Is a feeder market recovery realistic?

The March feeder-cattle futures price has returned to that of Dec. 12. In the wake of the second North American case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), and most foreign markets closed to U.S. beef, I never believed this would happen.

May feeder-cattle futures are still down $4/cwt. from mid December. Feeder-cattle futures for the past six months are still down $4/cwt. from mid December. Figures 1 and 2 show the average price for all contract months in 2004 was $90.34 in December 2003, while the average for all contracts on March 19 was $3.09/cwt. lower.

This suggests ranchers need not only get a handle on where prices are, but where prices are going.

In last month's column, I detailed my planning-price, market-tracking system and focused on slaughter-cattle planning prices. This month, I'll focus on feeder-cattle prices.

The feeder-cattle planning price, market-tracking system centers around the format in Figure 3 on page 12. Each Wednesday, ranchers should collect that day's futures prices, and use them to generate a new planning prices table.

I also encourage ranchers to compare the new planning prices to those of the week before. If you can explain the price variation, go about your business. If you can't, take time to search the Internet or ask someone to explain it to you. Begin by contacting your state's Extension marketing specialist.

The “market basis” column in Figure 3 is the five-year-average basis data for the central U.S. Basis is the cash price minus the nearby futures price. Note that for all but one month, local cash exceeded the futures price.

The pre-crisis basis column is the most recent five-year average basis for Kansas, as reported by Kansas State University's Jim Mintert. I use Kansas basis as the foundation for my Central Plains planning prices.

You can use these Kansas basis values or replace them with your local basis data. Your Extension marketing specialist can provide you with specific basis data for your state.

I suggest the post-BSE basis will be $3.41 narrower than the pre-BSE basis, due to increased marketing costs in the post-BSE era. If you're uncomfortable with this wider basis, use the historical pre-BSE basis.

How are these planning prices calculated? It's simple. Take the $86.65 August futures price in Figure 3, add the August -$1.16 post-BSE basis, and you'll get the $85 August 2004 planning price posted in the table. Do this for each contract month in the table.

By averaging the all-futures prices in Figure 3, you'll get the $87.25 listed at the bottom of the first column. Average all the planning prices in the right-most column to get the annual planning price average listed at the bottom of the right-most column. Do this once/week focusing on Wednesday prices.

Continue going to the local sale barn to monitor prices. Add my 20-minute, weekly market price watching exercise and you'll gain insight into where post-BSE feeder-cattle prices are going. Understanding where prices are likely headed, and why, is the key to marketing in this post-BSE era.

Management Implications

Each month, I prepare a comprehensive set of futures-based planning prices, which I apply to alternative cattle production and marketing decisions. Let's summarize my March production/marketing simulations covering the marketing of 2003 calves.

My production/market simulations for placing 2003 feeders on feed, as of mid March, generated $72/head loss for feeding out 800-lb. feeder steers to 1,250 lbs. Even placing fall-born calf-feds on feed, as of mid-March, generated a $92/head loss. Finally, finishing yearling steers off grass in August 2004 generated a $26/head loss.

Figure 3. Central Plains Planning Prices (850-lb. feeders)
Feeder Cattle Futures Market Basis Central Plains
23-March 2004 U.S.$ Pre-BSE Post-BSE Planning Prices
Jan ‘04 $89.15 -$1.00 -$4.41 $85
Mar ‘04 90.52 0.25 -3.16 87
Apr ‘04 86.70 2.75 -0.66 86
May ‘04 85.05 2.50 -0.91 84
Aug ‘04 86.65 2.25 -1.16 85
Sep ‘04 86.65 2.50 -0.91 86
Oct ‘04 86.55 -2.25 -5.66 81
Nov ‘04 86.70 0.50 -2.91 84
Average $87.25 $0.94 -$2.47 $84.77
Dollar point year adj.= 0 Added basis = -$3.41

All my simulations though, are based on commodity beef prices. Any money to be made with 2003 calves will have to come from value-added premiums. Commodity beef profits just aren't there.

Why then are cattle feeders bidding up feeders beyond projected breakevens? This is typical of the cattle-feeding sector in the cycle's rebuilding phase. With feeder cattle numbers short, the alternatives for feedlots are to overbid for them or shut down the feedlot.

In the last cycle, many feedlots opted to minimize losses by feeding cattle at a loss rather than shut down the facility. The thinking is that feeding for a loss is preferable. After all, fed prices might rise. Plus, reconstituting a trained workforce, once laid off, can be difficult.

Clearly, we're in that phase of the cycle where cow numbers and feeder calves are low, and beef cow producers are moving into the driver's seat. Here's why.

Let's review a theoretical cattle cycle, slaughter cycle and price cycle chart generated by a University of Wyoming graduate student (Figure 4).

I modified the year labels at the bottom of the chart to correspond to where I believe we are in the current cattle cycle. I view the 2004 to 2006 period as the post-BSE recovery years.

One immediate thought was that lower heifer prices, in response to the U.S. BSE case, would stimulate heifer retention. It's not clear if this is happening, but slaughter data indicates fewer cull cows are being harvested. USDA's July All-Cattle inventory will confirm if heifers are being retained. Both decreased cow culling and increased heifer retention are needed to expand the U.S. cattle herd.

