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Articles from 2005 In April

Animal ID Fact Sheet Available At

Check out the latest stocker management fact sheet at Entitled "Management Drives I.D. Decisions," it's available in the "Fact Sheets" section listed in the menu of items along the top of the opening page.

This how-to on animal identification details the procedure for identifying your operation's needs, understanding the components and arriving at a cost-effective answer to your specific operation's needs.

The Web site,, is a joint venture between BEEF magazine and Kansas State University.

No Mandatory ID Without FOIA Immunity, USDA Says

Bill Hawks, USDA Undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, had two messages for attendees of the National Institute for Animal Ag (NIAA) annual meeting in St. Paul, MN, yesterday. Regarding the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) currently under development and designed to provide 48-track back on any livestock animal in the U.S. in the event of an animal health or food safety emergency, Hawks said:

"First, we will protect confidentiality of data (collected via the NAIS system). There is no question about that."

He added that USDA submitted to Congress last fall an Administration bill to address the confidentiality issue, which is as yet un-introduced.

"I would ask you, as people interested in this, to help us get that legislation passed," he said.

"Second, I will also stand here and tell you that January of 2009 is our target date to have a mandatory system in place. But I will also tell you that (it will not go mandatory) until we get this confidentiality issue addressed," he added.

Hawks said 45 states and five tribes now have premises registration systems in place.

"I think we've moved a long way in the last year, particularly the last few months. We're headed in the right direction. And, now that premises registration is getting pretty well in place, we're going to be moving to the AIN (animal identification numbers) in very short order."

Hawks reported that "in the very, very near future," USDA will publish in the Federal Register its Draft Strategic Plan on NAIS, as a basis for feedback and discussion. In addition, USDA also will "very soon" be publishing its Draft Program Standards, which Hawks says, "will put meat on the bones" of the plan.

"We are continuing to move forward but we cannot move forward without your continued support and participation," Hawks told attendees. "We're committed to working with every sector of the industry to make sure the things we do are cost effective, functional and that we will protect the confidentiality of that data."

A new look at labeling

Cattlemen in South Dakota have figured it out. They're using marketing savvy, combined with well-reasoned, forward-thinking ideas about branding (frequently called “labeling” in some circles) to establish a new South Dakota beef label that will be of value to consumers worldwide.

A bill, passed last month in the South Dakota Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Mark Rounds, established a seal of approval for high quality beef products from cattle raised and processed in the state. Participants are subject to state-imposed standards, licensing fees and careful recordkeeping on the cattle they raise. The idea should serve them well when it comes time to market the beef from their animals.

South Dakota's tourism and economic development secretary, Jim Hagen, says the seal “will be recognized worldwide as a safe, wholesome and quality product.”

Although it's a voluntary program, what dedicated South Dakota producer wouldn't want to participate? The state is known for producing high quality beef. Creating a label with the standards and certification to back it up should carry a very strong message to consumers looking to purchase beef.

COOL vs. quality-based

Compare the new South Dakota program to the half-baked, mandatory national country-of-origin labeling (COOL) law, which has obvious flaws and demonstrates a lack of marketing savvy.

Mandatory COOL forces high quality producers to share a label with the lowest quality producers in the country. While it's true the U.S. produces some of the world's best beef, it has its share of clunkers, which would enjoy the use of a “born, raised and processed in the U.S.” label regardless of quality or wholesomeness.

For instance, up to 20% of beef produced in the U.S. comes from dairy animals. Producers of these animals have completely different priorities.

There are also individuals who raise cattle not as a business, but as a lifestyle or hobby. There are more than 200,000 farms with less than 10 head of cattle. This represents more than one million animals.

While the beef from these cattle is probably fine, there's no way to ascertain its wholesomeness or quality. Still, no matter how it's raised and by whom, these cattle would not just be allowed, but required, to share the “born, raised and processed in the U.S.” label in U.S. grocery stores.

In fact, all products labeled “born, raised and processed in the U.S.” could be saddled with an image generated by the attributes of the lowest quality products under that label. That isn't fair to the higher quality producer.

