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Articles from 2014 In April

This Mother's Day, Readers Pay Tribute To Their Ranch Moms

The May contest theme is “ranch moms,” so we are looking for your best photo that captures what makes your mom, wife or grandma special. Entries will be accepted until noon on May 8. Email your photo to [email protected] to be eligible to win Beef Bucks. Be sure to include your name and address, plus your mom's name and what makes her special. One entry per person please.

For complete contest details, click here.

Grass-Fed Taste Test Shows South Poll Advantage

The following is a report regarding a grass-fed beef study.  The study began January 10, 2013 and ended February 3, 2014.  Four steers were selected for the study of similar age and body condition.  The weight of the steers ranged from 486 pounds to 570 pounds.   The four steers consisted of Black Angus, Wagyu x Black Angus cross, Devon x commercial cross and South Poll.   It should be noted the results were based off single animals taken from a relatively large population.  Therefore, the data obtained is not a true representation of the breed type, but merely values of that particular animal.

The primary goal of the study was to determine the meat quality characteristics (tenderness, juiciness, and flavor) of steers grazed on quality forage.  This information was obtained by conducting blind taste tests on March 22, 2014.  Score sheets were obtained from 24 adults.  These tasters included two Professional Barbeque Association judges, five PhDs from the University of Florida’s North Florida Research and Education Center (including one Brazilian and one Argentinean), University of Florida Extension Agent Emeritus, a NRCS Official, the President of Red Devon USA, the Triticale Business Manager for Syngenta Seeds, Inc, Union, KY, and a few cattlemen.  Results of the taste test follows later in this report.

The four steers in the study each came from different farms located in Washington County, Florida (Florida’s panhandle).  From birth to slaughter, none of the steers received any grain, growth hormones or antibiotics.  The steers were all delivered from their owners’ respective farms to the Washington County farm of Dr. Ron Harrell (cardiologist) on January 10, 2013.  While at Harrell’s farm, the four steers were kept together.  They were fed high quality forages and baleages such as oats, triticale, millet, cow peas, perennial peanut, clover and Bahia grass. During the last 60-70 days prior to harvest, the steers were grazed entirely on triticale.   

After harvest, carcasses were aged for 12 days, then cut and wrapped.  On March 22, 2014 two cuts of meat (brisket, ribeye) and ground beef from each of the four steers was seasoned with only salt and pepper.  The meat was cooked on a barbeque grill and smoker by a highly-rated professional barbeque pit master, Forrest Dilmore, Forrest’s Fine Foods, Cottondale, Florida and Alexander Harrell, Executive Chef, Sylvain, New Orleans, Louisiana.   Alexander is among the top-rated chefs in New Orleans. 

Tommy Estevez, Lab Technician, University of Florida Meat Processing Center, Gainesville, Florida participated in the meat processing and the quality and yield grade value determinations (see table below).











Percent Yield













South Poll






Average Choice


Black Angus






High Select


Devon cross






Average Choice




The score sheets provided to taste test participants were based on three categories - tenderness, juiciness, and flavor.  The hamburger and ribeye were prepared on a grill, just as a consumer would at home.  The brisket was smoked.   Each taster was served one portion of each type of meat, i.e. hamburger (HB), ribeye (RE), and brisket (BR) from each of the four steers (identified as steer  sample A, B, C and D).   The tasters were asked to rate each portion for tenderness, juiciness and flavor and to score each portion from 1 to 3 (3 being the highest score).  The tasters were not told which breed the samples they were eating represented.  The completed score sheets were collected at the end of the tasting.

The results for the 24 completed score sheets (totaled together) were as follows:






Tende HB Tender

HB Juicy

HB Flavor

RE Tender

RE Juicy

RE Flavor

BR Tender

BR Juicy

BR Flavor



Waygu x Black Angus












South Poll












Black Angus












Devon x commercial
























The summary of total points showed the South Poll scored the highest (537) followed by the Devon (535), Wagyu-Angus cross (503) and Black Angus (438).  Also note, the South Poll scored highest overall of the four breeds for ribeye tenderness, juiciness and flavor.  No definite conclusions can be reached based on this very narrow study.  However, the data obtained is interesting and may be useful for future research ideas.   The most important finding verified that 100% grass-fed beef can be produced without smelling bad, tasting funky and being tough.