Figure 4 suggests cattle numbers will rise from 2004 to 2009. As heifers are diverted to breeding, we'll first see feeder-cattle prices increase, peaking around 2007. As numbers continue to build beyond 2007, cattle prices will drop — perhaps dramatically.

Depressed prices in 2008 to 2010 are projected to lead to a substantial drop in cattle numbers. That would complete the current cattle cycle.

We're plowing new ground in this BSE saga. Your price-tracking system can help guide you through the next three years' marketings as this BSE saga unfolds.

Harlan Hughes is a North Dakota State University professor emeritus. He lives in Laramie, WY. Reach him at 701/238-9607 or

Budget-Helper Heifers

Heifer development represents significant costs to the cow-calf enterprise. And, just as a heifer is ready to begin paying her way, some things can go awry:

  • She doesn't settle her first year, or she settles and has problems calving.

  • She doesn't rebreed as a two-year-old.

Jeff Cornell of Wagon Mound, NM, continually faces the dilemma of bringing a heifer into the breeding herd at the least possible expense — and getting the most out of her biological ability. Cornell is very demanding of his cows, especially the 120+ head of replacements he raises each year. He knows there's a point where costs can reach a point of no return. Even more demanding is the tough, dry environment that asks a lot of his cows.

His is a low-tech program. After fall weaning, his heifers receive 2 lbs. of cottonseed cake/head/day and grass, until they're turned out for breeding in the spring. That, and heavy, built-in, selection pressure.

Table 1. Supplement Composition*
Bypass 36% crude protein Control 36% crude protein
Cottonseed meal 33% Cottonseed meal 42%
Feather meal 17% Soybean meal 30%
Fish meal 5% Molasses 11%
Molasses 11% Ground milo 9%
Ground milo 24%
$275 per ton $235 per ton
*Supplements formulated as cubes or 33-lb. blocks feed 2-3 times weekly to provide 2 lbs./head/day.
Table 2. Delayed February Start Supplementation*
February start Bypass Control
(n=65) (n=61)
October 503 516
January 511 508
March 542 536
May 558 560
Pregnancy Rate 79% 67%
*Heifer body weights (lbs.) and pregnancy data (94-95; 96-97)

“Our philosophy is that heifers should be raised under the conditions they're expected to function in their whole life,” he says. “They're certainly not what you call ‘fat’ at any point in their life.”

Cornell selects out of “the middle” of his heifers to get a 950- to 1,000-lb. mature cow. “Bigger heifers won't stay in our program, so we get rid of them right away,” he says

The “Bypass” Boost

Researchers at New Mexico State University (NMSU) have been formalizing the practices ranchers like Cornell experience in heifer development. And, they've come up with an added twist in their recommendations for low-cost heifer development.

Dean Hawkins, NMSU professor of animal science at Las Cruces, led a long-term study in low-cost heifer development. To date, he's shown:

  • pregnancy rates of 80% with heifers developed on native range;

  • heifers average about 55% of mature weight at breeding;

  • supplementation costs at less than $30/head/year; and

  • dystocia less than 5%.

The added twist is that Hawkins uses “bypass” protein to help boost heifer conception rates. Hawkins likes to use a 36%-crude protein ration (see “The Role Of Bypass” on page 44) with significant bypass protein as a supplement. In this case, it's feather meal and fish meal fed for three months of the heifer's developing life (Table 1).

While the bypass ration is more expensive than his oilseed meal-based control supplement, Hawkins delays supplementing until February, three months before breeding (Table 2).

“We know we're getting some stimulatory effect on reproduction with the bypass protein,” he explains.

From breeding turnout until end of breeding, the heifers go back onto the control supplement. By June, they become just “cows on grass.”

Hawkins breeds NMSU's Corona, NM-based herd of moderate-framed English crossbred heifers in May using artificial insemination (AI) for one synchronized cycle. Then the bulls go in for 45 days.

Another key is that cattle are exposed to “rested” grass pastures at key times. When breeding begins, they're on fresh pasture.

Table 3. Cumulative Body Weights and Pregnancy Rates*
Bypass Control
(n=122) (n=117)
October 510 515
January 512 519
March 543 547
May 565 573
Pregnancy Rate 80% 66%
*Heifer body weights (lbs.) and pregnancy data (all years)

“We keep plenty of grass in front of the heifers,” Hawkins says. “It won't work without the grass,” Hawkins says. “Nor do we put any more resources into the heifers under this program than the mature cows.”

His philosophy is that “optimal” might be better than “maximal” management — realizing that anything near a 100% pregnancy rate, even if possible, isn't always profitable.

One key is that Hawkins' heifers are closer to 13-14 months of age at breeding than the customary 12 months under a more intensive development program.

“Compared to a feedlot heifer, you might consider ours fed under a ‘restricted’ regime,” Hawkins says. “But they're not restricted nutritionally. We won't ‘buy’ energy — that's what the grass is for, but we do depend on compensatory gain,” he adds.

Selection Pressure Is Critical

Like Cornell's program, the NMSU regime places tremendous selection pressure on heifers for puberty and pregnancy.