Supporters of mandatory COOL are depending solely on the jingoistic tendencies of beef consumers to increase marketing potential of their products. Worse, they're pandering to safety fears of beef buyers, losing sight of the fact that safety in the marketplace should be a given, not a marketing claim. (No one should be allowed to sell an unsafe product, regardless of source.)

With national animal ID just around the corner, direct costs for producers to participate in a mandatory COOL program are probably immaterial. But how much would you pay for a bullet to shoot yourself in the foot? Add to that the indirect costs associated with labeling billions of packages yearly, which producers would share, and it becomes significant.

Political involvement

It shouldn't be hard to understand why this country's elected officials have embraced legislation to make COOL mandatory. It's a great opportunity to wrap themselves in the flag, pat their constituents on the back and talk about what a wonderful job we Americans do.

But political savvy is no replacement for business intelligence. While patriotism is a tried and true tool in the political arena and a wonderful sentiment, it has yet to prove successful as a universal means of increasing the value of products in today's global marketplace.

Mandatory COOL may give some U.S. producers a sense of pride, but flawed marketing logic on the designers' part will assure that it does nothing to put money in their pockets. They should take a cue from South Dakota producers and design a program that actually means something.

Walt Barnhart is president of Carnivore Communications LLC, Denver, CO, and a former communications director of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

This month in brief

“Market Advisor” columnist, Harlan Hughes, finishes up his three-part series on “Increasing your profits” on page 8. With calving season upon us, he says now's the time to record calf birth dates and dam numbers in generating your Herd Calving Distribution Table. The tool can provide a manager a roadmap to improved efficiency.

Many in the industry are celebrating the delay to USDA's plan to open the U.S. border to Canadian cattle less than 30 months of age. But in “Border decision increases risk,” Wes Ishmael writes the move isn't without risk (page 14). It could cement infrastructure change that will make it tougher for the U.S. beef industry to compete down the road.

Improvement is accomplished by doing 100 things 1% better, says Mark Hilton, DVM. In “Three tweaks for better health,” on page 16, he details three small practices in calf vaccination, vaccination timing and parasite control that can add up to large herd health improvements.

“Ranching After 50” is a new monthly column on page 20. Rancher, educator and consultant, Noel McNaughton, aims to illuminate, for those of us more than 50 years of age, the physiologic and mental changes we're experiencing, and perhaps not even aware of. His insights also should prove helpful to the loved ones trying to deal with us.

As it has every year for the past eight, BEEF magazine exclusively presents Rod Preston's annual updated “Feed Composition Tables For Cattle And Sheep.” The 2005 tables (page 48) provide energy, protein, fiber and mineral values on almost 300 different feedstuffs commonly fed to cattle and sheep.

“Cattlemen in South Dakota have figured it out,” says Walt Barnhart in his page 86 commentary, “A new look at labeling.” South Dakota enacted the nation's first, state-certified beef program last month. Barnhart says the label — with its strict standards and a certification to back it up — should serve South Dakota producers well in the market.

Covering up the smell

You might think that big piece of black plastic fabric was floating on fresh water. That's how fresh the air really is near the negative air pressure (NAP) covers floating on a handful of lagoons in Canada and the U.S.

Odor control is the big selling point, though it's not the only one, says Doug Small, Canadian co-developer of the NAP system. The cover also:

  • Reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Prevents nitrogen losses.
  • Keeps rain out of the storage.
  • Prevents erosion of the slopes.

A secondary feature, a compressed-air agitation system, was added in 2003, which permits pump-out without removing the cover.

Small and his partner, Dennis Hodgkinson in Winnipeg-based DGH Engineering, developed the NAP technology after first trying an opposite-air supported dome approach.

“Instead of blowing a cover up and pressurizing, we turned the fans around, sucked the air out and sucked the cover down to the surface,” Small says. “It worked so well that we commercialized it and formed Encon Technologies to market it.”

The prototype, placed on a primary cell in Manitoba in 1996, is still functioning. Since then, DGH Engineering has found an improved, 20-ml UV-inhibited fabric. “We rate the cover to last at least 10 years,” says Small.

