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Idaho Ranch Manager Lowers Costs By Kicking The Hay Habit

In his effort to kick the hay habit, ranch manager Mike Kossler is now grazing cattle through much of the growing season in irrigated pastures instead of mechanically harvesting that hay.

Kossler manages Eagle Valley Ranch in east-central Idaho near Salmon, ID.

He now grazes the cattle through much of the winter on grass left standing in irrigated pastures or on "hay" left on the ground in windrows.

Kossler uses permanent fence along with lines of portable electric fence to create three- to five-acre paddocks. Typically in each of these paddocks about 300 cows are grazed for two days before being moved into the next paddock. The next paddock is set up before time to move.

In the winter, Kessler uses a cordless electric drill to poke 3-inch-deep holes in the frozen ground for the electric fence posts.

"We spend about 30 minutes a day to set up feeder lines and move cows, versus three to four hours a day feeding hay," Kossler says. "Before we started this program, we traditionally fed hay from late November to May or June. Now, we don't typically start feeding until late February or March."

To read the entire article, click here.


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Someone Has To Put The Experts’ Advice To Work

ranch mistakes learning

My wife would testify that half of the articles I’ve written are the result of my having made some major management mistake on our operation. For perspective, I’ve written literally thousands of articles, so one might assume that all that humbling would drive me to always seek out the advice of experts. Not so.

I will admit that I’ve made progress in that area, however. For instance, I don’t play nutritionist nearly as much as I used to, and I have a couple of trusted veterinarians on speed dial.

I enjoy reading the business guru Tom Peters, but I took to heart his statement that you should outsource anything that you aren’t best in the world at. It soon became obvious to me, however, that truly applying that credo might put me right out of a job.

So I’ve learned the value of consulting the experts on the big-picture things and in areas that are new to us. However, I am still guilty of thinking that I’m effective in performing tasks that are similar to other things we’ve done.

For example, let’s consider drylotting cows. Fortunately, we have never done it before, but the drought has encouraged us to try a lot of things for the first time. I had made arrangements to place the cows at a good yard, had a limit feeding ration that I had determined would be cost effective, etc. We had plans all drawn out for our earliest early weaning ever.

A really good consulting veterinarian stopped by the other day. After discussing his program, we mentioned that we were going to take some cows to a drylot scenario and early wean the calves. The amount of good information he offered was amazing, and we filled several pages of notes.

For instance, I didn’t know that a pen should stand 10 days after being cleaned. I didn’t know the cows should be bedded to avoid scour issues that can be caused by certain bacteria that are prevalent in that environment. I didn’t even think about the stress/happiness issues that accompany a limit-feeding environment and the ways to manage that.


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When it came to early weaning, I was sure I’d done my homework. But even there I learned about going in and scraping the pens in strips, going deep enough to hit moisture (in our country that would have to be pretty darn deep this year). The calves will lie in those wetter areas, and it reduces dust and a whole host of problems.

I won’t recount all the information he provided. Unfortunately, like most good advice, I’ll be lucky to get 75% of it implemented the first year.  Still, it never ceases to amaze me how little I know compared to the experts in their specialty areas.

So, I think I’ve found my role at last. I may not be the best in the world at it, but somebody has to integrate and figure out how to implement all the wisdom we receive.


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To Get Things Done, Washington Needs Scandals & Crises

washington scandal with IRS CIA

This was quite a week in Washington, D.C. The television news buzzed with coverage of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) abusing its power to punish Obama detractors. In addition, with the White House release on Wednesday of internal emails between it, the CIA and State Department, the plot thickened on how forthcoming the Obama administration really was on the roots of the terrorist attack that killed four Americans in Libya on Sept. 11, 2012. Plus, there was the story that really stirred up the Beltway media – the revelation that the U.S. Justice Department had seized the phone records of news organizations as part of an effort to discover the source of internal leaks.

