed for a 3-lb./day average gain. Pushing young bulls any harder negatively affects overall soundness and fertility, he believes.

"We end our feed test at least 40 days before our bull sale in April to allow time to reduce grain consumption to zero and have the bulls ready to go to work," Pharo says. "Our bulls must perform under conditions their daughters must work in. Fat bulls don't adjust and lose weight.

"Our bulls don't carry as much bloom and flesh, but they do fine," Pharo says. "Our yearling bulls, just barely yearlings, may weigh only 900 to 1,000 pounds, but people appreciate that they've been backed off grain and can go right to work."

Pharo says most seedstock producers gain test on grain instead of grass because most bulls are sold as yearlings. Bulls strictly forage tested, he says, aren't big enough to use until they're close to two years old. "Most seedstockers aren't willing to invest the time required to forage test their bulls," Pharo says.

But foraging ability is extremely important to maternal cattle, he adds. His cattle are on grass year round with a little protein supplement before calving. Maternal bulls, he says, should not be tested in a feedlot situation.

A Canadian Experience Dylan Biggs, a Canadian seedstock producer from Alberta, believes the concept of grass-tested genetics is gaining acceptance. Producers, he says, are increasingly appreciating the value of testing cattle under the conditions in which they're expected to perform.

"Few cow herds spend their producing years in a feedlot," Biggs says. "Maternal seedstock genetics should be tested for their ability to perform on grass, not grain. A forage test separates the men from the boys."

Biggs and wife Colleen raise Red Angus, black Angus and composite cattle. They started with a very fertile commercial herd of Simmental, Gelbvieh and Braunvieh but decided birthweights were too high for their harsh country.

"Most seedstock producers focus too much on weaning weight. They don't make genetic selections relative to total cost of production. We emphasize forage do-ability, fertility and longevity. If you're raising replacement females, that's what's important," he says.

When Biggs began looking at breeds reputed for good maternal qualities, he couldn't find a seedstock producer raising bulls any differently than those raising sires for "terminal cross" programs. It didn't make any sense to him to select maternal genetics in a feedlot environment.

"We decided to select our genetics differently and start raising our kind of bulls, not only for ourselves but for sale to others. We want bulls that can genetically improve our customers' cattle, so we raise ours under the same conditions - even harsher - than the cows must work in," he says.

Biggs says his cow herd must be fertile and efficient, breeding in 41 days. Calves are weaned early, on pasture, and the bull calves are roughed through winter on straight hay, no grain, often gaining only 31/44 lbs./day through winter. They'll bloom and grow swiftly on grass the next summer, however. The first of May they go on a pasture gain test for 120 days.

"Our bulls weigh 650 to 750 pounds going to grass after being roughed through winter, but average daily gain on grass is over 3 pounds a day, depending on the year. In a dry year it might be just over 2 pounds a day. Some gain 411/42 pounds just on grass," says Biggs.

Customer feedback, he adds, has been good. "We've sent bulls to some pretty tough country in southern Wyoming, Colorado, northern and western Alberta. Customers tell us these bulls never fall apart and sire very fertile daughters."

Since he started using herd sires from his grass test program, Biggs says the highest percentage of breedback on his first calvers was from heifers sired by bulls out of their own program.

"I don't contend that bulls finished on grass test are any better genetically. We just know more about what they can do. When we have 170 bull calves rough through the winter, the good ones really stand out. It's tougher to determine the best doers in a grain test because the difference isn't as clear," he says.

To find out about forage bull tests in your area, contact your area beef specialist.

Dynamic, Direct, Applicable

West Texas A&M University provides hands-on curricula in feedyard management.

When a university is located in the heart of cattle feeding country, it's likely to have a foundation in the beef industry. West Texas A&M University in Canyon has taken its base of animal science courses and extended them into undergraduate and graduate options for those wishing to focus on feedyard management.

Ted Montgomery, animal science professor and director of the Beef Carcass Research Center, says the program has experienced a few budget fluctuations, but it's now starting to take off at full speed.

