Agricultural and horticultural employers increasingly have come under the eye of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) as a result of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986. Intended to reduce the number of illegal employees in the U.S., the IRCA created the I-9 employment eligibility verification form, a requirement for all employers to have as part of personnel files for employees hired after Nov. 6, 1986.
INS began identifying major industries known to employ illegal alien workers, including agriculture and horticulture. They instituted tactics to audit these industries.
Often caught off guard, ag/hort employers suddenly found themselves facing INS agents during work site raids, I-9 audits or other INS enforcement strategies. Compliance with INS rules and regulations became a challenge with limited resources available.
Steve Schlecht, president and CEO of Gempler's Inc., Belleville, WI, became aware of the issue through his involvement with the National Council of Agricultural Employers. He discovered there was no in-depth, straightforward resource available to help agricultural and horticultural employers in this critical area.
"We felt it was essential to develop a comprehensive guide to help our customers stay out of trouble with these regulators and maintain effective businesses," he says.
Gempler's responded by developing "How to Avoid an INS Nightmare." Written by Barb Mulhern with the assistance of immigration attorney David C. Whitlock, the guide includes information on conducting an I-9 self-audit, completing the I-9 form and being prepared for INS enforcement strategies.
The Best Prevention The best prevention against the consequences of an I-9 audit or other INS enforcement action is accurate and clear information. But, Whitlock notes it hasn't been available until Gempler's INS guide.
"Calling INS for information can actually be dangerous. First, the quality of the advice may vary, depending on the person you talk to at INS; and secondly, a call may become a red flag for an INS audit," he says.
This has put employers in the position of being forced to contact the often costly private sector for information on IRCA compliance. About 75-85% of Whitlock's IRCA law practice focuses on advising clients on INS issues. The rest involves helping clients negotiate settlements after IRCA violations are alleged.
"How to Avoid an INS Nightmare" includes information on INS enforcement tactics, from paperwork audits to raids. Paperwork I-9 audits require INS to give three days' notice prior to arriving on-site to review employee I-9 related records. While the I-9 form may appear simple, Whitlock notes that its very simplicity leads to errors by well-meaning human resource managers.
"One common error is to ask merely for two forms of identification. By law, the employee must show documents establishing both identity and employment eligibility," says Whitlock.
Another common oversight is failing to monitor renewal dates for employment authorizations. Employers are required to reverify eligibility if an employee has presented a work authorization document with an expiration date.
Gempler's guide points out that an INS paperwork audit can be costly, with fines of up to $1,100 per defective I-9. It's rarely cost-effective to litigate once INS establishes non-compliance, Whitlock says. He recommends negotiating a settlement.
Raids Are More Costly More costly and disruptive to the ag/hort industry has been the INS use of raids. Raids usually occur when INS has substantial reason to believe an employer has hired a large number of illegal alien workers. In a raid, INS agents appear unannounced with a warrant giving them legal access to employees and the premises.
Unless the employee can provide immediate documentation as being "legal," he or she is taken from the premises by bus until legal documentation is provided. Deportation is possible.
"One problem in the ag/hort industry is that a significant percentage of legal workers come from countries without a due process system of law. The mere thought of contact with any government agent provokes fear, and the employer can lose this portion of his or her work force," Whitlock says.
Complying with IRCA became even more confusing for employers in 1990 when Congress voted to keep IRCA, rather than "sunset" the act, and to add document abuse provisions to reduce what appeared to be discrimination against legal immigrants, based on a report from the General Accounting Office.
The new provisions made it illegal for employers to ask to see more documentation of employment status than that required for the I-9. The provisions also stress that employers cannot reject a document that appears to be genuine. Caught in this paradox, employers often accept documents that may not be legal, only to be fined later during an INS audit.
To order "How to Avoid an INS Nightmare" for $35 per guide, contact Gempler's, PO Box 270, Belleville, WI 53508. Phone toll free 800/382-8473; fax 800/551-1128. Or, order it online at www.gemplers.com by entering Item No. 10545 in the search box of the home page.
Renee Reback is an Account Manager with Joan Collins Publicity, Madison, WI.
Here's an excerpt from Gempler's "How to Avoid an INS Nightmare" guide. The complete checklist appears in the guide.
* Determine who the investigators are. Ask for credentials. Ask for a business card. Confirm that they are with INS. If you're suspicious, call the agency to verify their identity.
* Find out why the investigators are there. A raid, which requires a search warrant, doesn't require advance notification. An I-9 audit requires three days' advance notice in writing but no search warrant. Some INS agents will present a subpoena (in conjunction with an audit), suggesting that you need to comply with it immediately. However, you are entitled to three days' advance notice, and INS cannot use a subpoena to shortcut that.
* Stay calm. Be polite. Belligerence only makes matters worse.
* A warrant is a court order giving the agent(s) permission to search your property. Resisting a warrant may be punished by contempt of court.
* Contact your attorney quickly if faced with an INS raid. Consult with an attorney versed in immigration law any time INS shows up at your door.
* Accompany the INS officers during their search. Take good notes. Make note of any unusual or disturbing behaviors, such as questioning only foreign-appearing workers.
* Don't allow any records to leave your property without making photocopies.
Calving season is over. You're casually checking cows on a Sunday when you notice a cow at the herd's edge with no calf in sight and a tight bag. As you approach her, she moves to a different part of the pasture where you find her dead 250-lb. calf.
With no evident cause of death, you call your veterinarian. "Doc" gives you a list of possibilities - blackleg, lightning strike, pneumonia and abomasal ulcers.
Abomasal ulcers result when the lining of the calf stomach is eroded in small focal areas. Calves diagnosed with abomasal ulcers are typically found dead. A necropsy will reveal a perforated ulcer in the abomasum or upper part of the small intestine and usually widespread peritonitis.
In cases where the animal is alive, symptoms may include kicking at the belly, frequent lying down, a distended abdomen, perhaps sunken eyes (evidence of dehydration) and even increased rectal temperatures. Animals with mild symptoms will not show dehydration and increased rectal temperatures.
