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First Hybrid Alfalfa Available

Hybridization technology promises dramitic yield gains and grower flexibility.

Hybrid vigor has finally come to alfalfa. Dairyland Seeds, West Bend, WI, announces it has developed technology for hybridizing alfalfa. The first variety to be developed using the technology — HybriForce -400 — will be available in very limited quantities this spring.

University and on-farm tests of HybriForce -400 show an 8-15% improvement in yield over current varieties. In addition, the hybrid vigor will produce stronger plants and stands that will likely last longer, says Paul Sun, Dairyland's vice president of research.

While progress has been made the past two decades in disease resistance and winter hardiness of alfalfa varieties, yield potential has remained basically constant.

With hybridization — the crossing of two genetic lines — the new alfalfa varieties will see dramatic yield gains similar to those experienced with hybrid corn varieties, Sun says.

The result is that, while hybrid alfalfa breaks dormancy at the same time as conventional varieties, the spring growth and regrowth after cutting is more aggressive in hybrid plants.

And, because the new hybrids are “stronger,” meaning the plants can utilize and produce carbohydrates and sugars stored in the root system more effectively, the plants can take more abuse. Thus, the hybrid alfalfa can be harvested at early bud stage with less risk of stand loss than with current alfalfas. That provides a wider harvest window and more grower flexibility.

In addition to the HybriForce -400 variety, Dairyland plans to license the patented msSUNSTRA hybrid alfalfa technology to other seed companies. As a result, additional hybrid alfalfa varieties should be available for the 2002 growing season.

The price on the seed in 2001 is $270/50-lb. bag. However, the company says one bag of hybrid alfalfa will produce 4.8 to 9 tons more alfalfa than conventional varieties. In a four-year stand with hay valued at $80/ton, hybrids will provide an additional $384 to $720 in additional value/bag (at an 8% and 15% yield advantage, respectively), they say.

In a two-year rotation, the advantage would be $134 and $252 at an 8% and 15% yield advantage, respectively.

For more information, visit Dairyland Seed at www.dairylandseed.com or call 800/236-0163.

Energy Outlook

What to expect for availability and prices of natural gas, motor fuels and electricity.

U.S. energy demand is projected to increase 32% over the next 20 years, forecasts the Energy Information Administration (EIA) in its 2001 annual energy outlook.

The core of the nation's non-motor fuel energy system is natural gas, and prices reached a record $10.10/thousand cubic feet (Mcf) on Dec. 27, 2000. This more than quadrupled the year-earlier price.

With a number of gas-fired electricity generating plants going on line last year, demand for natural gas has jumped. This, in combination with rising new home construction, has taxed U.S. production capacity, says Mary Hutzer, EIA's director of energy forecasting.

“At the heart of the increase in demand is the appeal of natural gas as a cleaner alternative to other fossil fuels such as coal and fuel oil,” she says. She adds that gas exploration and development have increased significantly, but the supply response isn't yet fully realized.

The levels of natural gas in storage were lower at the end of December 2000 than at any comparable time during the last seven years, says the American Gas Association (AGA). Stored gas accounts for about 20% of the gas consumed during a winter heating season. AGA reports, however, that storage shortfalls are rapidly being corrected.

The average 2000 wellhead price was $3.73/Mcf nationwide, a 72% increase from 1999. For 2001, assuming normal weather and EIA's projection of low underground storage levels through most the year (in contrast to AGA's prediction), the forecast calls for an annual average wellhead price near $5/Mcf.

A report by Canada's National Energy Board, however, predicts natural gas deliverability from Western Canada will increase significantly by 2002 due to the ongoing drilling boom. Western Canada supplies 15% of the gas consumed in the U.S. Natural gas demand in the industrial sector is expected to increase 7.5% in 2002.

Motor Fuel Outlook

Motor gasoline and diesel prices have backed down from last fall. With crude oil prices rebounding somewhat from December lows, combined with lower than normal stock levels, EIA projects modest price increases at the pump as the 2001 driving season begins.

EIA sees average annual crude oil prices declining $1-1.50/barrel in 2001 from the 2000 price of $27.60/barrel, and increasing by up to $5/barrel in 2002. Crude oil costs account for about 45% of the cost of gasoline and diesel fuel.

The situation of relatively low inventories for gasoline and distillates (heating oil and diesel fuel) could bring regional supply imbalances. This could bring significant price volatility in the U.S. gasoline and diesel fuel market.

Electricity Outlook

Average electricity prices vary substantially among U.S regions. Prices in the highest-cost region are 2.3 times those in the lowest-cost region. This winter, some residential customers paid 33.3¢/kilowatt-hour (Kwh) for power in California, up from 4.5¢ a year earlier.

Nonetheless, average national electricity prices are projected to decline from 6.7¢/Kwh in 1999 to 4.2¢/Kwh in 2005. Over the next 10-20 years, competitive pressures are expected to narrow the range in electricity prices currently seen across the country.

The critical electrical power situation in California — which uses 10% of U.S. electricity — highlights the interrelated tightness in both electricity and natural gas markets.

California lacks the pipeline capacity to provide enough natural gas to new power plants in development, let alone its current supply demands. The region is also short on the electricity generating capacity and transmission wires to deliver enough power into a market growing 4% annually.

Tracking Trich

A new wrinkle shows up in the diagnosis of one of the most confounding of all cattle diseases — trichomoniasis.

David Voldseth, Martinsdale, MT, knew something was wrong last fall when he pregnancy checked and found 25% of his cows open.

In pregnancy checking the year before, he'd found a group of cows that hadn't bred up quite as well as they should have.

“We just chalked it up to poor nutrition or something else,” he says. This time, however, he knew it was serious and suspected trichomoniasis — commonly called trich.

Voldseth has long vaccinated his cows for trich, so he thought his cattle were protected.