"In the '70s, an experimental feedyard was built to establish emphasis in the feedyard area," Montgomery says. "In the mid-'80s our program was reduced, but we're building it back. A year ago, we had five graduate students in the program, 15 this year."

Veterinarian Louis Perino and Dave Parker, an environmental engineer, coordinate the program with Montgomery.

Direct Industry Emphasis "We don't actually state this program is a curriculum for feedyard management," Montgomery says. "Students are worked into the animal science system and then we work to get them internships in feedyards."

Montgomery says courses within the program reflect directly on the current state of cattle feeding practices. Courses include: ruminant nutrition, feeds and feeding, immunology, meat science, meat and livestock evaluation, as well as some ag business courses.

"When students state their interest in feedyard management, we work with them early on and help them get a strong undergraduate degree," Montgomery says. "Within the last couple years, we've had students who have successfully completed internships and one getting an M.S. in nutrition with an emphasis in feedyard management."

Students in the program must have a 2.0 grade point average (GPA) for undergraduate studies and a 3.0 GPA for graduate students. Montgomery says they prefer undergrads to leave the program with at least a 3.0 GPA and graduate students with a 3.5 GPA.

Fits Student Needs Tony Bryant, a student from Hartley, TX, recently completed an internship at an area feedyard. He says it solidified his career plans.

"I rotated every two or three weeks with each department to get experience in all aspects of the yard," Bryant says. "I definitely liked the feed department, shipping/receiving and the office. Examining the numbers and inputting the processing information was really interesting. I hope to manage a feedyard at some point and the feedyard manager encouraged me to go to graduate school, which I'm doing now."

The feedyard business is unique in that you can learn it, Montgomery says. "A student who really wants to work can learn the business from the ground up. It's one of the few areas of agriculture a student can get into without inheriting something. However, the strong work ethic is essential.

"We've placed a lot of people with feedyard companies," Montgomery says. "I think we have a former student with about every major feeder in this area. Based on recent internships, the feedback from managers has been overwhelmingly positive."

Nervous Over Asia

Asian financial crisis leaves U.S. beef exporters wary and pursuing other markets.

Wall Street sentiment is that the Asian financial crisis is moving into recovery. But that sentiment alone likely won't help increase U.S. beef exports to that region in 1998. The fallout from the crisis has consumers in South Korea and Indonesia, both major beef buying countries, facing double-digit inflation this year. Japan, still concerned with its food safety scare, has its own persistent economic woes as well.

Nonetheless, major beef exporters the world over won't neglect the Asian giants. For instance, Richard Bond, IBP president and chief operating officer, says he's moderately bullish on 1998. "We don't think we'll see as strong a year in Asia as 1995," he says, "We expect it will be better than 1997 in Japan but not in Korea."

Accommodating Asian Concerns To spawn more opportunities in Asia, IBP is becoming more customer-sensitive. For example, boxed beef destined for Asia will be shipped in downsized boxes so Asian workers can better lift and move them. Heavy boxes were one of the major Asian complaints in the International Beef Quality Audit. IBP beef destined for Asia will also be vacuum-packaged.

In addition, IBP will try to develop new products for the Asian market to match the success that intercostal meat has enjoyed in Japan. This product, which is the meat between the back ribs of beef cattle, is marketed by IBP as rib fingers.

Australia will also be in the hunt, though it has a perception problem. Their studies show that Asians believe U.S. beef is superior to Australian.

John R. Cox, managing director of Stanbroke Pastoral Co., Australia's largest ranching operation with 500,000 head on 30 properties, says that means Australia must change to compete. Australia, he says, needs to export 60% of what it produces. "Korea has stopped buying beef from us. And, America and Australia are competing for buyers in the other Asian markets," Cox says.

Competition will force Australia to feed grain to its cattle for the Asian market. Of 100,000 calves produced annually by Stanbroke Pastoral, for example, the company finishes for export about 50,000 head for 120 days on cereals, maize, wheat and barley.

