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Articles from 1998 In May


Should you stockpile hay?

Don Johnson, the television actor who played one of the lead roles in "Miami Vice," used to talk about the hazards of working with the trained alligator that was supposed to be his pet on the series. As he would say, the term "trained alligator" is actually a contradiction in terms; like "military intelligence," or "Postal Service." Likewise, the term stockpiled hay is actually a misnomer.

What we're talking about is leaving grass unharvested in the field at the end of the season. Instead of cutting hay for wintering cattle, it's "stockpiled" in the field. Whenever it's needed, cattle are simply turned into the field. Said to be a new concept, I've been surprised to hear that some Extension services have been promoting it.

Actually, the concept is not totally new. It's common to hear old timers talk about the "cure" on winter grass. Specifically, many ranchers winter stocker cattle on native pasture, and whether the calves did or did not gain well during the winter ... is usually explained or blamed on whether the grass did or did not cure well that winter.

Grass Vs. Hay Grass does not cure. Hay cures but grass does not. When grass is left in the field it goes dormant or vernalizes. So, the term stockpiled hay is not correct. The correct term would be stockpiled grass.

If hay is cut and stored properly, it's a different commodity than stockpiled grass. If you open up a bale of hay, the interior will be green. Unharvested grass in a hayfield will not be green (during the winter). What's the difference? About 10-15 cents/head/day.

I'll be the first to acknowledge that there's an enormous amount of hay that is neither cut at the right maturity, nor stored correctly. However, if it's cut and stored properly, grass hay will run about 8-12% crude protein. If you take a sample of stockpiled grass, it will run about 5-6% crude protein. Good grass hay will contain a significant amount of carotene, which can be converted to vitamin A. The stockpiled grass will have none. Good hay will have about 11/43 more phosphorous, and 50-100% more trace minerals.

When warm-season grasses go into winter, the physiology of the plant changes dramatically. The plant is no longer growing, so minerals and nitrogen are no longer absorbed; and chlorophyll and carotene are no longer manufactured.

The bottom line is that good quality grass hay needs very little supplementation; stockpiled grass needs a great deal. Good quality hay typically needs only salt, a modest amount of trace minerals, and/or a little phosphorous. Stockpiled grass, on the other hand, will need a lot more phosphorous and trace minerals, a full dosage of vitamin A, and 0.75-1 lb. of a protein supplement.

It's Nitrogen, Not Protein It's important to realize that 5-6% crude protein is not just 50% less than 10-12%. In terms of what's useful to the animal, it's 70-80% less. The reason being that below 5% crude protein, virtually none is digestible. What is showing up as crude protein is the nitrogen complexed with the lignon (the indigestible portion of the fiber). So, the analysis for crude protein is not an analysis for protein at all. It's merely an analysis for nitrogen. The amount of nitrogen is simply multiplied by 6.25 and the result is called crude protein (CP).

If you're interested, take a sample of stockpiled hay, send it to a laboratory capable of running a sophisticated forage analysis known as a "pepsin digestion test" (not every laboratory can do this test). Ask them to run both crude protein as well as the pepsin protein test. The results will be 5-6% CP and 0-2% apparent digestible protein (from the pepsin test). What you will find is that you do not have stockpiled hay. What you have is dormant grass.

Don't get me wrong, dormant grass can be a valuable feed. But it's not as valuable as hay. Certainly it will save on harvesting and labor costs, but it's not a free lunch. It will have to be supplemented, whereas hay needs little or no supplementation.

David P. Price is a consulting nutritionist specializing in feedlot and range cattle. A number of his books and a subscription newsletter are available through BEEF magazine by contacting Marilyn Anderson at 800/722-5334, ext. #710.

For more information on the Coulter Scrotal Tape, contact Trueman Mfg. of Edmonton, Alberta at 800/363-4085.

Family Teamwork Is A Must

When twin brothers Lynn and Glenn Adamson decided to combine their Wray, CO, farming and cattle feeding operations, they discovered how difficult it is to seamlessly blend family members and employees into a new and unfamiliar structure.

Certainly, all the elements for conflict were in place. The two veterans were used to controlling their fate and had the experience to back it up. At the same time, however, Lynn's son Scott and Glenn's son Mike were ready to make their mark in the business. And the employees, as a group, were saddled with changes they could not possibly anticipate.

"It was a very difficult transition," Scott says. "Our employees were stressed because they didn't really know who the boss was. One of us would say 'do this,' and one of us would say 'do that.' They couldn't please everyone."

For the four Adamsons it was no different. Each had an agenda, yet they each had a family full of new partners.

"Mike and I felt like we had to prove we could handle the responsibility," Scott says, "but it wasn't easy for our fathers to let us. It was a maturing process. My cousin and I had to learn when to rely on the resource of experience, and when to push for a different solution."

The answers - for family members and their employees - evolved through honest communication and a full restructuring of the business.

First, the Adamsons scheduled regular meetings to enhance communication. This simple step put a stop to what Scott says is the most common reaction to conflict: If you see conflict approaching, avoid it. Next, they began regular sessions of long-term planning. That got everyone on the same page for the future, not just that day.

Finally, to eliminate duplication and competition as managers, they reorganized the entire operation from management on down. Scott took over the feedlot. Mike began managing the farming, composting and trucking. And Lynn and Glenn - who wanted more flexibility with their time - became supervisors outdoors.

The changes also included the employees. "In When twin brothers Lynn and Glenn Adamson decided to combine their Wray, CO, farming and cattle feeding operations, they discovered how difficult it is to seamlessly blend family members and employees into a new and unfamiliar structure.