“Apparently, the challenge was so great and came about so early in the season that the vaccine couldn't overcome the disease,” he says (see “Biology Vs. Biosecurity,” page 32).

Now Voldseth is following recommended trich control procedures. He's culled all bulls more than 3 years old and is selling all dry cows. This spring, he plans to breed his cows at “home” before turning them out on the forest in late July. He'll also continue to vaccinate.

Caused by a protozoan (Trichomonas foetus), trich is a venereal disease spread by bulls. With no visible sign, it causes abortion and leaves cows infertile. (See “Trich Questions” page 33.) It can spread through a herd like wildfire — especially because it's difficult to spot.

False Positives

For Voldseth and other Western cattle producers, trich diagnosis has just become more difficult, thanks to the emergence of another organism — Trichomonas intestinalis. This organism is thought to be non-pathogenic, says Arnold Gertonson, Montana's state veterinarian.

T. intestinalis appears nearly identical to T. foetus in the routine InPouch exam conducted by most vet labs. As a result, the threat of a false-positive disease diagnosis is becoming more of a possibility.

“Most labs can't differentiate T. intestinalis from T. foetus,” says Gertonson. “It's only going to be found through a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.” This additional test costs producers another $20-30/head and a week or two in turn-around time.

“If you get a trich-positive via the InPouch test, I'd definitely have it confirmed by a lab through a PCR test before you sacrifice the bull,” he says.

Most often trich isn't identified until it's too late and all other causes of infertility are ruled out, says Bill Kvasnicka, University of Nevada-Reno Extension veterinarian.

Several Western states have mandatory trich management programs, but little progress has been made in its elimination. While the disease seems to come in cycles, the threat still exists anytime a bull crosses a fenceline.

“We run in several forest allotments, and it's big country out here,” Voldseth points out. “It's almost impossible to keep cattle from getting mixed up.”

T. intestinalis thrives in the intestine of cattle, contaminating the sheath and penis through splashing manure. When swabs are taken for the InPouch test, T. intestinalis can be picked up with or without its cousin.

So far, Gertonson says T. intestinalis has shown up in tests from Colorado, California and Montana. But, it could be causing false-positive diagnosis anywhere trich is suspected. And, while a false-positive test is a problem for any rancher, a false-positive could spell disaster for a seedstock producer.

“You certainly don't want to be de-populating a herd of high-priced bulls based on what could end up being a negative test,” explains Marc Bridges, executive secretary of the Montana Department of Livestock.

Even the perception there might be trich in a herd could spell trouble for a purebred producer. “Either by causing him to de-populate bulls, or if word got out he had trich in his herd,” says Bridges.

Also, a false-positive test can be a problem for ranchers in states with trich testing requirements for bulls turned out on common or public grazing pastures.

“For example, in Idaho, in order to turn out onto Bureau of Land Management allotments, you need a trich test,” says Gertonson. “If you get a positive, you can't turn out — unless you confirm it's not T. foetus — those delays could cause some real problems.”

The trich vaccine will not work on T. intestinalis, Gertonson says. “It's a different bug altogether.”

For now, Western ranchers will have to live with the threat of trich.

“We'll just have to fight it with the knowledge and tools at hand,” says Kvasnicka. “It might not be easy, but if a producer really wants to eliminate this disease, it can be done.”

Biology Vs. Biosecurity

Bill Kvasnicka, University of Nevada-Reno and Nevada's Extension veterinarian, believes the cyclical nature of trich has less to do with biology and more to do with human nature.

“People tend to become complacent, letting their biosecurity slip for a year or two,” he says. “There's no other reason for trich to be so cyclical.”

Part of the biosecurity against trich is the use of young bulls, adds Kvasnicka. “People in trich-prone areas tend to keep bulls too long. Any bull over four years old is going to be suspect.”

There's a vaccine to protect cows, and there's excellent data supporting the efficacy of the vaccine, Kvasnicka says, “but it's critical that it be used at the right time in the right way.” Some ranchers use the vaccine in the fall at pregnancy checking but fail to give a second vaccination in the spring before breeding.

The vaccine was developed 10 years ago after Western ranchers who had dealt with the trich threat for decades pressed for additional tools to fight the disease.

A 1990 survey of California beef cattle operations revealed more than 15% of herds were infected (i.e., they had at least one infected bull). Several factors — such as grazing associations, renting or borrowing bulls and large areas of common fence lines — favor introduction of trich from one herd to another.

“Trich” Questions

BEEF recently asked Bill Kvasnicka, University of Nevada-Reno and Nevada's Extension veterinarian some questions about trichomoniasis.

Q: What's the trichomoniasis disease cycle?

A: The organism lives in microscopic skin folds lining the bull's penis and internal sheath. As the bull ages, the skin folds increase, creating additional places for it to thrive.

Trich is transmitted to the cow where it causes vaginal/uterine infection and impedes fetal development. The cow's immune system will eventually destroy the organism. The immunity is short-lived, so a cow or heifer can become infected again. Some cows never completely clear themselves of trich, becoming persistent carriers.

Q: What are the signs or symptoms in cattle?

A: There are no outward signs when bulls or cows are infected. Cows or heifers with pyometra (a heavy, pus-filled uterus) at the time of pregnancy checking should make you suspicious about trich.

Q: What's the initial diagnostic step?

A: Scrapings of internal sheath fluids are taken from the bull, placed in a culture medium in the InPouch test for up to a week. This technique can miss some infected bulls if they are tested only once. Repeat testing (up to three times, at weekly intervals) is necessary to be sure the entire bull herd is negative.

Q: How can a producer keep this disease out of a herd?

A: Be careful about using older bulls. If you suspect a problem, use young bulls (less than four years). In addition:

  • Practice good biosecurity measures, including keeping fences in good repair.

