Articles from 2004 In May

R-CALF Adds Another To Its Pile Of Blunders

While the industry reaction to R-CALF's earlier attacks on the safety of U.S. beef were widely condemned, most critics considered them unfortunate lapses in judgment that some organizations make in the heat of the battle. R-CALF made it clear this week, however, that the organization believes that the end does justify any means.

The group held a press conference on Thursday, hand in hand with radical anti-beef activist groups, to denounce USDA's handling of the BSE situation. The press event in Washington, D.C., questioned the safety of beef, and called for government hearings on the matter.

The decision to align with such radical anti-beef groups seems all the more surprising considering that many within R-CALF hope to make the organization mainstream and represent producers on a wide spectrum of issues. Instead, this latest R-CALF blunder seems to push them more in the direction of radical activism than mainstream representation.

As could be expected, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and other groups issued blistering press releases questioning R-CALF's decision and motives. It's shocking, following the disastrous statements regarding beef safety just a few weeks ago, that rather than issue an apology, the organization confirms to all that it is willing to destroy beef demand in order to further its isolationist, protectionist, anti-trade policies.

R-CALF has some legitimate concerns and issues, and a significant number of good cattlemen who support its positions. But, it's time for R-CALF to make radical changes in its leadership structure so such inexcusable mistakes aren't repeated. R-CALF's members have far too much invested to have the organization lose all credibility or be subverted by these radical stands.

For a moment, consider the caliber of groups R-CALF publicly aligned itself with this week:

  • The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is famous for opposing irradiation, and pushing for the reduction of beef in the school lunch program among other things. CFA's leader, Carol Tucker Foreman, is famous for her anti-beef rhetoric and efforts to stir up the hysteria about the safety of our product.
  • The Consumer Union (CU), along with CFA, have been two of the leading groups pushing since Dec. 23, 2003, the message that beef is unsafe. You've probably read the multitude of inaccurate statements by CU "leader" Michael Hansen in the popular press. Hansen and the CU have also led the crusade against biotechnology and GMOs.
  • The following is a quote from former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop in regard to Hansen's rhetoric: "Unfortunately, a few fringe groups are using misleading statements and blatant falsehoods as part of a long-running campaign to scare consumers about a perfectly safe food ... it is necessary to condemn these attacks ... for what they are: baseless, manipulative and completely irresponsible."

  • Then there's Public Citizen (PC), which gains its supposed credibility through founder Ralph Nader. But PC is best known for its membership in the Global Safe Food Alliance, formed by such animal rights organizations as Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the Western Organization of Resource Councils, Farm Sanctuary, etc., to put out anti-meat messages. If you want more information on PC, just go to its Web site at, check out the "Meatrix" at or the report "Jungle 2000" at

Shifting The Focus From Efficiency To Effectiveness

The cattle industry has done a remarkable job of producing more pounds per acre, and in distancing itself from other countries in terms of providing more saleable, high-quality product per cow exposed. In fact, along with the efficiencies in transportation, feeding, packing and processing, the combination has largely negated the advantages several countries have over the U.S. in terms of land and labor costs.

The emphasis is shifting from efficiency to effectiveness. Effectiveness is producing a specialized product for a specific market in a way that it can sustain higher-than-commodity prices. In the past, this trend was misinterpreted to mean that being a low-cost producer is no longer important or, worse yet, that there isn't an opportunity to lower one's cost structure.

Being a low-cost producer will always play a significant role in the economics of our business. In fact, it's likely to be the key in being able to implement value-added opportunities.

Initially, participating in branded, value-added or differentiated production will require additional investment. Low-cost producers will be the only ones able to participate successfully in many of these new business models.

There tends to be three categories of premiums: low-cost premiums (cost advantages over the average producer), partnership premiums (synergies created by working with partners vs. adversaries and removal of redundant or non-value creating practices), and value- creation premiums (sustainable advantages created by developing brand equity, and exceeding the expectations that consumers have of similar products in the marketplace).

These premiums seem to be essentially equivalent, with each category offering roughly the same opportunity for improved profits. Large entities that have concentrated on economies of scale, as well as margin operators, likely will continue to primarily emphasize costs. Others will focus on either partnership or value premiums. But the most successful will focus on all three.

Consumer confidence remains well above year-ago levels. With an index of 92.9, it's climbed back to the levels the economy enjoyed in November and December 2003. Retail sales have grown 11 of the last 12 months.