Diagnosis of this condition in the live animal depends on the age of the animal (2 to 4 months), signs and symptoms of the disease and response to therapy. Therapy includes broad-spectrum oral antibiotics and kaolin pectin.
Not A New Problem Studies were published 72 years ago that reported 78-98% of 4- to 14-week-old calves were affected by abomasal erosion and/or ulcers. We've made little progress in determining the conditions' true prevalence in our calves, the risk factors and/or causes.
The abomasal ulcers that get our attention are those that become severe to the point where the stomach is perforated, which results in local or diffuse peritonitis (infection and inflammation of the abdomen). Once peritonitis has developed, successful treatment is very difficult.
We don't have a good estimate of the prevalence of non-fatal and fatal abomasal ulcers. However, the limited data in calves and data from other species suggest that non-fatal abomasal ulcers are common.
Determining the prevalence of non-fatal abomasal ulcers would require examining the stomachs of large numbers of calves with an endoscope. Determining the prevalence of fatal abomasal ulcers requires a gross postmortem exam, which is rarely done on many farms and ranches.
The 1992 NAHMS Cow/Calf Health and Productivity Audit lists "unknown" as the second most common cause of calf death. Perhaps all these are abomasal ulcers, maybe none of them.
But, it follows that if we don't know the prevalence, we have limited understanding of the risk factors/causes. So, the definitive cause(s) of abomasal ulcers in calves remain murky. Our ability to evaluate the effectiveness of intervention strategies also is severely hampered.
In recent years, significant advances have been made in our understanding of gastric ulcers in other species. Recently, the relationship between the bacteria Helicobacter pylori, probably acquired early in life, and gastric ulcers in humans has been described. Following this have been reports of the therapeutic success of antibiotics, along with other medications that reduce acid production, in treating gastric ulcers.
Other Species Offer Insight Studies in young horses reveal a 50-100% prevalence of gastric ulcers. Studies in pigs show 5-100% (average 28.5%) of pigs have gastric ulcers. It's not known if these results are directly relevant to abomasal ulcers in beef calves, but it's food for thought.
In calves, bacterial agents such as Helicobacter pylori, Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter spp., and streptococci, as well as fungi, have been implicated. However, a study in Canada failed to show an association between these and ulcers. Several other reports implicate Clostridium perfringens as a risk factor.
The mixed evidence on infection and abomasal ulcers doesn't mean bacteria aren't involved, but it does imply other factors are important in ulcer development. Some of the factors include trace mineral imbalances, hairballs and stress.
Trace mineral deficiencies such as copper and selenium have been implicated in Nebraska and Wyoming. Copper has been shown to be involved in prostaglandin synthesis, and certain prostaglandins are very important in preserving the integrity of the inner lining of the abomasum.
In other species, including humans, stress has been shown to have a role in the development of ulcers. It's difficult to appreciate the role of stress in suckling calves on pasture, but anecdotally it appears that rapidly growing calves on lush pasture with high milk intakes are more predisposed to abomasal ulcers and perhaps physiological stress is important.
Because the cause of this condition isn't completely known and few animals within a herd show symptoms or die from this condition, designing prevention strategies is difficult. A few recommendations can be made, but the effectiveness of any of these is questionable.
* Assess trace mineral supplementation, particularly copper. This might include assessing sulfur and molybdenum levels in the diet and water. Liver biopsy for copper in a percentage of animals may be necessary.
* Vaccinate young calves for clostridial infections, including Clostridium perfringens.
* Reduce stressors.
Until we take a large-scale, scientific approach to this condition, it's unlikely we will advance much beyond where we have come in the last 72 years - vague recommendations based on theory and continued frustration.
Louis Perino, DVM, PhD, is a professor of immunology, health and management at West Texas A&M University in Canyon. Gerald Stokka, DVM, MS, is an associate professor and Extension beef veterinarian at Kansas State University in Manhattan.
For cow/calf producers, a first-calf heifer can be a real headache. Even if she makes it through calving without a hitch, rebreeding for the next season usually isn't easy.
To top it off, a first-calf heifer is critical to the beef cattle operation. She doesn't just replace an older cow; she represents the future genetics of the operation. That means she can play a big part in its ultimate profitability.
In order to keep a first-calf heifer productive and in the herd, producers must understand that she faces some significant challenges that set her apart from other, more mature cows, says G. Cliff Lamb, Extension beef cattle specialist for the University of Minnesota.
While coping with the stress associated with her first birth and nursing a calf for the first time, a first-calf heifer must stay in favorable condition so that her uterus involutes and she resumes her estrous cycle. And, in order to produce offspring on a yearly basis, a first-calf heifer must establish pregnancy for a second time within 83 days, Lamb says.
All this must be overcome while she is only 85% of her mature weight, he adds.
Besides reproduction and nutrition, another challenge is dystocia (calving difficulty). Dystocia can interfere with a first-calf heifer's transition to a mature cow. It's also the most common reason a heifer doesn't make it into the herd later.
Dystocia negatively affects detection of estrus, conception rates and overall pregnancy rates, Lamb says.
A number of factors can influence the incidence of dystocia. These include the high birth weight of the dam, an excessively small pelvic area, the high birth weight of the bull and carrying a male calf, which tends to be larger than a female calf.
Producers who wait until calving to worry about these matters may be out of luck. However, those who give replacement/first-calf heifers a little extra attention during the breeding and pre-calving process likely can prepare heifers to avoid dystocia and uphold the operation's calving rate, Lamb says.
Lamb offers these guidelines for keeping replacement/first-calf heifers in the herd and in top condition.
* Feed replacement heifers to fulfill 65% of their mature weight by breeding time so they can satisfy reproductive needs later. First-calf heifers need energy for basal metabolism, activity, growth, energy reserves, pregnancy, lactation, estrous cycles and initiation of pregnancy.