  • Test new bulls at purchase or buy only tested bulls with a certification of a negative test. Then hold the bull in quarantine for a couple of weeks and retest.

  • Test all bulls two weeks after the end of the breeding season.

  • Try to keep bulls in clean pastures. Dirt and manure will contaminate the InPouch liquid media, compromising the diagnostic accuracy.

  • Be careful about commingling with cows outside your own herd, especially somebody else's culls.

  • Vaccinate all females for trich, twice at one-month intervals, then annually. The best time to vaccinate is a few weeks before the bulls are turned in, so immunity is high at the time of possible exposure.

Three strategies for drought

Many areas of the U.S., but particularly the West, have experienced drought the past few years. Unfortunately, it appears summer 2001 will be no different for many of these afflicted areas. In drought conditions, nutrition, grazing and parasite factors present three major areas of concern.

In a drought, the initial stress to the animal is nutritional. As the forage dries out, the nutrients in the feed are declining while the nutrient requirements of the calf are increasing. In the cow, the stress of lactation plus a growing fetus, in addition to her own maintenance requirements, magnifies the effects of poor nutrition. This may lead to lower weaning weights and delayed breeding.

In addition, the cow will have to be fed more later to achieve the proper body condition score (BCS) before calving next year. Consider these factors:

  • A cow in thin condition may require 10-15% more energy in her diet during cold weather than a cow in good condition. The cow provides nearly 70% of her calf's nutrition. The cow's ability to provide ample milk depends on her overall condition and the quality of her own nutrition.

  • A cow in good nutritional condition is nearly 50% more likely to cycle within 90 days of calving than a thin cow.

  • The calf obtains 30% of its nutrition from sources other than the cow — grazing or supplemental feed. Supplemental feed needs to be high quality to benefit the calf, as it has a limited stomach capacity and may not digest feed as well as older animals.

Management-wise, early weaning of calves or creep feeding may be options. If possible, cull old or dry cows and separate cattle according to body condition. Save the best feed or the largest quantity of feed for the younger animals.

One pitfall to avoid is spending too much on supplemental feed. Look for sources of inexpensive feed or by-product feeds in your area (see “2001 Feed Composition Guide,” February BEEF, page 10, or check out www.beef-mag.com for the feed values of almost 300 feedstuffs). Otherwise, moving or selling the cattle may be the only options.

In nutrition-stressed cattle, the number of parasites needed to impact productivity reduces dramatically. Particular attention may be needed this year for both flies and internal parasites.

Drought conditions reduce the amount of forage available, and overgrazing is often unavoidable. As a general rule, hot dry conditions reduce parasite larvae numbers. Due to the short grazing, however, the number of larvae ingested may be higher because most of them are located at ground level.

If supplemental feed is given, the cows will congregate more in one area. Thus, the concentration of larvae may be increased.

One of the most costly internal parasites of cattle is Ostertagia ostertagi (brown stomach worm). If the environmental conditions are particularly hostile to the parasite — extreme heat or cold — the organism will inhibit in the larval stage and remain dormant inside the cattle. When conditions improve, the worms resume development and move outside the animal's body, which may lead to large increases in parasite numbers later in the year.

David Wieland is a nutrition consultant specializing in cow/calf, feedlot and horses. Based in Shepherd, MT, he also publishes a subscription newsletter. For more information, contact him at 406/373-5512 or e-mail at [email protected].

The UK's Progress

Here's how the UK moved down the individual ID trail.

The ID protocol is strict. Each calf must be marked with double eartags at birth. Producers then apply for a passport with numbers corresponding to the eartags.

The United Kingdom (UK) has used systems to identify farm animals for centuries. Recently, national policies on disease control, especially bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), have led to a succession of record keeping and animal identification (ID) requirements for farmers.

The first fully national ID cattle system was introduced in 1953 as part of tuberculosis eradication. All cattle not already registered with a breed society had to be identified with an eartag or tattoo.

Later, the system was expanded to include “movement books” kept by farmers and inspected by local authorities. The system grew with computerization. ID programs also evolved to help identify livestock for subsidy payments made to farmers.

Handwritten farmer records, however, were difficult to verify. Tracing exercises were hampered by inaccurate records and unrecorded removal of eartags from imported cattle.

“In principle, record keeping should have made it possible to follow an animal's movements and identify the farm of origin,” says Graham Lewis of the UK's Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF). “This was important for disease control, since it was easier to prevent or control an epidemic if the course of the disease could be identified.”

Chasing BSE

With the emergence of BSE in the mid-1980s, the adequacy of existing ID and tracing regimes came into question. That accelerated as fear developed of a possible link between BSE and human deaths caused by variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

The disease reached its peak in 1992 when 37,280 new BSE cases were diagnosed in the UK. In March 1996, the EU banned the export of any UK beef or beef products.

The average incubation period of BSE is five years. Very rarely do animals under three years old display symptoms. This suggests cattle in England first became infected in the early 1980s.

The long incubation period of BSE and its unpredictable nature called into question the requirement under the old ID laws to keep movement records for only three years. Changes made in 1990 require farmers to keep ID and movement records for 10 years.

“Passports” And Databases

Another expansion required cattle farmers in England, Scotland and Wales to provide details of births, deaths and breeding records on their herds by January 1995. They also were required to send movement documents with cattle going to market. This led to establishing the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) “passport” system in use today.

“Eartags and passports providing all cattle a unique identity are issued to farmers,” says Fiona Jayatilaka, BCMS corporate service manager based in Workington, Cumbria. “Movement details are kept manually on the passport, which stays with the animal throughout its life.”

The ID protocol is strict. Each calf must be marked with double eartags at birth. The farmer then applies for a passport with numbers corresponding to the eartags. Passports come with a set of checkbook-style coupons. The coupons are filled out and sent to BCMS each time the animal changes hands.