 It is worth noting the Pit Master said the quality and taste of the grass-fed beef presented at the tasting event far exceeded his expectations.  Prior to processing, he firmly believed the Wagyu would place first in every category followed in quality order by the Black Angus, South Poll, and Devon in that order.

Cliff White is the owner of Holiday Ranch located in the Florida Panhandle.  His South Poll business partner is Dr. Bruce Shanks (PhD), Sassafras Valley Ranch, Belle, MO.   Holiday Ranch breeds South Poll cattle, a new grass-genetics breed of cattle bred specifically to excel on grass only in a hot, humid environment and produce tender, quality grass-fed beef.

South Poll is a relatively new registered breed of grass genetics cattle consisting of ¼ Red Angus, ¼ Senepol, ¼ Herford and ¼ Barzona.  The South Poll breed was developed by Teddy Gentry, Fort Payne, AL

Horn Flies: Profit-Robbing Pests

When it comes to raising cattle, every pound counts. And, as every producer knows, there are always several factors that can steal dollars from the bottom line. In fact, one of the most economically devastating threats, especially for pastured cattle, measures only about the size of a pencil eraser — it’s the horn fly.

“Even though horn flies are small pests, they can be a big problem,” said Roger Winter, DVM, Technical Services Veterinarian for AgriLabs. “According to the USDA, the detrimental impact of horn flies is more than $1 billion per year in the U.S., with up to $60 million dollars spent on insecticidal control. Financial loss can be attributed to reduction in weight gains, feed efficiency and milk yields as well as loss of blood and energy used trying to dislodge flies.”

Blood Loss Equals Lost Gains

Horn flies take anywhere from 25-38 blood meals per day and with large numbers feeding on one individual animal. This can result in a significant amount of blood loss each day. Unlike most other flies, horn flies remain on the host animals constantly and leave only for a brief period to lay eggs on very fresh manure.

“Horn flies have a piercing-sucking mouth part that is similar to a mosquito but is more painful because it’s larger,” said Bob Pennington, MS, Consulting Veterinary Entomologist for SmartVet. “Hundreds of flies, each biting around 30 times a day, can result in up to one-third of a liter of blood lost per animal, per day. That’s a considerable amount of energy loss.”

Numerous studies have been conducted to understand the economic impact of horn flies on cow and calf-weaning weights. Very conservative figures show that horn flies can result in one-tenth to one-third of a pound in reduction in weight gains per calf, per day. For example, in a 5-month period (150 days), that equals 15 to 50 pounds reduction in weaning weights. At approximately $1.60 per pound, a 30-pound weight reduction results in an average income loss of $48 per head due to horn flies. If a producer has 50 head of cattle, that equals $2,400 total income loss, and for 100 head it’s $4,800.

When to Treat

“Instead of feeding regularly, cows are fighting the awful bite from horn flies by switching their tails, throwing their heads, kicking and stomping to dislodge them,” said Pennington. “When doing this, they are not as efficient when it comes to grazing and meat and milk production.”

Treatment and prevention are key to controlling horn flies. The best time for producers to justify taking horn fly control measures that will generate a positive return on investment is when the flies reach the economic threshold. On average, if more than 200 flies are observed on a single beef cow or stocker animal it is considered the “treatment threshold.” For a single calf or lactating dairy cow, it’s 50 flies.

“Throughout the fly season, weekly monitoring for horn flies is highly recommended,” said Winter. “It’s usually best to monitor between the hours of 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. when horn flies are most visible on the shoulders and sides of cattle. On hotter days, the flies tend to migrate to the cow’s belly where it’s cooler and harder to observe.”