Certainly, all the elements for conflict were in place. The two veterans were used to controlling their fate and had the experience to back it up. At the same time, however, Lynn's son Scott and Glenn's son Mike were ready to make their mark in the business. And the employees, as a group, were saddled with changes they could not possibly anticipate.

"It was a very difficult transition," Scott says. "Our employees were stressed because they didn't really know who the boss was. One of us would say 'do this,' and one of us would say 'do that.' They couldn't please everyone."

For the four Adamsons it was no different. Each had an agenda, yet they each had a family full of new partners.

"Mike and I felt like we had to prove we could handle the responsibility," Scott says, "but it wasn't easy for our fathers to let us. It was a maturing process. My cousin and I had to learn when to rely on the resource of experience, and when to push for a different solution."

The answers - for family members and their employees - evolved through honest communication and a full restructuring of the business.

First, the Adamsons scheduled regular meetings to enhance communication. This simple step put a stop to what Scott says is the most common reaction to conflict: If you see conflict approaching, avoid it. Next, they began regular sessions of long-term planning. That got everyone on the same page for the future, not just that day.

Finally, to eliminate duplication and competition as managers, they reorganized the entire operation from management on down. Scott took over the feedlot. Mike began managing the farming, composting and trucking. And Lynn and Glenn - who wanted more flexibility with their time - became supervisors outdoors.

The changes also included the employees. "In the feedlot I now have an employee who is in charge of animal health and processing," Scott says, "so I don't supervise that anymore. Same with the feedmill - one employee is in charge of that. I don't say 'do this' anymore, I just ask how things are going. They tell me what may or may not work and I've learned to value that experience and knowledge."

After a two-year shakeout period, Scott can look back and list the elements that led to a successful transition.

"The most important elements were communication and respect," he says. "You have to be able to communicate your desires clearly, and you have to be able to respect other opinions.

"The restructuring was another important move. Before, if I wanted to make a change I had to convince three other people. Now each of us operates fairly independently," Scott says. "That builds a sense of responsibility - we have freedom as long as we produce results.

"Another factor has to deal with failure. You have to be willing to fail because it's how you learn. And for sure in this business fear of failure is a death sentence. The ability to fail, learn and move on builds character.

"All of us are fortunate to be here because we support each other as a family. We just had to learn how to work together as a business and as a family," he says.

For Further Reference

* www.keirsey.com

* www.Kepner-Tregoe.com

* www. kcoe.com

* www.Agricareersinc.com

* Introduction To Type, I.B. Myers

* Please Understand Me, David Keirsey

* Please Understand Me II, David Keirsey

* The Emotions of Normal People, William Marston

* Heads You Win! How the Best Companies Think, Quinn Spitzer and Ron Evans

* Getting to Yes, Roger Fisher and William Ury

* How to Make Meetings Work, Michael Doyle and David Straus

* The Mediation Process, Christopher W. Moore

For centuries humans have tried to understand the concept of "personality" and how it affects an individual's attitude and actions.

In the modern era, "The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator," divides the human personality into four dimensions: Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I); Sensing (S) or Intuition (N); Thinking (T) or Feeling (F); and Judging (J) or Perceiving (P). Through testing, people are determined to be one of 16 different "types." For example, an ISTJ type would combine Introversion, Sensing, Thinking and Judging to express behavior, values and attitudes.

In an effort to make the Myers-Briggs understandable, clinical psychologist David Keirsey developed the Keirsey Temperament Sorter and published a million-seller book, "Please Understand Me."

The Keirsey Temperament Sorter employs a 70-question test that helps define your personality type. The test and analysis are available free on-line (www.keirsey.com) and can help you understand yourself and your subordinates.

The questions are simple - all you do is choose between two answers. For example:

Are you more interested in

* Production?

* Research?

Are you more comfortable

* After a decision?

* Before a decision?

Do you prefer to work with

* Practical information?

* Abstract ideas?

Are you more comfortable

* Setting a schedule?

* Putting things off?

Facts

* Speak for themselves?

* Usually require interpretation?

After completing the questions you are placed in one of four types: Guardian, Artisan, Idealist or Rational. The four main "types" are each divided into four sub-categories.

While the test will provide a valuable indicator describing how and why a person responds to their environment, it is by no means gospel. David Keirsey says, "The Keirsey Temperament Sorter, like all personality tests, is only a preliminary and rough indicator of personality. Please do not accept any personality test results without checking them out by watching people in action.

"People-watching will enable you to detect the difference between what people say they do habitually and what they actually do," he says.

Personality Testing: Get A Head Start

Most managers put a lot of effort into placing new employees in the right slot, but it's a hit-and-miss affair at best. It takes time - weeks, even months - to determine if that new employee is ideally suited to his job. Put a natural-born problem solver in a feed truck, for example, and you've set the stage for boredom and dissatisfaction. Or, fill a team with dominant personalities, and conflict and unhealthy competition are almost guaranteed.

Gary Maas, president of Agricareers, Inc., a 30-year-old employment recruiting company based in Massena, IA, says personality testing can help employers place employees in jobs in which they are most likely to succeed.

"Testing can help determine behavioral style - a person's manner of doing things," Maas says. "For example, if a job involves repetition it should be filled by someone who exhibits a steady or consistent personality type. For another job, like being a member of a repair crew, the employee needs to be able to roll with the punches. They need to be a dominant style type that likes challenge and change."

