Spring Rains Rally Our Ranch Hopes, But Is It Too Little Too Late?

Spring Rains Rally Our Ranch Hopes, But Is It Too Little Too Late?

We spent Memorial Day weekend moving cow-calf pairs to pasture. Sorting off the pairs was more difficult this year as a result of muddy lots produced by the non-stop rain we have received the last couple of weeks. Not that I’m complaining. We’ve prayed long and hard for some much-needed moisture, and we are finally getting it.

The stock dams have filled up, the grass has greened up, and it’s looking like at least June will be a good month for grazing and haying. Certainly, we aren’t out of the woodworks yet, however.

I realize that the water could stop at any time, and the heat of a long summer could once again damage cattle ranchers across the country. Even though we have received some timely rains in our area, the drought that plagued us in 2012 could still continue in 2013.

Yet, I’m optimistic that this rain is the start for good things to come. Perhaps this is naive of me to think so positively, and maybe it’s too little too late.

According to the Tri-State Neighbor, “Grasslands in many parts of the state are already experiencing drought this year, according to NRCS data. With the exception of northeastern South Dakota, most of the state is still in some form of drought. Ranchers in Butte, Meade and other counties are also plagued by a shortage of surface water for livestock. Soils were so dry this spring they soaked up melting snow like a sponge.”

Additionally, my hometown paper, The Daily Republic, reports that, “Substantial rains fell across much of South Dakota in the past week, adding to moisture from April snowstorms to improve conditions after last summer’s drought that cut into crop yields and forced many ranchers to sell cattle in South Dakota and other states. State Climatologist Dennis Todey says the recent rain has put water in the top layers of the soil in many places, making the grass greener and getting crops to start growing. But in many areas, deeper soil levels have not been recharged.

“The U.S. Drought Monitor report indicated that all of South Dakota was at least abnormally dry. About two-thirds of the state was rated in severe or extreme drought, but no part was in the highest category of exceptional drought. That’s an improvement from three months ago, when 87% of the state was in severe, extreme or exceptional drought. Rangeland was hit so hard last summer that it will recover only slowly, even with additional precipitation.”

How is the weather in your neck of the woods? Have you received some timely rains this spring and early summer? How are your pastures and hay fields shaping up? Share your reports in the comments section below.


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OIE Upgrades U.S. To Negligible Risk Status For BSE

oie upgrades US to negligible risk status

USDA was notified today by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) that the U.S. risk classification for BSE had been upgraded to negligible risk.  Following the OIE statement, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said:

“I am very pleased with OIE’s decision to grant the U.S. negligible risk status for BSE. This is a significant achievement that has been many years in the making for the U.S., American beef producers and businesses, and federal and state partners who work together to maintain a system of interlocking safeguards against BSE that protect our public and animal health. This decision demonstrates OIE’s belief that both our surveillance for, and safeguards against, BSE are strong. U.S. beef and beef products are of the highest quality, wholesome and produced to the highest safety standards in the world.

"Last year, exports of U.S.-origin beef and beef products totaled $5.5 billion. With our negligible risk classification from the OIE, we have a strong foundation in place to continue increasing exports of U.S.-origin beef and beef products. In doing so, we will continue to press trading partners to base their decisions on science, consistent with international standards. U.S. food and agricultural exporters and consumers worldwide benefit when countries adopt science-based international standards,”Vilsack said.

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Industry At A Glance: Heifers, Cows and Inventory

cow inventory change heifer retention rate

This week’s Industry At A Glance chart reflects relative beef cow slaughter and the industry’s heifer retention rates since 1996, coupled with the annual change in beef cow inventory. Shifts in operational size, marketing opportunities and available resources have clearly influenced the commercial sector during the past 10-15 years. That subsequently influences management priorities, including herd-inventory strategies. The data reveals the overwhelming importance of beef cow slaughter when accounting for decline in the nation’s beef cow population. 