For example, in a private sale, a seller must inform BCMS about the movement “off” his holding, while the buyer must tell BCMS about the movement “on” his holding. The BCMS database also traces imported cattle, which also must have passports.

Animals are accepted for slaughter only with a valid passport. More than 5.5 million passports have been issued, tracing more than 9 million cattle movements, since BCMS became fully operational in September 1998.

Cattle tracing doesn't stop at the packing plant, however. The passport numbers are dovetailed with a computerized beef labeling system that allows anyone to trace a particular load, lot or even package of beef all the way back to the farm of origin, says Jayatilaka. Voluntary beef labeling became compulsory on Jan. 1.

The UK system follows EU-wide rules on beef labeling. The rules are intended to meet consumers' concern that cattle and the meat from them should be more easily traceable.

Lack of a central database limited the system's use in controlling animal diseases, says Mark Filley, a member of the BSE Inquiry Unit at MAFF.

“The development of a movement database also became a precondition for the re-establishment of the UK's beef export market,” he adds.

Recently, the BCMS passport system was integrated with the Cattle Tracing System (CTS) database. This online service allows farmers to register new calves and apply for passports. Along with government regulators, producers can use the CTS to monitor the movement of an individual animal throughout its lifetime.

Covering The Cost

The BCMS is trying to make the task of keeping records and identifying animals as producer-friendly as possible, says Jayatilaka. The goal is to use technology to reduce the number of on-farm visits as suspect animals are traced.

“It's natural for farmers to see these things as a hassle,” she says. “But for the most part, they accept it as part of the bureaucracy involved with dealing with the disease problems at hand.”

With a staff of 560, BCMS functions have replaced ID and cattle movement control duties of local animal health authorities.

The only direct cost to the farmer is the eartag. The government paid start-up costs and so far is covering the running costs.

The UK won't impose charges on producers until 2003 or 2004 at the earliest, Jayatilaka adds.

A person guilty of obstruction under the UK cattle movement system regulations can face a maximum fine of $3,400, three months in prison or both.

ID and tracing is something that's there to stay.

“It's an important element in increasing confidence in the British beef market and containing BSE on this continent,” says Daniel Clarkson, MAFF team member reviewing BCMS's effectiveness.

“BCMS is essential in long-term commitment to protecting animal and public health — and the effective administration of subsidy schemes.”

Birth weight versus calving ease

Cow/calf production is an annual series of cycles that draws producer attention to particular traits at certain times of the year.

  • Calving season brings the reality of our sire selection for birth weight, calving ease and calf vigor.

  • Breeding season focuses our attention on reproduction and fertility traits.

  • Weaning season draws our attention to the pounds produced/cow.

  • At harvest time, we find out how well our mating decisions panned out for feedlot gain and carcass performance.

At each of these stages, we're reminded how difficult it can be to make mating decisions that accomplish our goals in each production area.

For instance, with calving season upon us in much of the industry, birth weight and calving ease take center stage as cow/calf operators try to maximize the percentage of their calf crops. But, looking ahead to this year's breeding decisions for these traits, keep in mind that aiming for birth weights that contribute to calving ease is more complex than just selecting bulls with low birth weight expected progeny differences (EPDs).

Research indicates birth weight is by far the most significant contributor to calving ease. In fact, researchers found that 60% of calving difficulty (dystocia) is due to calf birth weight.

With that in mind, it's easy to conclude that selecting low birth weight sires will reduce calving difficulty and increase the percentage of calf crop. However, a producer must also ask how placing selection pressure on low birth weights influences other production traits such as weaning weight and average daily gain.

For starters, the maternal/placenta interaction, maternal diet and environmental climate and temperature all have varying influences on birth weight and gestation length of calves.

There is no question that dead calves at birth don't weigh much at weaning time, and that birth weight has a major influence on subsequent calving ease. Research suggests, however, that selecting for birth weight EPDs alone can upend the economic fortunes of a cow/calf enterprise.

As cow/calf producers discovered long ago, that's because selecting for low birth weights is antagonistic to selecting for growth performance.

Emphasize Calving Ease

Consequently, emphasizing calving ease EPDs in selection rather than birth weight EPDs may offer greater dividends by allowing for the selection of calving ease and growth performance at the same time.

Table 1 illustrates genetic correlations from the American Simmental Association 2001 Spring Sire Summary. These genetic correlations — the genetic relationship between two different production traits — indicate how closely or how loosely traits are related to one another.

Correlations range from +1.0 to -1.0. The nearer a relationship is to ±1.0 the stronger the relationship is.

In the case of birth weight, correlations in the table underscore the fact that birth weight is highly correlated — but negatively correlated — to calving ease direct. At the same time, birth weight is highly correlated — and positively correlated — to weaning weight and yearling weight.

Obviously, this is just good cowboy logic. Although lighter calves at birth tend to be born easier, they are often lighter at weaning. Conversely, the heavier that calves are at birth, the more calving difficulty there tends to be. The heavier calves at birth, however, also tend to be the heaviest ones at weaning and yearling time. Thus, the genetic antagonism.

Table 1: Simmental sire EPD correlations*
Calving Ease Direct Birth Weight Weaning Weight Yearling Weight Calving Ease Maternal
Calving Ease (Direct) 1.000 — High — Moderate — Low Moderate
Birth Wt. -0.594 1.000 High High — Low
Weaning Wt. -0.295 0.611 1.000 High Low
Yearling Wt. -0.257 0.563 0.946 1.000 Low
Calving Ease (Maternal) 0.303 — 0.141 0.039 0.093 1.000
Legend: •0.25 = low; 0.26-0.50 = moderate; •0.50 = high
*Source: American Simmental Association 2001 Spring Sire Summary

However, looking at the table again, the genetic correlation between calving ease direct and weaning weight is not as negative as that between birth weight and weaning weight. So, placing more selection pressure on calving ease direct rather than birth weight is less antagonistic to growth traits.