* Have your veterinarian perform a prebreeding reproductive tract exam to determine which heifers are cycling; cull those that aren't.
* Identify heifers with small pelvic areas and breed them appropriately. Consider culling heifers with excessively small pelvic areas because they can require a costly C- section.
* Use estrous synchronization on replacement heifers for earlier breeding, and use it on first-calf heifers to initiate estrous cycles after calving and to reduce the incidence of short estrous cycles. (Estrous synchronization induces ovulation and gets rid of some of the guesswork in insemination timing.)
* Ensure that replacement heifers are bred to low birth weight Expected Progeny Difference (EPD) bulls. A producer can focus on selecting bulls for performance traits after the heifer has had her first calf. Low birth weight dams bred with a low birth weight bull have less difficulty, fewer C-sections and better calf vigor scores.
* Because first-calf heifers usually require a longer period of postpartum anestrus, consider breeding replacement heifers to calve two weeks before the mature cow herd. This head start will allow them special treatment during calving, and it will give them an extra 14 days to resume estrous cycling.
* Monitor and adjust the condition of replacement heifers so they calve at a body condition score of between 5 and 7. Scores in that range improve the likelihood of a heifer's cycling at the start of the breeding season. A lower body condition score reduces calf vigor. A higher body condition score wastes fuel, increases calving difficulty and reduces milk production. Feeding cows to gain condition after calving is too late.
* Reduce the length of the breeding season to 60 days or less. This increases the percentage of females cycling during the next breeding season and gives all cows a high probability for pregnancy at the start of the next breeding season. Culling late calving cows shortens the breeding season gradually.
* Separate first-calf heifers from mature cows when feeding so they don't have to compete for feed.
* As a last resort, let cows enter winter in good condition by weaning calves from first-calf heifers early (less than 200 days). But, carefully weigh the potential advantages of increased fertility against the potential disadvantages of reduced calf weaning weights and increased potential for calf diseases.
Keeping accurate records and maintaining good facilities also are important factors in a beef cattle operation's management of first-calf heifers, Lamb says.
Almost all animal industries utilize routine management procedures that cause pain. Procedures such as castration, tail docking, branding, dehorning and beak trimming all subject our food animals to, what we believe to be, short-term pain for long-term benefits.
There is little argument that the procedures are important. However, the controversy arises when we discuss how and when they should be carried out.
As a researcher, I do not believe we should be investigating the relative impact of dehorning techniques when we could easily render them all unnecessary. The least painful procedure and the one that causes the least setback in growth is to remove horns by genetically selecting for polledness.
In cattle, horns are inherited as an autosomal recessive gene, polledness being dominant. In one breeding season, a producer can take a herd of horned cows and breed them to a polled bull (homozygous for the polled condition1) and have an entire polled calf crop.
Why Worry About Horns? When horns are left on feedlot cattle, the amount of bruised trim from the carcasses has been reported to be twice that from an equivalent hornless group. The industry's desire to produce a consistently high quality product is compromised by allowing cattle to enter our feedlots with horns.
If we dehorn cattle upon arrival at the feedlot, studies have shown the setback in gain can be detected for up to 106 days post dehorning. The bruising and dehorning studies suggest that horns should be removed sometime before cattle reach the feedlot.
Even for breeding stock, keeping horns on cattle comes at a price. If cattle have horns, it makes every competitive encounter at the feed bunk, hay bale, shade tree, water trough, etc., potentially more dangerous.
Some producers tell me they prefer certain horned breeds because they are superior to their polled counterparts.
In 1996, Dr. Laki Goonewardene from Alberta and I collaborated on a project to compare the performance records of horned and polled Charolais and Hereford bulls. The bulls were kept at two test stations, one in Alberta and one in Saskatchewan from 1985-1993. We had access to the performance records of 578 Charolais bulls (329 horned and 249 polled) and 1,860 Hereford bulls (1,182 horned and 678 polled).
As shown in Table 1, we found very little difference between the horned and polled bulls in the traits that were measured. The polled Charolais bulls did carry significantly more backfat than their horned counterparts, but they were not different in average daily gain, adjusted yearling weight or in scrotal circumference.
The polled Hereford bulls in Saskatchewan had a significantly higher average daily gain compared to the horned bulls and tended to be larger yearlings. Polled Hereford bulls in Alberta also tended to have a greater average daily gain, but the difference was not considered significant.
Our findings were similar to other studies. Research by Lange in 1989 found no difference between polled and horned German Simmental cattle in growth, carcass yield, carcass composition, health and reproductive performance.
Work reported by Frisch and coworkers from Australia in 1980 - comparing various beef breeds - showed no difference between horned and polled crossbred lines in live weight, fertility and mortality rates.
Another encouraging finding was that the ratio of polled bulls at each Canadian test station over the time period had gradually increased as the number of horned bulls decreased. In other words, good polled bulls are becoming more readily available.
Historically, polled beef bulls may have been inferior, but there is no evidence that overall differences still exist today. Dehorning beef cattle via genetics is a welfare friendly practice that everyone in the industry should embrace and support.
Joseph Stookey is an associate professor at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan. Contact him at email@example.com.
1Homozygous for the polled condition refers to a bull carrying two copies of the polled gene. Because the polled condition is a dominant trait, some polled bulls can be heterozygous and carry one copy of the polled gene and one copy of the horned gene. Heterozygous polled bulls will on average pass on the horned gene to half of their progeny. If horned cows were mated to a polled bull with the heterozygous condition, on average we would expect 50% of the calves to be horned. Scurs, which are horn-like, are controlled by a different set of genes and can occur on polled bulls.
Consumption, contamination and crud. All these profit-robbing attributes accompany every pest that makes a feedyard its home. Whether it's birds, rats, mice, skunks or even coyotes, each species brings its own challenges when it comes to control.
Charles Lee, Extension wildlife specialist with Kansas State University, says birds make up the majority of complaints his department receives.