Keeping in mind the disappearance of smaller operators over time, it appears that liquidation has been a fairly deliberate process, driven by a multitude of factors (including weather, producer demographics and financial considerations). Meanwhile, among those operations remaining in business, even if they’ve downsized, heifer retention rate has remained relatively constant; that is, replacement heifer population has remained steady – equivalent to about 18% of the beef cow population.  

cow inventory change

How do you perceive general trends around heifer replacement strategies among cow-calf producers? Is your operation similar to what’s described above, or have you changed your management strategies over time. What are the largest factors influencing those decisions? Leave your thoughts below.

Smithfield Foods Sells To Chinese Hog Company

Smithfield Foods Sells To Chinese Hog Company

The shock value alone was significant. But once those in the beef industry put their jaws back in place and recalibrated their brains to the in-your-face reality that global trade is indeed global, the announcement that Smithfield Foods has entered into a merger agreement with Shuanghui International Holdings Limited was generally viewed as positive.

It was both a shock and a surprise to see a company the size of Smithfield sell to Chinese ownership, says Don Close, vice president and beef analyst with Rabobank’s Food & Agribusiness Research and Advisory group. “Once you get past that shock factor, I’d say implications to the beef side would be very positive. If we have the opportunity to clear that much additional protein out of the U.S. and tighten up remaining supply, I think overall it’s probably good for all protein sectors.”

Shuanghui is China’s largest meat-processing enterprise and China’s largest publicly traded meat products company, according to a Wednesday news release announcing the merger. Shuanghui will acquire all outstanding shares of Smithfield for $34 (U.S.)/share.

According to the release, Smithfield is the world’s largest pork processor and hog producer. “We will become part of an enterprise that shares our belief in global opportunities and our commitment to the highest standards of product safety and quality,” says Larry Pope, Smithfield president and CEO.

From Smithfield’s perspective, it will be business as usual, Pope says. “We do not anticipate any changes in how we do business operationally in the U.S. and throughout the world,” he says.

According to Shuanghui Chairman Wan Long, the company is one of China’s leading pork producers and the country’s largest meat-processing enterprise. “The acquisition provides Smithfield the opportunity to expand its offering of products to China through Shuanghui’s distribution network. Shuanghui will gain access to high-quality, competitively priced and safe U.S. products, as well as Smithfield’s best practices and operational expertise,” Wan says.

Outside of its implications for overall protein supplies in the U.S., Close says the merger raises other questions. “Does this give a positive slant on the U.S. being able to front-door beef into China? Yes, I think it’s a positive step,” he says. “Will I go so far as to think it will require Chinese ownership of a U.S. firm to gain that access? No, I don’t think so. I think the additional trade will probably be enough.”

That’s because China is slowly opening up, he says. “So I think that front-door access would eventually be coming anyway. But I think this will certainly speed up that process.”


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However, that doesn’t mean Shuanghui won’t eventually start pushing its shopping cart down the beef aisle.

“I think there’s a very real chance that this could lead to other specie acquisitions,” Close says. Whether that’s a U.S. company, an Australian company or a beef packer elsewhere, however, remains to be seen. “But I do think they will ultimately have to add other protein components to the business model to be competitive with the other multinationals.”

The acquisition, which is subject to regulatory approval by the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investments, is expected to close in the second half of the year. At that time, Smithfield will become a wholly owned independent subsidiary of Shuanghui International Holdings Limited and will continue to operate as Smithfield Foods.

For more information, go to www.smithfieldfoods.com and www.shuanghui-international.com.


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The Ranch Profitability Secret More Powerful Than Genetics

grazing management trumps cattle genetics cattle feed

It seems many ranchers are more interested in their cattle than their land. I love animal breeding and can understand how many of us get caught up in trying to make our livestock better.