One-Piece Installation

On site, an installation crew welds the plastic material into a single sheet. They dig a trench around the perimeter of the cell, fold out the plastic and place it in the trench. A small air duct goes in at the same time. Several one-third horsepower fans and centrifugal blowers are connected to the duct, to draw out biogas and any air that seeps in through the soil.

The trench is refilled and the fans are turned on. As air is sucked out, a static pressure develops that presses the fabric to the liquid surface. Even high winds can't get a grip on it. Operating cost is less than $500 Canadian/year for the fans.

Odor, evaporation and nitrogen loss stop immediately. Rain can be pumped off before it gets into the lagoon.

Bubbles of biogas in summer gradually move to the perimeter to be sucked out. It's a concentrated ‘burp’ of biogas, but very small in relation to the size of the storage.

Small estimates nitrogen losses with the NAP system at less than 2%, compared to around 40% on earthen manure storages that have straw or other covers.

“If nitrogen value is 30-35¢/lb., what you save in nitrogen content virtually pays for the cover in about seven years,” he says.

Independently, he adds, Encon Technologies and the Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute have reached very similar conclusions on cost/pig for the floating cover.

“If you have a covered storage, it adds 24¢ to the cost of raising that pig,” says Small.

Air agitation system

The second part of the system, compressed air agitation, solves a perennial problem with solids in liquid manure storages and offers some damage prevention.

Conventional methods agitate only one part of the storage at a time. “Solids are settling 15 minutes after you move the nozzle,” says Small. “You end up chasing the solids around the storage.”

As well, clay-lined earthen manure storage requires special care. “People keep the agitator in one position too long and erode a hole in the clay liner. Our system eliminates that risk,” he says.

Encon's solution is some ¾-in. PVC pipe, a set of proprietary air diffusers on a 39.4 in. grid at the bottom of the lagoon, and a wet well beside the lagoon.

“We hook up an industrial air compressor and blow air through the diffusers while we're pumping from the wet well,” says Small. “The bubbles create enough turbulence to stir up the solids — under the cover.

“The diffusers are a very simple design and not expensive. They can lay at the bottom without any operation for 12 months or more while solids build up on top — but they won't plug up over that period,” he explains.

Cost of the air agitation system, which can be used without a cover on the lagoon, is similar to the cost of conventional agitation.

Independent study results

Nazim Cicek and Qiang Zhang, University of Manitoba Biosystems Engineering professors, launched a two-year independent study of odor emissions from different types of farm operations in early 2003. Biogas or greenhouse gas emissions have been measured from open hog manure storage, straw-covered storage and NAP-covered storage.

“Preliminary results from the negative air pressure site show that the synthetic cover had a very significant effect on how much odor was emitted,” says Cicek. “Odor is reduced by almost 99.9%. It is high in concentration, but very, very little is coming out of those pipes and it is very low in relation to the overall mass.

“The preliminary results indicate carbon dioxide was reduced by 97% and methane was reduced by 87%, so there's a dual benefit from the negative air pressure system,” he adds.

NAP availability

A joint strategic alliance to market, supply and install negative air pressure floating cover systems in North America was announced in April 2003 between Encon Technologies and Layfield Geosynthetics & Industrial Fabrics.

The covers are patented, lightweight systems using geomembrane material produced by Layfield. The company, with offices in Seattle, WA, and Edmonton, Alberta, is ISO 9002 registered, with over 25 years of experience in supplying flexible membrane liners.

South Dakota Makes History

Gov. Mike Rounds signed into law a notable pair of South Dakota beef industry programs last month — a state-certified beef program and authorization for a voluntary individual animal ID system.

The South Dakota Certified Beef (SDCB) program is the first state-certified program in the nation. Expected to be fully functioning as early as this summer (operations and cattle are already enrolled), only product from cattle born, raised and harvested in South Dakota will qualify for the official state trademark. Pur-chasers of SDCB product will be able to trace the animal's life from birth through harvest.

The intent of the SDCB program isn't only to boost the value-added potential for the state's beef cattle and corn crop but spur development of South Dakota's packing segment, as well.

George Williams, South Dakota's deputy secretary of ag, says the South Dakota Department of Agriculture, which will administer the program and control the database, was to finish drafting the SDCB rules by mid March. He says 850 South Dakota farmers and ranchers have expressed interest.

