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USDA begins contacting feedlots in May for study

Cattle at feed bunk
USDA's NAHMS unit will be asking feedlot operators this month to take part in an antimicrobial use study.

In May, the USDA’s National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS), in conjunction with USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), will launch Antimicrobial Use on U.S. Feedlots, 2017, a new national study focusing on antimicrobial use and stewardship practices on feedlots with a capacity of at least 50 head.

In May 2017, representatives from NASS will contact feedlots to inquire about their interest in participating in the study. NASS’s role will be to obtain producers consent for study participation.

Then in July 2017, feedlot operators who agreed to participate in the study will be contacted to schedule an in-person interview conducted by a veterinarian.

The study represents a new data collection and reporting effort for NAHMS and was first proposed in the USDA’s Antimicrobial Resistance Action Plan released in 2015. This plan specifically called for enhanced monitoring of antimicrobial use in food-producing animals.

The intent is to increase understanding of antimicrobial use and stewardship in veterinary medicine and animal agriculture.

USDA lists four objectives for the study:

  • Describe antimicrobial-use practices in feed and water on feedlots with a capacity of at least 50 head.
  • Estimate the percentage of feedlots administering and the percentage of cattle receiving specific antimicrobials in feed and water by reasons for use.
  • Provide baseline data on antimicrobial-use practices in place prior to implementation of FDA policy changes. This baseline can be used for evaluating trends over time.
  • Describe antimicrobial stewardship practices on U.S. feedlots.

NAHMS is a statistical unit under the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act (CIPSEA). All information acquired during the Antimicrobial Use on U.S. Feedlots, 2017 study will be used for statistical purposes only and will be treated as confidential in accordance with CIPSEA guidelines. Only summary estimates based on the inference population will be reported. Data collected under CIPSEA are protected from Freedom of Information (FOIA) Requests.

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Remember when it was getting safer year by year out on the highways? That is not happening anymore. Michigan is an example. For second year in a row, traffic deaths are increasing by 10%. Distracted driving continues to kill.

More than one reason to renegotiate NAFTA. Trump adviser Ray Starling says dispute resolution process in NAFTA needs to be revisited. 

Have you heard skyrocketing death toll from opiate overdoes has gotten so bad that medical examiners can't keep up?

What do they do with the horse do-do at Churchill Downs? Farms that grow mushrooms acquire it for their needs.

Meat Market Update | Choice middle meat steak items drive rally

The Choice Box Beef price rally continues but it has exploded well over where it was at this time last year.  The main driving force has been the Choice middle meat steak items, for example the Daily Choice Rib primal has jumped about $30 higher in the last 7 working days. Also a big overall supporter of the upward trend this year has been the year to date out-front sales that are almost 5,000 loads higher than last year at this time. The reason that is important is because large pre-planned advertised specials normally utilize out-front sales to lock in both the price and product volume to protect retailers.


The sandbagging continues and so do the water rescues in Missouri and Arkansas.

It will be a sloppy track in Kentucky for the derby. It will likely be only 60 degrees at race time.

It may be a week before traders get an idea of the extent of the storm damage caused by snow and cold. Wheat tour wrapping up. The effect of late April freeze were overshadowed by recent blizzard. Also, some disease found because of excess rain.

It's been 13 years since Rebecca Barrera embezzled. She had repaid only a portion and had been working at a cosmetic surgery office where she stuck again. Embezzled $180,000. She's off to prison now. 

Farm Progress America, May 4, 2017

Max Armstrong continues his profile of the five nominees for America's Farmers Farm Mom of the Year with a view with Shari Sell-Bakker, a Dike, Iowa farmer. She's active in the family swine genetics business, and is involved in a wide range of activities to promote agriculture. Max shares her story.

Farm Progress America is a daily look at key issues in agriculture. It is produced and presented by Max Armstrong, veteran farm broadcaster and host of This Week in Agribusiness.

How to get the best cattle gain on forage

finishing cattle on grass

Are you thinking about finishing cattle on grass? It can be done, but it does take some strategic grass management. Industry experts offer their best advice to get your cattle to the packer faster.

“We can finish beef on many kinds of forage, as long as it is grazed at an immature stage when it is leafy and high quality, with adequate density of stand that the cattle can take big bites,” says Dan Undersander, Extension and forage agronomist at the University of Wisconsin. “Cattle take about one bite per second and will graze for a few hours a day, taking 30,000 bites or so. If those are big bites and the forage is high quality, the cattle gain weight. If it’s small bites and/or low in quality, then they won’t finish as well,” he explains.

There are some perennials and some annuals that work nicely for finishing. “The brown midrib sorghum/sudan grass would be the counterpart to ryegrass for hotter, drier periods of the year. Brassicas like grazing turnips can be a high-quality feed but are much higher in protein than energy. They can be as much as 20% protein, which is more than these animals need,” says Undersander.

