U.S. Allows Animal Feed Irradiation for Safety


Technology Tools Boost Range Monitoring

New tools on the market are lending a technological twist to the sometimes tedious task of monitoring range condition.

"Technology tools can be really helpful if you know how to use them," says Colorado State University range scientist Roy Roath. But he adds that their use hinges on each producer's needs.

While they’re not essential for the job, these tools can help make range monitoring faster (and even fun). Here’s a look at what’s available:

Go Digital. For folks who use photography for comparison purposes, digital cameras offer a quick and efficient way to monitor rangelands. These gadgets are as easy to use as a regular camera and are becoming more economical ($200-500). Best of all, digital photos allow images to be instantly labeled and stored on disk.

Mapping Gizmos. Global positioning systems (GPS) are also becoming more economical. These hand-held mapping units can be especially useful in marking photo points or transect lines that you want to return to annually. Or, use them for logging locations that are weed infested or being monitored for range improvements.

Computer Calculations. Computer software is now being designed especially for range monitoring or assessments. But, to be effective, most programs require some data from the field.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) ration-balancing program called Nutritional Balancer (NUTBAL) helps producers track animal performance and assess forage quality by monitoring what the animal is eating. (It’s available through your local NRCS office.)

Fecal samples are analyzed to predict dietary crude protein and digestible organic matter.

Once a producer has the dietary data, it can be added to herd information, pasture conditions, weather and other feed management data provided by the producer. The NUTBAL computer program can then predict animal performance, allowing the producer to make adjustments in pasture rotations or feed supplements.

If it’s weed control or pasture improvements you want to track, the AUM Analyzer is for you. This computer program, developed by Montana State University and Dow AgroSciences, helps determine the economic benefits of controlling rangeland weeds or brush on pastures.

But again, you’ll need to do some groundwork. If you provide weights of grasses clipped in treated and untreated areas, the AUM Analyzer compares forage production and stocking rate between those areas. It converts forage data into the number of animals the pasture can support with or without control. You can then compare the value of weed control to expected returns from increased production.

For a copy of the AUM Analyzer CD program, contact Dow AgroSciences at 800/263-1196, fax: 800/905-7326 or e-mail info@dowagro.com. Visit www.dowagro.com/theranch for more information.

How BSE Went Mad


The first event in Britain that led to the development of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in British cattle began around 1980. That’s when the British government forced the heat-digestion processors of offal to discontinue the use of trichloroethylene as a fat solvent in the rendering process. The source of this offal was slaughtering plants and animals that had died of various causes – including sheep with scrapie.

The reason for the discontinuance was that trichlorethylene irritated the eyes and upper respiratory tract of the workers in the plants. Little effort was made to find another solvent, however, because the value of fat had dropped drastically due to a drop in demand by the soap industry.

Trichloroethylene had been used for many years in Britain to extract the fat from animal residues, which includes meat meal, meat scraps, tankage and bone meal. During this time, there hadn’t been any problems with cattle developing the central nervous system changes characteristic of BSE.

20/20 Hindsight

In retrospect, it appears it was trichloroethylene that was destroying the prions, the acronym for the proteinaceious infectious particles of sheep scrapie. These prions were in the offal of slaughtered sheep and sheep that had died of scrapie.

(Incidentally, trichloroethylene was used to extract the oil from soybeans in the U.S. in the early 1950s. It was discontinued, however, because the residue that adhered to the meal destroyed the blood forming cells of the bone marrow in ruminants.

If sufficient heat were used to vaporize the remaining trichloroethylene, the result was the destruction of the soybean protein. With animal residues, sufficient heat was used in the processing to vaporize the remaining trichloroethylene.)

When trichloroethylene was removed, uneasy British regulatory officials suspected the compound could be destroying the scrapie prions since Britain had a relatively high number of sheep flocks with scrapie. They knew scrapie had been transmitted to mink being fed sheep offal infected with scrapie and that scrapie had been transmitted to other sheep by injections of infected brains.

They also knew that infected brains and spinal cords subjected to autoclaving, which is 250?F for 15 minutes at 15 lbs. of pressure, remained infectious when injected into sheep and had produced the clinical signs and lesions of scrapie.

To compensate for the possible prion destruction by trichloroethylene and the heat resistance of the prions, the British regulatory officials decided to increase the temperature to which the animal residues were subjected in the processing plants. What happened was that the additional heat made the animal residues containing the prions of sheep scrapie more infectious. It probably did this by freeing the prions from the sheep tissues in the heat-digesting process and providing more available prions to the cattle.

After the first few cattle developed the clinical signs and lesions of scrapie in Britain in the late 1980s, but before the British or the continental European public was told of the seriousness, word was leaked to the processors of animal residue that the use of their product for cattle and sheep would be discontinued. To minimize economic loss, the processors immediately shipped and sold most the product they had on hand to continental Europe, namely France, Belgium, Netherlands and Germany, British veterinarians told me.

I was told by British veterinarians after this occurred that within 15 years these countries also would have BSE. It’s a prophecy that has come true.

The British Problem Erupts

When the first cattle in Britain developed BSE, the regulatory officials knew they had a gigantic problem. Their policy was to keep it quiet, hoping it would go away.