"Most problems seem to be in central and eastern parts of the state, although birds are starting to concentrate in western Kansas as well," Lee says. "Most of them are starlings, redwinged blackbirds and cowbirds, among others. They're slow migratory birds that move north to south depending on the season."
That migratory pattern may be almost unnoticeable at the feedyard because as one group of birds moves out, another kind flies in with about the same number in the flock.
Birds aren't cheap. Besides the potential coccidiosis risks, contaminating facilities with feces, plus the public relations problems they cause, they eat a lot of feed.
"Several studies document that each bird consumes about a pound of feed per month from bunks," Lee says. "In total, they consume about two pounds but they pick up the rest from waste grain and manure. If there are 300,000 birds present - which isn't uncommon - that's 150 tons of feed eaten by birds in just 30 days."
The Texas Cattle Feeders Association estimates a ration on an as-fed basis runs in the vicinity of $140/ton. Multiply that by the amount of feed birds consume and the monthly feathered feed bill easily hits $21,000 and up.
That's only the feed lost to consumption. You also can tally in a higher disease risk and the time spent cleaning water tanks and other equipment.
"Following an integrated pest management program is one of the best ways to reduce bird exposure," Lee says. "If possible, feed early in the evening or late at night when the birds aren't in the feedlot. Continually having feed available attracts them.
"You can also try using half-inch or larger pellets if your nutritionist recommends it. Birds can't eat pellets that big, which are the costliest part of the ration."
Rats And Mice Also A Problem Rats and mice follow birds as nuisances. Lee says rats will consume about 30 lbs. of feed a year. However, they can contaminate 10 times that amount with urine and feces. While that doesn't negate the feed from being used, they can carry typhus, lepto and salmonella among other maladies.
"Rodent control equals population reduction," Lee says. "You can't eliminate the pests because you can't eliminate their food supply. You can reduce it, though. If you're having rodent problems in buildings with bagged or pelleted feed, keep it up on pallets and clean up spilled feed.
"Plus, find a bait that works and one they'll eat. Use bait stations and keep the lids on them to keep out dogs, cats and kids."
Pesky Critters Coyotes and skunks primarily fit into a nuisance category and generally can be kept in check by following good sanitation practices.
"Coyotes may feed on dead piles or steal from sick pens," Lee says. "Prompt removal of dead livestock keeps the problem under control.
"Skunks will feed on rodents if they're readily available, but they're less of a problem if the rodent population is under control."
Access to pest control information is readily available from state Extension services, associations and some lobbying groups. Lee advises feedyard management to dedicate the time to train the right people. Applicators' permits are required for some pesticides, so training is critical.
"Whatever you do, don't try home remedies," he says. "Make sure the product you're using is registered for the specific application. Follow the label directions. If the instructions state to 'pick up the dead rats,' do it. Also, be sure rodenticide containers are disposed of properly."
By starting early, maintaining safety standards, using a qualified applicator and realizing pest control is an ongoing effort, Lee says you'll achieve greater success with a pest control plan. And, it's not likely to cost $21,000 a month.
Additional feedyard pest control information is available online at: www.oznet.ksu.edu/library/wldlf2/welcome.htm www.okstate.edu/ag/agedcm4h/pearl/pesticid/pesticid.htm.
In 1912, Scottish immigrant William Hendry bought 160 acres in central Wyoming. Over the next nine decades, Hendry and his heirs bought up more than a dozen neighboring spreads and gradually turned their tiny operation into the 150,000-acre Clear Creek Ranch, one of the larger cow-calf operations in Wyoming.
Could anybody do that today? Probably not unless you're someone like media mogul Ted Turner. The business of buying land has become a complex undertaking fraught with risk. Land prices have soared while ranch profit margins have shrunk, leaving less money to buy ever more costly land.
Still, you can't run a ranch without land. The trick is to buy the right land at the right time at the right price, which is easier said than done. Ranchers still talk about the fallout of the 1980s, when both beef and land prices crashed and thousands of ranches failed.
Fortunately, experts have come up with land buying rules to keep ranchers out of trouble. While the rules aren't foolproof, they can help avoid some of the worst ills that go with buying land. Here are some of the basics:
* Know where you stand financially before adding more land. If you don't, you won't know whether you can afford more land. This rule involves paperwork, first-rate accounting and attention to small financial details. Unfortunately, many ranchers would rather spend time working with cattle than balancing books. "They don't like to do it," says Harlan Hughes, Extension livestock economist at North Dakota State University.
"Farmers and ranchers are lacking the financial records to get the signals that they are starting to deteriorate. They expect the banker to tell them when they are in trouble," says Hughes. When the banker finally does call, it's often to foreclose.
* Don't overpay. If you do, you won't make money raising cattle. Harlan Ritchie, professor of animal science at Michigan State University, says buyers should pay no more than $2,000 per cow-calf unit. To see where your potential purchase meets this guideline, divide the asking price for a piece of land by its carrying capacity - the number of cows that tract will sustain.
Be sure to estimate the carrying capacity conservatively. Land will, for example, sustain more cattle in an abnormally wet year. "Estimate what you think the land would carry in a dry year," Ritchie says.
* Know what you're buying. Soil conditions, vegetation and rainfall can vary dramatically, especially in the mountainous West.
"On one side of a mountain, you may get more rain than on the other side, even though the elevation is the same," says Ken Sanders, professor of range resources at the University of Idaho.
Sanders says buyers should personally inspect as much of a potential purchase as they can. He also suggests a visit to the Natural Resources Conservation Service for additional information on soil conditions, rainfall and other data.
* Don't forget the cattle cycle. "Ranchers say 'I can make the payment,' and they probably can with calf prices at $1 a pound," says Hughes. "But when prices dip into the $50s and $60s, it gets to be tough. Once they miss a payment, the whole thing can snowball pretty fast."
Don't Depend On Your Banker You may think your bank will keep you from buying land you can't afford. Think again.