The Test To determine a person's style type, Maas administers a test that includes 24 groups of phrases. Each group contains four phrases, and for each group the subject selects one phrase that most describes them and one phrase that least describes them. For example, one group includes the following phrases: Well-disciplined, self-controlled; Generous, willing to share; Animated, uses gestures for expression; Persistent, unrelenting, refuses to quit.

"Computer software analyzes the answers, and we generate a 17-page report that describes the subject," Maas says. "It is 87 percent accurate and you'll get a picture of how that person will perform in the workplace.

"Style types are divided into four primary areas - dominant, influencing, steady or compliant. But you have to be careful when considering the analysis. Only 4 percent of the population falls into a pure style. Most of us are a combination of styles. But whenever a person measures above the mid-line on a graph for a particular style, it is likely that style will be an observed behavior," Maas says.

Example To illustrate how the information can be used by an employer, Maas provided the 17-page report generated for "John."

Under "general characteristics," John is described as a self-starter who likes new projects. He prefers variety and change and is forceful and direct when dealing with others. He is decisive and prefers to work for a decisive manager.

John also tends to be intolerant of people who seem ambiguous and may lose interest if others ramble. His creative and active mind may hinder his ability to communicate, and he may lack the patience to listen and communicate with slower-acting people.

The "checklist for communicating" with John contains a number of do's and don'ts.

Under "do," for example, John's employer should: Be clear, specific, brief and to the point; offer incentives for his willingness to take risks; provide an atmosphere where he makes his own decisions; and provide facts and figures about options.

Examples of how not to communicate with John include talking down to him, taking credit for his ideas, leaving decisions up in the air, giving orders, and asking rhetorical or pointless questions.

The report also includes a section describing John's ideal environment. Suggestions include: Challenging, non-routine work; a forum where he can express ideas and viewpoints; and freedom from controls, supervision and details.

"I became interested in this type of testing 17 years ago," Maas says, "and we now have a tremendous data base that profiles personalities and job types in agriculture. Certainly no style test is perfect, but employers can get a good feel for where a prospective employee would fit within the organization.

"What I tell people about testing is that if the information aids you in the hiring decision, it is very valuable. If it makes the decision for you, you shouldn't use it," Maas says.

Personality Types

The personality test that Gary Maas administers is designed to reveal four basic types of personalities:

DOMINANT Action-oriented, demanding and a hard driver. Risk taker and problem solver. Not afraid of something new. Can take on too much, and be undiplomatic and impatient.

INFLUENCING Likes to work with others. Is innovative and optimistic. Good leader and motivator and good persuader. Can be too trusting and may need help with time management.

STEADY Patient, consistent and will not leave a job undone. Good listener and loyal. Can be resistant to change, prefers to do the job rather than supervise or train someone else.

COMPLIANT Seen as perfectionist by others. Questions and examines everything. Accurate with good research abilities. Can get bogged down in details and set impossible standards.

As a manager, do you truly listen to your employees' opinions? Do you actively encourage teams to develop their own solutions to problems? Are decisions made rationally? Do you really communicate with your employees?

Unfortunately, the answer is probably a resounding "NO."

Kepner-Tregoe, Inc., an international training and consulting firm founded in 1958 and based in Princeton, NJ, surveyed 1,414 managers and hourly workers to determine if they believed their companies utilized the brainpower of their workers.

Certainly, the results are disturbing, and they beg the question: Are you using your assets to the best of your ability?

Here are some results from the survey, "Minds at Work: How Much Brainpower Are We Really Using?" The full text can be requested on-line at www.Kepner-Tregoe.com.

* Do organizations tap the collective brainpower of their employees?

Two-thirds of both managers and hourly workers said their organizations used no more than 50% of the collective brainpower available.

* Are organizations "top quality" in thinking?

Respondents were asked to compare their organization to a Yugo, Ford Taurus, Mack Truck or Ferrari. Fully 70-80% of both groups chose the Mack Truck (difficult to maneuver) or Taurus (unspectacular). Only 7% chose Ferrari.

* Do organizations think rationally about issues?

To this question, 42% of the workers and 35% of the managers said there is no systematic approach to setting priorities. And, 46% of the workers and 31% of the managers said they take action without taking time to develop a plan.

* How thoughtfully do managers and workers solve problems and make decisions?

One-third of the workers and 25% of the managers said decisions are made strictly on "gut feel." Compounding the problem: If a solution is not found quickly, two-thirds of the respondents say management puts more pressure on workers to take action.

* How proactive is the thinking in organizations?

Half of the workers and managers said it is not standard procedure to have a back-up plan if the original plan fails.

* What are the most significant barriers to thinking in the workplace?

The three most common barriers were organizational politics, time pressure, and lack of involvement in decision making. Half of the workers and 40% of the managers said workers don't receive enough training. And, 47% of the workers and 22% of the managers said employee recommendations were not acted on.

Scat Scan

Fecal analysis to determine the diet of grazing cattle is going high-tech.

Livestock fecal analysis can give producers a lot of information about what their cows are eating. But, the current method of analysis can be tedious, expensive and slow in getting results to the rancher. That could change, however, if Dean M. Anderson has his way.

Anderson, a research scientist at the USDA-ARS Jornada Experimental Range in Las Cruces, NM, is utilizing the talents of several space-age researchers in an attempt to improve accuracy and cut the time required to analyze livestock feces. He's discovered it can be done with fluorescent spectroscopy by using either lasers or multi-spectral fluorometers.