Cox expects Asian sales to pick up by the latter part of 1998.

The global view of Asian exports is not as optimistic, however. The United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) predicts beef exports to South Korea, Japan and the Philippines will drop this year.

Federal Programs To Aid Asia Much of the economic future for U.S. agriculture, according to USDA's Foreign Ag Service (FAS), depends on how much boost the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and USDA credit programs will provide South Korea and Southeast Asian countries.

FAS says IMF loans offer financial stability that allow importers to open letters of credit. They can then take advantage of export credit guarantees.

Many IMF supporters point to Mexico's 1994-95 economic crisis. IMF money greatly helped the country rebound economically. U.S. beef purchases by Mexico in 1997 moved it past Canada into second place among major U.S. customers.

FAS also points to IMF-led trade liberalization measures as another reason Asia needs the bailout. For instance, IMF measures have encouraged South Korea to reduce high price supports for rice and beef.

There are critics of IMF capital infusions in these countries. One is former presidential candidate Steve Forbes, chairman of Americans for Hope, Growth and Opportunity.

FAS, however, says the risk to American ag is too great not to use IMF funds. With Southeast Asia and Korea accounting for 12% of U.S. ag exports, FAS says any major decline in exports to these markets will have implications for the U.S. and other major exporters.

No one knows if Wall Street is right and Asia is recovering. But until that happens, beef exporters aren't just waiting for the next Asian beef boom. They're working to develop new markets in the Near East and former Soviet Union to help pick up the slack.

Seaweed Solution

Common seaweed extract offers promise for improving forage quality and livestock performance.

Helping plants stay healthy could also be the answer to keeping animals healthy. And it appears seaweed could be the cure to do just that.

Recent research indicates applying Ascophyllum seaweed extract to forages, like tall fescue, helps plants ward off stress and improves the immune system of grazing animals, according to Vivien Allen, a Texas Tech University agronomist.

Long used as a fertilizer on agricultural lands, seaweed extract has been studied primarily to improve the stress tolerance of turf grasses. While at Virginia Tech, Allen and animal scientist Joe Fontenot wondered about improving the stress tolerance of forages.

"We hypothesized that if we could reduce fescue toxicity or improve stress tolerance of endophyte-free tall fescue, it would also improve the animal's performance because the animal was grazing better forage," says Allen.

Instead, researchers found an even greater benefit to the animal.

Builds Immunity The unique treatment did indeed help reduce some of the problems from fescue toxicity, but it also boosted the immune systems of cattle grazed on seaweed-treated pastures.

In a first-year trial, cattle that grazed seaweed-treated tall fescue at Virginia Tech and Mississippi State University developed improved immune systems. After the cattle were shipped to Texas Tech, Allen and researcher Kevin Pond found the improved immunity remained with the cattle throughout a 130-day feeding period.

"By boosting animals immune function, animals are more resistant to disease and shipping stresses which leads to better overall performance," says Allen.

"We are confident that the seaweed triggers antioxidants (such as superoxide dismutase and other vitamins) to respond in the plant. The antioxidants are involved in the plant's stress function," says Allen.

The antioxidants appear to help plants, like endophyte-free fescue, persist longer and be less susceptible to drought, overgrazing, insect damage and other stresses, according to Allen. Allen suggests that the antioxidants in the plants stimulate a similar stress tolerance response in the animal.

"It's the plant's alteration that apparently triggers a response in cattle. It's not acting as a feed additive to improve gains, it looks like a health benefit," says Allen.

That may explain why direct application of seaweed to a grain sorghum-based diet did alter the immune system of cattle, but not as much as the forage.

Future Applications Allen believes seaweed treatment could become an important part of pasture programs in the future. The extract comes as a soluble powder or liquid that is mixed with water and sprayed on forages.

Sean Carson, sales manager for Acadian Seaplants, Ltd. - a Canadian based company that produces Ascophyllum seaweed extract fertilizers and sells it in the U.S. - says the product has been available commercially for 15-20 years.