"You can't depend on bankers to keep you out of trouble," says Hughes. "Nor should you."
John Hay, president of Rock Springs National Bank in Rock Springs, WY, concurs. "Realistically, you are better to depend on yourself. You need to stay on top of your finances like any other business person, and keep your debt service in line with what income you have. The responsibility is indeed on the borrower."
Banks, after all, are in the business of loaning money, not running ranches. Of course, they try to head off bad loans, but sometimes they don't. Lending institutions made numerous loans for high-priced ranch land in the early 1980s, only to watch many of the those loans go sour when beef and land prices collapsed later in the decade. When the crash came, many ranchers lost their spreads while lenders suffered big losses on ranch loans.
"The bankers are going to look at the cash flow," says Hughes. "When you talk to them when beef prices are at $1 per pound, they will be more likely to make the loan. They tend to use current prices to make a decision and tend not to look at the cattle cycle."
If you're determined to go ahead, you may be in for a rude awakening. Land buyers from outside the ranching business have inflated ranch prices. The problem is perhaps worse in the West, where wealthy industrialists are paying a premium for the scenery.
"Bona fide ranchers cannot afford to buy land any more," says Wyoming rancher Rob Hendry, co-owner of the Clear Creek Ranch.
A case in point: the asking price for one scenic Wyoming ranch with 105,000 acres exceeds $25 million. No one could make money running cattle at that price.
If your region boasts similar prices, you may need a new land strategy. It goes like this. If you buy, pay cash if at all possible. If you can't afford much land, buy acreage that will enhance your operation, such as a tract that connects sites you already own. Finally, get more productivity out of the land you own. New grazing methods allow ranchers to run substantially more cattle without damaging the land. This method avoids new debt and boosts profits.
"The quickest way to cut costs is to increase the productivity of the resources you've already got," says Hughes.
Intensive grazing plans are one way to do this. But there are many others. "You've got to use the program that suits your range," says Hendry.
At his Clear Creek Ranch, for example, cattle graze each pasture only once each year. "We use some pastures in the spring, some in the fall and some in the summer," said Hendry. "We bring the cows home and feed them hay in the winter."
"We're in the country with six to twelve inches of rainfall," he said. "You graze it once, and it's not going to grow back for a year." The system has allowed Clear Creek to increase its cattle count by more than 25% in the last decade.
When you buy more land, there are a lot of ways to lose it. Failing to account for the cattle cycle is the most obvious. But there are others.
Take, for example, equipment. As you're paying for your new land, at some point you'll also face major expenses for trucks, hay balers or other equipment. If you're lucky, you'll just get stuck with major repairs. If you're not, you may be forced to buy new or used equipment.
The dangers are especially great for hybrid operations that combine cow/calf ranching with either farming or feeding operations. Both farming and feeding entail major equipment outlays. The danger is that you may be caught between a rock and a hard place, able to pay either for farming or feedlot equipment costs, or to pay for the mortgage, but not both.
To avoid this crunch, factor in the age and condition of equipment and a conservative estimate of replacement or major repair costs.
Health costs represent another pitfall. Some ranchers go without health insurance. If they get sick or hurt, they must pay the bills out of pocket. That could pull cash from the mortgage account and sink the ranch.
Many other ranchers carry health insurance with a high deductible - $2500 and up. No one expects to get hurt or get sick, but if you do, will you have the cash to pay the deductible and the new mortgage?
"My guess is that there are a number of things out there that can affect cash flow," says John Hay, president of Rock Springs National Bank, Rock Springs, WY. "You can have machinery breakdown. You can have a difficult winter (extra feed costs.) You can have a drought."
"Health insurance is certainly part of that. If you have a high deductible or no insurance, you may have potential problems down the road. Sooner or later, we all become sick or can be injured."
Perhaps the safest way to go is expect the worst and hope for the best. That means be prepared for a scenario that includes falling beef prices, a land price collapse, a new feed mill and a stay at the hospital.
How should you pick your next bull? Should you use EPDs? Look at a pedigree?
I think the selection process starts before any of that. First, you have to do the hardest thing of all - set goals for your operation and prioritize the traits that you need.
Which of these traits are on your list?
* Calving Ease
* Growth rate to weaning/yearling
* Daughter's milk
* Fertility and or fleshing ability
* Hybrid vigor (will the bull create this when crossed on my cows)
* Carcass yield
* Carcass quality.
All these traits seem worthwhile, but it's nearly impossible in life to get everything you want. Frankly, the perfect bull doesn't exist, and if he did none of us could afford him.
With that in mind, I suggest picking just three traits from this list to emphasize in your selection process. Pick them based on what your operation needs most. Take into account your cowherd, your marketing strategy and your management program. Now, you're ready to get into the selection process.
Here Are My Five Steps * First, pick the breed or composite that best fits the three genetic selection goals you determined. You can use research data from USDA's Meat Animal Research Center to compare the breeds for nearly any trait you can imagine. Keep in mind that at this stage of the game you're just sorting out breed strengths, identifying those that can do the job you have defined with your goals.
As an example, if one of your selection goals is increased marbling as an indicator of carcass quality, then don't pick a Continental breed for your bull selection. While some Continental breeds offer more than others do, across their populations they won't allow you to progress as rapidly as using a British breed.
Likewise, if hybrid vigor is on your list - and it had better be if you want to be a low-cost producer - then pick a breed of bulls that is unrelated to your cows, or use hybrid or composite bulls.
* Second, you need to need to sort out the breeders you will consider as suppliers of your genetics. Why pick a breeder? Most often, you will end up buying the average of what a breeder raises. So, if you don't like a breeder's total program and direction, then don't go there to buy a bull.
You might find an outlier in a herd that doesn't match all your criteria, but it will probably breed more like herd average. And, pick more than one breeder so you can do some comparison-shopping.