Why Is It Important? Accurate identification of the contents of livestock feces can give range managers a good basis on which to base nutritional management decisions. But, Anderson says if the new methods can be taken to commercial levels, that information could be provided the same day.

The technology also could be spun off for use on other kinds of samples. His cooperators have already proven, for example, that optical sensing could be used to detect pathogens in food.

Traditionally, detecting what livestock eat on the range has been labor intensive and time consuming. There are special difficulties with observing their food at various locations along the digestive tract, their eating habits or with sampling rumen contents. That's why fecal samples (the technique came from the field of wildlife biology) have proven so useful. But there are other problems associated with the digested food.

Some things are thoroughly chewed and digested, making them difficult to visually identify, especially in the feces, Anderson points out. With the commonly used micro-histological technique, ground material is observed under a microscope. It's time consuming and requires a technician trained in plant fragment identification for each geographic region and season, followed by statistical analysis of the data to determine the relative percentages of plants in the diet.

"From identification through statistical analysis, these type of data are difficult to obtain in real time," Anderson says. That means if a rancher sends samples to a lab, he may not get results until long after he needed the information to make a nutritional management decision.

Anderson has used fecal sampling in his research, and the leap to adapting this new technology came about accidentally in the fall of 1991. In discussing his work with Ron Pinnick, then a researcher at the Army Research Laboratory, White Sands Missile Range, Pinnick thought he could use laser technology to detect differences in plant species growing in the field as well as those found in feces.

After preliminary work, Pinnick and his physics colleagues at New Mexico State University found both pre- and post-digested plant materials would fluoresce (give off light) when suspended in a solvent that was then illuminated with a beam of laser energy. The fluorescence among the materials had distinguishing features that served as a "fingerprint" to identify it.

Anderson explains that fluorescence occurs when electrons in a molecule are kicked up to a higher energy state after being hit with energy from a laser or other light source. "Preliminary results show most plant materials produce fingerprints having visibly distinguishing features," he adds.

Fingerprinting Plants Though some plants give visually similar fingerprints that can't be differentiated with the naked eye, scientists at Sandia National Laboratories have developed sophisticated computer programs to untangle similarities among materials and even unravel the most complex mixtures of molecules from a fluorescing solution.

At Sandia, Gary Tisone, Perry Gray and John Wagner took some of Anderson's samples and began looking at them using multi-spectral fluorescent spectroscopy (see Figures 1 and 2). In their technique a xenon lamp is used to get the molecules to fluoresce.

"At this point we aren't certain which molecules are fluorescing," Anderson says. "However, with this technique the same molecule should fluoresce the same regardless of where in the world the technique is used."

Any plant material could be identified once an accurate reference library of plant species, a "foolproof" recipe of equipment settings and intelligent algorithms suitable for computer analysis are available. This would remove human bias and could make reliable data available in less than three minutes per sample.

There is a lot of work yet to be done, and a lot of data processing to be worked out. "A rancher in West Texas probably doesn't care a hoot about neural net processing algorithms," Anderson says of the technicalities and mathematics. But that rancher does give a hoot about having a quick, accurate and likely much less expensive means of finding out what his cattle are eating so he can manage proactively.

"The one obstacle is that research money has always been tight for developing new tools," Anderson says. He and his colleagues are looking for funding to continue multi-spectral fluoresence spectroscopy research on fecal samples, which so far has been conducted without dedicated funding, basically on weekends in workers' spare time.

Effects Could Be Far-Ranging The spinoffs could be far-ranging. One of the questions Anderson has had about cattle diet is determining what part may be heritable.

"We know that animals have variable diet preferences, just as humans do. Could some of these preferences be heritable?" The answer to that question could lead to the breeding of "designer" cattle with specific dietary preferences or avoidances.

Another spinoff would be in the wildlife field. Currently, feces sampling and species identification under the microscope is the primary means of determining wildlife diet, and a breakthrough in technology could help wildlife researchers greatly.

For further information, contact Anderson at 505/646-5190, by fax at 505/646-5889, or by e-mail at [email protected]

How To Clean Up Your Hard Drive

By John Martinsen You may not have realized your computer, much like a car or other piece of machinery, needs regular maintenance in order to operate in a reliable and efficient manner. We're not talking oil changes or engine tune-ups. Most of the work can be accomplished with a few simple keystrokes, and some tasks can even be scheduled to run automatically. If you're willing to put in a little time and effort for this kind of preventive maintenance, you might save yourself a major headache and some potentially expensive problems down the road.

This month, we'll look at some basic maintenance tasks - how to keep your computer clean and your hard disk drive working on its best behavior.

Keep It Tidy Computers don't like dust. At least once every couple of weeks you need to dust off the equipment. A dry rag will usually do the trick. But if you need to use a cleaning agent, make sure you use one specifically designed for sensitive electronic equipment.

Your keyboard and mouse may become unresponsive or unreliable if they're constantly exposed to a dusty environment. If the work area your computer is set up in is particularly dusty, you may want to invest in a keyboard cover. Some covers are designed to protect your equipment only when it isn't being used, while others fit snugly over the individual keys and are intended for permanent protection even as you work on the computer. Most computer stores and office supply dealers keep these products in stock.

Each month, clean out the mouse. If you turn the device upside down, there's usually a small panel underneath that can be slid open. Take out the rubber ball inside and wipe it off using a moist cloth. Inside the mouse you will see two or three small rollers or wheels. These gradually build up a layer of dirt and grime and need to be cleaned off as well. Use your finger or a pair of tweezers to get rid of the buildup, then dry off the rubber ball and replace it along with the plastic panel.