Fly Season Control Options

Horn fly infestations can vary greatly by region due to climate. In Northern areas, the season usually lasts anywhere from four to five months, whereas in Southern states, they can endure more than half a year of horn fly nuisance. For this reason, season-long control is typically recommended.

Pennington suggests these tips to consider when developing a herd fly-control program:

  • Withhold tagging or pour-on treatments until horn fly numbers reach about 100 per side of animal. This will keep them from being applied too early. It takes more than 200 flies per cow to have an economic impact on weight gain of nursing calves.
  • Remove insecticide ear tags in the fall.
  • Use of oral larvicide treatment such as Rabon™ or an Altosid® is a good way to reduce fly breeding in manure.
  • Lastly, the most important way to safeguard against horn flies becoming resistant to insecticide is to rotate different modes of action. There are many methods available to control horn flies such as insecticidal ear tags, dust bags, concentrated pour-ons, animal sprays, backrubbers and oral larvicides available in minerals and feed supplements. Horn flies are notorious for building resistance to some classes of chemicals, so producers should use an integrated program with multiple products for the best protection.

New, Unique Form of Horn Fly Control

Most recently, AgriLabs introduced VetGun™, an innovative, new concept in insecticide delivery that offers producers another tool for treating horn flies. The power behind the VetGun is the AiM-L VetCap™, a scientifically developed capsule containing an EPA-approved topical insecticide called Lamba cyhalothrin — a proven ingredient to control horn flies, face flies and lice on cattle. When used in conjunction with other methods, it can be a very effective solution for resistance management.

VetGun uses precision-engineered CO2 power to project a precise dosage of AiM-L VetCap to treat the animal. It bursts upon impact, allowing the topically applied insecticide to go to work immediately, similar to that of pour-on applications. It’s designed to limit cattle handling and stress, while uniquely applying effective horn fly control.

With this application system, the insecticide can be applied to cattle at a range of 15 to 30 feet, allowing the producer to treat animals from a safe distance. It’s as simple as laying down a lick, hay or feed to create a positive correlation with the dosing process. Most animals show little reaction then return to eating.

“The beauty of the VetGun and AiM-L is you can apply it easily when other methods run out,” said Pennington. “A producer can treat at any time in the pasture when flies reach the economic threshold and only when it’s needed.”





Short-Term Beef Supply To Rise Just As Grilling Season Heats Up

Two key numbers in Friday's USDA Cattle on Feed report came in on the market-friendly side of trade guesses. March placements, at 1.795 million head, were well below the average trade guess of around 1.916 million. The 10.860 million cattle on feed April 1 were below the average trade guess of about 11 million. March marketings, at 1.660 million, were below the average guess of around 1.7 million head.

The dip in placements more than offset the shortfall in marketings to pull the April 1 on-feed inventory below trade expectations.

Still, fed beef supplies will be rising seasonally, just as grilling season heats up. However, the rise will not be as large as some traders had earlier expected. Shifting expectations likely contributed to Friday's strong cattle futures closes.

The cattle situation reflects two different markets. The April 1 cattle on feed inventory is about the closest to the year-earlier level since August 2012. Since October last year, feedlots have placed about 500,000 more cattle on a year-on-year basis. Those forces all suggest a bit of a bulge in immediate fed cattle supply.

To read more about current beef supplies, click here.


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Industry At A Glance: A Look At Meat Spending & Beef Market Share

Industry At A Glance: A Look At Meat Spending & Beef Market Share

The relative strength of any industry is dependent upon its ability to generate revenue. That’s a critical measure (along with profitability) that’s ultimately more important than simply measuring sales volume. Stated another way, a business or an industry can produce and sell lots of volume, but if it can’t generate money from those sales, then there’s inherent weakness in the model. That’s why equity analysts are always concerned about a company’s topline (revenue) growth and year-over-year sales comps.

For the beef industry, that discussion occurs frequently. There’s seemingly lots of coverage regarding the measure of per-capita consumption. That is, declining cattle numbers means smaller beef supply and inherently less product for consumers to purchase. However, that’s only part of the demand equation. Meanwhile, very little discussion surrounds per-capita spending – a more important measure with regards to the industry’s financial sustainability.   