The stories about such abuses of power, particularly in the IRS case, are chilling. But if there’s a silver lining to such scandals and crises, it’s that their revelations force government to act in areas where it had been turning a blind eye. They momentarily put the brakes on the ever-increasing power of the government, and give citizens and media the chance to raise caution. Without the presence of a scandal or crisis, any concern is just characterized and dismissed as partisan squabbling and political gamesmanship. The result is that few outside of the Washington Beltway have the time or inclination to get too worked up about it.

Thus, it’s little wonder that it takes a crisis to generate any groundswell of emotion. Whether it’s the financial meltdown, health care or global warming, everything has to be a crisis or scandal to generate action.

This week also saw a lot of articles emanating from the environmental movement. They all featured the same theme, which is that global warming is still a continuing threat and a growing crisis. There is genuine fear among the environmental movement that 40 years of preaching doom and gloom is starting to lose its shock value among the general populace.

Consider these points: We just experienced the coldest April in decades. Russian scientists are now predicting a coming global cooling period. And the increased solar activity that’s characterized our temperature and weather patterns for the last couple of decades appears to be slowing.

News like this all help make it even more problematic for environmental activists to convince people that the world’s future hangs in the balance. 

The key to any crisis or scandal, whether real or manufactured, is not the actual event or subject. It is what actions government is able to push through as a proposed solution to the crisis or scandal.


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Industry Sees Record Wholesale Beef Prices, But Not Profits

cattle prices and beef demand

The wholesale beef price set new all-time record highs recently, which is outstanding news. In the first week of May, we finally topped the price that had been set in fall 2003, prior to BSE. It’s truly impressive that we attained this level in just under 10 years from that watershed event. Of course, general inflation would have eventually gotten us there.

Part of the reason it only took us 10 years, however, is the ethanol effect. The tripling of corn prices brought on by the ethanol boom accelerated the decline in cow numbers dramatically. It also reduced industry profits, and raised production costs to such a degree that prices had to rise significantly. Certainly cynics will look at production costs compared to 2003, and the dramatic reduction in the size of our industry, and make the case that the business environment still trails that of a decade ago by a sizable margin. 

I think the pessimism, though, is a factor of profitability.

  • While all-time record wholesale beef prices are a good thing, the feeding industry is still mired in a historically long session of losses. All the experts say that, because of ethanol and the drought, the cattle industry needs to reduce its feeding capacity and the size of our industry, but it’s still a painful process as the feeding sector struggles to survive.
  • Meanwhile, the cow-calf industry – if one separates out the increase in land prices – hasn’t seen a significant jump in equity; the increased costs and reduced numbers have negated the positive impact from higher prices.
  • The situation hasn’t been great for the packing industry, either. As cattle numbers have continued to decline, that sector has begun the process of idling plants, as well as seeking new optimum levels of production.

Even more important than the lack of profitability, however, is the concern over beef demand. Economists continue to warn the industry about the growing disparity between beef prices and those of pork and poultry. Beef demand hasn’t been dismal, just less than the level we had hoped. An early indication of potential demand issues is the shift away from branded-beef product back to generic, as consumers become price resistant at these higher levels.

But I’d caution producers to discount some of these stories that are pointing to this trend as being fully explained by price resistance and weak demand. Consumers purchased branded products in part to acquire a better product. In fact, many brands are continuing to grow across many segments; the brands that deliver a consistent and improved eating experience for their niche are continuing to command premiums. It is the brands that were more about marketing than actual product differentiation that are feeling the pinch as consumers search for value.

There’s no doubt, however, that the price concerns are real. We’ll have to wait and see whether beef demand will allow cattle producers to reach profitability at this greatly reduced cowherd size, or if the industry will have to continue to liquidate. We’ve already seen some of the pressures created by the higher prices in the fast-food industry, where the players are adding bacon, pork or chicken to their menus, and reducing beef. McDonald’s is eliminating the 1/3-lb. Angus burgers from its menu as the offering has become price prohibitive for the chain.