Hard Drive Housekeeping No component in your computer is busier than your hard disk drive, which retrieves and stores data every time you perform an operation. As a result, this delicate piece of equipment needs special attention and care.

Both Microsoft Windows 95 and the Apple Macintosh operating systems come with a set of tools that help you take care of the hard drive. The two most important tools are the ones that let you check the hard drive for errors and optimize the way information is stored.

In Windows 95, the troubleshooting program is called Scan Disk. You access it through the "Start Menu," where it's listed under: Programs/Accessor-ies/System Tools. Normally, it's enough to run the "Standard" test on your hard drive, perhaps once every two weeks or so.

The "Thorough" test is more useful if you're already experiencing problems when accessing files, or if you suspect for some other reason that there might be a problem with your hard drive.

The Apple Macintosh counterpart to Scan Disk is called Disk First Aid, and it operates in much the same way as described above. The default location for Disk First Aid is the "Utilities" folder on your system disk.

Defragment The Hard Drive While Scan Disk and Disk First Aid take care of potential problems with the data on your hard drive, Windows 95's "Disk Defragmenter" serves to speed up how you access your data.

Each time you store something on a hard drive, the program or file isn't stored as a single entity. It's split into data segments that are stored in different locations throughout the hard drive.

As you store more data on the hard drive, and as you open and save files repeatedly, this fragmentation becomes more and more severe. This in turn slows down the rate at which files and programs open when you request it, as the operating system repeatedly accesses the hard drive's "road map," or file allocation table, to find out how the various segments of the file are stored.

The Disk Defragmenter rearranges how your data is stored, moving file pieces that belong together into continuous areas on the hard drive. As a result, the operating system doesn't need to call on the "roadmap" quite as many times when opening a file, and you'll see an increase in speed when you work with complex programs and data files.

There are a number of Macintosh disk defragmenter programs offered, but must be purchased separately from the operating system. If you have access to the Internet, look for a free or shareware defragmenter program on sites such as www.download.com Be aware that a disk defragmenter takes a long time to finish, especially if you haven't used it for a while. Run it about every two weeks and it should finish the job in a half hour or less.

Grid Lessons

If you have the right genetics, grid pricing can offer significant economic benefits.

Value-based marketing, says Ted Schroeder, is the trend of the future. "Those who can adapt to this change will have profit opportunities. Those who can't won't have the opportunity to adjust," says the Kansas State University (KSU) economist.

Schroeder describes value-based marketing as moving away from selling a group of cattle at an average price to marketing cattle individually according to carcass quality. But what determines how much your calves are worth?

* How efficiently they grow and finish in the feedlot.

"Even if you know your calves have the genetics to gain 3.8 lbs./day, you won't get paid for that performance unless you convey that to the buyer," Schroeder warns. "You'll likely get paid based on how average cattle of your type perform in the feedlot."

* The value of your calves as finished cattle when they go to the packer.

"This is a major determinant of worth today," says Schroeder. "Today's basic cash market system doesn't adequately discriminate between high- and low-value cattle. Lack of information prevents this. The buyer won't pay premiums unless he knows your cattle are actually worth that much more.

"Suppose today's fed-cattle market is $65/cwt. but your calves have the traits to bring $67, or a $2 premium," Schroeder adds. "You know you've developed genetics over time, but if you sell them on a cash market you'll probably get $65. The live market doesn't value those traits fully because the buyer doesn't know their true value."

Why does it matter if those finished steers or heifers are worth $2/cwt. more?

"Because that $25/head is roughly the amount more they are worth as yearlings or calves," says Schroeder. "The critical thing is that you must know that because there's another side to the equation. If you find your calves are worth $2/cwt. less, that's $25/head less."

Carcass Data A Must To improve the value of your calves, you need information on carcass and feedlot performance, Schroeder says. A producer must also have reliability and integrity in this information and convey that to the buyer. This can be done through certification, alliances, retained ownership or reputation building.

"I don't know which is most effective, but I do know retained ownership gives you the most opportunity," Schroeder declares.

One of the tools coming on stream is a grid pricing system that determines the value of an animal based on its individual carcass traits. That's one reason Iowa cow-calf producer and feeder Bill Pellett joined the Precision Beef Alliance (PBA). It helps him meet the several grid programs available through packers.

He and his son Bret have 130 commercial cows and an 800-head open and confined feedlot near Atlantic. Calves are born in early March, weaned in September at 550 lbs., then go into the feedlot on a backgrounding ration and grass hay before being finished on a high-energy feed to slaughter at 12-13 months of age. Rations include earlage, high-moisture and dry cracked corn, wet distillers' grains with solubles and vitamin E. Vitamin E is one of Precision Beef's branded beef requirements.

Pellett's program is flexible enough to fit several packer grids available through PBA as the market calls for them.

"Know where your cattle fit in," Pellett says. "Decide economic incentives you want to establish in your herd, like ways to reduce feed or wintering costs of cows, or aim toward producing higher value-based products."

Pellett uses several information services to help him compare his production costs with other producers, not just in the Midwest but across the nation. That's also true with producers that supply Pellett with feedlot cattle.

Compare Different Grids "A lot of the pens can be divided into different programs so they hit two or three specific grids, based on visual inspection," says Pellett. "It's not a perfect system, but by looking at several different grids, you can pinpoint your cattle to fit each."

Grids have a base price with premiums paid for those above and discounts for those below (Table 1). If your cattle fit a grid, without outliers, you're home free.