It’s very easy to fall into the “more” trap – more growth, more milk, more marbling, more muscle, etc. – with little regard for the unintended consequences and the costs. As a young manager, I, too, was caught in this trap. Luckily, however, a couple of mentors, and exposure to a few different ideas in my managerial youth, taught me that bigger and more is not always better. In addition, I learned that, believe it or not, well-managed grazing is a much more powerful tool for ranch profitability than cattle genetics.                                                

In my May issue column, I discussed the importance of time and timing in the planning of grazing. Without understanding the effects of time and timing on the physiology of the plant, it’s difficult – perhaps even impossible – to plan well. After all, we use time and timing to prevent, or at least reduce or minimize, overgrazing.

What is overgrazing? First, it is not being overstocked, although being overstocked can contribute to overgrazing. It’s possible, and I think probable, except in severe drought, that many ranches are “understocked and overgrazed.” In fact, in many pastures, it’s common to see both overgrazing and “over resting” side by side in the same pasture. If both can be stopped, stocking rate can increase.

So, again, what is overgrazing? It’s the repeated defoliation of the plant without allowing that plant adequate time to recover from the effects of the previous grazing. There are two ways to overgraze:

• The first is to retain cattle so long in a pasture that plants grazed in the first few days acquire sufficient regrowth to be grazed again. If livestock are left for long periods in the same area, this can happen repeatedly to the same plants. This weakens the plant and reduces its ability to recover, especially in times of stress such as drought.

If allowed, animals tend to return first to their favorite plants for regrazing, even while many plants in the pasture may not have been grazed at all. To prevent such overgrazing, cattle must be removed from the pasture before the plant has regrown sufficiently for a second defoliation.

• The second instance of overgrazing occurs when cattle are returned to a pasture before it’s sufficiently recovered from the previous grazing. This situation can allow for a significant number of plants to be overgrazed.

If I’m in the early stages of developing my fencing and water, I may not be able to avoid both of the above-mentioned ways to overgraze. But, if forced to, I would prefer avoiding the second scenario, and have some overgrazing occur as a result of staying too long in a pasture rather than coming back too soon.

To reduce or stop overgrazing and over resting, the number of paddocks or pastures is important. A sufficient number of paddocks are needed so that cattle don’t remain in any so long that overgrazing occurs. Each paddock must be allowed an adequate chance to fully recover before being grazed again.

Ranches vary in climate, elevation, rainfall, temperature, etc., but I’ve never felt able to graze very well without at least 8-12 paddocks/herd. In fact, most of us who have practiced planned, time-controlled grazing progress fairly quickly to 20 or more paddocks/herd after we see what can happen.

Here’s why. As you increase the number of paddocks for each herd, the paddocks become smaller, while the herd size stays the same. Thus, stock density increases. As stock density increases, grazing becomes more uniform and over resting diminishes. It’s thus easier to get some trampling of ungrazed plants into the soil, which enhances the water and mineral cycles. You begin to see less space between plants, as well as a greater variety of plants, more plant vigor, and more litter on the soil surface. This is accompanied by less runoff and, you have to assume, less evaporation.


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Remember, we’re using our livestock, their grazing and various forms of animal impact to improve water and mineral cycles. This allows more vigorous plants that capture more sunlight for more total plant growth. If we can retain just a bit more of the rainfall that comes rather than have it evaporate, run off or percolate rapidly through a poor soil with low organic matter, a little more grass can start to grow and a whole set of interconnected activities of plants, soil, animals and microorganisms begins to move forward.

I cannot, in a few short articles, begin to tell you all you need to know to effectively plan your grazing, as well as the water and fence development needed to make it work efficiently. That’s why I suggest that, to really learn how to graze, find someone who already knows how to do it, has good results, and will help you. Better yet, there are several very good short course-type schools that are well taught. Find and attend one.

I first attended a school or two, and then found others who were already using what I had learned at the schools. Combining the two provided both the know-how and the planning tools, plus the confidence, to move forward. You can, too.

Burke Teichert, consultant on strategic planning for ranches, is retired as vice president and general manager of Deseret. He can be reached at burketei@comcast.net.