* Third, look at EPDs. Start with the EPDs that most affect the traits you picked, but be careful because more is not always better. For instance, maintaining maintenance costs and reproductive efficiency with the resources of your operation might mean that selecting a bull with a breed-average milk EPD might be all that you need. In another breed, getting the same kind of production might demand a milk EPD above or below breed average.
Another example is growth. Too much growth can yield excessive carcass weights and your replacement females could eat you out of house and home. If you want to emphasize a trait, set a minimum level that's above the average for the breed, if your resources can handle it. But your best bet is to stay away from extremes.
* Fourth, get a catalog in advance of the sale. Highlight the bulls that fit your criteria for the three traits you selected. If the resulting list includes fewer than 10% of the bulls in the catalog or fewer than four times as many bulls as you want to buy, then you either picked the wrong breeder or your criteria are too strict. Loosen your criteria or pick a different breeder and start again.
* Finally, go to the sale. Spend your time just looking at the bulls on your list. Be sure to study each bull more than once - that first encounter can be deceiving.
Whatever you do, try to see the bulls at least once before they come through the ring. Eliminate bulls that have structural problems. Again, if you picked the right breeder you should not find any of these.
Try to avoid the temptation of adding bulls to your list just because they look good but don't fit your primary selection goals.
Now, with all of your homework done, relax and enjoy the auction until your bulls come through the ring.
Lee Leachman, his father James and brother Seth own and operate Leachman Cattle Co., Billings, MT. For more information about Leachman Cattle Co., call 406-254-2666; www.leachman.com.
Jerk the slack on internal parasites in a cow herd, and you could pocket another $20/head each year, easy. Take the see-no-evil, do-no-evil management path, though, and those same parasites can cost you more weight and reproductive efficiency than genetics are gaining.
"I think the actual losses from parasites are underestimated by most producers. Even some well-managed operations suffer more losses due to parasites than they need to," says Lou Gasbarre, an immunologist with USDA's Agricultural Research Service facility in Beltsville, MD.
"There is no way to put an accurate number on an individual, but if you look at an average figure across the American cattle industry, realizing in some herds it will be overestimated and underestimated in others, I think $20-40 per head per year is a reasonable number."
According to Gasbarre, Ostertagia ostertagi (round stomach worm) - the most common internal cattle parasite in the U.S. - is the primary culprit. The lion's share of economic loss stems from appetite suppression, which hinders gain and cost of gain, as well as potential suppression of the animal's immune system, which makes them more susceptible to other health challenges.
Even though controlling the parasite comes at a price, Gasbarre explains the benefit usually runs well ahead of cost.
"If you look at research trials, you'll find everything on the gain spectrum from huge weight gains in cattle treated with one product or another, to cattle treated for parasites weighing less at the end of the trial than cattle that received no treatment," says Gasbarre. "But, I think a good average figure to use for return is 10-20 lbs. of weight gain by weaning time."
Alvin Loyacano is a Louisiana State University (LSU) animal science professor at the Dean Lee Research Station in Alexandria. He says even when weight gain points to apparent control of internal parasites, its presence can disrupt metabolism enough to alter the reproductive performance of young breeding stock.
Increasing Reproductive Potential Until now, rule-of-thumb logic reckoned that parasite-based reproductive challenges were the result of the lower weights and body condition score (BCS) caused by parasites. But, an LSU research project that Loyacano began in 1993 indicates parasites may be robbing reproductive potential in other ways.
In a nutshell, Loyacano began the project with 84 females and has added another 96 heifers to it every year since. Each set of heifers is divided into four groups of equal numbers: a control group left untreated for internal parasites; one treated for Ostertagia ostertagi only; one treated for liver flukes only; and the last group is treated for both stomach worms and liver flukes.
As most producers would suspect, the heifers treated for worms gained significantly more weight and had significantly higher BCS than the control group. Those treated for flukes alone outpaced the control group, but not by as much. And the group treated for both worms and flukes posted the highest performance of any (Table 1).
What is surprising folks, however, is that significant weight and BCS gains yielded by the control of stomach worms is not significantly improving subsequent pregnancy rates, at least from a statistical standpoint. Controlling liver flukes has not served up significant gains in weight and BCS, but it is improving pregnancy rates substantially.
"That tells me that liver flukes directly have an impact on pregnancy rates," says Loyacano.
So far, 67% of the heifers treated for liver flukes only remain in the breeding herd after weaning their first calf, compared to 53% of the control group and 63% of the females treated only for worms. Although 78% of the females treated for both internal parasites remain in the herd after weaning the first calf, controlling liver flukes seems to offer the single most powerful tool to increase reproductive potential.
Loyacano explains females treated for both parasites have returned an average of $555 through first calf weaning, compared to $507 for the control group.
No one is sure exactly how liver flukes hinder reproduction, but Loyacano suspects it has to do with a disruption of hormonal balance and normal metabolism. A recent Spanish study underscores that theory.
In the study, heifers infected with liver flukes reached puberty 39 days later than heifers not infected with flukes. Researchers believe the delay is the result of infected heifers being unable to metabolize estrogen normally. Keep in mind that liver flukes are cropping up in places folks don't normally expect to find them. Although they have long been endemic in the Southeast, South and Northwest, the species of mud snail - necessary for the liver fluke's life cycle - and flukes are showing up in places like Nebraska, too.
Loyacano explains liver flukes can flourish where snails are present and soil temperatures are 50-90 degrees F.
The Potential Of Parasite Control For all of the losses associated with internal parasites, however, Gasbarre says if most producers think of parasite management at all, they think in terms of products and tradition rather than a specific control strategy.
As an example, according to the National Animal Health Monitoring Service (NAHMS) 1997 beef study, almost 75% of beef producers reported deworming their cattle. But, well over half did so based on tradition rather than laboratory testing or animal health assessment.
Plus, Loyacano points out, "If producers have treated for parasites, they have usually done so on a least-cost basis." That means producers are using what's cheap, not necessarily what is the right product for the right parasite at the right time for the right length of time.