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the last quarter was up 4.1%, and has grown at more than a 6% annual rate the last two quarters (3.5% is what economists consider the goal for long-term growth).

The Institute for Supply Management index continues to show the manufacturing sector expanding; the index has been above 50% since July. Factory orders in March were up a sizzling 4.3%. Unemployment rates continue to drop, and the economy has shaved .5% off the rates in the last year. Inflation remains well below 2% and has not become an issue. This indicates interest rates will remain near historic lows in the short term to further economic expansion. Low interest rates continue to drive a robust home sales market as well.

While nearly every economic indicator is pointing toward an expanding economy, there are concerns about the chilling effect of rising energy costs in terms of driving inflation, eventually slowing expansion. Also, the current political campaign is promising to be bitter and could short-circuit the economy.

Psychology is undoubtedly the most important indicator. The political climate is such that candidates spend far more time tearing each other down than building up America. It's far easier in today's age of sound-bite politics to know what or whom somebody is against than what it is that they stand for and are working toward.

Some Alternatives For Coping With Short Pasture

  • Provide supplemental forage. Dry matter intake declines when forage height becomes less than 3 in. The result is reduced weight gain, lowered milk production and loss of body condition. Providing hay or silage, if available, is likely the first course of action. Where possible, limit the grazable area while feeding supplemental forage to allow other pasture areas to rebound more quickly.

  • Creep feed nursing calves. When forage growth is limited, it's likely neither energy nor protein needs are being met for optimal calf growth by pasture and milk. Consider creep feeding nursing calves to prevent losses in calf gains and in weaning weight, while reducing the stress on the cow and pasture.

  • A recommended creep mix is 85% cracked corn and 15% of a 40%-protein supplement or soybean meal. Oats can be substituted for part of the corn, especially the first few days when starting calves on creep.

    If the mix contains more than 1/3 oats, reduce the level of protein supplement or soybean meal to 10-12% of the mix. Other potential ingredients are pelleted soybean hulls or dry corn gluten feed (DCGF). Recommended inclusion rates are 1/4 to 1/3 of the mix. Since DCGF contains about 20% crude protein, little or no additional protein may be needed.

  • Early wean calves. In severe feed shortage, consider early weaning, especially for cows in a weight and body condition loss situation. Early weaning lowers cows' nutrient needs by up to 50%, allowing her to maintain or gain body weight and condition on less, as well as lower-quality, feed.

  • Early-weaned calves will require a high-quality grain mix and forage to maintain adequate growth. The grain mix mentioned above can be used for early weaning. Limit consumption to 1.5% of calf weight and free-choice feed a high-quality grass-legume hay.

  • Rotational grazing allows more efficient use of pasture forages. If the paddock number is three or more, and moisture isn't limiting in the spring, 1/3 to 1/4 of the land area can be made as hay in the spring for winter or emergency-use situations. Rotational grazing permits an earlier start in the season and extends grazing in the fall.

  • Graze hay fields. If dry weather limits re-growth on hay fields, consider using them as pasture if the fields are, or can be, easily fenced, and water provided. Use bloat-prevention if the forages (alfalfa, red clover, white clover, etc.) can cause bloat.

  • Separate young cows and those with lower body condition. These cows need higher quality pasture or other forage and additional concentrate feed to regain condition.

  • Likely to be done only after early weaning has occurred, drylotting the cow herd allows pastures to rest and re-grow. If calves have been weaned, feed for dry cows can be limited only to what's needed for maintenance.

  • It's possible, with some adaptation, to feed as little forage as 1/2 to 1% of the cow's body weight (6 lbs. of dry forage for a 1,200-lb. cow), with a grain supplement providing the rest of the cow's nutrient requirements. Don't attempt all-concentrate feeding for brood cows.

    If cattle are fed hay in a drylot, let the pasture re-grow to a height of 8-10 in. before grazing is allowed. If re-growth is quick to happen because of a return to abundant moisture, consider fencing off about 25% of the pasture and stockpile the growth for grazing in November and December.

  • If culling is necessary, reduce cattle numbers in this order: open cows, yearling steers and/or non-replacement heifers, and lower-quality or older cows. Heavy culling into quality animals in the main breeding herd should only be done in critical circumstances.

For more ideas, go to and click on "drought management" on the opening page menu.