According to a report in the October 2004 issue of BEEF (“South Dakota Steps Up,” page 60), program cattle must adhere to Beef Quality Assurance/Critical Management Plan (BQA-CMP) standards. They must be fed corn or distillers grain for a certain period before being slaughtered, and be electronically identified and tracked from birth through processing.

In addition, hormone- and antibiotic-free cattle could earn a special “natural” designation. For more on SDCB, see

Meanwhile, the voluntary individual animal ID system for state livestock signed into law is designed to work in conjunction with SDCB, and dovetail into the wider effort to construct a national animal ID system. It will be administered by the South Dakota Animal Industry Board (AIB), which will have responsibility for data that can only be used for animal health and traceback purposes, says South Dakota State Veterinarian Sam Holland. The law also gives AIB authority to make the state ID program mandatory.

Holland says producer interest has been high in regard to the state's premises registration effort. He also reports more producers are inquiring about individual ID for their 2005 calf crops as they learn about the market potential for birth- and source-verified cattle.

He says date of birth and premises movement are the data his agency will maintain. The law was purposefully designed and constructed to ensure data confidentiality.

“We see animal ID for traceback purposes as something that's definitely coming. In exactly what shape time or form, we don't know,” Holland says. “Barring an immediate need like a case of BSE or an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, I think we're looking at five to 10 years before a really meaningful, comprehensive system for national tracking of animals is in place.”

USDA ups forecast

USDA upped its fiscal year (FY) 2005 forecast of agricultural exports from $56 billion to $59 billion, which would make FY 2005 the third-highest export sales year. The FY 2004 figure was $62.3 billion, and FY 1996 was $59.8 billion.

Canada is expected to remain the No. 1 market for U.S. agriculture products at $10.2 billion, while Mexico ($8.5 billion) will surpass Japan ($7.7 billion) for the first time.

Agriculture imports are forecast at a record $58 billion, continuing a 35-year upward trend that's quickened since 2003. With exports lower in 2005, the trade surplus should be about $1 billion.

USDA's summary and full “Outlook for U.S. Ag Trade” report are available at

Learning From Mistakes

What's the one good thing about making a mistake? Learning from it. Thus, BEEF asked three range management specialists to weigh in on the most common grazing management mistakes they see of producers and to offer strategies to correct these errors.

Missouri's Maurice Davis, retired Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) state grassland conservationist, says the most frequent mistake he saw during his career was producers allowing livestock to graze pastures too short. Grazing a pasture to the ground, either because it's overstocked or the livestock have been left there too long, “does not leave enough residual plant material to carry on photosynthesis,” he says.

As a result, Davis says root growth stoppage begins. “That means top growth of the plant also stops,” he adds.

Specifically, research shows when up to 50% of a plant's leaf volume is removed, root growth stoppage is about 2-4%. If 60% of the leaf volume is removed, root growth stoppage escalates to about 50%. At 80% removal, the roots have no regrowth.

Davis has a long history of working with the University of Missouri's Forage Systems Research Center and the annual management intensive grazing schools it hosts. To prevent overgrazing, he suggests producers monitor when to move animals to new pasture based on residual plant material — the green stuff left after grazing.

Davis and most range managers advocate the rule, “take half and leave half,” meaning once the forage has been grazed to about half its volume across the pasture, cattle should be moved to a new pasture.

Pastures can be grazed shorter, but then the rest period required for recovery becomes longer, Davis says. As a guideline on introduced pastures, he says plants should not be grazed below a minimum of 3 in.

Be prepared to adapt

John McLain, a range consultant with Resource Concepts, Inc., based in Nevada, counts lack of flexibility as a reoccurring mistake in range management situations.

“We're hearing the word adaptive management more these days,” McLain says. “But in the past, there has been an absence of flexibility especially by federal agencies in administering public lands grazing.”

He adds, “Good land managers have to allow for flexibility and adaptive management in grazing systems to achieve desired objectives.”

Similarly, Texas rancher John “Chip” Merrill says the most common mistake he sees producers make is not reducing stocking rates soon enough when they realize they're in trouble during drought.