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Three Beef Industry Challenges That Won’t Go Away Soon

animal welfare  cowcalf health are major beef industry issues

From an animal health and welfare perspective, I would characterize the state of the beef industry as “challenging.” But, that’s the beauty of beef producers — we never back down from a challenge! Here are three challenges on which our industry must stay vigilant:

1. Weather patterns have had a profound effect on cowherd expansion, dissuading many producers from growing their herds. The impact of the drought on our national cowherd, however, has also resulted in some issues that will require more than rain to overcome.

Fetal programming is one sucah issue. Fetal programming occurs when a pregnant female undergoes substantial stress. Research indicates that hormonal, environmental and nutritional stress during gestation can result in long-term effects in fertility and production of the offspring.

We’ve certainly seen widespread environmental and nutritional stress for the past couple of years. Once more “normal” weather patterns are established, it may still be some years before our cows and their offspring return to what we’d consider normal production and health parameters.

2. Veterinary oversight will continue to expand. How we use antibiotics, especially feed-grade antibiotics, is already undergoing substantial change. Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) is a term with which we’ll all become very familiar in the coming years. VFD is a somewhat complicated subject that would require an entire column to explain, but it’s much like a prescription for feed-grade antibiotics.

It’s very likely that VFD will apply to many, if not all, feed-grade antibiotics currently being sold over the counter directly to farmers and ranchers. If, or when, these VFD regulations are enacted, your herd-health veterinarian will be required to write a VFD whenever it’s determined that your cattle would benefit from using a feed-grade antibiotic. Also, depending on the product used, there may be restrictions on how, when or what injectable antibiotics are used if individual animal treatment is deemed necessary.

In explaining the VFD issue to a producer recently, he was surprised and flabbergasted that one day he might not be able to go to the local co-op and just pick up a bag of Aureomycin®. I suspect he isn’t alone in his lack of awareness about what federal regulators are trying to do.

3. Consumers continue to want to know more about how their food is produced. They want to know that their beef is raised in a humane, ethical manner. Of course, there are a multitude of activist groups also seeking to “educate” consumers about their perspective on raising animals for food.


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Beef producers have responded to this consumer interest very positively, and we’re seeing more efforts by producers to educate consumers. We’re also seeing more efforts by producers and researchers to further improve the welfare of our livestock.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned in studying animal welfare, it’s that welfare is a moving target — for every advance we make, we can nearly always figure out a way to make it a little better. This is just one of many reasons why I am generally not supportive of legislation pertaining to welfare standards. From my perspective, legislation will hold welfare back more than it will advance it.

I’ve touched lightly on three very complex topics. Fetal programming isn’t controversial and is a problem we’ll have to deal with on the farm. There is, however, considerable controversy when it comes to veterinary oversight and animal welfare.

These latter two issues have become very political, so we’ll not only have to deal with these issues on the farm, but at the regulatory and legislative levels as well. We shouldn’t expect these problems to go away anytime soon, so I strongly encourage beef producers to accept the challenge and face them as only we can do. We’ll discuss these issues in more detail in future “Vet’s Opinion” columns.

Dave Sjeklocha, DVM, is director of animal health for Cattle Empire, LLC, Satanta, KS. He can be reached at drdave@cattle-empire.net.


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Will 2013 Be The Slowest Corn-Planting Year Ever?

USDA reports that corn planting lags in spring 2013

USDA’s weekly Crop Progress report indicates that both soybean and corn planting remain well behind schedule and are both roughly at the level of 1993. That’s not a good comparison if one wants large crops!

After planting 43% of corn acres the week of May 19, further progress was limited last week by heavy rainfall in many parts of the Corn Belt. Only 15% more corn acres were put in the ground, bringing the total to 86%. That compares to the five-year average (2008-2012) of 90%. In fact, corn planting was completed by this week last year.