The industry now looks to the big holiday weekends and beef clearance to get an idea of whether the new wholesale beef price marks are a short- or long-term top.


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NAHMS Study Gives In-Depth Look At Feedlot Practices

feedlot quality assurance fed cattle management

How calves are managed before embarking on their senior trip to a feedyard plays a big role in how successful they are while on feed and on the rail. That’s just one pearl that can be gleaned from Feedlot 2011, an in-depth and thorough analysis of the modern cattle feeding industry.

Conducted by NAHMS (the National Animal Health Monitoring System), a part of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the effort updates NAHMS Feedlot 1999 study.

Among the results, the study found that more than 80% of feedyard operators with capacities of 1,000 head or larger believe that pre-arrival processing can reduce sickness and death loss. In fact, 88% of feedyards surveyed had received bunk-broke calves, and 90% received calves that had been vaccinated for respiratory disease two weeks prior and at weaning. Other preconditioning practices that feedyards prefer are calves weaned at least four weeks prior to shipping, castrated and dehorned at least four weeks before ship date, and calves treated for external and internal parasites prior to shipping.

When pre-arrival processing information was available, 51% of feedlots always used the information to determine management or processing practices, and another 36% sometimes used the information. “The relatively high level of use of available information supports the views expressed by feedlot operators on the importance and effectiveness of pre-arrival practices,” the study reports.

However, if there’s a question about prior management, or lack thereof, feedyards typically process calves on arrival. The two most common initial processing management practices were vaccinations for respiratory disease (96% of feedlots) and treatment for parasites (95%) The most common practices used if cattle were processed a second time is implants (80%) and another vaccination for respiratory disease (75%).


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Given the high level of importance that feedlot operators place on animal health, Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) practices figure heavily in a feedyard’s daily routine, the study found.

Overall, 97% of feedlot operators had heard of the BQA program, and operators of essentially all feedlots with a capacity greater than 8,000 knew of the program. Of feedyards from 1,000 to 7,999 head, 52% reported they were very familiar with BQA and 40% said they were somewhat familiar. By contrast, 69% of feedlots greater than 8,000 head said they were very familiar with BQA and 29% said they were somewhat familiar.

To read the complete study, go to


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Cattlemen Embark On Next Chapter In Animal Disease Traceability

cattle id system and ear tags

If there’s a lesson to be learned from the long and often contentious road that USDA traveled in its effort to implement a nationwide animal disease traceability (ADT) system, it’s that patience, persistence and a lot of listening are crucial.

That road took a major turn on March 11, when the new ADT rule went into effect. And while the road will wind on, no doubt with its ongoing share of bumps and potholes, cattlemen now have a roadmap to follow. Where it will eventually lead isn’t yet certain, but we at least know this: the journey has begun.

According to Neil Hammerschmidt, USDA’s point man for animal disease traceability, the concept behind ADT is to minimize the burden on producers. Under the rule, animals moved interstate, unless exempted, must be officially and individually identified and accompanied by an interstate certificate of veterinary inspection, which is issued by an accredited veterinarian. This certificate must include the ID number, owner’s name and physical address of the location where the animals originated.

The rule affects dairy cattle of all ages; all sexually intact beef cattle older than 18 months; cattle of any age used for rodeos, shows, exhibitions, competitions or recreational events; as well as sheep, goats, captive deer and elk, all equine and poultry. Currently, beef cattle under 18 months of age are exempt from the requirement.

What’s more, while “official” ID consists of an official ear tag and the interstate movement certificate, the rules allow for flexibility between states. If two states, or states and tribes, agree, other means of ID, such as brands and a brand certificate, are acceptable.

“What we have to realize,” Hammerschmidt says, “is that when a state receives animals on a different method of ID than the official ear tag, that doesn’t mean those animals are good to move to another state.” If they move again, they will either have to carry an official ear tag or move under a separate state-to-state agreement and be so identified.