R-CALF Draws A Line In The Sand, Then Crosses It

While nobody argues with R-CALF's right to challenge USDA's expansion, the industry was dismayed at the group's celebratory press release that was nothing short of an all-out frontal assault questioning the safety of our food supply. The following is a few of the statements that were made:

"USDA was playing fast and loose with the safety and health of U.S. consumers, and the judge put a stop to it; This is a huge victory for food safety for U.S. consumers; We don't understand why USDA insists that U.S. consumers should be subjected to increased health risks by disregarding our current science-based disease prevention standards."

There were many other statements that could have had no other aim but to destroy consumer confidence in our product -- terms like "higher-risk products," etc. It's more than just a grave error in judgment to undo all the work the industry has done to restore and maintain consumer confidence in beef.

While we have become accustomed to having radical anti-beef groups like People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals make these kinds of statements, the media and consumers have also learned to discount them. The sad thing is these types of factually incorrect statements are taken seriously when leveled from a group said to be representing cattlemen.

Certainly, I understand these attacks on consumer confidence in beef were designed to make it tougher politically for the government to follow the science and trade policies with which R-CALF doesn't agree. But, we all should be in lockstep to make it abundantly clear that our product is perfectly safe.

This type of rhetoric and behavior goes way beyond normal and understandable policy disagreements between cattlemen with the industry's best interest at heart. It's more reflective of the type of radical activist group that cares far more about its agenda than cattlemen as a whole. As a result, what should have been a celebration for the R-CALF organization, became one its darkest hours.

Cattle Feeding Southern Style

For Brazil to reach the next level in the global beef trade it needs to develop cattle feeding systems that will fit into a rapidly maturing cattle industry. At least, that's the way many observers feel.

Grain feeding would shorten the marketing age of an animal from three years to two, says Joao Silva, agricultural specialist with the U.S. Embassy in Brazil.

“It would also substantially increase the weight output,” he adds. “Grain feeding would not have to develop on a widespread scale in order to increase beef production by 10-15%.”

Today, there's very little concentrated cattle feeding in Brazil. Less than 20% of its total beef tonnage is fed under any conditions away from the pasture. Of that, only a small portion is actually finished in confinement for harvest.

In most cases, “feeding” is limited to roughage and some grain and oilseed-based concentrates for 90-120 days to get the cattle through the winter dry season that plagues many areas of Brazil's cattle-producing regions.

The “Typical” Feedlot

At Fazenda Talismã, young Brazilian farmer Fabio Nevs, Rondonàpolis, Mato Grosso, returned to his family cattle farm after attending an agricultural university. While studying animal science, he learned he could increase the farm's productivity by putting up grass silage during the wet season and feeding it in the dry season.

In a system that is much like growing and producing hay for winter feeding in the U.S., he sets aside some pasture he's converted to farmland for forage harvest.

For about 100 days beginning sometime in May, Neves moves cattle from the pastures and confines them in the feedlot he built. He spikes the protein content of the ration by adding soybeans to the silage.

This system increased overall production costs about 20%, but he's now able to keep 1,300 cows on the same land resource that previously carried just 600 cows.

Nevs has also improved overall conception rates from 70% to 80% with better nutrition — and reduced his annual death rate from 10% to 2%.

He says his cattle are “finished” on grass and are harvested at 30-36 months of age, weighing about 1,100 lbs. Depending on grass conditions, he'll supplement 0.5-1 lb. of soybean meal/head/day during grazing.

“But, my father doesn't like any of these ideas very much,” he says. “He still wants to keep the soybeans to sell for money.”

Feedlot Finishing

Several hundred miles south of Nevs' farm, Domingos Trevisan, manages the Fazenda Apolo in the Paranã state municipality of Itaipulandia. There, he oversees a land base of 7,000 acres, which includes 2,900 acres of cropland and 1,300 acres of pasture. The farm is typical in size and management for Southern Brazil.

The farm is unique in that it's among the few Brazilian operations that actually finish cattle in a feedlot setting. The finishing ration consists of milo, soybean meal and corn silage fed to 3,500 head of bulls and bullocks/year in four small feedlots. His genetics include mixtures of Limousin, Charolais, Angus and Brown Swiss crossed to varying degrees with Nelore bulls (see page 52).

Calves are weaned at nine months of age. They then spend one month on grass before going into confinement for 12-13 months of feeding. Finished weights average about 1,200 lbs. and Trevisan says he receives a “significant” premium for the grain-fed cattle. The beef is shipped as boxed beef to Europe by a local packer.

Like other Brazilian cattle farmers, he's not allowed to use growth hormones or performance-enhancing feed additives. He says two years ago, a group of German “inspectors” showed up on his farm unexpectedly and took feed samples. Importers routinely spot-check Brazilian cattle farmers to make sure they aren't using any prohibited feed additives or anabolics.