So is this the slowest ever? That depends on how you judge “slowest.” We’ve always shown 1993 as the slowest year, primarily because it got started so slowly, with less than 10% of acres planted by the end of April. Like this year, producers caught up some in mid-May 1993, planting 53% of the acres between May 5 and May 19 of that year.corn planting as of May 27

But there are a number of years that had a lower percentage of acres planted by week 21, which this year corresponds to May 26. Only 71% of acres were planted by this week in 1995, and only 78% were planted in 1996. Only 82% were planted by now in 2009.

The national average yield in 1995 was 13.2 bu. below trend. For 1996, the yield got within 1.5 bu. of trend, while 2009 saw the current record corn yield of 164.7 bu./acre. That was 11.9 bu./acre above the 1960-present trend, and 8 bu./acre larger than the 1996-present “biotech era” trend.

The story is virtually the same for soybeans. USDA reports that 20% of soybean acres were planted last week bringing the total to 44%. That compares to last year’s 89%, and a five-year average of 61%. It is also very similar to the progress of 1993.

soybean planting as of may 26Our judgment of 1993 as the “slowest” progress year is again based on the very late start to that planting season which was plagued by steady heavy rains. Recall the severe Midwestern flooding that year.

As was the case with corn, 1995 and 1996 saw lower percentages planted by early June, while 2009 (48% as of week 21) was just barely beyond this year’s pace. Also as for corn, 2009 is the record-high for soybean yield at 44 bu./acre, about 1.6 bu./acre above the 1970-present trend.

Just over half (54%) of corn acres have emerged as of Sunday. That compares to a five-year average of 67% and a record-high 89% one year ago. Soybeans have emerged on 14% of acres. That figure was 57% last year and averaged 30% over the past five years.

While rain has definitely slowed progress in the past couple of weeks, moisture is obviously good news as well. Virtually the entire state of Iowa received 2 in. or more of rain over the past 14 days, and that band of rainfall reached from central Illinois north and west all the way to Montana.

The Dakotas also received heavy rain – something North Dakota, with its significant winter snow cover and slow spring melt, really didn’t need at this point. But it is hard to argue with moisture, especially coming off a year like 2012. Even areas of western Nebraska have received 2-3 in. over the past two weeks. Excellent maps of recent and past rainfall can be found at http://water.weather.gov/precip/.

The bad news on the precipitation front is that no help has come to the major winter wheat areas of western Kansas, eastern Colorado or the Panhandle regions of Texas and Oklahoma.

Winter wheat conditions changed little this past week with 42% of acres rated poor or very poor (vs. 41% last week, and only 17% last year). Only 31% rated good or excellent (the same as last week, 54% last year). It appears that this summer’s winter wheat crop will provide little, if any, help for feed supplies.

Nationally, pasture conditions improved slightly with poor/very poor acres dropping 4% to 27% and good/excellent acres gaining 4% to 52%. The vast majority of those poor acres, though, are in key cow-calf states in the Plains. Texas still shows 44% of pastures in poor or very poor condition. For Oklahoma, it’s 36%, and 53% in Kansas, and 65% in Nebraska. New Mexico is 91%, with the other 9% rated as only fair. What this is telling us is that it may be very difficult to grow the beef cowherd significantly this year.


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Beef Demand Is Soft In Kickoff To Summer Grilling Season

steaks grilling
steaks grilling

Memorial Day is regarded as the kickoff weekend to summer. Even though the official start to summer doesn’t roll around until June 21, it’s evident that folks are ready for sunshine and summertime way before the calendar says summer is here! Whether it’s going to the beach, camping, hosting a backyard bonfire, or just spending time at home, there is one common theme that can be found at these summer social events -- barbecuing.

Although we grill year-round at home, I still get excited about grilling in the summertime. We pull out the smoker and the grill and always have some kind of meat on the menu during the summer months; we often will eat outside in the evenings, giving us a good excuse to enjoy the warm day and pretty sunset.