Bottom line, this suggests that a producer can maintain an acceptable live calf crop percentage without sacrificing growth performance by focusing more on direct calving ease than birth weight when it comes to selecting for getting live calves on the ground. And, these easy calving, high growth sires that bend the rules of the low-birth weight, low-growth antagonism certainly exist.

As basic as this is, by considering this selection approach, cow/calf producers can boost their bottom lines and have their calving ease and weaning weights, too.

Tom Hook and his family run a fourth-generation, diversified seedstock and crop operation in its 100th year of continuous family agricultural production. Contact him at Hook Farms, 11333 180th St., Tracy, MN 56175; or call 507/629-4946; or e-mail at [email protected].

Foot-and-mouth as a terrorist weapon

The virus that causes foot-and-mouth-disease (FMD) is a pathogen that terrorists could use, says the February issue of Jane's Intelligence Review (www.janes.com). The leading global information and intelligence provider for international and national security says “the farming industry represents a lucrative and vulnerable target for terrorists in terms of the ease of attack and the level of damage caused.”

The article cites the addition of $40 million to the 2001 USDA budget to fight agro-terrorism. This reflects a growing concern that the ag sector, which accounts for one-sixth of U.S. gross domestic product, may become the target of a future act of chemical or biological (CB) terrorism, the report says.

“This concern has been generated by a growing realization that CB attacks against livestock and the food chain are substantially easier and less risky to carry out than those directed at civilian targets.”

One of the most immediate effects would be to destabilize the economy. The economic consequences of such an attack could be felt in three ways:

  • Direct economic losses,

  • Indirect multiplier effects via government compensation payments and lost worker wages in the affected livestock sectors, and

  • International costs in lost trading opportunities.

To view the entire article, look for the link on www.beef-mag.com.


The national pork checkoff will continue under a deal negotiated by the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and USDA. The agreement continues the mandatory checkoff that collects $54 million annually until at least 2003.

However, the agreement bans the NPPC from receiving any checkoff funds. Instead, the program will be handled by the National Pork Board (NPB).

USDA will conduct a survey after June 2003 to determine if 15% of producers favor a referendum.


Defenses aimed at keeping bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) out of the North American continent are being bolstered.

In February, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned that BSE could spread to as many as 100 counties across the globe, most of them in the Near East, Eastern Europe and Asia. The FAO says these countries are at risk because of cattle or meat meal imported from Europe in the 1980s.

More than 40 countries have placed full or partial bans on imports of European Union beef and variety meats.

Meanwhile, in North America:

  • Hamburger giant McDonald's is asking its packer suppliers to sign a “letter of compliance” stating the materials fed to cattle from which the meat is derived are in compliance with Food and Drug Administration rules that prohibit the feeding of ruminant meat and bone meal to ruminant animals.

  • IBP is requiring its suppliers to certify they don't use ruminant meat and bone meal in cattle feed. The packing giant will conduct on-site audits to verify compliance.

  • The National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), the Canadian Cattlemen's Association and Mexico's Confederacion Nacional Ganadera signed a statement pledging a joint commitment to ensure BSE is kept out of North America. The groups will work within their jurisdictions to ensure full compliance with all measures designed to prevent BSE.

  • BSE is now NCBA's top research priority for 2001.

  • The American Feed Industry Association approved two measures recently to enhance food safety and increase consumer confidence. These include advocating the voluntary withdrawal of ruminant-derived meat and bone meal from feed production facilities for ruminant animals, and creating a certification program to ensure compliance to FDA's mammalian protein feeding rules.


Scientists have decoded the DNA of E. coli 0157:H7, which should help create a vaccine for cattle and other animals, and lower the human risk. Still, scientists say developing a vaccine will be difficult as the strain often picks up genetic material from other bacteria and viruses.

Meanwhile, University of Georgia (UG) experiments have found E. coli 0157:H7 can be removed from cattle by giving cattle probiotic cultures of other E. coli strains that are harmless to people and animals.

“In most animals, these friendly bacteria have killed all the 0157 bacteria by germ warfare inside the gastrointestinal tract within two weeks,” says Michael Doyle, UG Center for Food Safety.

This monthly column is compiled by Joe Roybal, 952/851-4669 or e-mail [email protected].

Monitoring For Money

A seasoned range manager offers a three-step strategy for designing your own range monitoring program.

Ask range scientist Roy Roath why monitoring rangelands is important, and he'll quickly get your attention. “Monitoring is about money,” Roath says.

Roath, a Colorado State University Extension range specialist and range science professor, has been teaching producers how to monitor the resource for more than 20 years.

“Range monitoring is like balancing a checkbook. Your forage base is your capital. Monitoring range tells you where you are and what you have available to spend,” Roath says.

The payoff: the information monitoring provides helps producers make sound grazing management decisions that ultimately affect animal performance.

While Roath's research hasn't looked specifically at the economic payback of range monitoring, he's heard plenty of testimonials to support the effort.

“Producers say, ‘I'd rather give up my vaccination program than quit monitoring,’ and ‘I didn't know ranching could be this easy,’” Roath reports.

But he cautions, “For a range monitoring program to be beneficial long-term, it has to be about managing your business and improving it for your own use.

“Every ranch operator I know is financially challenged. And, the public is culturally and politically challenging ranch operations. So you've got to be a better operator,” he stresses.

That doesn't mean monitoring needs to be complicated. Roath says, “One producer I've worked with has 800 cows and estimates his monitoring program totals a three-day investment over the course of a year.”

In short, Roath says, “Monitoring is about gathering information. It's about building a support group among family and peers so everyone is involved and informed, then utilizing the information and making ranching easier.”

