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Articles from 2007 In April

BeefTalk: Lowline Cattle - Matching calving ease with value on the rail

It takes time to put a picture puzzle together. The picture is there, but the challenge is finding the right pieces. This process may be difficult, but also exciting.

The beef business, from a producer’s standpoint, is very much like the picture puzzle. Select what picture you want and start finding the pieces.

As breeding seasons nears, the time is now to solve a new puzzle. Calving time must come first in solving the puzzle, but it doesn’t take a lot of records to remember calving difficulty.

Calves must arrive with ease, which is a very important part of the total cattle system. Calves also are destined for the production of meat.

One interesting picture we have worked with at the Dickinson (North Dakota) Research Extension Center has been the use of Lowline bulls. We did this for the expressed purpose of breeding heifers.

According to the American Lowline Registry (, Australian Lowline Cattle were developed from the Angus herd which was established at the Trangie Research Centre in 1929 to provide quality breeding stock for the NSW cattle industry. The Trangie staff chose one herd selected for high yearling growth rates and another selected for low yearling growth rates, with a randomly selected control group. They dubbed the herds High Line, Low Line and Control Line.

Lowline cattle are another piece of the puzzle. Do Lowline cattle work in the commercial world of beef? The results have been good at the DREC. So far, only three calves out of 126 needed minor assists.

The puzzle doesn’t stop at calving. The box has a lot of pieces remaining. Bulls need progeny that fit the industry. It is not easy to develop reputable programs that achieve this outcome.

Bulls are genetic packages that give producers some options. In this case, Lowline bulls need to produce calves that are small at birth and have functionality within the industry.

The whole system must fit and be a part of the picture. The picture ultimately includes red meat production. The half-blood Lowline steers that where involved in research at the DREC were sent to a commercial feed yard in fall 2004, 2005 and 2006.

The 2004-fed calves arrived as long yearlings averaging 945 pounds, with a frame score of 4.4. They finished at 1,186 pounds and brought $1,093 on the rail. In 2005, they averaged 994 pounds, with a frame score of 4.7, at arrival. They finished at 1,297 pounds and brought $1,223 on the rail. The 2006 calves arrived at the yard at 830 pounds and had a frame score of 4.8. They finished at 1,179 pounds and brought $1,074 on the rail.

The calves pushed 20 months of age, but they had a home and definitely fit the picture. If you recall, we started discussing picture puzzles, so that is where we will end. As breeders, we need to have a picture in mind. We want something that works, not only for ourselves, but something that contributes to the industry.

The colors are numerous, the pieces sometimes hard to sort. At least for today, this picture has been successful in regard to calving ease and producing a product that is very marketable. The bulls produce small calves that grow.

One can start to think of how these calves will fit into the ever-changing world of beef feeding. Energy sources are getting more competitive, which ultimately may change some principles as to what works. There are many boxes of picture puzzles, so don't be afraid to pick one, even if it is just a little outside the norm.

Adding calf value

What do pharmaceutical technologies – such as parasite control products, growth implants, subtherapeutic antibiotics, and ionophores – mean to the bottom line of cow-calf, stocker and feedlot operations? Iowa State University economists estimate the cost savings to producers is $433/head over the life of an animal.

Specifically, they report that using these pharmaceutical technologies at the cowherd level produces a $226/head cost savings, an $81/head cost savings at the stocker level, and a $126 advantage in feedlots – which totals $433/head overall.

Put another way, “If produce natural beef and gave up these technologies, you’d need to get over $400/head on the revenue end to make up for the lost performance,” says John Lawrence, a well-known professor of livestock economics at Iowa State University and director of the Iowa Beef Center.

Lawrence and fellow Iowa State economist Maro Ibarburu conducted the research project entitled, “Economic Analysis Of Pharmaceutical Technologies In Modern Beef Production,” through a grant from the Growth Enhancement Technology Information Taskforce, an organization of animal health companys committed to providing educational materials to the beef industry.

The purpose of the study was to evaluate the overall value of pharmaceutical technologies by estimating the cost of eliminating their use in each production segment (cow-calf, stocker and feedlots). The five pharmaceutical technologies examined were parasite control, growth promotant implants, subtherapeutic antibiotics, ionophores and beta agonists.

Because these technologies are not used by everyone industry-wide, Lawrence says the impact to the industry nationally is a little lower than the $433. The national average is estimated at $366 cost savings per head over the lifetime of a beef animal if the five pharmaceutical technologies are adopted.

Performance data from more than 170 university studies conducted over the past 20-25 years for each of the technologies were combined using meta-analysis. And the performance results were converted to their dollar impact using budget data from 10 universities in various regions of the U.S.

For the economic analysis, the Iowa researchers simulated a ban on the five pharmaceutical technologies occurring in 2000, then extrapolated results out over five years to determine the effect on the market. Results were analyzed using the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) model of U.S. agriculture to estimate the impact on beef production, price and trade if these technologies weren’t available. The researchers concluded there would be:

  • - a 14% smaller calf crop on the same number of cows,
  • - an 18% reduction in total beef produced as steer/heifer slaughter would be reduced by 16.5%,
  • - an increase in net beef imports of over 2 billion pounds to make up for the domestic production shortfall, and beef exports would decline
  • - a 13.5% increase in retail beef prices, and an 8.5% decline in retail beef consumption.