Merrill, who directed Texas Christian University's Ranch Management Program from 1961 to 1996, says, “It takes nerve to cutback when you'd rather not, but if producers adjust as they go, the resource is still in good shape, the cattle are in good condition, and the markets haven't declined.”

He adds, “It is much less of a risk to adjust early than to hold on too long.”

Kindra Gordon is a freelance writer based in Spearfish, SD, and a former Managing Editor of BEEF magazine.

Be proactive on drought

A common error among ranchers is failing to plan for drought.

Rod Heitschmidt, USDA's Fort Keogh Livestock and Range Research Laboratory in Miles City, MT, says producers don't have to wait until they're out of forage before making management decisions. Instead, Heitschmidt says producers can be proactive by monitoring precipitation early on during the growing season and making decisions based on historical data.

“Drought is quite normal in the Northern Great Plains, and historical precipitation probabilities can be a good indicator of years when drought will be likely,” he says.

For instance, Heitschmidt says historical records show that a current year's forage production is primarily a function of April and May precipitation with June being less important than one would think.

Additionally, from evaluating more than 15 years of research from 15 different data sets, Heitschmidt says 70% of forage for the year is typically produced by June 1 in the Northern Great Plains and 90% is grown by July 1. He clarifies that there's no way to judge how much total forage will be produced, just that 90% of the total amount will be grown by early July.

Thus, by monitoring spring precipitation, Heitschmidt says producers in the Northern Great Plains can begin to make drought decisions by July 1.

Here's why. Heitschmidt says producers know whether their spring precipitation is below, near or above normal. Even if they get 1 in. of rain in July, it won't grow as much forage as 1 in. of precipitation in April. Therefore, if spring rainfall is below normal, he suggests producers should plan in early July to take positive action to reduce risk.

“Wean early or sell open cows,” he suggests. “If you hang on until you're completely out of forage in October, you're putting yourself at risk.”

KSU Debuts Animal ID Knowledge Lab

As the U.S. livestock industry inches toward a National Animal Identification System, Kansas State University (KSU) has forged a reputation as one of the premier sites for education and research in radio-frequency ID (RFID). That reputation is about to gain some significant added luster.

Dale Blasi, KSU Extension beef specialist, tells BEEF that an Animal ID Knowledge Laboratory has been created at KSU. A complementary use and mission for KSU's Beef Stocker Unit, a state-of-the art processing facility located five miles northwest of Manhattan, the new Animal ID Knowledge Laboratory will be an education and testing facility for emerging and existing RFID technologies.

“I'm inundated with questions from producers on various RFID equipment and systems. What better way to find answers than testing these products and systems in a controlled environment?” Blasi says. “The results will be public and add to our industry's RFID knowledge base.”

Blasi is working with KSU's Electronics Design Lab in designing the testing component of the facilities.

“They'll help ensure the radio spectrum is appropriately evaluated in terms of output power from the interrogator to the antennae, radiated power out of the antenna, center frequency of the radiated power and harmonic distortion of both sides of the center frequency, etc.,” Blasi says. “We want to carefully characterize the operating environment so our testing can be repeatable elsewhere. It's no different than designing a nutrition or vaccination testing regime.”

A total of 24 cattle pens (three rows of eight pens with each pen accommodating 10-15 calves) will be built adjacent to the Beef ID Knowledge Laboratory. The pens will serve as a custom receiving facility with private feedyards paying yardage fees for the service.

Beginning in August, every 45 days from August through April, Blasi says the facility will rotate 300 head of cattle through the custom receiving program.

“The idea is we'll have a reliable source of cattle with which to evaluate technologies on a fairly quick basis. But, we're trying to make this (testing protocol) as real world as possible,” he says.

Applied research on cattle health and nutrition applicable to beef stocker operators will still be conducted, Blasi says, but the receiving element, along with custom testing of RFID equipment and systems for private firms, will help pay the bills.

“The animal ID component fits perfectly with our focus on conducting nutritional, animal health and receiving research,” Blasi says. “It's a perfect environment in which to conduct practical ID and software evaluations.”

Formal dedication of the new facilities and mission will be during the 2005 BEEF Stocker Conference slated for mid September.