"The market for natural-based products is growing and seaweed extract is environmentally friendly," Carson says. While the seaweed extract's primary market is as a foliar fertilizer for fruits and vegetables, Acadian is investigating uses for the extract in forage and direct feed applications. They sell the extract for $6-8/lb.

In university research, the seaweed extract has been applied at a rate of 3 lbs./acre in early spring, with a second application made in July.

"I think there is a real possibility that the rate and number of applications is too high," says Allen. But further research is needed to know for sure and to make its use cost-effective, she says.

While most research to date has looked at applying the seaweed extract to tall fescue pastures, Allen believes it can benefit other pasture forages, too.

Virginia Tech research revealed that seaweed-treated alfalfa produced better late-season yields, possibly indicating that the extract was preventing plants from aging.

Future Texas Tech studies will include seaweed treated wheat, bromegrass and other forages.

We catch sick calves early

We finished calving February 26, after waiting a week for Witsi. She was bred the day we took the bulls out last spring, and also went a week overdue. We were impatient for her to calve, so we could sleep again. Weather was too cold to calve outside, and since she's a heifer we didn't want her calving unobserved. But everything went well, and she had a nice bull calf.

We lost two calves out of 128 born. Mimsy's twins, Brillig and Momerath, helped make up that loss.

We've had fewer diarrhea cases than last year, thanks to less extremes in weather and less mud. The 211/42 ft. of snow has settled, but is still covering the ground except where the cows have tromped it.

We've had some acute gut infections and have treated more than 20 of these colicky calves with castor oil and neomycin to save them. Since the symptoms come on quickly (a calf can be fine at evening feeding and nearly dead before morning), Jim and I started doing a middle-of-the-night check as of mid-February, walking through the various groups to make sure we didn't miss any sick ones.

Victims of this illness are easy to spot - the calf is in pain, staggering around like a colicky horse, kicking the belly, getting up and down or throwing itself on the ground. Sometimes a calf will merely bloat severely. But if we bring them in and treat them immediately, before they go into shock, we can always save them.

Early Morning Check For Scours The 2 a.m. hikes are also a good time to catch any with the beginning of scours. The cows and calves are used to us walking through them and most don't bother to get up as we pick our way among them. Any calf with mess on its hind end we grab and give a few squirts of neomycin sulfate solution into its mouth. I carry a pumper bottle of this oral antibiotic solution in my coat pocket.

Treating bacterial scours at first hint of diarrhea usually halts it before there's much gut damage and before the calf is dehydrated. These calves rarely need any follow-up treatment with fluids or electrolytes.

Last night on our walk through the first calvers we found Gummy Bear dull and still not nursing (he was off feed when we checked calves while feeding evening hay), so we brought him and his mama (Cinnebear) to the sick barn and we tubed him with milk replacer. We also gave him Pepto Bismol to soothe the gut lining and gave injectable antibiotics to ward off pneumonia (he had a snotty nose).

Gummy Bear was one of our earlier cases of acute gut infection colic and spent a week in the sick barn. Typical of these cases, he'd responded to the castor oil/neomycin treatment (along with a small shot of Banamine to ease the gut pain) and his acute pain eased - only to quit nursing his mother two days later.

Many of these calves quit nursing and some grind their teeth (sign of discomfort), probably due to painful raw ulcerations from shedding some gut lining after it has been damaged by bacterial toxins during the acute infection. Some of these calves would actually starve to death, but we feed them by stomach tube on days they don't nurse (milking out the cow if they go very many days), until the gut heals and they start nursing again. We thought Gummy Bear was recovered so we put him out of the sick barn two days ago. But, he's still having problems. We will give him continued supportive treatment until he is completely well.