“Though fertility is considered generally low in heritability, it's still heritable,” he says. “If they can't get pregnant under range conditions, I don't want them on the ranch.” Hawkins admits his low-input regime draws its share of criticism. It's not for everybody.

“This program isn't for the weak of heart or the novice cattleman,” he warns. “It takes a different kind of mindset to raise heifers under these low-input conditions.”

Still, NMSU's cost per pregnant heifer was $124.67, compared to $163.25 for “high-input,” feedlot-raised heifers. These costs include the open heifers.

The catch with Hawkins' program is that it may not be best for ranchers who invest a lot of money and time into boosting genetics by synchronization, AI or embryo transfer.

Mark Petersen, NMSU ruminant nutritionist, emphasizes there's no drop-off in production or longevity as Hawkins' heifers mature.

“In fact, we're seeing that it's an advantage to bring these heifers into the cow herd. They will be better-doing cattle for the rest of their lives,” he says.

Petersen adds that the low-input regime can work without bypass protein in the diet (see Table 3). “But, you risk taking a hit on pregnancy rates.”

With seven years of data, Hawkins' findings are solid, says Clay Mathis, NMSU Extension livestock specialist. But, he adds, the results go against the recommendation that heifers be at 65% of mature weight at breeding.

“Some producers may balk at an 80% heifer pregnancy rate,” he adds. “But, the cost per pregnancy is more important than the pregnancy rate alone, especially if you consider the salvage value of open heifers.”

Cornell says that, with ranch profit margins so slim and feed costs generally being the biggest out-of-pocket expense in raising cattle, it makes sense to make maximum use of the ranch's grass resource.

“We're tough on them,” he says, “but if you do that for a few years, you end up with a pretty much trouble-free, low-labor herd.”

Editor's note — M.E. Ensminger's “Stockman's Handbook” was also referenced for this article.

Heifer Development At A Glance

Here are some highlights from New Mexico State University's (NMSU) heifer development research:

  • Highest percentage of pregnant heifers has been in the bypass-protein supplement groups.

  • Placing heavy selection pressure on heifers may be more profitable long term.

  • Advantage in pregnancy rates has occurred without dramatic changes in body weight.

  • Judicious use of sires with low birth weights has essentially eliminated dystocia.

  • Rebreeding is averaging 85% on two-year olds.

For more information, contact Dean Hawkins, NMSU professor of animal sciences, at

The Role Of “Bypass”

Proteins are composed of nitrogen containing compounds, namely amino acids. Dietary protein is broken down in the rumen by microbes to yield ammonia and carbon compounds (CO2+CH2). These microbes utilize the ammonia to synthesize their own body proteins.

The ruminant animal obtains its protein through digestion of the microbes that are washed from the rumen to the omasum, abomasum and lower gastrointestinal tract.

A certain percentage of the dietary protein escapes microbial digestion and travels to the small intestine, where it's digested if it is digestible. This type of protein is undegradable intake protein (UIP) or “bypass” protein, and is distinct from degradable intake protein (DIP).

As with any biological process, there's an energy loss, or “tax,” when the microbes convert protein for their growth, says Sean Firth of Nova Scotia's Department of Agriculture and Marketing, Kentville Agricultural Centre in Kentville, Canada.

Bypass protein seeks to avoid this tax by passing through the rumen undigested. It passes into the small intestine where it's absorbed directly through the intestinal wall.

The microbes can only use DIP, whereas the animal can utilize DIP and UIP. Proteins that are digestible, but aren't degraded in the rumen, are escape proteins. The degree of escape is influenced by feed composition (protein solubility), rate of passage of feed, and microbial and animal condition.

There are two significant considerations related to escape protein, Firth says. First is the energy content of the diet. The energy content determines the degree to which microbial synthesis will occur. Second, there must be an adequate supply of degradable protein to satisfy the microbial requirement.

Numerous studies demonstrate increased serum insulin concentrations in cattle fed with bypass protein, says Mark Petersen, New Mexico State University ruminant nutritionist. He's worked with bypass protein for nearly 20 years.

By changing the metabolic functions of the animal, bypass proteins increase the release of reproductive hormones — LH, FSH, or GnRH.

“Increased insulin makes the heifers more responsive to the lower quantity of nutrients,” Petersen says. “Thus, they get more out the energy supplied under low-quality feed conditions.”

It's a matter of optimizing, not maximizing

The commentary by Lisa Kriese-Anderson in your April 2004 issue, “Well-Meaning, Idealistic And Unprofitable,” page 31, was unusually biased for your magazine's usually middle-of-the-road commentary. As an agroecologist, I found a number of troubling comments in the piece.

It's simply not true that America sustains much of the rest of the world's food supply. While the U.S. does offer a great deal of“aid” food, the amount of food it exports on a commercial basis is relatively small compared to its overall production.

Actually, most of the world is able to provide its own food — barring, of course, places mired in politics or conflict, such as Zimbabwe or Ethiopia. Let's try and get away from this arrogant, rather narrow-minded thinking.

The truth is that American food competes on the world stage. And this competition is getting ever more difficult as an increasing number of countries that do import U.S. food clamp down on the use of growth hormones, genetic manipulation and antibiotic use (whether this is right or wrong, good or bad, is not the argument here).