Several veterinarians told me the ban on the sale of meat and bone meal derived from ruminant offal imposed in 1988 was only minimally enforced until 1996. This, they said, was due to the prevailing anti-regulatory philosophy of Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister at that time.

In 1990, British veterinarians were in the U.S. hoping to find the disease. They had no luck. The only other country where they found the disease was in Saudi Arabia in several cows purchased previously from Britain.

The toll on the British livestock industry has been disastrous. Britain has some of the best beef cattle in the world, and many countries depended upon it as a source of breeding stock.

With the development of the human variant disease of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) in the mid-1990s, supposedly from the eating of meat from BSE-infected cattle, a new wall of secrecy has been established, various news organizations report.

The effects of BSE now extend to other countries. BSE has increased the concerns of Europeans and Asians toward genetically modified crops, and toward U.S. beef from cattle given hormones of plant origin to increase their rate of gain. It’s also undermined the trust among EU member nations.

Scrapie Is Endemic

Scrapie has been around for centuries. It’s endemic in the sheep of many countries, including Britain and the U.S.

The first case of scrapie on Earth probably was the result of a mutation. It appeared in high numbers in the U.S. after World War II when numerous sheep of the Suffolk breed were imported from Britain.

I remember in the 1950s while in veterinary school at the University of Minnesota when all of the pens on one side of the veterinary clinic were full of sheep with this disorder. They spent all of their time rubbing against the sides of the pen and bunting each other.

The name, scrapie comes from scraping their skin because it itches. At the time, most of the faculty thought that the cause was a genetic disorder. Then in the early 1960s, I saw at Purdue University that it could be transmitted to other sheep with infective brains. Also, that it could be transmitted with injections of infective brain subjected to autoclaving.

It was not until the mid-1990s, almost 10 years after the first case of BSE appeared in Britain, that a scrapie eradication program was begun in the U.S. One cannot get a state veterinarian to talk about the program because the policy is no publicity, but eradication is occurring. This is evidenced by the lawsuits filed by sheep breeders over the condemnation of their herds and what they consider insufficient indemnity payments.

The U.S. has never had a case of BSE and probably never will unless there is a spontaneous mutation in a single bovine with the formation of prions or a quirk with the transmission of sheep scrapie to cattle.

One favorable factor is that the U.S. has not had to rely on animal-derived supplements due to inexpensive sources of plant proteins. In Britain and Northern Europe, however, it’s too cool to grow cotton and soybeans, and flax seed oil cannot complete with other plant oils in today’s market. Thus, they have to import expensive soybean meal.

How is scrapie related to CJD, a spongiform encephalopathy in humans? The most significant statement I’ve heard about CJD was from C.J. Gibbs, a retired physician at the National Institute of Health in Washington, D.C., who has studied this disease extensively. He said on National Public Radio a few years ago that he has never seen a case in the U.S. that did not involve a person who raised roses.

Why? Because all rose growers use a lot of bone meal, which is high in phosphorus and calcium. Roses require phosphorus as a nutrient and calcium for neutralizing the acid in the soil. In addition, the prions of scrapie in sheep are not only located in the brains and spinal cord, but also in the viscera, lymph nodes and bone marrow.

I postulate that the rose growers he is talking about got CJD by inhaling the crappie prions in the dust of bone meal when it was applied to the soil because:

  • The bones and bone marrow of U.S. sheep with scrapie are mixed with the bones of other animals in the processing,
  • Bone meal is subjected to high temperatures in the heat-digestion process, thus making the prions in the marrow highly available, and
  • Bone meal is very dusty because it is finely ground.

Scrapie Transmission

Scrapie-infected ewes have been shown to transmit the disease to their lambs. Whether it is prenatally, through the ewe’s milk or via licking is unknown. The same avenues of transmission are also suspected with BSE.

Trying to detect and identify scrapie or BSE prions in the laboratory is far more complicated than isolating or identifying infective viruses or bacteria. As a result, most studies have been in animals.

Iceland is the only country to eradicate scrapie. Yet, it was reported at a 1998 symposium held in Reykjavik, Iceland, that scrapie-free sheep introduced on pastures previously grazed by scrapie-affected sheep, but idle for several years, developed scrapie.

With the suspicion that the prions of scrapie are discharged by the mouth and the fact that they are extremely hardy, it’s possible that elk or deer, which initially developed chronic wasting disease – another spongiform encephalopathy in the U.S., could have become infected with scrapie prions by grazing pastures simultaneously grazed by scrapie-infected sheep or by eating out of feed bunks or licking salt blocks simultaneously available to scrapie-infected sheep. This proposed transmission route is also possible for our cattle.

Stanley Prusiner, discoverer of the prion, once said that the incubation period for Kuru, a spongiform encephalopathy of humans in New Guinea and similar to scrapie, was up to 40 years. With the remote possibility of sheep scrapie being transmissible to our cattle, and with its long incubation period, why do we in the U.S. allow the many flocks of Suffolk and Suffolk-Southdown sheep with endemic scrapie to survive in a society where the longevity of life is ever increasing? Having prions in the environment, let alone in the food chain, poses a serious health problem.