All of Trevisan's animals are individually identified from birth using radio-frequency electronic identification (ID) ear tags. It's part of the complete traceback system now mandatory for all animals in Brazil if the meat is intended for export. In fact, a nationwide mandatory ID program is being phased in over the next few years. Animals located in foot-and-mouth-disease (FMD)-free areas must be enrolled by 2005. By 2007, all cattle must be in the program.

Mixed Feedlot Operation

At Fazenda Santa Maria near Santa Terezinha de Itaipu, Paranã, farm manager Carlos Alberto thinks he has it tough. While he doesn't have a pronounced dry season to deal with, he endures light frost several times each winter.

Like Nevs at Fazenda Talismã, he brings most of his 2,200 cows off pasture for 2-3 months. But, in his case, the rest period occurs in summer when pastures are actively growing. His tactic is to save as much forage as possible for winter use. The forages also have higher protein when drier, he says.

By substituting high-roughage feeds for pasture, he can maintain a stocking rate of about 1 cow/2.5 acres on his 4,100 acres of pastures during the grazing period.

Since he already has the facilities for feeding cows, Alberto makes added use of the feedlot for increasing the weight of his terminal-cross calves prior to selling them for harvest. He also finishes cattle using a milo, soy and corn silage ration.

Alberto's Simmental and Limousin-cross cows are bred to Nelore bulls beginning at 18 months of age. Due to better nutrition, he says he can be more progressive than most Brazilians who wait until their heifers are about 24 months old at first breeding. His cows only have about 5-6 calves in their life, though — mostly depending on the value of cows for slaughter.

Parasites And “Green Cattle”

At Fazenda Santa Maria, Alberto's biggest animal heath problems center on internal and external parasites. With most of his cattle he uses Ivomec®, the most commonly used parasite treatment.

Because the state of Paranã is certified by the Office of International Epizoites (OIE) as FMD-free, he doesn't worry about FMD, but vaccinates for rabies, brucellosis and botulism.

Some Brazilian producers, including Alberto, are enrolling in a new government-monitored program to produce boi verde — or “green beef.” Producers agree to use no drugs on animals in the program. To ward off flies, ticks and other pests, the cattle are sprayed with an herbal “tea” that Alberto claims works better than any chemical treatment he's used.

The boi verde beef is exported to Asia and Europe where it commands a 50% premium — of which 30% is passed back to the farmers. Alberto says few cattle are in the program because it's a high-risk venture with no guarantee the premiums will be paid to the producers.

Meanwhile, in the subtropical state of Mato Grosso do Sul, the government is promoting a “branded” boi verde beef raised in the Pantanal National Park. In this vast area of swamplands, there's growing international pressure to preserve the region's ecology and wildlife resources. It's also an area with a 150-year history of cattle production.

An international committee that oversees activities in the park has developed a plan to sell the farmers' production as veal calves. This, they say, would take some grazing pressure off the park's resources. The goal is to sell the veal as ecologically friendly products of the Pantanel.

Constraints Vs. Opportunity

One of the biggest constraints of South American cattle feeding is that the people generally don't like grain-fed beef's taste. Further constraining the feeding picture is that many farmers, like Fabio Nevs' father, find the cash-grain markets more lucrative and stable than cattle finishing.

Yet, everything is in place for Brazil to become a cattle-feeding powerhouse, if they choose to evolve in that direction, says cattle feeder and veterinarian John Gee, Stanford, MT. He and his wife JoAnn participated in BEEF magazine's two-week tour to Brazil in January.

Gee says Brazilians are obviously limited by the climate and the genetics they can use in their environment.

“They're using more crossbreeding though, especially in the south where the climate's a little more moderate,” he explains. “If they can get away from a dependence on Nelore breeding, they will have a better beef product in the end.”

Brazil has the cattle numbers and grains to support them, he says.

“If they could put it all together, they have the potential to finish cattle and provide a very good, lean beef product,” Gee explains. “From what I saw, I wouldn't underestimate anything the Brazilians can do agriculturally.”

Beef profiling team wins award

Researchers in the checkoff-funded beef muscle profiling study earned international acclaim in April. Chris Calkins and Steven Jones, both University of Nebraska meat scientists; D. Dwain Johnson, University of Florida meat scientist; and Bucky Gwartney, research and knowledge management director for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA); have been awarded the 2004 International Meat Secretariat Prize for Meat Science and Technology.