Current conventional agriculture is actually — and there are enough literature and research abstracts to support this — depleting the resource base upon which it is founded. A paradigm shift is indeed needed if the cost of inputs to support an ever-decreasing yield is not to skyrocket.

Based on scientific fact, “land” is not the issue; the way farming is being done is the issue. Bear in mind also that, for many “alternative” or “organic” ranchers and farmers, the question is more about a lifestyle choice rather than maximization of profit. There is nothing wrong with converting to optimization as opposed to maximization.

Even though ranching and farming are biological practices, let's try to keep hype and opinion without scientific facts to a minimum in a magazine aimed at working ranchers and farmers.
Marco Turco
Farm manager
Miner Research Institute
Chazy, NY

Another Theory On BSE

The article titled “Still No Beef To Mad Cow Mania” by Steven Milloy in the February issue of BEEF (page 28) hit the nail on the head with the fact that the conventional theory for the transmission of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) fails to meet Koch's Postulates for disease transmission.

However, Milloy is wrong when he states that no other explanations for BSE/nvCJD have been developed. An environmental causal theory with strong scientific support has recently come forward.

A researcher from the United Kingdom, Mark Purdey, has devoted the last 15 years to the study of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) — BSE in cattle, scrapie in sheep, chronic wasting disease in deer and elk, and non-variant Creutfeldt-Jakob Disease (nvCJD) in people. Anywhere in the world where there was an outbreak of any of these diseases, Purdey visited and made extensive environmental studies. He has learned that a specific mineral imbalance was present in every case of these diseases — a deficiency of copper coupled with the presence of high levels of ferrimagnetic or radioactive metals.

His research shows that these other metals actually cause the disease.

Purdey has theorized that copper normally binds with prions in the brain, and that the copper/prion union performs a beneficial function in the brain, which is the dissipation of electromagnetic energy. When copper is unavailable, either depleted in the environment or bound by other chemicals and there are high levels of ferrimagnetic metals (like manganese) or radioactive metals, then these metals bind with prions and cause the prions to misfold, resulting in disease. Purdey believes these rogue prion/metal combinations concentrate electromagnetic energy in the brain, causing free radicals to destroy brain tissue.

Purdey's work can be found at His most recent article is titled “Radioactive Metals, Sonic Shockbursts and the Ferrimagneto-Prion Theory on the Origins of TSEs.” This article is the source for most of the information in this letter.

In addition to not meeting Koch's Postulates, the conventional theory leaves a number of other questions unanswered. Following are a few examples.

  1. Researchers have never induced BSE by feeding prion infected meat-and-bone meal (MBM) to cattle.

  2. The UK banned the feeding of MBM to cattle in 1988, yet there have been 45,000 cows diagnosed with BSE in the UK born after 1988. How did these cows get the disease?

  3. Scientists have never proven the disease can cross the species barrier under normal conditions. For example, in Iceland, farmers have for generations slaughtered and eaten — including the brains — of scrapie-infected sheep. None of these farmers have ever developed CJD.

  4. There was recently an outbreak of CWD in an isolated deer herd in New Mexico, a herd 500 miles from any other deer or elk with CWD.

These are but a few examples of questions unanswered by the conventional theory. Real problems with the conventional BSE theory coupled with the promise of scientifically valid alternative theories indicate the need for an immediate, thorough and objective reevaluation of the disease by scientists and policy makers. We must understand BSE before we can hope to adopt effective policies to deal with this disease.
Bobby Grove
White Ridge Farm
Somerville, VA 22739

The BEEF Top 40

A car commercial some years back used to claim, “This isn't your grandfather's Oldsmobile.” Something similar could be said about the beef industry, although it would have to be modified to something like: “This isn't your father's beef industry.”

Fifteen years ago, less than a generation, BEEF celebrated its 25th anniversary of publication. On that occasion, we honored 25 beef industry folks in a retrospective piece entitled “25 Who Made A Difference.”

Via nominations by readers and final selections by an independent panel of judges representing various industry organizations, BEEF recognized 25 individuals who played influential roles in shaping the beef industry of that time. The list included producers, educators, researchers, beef promotion workhorses, champions of beef industry causes, marketing wizards, genetic gurus and association execs.

In the 15 years since that 25th anniversary issue the pace of change has accelerated to a dizzying level. In 1989, there were promising newcomers, nascent programs, and plenty of undreamed-of ideas, that would ultimately deliver some big consequences for the U.S. beef industry of today.

Who among us just 15 years ago, would have conceived of the scope of change evident in 2004 across such a wide spectrum from beef demand to industry structure to genetics to marketing to production efficiency to government regulation, etc.?

September 2004 marks the celebration of the 40th year of publication for BEEF magazine. As one feature of special coverage planned for the commemorative September issue, the editorial staff wants to recognize the industry's top contributors of the past 40 years. These are the folks — professional or volunteer — who shepherded the causes, conducted the research, lobbied the halls, built the prototypes, and educated the generations that led to the dynamically evolving industry we have today.