Prions are an abnormally modified structural form of a normal protein in the neurons of the brain. They’re located as fibrils or fine fibers in and around the neurons that result in the development of large vacuoles in the neuron and is diagnostic of scrapie and the other spongiform encephalopathies. When the neurons die, the result is the microscope holes in the brain.

Spongiform encephalopathy is a microscopic description of the many holes that develop in the brain as a result of the death of nerve cells; there are no gross or visible lesions.

Even though prions don’t contain DNA or RNA, they apparently propagate themselves by contacting their normal metabolic counterparts in the neuron and reshape the conformation of the normal protein into what is a prion. This cycle continues, ever-increasing the number of prions, until the neuron dies.

In summary, the events in Britain which led to the development of BSE in cattle and its spread to continental Europe were:

  • The discontinuance of the use of trichloroethylene as a fat solvent in the rendering process,
  • Increasing the heat in the digestion of the animal residues after the withdrawal of trichloroethylene, and
  • The clandestine shipment and sale of BSE-infected animal residues to other countries of Europe.

LeRoy D. Olson is a professor emeritus in the University of Missouri’s Department of Veterinary Pathobiology in Columbia. His interest in the various spongiform encephalopathies dates to his veterinary education in the mid-1950s. Since that time, he has closely followed the BSE situation and over the past 12 years has discussed the BSE problem extensively with British veterinarians and researchers.

Facing the EPA Cattle Feeding Regs

When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its proposed stricter controls to reduce water pollution from feedlots in January, the South Dakota cattle feeding community went into action.

In its announcement, EPA proposed two options requiring even smaller feedlot operators to come into compliance with federal environmental regulations for manure management. Those new proposals will definitely impact more South Dakota cattle producers, says John Rubendall, with the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association’s (SDCA) Cattle Feeders Council. However, he says the stricter proposals were not unexpected.

"We knew the regulations would lower the number of animal units needed to qualify as a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO), we just didn’t know what those numbers would be."

Rubendall, technical feeder services director, assists CFC members comply with permitting regulations. If the proposed regulations are approved, more of the state’s livestock producers will need to complete the permitting procedure. Under the current Clean Water Act, CAFOs are defined as point sources of pollution and subject to permits and effluent guidelines.

Currently, a CAFO is defined as having 1,000 or more cattle or animal units. Smaller facilities could always be determined to be a CAFO if they proved to be a threat to water quality, says Rubendall. Under the new proposals, the bar has been lowered. One definition of a CAFO would include livestock facilities with more than 500 cattle or other animal units. The other proposal would require operations with 300 to 1000 cattle to have a permit if it meets certain risk-based conditions.

Another change in the proposed rules is that livestock producers, when spreading manure on cropland, will need to calculate the amount that can be spread based on phosphorus levels of the soil. Currently, calculations are based on nitrogen levels. Rubendall says it’s estimated that this change will require an estimated four to five times more land needed for manure application.

EPA will be taking public comment on the proposals until July 30, 2001. It plans to take final action on the regulations by December 15, 2002, and for newly defined CAFOs, permits will not be required until approximately January 2006. SDCA will be submitting comments.

"There’s an awful lot of people in South Dakota feeding from 600 to 800 head of cattle right now," says Gregg Yeaton, chairman of the CFC. "All of a sudden they’re going to fall under the same rules as the larger lots as far as having a waste management system and nutrient management plan."

That prospect concerns some cattle producers, says Rubendall, who was hired by the council in October and has been out talking to producers and making site visits.

"They know they may have a problem but they’re not ready to contact government officials because they think they’ll be put on a list," he says.

Instead, Rubendall makes a site visit, determines possible problems, and finds out potential answers for the producer from officials at the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the agency permitting CAFOs in South Dakota.

And, he says, DENR and the South Dakota Department of Agriculture have been supportive of the program.

"They’re excited about it," he says. "They understand that I can go out initially and talk to these producers and assist them," says this Mitchell-native who grew up as part of a feedyard business. "They can ask the questions and I can assist the producer with options."

Yeaton, part of Yeaton Farms in Chamberlain, a family-owned feedyard, is currently going through the general permitting process. He says that having someone like Rubendall to help with the process would have been beneficial. And he’d like other cattle feeders and producers across the state to have that opportunity.

"I think we’ll be able to help our members," says Yeaton, whose facility will be inspected each year by DENR under his general permit.

"Our primary objective is to try to keep people from being forced out of business or to have fines levied against them," says Yeaton. "We want to help them get done what they need to be done in order to come into compliance."

In addition, Yeaton says Rubendall is working on other aspects of the permitting process. He is currently identifying engineering firms and contractors that are qualified and experienced in cattle feedlot waste management designs and construction. The CFC is also pursuing some type of financial assistance to help producers come into compliance, and he will stay current on rules and regulations so that he can update CFC members on an ongoing basis.

For more information on the SDCA Cattle Feeders Council, contact the South Dakota Cattlemen's Association at 605/869-2272 or visit www.Sdcattlemen.org

Deadline Extended

The EPA says it will allow an additional 75 days for review of a rule, written in the final days of the Clinton administration, to limit water pollution from large feedlots.

The extension, announced by EPA administrator Christine Whitman, would allow public comment on the proposal through July 30. EPA says participants in eight public meetings around the country in March had requested more time to examine the proposed regulations.