The International Meat Secretariat (IMS) is a non-profit association of meat and livestock organizations that represents the meat and livestock industry worldwide. The $10,000 prize is awarded in alternate years to individuals or groups whose recent discoveries or contributions significantly benefit the international meat industry. This is the first time a team from the U.S. has earned the research prize, which will be presented at the 15th IMS World Meat Congress in Winnipeg, Canada, June 14-17.

The General Accounting Office (GAO) says Congress should create a single, independent food safety agency. Such an agency would administer and enforce 30 separate food safety laws that are currently the responsibility of 12 federal agencies.

Lawrence Dyckman, GAO director of natural resources and environment, says the U.S. food supply is generally safe but the threat of bioterrorism and incidence of a disease like BSE call for a more efficient food inspection system.

Seven universities have been tapped for use in expanded federal BSE testing. The designations are part of enhanced surveillance testing to begin in June that could test as many as 268,000 cattle over a 12- to 18-month period.

Selected to develop rapid-testing labs are Colorado State, Cornell, Texas A&M and Washington State universities, and the universities of California-Davis, Georgia and Wisconsin. Cost of the testing program is expected to be $70 million.

As of April 12, USDA has approved four BSE quick tests — Abbott Labs' Enfer test, the Prionics±-Check WESTERN test, Bio-Rad Labs' TeSeE± test, and IDEXX Labs' HerdChek± BSE Antigen Test Kit.

Burger chains are going to branding to capture more burger business. In early April, Carl's Jr. restaurant chain introduced Angus burgers, joining the Hardee's, Krystal and Back Yards Burgers restaurant chains, which went to Angus earlier. Burger King plans to offer an Angus burger this spring.

Though such burgers cost more, sales for these more expensive burgers are growing at a rate double that of commodity burger sales. Little wonder, given that an April USA Today consumer poll found burger buyers prefer the term “Black Angus” beef to ground beef by a margin of 11-to-1.

Learn the how-to of cattle composting at The Iowa State University (ISU) Web site reports on ongoing research that shows composting may be a viable way to dispose of large animal carcasses.

The Web site is organized for use at three levels. The executive summary page is for those with a casual interest. Researchers, environmental officials, veterinarians and others seeking more in-depth information should use the “Project in Detail” section. Meanwhile, producers and others who just want to learn “how to do it” can go to “Draft Guidelines for Emergency Cattle Mortality Composting.”

Cattle liquidation could continue for another 7-10 years, says Olathe, KS, economist Bill Helming. Here's why:

  • Calf, feeder cattle and milk prices aren't high enough to encourage building the beef and dairy cow inventory.

  • Cattle feeders' bids for beef heifers will entice ranchers to continue to take the money.

  • Ongoing drought and poor pasture conditions in key areas of the U.S.

  • Fewer beef and dairy cows are needed due to productivity gains. Helming says total beef and dairy cattle numbers have dropped 28% since 1976, yet the U.S. produced a record 27.1 billion lbs. of beef in 2002.

  • Beef and dairy cow owners are getting older and less inclined to expand their herds.

  • Federal and state tax laws help dissuade many beef and dairy operators from expanding their cattle inventories.

  • Population growth, particularly in the Southeast, more lucrative uses for land than cattle, and government programs and environmental group pressures in the West.

A California graduate student with alleged ties to the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) was indicted for terrorism. William Cottrell was indicted on nine counts of arson and conspiracy in a spree last August that caused $2.3 million in damage at California car dealerships.

The FBI tracked down Cottrell via e-mails sent to the LA Times claiming responsibility. ELF boasts of having caused more than $100 million in damage the past six years through arson at ski resorts and on luxury homes across the U.S.

Smothering Feedyard Dust

From clockwork pen scraping, to high-powered sprinklers and even “water curtains,” feedyards continue to battle dust to improve air quality and make life more comfortable for cattle and cowboys alike.

And if you're in a situation like Lubbock Cattle Feeders, there's always the issue of keeping your urban neighbors from coughing up trouble.

Located only five minutes from downtown Lubbock, TX, the 48,000-head feedyard is in the middle of a new, dust-control plan being mapped out by using a global positioning system (GPS).

Controlling feedyard dust can be like spinning your wheels. No matter what measures are taken, dry, hot, summer days can sometimes create too much dust. Cattle suffer, pen riders suffer and, if the yard is near even a small-populated area, the neighbors might cough and cuss.