Ready, Set, Monitor

That said, you're ready to get started. Roath says the top priority is to keep your system simple. He offers these three guidelines:

  1. Don't data gather. “This stuff has got to be useful,” Roath says. He advises gathering information to answer one question: Is the forage resource responding like I want it to?

    By answering this question, Roath says a producer will know what management practices need to be changed to enhance animal performance. To get the answer, you'll need to monitor frequency of use, intensity of use and whether or not plants had an opportunity to grow or regrow.

    Roath uses a system called the grazing response index (GRI). (See “Calculating A Grazing Response Index,” page 40.) It simply means determining if you're grazing too long, too many head or at the wrong time of year.

    Roath developed the GRI method specifically to evaluate the effects of grazing on plants.

    The index system assigns point values to each of the three categories, then requires adding them together for an overall rating. The end result is a numerical value that is either positive, neutral or negative and correlates to management on the resource, (i.e., a positive value indicates management is beneficial).

    The Rocky Mountain Region of the U.S. Forest Service adopted this monitoring approach as one of their monitoring methods in their Rangeland Analysis Handbook in 1997.

    The GRI is a simple way to get some complex monitoring information, says David Bradford, range conservationist on the Gunnison National Forest near Paonia, CO. “Producers really take to it. We have the permittees calculate a GRI with their end of the season grazing use report,” he says.

    “The system allows producers to evaluate different impacts,” he says. Management changes can then be made where needed.

    Bradford says other regions of the Forest Service are making plans to include the GRI in their grazing manuals. And, Roath reports that land management agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management in Wyoming and Colorado, the Wyoming Department of Game and Fish and the Colorado Division of Wildlife, are also utilizing the GRI method.

    “Agencies are recognizing this as an appropriate way for livestock producers to monitor range,” Roath says.

  2. Make a challenge/opportunity map. While “inventory” may sound cumbersome, knowing what forage resources you have is a necessary part of monitoring.

    Again, Roath advises simplicity. He recommends a trip through the pasture on horseback after cattle have been moved from an area to assess if grazing was light, moderate or too much. Then color those areas in on a map of the pasture.

    Once done, you'll have what Roath calls a challenge/opportunity map that will immediately show you the impact of your management for that year.

    For example, if one corner of the pasture was over utilized, while the rest of the pasture only had light use, you've got a livestock distribution problem. You may need to do something to entice livestock to other areas of the pasture.

    On the other hand, if the entire pasture is heavily used, it's likely the stocking rate should be decreased.

    Another critical inventory tool is a calendar to track grazing dates, the number and kind of animals in each unit, and average weights of animals if available. Calendars are a good place to track precipitation and weather, too.

  3. Track eat ’ums and no eat ’ums. This, Roath says, means tracking what the animals prefer to eat, and what they don't eat. Then, from year to year, evaluate if you have more or fewer of the plants they like. It's a simplified method for determining if the plant community is changing, Roath says.

“For beginners, it's not necessary to know plant names,” Roath says. “You just need to recognize what plants the animals are grazing and prefer.” With time, he says, most producers learn plant names and characteristics.

To help track changes in plant communities, consider including the following in your monitoring program:

  • Photo points — Photos can be helpful to document what a specific area looks like from year to year or seasonally. But photos aren't the story by themselves, Roath says.

    A photo can show general things — if trails are recovering, if a riparian area is remaining stable, if overall use was light or heavy — but you still need to document some details in writing.

    Roath advises these snapshot tips: set up permanent photo points in representative areas, critical areas like stream banks or riparian zones and/or treatment areas; include written assessments of resource conditions, plant community trends and grazing levels.

  • Cages — A cage can be a small, fenced area or an actual wire cage enclosing a representative area in the pasture to prevent the area from being grazed.

    Cages allow for a quick comparison of how much forage grew versus how much was grazed.

    “I like cages a lot,” Roath says. “It's an easy visual, without taking a lot of data.”

    To give an accurate assessment each year, cages must be moved annually.

  • Transects — Transects allow for a more detailed tracking of changes in plant species composition. Typically, a 100-ft. line is extended in a representative area of the pasture. You then identify what plant occurs at every foot along the transect. When complete, you'll have 100 points along the transect and can calculate the percent of desirable species versus undesirables and compare changes from year to year.

Link The Data Together

As the information you start to collect comes together, Roath says the bottom line is linking range information with animal performance.

“These are additional tools that should be linked with calf weights, herd health and breed back percentages to give you a very complete picture.” Roath says.

“Monitoring is not just about vegetation. It's about linking all the pieces together — vegetation, livestock, economics, even family — to make management decisions,” Roath says.

Colorado rancher Boone Vaughn is one of Roath's range monitoring students. He started his range monitoring program about seven years ago, and he sums his results up with one equation: better range condition equals better animal performance.

Implementing Roath's steps to monitor the range he runs his 500-head cowherd on, Vaughn says he's seen improved cow conception and overall cow performance as well as beefier calf weaning weights.

It's about creating a new level of awareness, Roath says. “Most producers can drive through their cowherd and assess which calf is sick or which ones are gaining well. They need to be able to do the same with their range.”

For more information about range monitoring contact Colorado State University's Roy Roath at 970/491-6543 or e-mail [email protected].

Calculating A Grazing Response Index

Want to determine if your pastures are stocked with too many head, at the wrong time of year or for too long? To get the answer, calculate a grazing response index (GRI) for the following three categories:

  1. To estimate frequency of use, divide the number of days cattle will be in a grazing area by a value between 7 and 10. (Seven to 10 days are required for a plant to grow enough to be grazed again during late spring or early summer. Use 9-10 days if growth is slower.)

    For example, if cattle will be in a pasture for 15 days and regrowth is average, divide 15 by 8, which equals 1.8, or about 2 opportunities for plants to be grazed (defoliated) within that 15-day period. An index value of +1 to -1 is assigned as follows:

    Number of defoliations Value
    1 +1
    2 0
    3 or more -1

    Plants exposed to three or more defoliations are likely being overgrazed, and the grazing season should be shortened.