The new administration is reviewing many of the regulations issued during Clinton's final days.

source: South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association

Hopper Help

If grasshoppers weren’t invented in southeast Wyoming, they should have been. The area has long been a hot spot for grasshopper infestations, with populations reaching 25-30 insects/square yard – three to four times the economic threshold established by experts at the USDA's Agricultural Research Service.

Grasshoppers destroy an average of 25% of available forage in the Western states each year, says Jeff Lockwood, University of Wyoming entomologist. In Texas alone, Lockwood estimates grasshoppers consumed an estimated $190 million in grazing land.

In Wyoming in 1999, damage to rangeland was so severe that local officials declared Platte County a disaster area.

For ranchers accustomed to paying up to $5/acre for grasshopper control, the offer the Platte County Weed and Pest Control Office made in 1999 was almost too good to believe.

For a cost of just $1/protected acre, landowners in the county could sign up to have their rangeland treated with an insect growth regulator called Dimilin. And, as long as the material was aerially applied using an innovative method of spraying alternate swaths, the county agreed to pick up any expenses that exceeded $1/protected acre.

"Dimilin is a new product for grasshopper control, and some of our landowners were a little skeptical when we told them we intended to treat every other swath by air at a low rate of just 1 oz. per protected acre," says Bob Shoemaker, Platte County weed and pest supervisor. "But once they saw how well Dimilin controls juvenile grasshoppers, they were sold. We ended up protecting about 40,000 acres under the program in 1999 and another 20,000 acres last season."

Dimlin was recently registered for control of grasshoppers and Mormon crickets on range grass, rangeland, and noncrop areas. It’s an insect growth regulator that affects the formation and deposition of chitin in the insect’s exoskeleton.

Applied when the grasshoppers are in the second and third instar stages of growth, Dimilin leads to fatal or defective, incomplete molting. The eggs laid by adult female grasshoppers that consume Dimilin may not hatch, and adult females can have a shortened life span.

"Last summer, we began spraying in mid-June, and I’d say we got at least 90 percent control," says Shoemaker, who also serves on the board of the National Grasshopper Management Board. "Where we sprayed with Dimilin, we found an average of just one or two grasshoppers per square yard."

Labeled for use at a rate of no more than 1 oz./acre (fluid), Dimilin is extremely effective at very low rates. The Platte County program combined Dimilin with 4 oz. of crop oil and water to apply between 12-24 oz. of spray solution/acre.

Applications were made using the Reduced Agent and Area Treatments (RAATs) method of treating every other swath. Designed to reduce both the cost of control and the amount of insecticide used, the RAATs program relies on the migratory habits of grasshoppers to control the insects as they move from the untreated to treated swaths.

Greg Jackson, who was hired to make the applications, broadcast-applied the material, flying 100-ft. swaths at about 100 ft. above ground level. Jackson says he was surprised at how little Dimilin it took to knock down the grasshopper populations.

"I’ve treated rangeland for other customers with Asana, which does a good job but costs about $11/acre including application costs. In 1999, we treated some Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land with malathion under the RAATs program. But a week later, it was full of grasshoppers again.

"After we put out the Dimilin, you’d still find a few grasshoppers that had lost their legs, but within a few days, the land was almost void of grasshoppers. The landowners that I talked to were very happy with the results," Jackson says.

Environmentally Safe

Dimilin is nontoxic to birds, bees, fish, earthworms and non-target beneficial insects. Effective at an active rate 100 times lower than other materials labeled for grasshopper control, Dimilin also exhibits very low mammalian toxicity, making it safe to use around humans, livestock and other mammals.

"Dimilin is super safe to the environment and doesn’t affect birds, fish or livestock," says Shoemaker. "And, unlike malathion, we don’t have to leave a mile buffer zone around bee fields and bee yards, which can leave huge holes in your control blocks. Dimilin is far and above safer to the environment than any of the products we’ve used in the past."

Lining Up For 2001

Jackson says he’s already received phone calls from property owners asking how they can participate in the grasshopper control program. The county intends to extend the cost-sharing program another year.

"There are still some breeding sites and hot spots of grasshopper activity that we’d like to clean up," says Shoemaker. "And it would help if the federal government would let us use Dimilin on the BLM land, which represents about 30 percent of Platte County.

The program is accomplishing exactly what was hoped, Shoemaker says, which was to achieve long-term, grasshopper population control.

"I think we’re finally turning the grasshopper cycle around," he says. "And because Dimilin is so effective at low rates, the cost to the county has only run about 15-20¢/protected acre beyond the $1/acre landowners are paying."

Jerry Schleicher of The Duff Co., Kansas City, MO, produced this article on behalf of the public relation firm's client Uniroyal Chemical.

Software Programs Help Plan AI Synchronization

A new synchronization planner for artificial insemination (AI) is available through the Iowa Beef Center (IBC). The program simplifies breeding planning and helps eliminate costly errors, developers say.

Producers can access the program at the IBC Web site, www.iowabeefcenter.org. They can use the Internet-based version, or they can download the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet version.