“Chicory is another good, high-quality forage. It is pretty good the first year but heads out the second year and is not as good. You might use it the first year for finishing animals and the second year for younger growing animals that don’t need quite such high quality feed.”

He also suggests you have a strategy that keeps animal needs in mind when grazing various forages.

“In finishing grass-fed beef animals, we focus on two different things. One is to have a rapidly growing animal so we don’t have to keep it as long. Second, we want that animal at a certain weight with a certain degree of marbling,” Undersander says.

“If we can finish an animal at 18 months we have less investment than in one that takes 22 to 24 months or longer to finish,” he explains. In order to hit the efficiency goal, it’s important to manage the grazing so we can keep cattle eating high-quality forage, he adds.

“It is important for beef producers to understand the nutrient needs of growing animal because sometimes they are shortchanged in terms of pasture management,” adds Geoffrey Brink, research agronomist at the USDA-Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center in Madison, Wis.

“A pasture grazed at a more vegetative stage (young and growing versus mature) provides more energy—just because the fiber level of the plant is lower. While a growing beef animal will consume a more mature grass, the quality may not be high enough to produce much weight gain,” he says.

Mary Beth Hall, research animal scientist at the Wisconsin USDA research center, says it boils down to how much the animals can consume. “If forage is too mature, there is a limit to how much they can eat; it fills up the rumen [and doesn’t break down as quickly during digestion] and the animal can’t eat any more. So we look at how much they can eat, and factor in the composition of the forage to know whether the cattle are getting the necessary pounds of digestible nutrients and protein to support the performance we want,” says Hall.

Legumes are another type of energy-dense forage. “Many people include legumes in a pasture mix, particularly in perennial pastures. Some people overseed perennial or even annual legumes. In the South, annual legumes such as crimson clover are often used. In a temperate climate, red and white clover and alfalfa are utilized, which are all perennials. Legumes improve the digestibility and energy content of perennial pasture significantly,” Brink says.

Year-round grazing

Clayton Robins, Rivers, Manitoba, spent 22 years as a research assistant with Ag Canada in forage and beef production, and continues to do forage trials. He has traveled to many regions around the world that practice longer grazing than we do, with more emphasis on assessing plant sugars and other forms of metabolizable energy in the plant.

“In North America, we tend to focus more on fiber. I looked at some of the plants other countries were using, and the influences those plants have on ruminant digestive efficiency—and the ability to initiate early development of marbling cells in young, developing animals,” he says.

Most studies on marbling have been done with early-weaned calves fed high-energy diets, but Robins feels we might be able to get that same effect with grazing. “We could do this while a calf is still on the cow—rather than feeding grain or some other high-energy supplementation. It does require a sustained supply of high levels of energy to trigger the phenotypic and physiological responses,” he explains.

“Researchers in other parts of the world have come to the same conclusion. Trials in New Zealand, for instance, are using energy-dense forages to determine that potential. These studies are assessing early-weaned calves on forage instead of concentrates/grain, and evaluating impact on carcass quality and earlier time of slaughter—with the expectation of improved marbling,” Robins says.

“We did a lot of work with swath grazing at the Brandon Research Centre, including trials looking at understory crops. I continue to try new plants we hadn’t considered when we began. Currently, I am using tetraploid Italian ryegrasses [which can accumulate the greatest amount of plant sugars] along with chicory and forage plantain, as well as few legumes.”

He is trying to create a crop of annuals that will grow all year. “Normally we look at swath grazing, silage or cereal grain as about 75 days of active growing. I am planting that same crop, but adding an understory of ryegrasses, chicory, plantains and clovers, and might also add festoliums, then early harvesting the cereal and leaving it in the field.”

He used small square bales, but wants to try wrapped round bale haylage. “We leave bales in the field for cattle to utilize later, and let the understory crop regrow for later grazing,” he explains. The field can be strip grazed, opening the bales instead of having windrows. The baled forage holds quality.

These plants have all been looked at before, in Canada and the northern U.S, but their potential was largely abandoned because they wouldn’t overwinter. “We were always focused on longevity, which is important when we want plants that grow every year. But if we can utilize them as understory crops to go with cereal harvest, with lots of yield, we can achieve greater carrying capacity per acre and the potential gain per acre is very high. If we can initiate early-marbling cell development—which might take time off the end point for finishing/feeding—the economics start to look very good. Then the cost of annual seeding becomes almost inconsequential,” he explains.

“If we have plants that contain 30% sugar in October, we can do a lot with them. My strategy is to look at August, September and October as a three-month grazing window.” If they can find a high-quality overstory cereal crop, it becomes attractive.

“With my cattle at home, I can carry 70 steers on an acre for 3 to 3.5 days. If we can push the gain higher, with that kind of carrying capacity, numbers start to look very good economically. We need to look at animal performance data and eventually see what we can do in terms of physiology in the animal as well. This provides some alternatives for beef production rather than just feedlot finishing,” he says.