But the cattle feeding industry has far from thrown up its hands and folded the cards. There are state and national studies aimed directly at feedyard dust control with hopes of settling the problem. Studies of a pilot-scale, water curtain, conducted by a partnership of commercial cattle feeders, local grassroots organizations and state agencies, are showing a 40-50% decrease in concentrations of airborne particulate matter, says Brent Auvermann, a Texas A&M University agriculture engineer who specializes in confined animal waste management.

Bobby Swift, assistant manager at Lubbock Feeders, a yard built 40 years ago, notes that the feedyard was built with pen stability and environmental controls in mind. Some pens have a 100% concrete surface. Others are 60% concrete. Even that sometimes can't hold dust to a minimum.

“We use a combination of tools to counter dust,” Swift says. “We scrape pens at least once a week and run water trucks to wet down pens and alleys. We're also in the process of installing a feedyard-wide system of water cannons designed to eventually distribute water to nearly every square foot of pen space.”

The water cannons are 1½-in. to 3-in. jumbo sprinklers that spread water over a radius of 200 to 300 ft. Their design is taken from similar sprinkler systems used for years in the desert feeding regions of California and Arizona to help cool cattle.

Using detailed, GPS-gathered maps, the system eventually will provide maximum coverage of the yard. “We want to wet down as many square feet possible for the least amount of cost,” Swift says.

The sprinkler program is being designed to meet the same specifications of the Texas Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) initiated for feedyards in 2003 by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The program provides state or federal matching funds to assist crop and livestock producers in managing water resources and improving environmental conditions.

Watermasters Irrigation Supply is working with Lubbock Feeders and other feedyards to map out, then install the sprinkler systems.

“By designing a map using GPS-guided points, we can determine where water lines must be laid and the types of water cannons and nozzles needed to apply enough water to meet EQIP standards,” says Jeromy Gowdy, the Lubbock company's sales manager.

Greg Sokora, NRCS zone engineer in Lubbock, worked with Auvermann and the Texas Cattle Feeders Association (TCFA) last year to initiate the Texas EQIP program. Money has been allocated for feedyard sprinkler system design and installation for dust control.

Some 30 commercial feedyards inquired about the program. Seven were selected. The program is expanding in 2004 to include using EQIP funds to finance more frequent manure removal.

“We have encouraged more manure removal,” says Ben Weinheimer, TCFA regulatory manager. “If you have the opportunity to apply water, it takes much less to control dust.”

Swift says the overall sprinkler system is likely to cost about $20/head to install, and the yard's system is to be completed within four years. In the meantime, it will depend more on conventional dust control methods.

Well-Manicured Pens

Pen maintenance is essential in the yard's program, which Swift says includes keeping the layer of dirt and manure to less than 1-in. thick. He also attempts to keep the pen moisture content in the recommended 25-40% range. Auvermann, whose feedyard waste management research spans many aspects of controlling dust and odor, says pen manure harvesting remains the No. 1 method of holding down dust.

“To control dust with water alone, a feedyard would have to apply enough water to increase the moisture content of the entire loose manure layer by 15 to 20%,” he says.

As a rule, raising the moisture content of a loose manure layer by 10% requires 5.6 gals./head/1 in. of loose manure depth, Swift adds. That's based on cattle spacing of 150-sq. ft./head. A 2-in. layer of loose manure would require 28 gals./head just to raise the moisture content from 10% to 35% (or twice as much water as for 1 in. of loose manure).

“Where water is already in short supply, manure harvesting reduces the amount of water needed to achieve dust control and increases the effectiveness of any water applied,” he says.

Costs of pen cleaning were measured in 2003 by another study conducted by Wyatte Harmon through the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station in Temple. He surveyed feedyards with feeding capacities of 800,000 head. He found scraping operating expenses were $1.33/head. The cost of manure removal averaged $1.15/head, making $2.48/head the total cost of cleaning. That increased to $3.91/head with machinery depreciation and interest.

A Curtain Of Water

Much of Auvermann's recent research involves a 270-ft.-wide, 43-ft.-tall water curtain in its third year of operation at Hereford Feedyard in Hereford, TX. The water curtain, on the downwind edge of the feedyard, is equipped with 28 nozzles spaced every 10 ft. and calibrated to distribute water droplets that Auvermann says are “just larger than a mist.”

The experiment is showing substantial results after two years. Basically, the water droplets contact the dust stirred up by cattle hooves and the wind and scrub them to the ground.