To use the program, producers just enter the date they want to start breeding and select the synchronization system they want to use. The program then generates a report of what activities need to be done on which dates. It provides a detailed description of each activity and assumptions for the synchronization program selected.

The program also offers a cost analysis option using the number of females, estimated product costs, semen costs, feed costs/lb., amount fed, yardage, AI technician charges and trip charges.

Source: Iowa State University Extension press release

The Energy Spike

Feedyards are looking for ways to deal with higher energy costs – and they're finding few answers.

If the rising tide of energy prices hasn't washed away a lot of the fun in feeding cattle, count yourself lucky.

John Rakestraw, CEO of ContiBeef, Boulder, CO, doesn't have to think twice when asked how rising energy costs have affected his company's bottom line.

“Increases in gas, petroleum and electricity prices pulled 5.5% off our bottom line in the last three quarters of calendar year 2000,” he says. “For much of that period, energy costs were just beginning to rise — especially natural gas. Who knows what it'll be like when this all levels out?”

ContiBeef is one of the nation's largest cattle feeders with six feedyards in four states, including the massive Grant County Feeders in Ulysses, KS. In the last nine months of 2000, ContiBeef's costs for natural gas increased 67%. Meanwhile, fuel for feedyard fleets increased 48% and electricity increased 37%.

Large or small, feedyards across the country are feeling the energy crunch in every phase of the business — from procuring feed commodities to getting rid of dead animals.

Maintaining Margins

The rising cost of feedstuffs also has an impact on nutrition management, says Lanas Smith of Midwest Feedlot Nutrition, Longmont, CO. Smith works with about 25 feedyard clients in the West, Midwest and High Plains that feed about 2.5 million head of cattle each year. He says prices for components like urea, hay, tallow and molasses have seen the most immediate activity.

“Urea prices have almost doubled — and higher urea prices are driving up the costs of many of the natural proteins,” Smith says. While hay prices tend to swing with seasonal supplies and demand, hay prices — in some places double a year ago — may be here to stay.

“Some people were optimistic we could work our way out of these high hay prices,” adds Smith. “But the way it's looking, this could be a longer term thing now.”

The other hit comes with the cost of processing grain and moving feed. A year ago, the cost of natural gas for processing corn was running about 75¢-$1/ton. Today, that cost is $3.50-5/ton depending on the location. Given $100/ton corn — and with stream-rolled corn having about an 8% increased efficiency over dry-rolled corn — there's an $8-10/ton feed advantage in processing.

“Suddenly, we're giving up about half the processing advantage to energy costs,” explains Smith. “The feedyard manager needs to decide whether to maintain his margins and try to recoup that $3-4/ton, or lose all or some portion of that additional cost of running a feedyard.”

Rakestraw says gas prices would have to get a lot higher to get ContiBeef to stop steam flaking corn.

“We've got the fixed cost of equipment to consider, but you can bet we're looking at what we're doing — especially making sure we have good efficiency in our mills and aren't losing a lot of heat,” he says.

Energy's Effect On Grain

Natural gas futures markets help Rakestraw manage costs. “It's one way to protect us from price swings,” he explains. ContiBeef is also looking into alternative fuels such as diesel to power its boilers.

Today though, Rakestraw is more concerned about what's down the line for corn farmers. With nearly all of the High Plains corn production tied to irrigation, escalation of energy prices could significantly impact the corn base in some areas. This could cause a shift away from crops that need more water.

Rakestraw says if pumping costs are high for too long, farmers in areas of Kansas, Nebraska, Texas and parts of Colorado and Oklahoma may be forced to turn to non-irrigated crops or leave fields unplanted.

Hardest hit will be areas with deep aquifers. Kansas State University research indicates that a $1/thousand-cubic-feet-increase in gas prices increases pumping costs from a 500-ft. well by nearly $15/acre-foot.

“The $64,000 question is ‘What will be the cost of natural gas and electricity when High Plains corn farmers have to irrigate?’” says Rakestraw.

Compounding pumping costs is the cost of ammonia-based fertilizers, which are made from natural gas.

“This all could bring a big change in our grain base if it lasts too long,” he adds. “That's not something we'd look forward to.”

Some feedyards are waiting to see what's going to happen with energy costs before they decide how to deal with the added costs. There also are those who haven't responded to the issue at all, Smith says. This could place feeders in a tight spot down the road.

“Feedyards that know their numbers have passed the costs on, and some haven't. The result is significant differences in the cost of feeding,” explains Smith. “Three or four months down the road, it could cause some real customer issues. Some feeders will either lose the income or lose customers.”

The California Crisis

Gary Veserat, Woodland, CA, is a feedyard and dairy management consultant. Based near Sacramento, he's in the hotbed of the nation's energy predicament. The skyrocketing costs of electricity and natural gas are symptoms of a larger problem, says Veserat.

“We've had two rolling blackouts come through here, but one blackout is all it takes to make people very nervous,” he says. “Why would someone want to expand or relocate here with that threat?”

An example of one hidden cost to those in the livestock businesses is in rendering — a big energy user. Veserat says local renderers are now charging up to $80 to pick up a dead calf, up from about $25 last year.

“You start adding all the direct and indirect costs, and it can be devastating,” he says. “We need people like renderers to stay in business. They are a vital part of the infrastructure.”