"The best parasite control is not waiting to treat animals until they are sick, but keeping parasite numbers from building up in the pasture," says Gasbarre. "I believe the best programs are the ones that have some sort of early-season treatment."
What's more, Gasbarre explains, the most effective programs are built around knowing which specific parasites exist in the environment.
Moreover, effective control demands understanding the environment. Loyacano points out in his neck of the woods parasite season lasts all year long, typically making mid-summer the best time to attack worms and September the best shot at flukes.
In other words, since parasite loads vary from herd to herd and from pasture to pasture, it's impossible for any animal health professional to offer producers a one-size-fits-all solution. But, Gasbarre says, producers can make some rational assumptions that can help them establish a control strategy.
* First, Gasbarre explains, "Parasites succeed by taking advantage of the conditions most optimum for forage growth." In other words, the more forage you have, the greater the risk of internal parasites.
Likewise, the heavier the stocking rate, the greater the risk. Consequently, operations maximizing range resources with intense management likely face more parasite challenges than the one that expects 20 head to make a living on a section of cactus and rocks.
* Next, parasite control is just that. "Eradication of parasites is not only impractical and probably impossible, it's not desirable, either," says Gasbarre. He explains exposure to parasites allows parasite-naive calves to develop immunity as they mature.
So, the trick is to keep parasite loads low enough to avoid economic losses, while allowing cattle enough exposure to develop immunity.
* Finally, the more a producer puts into parasite control up front, the greater the anticipated returns. In this case, more exacting control of internal parasites requires understanding the specifics of a given situation.
"The only way I can tell for sure if my cattle are infected is to do a fecal egg count," says Loyacano. However, he cautions producers that, while fecal egg counts will identify specific parasites, the counts say nothing about the infection rate of individuals or herds.
Some Control Tips Really, Gasbarre believes producers can step up to more efficient parasite control fairly simply. "It takes producers setting a schedule where they will treat early in the season first, then keep a careful eye on the environmental conditions," says Gasbarre. The more forage-friendly the weather is, the more parasite-friendly it is.
Along the way, he encourages producers to take advantage of the scientific expertise available to them through local and state Extension veterinarians and government animal health professionals such as himself.
Most important, Gasbarre explains, "No one knows their own animals like a producer does. As a producer, if you look at an animal you know is on a good nutritional plane but they aren't doing as good as you know they should be, the first thing that should go through your mind is parasites."
With that in mind, he says just comparing the performance of calves under a specific parasite control strategy this year to performance last year should offer producers a guide to how much their parasite control is helping or hurting their herds' efficiency.
Bottom line, increasing gain and reproductive potential through parasite control requires understanding potential parasite impact even when performance seems to be on track.
"The best parasite control is the producer working with someone who understands the biology of the parasite and can point to potential control schemes," says Gasbarre. "The biggest thing is developing a plan, staying with it, then modifying it to meet the individual needs of the operation."
Few branded beef programs today can boast that almost 85% of the cattle that meet their live animal specifications will also meet the program's targets for carcass specifications. The Certified Hereford Beef(r) (CHB) program can make that claim.
Unlike many of the branded beef programs that only chase a premium Choice or ultra lean product, CHB allows the broadest carcass specifications in the industry. They seek carcasses with a:
* Quality Grade of Select or higher,
* Yield Grade 3 or leaner, and
* Carcass weight of 600-950 lbs.
The only live animal criteria are that animals be Hereford or Hereford-English crossbred steers and heifers.
Rob Ames, the American Hereford Association's (AHA) head of product marketing for CHB, says the program was designed with those specifications based on Colorado State University (CSU) research. That research has consistently shown that both Select and Choice Hereford beef have superior eating qualities compared to commodity beef.
In the CSU study, blended Choice and Select steaks from Hereford and Hereford-British crossbred cattle were rated more juicy and flavorful than commodity Choice and Select steaks; and, on average, equivalent to Choice, and superior to Select, in tenderness and overall palatability.
More importantly, Ames says, the Hereford steaks performed more consistently in all quality attributes and were 50% less likely to register a "tough" shear force than were commodity Choice or Select steaks.
Based on those findings, the CHB program was set up to include Select carcasses in order to "take full advantage of the eating qualities of Hereford beef," Ames says. The result has been a lean, attractive product in the meat case with the taste and tenderness consumers want, he adds.
Beef industry retailers and consumers seem to agree. Since the AHA implemented CHB in 1995, the American Tasting Institute has named CHB America's Best Restaurant Beef for three consecutive years.
Those approval ratings are helping the CHB program grow. Last year, 45,000 head went through the program. This year, with increased demand from retailers and increased production - CHB recently added two new licensed packers - the hope is to increase that to 65,000-70,000 head, Ames says.
Steps Toward Growth One of the Hereford breeds biggest steps toward growing the CHB program has been the recent addition of two new packerslicensed to produce CHB products.
This winter, Greater Omaha Packing Co., of Omaha, NE, and Washington Beef, Inc., of Toppenish, WA, became the second and third packers licensed to produce CHB for program retailers, distributors and exporters. Until November of 1999, Red Oak Farms, a Red Oak, IA-based company, was CHB's only licensed packer.
Greater Omaha is now processing 900 to 1,110 head/week for the CHB program. Washington Beef should be in production sometime this summer.
With three packers, CHB joins the Certified Angus Beef (CAB) program as the only two branded beef labels with multiple packers. Ames says that distinction gives the CHB brand and producers added opportunities.
With most CHB retail business presently in the Midwest, the packer expansion exposes the program to a broader mix of potential customers - especially to the West, Ames says.
And, the AHA's alliance with more packers is also aimed at helping create marketing opportunities for producers and feeders, says Jim Williams, director of feedlot operations for the AHA. Williams works with feedlots and producers in maintaining an inventory of CHB cattle to packers.
"With more packers, we're providing more marketing options for producers," Williams says. Currently, the three CHB packers buy cattle on a grid basis or on a weekly market basis, he reports.