While cattle prices would increase in such a scenario – their model predicted an increase in fed cattle of about 20% and a 25% price increase for cull cows. However, the pace would not cover the added costs of production, the researchers say.

As a result, the researchers say if a ban on the technologies existed, the industry would adjust with a cow-calf return $5/head lower than the level before the ban. They also say selling prices would have to increase significantly to cover the increase in costs – by as much as 36%.

The Iowa researchers conclude in their report that “Packers and feedlots would adjust to maintain operating margins similar to current levels resulting in lower returns to beef cow herds and a smaller feedlot and packing industry.” And pork and poultry production would expand to fill the void for domestic and export customers.

Of the findings, Lawrence says, “These pharmaceutical technologies are used with good reason to put money in beef producers’ pockets. Natural beef is becoming popular, popular, but without use of these animal health products, costs would go up. So it is important to understand the value of these technologies and communicate that to consumers and producers.”

For more about the report visit

Plan for parasite control

When it comes to parasite control, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” says Kansas State’s Twig Marston. He says strategic control for both internal and external parasites is critical to prevent parasites from becoming a costly production problem in your herd, and he offers these control guidelines:

  • Implement a deworming program for cows administered twice a year – once before spring grazing turnout and again in the fall to help ensure cows are healthy over winter.
  • For improved calf health and performance, include internal and external parasite control among calves by administering a pour-on at weaning or prior to selling calves.
  • During the summer, administer fly control as needed. Marston says fly tags can be effective, but they’ve found that back rubs and sprays also provide good protection.
  • Marston suggests working with your local veterinarian to design a cost-effective deworming and external parasite control program specifically for your operation.
  • Another common parasite control mistake is producers guessing the weights of the animals to estimate dosage. Often the weights are too light and thus the wrong dosage is administered. For deworming products to work effectively, it is important to have an accurate weight on the animal to calculate the dosage.

Next tip: Consider age- and source-verifying animals

Some Things I Learned on the Farm

Don’t name a calf you plan to eat.

Country fences need to be horse high, pig tight and bull strong.

Life is not about how fast you run, or how high you climb, but how well you bounce.

Keep skunks, lawyers, and bankers at a distance.

Life is simpler when you plow around the stumps.

Mortgaging a future crop is like saddling a wobbly colt.

A bumble bee is faster than a John Deere tractor.

Trouble with a milk cow is she won’t stay milked.

Don’t skinny dip with snapping turtles.

Words that soak into your ears are whispered, not yelled.

Meanness don’t happen overnight.

To know how country folks are doing look at their barns, not their houses.

Never lay an angry hand on a kid or an animal; it just ain’t helpful.

Teachers, bankers and hoot owls sleep with one eye open.

Forgive your enemies. It messes with their heads.

Don’t sell your mule, buy a plow.

Two can live as cheap as one if one don’t eat.

Don’t corner something meaner than you.

You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar, assuming, of course, that you want to catch flies.

Man is the only critter who feels the need to label things as flowers or weeds.

It don’t take a very big person to carry a grudge.

Don’t go hunting with a fellow named Chug-a-Lug.

You can’t unsay a cruel thing.

Every path has some puddles.

When you wallow with pigs, expect to get dirty.

The best sermons are lived, not preached.

The Smell of Mud Season

It’s mud season…that time of year when those of us who have been slumbering right along with Mother Earth roll over and discover that she, too, suffers from a wicked case of morning breath.

The manure in the barnyard, so dependably solid throughout the ice and snow of winter, grips our feet as we carry feed to the livestock, releasing pungent odors of pigs, sheep and cows. We greet each other with shrieks at the kitchen door. “Take off your boots! You’re tracking manure, and you stink!”

Mother Earth’s morning breath is not limited to the barnyard. The woodpile, too, suddenly damp, gives off a musty odor, along with the moldering leaves and newly stirring bug colonies residing in the crevasses. The compost pile, mounded high with the carcasses of all our winter feasts and in desperate need of turning, releases her own unique aroma of grit and rot as she simmers away in the morning sun.

Like a newly wakened bedfellow, I take in these mud season scents and feel inclined to block them – to roll over with my pillow over my head and wish for my winter’s rest to continue.

But Mother Earth, herself seemingly weary of being stagnant too long, will not cooperate. As the snow and ice trickle away from the edges of the fields and forests, the smell of the soil itself gently emanates up from the ground. Hardly discernable at first, this odor is not foul, but sweet. The scent of heat and moisture seeping through the fertile ground is so unmistakable and irresistible, no matter how fiercely my body longs to rest, I cannot resist the opportunity to draw in my breath. I stop wherever I detect it and inhale. Like a fresh pot of coffee, this smell of the earth is more persuasive than the warmth of down blankets and pillows, more enticing than winter’s slumber. It beckons – it is time to come out and grow.