Smith, the nutritionist, says he's beginning to look at feedyard nutrition in a whole different light.

“We have to do a better job of analyzing in order to pinpoint how we can save energy costs for our clients,” says Smith. “Do we make a lesser flake than what we have made in the past? Do we cook the grain less and settle for less starch availability? Do we try to make heavier flake weights to save energy costs?”

Then, managers must assign numbers to those compromises and determine the cost on the performance side to a change in feed components.

“We're going into an unfamiliar zone,” he adds. “Because energy issues have been so cheap in the past, we haven't had to look at many of these alternatives.”

In Southern California, cattle feeder Bill Brandenberg of El Centro is relatively unaffected by the West Coast energy crunch. Natural gas is unavailable in his area, and his boilers are powered by diesel.

A few years ago, he and other Imperial Valley feeders were asked to help expand a natural gas pipeline into the area — at a pretty hefty price. He's glad he opted to stay with diesel.

“Natural gas prices aren't going to stay this high forever,” adds Brandenberg, “but if I were in an area of higher energy costs, I'd be certainly looking at my options.”

As pointed out by Rakestraw, a big factor in the High Plains feeding region will be planting decisions and corn yields in 2001.

Steve Meyer, Lakewood, CO, analyst for the Livestock Marketing Information Center (LMIC), says current 2001-02 U.S. average corn price forecasts show average farm-gate prices of $2-2.50/bu., with $2.20 as the current estimate. Preliminary LMIC forecasts call for U.S. corn plantings in 2001 to decrease 1.7 million acres from the 79.5 million acres planted in 2000.

The Midwest is not the only breadbasket facing a changing crop base. In southern Idaho where waste potatoes are a feedyard staple, Idaho Power Co. (IPC) has asked regulators for permission to pay irrigators for letting their potato fields go dry.

With projections of below-normal stream flows for the Snake River dams this summer and a volatile Western energy market, IPC wants to buy back power now committed to irrigation pumps. This will reduce the need to buy expensive power on the open market this summer.

“The cost of power to raise potatoes this year will be more than the revenue the spuds will bring in,” says IPC pricing manager Maggie Brilz, Boise.

An open-bid process would be offered to irrigation customers who can commit to reducing energy consumption during the growing season, says Brilz. She estimates that 1,700 customers would qualify.

So, with the initial shock of the past winter's energy prices behind us, feedyard operators across the country are scratching their heads over what to do about long-term energy costs. While the outlook (see “Energy Outlook” on BF7) doesn't foretell disaster, steady increases in energy costs — with periods of volatility — are here to stay.

The Hidden Cost Of Cows

Three years ago, we were all waiting for calf prices to improve. Ironically, it''s when calf prices are highest that our cows are least profitable. That bears repeating: when calf prices are highest, your cows are generally least profitable. To understand why, we need to understand what it costs to keep cows.

I bet if you asked your neighbor what his highest cost of keeping cows is, he''d say feed or land. He might even say labor. If we actually charged for our own labor, he might be right.

But while all of these costs are significant, none is the biggest cost of keeping cows for most ranchers. The biggest cost is a bit more obscure but no less real or painful to pay. It is depreciation.

The average cow has three calves in her lifetime. Don''t believe me? Do the math. Consider a herd in which 80% of the cows exposed to a bull actually wean a calf and stay in the herd (20% replacement rate). The average herd in North America has a higher replacement rate, but I''ll use a more conservative figure to illustrate the point.

Using a 20% replacement rate, only 51% of the cows would be left in the herd after three years. This statistic comes as a surprise to most ranchers. We tend to remember our eight-year-old cows that have a calf every year, but they are the exception not the rule.

Let''s assume that at the peak of the cattle cycle you''ll be able to buy bred replacements for $1,000 each and your open culls will fetch $500/head. That''s $500 of depreciation in three years or $167/year. If we take death loss into account, it''s even worse. A dead cow in this scenario depreciates $1,000. If death loss is 1% it will increase average depreciation to around $175/cow/year!

Now for the bad news: the cattle cycle intensifies the impact. The average replacements purchased at the peak of the cycle will be culled when prices are going down. That will make the annual depreciation more than $200.

The good news in all of this is that depreciation on those cows purchased during the low part of the cycle may be less than $50/year. In fact, some of our clients have restructured their businesses so that their cows appreciate in value.

They''ve been able to minimize depreciation and in some cases eliminate it all together. They''ve done this by adding value to culls (i.e., breeding, increasing weight, etc.) or taking advantage of the seasonal peaks in the cull market.

The Value Of Cull Cows

In Nebraska recently, I asked a group of about 40 ranchers to raise their hands if they were in the cow/calf business. Nearly everyone raised a hand. Then, I asked them to raise their hands to show me who was in the cull cow business. Only one or two in the audience raised their hands. But, if you are in the cow/calf business, you are also in the cull cow business. This is an important distinction.

After calculating the cost of depreciation in his herd, a client in the Texas Panhandle exclaimed, “I''ll never sell a cull cow again!” At first, I thought he was kidding, but then he explained, “I''ve just realized that I can''t afford to sell culls. I need to find a way to add value to every animal that leaves my ranch.”