According to Hammerschmidt, the official ear tag will include the official shield, which is much like the logo of the interstate highway system, with either “US” or the state postal abbreviation inside. In addition, the tag will have a unique animal ID number.

At present, that animal ID number can come from one of several different numbering systems – a National Uniform Eartagging System (NUES) number, which is typically the silver USDA “brite” tag; an Animal Identification Number, or the “840” number; a location-based numbering system, like the sheep scrapie tags, or various breed ID systems, most often used in the dairy industry.

While the rule became effective March 11, USDA established a transition period of several years to allow producers to ease into the system. “All tags manufactured after March 11, 2014, should have the US shield,” Hammerschmidt says. “Then, all tags applied after March 11, 2015, must have the US shield.”

Also during the transition period, official tags will move from several acceptable ID numbers to just the 840 Animal Identification Number, he says.

So, while using an 840 tag now is good, it’s not required. An animal tagged today without an official ear tag is okay, for the life of the animal. “We don’t want producers to have to re-tag animals.” But if an animal is tagged two years from now, it must be with an official ID eartag.

Animals imported from Canada or Mexico won’t have to be re-tagged either, he says. “If that animal comes in with an official ear tag, recognized by Canada or Mexico, that tag is equivalent to a NUES or 840 tag. It’s the official ID of that animal for its life,” he says.


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The official tags will be distributed through the state veterinarian in each state, who will be required to maintain a record of where the tags were distributed.

For the foreseeable future, USDA will focus on communication and education, Hammerschmidt says, making sure everyone’s aware of the rule and making an effort to comply. And he realizes there will be a few bumps in the road. “But I think we’ll work through those issues over time.”

For now, he’s happy that the journey has begun. “I think the concepts and principles we’ve laid out in our new approach, where the states take the lead on implementing ADT, is good.”

To learn more, go to


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Industry At A Glance: Corn Planting Lags Drastically

corn planting progress spring 2013

Eighteen states are included in USDA’s weekly Crop Progress report. The corn planting intentions among those states amounts to almost 89 million acres, which is equivalent to about 91% of the nation’s total 2013 corn acreage.

Many readers are well aware that cool, wet spring weather has severely hampered planting progress. As of May 12, USDA reports planting was only 28% complete – almost 40% behind the five-year average (65%).

Of course, with today’s planting technology, tremendous progress can be made in a single week. However, history indicates that yields may be hampered. Slow progress will make for a very reactive summer and fall in the corn markets; any type of weather event will likely spark some sharp rallies. 

crop planting progress spring 2013

Given that scenario, it’ll be especially important in the coming weeks to not only monitor overall progress, but also key trouble spots.  Keep an eye on the state-by-state reports. That’s especially true given that high-yield states, such as Illinois, South Dakota, Indiana and Nebraska, are cumulatively planting 1.1 million fewer acres in 2013 vs. 2012.

The other factor to consider here is the market’s transition from old-crop to new-crop corn. Specifically, favorable planting conditions typically portend the ability to borrow supply from the new crop to compensate for tight carryover (that’s also complicated anticipating some of the grain stocks reports in recent years). However, delayed planting conditions potentially make such “borrowing” more difficult to do in the 2013/14 crop year. That could make for some challenging and volatile basis conditions as summer progresses.   

How are conditions in your area? How do you see this all playing out in the coming weeks and months? Given the delays, will the market try to hurry and buy acres where it can? Or, after successive years of corn-following-corn in many areas, are we out of rope – and the market will have to do all its work over the summer and into the fall? Leave your thoughts below. 



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Is Meat The Best Brain Food?

Beef Checkoff Photo

The old adage, “Work smarter, not harder,” holds true for many successful ranchers I know. However, while most work incredibly hard 24/7, 365 days/year, and have to in order to be successful, those who truly reap the rewards of ranching are working a lot smarter, too.