The “BEEF Top 40” will recognize the top 40 contributors to the modern state of the beef business. The candidates will be nominated by readers, with final selection of the BEEF Top 40 made by an independent panel of judges.

Eligible are producers, be they seedstockers, commercial folks or cattle feeders; marketers; animal scientists; agribusiness folks or other individuals allied to beef cattle. Feel free to nominate as many individuals as you feel are worthy of this recognition. Here's how:

Take a few minutes to type answers to the questions that follow on the individual you want to see honored, and drop the nomination in the mail to:

The BEEF Top 40 BEEF Magazine 7900 International Dr., Suite 300 Minneapolis, MN 55425

Or, you can go to our Web site at, fill out the form and submit it electronically.

In nominating your top candidates, provide us with the person's name, title, important accomplishments, a brief background and why you consider their contributions important to the U.S. beef industry. The documentation needn't be voluminous but make sure you include enough information that judges can easily grasp the scope of your candidate's role contribution to the modern U.S. beef industry.

The deadline is July 1.

Dates Set For Beef ID Academy

Seats are still available for the BEEF ID Academy seminars of June 2-3, June 14-15, July 19-20 and Aug. 2-3 in Manhattan, KS. Led by Kansas State University's (KSU) Dale Blasi with help from 17 of the top U.S. animal ID suppliers, the seminars will teach participants about current individual animal ID issues; proposed standards; electronic ID system components, hardware and software selection, Statistical Process Control principles, and how to apply the concepts to commercial software programs. Find out more at

Identifying Dense Clubmoss

Dense clubmoss is a perennial evergreen, non-flowering herb that forms dense mats that rarely exceed 1-in. in height. Stems are compactly branched, leafy and lie along the soil surface. Leaves are simple and awn-tipped, are 1/10 of an inch. long and arranged in dense spirals along the stem.

Its roots are extremely fine, minutely branched and extend 1-2 in. into the soil. Despite their fineness, the extensive branching of dense clubmoss roots makes up as much as 85% of the plant's dry matter.

Clubbing Clubmoss

Think of it as a thin layer of sponge covering your pastures, soaking up moisture and smothering the ground. Or, maybe it's like armor, plating large areas of rangelands across the West.

When precipitation events are mild, clubmoss tends to absorb and hold nearly all available water in its above-ground vegetative mat and extensive, fibrous root system — making nearly all accumulated precipitation unavailable to other species.

Dense clubmoss is indigenous to the U.S., says Tracy Brewer, a Montana State University (MSU) range science researcher. And, while it certainly has the potential to be extremely problematic on Western rangelands, it's not considered a noxious weed.

“The economics of clubmoss revolve around costs and benefits of various treatments,” she says. “However, it's important to keep in mind that the results of treatment will vary on a site-to-site basis, and costs and benefits associated with treatments will vary.”

Mechanical Treatment Pays Off

Ranchers and researchers have been using various treatments to evaluate the effects of chiseling clubmoss on herbage response. In one MSU study, production increased between 250 and 400 lbs./acre on chiseled rangeland two years post-treatment.

Cost for chiseling is about $10/acre for once over and $18/acre for twice over. These costs are for labor and equipment but don't include seed.

“Chiseling rangeland for clubmoss control in eastern Montana is almost always profitable,” says Kent Williams, Custer County Extension agent. He says grass production can increase 2-3 times over unchiseled areas. In one study in a 13-in. precipitation zone, a $10/acre profit was realized with a treatment lasting 15 years.

People have tried different approaches when chiseling, Williams says, including broadcasting alfalfa seed with the treatment. “Interseeding rarely works though, because of the strong competition from the existing grasses,” he says.

Neither does dragging tires or harrows while chiseling.

“This decreases the treatment life as it smoothes the surface and allows it to fill in quicker over time,” Williams says. “Also, we warn ranchers that there's usually a huge increase in fringed sagewort the first years following treatment that decreases quickly as the grasses respond and get healthier.”

Williams believes the best response is with a one-time treatment.

“I'd rather see a guy chisel twice as many acres as go over the ground twice,” he says. “But, if you're getting cost-share for the treatment, you need to follow the recommendations of those cost-sharing the project.”

Light grazing after the grass goes dormant the year of chiseling, and proper grazing management in the years after, greatly enhances the treatment life, he says.

Jed Evjene, Two Dot, MT, is testing two types of implements that cause less surface disturbance than chiseling. He manages the American Fork Ranch in central Montana, which runs about 1,200 mother cows and several hundred yearlings.

He's comparing the effectiveness of a Tar-King Plant-O-Vator and a Lawson Aerator with both fall and spring treatments. The idea is to disturb the plants and allow moisture to penetrate the “armor” that clubmoss creates over the soil, he says.

“Dense clubmoss is a big problem on this ranch and we need to try everything available to get control of it,” Evjene says. “We see a 50% drop in grass production in areas it's spreading.”

Vegetation response and the cost/benefit ratios of these clubmoss control treatments will be measured this summer and through 2005.

When chiseling clubmoss, Jeff Mosley, MSU Extension range management specialist, suggests a tool bar fitted with 3- or 4-in. twisted shanks on 12-in. centers. He likes to travel at about 3.0-3.5 mph and chisels on the contour.