It's reduced the amount of particulate matter (PM), which is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA's ambient air quality standards allow a PM10 concentration of up to 150 micrograms/cu. meter within a 24-hr. period, and an annual PM average of about 50 micrograms/cu. meter.

“With the water curtain, there's been an apparent 40% decrease in PM10 (particles smaller than 10 micrometers in diameter) and a 50% decrease in total suspended particles,” Auvermann says. “Those are significant reductions from samples taken over three to four hours a day in worst-case conditions. We're trying to determine if all the reduction can be attributed to the water curtain. Some may simply be due to natural settling,” he adds.

Water is pumped at a rate of 300-320 gals./minute. Beyond 2004, studies will determine if similar positive results can be obtained using less water.

“We're also looking at a curtain upwind to assess the evaporative cooling effect of the curtain on cattle performance,” he says.

Of course, costs and water availability are the main obstacles to use of this type of program. The 270-ft. curtain cost $60,000, plus the water. Some look at increasing stocking density to help control summer dust. Swift says Lubbock Feeders increases its stocking density to about 150 sq. ft./head. That increases by about 25 sq. ft./head in cooler months.

Swift and his associates have also kicked around another control measure.

“We're looking at using spray planes to fly over the feedyard and apply water during heavy dust periods,” he says. “Anything we can do to help prevent dust problems for our employees, neighbors and cattle will be considered.”

For further information on EQIP programs that may cover feedyard dust control in your region, contact your regional USDA-NRCS office. Free or matching funds to help hold down dust would be nothing to sneeze at.

Larry Stalcup is a freelance writer based in Amarillo, TX.

The Eyes Have It

If super-secret agent and gadget man, James Bond, had taken a stab at livestock identification (ID), the results might have looked a lot like the devices and technology developed by Optibrand of Fort Collins, CO.

First, there's the company's flagship product, which allows producers to permanently identify cattle via scanning the retinal vascular pattern (RVP) in an animal's eyes. Using these retinal images, which are more unique than human fingerprints, to identify livestock is what many think of first when they hear the company's name.

Fact is the company's OptiReader — a universal animal ID data collection device — is arguably generating the most excitement.

More Than Management

“Commonly, when we in the industry think of livestock ID, we think of it as a tool to manage cattle and cattle data,” explains Bruce Golden, Optibrand's CEO and the brainchild behind the company. “But, identity capable of standing up in court when it comes to contractual claims and regulatory compliance must be permanent and tamper-proof.”

Think in terms of a car license plate, Golden says. It can be removed, switched from one vehicle to another or replicated. On the other hand, the vehicle identification number (VIN) etched onto the car itself and recorded in a central database is a permanent identifier of an individual car.

“Retinal images are the means of providing ID that's permanent and tamper-proof in livestock, ID that supports federal regulations and contractual claims. National animal ID is all about that, it's not about managing cattle,” Golden says.

Indeed, USDA's apparent quest for animal trace-back within 48 hours depends on identifying cattle uniquely and permanently, then recording their whereabouts by tying the animal ID to a unique premise ID number.

“Animal ID without knowing the location isn't traceability,” Golden says.

With that in mind, when an OptiReader scans the RVP of an animal, it stamps the image with the time and global positioning system (GPS) coordinates of where the scan was taken. That provides proof a particular animal was, in fact, at a particular location at a certain time.

Whether it's the RVP, another biometric, or something else, arguably, at least, Optibrand's choice challenges the industry to face up to the issue of ID permanence: identifying and tracking the cattle themselves rather than the identifiers used to identify the cattle.

Reading The Identifiers

Whichever technologies the marketplace ultimately selects as the basis of a national ID program, a current challenge — especially at such assembly points as auction markets, feedlots and harvest facilities — is that a variety of ID technologies are in use.

That's why the OptiReader is turning heads. Golden says the device will read and record any current ID technology thrown its way. Besides taking retinal scans if the user chooses, the universal data collector can snap digital pictures of dangle tags, tattoos and brands, plus read both the half-duplex or full-duplex transponders found in radio-frequency ID (RFID) tags. And, it has the capability to scan barcodes.

More important, Optibrand's proprietary software converts the data from these diverse technologies into a single, encrypted, data stream that's accompanied by a time and GPS stamp.

The flexibility of the OptiReader led Colorado-based Swift & Company to begin using the device in its Greeley harvest facility. Jim Herlihy, Swift's vice president of communications, says the device allows them to record each animal entering the plant, no matter the ID device the animal arrives with, then marry that ID to the barcode of the temporary tag the carcass carries throughout processing.