When I walk through the meat section at the grocery store, I can sure empathize with the sticker shock consumers face when selecting which meat to prepare for their own summer barbecues. Certainly, a pork chop or chicken leg is much cheaper than a ribeye, and in an economy where consumers are watching their pennies pretty closely, the fact that beef is being passed up in lieu of cheaper proteins could be problematic.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “Higher beef prices are pinching food budgets for consumers already wrestling with a rise in gasoline prices, the expiration of the federal payroll-tax holiday and stubbornly high unemployment. They're also expected to drive consumers to other meats after the holiday weekend, one of the biggest beef-sales periods of the year. That could threaten high beef profit margins for meatpackers like Tyson Foods Inc. and Cargill Inc. and also pose a challenge for restaurants and grocery stores.

The article points out that Memorial Day week is typically the third-highest for weekly U.S. beef sales, after the Fourth of July and Labor Day holiday weeks. That’s according to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. Analysts are saying that it’s unclear how much beef sales may suffer this year as consumers turn to cheaper protein alternatives.

Last year, Americans spent $288.40/person on beef, a 4.2% increase from $276.80 in 2011, thanks to rising retail prices, Jim Robb, director of the Livestock Marketing Information Center in Denver, is quoted in the article. In fact, U.S. beef sales reached $90.6 billion last year, up from $86.4 billion in 2011, Robb adds.

“Consumers have been fickle about beef this year," the WSJ article continues. "In the first quarter, beef sales volumes fell 1.7% from a year earlier at 18,000 grocery stores, supermarkets and other retail outlets tracked by market-research firm Nielsen Co. In contrast, pork volumes rose 3.1% and chicken volumes were flat.

Consumers have faced a series of record beef prices at retail over the past few years amid tighter supplies and a boost in demand from overseas buyers of U.S. beef. Although the USDA predicts retail beef prices will finish the year 3% to 4% higher, that is lower than the gains of 6.4% last year and 10.2% in 2011.

“Still, expectations for weaker beef demand are evident in the $14 billion cattle-futures market, where many traders and investors are betting that consumers will lose their taste for beef after the holiday weekend. Futures prices for live, slaughter-ready cattle have tumbled 10% since hitting a record $1.3385/lb. on Jan. 3.”

The challenge for us will be to promote beef to our domestic consumers this summer. We can’t get complacent and assume that just because our customers like the taste of beef that they will continue to buy beef, despite the high costs. So, we must continually remind them why beef is worth the extra buck and also educate consumers on the budget-friendly beef cuts that are available and how to prepare them. The task at hand is a big one, but it’s a worthy one.

How can we better promote beef this summer? What things are happening in your communities to boost beef demand? Share in the comments section below.


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Significant Number Of Grain Bin Entrapments Involve Children

More than 60% of grain bin engulfment cases occur in facilities that are exempt from Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations. That’s mostly family on-farm storage units. Only 30% of engulfment cases come from OSHA non-exempt facilities. Another 9% are of unknown exemption status.

A significant number of those exempt cases involve children and the fatality rate of children involved in grain engulfment is staggering, 70%. More instances and more fatalities occur from engulfment than from grain bin explosions.

A Purdue University study that examined grain bin accidents from 1964 through 2010 found 600 cases of explosions and 250 deaths, a 20% fatality rate. During that same time, engulfment cases totaled 900 with 550 deaths and a 62% fatality rate.

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Genomics Research May Make Bull Selection Easier

A team of researchers at Cornell University is applying genomics sequencing techniques previously used in corn to improve the quality of milk and meat in livestock and expedite bull selection for producers.

By using the genotyping-by-sequencing technique first discovered by USDA Agricultural Research Service geneticist Rob Elshire, Cornell researcher Ikhide Imumorin, assistant professor of animal genetics and genomics at Cornell, say genetic traits will be easier to identify and put to use.

"Breeders are interested in cattle with traits such as high meat or milk quality, disease resistance and heat tolerance, but identifying the best animals means sorting through thousands of unique gene variants in the genome," explains Imumorin, lead researcher.

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