“Chisel in early spring, as soon as frost gets out of ground,” he says. “We don't chisel later than June 15 here in Montana.”

Late-fall chiseling also works well, Williams says. Adding fertilizer when chiseling improves grass response, but not enough to make it pay.

“The biggest drawback to chiseling is the physical nature of the site after chiseling,” says Mosley. He warns that runoff from clubmoss sites needed to fill up stock ponds may be decreased following chiseling.

Chemical Treatments Work

Various herbicide treatments have proven effective for controlling dense clubmoss, especially in areas inaccessible for mechanical treatment.

“Spring herbicide applications are slightly more effective,” Brewer says. “Surfactants are generally necessary for dense clubmoss, as leaves are small, hairy, and rolled and tipped at the ends, which make them fairly resistant to chemical control.”

One advantage of chemical control is that clubmoss's erosion-protecting properties aren't destroyed until other vegetation has established, she says.

Grazon® herbicide at 2 pints/acre, or a tank mix equivalent of Tordon® plus 2,4-D, may be effective. Cost for this type of herbicide treatment, with labor and ground equipment, averages $15-$17/acre.

Such herbicides will kill some, but not all, of the clubmoss. Increased grass production following herbicide application in some cases may be augmented by broadleaf forb control along with clubmoss control.

Brewer says clubmoss tends to increase in drought conditions, and careful grazing management is necessary to maintain the competitive advantage of desired plant species on a site.

Evjene emphasizes that his approaches to clubmoss control are part of an overall range management effort.

“We're also working on range monitoring as well as livestock rotations,” he says. “These things are all tied together. And really, in order to have an impact on one plant species or community, you need to put it into perspective with the management of the entire ranch.”

Right Up Your Alley

Oxidative stress test profiles cattle for diseases

OXIS International, Inc. has profiled the health status of more than 4,000 head of feedlot cattle in the U.S. over the last 18 months. Currently the Portland, OR-based company's clinical studies show a high correlation between oxidative stress values (OSV) exhibited by cattle and the onset of disease.

The unique OSV blood tests should enable cattlemen to quickly and cost-effectively identify susceptibility of cattle to various disease conditions such as bovine respiratory disease (BRD), which is estimated to cost the cattle industry more than $1 billion annually.

“The animal health profiling program assists our clients to better recognize disease in general, which keeps our food supply safer,” says Bruce Hoffman, DVM, Churchill, MT, director of OXIS Animal Health Profiling Programs.

OXIS believes it's the only company to offer a profile that provides a valuable analytical tool for managing the health of cattle. Using this profiling approach, cattle can be evaluated ranging from high risk to low risk for likelihood of disease. The feedlot can then manage high-risk cattle to assure early treatment is provided, and likely reduce labor and treatment for lower risk groups in the herd.

Studies show a statistically significant correlation between cattle with high OSV screening results when entering the feedlots and those ultimately pulled by the pen riders. Equally important, animals with high OSV levels were more likely to be pulled multiple times.

Also directly correlated to OXIS OSV levels was the carcass weight of cattle at slaughter. The higher the OSV levels exhibited by cattle in feedlots, the lower the carcass weight with resultant lower economic value of the animals sold.

Over the course of the entire feeding period of the study, cattle with lower OSVs achieved higher average daily weight gains. Also of economic importance were the correlations between elevated OSV levels among the cattle studied and the degree of respiratory death loss.

“OXIS is committed to animal health and consumer safety,” explains Ray Rogers, president and CEO of OXIS. “By profiling young animals and identifying high risk animals before slaughter, we believe we offer a valuable tool that enhances the safety of our food supply.”

OXIS also plans to initiate studies to assess the potential predictive value of its profiling system for bovine spongiform encephalopathy. The company holds the rights to three therapeutic classes of compounds in the area of oxidative stress, and develops, manufactures and markets products and technologies to diagnose and treat diseases caused by oxidative stress.

For additional information regarding the OXIS Animal Health Profiling Program call 503/452-7621.

Ag Employee Management

Kansas State and Oklahoma State universities are teaming up to present the 4th Employee Management for Production Agriculture Conference, Aug. 12-13.

“This is perhaps the leading agricultural labor management event in the country,” says Sarah Fogleman. She's the area Extension agricultural economist in southeast Kansas. “Past conferences have drawn large audiences from throughout the U.S. Representatives of everything from feedlots to swine operations to horticultural businesses to farms have participated.”

For more information or to register, visit the conference Web site at or e-mail, or call 620/431-1530.