He began studying the annual cull market cycle and sold cull cows when the market dictated. He made sure he put weight on his thin culls. He put bulls in with his open cull cows (although they no longer matched his calving schedule, they fit someone''s somewhere).

In short, he went into the cull cow business. But if you were to ask him, he''d tell you he never sold a cull cow. The bottom line is that he eliminated cow depreciation in his business. Managing depreciation is critical when you are ranching for profit.

David Pratt of Ranch Management Consultants teaches the Ranching for Profit School. For more information visit www.ranchmanagement.com, contact him at 707/429-2292 or e-mail pratt@ranchmanagement.com.

Imprudent use carries a high price tag

In February 2000, this column discussed the prudent antimicrobial use guidelines developed by the American Association of Bovine Practitioners. Because we believe beef producers and their veterinarians are partners in prudent antimicrobial use, we return to the subject this month using a specific drug group — aminoglycosides — as an example.

This group includes neomycin, gentamicin and several others. Together, they illustrate the issues and points for consideration involved in an extra-label antimicrobial use decision.

The wrong decision could result in a producer being asked — more than a year after the calf left his premises — to pay for a condemned carcass at slaughter. Here are some points to consider:

1. Is there an approved label for the antimicrobial and disease combination you are considering? If a label exists, does it allow for sale “over the counter” or must a valid veterinary-client-patient relationship (VCPR) exist to allow purchase?

If you use the product according to label directions and the label does not contain the legend “Caution: Federal (USA) law restricts this drug to use by or on the order of a licensed veterinarian,” then a VCPR is not necessary to purchase or use the product.

If the product contains this legend, however, or if you deviate from the label in any manner (different dose regimen, species, disease), then the law requires a valid VCPR. Changes in a dose regimen include any alterations of the amount, route, duration or frequency of administration. Extra-label drug use (ELDU) by a layperson outside of a valid VCPR is illegal.

Aminoglycoside labels in cattle include a neomycin label for oral use — “indicated for the treatment and control of colibacillosis (bacterial enteritis) caused by Escherichia coli susceptible to neomycin sulfate in cattle (excluding veal calves), swine, sheep and goats” (Biosol® liquid, Pharmacia Animal Health). There are no labeled gentamicin products for oral or injectable use in cattle.

2. What decisions must be made by a veterinarian to support extra-label drug use (ELDU)?

The first decision leading to legal ELDU, as described in the Animal Medicinal Drug Use Clarification Act (AMDUCA) Regulations, is that there is no labeled drug for the application in question that is effective as labeled. The veterinarian is then required to first consider changing the regimen of the labeled compound. (The AMDUCA regulations may be viewed at www.fda.gov/cvm/index/amducca/amducafr.htm.)

If this is not an option, then other drugs labeled for use in food animals must next be considered for use. If no food animal drug may be used in an extra-label manner to fulfill the need, then the veterinarian may consider other veterinary and human drugs. That's providing all requirements of the regulations are met.

Compounded products may only be used after it's determined that no veterinary or human approved products may be used as provided by the manufacturer to meet the need. Compounding from drugs that are not approved for veterinary or human use (bulk compounds) is strictly prohibited. Cost is not a valid reason for ELDU.

Let's apply these regulations to the consideration of a gentamicin product (labeled for an indication in horses) for therapy of bovine respiratory disease.

  • The veterinarian would be expected to justify the conclusion that products such as Micotil® 300 Injection (Elanco), Naxcel® or Excenel® (Pharmacia Animal Health) or Nuflor® (Schering Plough) could not have been used in a label or extra-label manner to effectively treat the condition.

    The use of Baytril® 100 Injection (Bayer) may only be considered in a label manner because of a specific prohibition of extra-label use. Thus, use of this drug for calf scours is illegal.

  • The veterinarian must also have made the decision that no other food animal labeled product (including gentamicin injectable products for other food animal applications) could have been used in an extra-label manner to treat the condition.

3. What are the responsibilities assumed with extra-label drug use?

The veterinarian involved in the VCPR is responsible for determining an exaggerated withdrawal time for meat or milk. This is so that illegal residues don't enter the food chain and animal safety is protected.

In the extra-label gentamicin example described above, the Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank (FARAD) recommends a slaughter withdrawal time of 18 months due to prolonged residues in the kidneys.

A new test organism is being used to detect residues in tissues such as the kidney. Some work indicates this organism will be more sensitive to the aminoglycosides than the previous test organism.

No tissue tolerance for gentamicin has been developed in cattle. This means that any amount of gentamicin detected in a beef carcass is violative and could result in condemnation of the entire carcass.

Put all of this together, and there is the real potential of getting a call asking for compensation for a condemned carcass at slaughter more than a year after you used gentamicin in an ELDU manner while the calf was in your possession.

The ELDU of neomycin by injection in cattle would also be expected to result in prolonged residues as well as a high chance of kidney toxicity. In fact, neomycin is not used in human medicine because of this potential.

Hopefully, these examples help clarify the regulations and responsibilities involved in extra-label drug use in cattle. Discuss ELDU with your veterinarian.

Gerald Stokka, DVM, MS, is an associate professor and Extension beef veterinarian at Kansas State University in Manhattan. Mike Apley, DVM, PhD, is an assistant professor of beef production medicine at Iowa State University in Ames. This column appears in alternate months.