The graph above provides a historical perspective (since 1990) relative to beef, pork and broiler spending on an annual per-capita basis. Note that beef spending was relatively flat in the years between 1990 and 1998, while pork and poultry were able to garner new spending in the marketplace. Accordingly, beef’s market share bottomed out in 1998 at around 44% of total expenditures.

However, since that time, beef has been able to capture new spending at a faster rate and subsequently improve its competitive position. And beef’s market share has remained steady in recent years around 47%-48%.

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With that perspective, how do you perceive beef’s competitive position shaping up in the years to come? Is the beef complex positioned to generate more spending and ultimately more revenue coming into the business? What does beef need to do to ensure maintaining and growing market share in the future? Will beef’s market share increase vs. pork and poultry?

Leave your thoughts below.  


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Market Outlook: Cattle Market Appears To Turn The Corner In April

Market Outlook: Cattle Market Appears To Turn The Corner In April

The fed market finally took a breath in April. Following $152+ trade in March, steer and heifers backed up to the mid-$140s late in the month. The drift isn’t surprising; after all, the string of new records with each passing month had to eventually end. The decline in recent weeks also marks the late-March $152+ trade as the spring high.

There was some holdout of hope for better prices in April if consumers suddenly broke out of hibernation. However, that was unlikely due to continued cool temperatures and a late Easter. And as noted last month, boxed-beef prices were already beginning to run out of steam. Therefore, April proves to be the turning month from spring highs to summer lows. Buyers and sellers now begin strategizing around summer and how it might play out.

This market has proven persistently stubborn. While April didn’t provide any surprise to the upside, most significant was the market’s resilience – especially later in the month. Fed prices are bound to work seasonally lower in the coming weeks and months as we head into summer. But if April is any indication of the broader undertone, it’s not going to happen without a fight. 

The average break from the spring high to the summer low during the past three years is about $15/cwt. That puts the market trading down somewhere around the mid-$130s. Current CME June and August futures are consistent with that historical break (August trading $135+ at press time). That break represents about $200/head; roughly equivalent to about a $25 move in boxed-beef prices (if trading dollar-for-dollar) from the spring high. That would make summer’s Choice cutout trading down to somewhere around $210.

That said, the market will need to be monitored carefully in the coming months. That’s because the supply picture looks different this year. Cattle feeders have been busy during the past four months. Placements during December through March are 382,000 ahead of last year’s pace. With the equivalency of 17 weeks of slaughter from May through August, the beef complex needs to harvest an additional 22,500 head/week vs. 2013.

As such, those early-2014 placements may result in some additional pressure on the market in the months to come. Therefore, watching marketing flow will be especially important as trade now transitions into the June contract.

Larger placements early in the year also have important implications for the feeder market. As explained last month, “…cattle feeders are pulling ahead available supply, which will only serve to confound the hunt for feeder cattle in the second half of the year.” As feedyards go shopping for replacements in the back half of 2014, they’ll ultimately be forced to work that much harder to fill pens.

That occurs around a feeder market that’s already been on an extended winning streak during the past year (Figure 1).

The CME Feeder Cattle Index bottomed in May 2013 and has since added nearly $50/cwt., or about $375/head in less than a year – a 38% increase in just 11 months. At current levels, yearlings now cost $1,350/head and thus make total load values to encroach nearly $90,000.

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That supply perspective is supportive of even stronger prices from here, and underpins favorably trending prices for sellers into the fall run. But it could get even better yet when considering some of the dynamics around the corn market. Clearly, there’s a long way to go before we have a new corn crop in the bin. However, if weather proves friendly, the corn market could be poised for a large break.

Corn prices have held firm around $5 during April (Figure 2).

That’s come while funds have been busy increasing their positions on the buy side of the market in recent months (Figure 3).