Did you know that even though our brain is only about 2% of our body weight, it uses 20% of our energy? When I’m thinking hard about the countless management decisions that need to be made in our operation each day, I want to fuel my brain with the best. That’s why I turn to animal foods. is a website that helps people make informed decisions about their health based on the best scientific evidence available. In a recent article, Kris Gunnars, a medical student and personal trainer lists the five brain nutrients that are only found in meat, fish and eggs, but not plants. While I encourage you to go read the entire article, as it offers some great information, here is that top five list of nutrients for the brain that can be obtained only from eating animal-based foods.

1. Vitamin B12

Gunnar writes, “Did you know that not a single population in the history of the world has ever willingly adopted a vegan diet? That’s because before the era of supplements, such a dietary shift would have started killing people within a few years. The most well known vitamin that the body can’t produce, and can only be gotten from animal foods, is Vitamin B12. The only good food sources of B12 are animal foods like meat, fish and eggs. A deficiency is widespread among vegans and vegetarians, who avoid these foods. In one study, a whopping 92% of vegans and 47% of lacto-ovo vegetarians were deficient in this critical brain nutrient. Being deficient in B12 can cause irreversible damage to the brain. If your levels are just slightly lower than they should be, you may have symptoms like poor memory, depression and fatigue.”

2. Creatine

Gunnar explains, “Every athlete, bodybuilder and gym enthusiast knows about creatine. It is the most popular muscle-building supplement in the world, for good reason. Scientific studies consistently show that creatine supplementation can increase muscle mass and strength. The same way that our muscles require energy to do work, our brain needs energy to do various things like thinking. Creatine is an important nutrient in muscle and the brain that helps to supply energy. Studies show that vegetarians have a deficiency in creatine that leads to adverse effects on muscle and brain function.”

3. Vitamin D3

The “sunshine vitamin” is next on the list. Gunnar says, “Many people live where sun is basically absent throughout most of the year. But even in countries where sun is abundant, people tend to stay inside and use sunscreen when they go outside. There are two main forms of Vitamin D in the diet: Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and D3 (cholecalciferol). D2 comes from plants, D3 from animals. Studies show that D3 is much more effective than the plant form. There are few good sources of Vitamin D3 in the diet. Cod fish liver oil is the best source. Fatty fish also contains some D3, but you’d have to eat massive amounts of it to satisfy your body’s need. A deficiency in Vitamin D is linked to all sorts of diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, depression and cognitive impairment.”

4. Carnosine

Fourth on the list is Carnosine, which Gunnar say is a very important nutrient that many have probably never heard of.

“The prefix Carno- is the latin term for meat or flesh, like Carni-vore (meat eater). It is strictly found in animal tissues, meaning that vegans and vegetarians aren’t getting much, if any, from the diet. Carnosine is created out of two amino acids and is highly concentrated in both muscle tissue and brain. This substance is very protective against various degenerative processes in the body. It is a potent antioxidant, inhibits glycation caused by elevated blood sugars, and may prevent cross-linking of proteins. For this reason, Carnosine has become very popular as an anti-aging supplement. Carnosine levels are significantly lower in patients with various brain disorders, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s – the two most common neurodegenerative disorders. Many researchers have speculated that animal foods may protect the brain and body against aging due to their large amount of carnosine.”

5. Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)

Finally, Gunnar lists DHA, explaining, “Everyone concerned with nutrition knows that Omega-3 fatty acids are extremely important. The human body cannot make them, therefore we must get them from the diet. This is why Omega-3s (and Omega-6s) are termed “essential” fatty acids – if we don’t eat them, we get sick. There are two active forms of Omega-3s in the body, EPA and DHA. DHA is the most abundant Omega-3 fatty acid in the brain and it is critical for normal brain development. Low intakes of DHA can adversely affect various aspects of cognitive function and mental health, especially in children. It is also very important for women at a childbearing age, because a woman’s Omega-3 status can have profound effects on the brain of the offspring. The best source of DHA is fatty fish. Other good sources include grass-fed and pastured animal products.”