"The caution I make is this: What happens if you have cattle that don't fit a grid," Kansas State's Schroeder says. "Most grids discount YG 4 and 5 and Standards substantially. You'd be surprised how much variability there is in a pen of cattle that looks uniform."

While Schroeder believes grid pricing is the way of the future, he warns there are no easy answers in this area.

"Packers consider different attributes differently," he says. "You have to know how your cattle fit that grid and how they perform under it. This means collecting and keeping historical carcass data on your calves. Then, simulate how your cattle would have done had they been sold on a grid."

Sorting Is Important With grids, you have to do a good job of handling and sorting outlier or poorer cattle to avoid significant discounts. "It takes every animal within a lot to ultimately come up with a premium price for the whole lot," Schroeder says. "You won't get these premiums on a live basis, or by selling on a cash market. To get those premiums you must have information and take a few risks."

To prove his point, Schroeder simulated returns on 202 pens of mostly English crossbreds from individual producers. Several pens were in alliances. He obtained premiums and discounts on four individual packer grids during the week of July 8, 1997. The packers provided him with specific quotes for Wednesday, Nov. 6, 1997. From this data he simulated prices on each pen based on live cash, carcass-dressed and four packer grids. The figures were revealing.

If all 202 pens were sold live, the average return was $842/head (Table 2); dressed, $862/head, Schroeder calculated.

"Grid returns were lower, some a lot lower," he notes. "If I had sold them all in one method and gotten the average price, I would have been better off going dressed with these particular pens of cattle."

Schroeder believes that if he knew everything about these cattle - quality grade, yield grade and dressing percent - he could have targeted those cattle to a particular selling method to get the highest revenue. Here's what he found:

* Only five, or less than 3%, of the 202 pens, brought higher returns when sold live in this simulated comparison. "It wasn't quality grades that threw them out, but lower dressing percent," Schroeder says.

* A total of 119 pens, or 59%, would have brought an average of about $25/head more if sold on a dressed basis compared with live.

* If sold on Grid 1, 61 pens or 30%, would have brought about $15/head more than if sold dressed and on Grid 2; 17 pens, or 8.4%, would have brought about $4 more. No pens received highest returns in Grids 3 and 4.

"If I had chosen to sell to a packer simply because I was accustomed to them or because I liked their buyer, and they were using Grids 3 and 4, it would have cost me money," Schroeder says.

What Are The Lessons? Looking at these results, Schroeder says these are the lessons to be learned:

* "You leave premiums on the table when you sell on a cash basis, whether live or a dressed basis," he says. "Not all cattle are going to perform better under a grid, but it's the only way to get a premium if they do perform better."

* If you retain ownership, match cattle to a grid.

"The base price is important," Schroeder points out. "It's often a formula price and you have to understand the base price as well as discounts and premiums."

* Cattle must be managed well. "The better you sort, the better decisions you make and the more money there is in it for you," Schroeder says.

Schroeder believes these new programs offer opportunities for producers. "But it takes scrutiny by you to ultimately get the premiums you deserve," he says. "In the long run it will help you in honing management to produce the kind of cattle the consumer wants."

Carcass Data Is A Must Getting detailed kill sheet data from the packer - including individual quality and yield grades and carcass weights - are important, but sometimes tough to get.

"Packers typically don't have individual animal live weights, only total pen weights with dressing percentages usually only available for the pen as a whole," Kansas State University economist Ted Schroeder says. "So for maximum value, each animal needs to be identified so the kill sheet data can be correlated back to dam and sire."

Kill sheet data is useful for these reasons:

* It helps target calves that fit specific packer or alliance grids. "Without this data, selling on a grid is very risky because discounts are severe for cattle not desired for a grid," he warns.

* It conveys information to calf buyers regarding packing performance of calves when finished. Otherwise, buyers must rely on visual appraisal, a poor predictor of ultimate fed-cattle value, warns Schroeder.

* It's valuable to use in conjunction with production data to make breeding and culling decisions to improve the herd.

"Finished cattle are affected not only by genetics and other production factors, but also growing and feeding management," he warns. "Culling based on finish quality alone will probably not signal the most profitable culling procedure, but it's one more piece of relevant information to have when making culling choices."

Those producers who learn the benefits of acquiring kill sheet information to make production and marketing decisions will produce quality cattle that bring prices exceeding commodity market values, says Schroeder.

Foreign Competitors: Uruguay

This South American competitor has many export weapons.

Uruguay, one of the newest players on the world beef scene, is positioning itself as a major competitor to U.S. beef in the first decade of the 21st century.

In recent years, Uruguay has taken a three-step approach to gaining worldwide acceptance for its beef products.

* Step one was to remove itself from the list of countries banned from beef exports because of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). Like Argentina, Uruguay-an producers have made major strides in ridding its borders of this vesicular disease, which is passed to other cloven-hoofed animals through uncooked meat products. USDA recognized the country as FMD-free in 1995.

* The second was winning concessions through the Uruguay Round of GATT talks that ended in December 1993. The country gained access to the U.S. market with a quota of 20,000 tons of beef. Most of the beef has been for manufacturing, but Uruguayan cattlemen hope to begin developing U.S. high quality markets for its beef products.

That could be tough, but Uruguay will benefit anyway since acceptance of imported beef by the U.S. usually opens the doors for the exporting nation to market their products to other countries.