Smith Thomas is a rancher and freelance writer based in Salmon, Idaho.

Gotta love April’s market gymnastics

Burt Rutherford marketing beef cattle

Well that was a good surprise! April’s sharp move to the upside caught everyone (if they’re honest) off guard about where the fed cattle market was headed. The especially strong market action was unexpected. That’s evidenced by the huge jump late in the month; markets in equilibrium don’t make such drastic jumps. 

So, just as the market seemed poised to trade steady at best to softer, packers scurried hard to secure supply, driving prices to new spring highs. And to be certain, no one on the selling side is complaining, except for wishing they had more cattle to sell into the rally. 

As review, the latter half of March saw fed trade climb to $131—and to what seemed, at that point, would likely be 2017’s spring high. That’s because the week that followed, ending March business, settled on a softer note back to $127-128. April subsequently opened with further bearish sentiment: fed trade retreated back to $124. 

But all that was a head fake. The next few weeks each saw gains of $3-4 per cwt, enabling steer/heifer prices to sneak past the previous March high. The market now had confirmation of the previous high—and seemed poised to work lower from there. However, the fed cattle market has found renewed strength all spring – there was yet more gas in the tank. April closed by tacking on another $5-6 to settle at $136-137. 

That’s been the norm for market behavior during the past three months. Similar to April, both February and March saw fed trade starting the month off in steady or softer fashion and then surging at month’s end. February, March and April have gained $5, $6, and $9, respectively, as the month progressed.  

Most important, the market has now added nearly $40 per cwt since the mid-October low. And for the first time in 22 months, the market is trading at better levels on a year-over-year basis, the last time being mid-June 2015 (Figure 1). 

So what happened in April that drove the market to new unexpected highs? The answer comes in two parts. First, cattle feeders have been disciplined and determined marketers. They’ve managed to keep the front end current; that’s provided solid bargaining leverage from week to week. 

Second, and more important, that can only occur in a favorable environment; feedyards were selling into stronger cash prices because of solid beef demand. It’s demand that drives the first factor. In other words, without stronger demand, packers aren’t hunting and pricing cattle to encourage feedyards to pull supply ahead.

It’s clear that beef demand has been surprisingly strong as we’ve moved through the spring. And as eluded to above, that miscalculation explains the huge jump as April closed for business. Packers needed to procure supply in preparation for Memorial Day. 

That said, as noted the previous two months, better cattle prices would (or could) come if wholesale demand remained solid.

The real driver, though, for the fed market in coming months resides on the beef side…better prices of late are a positive signal with respect to beef demand. And in light of solid consumer sentiment about the economy, there’s general hope that could be sustained through the spring. 

To that end, why has beef demand been so enduring this spring? 

Some of last month’s coverage is pertinent in answering that question. The discussion below revolves around the industry’s recent landmark in which Prime and Choice aggregated to surpass 80% of the slaughter mix. That occurrence is part of a longer-term trend that’s central to what’s occurred this spring and what we witnessed in April’s market action:

Better carcasses mean better eating experiences and better sales. That’s the result of a long-run commitment to quality by the beef industry. And as noted in the column, “… that is beginning to pay real dividends for the industry. Undoubtedly, this has played an important role with respect to beef demand in recent years.” 

Better beef quality and consistency are underpinning demand creation and pricing power that’s not been experienced previously For more on this, see this week’s Industry At A Glance.

Price moves to the upside are always welcome by sellers. But April’s sharp move underscores another important take-away: no one seems to complain about market volatility when it’s working in a positive manner. However, big price swings—regardless of the direction—make decision-making more difficult. The weekly showlist becomes more consequential amidst a rapidly moving market—and in an upmarket may mean foregoing some of next week’s gains. Hence, back to the wish of having more cattle to sell. 

Heightened volatility is not a new phenomenon. It’s an enduring theme in recent years. Moreover, the market is now working within an environment of record large open interest at the CME and record-large non-commercial long positions (Figure 2). At some point, that’s bound to reverse direction; when that occurs, the fall-out could be sharp and fast. 


So, April could be summarized by better-than-expected beef demand and large price swings: the first a positive tail wind, the second an important business consideration for all producers. With both in mind, as noted every month, producers must remain keenly focused on all factors which potentially influence their business. That consideration mandates access to objective information and dedication of time to analyze and absorb that information. Investment in such helps ensure the likelihood of making good business decisions going forward.  

Nevil Speer is based in Bowling Green, Ky., and serves as vice president of U.S. operations for AgriClear, Inc. – a wholly-owned subsidiary of TMX Group Limited. The views and opinions of the author expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the TMX Group Limited and Natural Gas Exchange Inc.