The bottom-line, Gunnar concludes, is to, “just eat some animals.”

“Humans evolved eating both animals and plants. However, we can function in some cases without either. The Inuit, for example, survived mostly without plants, but they had to compensate by eating lots of organ meats. In the 21st century, people can survive and function without animal foods if they make sure to supplement with critical nutrients. Before the era of supplementation, completely removing animal foods would have led to a slow and painful death due to B12 deficiency. But even though functioning without either plants or animals is possible, neither is optimal. In the same way that a meat-based diet is healthier with a little bit of plants, a plant-based diet is healthier with a little bit of animals.”

I must note that I share such articles not because I’m a nutritionist, but because health and wellness is of great interest to me, particularly because of my busy lifestyle -- writing and ranching certainly keeps me busy. I can bet that as soon as this blog is posted, I will get negative comments about how I should stick to ranching and leave the nutrition side alone, but I believe it’s important to read studies on how to be a healthier person. And, as a rancher, it’s crucial that I keep an eye on consumer trends and perceptions about the beef I produce.

I must also add that I’m not aiming to pit meat-eaters against vegetarians and vegans. In fact, Gunnar lists the supplements that individuals should take to round out their plant-based diets, and if that’s your case, I encourage you to check out the entire article. My goal with sharing these pro-beef blogs is to offer a science-based perspective on the healthfulness of eating beef, and hope it alleviates some concerns the general consumer might feel about including animal products in their diet. No, I’m not a doctor, but I can speak from experience. Animal proteins in my diet helps to fuel my brain, and I’m pleased to see studies and articles that support that.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this article. Please join the discussion by sharing your opinions in the comments section below. I look forward to a lively conversation and find the discussion fascinating. so I encourage you to stop back to see what others are saying about these brain foods!

Feel free to share this, as well! Let’s spread the word that animal food is the perfect fuel for our brains!


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15 Annoying Ranch Nuisances

There’s no doubt about it -- I’m a glass half-full kind of gal. I like to look on the bright side of things, and even though I might have a bad day on the ranch once in awhile, I rarely blog about it. Then, I realized that the little things that bug me, or the dumb things I have done, you have probably experienced, too!

So, today, I have rounded up 15 annoying ranch nuisances that have happened to me or one of my family members over the years. These little things are certainly nothing to cry about, but I thought I would start a list to see if you all could relate.

Perhaps some of these belong in Jeff Foxworthy’s list of, “You might be a redneck,” jokes, but here is my list of, “You might be having a bad day if...”

  1. You discover a leak in your mud boots on a wet spring day.
  2. You have a rip on the thigh of your jeans the day you decide to stack square bales.
  3. You accidentally touch the electric fence.
  4. You forget to shut the gate and find the cows in a corn field.
  5. Your electric waterer freezes up during a blizzard
  6. You lose one glove to match your favorite pair.
  7. You forget to shut the water tank off, and it runs over.
  8. You set a tool down on your four-wheeler and drive off, losing it somewhere in a field.
  9. The ink splatters on the kitchen table when making a new ear tag.
  10. Your spouse throws away the latest edition of BEEF magazine before you’ve had a chance to read it.
  11. Your grill flames up and burns your steak before you notice the grease fire.
  12. You’re late for church because you have a last-minute cow to AI.
  13. You get stung by a bee while chopping thistles in a pasture.
  14. You run out of gas in the four-wheeler two miles from home (and your cell phone is dead).
  15. You get a speeding ticket while racing to town to get a tractor part before the stores close for the day.

So, how about you? Have you experienced any of these ranch follies? What are your pet peeves and lessons you’ve learned in the school of hard knocks? Share your stories in the comments section below.


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