* The third step is a progressive effort by Uruguayan producers to improve their productivity. USDA's Foreign Agriculture Service (FAS) reports that in the medium and long term, Uruguay will expand its beef production by 50% to around 500,000 tons carcass-weight equivalent (CWE). That increased production would double the Uruguayan export potential to just under 150,000 tons CWE. That means increased competition with the U.S. for Uruguay's other targeted markets: Mexico, South America, the Caribbean and countries in Asia.

Mexico Will Be Biggest Battleground Of all the targets, Mexico arguably will become the biggest battleground between the U.S. and Uruguay. Although the U.S. has made major strides in marketing its products to Mexico, raising it to a position as the No. 2 customer of U.S. beef in 1997, Uruguay has many advantages.

For one, Uruguayans speak the same language. They also can market cuts that more closely fit the Mexican cultural profile. And, Mexico could become a member of Mercosur, the South American common market, which provides preferential trade access to its members. If Mexico joins, Uruguay could receive a boost in trade access similar to what the U.S. enjoyed in Mexico after NAFTA became reality in 1994.

That prospect worries many U.S. traders who already are facing increased competition from the recently opened Canada Beef Export Federation office in Monterrey.

But no one is as concerned as the Mexican cattleman, said Cesar S. Cantu, a cattleman in Nuevo Leon and publisher of Boletin Agropek, a monthly agricultural publication.

"It's not going to be good if Uruguay enters the picture," Cantu tells BEEF. "Those guys produce beef at a very low cost - half the price of our costs. Our producers were not ready for NAFTA. They didn't have the technological expertise or the interest rates to compete and we're losing dollars. We're definitely not ready for Uruguay and Mercosur."

Uruguay's inclusion in Mercosur also provides problems for the U.S. in South American markets. Chile, one of the U.S. targets, is a case in point. Until it joined Mercosur, Uruguay had a beef quota with Chile of 750 tons per year at a 50% tariff. Beginning Oct. 1, 1996, tariffs were reduced by 40% and will be phased out in 2004.

That gave Uruguay an opening to increase its exports to Chile to 3,000 tons per year beginning in 1996. In all likelihood these numbers will increase further.

It will be tough winning back any losses from Uruguay itself. The country has a small population and is relatively self-sufficient in beef production, so there is little need for imports. Most current U.S. beef exports go to select restaurants, and FAS has not justified spending significant market expansion funds.

The U.S. Has Its Weapons Yet the main weapons the U.S. has to play in this fight for market share are the same strengths that set it apart from all other countries. The U.S. already has marketing efforts to promote high quality, grain-fed U.S. beef in 13 key foreign markets that reach hundreds of other countries.

And the U.S. consumer has shown no desire to purchase foreign beef. That lack of demand for Uruguayan products will keep that country from developing its own grain feeding industry to compete for Prime and Choice markets around the world.

So although Uruguay is a new player in the world global market, it always will have to play catch up.

Look for more Marion lespedeza

Marion lespedeza is a forage that sounds almost too good to be true. It only has to be planted once, thrives on poor soil, stands up to hot summers and is high in nutrient value. But USDA plant breeder Paul Beuselinck says Marion lespedeza is all that and more.

"Marion lespedeza provides forage in July and August when it's critical," says Beuselinck. That's one of the many reasons this forage is growing in popularity with producers, he adds.

Other attributes of Marion lespedeza include tannins in the plant that allow it to be grazed without causing bloat, says Beuselinck. The tannins also have rumen by-pass qualities, so most of the protein value of the plant can be used by the animal.

Suited to the southeastern region of the U.S., Marion lespedeza is a warm season annual legume which germinates in the spring, grows throughout the summer, then makes seed and dies in the fall.

That would be the end of most annuals, but Marion lespedeza produces a large enough seed crop that it naturally reseeds itself. Its drought and disease resistance are an added benefit that help Marion lespedeza stands persist. These are important characteristics that are not common to all lespedezas.

Lesson In Lespedeza Annual lespedeza was introduced into the U.S. from China, Japan and Korea in the mid-1800s. Two species of annual lespedeza, Korean and striate, are common, reports Charles West, University of Arkansas agronomy professor.

Korean lespedeza has the advantage of early flowering, and therefore the potential to produce a high seed yield. However, Korean lespedeza is susceptible to disease. Striate or Kobe species have an advantage in disease resistance, but typically flower three weeks later than Korean species and are not reliable seed producers.

In order for an annual lespedeza stand to regenerate each spring, the cultivar must produce seed and resist diseases. At present, only Marion will do both.

Marion is an early maturing striate lespedeza, allowing more seeds to be produced. It is a shortplant, with flowering sites close to the ground so some seed can be produced even when it's being grazed, according to West. Marion also shows a high resistance to bacterial wilt, tar spot and southern blight - common diseases with lespedeza. This resistance results in greater leaf retention and improves forage quality in late summer.

Today, Marion lespedeza can only be produced and marketed as certified seed. Therefore, producers get all the benefits of Marion lespedeza without stands being contaminated with Kobe or Korean species, says Beuselinck.

Establishment Is Easy U "Marion lespedeza is one of the easiest legumes to establish," says Beuselinck. He recommends a broadcast seeding at a rate of 8-15 lbs./acre in mid-winter. Seed can even be placed on top of snow. If broadcasting into existing pasture, Beuselinck says to graze grasses closely in the fall so lespedeza can establish itself the following spring.

U Unlike alfalfa, Marion lespedeza is tolerant of infertile and/or acidic soils with a pH of 5.3-6.0, whereas alfalfa and red and white clover require a pH of 6.3 or 6.4.