  2. To estimate intensity of use, evaluate how much leaf material has been removed from a selected plant species. Assign index values as follows:

    Level of defoliation Percent utilized Value
    Light <40% +1
    Moderate 41-55% 0
    Heavy >56% -1

    Heavy use would likely cause the selected plants to decline in vigor if that level of use were to continue for several years. Hence, stocking rates on areas receiving heavy use should be reduced.

  3. To calculate opportunity — the amount of time plants have to grow prior to grazing or to regrow after grazing — you have to make a judgment call based on the appearance of the vegetation at the end of the growing season. Assign index values as follows:

    Opportunity To Grow Or Regrow Value
    Full Season +2
    Most of Season +1
    Some Chance 0
    Little Chance -1
    No Chance -2

    For example, if at the end of the growing season plants look like they were barely grazed, a value of +2 is appropriate. If plants look like they were used but regrew fairly well, assign a +1. For plants that were heavily used with no regrowth, assign a -2. Areas that have little or no chance to regrow should be grazed at a different season of year.

For an overall rating, add the indexes from all three categories together. The total numerical value will either be positive, neutral or negative, which correlates to management on the resource. A positive value indicates management is beneficial. A negative value indicates management changes should be made.
(Source: Roy Roath, Colorado State University)

Added Pasteurella vaccine protection

Express 5-PHM, a modified-live virus respiratory vaccine that includes protection against Pasteurella haemolytica and Pasteurella multocida, is now available from Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica. The vaccine also protects against IBR, BVD Types 1 & 2, PI3 and BRSV.

Express 5-PHM is available in 10-dose and 50-dose sizes. A 2-ml dose, followed by a 2-ml booster for the BRSV and Pasteurella fractions is the recommended individual treatment for beef and dairy calves. Call 816/236-2763.
(Circle Reply Card No. 101)

Feed Bunk

The 10-ft. horse feed bunk from Behlen Livestock Equipment features a one-piece, all poly, 10-in.-deep feed trough with rounded inside corners for easy cleaning. Stands 35 in. high with a 12.5-cu.-ft. capacity. Call 402/564-3111.
(Circle Reply Card No. 102)

Build A Gate

Simplify your next gate building project with SturdyGate hardware from Modern Farm. Using 2×4 lumber, follow the simple assembly instructions for a perfectly fit, hinged gate in about an hour. All brackets (including welded hinges) and assembly screws are provided. CallCall 307/587-5515.
(Circle Reply Card No. 103)

Johne's Disease Testing Kit

Antel BioSystems offers Johne's disease testing services. Using advanced technology and a genetic sequence specific to Johne's disease detection, the company's researchers developed a procedure that can provide producers with initial tests results in as little as 72 hours. A sample collection and shipping system was developed to make the testing process hassle free. The system contains a kit with all the supplies necessary to collect fecal or blood samples and ship them to the testing center. Call 800/631-3510.
(Circle Reply Card No. 104)

Fly Larvicide

Biospherics Inc.'s FlyCracker is a larvicide proven to be 100% effective against house and stable fly larvae. The completely biodegradable product does not harm animals or humans and will not cause insect resistance. It can be used in feedlots, cattle barns and horse stalls. If fly infestation already exists, use a knockdown pesticide along with the first application of larvicide. It can be used up until the time of slaughter and requires no withdrawal period. Available in 50 lb. bags. Call 877/359-2466.
(Circle Reply Card No. 105)

Tractor Line

The Century line of tractors from American Jawa are designed for small acreage farming. Powered by Yanmar and Mitsubishi engines, all models have fully synchronized, 12-speed shuttle transmission and 540/1000 rpm live PTO with easy maneuverability and short-turning radius. The low-step platform with side-mounted levers adds to driving comfort. Call 517/687-6345.
(Circle Reply Card No. 106)

Livestock ID

Agri-ID's livestock identification is built to withstand years of use and is reusable. Specially designed angles use the animals natural bone structure to keep it in place. Four 1.5-in. × 3-in. ID areas with plexiglass windows are available for entering a name or number. Automatic safety release buckle prevents harm to animal. Available in four highly visible colors. Call 800/544-1239.
(Circle Reply Card No. 107)

Horn Fly Web Site

Starbar has launched a Web site to educate beef and dairy producers on how horn flies affect the economics of their livestock operations. For more information visit www.altosidigr.com . Call 414/224-0210 ext. 245.
(Circle Reply Card No. 108)

What about the protein ban?

In R.L. Preston's February reference piece, “2001 Feed Composition Guide,” page 10, I found several references to animal by-products such as blood meal, bone meal and several others. I understood such feeds were banned by the beef industry by reason of the “mad cow” disease.
Roy Anderson
Blair, NE

R.L. Preston responds: Your question is a good one. The most important point to be made during this uncertainty about bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) is that the disease is not present in U.S. cattle and therefore not a threat to consumers of U.S. beef.

The ingredients you mention are in the feed table because they are valuable by-product feeds of long standing. However, there is uncertainty about BSE and rendering processes that may or may not inactivate the BSE infective agent (prion). As a result, FDA in 1997 exercised the precautionary principle and issued an order banning the feeding of protein to ruminants (cattle and sheep) when derived from ruminants and protein from most mammals (swine and horses, unless these by-products originate from single-specie slaughter plants).

This includes meat meal, bone meal, meat-and-bone meal and blood meal. By-products from poultry (feather meal and poultry by-product meal) can still be fed.

Cattle producers and feed manufacturers must abide by this ban. Furthermore, when mixed feed (concentrate, supplements, etc.) is purchased, cattle producers should insist on invoices and labels showing that these banned ingredients have not been included in the mixture.