New Products And Services

Side-by-side utility

Yamaha's ProHauler 700 and 1000 models combine a golf cart's ease of operation with the toughness of a farm and ranch utility vehicle. Both models feature a 357-cc engine. The ProHauler 700 features a 700-lb. payload, 9-in. ground clearance and a 6.1-gal. fuel capacity. Meanwhile, the ProHauler 1000 has a 1,000-lb. payload, rear suspension, 10-in. ground clearance and 75-in. wheelbase. Both models feature pedal on/off, bench seats and two-in. receiver hitches.
(Circle Reply Card No. 160)

Solar-Powered Gate

Court Security Systems offers an efficient solar-powered farm and ranch swing gate operator. The AGS 104 operator allows 190 opening and closing cycles per day with full sunlight. Without sunlight, the gate will provide 18 opening and closing cycles per day for nearly two weeks.
(Circle Reply Card No. 161)

Calf Stress Buster

Quali Tech introduces Sea-Questra-Min (SQM) to prevent or greatly reduce the effects of stress on growing calves. SQM provides key essential minerals and vitamins necessary to keep calves strong, while fully developing a healthy immune system to better ward off stress. Every ounce of SQM H.I.P. contains 450 mg of zinc, 400 mg of manganese, 100 mg of copper, 26,000 IU of vitamin A, 495 IU of vitamin E and 1 mg of both selenium and cobalt.
(Circle Reply Card No. 162)

Grazing winter wheat improves carcass merit research

Grazing on dormant native range improved feedlot performance due to compensatory gain but grazing winter wheat increased carcass merit. In this Oklahoma State University study, British crossbred steers were allotted to one of two treatments during the winter for a 180-day period: grazing dormant native range, or grazing winter wheat pastures.

Steers on winter wheat had greater average daily gain [(ADG); 1.98 vs. 0.73 lb./day] than those grazing native range. Conversely, feedyard ADG and feed/gain were improved in native range steers (4.15 lbs. vs. 3.86 lbs., and 5.46 lbs. vs. 6.06 lbs., respectively).

During a 26-day adaptation trial, steers were adapted to a 90% concentrate diet. It was determined that greater ruminal dry matter and fluid fill late in the grazing period and increased dry matter intake (as a percent of body weight) and digestibility early in the finishing period may account for some of the compensatory response by native range steers.

But, when fed to a similar external fat endpoint, wheat pasture steers required fewer days on feed (88 vs. 130), and had greater final weight (1,222 lbs. vs. 1,155 lbs.), dressing percent (63.4% vs. 62%), hot carcass wt. (774 lbs. vs. 717 lbs.) and marbling score (414 vs. 375). No difference was found in yield grade (3.5).

These results indicate that grazing dormant native range may result in improved feedlot performance, but grazing winter wheat reduces days on feed and results in heavier carcasses and overall improved carcass merit.
(Choat et al. 2003. J. Anim. Sci .81:3191)

Pennsylvania State University trial determines the nitrogen (N) application rate for three, cool-season grasses that optimize economic return while minimizing the remaining N in the soil.

Cool-season grasses are important in forage systems in various regions of the U.S. and Canada. Production of these grasses is largely dependent on the availability of N in the soil. Knowing the economically optimum N application rate [(ENOR); cost of N vs. increased yield] at levels that don't adversely affect the environment is critical.

Four N rates were applied to established stands of orchardgrass, tall fescue and timothy for three years, harvesting the grasses three to four times per year.

Results showed the EONR were 203, 263, and 204 lbs. of N/acre, or 54, 62, and 62 lbs. of N/ton of forage harvested for orchardgrass, tall fescue and timothy, respectively. Apparent N recovery ranged from 34 to 80% and was greatest at or near EONR.

The authors concluded that the EONR for these three grasses is about 11 to 15 lbs. of N/ton of forage greater than current recommendations for the Northeast quadrant of the U.S. They also concluded that soil N is not adversely elevated at this level of N application. (Hall et al. 2003. Proc. American Forage and Grassland Council Conf.)

What Is Brazil's Threat?

If nothing else, Brazil has an advantage in numbers. Today, with “all beef cattle” totaling 165-170 million head (compared to 97 million head in the U.S.), Brazil has the world's largest commercial cattle herd. That translates into domestic beef production expected to reach a national record 7.7 million metric tons (mt) in 2004 — a 4% increase over 2003.

The following factors compiled by Joao Silva, agricultural specialist with the U.S. Embassy in Brazil, support this projection:

  • a 2% rebound in domestic beef demand due to an estimated economic growth of 3-4% and improving employment rates and consumer purchasing power,

  • additional funds in the federal budget for social programs to fight hunger and improve nutrition for the poor,

  • booming export markets in view of the impacts of the avian influenza crisis in Asia and the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) cases in North America, and

  • improved pasture conditions due to higher rainfall, mostly in Brazil's Central West region, in the first quarter of 2004.

Brazilian beef exporters are expected to ride this wave of increasing beef production by boosting output 15% this year — taking the lead in global beef exports at nearly 1.4 million mt. Only five years ago, Brazil had half the number of its current export customers and exported only 464,000 mt of beef. Acceptance of its regional foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) status in 2002 is key to Brazil's expanded presence in global beef markets.

Current optimism among Brazilian beef exporters includes filling the gap left by the U.S. and Canada in certain world markets. However, that export optimism is tempered by increased domestic beef consumption, competition from Argentina and Uruguay, and competition within the European Union from beef suppliers in their own market.

The Ghost Of FMD

Today though, Brazil still has regions that aren't free of FMD. Thus, the U.S. and a few other countries continue to ban fresh, chilled or frozen Brazilian beef. In those cases, imports are limited to thermally treated, processed and canned products like corned beef and beef extract.