Given the large buildup, if that money gets tired of, or worried about, corn prices, the exit could spell a sharp break in corn futures. That’ll boost feeder prices even higher later in the year. In sum, the feeder market is comfortably working within a new trading range.

All that said, what’s most significant for the beef complex is the ever-increasing amount of capital at risk. That point can’t be understated and the money that flows through this business would rival any industry. Increasing requirements for, and subsequent access to, capital will serve as a huge influence upon winners and losers going forward.

With that said, producers are encouraged to remain fully informed, stay disciplined and be determinedly objective to ensure successful decision making going forward.


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Is your marketing on target?

The only way to find out if your marketing is performing the way you want is to doubt everything you’re doing.

Instead of guessing, jumping from one initiative to another, hoping for the best, or taking advice without knowing how to evaluate it, start at the beginning by questioning your assumptions, your expectations, your personal preferences, and, particularly, your perceptions of what marketing should do for the company.

Just to be clear, question every marketing activity, every plan, every “great idea,” and every recommendation. It’s the only way to move from hoping and assuming to getting marketing right for your company — and here’s how to do it:

1. Clear away customer roadblocks. Seemingly minor missteps drive customers crazy and then away, and the bar goes higher every day. Being put on hold for even a few seconds raises ire — and is never forgotten. Failing to respond promptly to an email (an hour or less) is deadly. There’s little tolerance for excuses.

One supermarket chain guarantees no more than three customers in a check out line or the manager hands out $1.00 bills to let customers know they understand what customers expect. Starbucks and Panera have smartphone apps so customers can order and pay ahead so there’s no waiting. Starbucks’ app will also add a tip.

When customer loyalty is more fragile that ever, making it easy to do business is a huge part of the solution.

2. Get the messaging right. To their credit, more businesses are working at getting technology right, but they tend to lump the smartphone in with computers and tablets. And that’s a mistake. We use computers and tablets to do things such as performing tasks and accessing entertainment, but the smartphone is qualitatively different: it’s an extension of ourselves. There’s no putting it aside and there’s a profound sense of loss and stress if it isn’t with us at all times. Lou Paskalis, Bank of America’s enterprise marketing and media chief, describes the smartphone as “the gateway to the consumer mind.”

Because the smartphone is personal, messaging should be, too: conversational rather than “ad” like, talking to one person instead of “broadcasting” to many, and always with new messages. With 79 million Millennials checking their smartphones 45 times a day as one study shows, texting may be preferable to emailing 

3. Make engaging customers the goal. And that means not focusing on what you want to sell. “We have just what will be right for you.” Customers once welcomed such words, being almost eager to be told what to buy. Today, the same words only antagonize. No one wants to be told what to buy.

Experienced salespeople often have an intuitive sense of what a customer is looking for; even so, keep your mouth shut if you want to make the sale. Get customers involved by asking questions, offer reliable and helpful information, and walk with them through the process at their pace. 

A tile salesperson questioned the customer about the project until he had a clear understanding of what they wanted to accomplish. Then, he made several suggestions, getting feedback as he went. Before they knew it, the customers were satisfied they had made the right selection.

4. Copying others says we don’t have what it takes. There’s nothing as common as “marketing and sales plagiarism.” Go to a meeting, attend a webinar, read it on a blob and find what someone else is doing and use it. Or, as expressed by songster Tom Lehrer’s satirical lyrics about mathematician Nicolai Lobachevsky, “plagiarize, don’t shade your eyes.” It also applies to many companies when it comes to marketing.

On the other hand, Amazon’s success comes from leading, not following and from innovating, not copying. “We’re missionaries about inventing and simplifying on behalf of customers,” says Amazon Kindle Vice President Peter Larsen in USA Today.

When we can buy whatever we want elsewhere and often at a lower price, marketing success is far less about products and prose and more about what companies do to make life easier and more enjoyable for customers.

5. Match marketing and sales messages to your customers. Seems obvious, particularly when so much data is available and customers expect personalized marketing messages. The “Dear John” greeting on a CVS email offering a 50% discount was intriguing until I found it was for women’s skin care and beauty products. The CVS message had unintended consequences: “After all this time, they really don’t know me,” I thought.