Branding And Vaccinating We branded and vaccinated calves yesterday and put the cows through the chute to vaccinate and delouse. We deloused them in December but they are starting to itch again. It's time to repeat the treatment. We also gave them their semi-annual lepto and 8-way clostridial vaccinations. In our region we must vaccinate against redwater at least twice a year, and the only vaccine available is the combination 8-way. They also received a modified-live virus IBR/BVD injection, since it must be given while they are not pregnant.

Andrea left little Emily (now six weeks old) with friends so she could help us work cattle. Andrea really enjoys the cattle work and is very helpful - sorting, filling the chute, pushing the calves into the calf table, etc. It always goes more smoothly and quickly with her help.

We hope the snow melts or settles during the next two weeks so we can sort cows into their breeding groups and get them into larger fields and away from these small, contaminated pastures. It would also be nice if some grass started showing up. Our fall pasture got buried in early December and we'll be about three weeks short on hay. Some areas had a mild winter and there's lots of hay for sale, but not here. With our early, deep snow, many folks are in the same predicament and hay is scarce and expensive. An early spring would really help.

Heather Smith Thomas and her husband, Lynn, operate the Sky Range Ranch near Salmon, ID.

More on enterotoxemia

The article on enterotoxemia in baby calves (January, page 46) brought a great deal of comment. Of the calls and letters that came in, producers primarily wanted advice; whereas veterinarians in most cases offered advice. The problem, however, is that while each veterinarian felt strongly about the recommendations offered ... advice from veterinarian to veterinarian differed and/or was contradictory.

That was not unexpected. In fact, the contradiction is why I wrote the article. I was attempting to generate interest in research so we could get some real answers. To date, there has been essentially no data on which to base practical management decisions.

In the article I used an incorrect term to describe serum taken from hyper-immunized animals. The correct term is anti-toxin, which is used to treat infected calves or at lower dosages to provide short-term immediate protection for calves at risk.

Toxoid, the incorrect term used, refers to vaccine designed to stimulate immunity for the toxin produced by the bacteria. I apologize for any confusion that may have caused. In retrospect, I should have had a veterinarian proof-read the article before publishing.

Need For Information Please understand, however, my intent was not to provide information, but rather to solicit information. This is a subject that is a thorn in the side of a great many cow-calf producers. Yet, there's virtually no research available on which to base recommendations.

There's a large camp of veterinarians who recommend vaccinating calves at birth. At the same time, however, there are other veterinarians who state that vaccination at birth can neutralize colostral antibodies, and thus be counter-productive.

In trying to research the subject, I found zero published studies addressing this specific problem. The available research concerns diseases other than enterotoxemia. So, the data available is highly variable.

With some diseases, vaccinating at birth resulted in little or no response. In other diseases such as brucellosis, where the dam provided no colostral antibodies, there was a small but measured response. To add to the confusion, some veterinary journals state that vaccinating a calf before its immune system is fully functional can retard response when vaccinated later on (i.e., body may not recognize the antigen as "foreign").

Most veterinary reference books recommend vaccinating cows with "anti-scour" type vaccines containing Clostridium perfringens C&D (to enhance antibodies in the colostrum). The problem, however, is there is no data to demonstrate how effective these vaccines are. Aside from effectiveness, another question becomes whether these vaccines work in harmony or conflict with vaccinating the calf.

There's even conflict over the use of anti-toxin. In my original article, I suggested that prophylactic use should be limited to herds with high incidence rates of enterotoxemia, due to cost and potential toxicity.

As can be seen in letters to the editor (pages 58, 60, 63), one veterinarian tells me I'm all wrong with respect to toxicity; and the other says I'm right.

The bottom line is that this is a perplexing subject that touches a nerve with just about everyone who has to deal with it. Veterinarian Ivan Nicholson with Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health has contacted me and offered to cooperate in some ranch trials. Hopefully, we can generate hard data and put some of the controversy to rest.

David P. Price is a consulting nutritionist specializing in feedlot and range cattle. A number of his books and a subscription newsletter are available through BEEF magazine by contacting Marilyn Anderson at 800/722-5334, ext. #710.