By complying with this ban, U.S. cattle producers will be able to assure consumers worldwide that U.S. beef is free of BSE to the best of our knowledge.

Research is ongoing to determine rendering procedures that will inactivate the BSE prion. This will require time since the incubation period for the BSE agent in test mice is one to three years. Additional research will then be required to assure that these procedures render by-products free of the BSE agent in cattle.

Producers Were Not Served

It's my strong belief that the pork checkoff was voted down because it did not support small, independent farmers (“Editor's Roundup,” February, page 4). The program is in the hands of the industry, and they sure are able to come up with their own advertising.

I was at that conference. Why? The confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) industry has for six years polluted my neighborhood. The air around my house is foul. Do you expect me to just sit here and take it?

Yes, we need to learn the lesson. Clean up our acts or not be in business.
Rolf Christen
[email protected]

Harlan And Heather

It's disappointing to hear that Heather Thomas will no longer be writing a regular column in BEEF and Harlan Hughes will be. Reading Harlan Hughes' column is like reading the wiring schematic to the space shuttle — you assume it must be right because of the number of figures and charts involved.

By contrast, Heather Thomas portrays a real ranch family dealing with real problems like predators, weather, markets and a family member who nearly died. Hers was the one article that didn't drill us monthly on how much the checkoff was doing, how our calves don't fit the market or how beef demand was dropping. She knows what it's like to have cold feet and wet gloves.
Brian Kolb
Prairie City, SD
[email protected]

Editor's Note: Author Harlan Hughes and BEEF editorial staff strive each month to make “The Market Advisor” as readable and as easily graspable as possible. In order to fully appreciate Hughes' lessons in planning and maximizing beef cow profits, careful study is required to properly grasp the economic concepts. As Hughes often tells his audiences, “No one has ever promised that economics is simple.”

BEEF will introduce its new “ranch family” journalist in the June issue.

Who Are The Survivors?

In a recent Dave Nichols commentary, he stated that in a few years' time, there would only be four purebred seedstock producers left in the U.S. I assume he will be one and possibly Leachman Cattle Co. another. However, I can't come up with the other two from all the outstanding seedstocks.

A friend of mine purchased two purebred bulls, sight unseen, from a well-known breeder with outstanding EPDs and the best “papers” you could write. He returned both bulls because they didn't meet his evaluation for soundness.

At the Iowa State Fair, a noted judge stated that he believed it was time to get back to the basics in visual selection of bulls. I believe most of our commercial beef herds are doing an outstanding job of this with the help of EPDs, frame scores, carcass and other papers.
Jerry Hunziker
Hurdland, MO

The four “seedstock companies” that will dominate future beef genetics don't even exist today.
— Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols Responds: My assumption that only four seedstock companies would be left in the U.S. is based simply on what has happened to agriculture in my lifetime. When I started farming, my choices of tractors were John Deere, Oliver, I-H, Case, Silver King, Allis Chalmers, Ford, Ferguson or Massey Harris. I could even buy a tractor from the Montgomery Ward catalog. Hybrid seed corn was sold by more than 200 companies.

Mergers and acquisitions continue in everything from banking, farm equipment, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, fertilizer, feed manufacturing, packing, processing, swine and poultry genetic companies to the five or six giant supermarkets that sell the bulk of our beef.

History proves the folly of assuming that current large family operations such as ours or Leachman will be among the “survivors.” The four “seedstock companies” that will dominate future beef genetics don't even exist today.

While mergers, acquisitions and partnerships may evolve from existing operations, the seedstock breeders of the future are likely to resemble the companies that agriculture now depends on for both its inputs and markets.

Let Someone Else Pay It

I am responding to your November 2000 issue in which two editors defended the beef checkoff and questioned the motives of the Livestock Marketing Association.

Without choice, I am forced to contribute $1/head to the checkoff program, and I deeply resent it. I think the returns the average or large beef producer have gotten over the years from the hundreds of millions of dollars they have been forced to contribute are minimal, at best.

If it's such a wonderful program, let the people who are paying for it vote on continuing it. Or better yet, make the checkoff voluntary, and let the people who support it pay for it.
Charles A. Tuppen
[email protected]

Pork Got What It Deserved

One of the worst mistakes you and your friends at BEEF can do is to continue your sarcastic and condescending attitudes concerning issues like the overthrow of the pork checkoff. With most independent pork producers run out of business in the past 20 years, many of those left apparently felt they couldn't stand much more help from the National Pork Producers Council.

With the demand for European-origin beef at all-time lows because of BSE, why haven't you and your influential friends seen to it that American beef filled the void?
Lloyd L. Wilson III, DVM
Centerville, KS

First-Class Journalism

Your story on John Rose of Three Forks, MT (“Balancing Act,” Spring 2001 Cow/Calf Issue, page 46), was first-class journalism — one of the best wrap-ups of where we are in the beef industry today. However, I think Clint Peck's analogy of the see-saw was wrong. It's not a balancing act, although I can see where the industry would think that it is.

What's happening is the industry is splitting into two parts. This leaves two industries that will have little, but less than we expect, to do with each other — the high-value, custom product grown to specification, and the commodity side producing cheap beef for processing.

Many of the people who raise cattle are attracted to the high-value side because they take pride in doing a good job. And, of course, high value does sound appealing. Sounds like high income.

I think it just might be that. But, who really knows? Perhaps with cattlemen making a little money now, they'll invest it in going after these high-value markets.

As for the commodity guys, I worry that someday you will not even have a market for your cattle. No one will want them. Sounds extreme, but it's happening in hogs.
Charles Batchelor
Midlothian, VA

We welcome reader letters. Include name and address and send to BEEF, 7900 International Dr., Suite 300, Minneapolis, MN 55425; or e-mail to [email protected]. BEEF reserves the right to edit for length.