Whenever this occurs, it creates “messaging dissonance.” When something isn’t quite right, it makes us feel ill at ease and we reject it. Once doubt creeps in, trust erodes. Matching messages to customers is critical.

6. Follow through and keep your promises. The contractor said, “We’ll be back to you in a week with a proposal.” After 10 days or so, there was no response and the homeowner sent an email asking about it. “We got busy and fell behind,” came the response. “Have it to you at the end of the week.” Needless to say, it never came.

Broken promises, even seemingly small ones, are killers today. When this happens, customers don’t just feel let down — they feel betrayed. They invest time and effort and put their trust in someone, only to be rejected.  When this happens, they react by posting negative comments, make sure others know about their experience and they never forget.

Following through by keeping customers informed with good news and bad builds trust. 

7. Slow down and think it through. “Act now; think later” may be the number one marketing mantra. And it may also be the number one reason why marketing gets a bad rap. It takes time and imagination to think through even the most basic marketing activity.

The place to start is by asking the right questions: “How does it fit in our overall marketing strategy?” “What are the implications and possible outcomes if we do this?” “What can go wrong?” “What are the expected results and how will we measure them?” The best way to get what we want from marketing is to start by slowing down and thinking it through.

John Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales consultant and business writer. He publishes a free monthly eBulletin, “No Nonsense Marketing & Sales.” Contact him at [email protected], 617-774-9759 or

3 Tips For Stalking And Stopping The Wily Musk Thistle

3 Tips For Stalking And Stopping The Wily Musk Thistle

I spent many summers of my youth chopping down the wily musk thistle. Still, when it came time to make flowers for my wedding in 2010, I found the fake thistles at Hobby Lobby to be very charming additions to my wedding bouquet, which I made myself.

I remember my grandpa -- a lifelong rancher -- commenting on the big day, “Amanda, do you know you have weeds in your bouquet?” I had to chuckle at his reaction, and I’m sure he will have the same response come May 30th when my sister walks down the aisle of our church carrying a bouquet full of those purple-headed weeds we all despise.

While fake thistles in a bridal bouquet might be harmless, the real musk thistles that grow in our pastures are certainly not. In the Hay & Forage Minute, Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension forage specialist, reminds us that it’s time to start thinking about musk thistles. “Does anybody like musk thistles? If not, how about doing something about them,” Anderson writes.


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Here are three things to note about musk thistles, courtesy of Anderson:

1. Spring is the time to start thinking about musk thistles.

“With all the rain the past week and a half or so, I’ll bet you’re anxious to get into the field for planting. Don’t forget, though, that this also is the best time to control musk thistles. And I’ll also bet that you can get into your pastures to spray at least one or two days sooner than you can get into row crop fields to plant,” says Anderson.

Read: Tips For Controlling Red Cedar and Musk Thistle

2. If you had the problem last year, chances are thistles will plague you again this year.

“Did you have musk thistles last year?” he asks. “If so, I’m sure you’ll have them again this spring. And the current rosette growth form is the ideal stage for controlling these plants this spring. That means spray herbicides soon, while your musk thistle plants still are in that rosette form, and very few plants will send up flowering stalks for hand-digging later.”

Read: Producers Have Several Options For Spring Musk Thistle Control

3. Any herbicide you use will work if you spray soon enough this spring.

“Several herbicides are effective and recommended for musk thistle control. My current favorite is a relatively new herbicide called Milestone. Another very effective herbicide is Tordon 22K. Be careful if you use Tordon since it also can kill woody plants, including trees you might want to keep. 

Norman E. Rees, USDA ARS - Retired,

“Both Milestone and Tordon also will help control other weeds that usually appear later in the season. Other herbicides also can control musk thistles in pastures – like Chaparral, Grazon, Cimarron, Overdrive, and Curtail. A tank mix of dicamba and 2,4-D also works very well,” he recommends. Anderson stresses the importance of reading and following label instructions before using a herbicide on pastures.