“We were looking at traceability long before bovine spongiform encephalopathy became an issue in North America,” he says. “We know that in the international marketplace, traceability has been an interest of our customers. We believe it's inevitable that it will be of increasing importance to our domestic customers as well.”

Herlihy explains Swift is piloting both RVP and the OptiReader as tools for the company's Swift Trace program. Swift's program already enables them to track cattle from the feedlot through the finished box phase of the chain.

Managing Costs

While the specific cost of Optibrand's products depend on volume, Golden explains, “In effect, we amortize the cost of the equipment and services to our customers through a transaction fee. That means there is a low cost of entry up front, then a minimal cost — cents per head — for each transaction.”

In addition to working with packers, feedlots and large commercial cattle operations in the U.S., Optibrand is currently involved in a pilot project with the largest auction company in the Midwest. That outfit is using the OptiReader to record animal ID and match it to premise ID of origin, auction market ID and the barcoded backtags used for the sale. Optibrand also has New Zealand and South African clients.

“This technology and our business model makes low-cost, national animal ID feasible,” Golden says. But, he emphasizes, “This is value-added to other existing ID technologies, not a replacement for them.”

As an example, Golden mentions a large cow-calf operation that has begun using retinal scans in tandem with RFID tags. This firm believes it can pay for the cost of the scans simply by maintaining the identity they otherwise lose each year through lost tags — 10-15% in rough country.

“We provide a solution to flexible ID data collection, and do it securely, rapidly and affordably,” Golden says. “We're leveraging everything that has happened in commercial computing and maximizing it in this application. This represents a real kismet of technology and need coming together at the right time.”

Creating Premier Ranchers

A new ranch management program will make its debut this fall at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. The King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management is a master's degree program designed to train students in all areas of ranch management — from range and wildlife management to finance and personnel management.

“There are so many variables between the environment, the cattle production system, the rangeland resources, and on and on,” says Barry Dunn, the program's endowed chair and executive director. “The emphasis will be to turn out ranch managers who can manage rangeland landscapes, successful businesses, produce livestock and do it in all ways as to enhance wildlife habitat and production.”

Several industry experts, including Paul Gehno, vice president and general manager of King Ranch, Inc., and Ronald Rosati, dean of Texas A&M-Kingsville College of Agriculture and Human Sciences, developed the concept for the Institute.

It was brought to life with the first donation of $3 million, $1 million each from The Robert J. Kleberg Jr. and Helen C. Kleberg Foundation, the James H. Clement Sr. Family and King Ranch, Inc. More than $7.3 million of the $10 million goal has been raised.

Dunn was hired to turn the concept into a workable program. He arrived in Kingsville in January, leaving his post as range livestock production specialist at South Dakota State University, Brookings.

“Barry brings a unique perspective to the institute,” Rosati says. “He comes from a long tradition of successful ranch management and he personally managed a large, successful ranch for more than 17 years.”

Dunn has been developing the Institute's curriculum, which will be tailored to strengthen individual students' weaknesses so they are well rounded in all areas.

“This means that if the student is very interested in animal science, their curriculum won't be designed to strengthen their animal science skills, it will focus on strengthening their business skills, range management skills, and skills in managing wildlife,” Dunn says. “Traditionally, master's programs have narrowed the students down, focused them on a specific area of study — that is not what we are going to do. We are going to have them graduate with a very broad background.”

Program Requirements

The King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management is a two-year, intensive study program, and includes two internships. Students will complete case studies on the most well-managed ranches in the U.S., and possibly international ranches.

“Most graduate degrees are research degrees. This degree focuses on case studies where students will be functioning in a natural system,” says Gehno, a member of the Institute's management council.

The management council is composed of ranch managers, wildlife research and management personnel and representatives of related disciplines. The council serves as Institute advisors and mentors for students.

“The students will also be required to defend their case studies to the management council,” Gehno says.

Dunn says the Institute's admission standards include a bachelor's degree in animal science, range and wildlife management or business, with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Candidates must take the Graduate Record Examination and submit 3 references.

“We'd also like to see hands-on, real-life experiences. We think that is key for their success,” Dunn says. “That means some type of previous work experience on a ranch or farm.”

Two students will be accepted into the school this fall. In fall 2005, Dunn says enrollment will be open for four additional students.

“We are actively pursuing non-traditional type students — those who have been out in the workforce in some capacity and want to come back to get a master's degree,” Dunn says. “Those types of people will make excellent students.”