Because the prices for CHB cattle are packer dependent, Ames says more packers competing for Hereford cattle means more competition for the cattle. "We hope that is reflected in the price paid back to the producer," Ames says.
Working with multiple packers also creates opportunities for producers to align with additional branded programs that utilize high quality, British breed genetics, Ames says.
"There's an expanded realization that English cattle have an enviable place in the market," Ames says. "As the market becomes less grade oriented, the Hereford breed's goal is to help producers find opportunities to maximize value."
"With two new packers we now have channels to send Hereford genetics to other programs," he says.
For example, in addition to CHB, Washington Beef already markets English cattle through their "Washington Beef" branded label as well as produces beef for a half dozen other branded programs; Red Oak Farms has a Premium Hereford label; and Greater Omaha also produces CAB.
For commercial, black baldy producers, Williams points out that in the cooler those cattle could be eligible for both CAB or CHB.
In short, being eligible for more branded programs can get more dollars back to producers with the kind of cattle they like to run, Williams says.
"CHB is complementing - not trying to compete - with premium Choice programs," Ames says.
He adds that because the CHB program includes Select carcasses, Hereford producers receive premium prices on more of their cattle.
"The program is a huge benefit to producers because rather than try to tack a premium to a small percentage of animals that only grade high Choice, CHB is after added value on a bulk of the cattle," Ames says.
Given the $10-12 price spread that can exist between Choice and Select carcasses, Ames says spreading a small premium across the majority of the cattle helps producers come out money ahead.
Because of CHB's broad carcass criteria, Ames says, "The advantage producers have with CHB is that as demand grows they can meet CHB specifications with 80-95% of their cattle."
A Producer's Perspective On the producer end, Jake and Joan Harder can testify that the CHB program has been a success for the Hereford breed and for returning dollars to producers.
The Harders ranch in the Channeled Scablands of eastern Washington where they run 650 head of Hereford and Hereford/Angus cross cows near Ritzville. They've been involved with the CHB program since its inception when they sent 30 head of calf feds to Colorado to participate in the second wave of the CSU research.
"It sure looked good to us. Our cattle really shined. We learned that Hereford cattle are a whole lot better than those guys sitting on the bench in the sale yards were telling us," Jake says. "We found we can make money witho ut chasing the Choice grade. That gives us some versatility."
The Harders have used a variety of marketing venues, Jake says, each of which takes advantage of their Hereford genetics. "We'll do everything - weaned calves, backgrounded calves, yearlings, to cattle on the hook," Jake says. "Whatever works and whatever is right at the time, we'll do it."
Most recently, he says, their cattle have been sold as grass cattle to Babbitt Ranches in Arizona, destined for the CHB program. He's particularly happy with Washington Beef's entry into the CHB market as a licensed packer.
"CHB has been a good program for us. The only problem is that up until now, it's been 1,400 miles away. Now, with Washington Beef in our backyard, it's more convenient and a lot better on freight," Jake says.
Jake can't put a finger on an exact bottom-line advantage to their participation in CHB, but he feels his cattle are more in demand. Certainly, he adds, replacement heifers are much easier to sell.
Dewayne Lewis, owner of Lewis Feedlot, a 15,000-head, one-time capacity lot at Kearney, NE, also favors the Hereford breed. Lewis has been marketing cattle through the CHB program since it was started five years ago.
Lewis says he feeds mostly Hereford cattle because they're fast gaining, efficient and produce a desirable end-product. He says because of those attributes, he sees demand for the product - and for Hereford cattle - growing.
"Feeders have realized the biggest profit driver in feeding cattle is feed efficiency, and Hereford cattle convert as good or better than any other breed in the feedlot," the AHA's Williams adds.
Like most branded beef programs, CHB has their eye on expansion in the future.
"Ultimately, we'd like to expand with a packer to the Southern Plains and the East Coast," Ames says. But for now, CHB will concentrate on getting their two new packers fully operational.
Ames says they'll also continue to work on growing the retail market for CHB. They will announce a new retailer this month.
"We'll lead in the retail meat case because the CHB brand is appealing and it's not expensive," Ames says. He calls it the economical choice.
"Five years ago the retailers idea of a branded beef product was you had to pay more for it and you had to have top Choice quality. We've shown retailers you can be in a competitive yield situation. We like to position CHB as the market-friendly, retail-friendly brand," Ames says.
For more information on Certified Hereford Beef, contact the American Hereford Association at 816/842-3757.
Producers interested in marketing through the Certified Hereford Beef(r) (CHB) program can work with any feedyard in the U.S.
The CHB program has no formal licensing of feedlots, but does require that feeders place cattle on inventory with the AHA prior to harvesting. Certain CHB packers also require that cattle be feed a 51% corn-based ration as well as a minimum of 50,000 IUs of Vitamin E during the feeding period. (Vitamin E is fed to extend the shelf-life of the product).
If producers want individual carcass information back, packers charge about $5/head. Producers also have the option of retaining ownership.
For a producer that's not interested in retaining ownership or feeding his own cattle, there are still opportunities to market to the CHB program, says Jim Williams, the Hereford Association's director of feedlot operations.
"Feeders are familiar with CHB and are looking for these type of cattle," he says. So producers can market directly to a feedlot or through regular livestock auctions.
Another option is the breed's special Hereford-influenced feeder calf sales, Williams says. This spring is the fifth year for these special-sponsored sales. More than 70 are scheduled.
Williams says from the sales conducted this spring, the AHA has reported an increase in demand for quality Hereford-cross feeder cattle resulting in those kind of cattle bringing market price or above.
"We've had tremendous participation from seedstock producers in providing more marketing options to their customers through these sales. We've seen an increase in demand for these cattle, and a good percentage of them end up in the CHB program," says Williams.
"It's another way for marketing Herefords or black or red baldys and being involved in the CHB program," Williams adds.