“All these herbicides will work for you this spring if you spray soon, before musk thistles bolt and send up their flowering stalks,” he adds. “After flowering, though, the shovel is about the only method remaining to control thistles this year.”

Read: 6 Tips For Cost-Effective Weed Control 

How do you manage musk thistles in your pastures? Share your best methods with us in the comments section below.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or the Penton Farm Progress Group.


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8 Resources To Help You Prepare For Severe Weather

Severe weather comes in many forms Whether it39s a dust storm tornado or severe thunderstorm it39s important to be ready
<p>Severe weather comes in many forms. Whether it&#39;s a dust storm, tornado or severe thunderstorm, it&#39;s important to be ready.</p>

Within hours after the first wave of severe weather swept through Oklahoma and Arkansas, private and government assistance efforts swung into action. Unfortunately, the severe weather hasn’t let up and the Federal Emergency Management Association is warning people in a large part of mid-America to continue to be ready for more to come.


Here is a roundup of information from and other sources to help you plan and prepare, should you find yourself in the crosshairs of bad weather:


Severe weather is nothing to be taken lightly. Use these resources to help you weather the weather.


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2014 BEEF Stocker Award Nominations Are Open

2014 BEEF Stocker Award Nominations Are Open

Stocker operations are as diverse as the cattle grown and the people managing them. But all serve the common purpose of building beef more cost competitively while rationalizing spring-heavy calf supplies with year-round feeder cattle and fed beef demand.

It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that the stocker sector really serves as the supply fulcrum of beef production.

This essential component of the supply chain is often invisible, though.

One reason is because of how folks define it, as well as the fact that a cow-calf producer may be a stocker one-year—retaining calves to grow on grass—and not the next—opting to sell at weaning instead.

Another reason is that there are so few full-time stocker producers in the U.S. In fact, in the National Stocker Survey conducted by BEEF magazine a few years back, only 17% were engaged exclusively in stockering and backgrounding cattle. Cow-calf operators who stocker and background their own calves, or purchase calves, comprised 65% of stocker producers.

Those are primary reasons BEEF established the National Stocker Award program nine years ago. We wanted to highlight the sector’s necessary role within the industry. We also wanted to recognize some of the stocker sector’s most effective practitioners for their efforts, while offering a platform for peers to learn more about how others add pounds for a profit.

The previous winners of the National Stocker Award – profiled below – ranged from smaller mom-and-pop home operations to massive multi-state ones. The eight winners to this point hail from seven different states. 

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All understand there is profit opportunity in adding pounds to calves while aggregating uniform marketing and feeding groups. They understand the unique advantages they have in accomplishing this. And, they each continue to look for ways to become even more efficient at what they do.

This year’s National Stocker Award is sponsored by Zoetis. The winner will receive $2,000 worth of Zoetis product, a cover story in the October issue of BEEF magazine, and $1,000 in travel expenses to accept the award at the National Cattle Industry Convention in San Antonio next February.

Who and how to nominate

You can nominate any U.S.-based stocker operator who derives a significant portion of their annual cattle income from their stocker enterprise. Or you can nominate yourself. To nominate a candidate for the BEEF National Stocker Award program sponsored by Zoetis, you’ll find an online entry and nomination information by clicking here. Learn more about past winners by clicking on the short profiles below. Nominations close Sunday, June 15.

If you have questions, please contact Wes Ishmael at w[email protected] or by phone at 817-249-4545.

Previous winners of the National Stocker Award

Hughes Cattle Co., Bartlesville, OK

“Our emphasis has always been toward grass production which increases beef production," explained John Hughes of Bartlesville, OK. He and his son Robert received the very first BEEF National Stocker Award.
It was a university program more than 50 years ago where John realized how much he could increase production by managing the brush.

"Not to eradicate the brush," explained John, "but to manage the brush, utilize stocking density and grazing strategies to increase production... Land has always been too expensive for ag to pay for it, but if you can increase the production per acre on existing land, it can change the economics."