Building tougher alfalfa

New findings may help broaden alfalfa's range and productivity as a cut-hay crop or grazing-type forage, say Agricultural Research Service (ARS) researchers. Hardy new alfalfa cultivars that tolerate drought, frequent grazing, poor soils and other crop stresses may come from four germplasm lines that ARS researchers developed from the legume's wild Asian relatives.

Commercial cultivars bred from this germplasm could be particularly useful on dry rangeland typical of Western states like Oklahoma, Montana and Nevada. The wild alfalfa relatives also have potential as a stand-alone legume crop in these areas.

Researchers turned to a distant relative of today's cultivated alfalfa to improve the crop's stress tolerance and adaptability. The distant relative is an ancient but durable legume from the desert steppes, volcanic soils and grassland regions of Siberia, Tibet, Mongolia and China.

Last fall, researchers released several germplasm lines — their top picks — in the form of seeds sent to more than 100 universities, seed companies and organizations around the world. This followed nine years of plant breeding and evaluation to improve the wild alfalfa for desirable traits including dense, upright growth, early flowering, seedling vigor and leaf hopper resistance.

For more information, contact Austin Campbell, ARS Soybean Genomics and Improvement Laboratory, Beltsville, MD, at 301/504-5638, or e-mail campbela@ba.ars.usda.gov.

“Cow whispering” could become the latest grazing management tool. An ARS researcher has patented a computerized locator/controller device similar to those used to train or contain dogs to their owner's yard.

The collar acts as a virtual fence. It controls movement of cattle by whispering electronic versions of the commands “gee” (go right) and “haw” (go left) into the cow's ears. It also locates cows with a global positioning system antenna that receives and uses these satellite signals to apply bilateral cues.

The cues not only change an animal's location but also its direction of movement. If a cow ignores all sound cues, mild electrical shocks follow.

Ranchers can program future grazing locations based on sound ecological and economic data. The cues are then given autonomously for making the change only when the cow is on the move to minimize stress.

Before the device is available commercially, researchers must find a way to trim down the prototype neck collar to a smaller unit like an ear tag.

For more information, contact Dean Anderson, ARS Southern Plains Range Management Research Unit, Las Cruces, NM, at 505/646-5190 or e-mail deanders@nmsu.edu.

Applying a combination of tenderness-enhancement methods to certain beef cuts can reduce costs while adding value, a recent beef checkoff-funded study shows.

That finding has important implications for packers, processors and retailers who want to achieve optimum tenderness and maximum shelf life with their beef products.

Researchers at Texas A&M University examined the effects of high-voltage electrical stimulation and postmortem aging on various cuts of beef from the round, chuck, rib and loin. Their objective was to determine if the combined methods had a compounding impact on improving beef's palatability.

The research showed that cuts from the loin and rib responded favorably to a combination of the methods, with high-voltage electrical stimulation reducing aging time by as much as nine days.

From an economic standpoint, that finding has great significance. A shorter aging period means getting optimally tender product to market more quickly. In turn, that economy in time reduces inventory costs and extends shelf life.

“The research showed that high-voltage electrical stimulation of the carcass has major effects on most cuts,” says Jeff Savell, section leader of Texas A&M University's meat science section.

“Importantly, it showed that electrical stimulation helps loin and rib cuts achieve optimal tenderness in a shorter period of time. An added result is a longer shelf life in the meat case without compromising the effect of aging on tenderness.”

In this study, electrical stimulation decreased the postmortem aging time of loin cuts by up to nine days. The same process reduced the aging time of rib cuts by as much as six days. Both cuts reached satisfactory tenderness in the shorter time span when electrically stimulated, although longer aging would result in additional tenderness.

“This study, combined with a previous checkoff-funded study on the effects of aging, gives us postmortem guidelines on how to improve the tenderness of all economically important cuts of beef,” Savell says. “With the number of branded beef programs seeking maximum tenderness in their products, these methods offer real opportunities to increase value to the consumer while reducing costs to the processor.”

A hormone may indicate disease stress in livestock and make it easier to keep contamination out of meat processing, say researchers from ARS and the National Institutes of Health.

Involved in many physiological and pathological processes, adrenomedullin (AM) is a recently discovered, naturally occurring amino acid peptide hormone produced in lung, kidney, heart and other tissues.

Increases in AM appear to be associated with some forms of infection in cattle, pigs, goats and sheep. Both low-level, long-duration parasite infections and intense, short-term bouts can provoke higher AM levels, researchers say.

In ARS experiments, calves that harbored internal parasites had more AM in their pancreatic tissue and blood than healthy calves.

In the future, a rapid-screening test for abnormal AM levels may allow producers to identify questionable animals before sending them to market. In addition, monitoring AM levels may enable producers to help sick animals recover from illness and make them safe for processing.

For more information, contact Theodore Elsasser, ARS Growth Biology Laboratory, Beltsville, MD, at 301/504-8222 or e-mail elsasser@lpsi.barc.usda.gov.

"Research Roundup" is compiled by Diana Barto. Contact her at 952/851-4678 or dbarto@intertec.com.