If you'd like to share your Rural Life Poetry with American Cowman readers, e-mail [email protected] .

Why Windmills

Windmills are like People
They point us towards Heaven
Like God’s Steeple

Drawing their Power from Sources unseen
Just as Our Life here in between

Like People, some are Big
Some are Small
Some are short
Some are Tall

Some are pretty
Some not
Some work…Some ought

Some are quiet
Some are outspoken
Some are all fixed up
Some are Broken

Man can Restore Windmills giving them Second Chances
Just as God can restore man and all our branches

Lord thank you for my failures and Second Chances
For they lead to these Roads of Better Glances.

Here’s to you Lord


I know that spring is comin’ boys,
let me tell you what I've seen
The grass on the slopes north of the house
has started turning green.

The snowdrift out behind the barn is
Fast meltin’ away,
The cows are keepin' their heads down,
nibbling a little more each day.

I know that spring is comin' boys,
let me tell you what I've heard.
The spring peepers calling from the sloughs
And today this little bird

Perched on a limb and filled the air
with a joyous spring time song
That seemed to loosen my old, cold bones
knowin' spring's comin' won't be long.

Learning from a Mistake

Now, boys, we had a bull one time, he was big, and black, and grand.
He’d come up to me in the pasture; eat horse treats from my hand.
He’d let me scratch him under his chin, or up behind his ears.
He was just a one ton baby, but of folks, he had no fears.

‘Cause one day he broke out of the winter trap, got in the cedar pen.
Twern’t far so I went out afoot to put him back again.
I walked up to him to haze him, he looked at me and arched his back.
Pawed the earth and snorted, and got ready to attack.

He took a step towards me and I whacked him on his nose
With my old Stetson hat, and as you’d suppose,
He shook his head then went to grazin, I pushed him back to the cows,
He went to the sale barn two days later, but I’ll tell you right now,

That it made me feel real crummy to see him go that way,
‘Cause any unpredictable critter just isn’t gonna stay.
And I had made him do it. But I’ve learned from what I’ve done.
Don’t treat your stock like pets or your world might come undone.

And I still see guys that do it, they brag on their pet bulls.
But folks, I learned my lesson. You’ll turn your bulls to culls.
I hope you’ll learn from my mistake, and I’ll tell you all that,
A cows a cow and a bulls a bull, not a puppy or a cat.

Slow Pacific-Rim Progress Begs The Question, "Why?"

This week, it was announced that Japan had agreed to discontinue inspections of entire meat shipments from the U.S. Both sides also agreed to speed up and facilitate Japan's inspection of U.S. plants to make implementation follow more quickly.

As President Bush and Japan's Prime Minister Abe prepare to meet at Camp David this weekend, signals abound that the Japanese are prepared to be more reasonable and implement a more science-based approach in the U.S. beef trade.

The implication is Japan will move to make its policies consistent with OIE guidelines. The expectation that the U.S. will receive a "controlled risk" for BSE designation next month from the OIE should help to facilitate this move.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), USDA and other groups have all released official statements praising Japan's recent posturing toward trade normalization. The USMEF even predicted it could result in a doubling of trade to Japan.

Such statements are politically adept and heartfelt, and it's great news that Japan and Korea appear to be earnest in reopening their markets to U.S. beef, the world's highest in quality and safety.

But as the U.S. beef industry continues to progress toward a normalized world beef-trade situation, it must take a step back and ask itself what can be done to prevent this type of market disruption in the future.

Virtually everyone in the beef business can look back at the BSE situation and agree on at least two irrefutable points. The first is that trade is essential to the future growth and prosperity of our industry, and will be a key component in our efforts to keep the industry sustainable and profitable.

The second is that the system is broken and in desperate need of repair. It never should have taken four years (assuming we're back to normal by December 2007) to normalize trade. What good are trade agreements, international standards, science-based guidelines and the like if their implementation can be held up for four years with little or no consequence?

Some out there would claim the U.S. isn't blameless in this. After all, Canada has made a similar argument relative to its treatment at the hands of its U.S. trading partner. While history may show the U.S. was more responsive and science-based than many other countries, the inescapable truth is the U.S. is largely guilty of the very same treatment we're so angry about.

If we allow a small but vocal minority of activist groups aligned against the beef industry to short-circuit our ability to live up to our trade agreements, while behaving in a scientifically responsible manner, how can we expect anything better from our customers? Science should not be up to debate. Moreover, it's relatively easy to agree on the science on these matters, and while it's always possible to find someone willing to refute an overwhelming body of evidence, such a tactic should not be allowed to gum up the works of world trade.

No doubt, a situation like BSE will always lead to trade disruption, but steps must be taken to ensure it doesn't take four years to resolve it. Trade agreements mean nothing unless they're enforceable.

So the next time, and there will be a next time, let's hope the U.S. beef industry isn't celebrating the making of slow progress years after trade should have resumed.
-- Troy Marshall