Brazil has made considerable progress in eradicating FMD, and has had no official cases since August 2001. Today, 85% of Brazil's cattle herd is officially free of FMD with vaccination. In 2004, 92% of the cattle herd is predicted to be free with vaccination. By 2005, the Office of International Epizootics (OIE) expects to certify all Brazil as FMD free.

The Brazilian government recognizes FMD as a “South American” problem. Earlier this year, Silva says, the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture donated 1 million doses of FMD vaccine to Bolivia and 500,000 doses of vaccines to Paraguay in an integrated program to eradicate FMD from the Southern Cone.

Brazilian trade officials have chosen Japan, Korea and Taiwan as priorities in animal health negotiations. The U.S is another priority and Brazil is pressuring the U.S. government to complete the risk assessments necessary to export fresh beef to the U.S.

Currently, only animals from FMD-free or FMD-free-with-vaccination regions are allowed into plants certified for export. With a national cattle ID system in place targeting FMD-free regions, there's little chance the disease will show up in international markets.

Eradicating FMD in South America has the potential to alter the structure of the world beef trade, says Janet Perry, chief of the Animal Products Branch of USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS) Market and Trade Economics Division.

“It would alter the market for lean grass-fed processing beef that has typically been dominated by Australia and New Zealand,” she says.

The U.S. Meat Export Federation warns Brazil could begin shipping fresh/frozen beef to the U.S. later this year. These imports would likely fall under the 64,800 mt/year “other” tariff rate quota (TRQ) system the U.S. allows for beef imports.

“It's unclear whether this would be a net positive or negative for U.S. beef producers,” Perry says. “It depends on what markets the imported beef would fill.”

Today, Uruguay is allowed to export fresh beef to the U.S. under a 20,000 mt/year TRQ. If and when Argentina can prove it has FMD under control, it could resume its 20,000 mt/year TRQ.

“But, the ghost of FMD may haunt South America long after it's officially eradicated,” Perry says. “Will markets that depend on a stable supply trust that FMD really is gone?”

Not Your Typical Table Beef

Brazil's beef production systems and the type of beef it produces are worlds apart from that in the U.S. Nearly all beef in Brazil is grass-finished, and there's virtually no use of growth hormones or ionophores.

About 65% of Brazil's beef cattle genetics are Nelore-based, and 85% are Nelore-influenced. Nelore is a Bos indicus species closely linked to India's ancient breed of Ongole cattle, says Sandra Carreiro, Campo Grange, Mato Grosso, Brazil. She's a genetics veterinarian with Sete Estrelas Embriões, one of Brazil's leading Nelore genetics producers.

“Nelore is the ideal breed in the harsh climatic, nutritional and sanitary conditions we see in the tropics because of their hardiness and rustling ability,” she says.

There's little disagreement, too, that Nelore matches the recent shift toward a low-calorie, leaner-meat diet, without compromising taste. This was demonstrated at the 1991 Houston Livestock Show when a purebred Nelore steer won the “Best Overall in Taste” contest while competing against dozens of hybrid and European steers.

But, what Nelore beef gains in performance under tropical conditions, and taste and leanness, it sorely lacks in consistency and tenderness.

Pound for pound, Brazil's beef production costs are a third to a half those of American ranchers, and 15% lower than in Australia, according to USDA's ERS. Brazil's second-world, beef productivity surfaces, though, in factors like average age at slaughter, which is 30-36 months, and carcass yields of only about 50-55%.

One must be careful in making too many comparisons between beef production systems, however, says Russell Hackly, Clarkston, KY. He's a cattle producer who participated in BEEF magazine's two-week tour to Brazil in January.

“We shouldn't underestimate the power of crossbreeding and the technology that exists in Brazil to catch up with the world,” he says.

While traveling in Brazil, it's common to hear that the “big five” Brazilian packing companies control the beef export business. Friboi, Minerva, Frigotel, Independencia and Bertin are highly integrated firms.

Family-owned Bertin, for example, kills 500,000 head/year — owning many of them from conception to consumption. Meanwhile, the larger Independencia has tanneries, rendering systems and fertilizer plants to utilize its by-products.

These companies buy feeder cattle to finish on their own pastures, and slaughter-ready animals from smaller farmers.

Farmers are wary of the fact that packers are allowed 30 days to pay for cattle purchases from farmers. There are scores of smaller packers killing 800 or fewer head/day scattered across the cattle-producing regions of Brazil, but few are “certified” for sale into the export markets.

While multinational food companies like Cargill, ADM and Bunge have a huge presence in Brazil, they aren't feeding or packing cattle.

The Bottom Line Today?

Undoubtedly, Brazil is one of the most competitive countries worldwide in animal protein production.

And, with the absence of U.S. and Canadian beef in South Asian markets for what could be all of 2004, those markets could open further to Brazil at the expense of Australia and New Zealand.

“I just don't see the Brazilians being a threat to the American desire for high-quality table beef, though” Hackley says. “To compete in anything but the low-quality beef markets, they're going to have to change a lot of ways they produce beef, including a dramatic change in their genetic base. I don't see how that can happen anytime soon.”

The Brazilian potential though, shouldn't be overlooked, he warns.