Mercer Cattle Co., Richton, MS

 “We look at maximizing profit per head rather than the number of head,” says Shawn Mercer of Mercer Cattle Co., Richton, MS. He is explaining the decision to maintain their operation at a size defined by thousands of head annually, rather than the tens of thousands run by operations that rely on the stocker business alone. “We can keep our costs and overhead low and turn more profit per animal rather than simply run more numbers.”

“We have control of the market one time, when we put out the orders for the calves; after that, we're a price taker,” Mercer says. In between, he believes management can best dilute the inherent risk.

Pendergrass Cattle Co., Charleston, AR

Though stocker cattle were always a focal point, John Frank Pendergrass of Pendergrass Cattle Co., Charleston, AR, began growing the business in earnest when he took over management in 1972. A decade later — five years after son John Paul returned home — they built a starter yard in Charleston that's since served as the fulcrum of operation flexibility and growth.

“The starter yards give us the flexibility to run cattle on our own grass, on someone else's grass, on grain pasture, or to take them straight to the feedyard, so it's really the hitch pin of our whole operation,” John Paul says. In effect, it's also enabled them to run three sets of cattle on their own ground each year rather than one like they used to … “Not all of managing risk is managing price risk. Being able and prepared to move cattle into another production phase is part of it, too.”

Hollinger Cattle Co, Camden, AL

“It more effectively utilizes our labor, time and management, complementing our stocker business,” says Leo Hollinger, Jr. of Hollinger Cattle Co., Camden, AL. “You're doing the same thing with the same facilities; you're just working harder in the off-season.”

He’s describing his decision to diversify risk by weaning and preconditioning calves for others.

“This provided a way for us to take a limited amount of capital and make more money, or the same amount of money, as if we invested our money in two or three turns of buying and weaning 500-lb. cattle.”

Porter Cattle Co., Reading, KS

“If you would have told me three years ago that I’d be limit-feeding calves, I’d have said you were crazy,” says Rich Porter of Porter Cattle Co., Reading, KS. In basic terms, calves here are fed the amount they can eat in three hours.

“We hold calves to consuming no more than 2.2% of their body weight for the first 30 days,” explains one of the Porter crew. “It keeps them hungry and aggressive. If something isn’t feeling good, they’ll stand out. It makes our job pulling cattle easier and our health costs are way down.”

Bonds Ranch, Saginaw, TX

“This is the only legal business I know of where you can make the kind of return on money that we can,” says Pete Bonds of Bonds Ranch, based in Saginaw, TX.

Rather than profit per head, Bonds began focusing on return on equity a few years back and it made all the difference. At the time, he realized he wasn’t in the cattle business; he was in a business that involved cattle.

“With the cow business, the main goal oftentimes is the way of life rather than making money,” Bonds says. “If you’re turning out yearlings, you’re turning them out to make money. The stocker sector is a lot more business-minded. I don’t have to compete with people who aren’t in it to make money.”

Gracie Creek Ranch, Burwell, NE

“Our emphasis is on increasing the use of forage and decreasing the need for supplementation,” says Bob Price of Gracie Creek Ranch, Burwell, NE.

Rather than eyeball the grass and decide when to rotate cattle, Price’s rotation is based on a plan generated with software called The Grazing Manager. Instead of using animal units as the measuring stick, the software is based on grazing demand days, which adjusts for maintenance requirements of the animals based on body weight as well as the forage demand for desired gain.

Jay O’Brien. Amarillo, TX

For Jay O’Brien, stocker cattle continue to be a key answer to the question of improving the ranches in his care while cleaving a sustainable profit.

“That’s basically the mission statement for all of the ranches I manage: Care for the land and create a sustainable profit,” O’Brien explains.

“The opportunity is that you have a resource in forage that basically has no other beneficial use than turning it into beef. You can do that with stockers or with cows,” O’Brien reflects. “If you don’t put cattle on it, you don’t have a way to get paid anything for the grass.”

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