U Dry matter yields are modest, typically only about 1-2 tons of dry matter/acre, but forage quality is adequate for beef cattle, says West. In August crude protein levels average 15-17% and TDN (total digestible energy) levels are around 63%.

U Marion lespedeza's greatest potential seems to be in combination with grasses for grazing. It is often grown with tall fescue, not necessarily to boost yields, but to produce grazeable forage during the summer dry period. It also does well as a companion plant grown with orchardgrass and to some extent bermudagrass, says West.

If used alone as a hay crop, production is about 211/42-3 tons/acre. Korean lespedeza is generally taller growing and used more for hay, says West.

U Light grazing in mid- to late summer will allow seed production for natural reseeding. To ensure reseeding, Marion should not be grazed after September 1, or 40 days prior to the first frost, says Beuselinck. Hay fields should be cut when the lespedeza reaches the early bloom stage.

U To prevent Marion lespedeza from being crowded out by fescue or other grasses, it should not be heavily fertilized with nitrogen. Companion grasses should also be grazed in the spring to prevent excessive shading of seedlings during April and May. Marion lespedeza stands should last indefinately if they're managed correctly and allowed to reseed, says West.

U Beuselinck says Marion lespedeza's main drawback is seed cost. Seed is around $2-3.50/lb. But it's only a one-time cost, he says. Seed availability is also improving.

U Annual lespedeza is also a good wildlife plant. Quail are particularly fond of the seed.

For more information contact the Missouri Seed Improvement Association at 573/449-0586.

Lower Prices Loom Ahead

Look for lower prices for feedlot replacement cattle the rest of this year, says Bill Helming. With cattle feeders already under pressure with losses of $50-200/head racking the industry, the Kansas City-based livestock economist believes that the 1997-1999 expectations of many producers and feeders about fed and replacement cattle market prices are inflated and un-realistic.

There will be a new replacement cattle price plateau, but it will be lower, not higher, Helming says. He believes the odds are 90% that feeder, stocker and calf prices will decline $6-10/cwt. from today through the rest of this year.

Price spreads at $18.50/cwt. between Oklahoma 600- to 700-lb. steers and Texas Panhandle fed cattle the first three months of 1998 were the highest in six years. The narrowest spread came in 1996 at a -$3.65/cwt. when fed cattle prices were $64.73/cwt. at a time when corn prices were at record highs. This compares with $65.98 in 1997 and $62.53 the first three months of 1998.

A Significantly Narrower Spread That spread will narrow significantly the next six months, with most downward adjustment coming through October, 1998, Helming predicts. Of that spread, 80% will come from significantly lower feedlot replacement cattle prices, and 20% from moderately higher fed prices.

Breakeven prices on stocker/feeder cattle placed on feed now will likely range between $68-72/cwt. when sold as finished cattle in the Texas Panhandle this year, Helming suggests. The typical trading range on fed cattle will be $60-70/cwt. with the average close to $65, but at best within the $65-66 range, he believes. Prices should move slightly higher in 1999.

Helming warns, however, that should fed cattle market prices move above $70 in 1998, this level won't be sustainable, except for a short period of time, for these reasons:

* Large competing pork and poultry supplies. Meat supplies overall will be up 3.3% in 1998, including a 9% spurt in pork production. Total per capita meat supplies will be up 3.7% this year from 1997.

"That's in stark contrast to a year ago when per capita supplies were down 0.5 percent from 1997," Helming notes.

* A 6-8% decline in beef export sales this year and next will be a big change from recent years. It means more domestic consumption of beef, pork and poultry will be needed, Helming says.

* Domestic consumer demand and market share for beef continues to decline and now stands at an 18-year low. This is very serious and a real challenge for the beef industry, Helming contends.

Focus Needed On Domestic Demand The industry has tended to focus on meat supplies and/or competing meat supplies rather than domestic consumer demand for beef, he adds.

"It's human nature to not want to admit there's a beef quality issue and demand preference issue by the consumer," he says. "We want to be on the positive side, but the industry would be well served to be more realistic."

As shown in the charts at right, any time you have a product that consumers buy less of, even though the real inflation-adjusted price is less, it's obvious that demand for that product is poor and declining. It's a reality the beef industry must face, Helming notes.

To boost fed cattle prices above the $66-70/cwt. trading range, or even to average much above $65-66 this year, per capita beef supplies and competing meat supplies must drop substantially to offset this loss of market share, Helming says.

There are solutions to these concerns, Helming believes. He lists three points:

U Go to a true value-based beef production and market pricing system based on significant premiums and discounts, reflecting consumer eating satisfaction of beef. Kansas State University economist Ted Schroeder agrees (See article on page 36).

U Privatize the beef quality grading system to force packers, processors and others to put their name on beef through branded products.

U Implement a beef quality value and price discovery system based on the carcass cutout value of each fed steer and heifer slaughtered. All parties should have access to cutout data within 48 hours, or at least within 7 days from day of slaughter.

The Weather And Crop Factor Another factor with a bearing on the beef profit outlook this year is weather and corn crop projections. Helming forecasts a 9.8-billion-bushel corn crop under good growing conditions with cash prices in the $2-2.20/bushel range in the Cornbelt at harvest time. Adverse weather in July and August could push prices into the $3 range.

Helming believes chances are better for $2 than $3 corn, but advises a hand-to-mouth buying program until the grain outlook is known. A corn crop under 9 billion bushels could put added downward pressure on feedlot replacement cattle prices in late summer and fall, he warns.