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Is BRD a battle we’ll never win?

High-risk calves

BRD, or bovine respiratory disease, has been a plague for feedyards probably for about as long as there have been feedyards. You’ll often see it referred to as BRDC, or bovine respiratory disease complex, because it’s not just one disease. It’s a myriad of things, all of which can cause big problems for cattle health and welfare.

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service reports that more than 21% of cattle are affected by BRD. Previous estimates of the annual economic losses due to death, reduced feed efficiency and treatment costs are between $800 and $900 million.

For anyone who’s been around feedyards, that’s not news. I bring it up because BRD is a problem the beef business hasn’t been able to solve. We have the finest vaccines and medicines available to treat BRD, but feedyards just can’t seem to get on top of it.

READ: Controlling BRD begins at the ranch

I also bring it up because I read a research report that looked at what the effect might be of new technologies and management strategies that could result in lower BRD prevalence. Bottom line, the study speculated that a reduction in BRD cases would result in an increase in the beef supply due to lower morbidity and mortality, and an increase in feed costs due to more healthy cattle eating a full ration. On the upside, consumers would benefit from greater supplies of beef and lower costs.

Clearly, any reduction in BRD would be a benefit to feedyards in reduced treatment costs and greater feed efficiency, not to mention animal welfare. The extent to which that will impact the cattle and beef markets can be debated ad nauseum. That’s not my intent here. You can read the research report and come to your own conclusions.

My thought is that we’ll never make any significant improvement in battling BRD, regardless of new technologies or management practices that may come down the road. There are simply too many unvaccinated calves that are weaned on exhaust fumes. BRD may be a feedyard problem, but how calves are managed, or more accurately mismanaged, prior to arriving at the feedlot sets them up for failure or success.

READ: Cow-Calf health: Here's what you can do now

And the people who produce and sell what we call high-risk calves likely won’t adopt new technologies or management practices. Why? Because there are lots of reasons to raise cattle, and profit isn’t always the motive. If it were, those producers would have already received a strong price signal to improve their management.

According to Ed Czerwien, who produces three audio market reports each week for BEEF that you can find on our website, there has long been a price distinction for preconditioned calves. The caveat? There have to be enough to make a load lot. Selling preconditioned calves in numbers less than a truckload may get you a premium, but not much if any.

So unless a producer who has somewhere around the national average of 40 cows, even if doing everything right, sells through some sort of a cooperative or program where small lots can be comingled into load lots, he or she isn’t going to get rewarded for the extra work and costs associated with preconditioning. And some large ranches aren’t set up to precondition or background their calves.

Yet those market signals have been around for a long time. Before Czerwien became a market reporter for USDA’s Market News division, he ran the sale barn at St. Joseph. Mo. At certain times of the year, he would run special sales for weaned and vaccinated calves that had written documentation. Those calves brought a big premium, he says.

READ: Is your herd health program as good as everybody else's?

More recently, he did a study using the data from Superior video auction to see what determined differences in prices. That was quite a few years ago and even then, there was a bigger difference between the price for preconditioned versus unweaned, nonvaccinated calves, at around $10 per cwt., than between steers and heifers. For a 5-weight steer, that’s a difference of $50 a head.

Anecdotally, I’ve heard of the price difference between preconditioned and high-risk calves being as much as $25 per cwt. But even at $10, that’s enough to make adhering to BQA principles well worth the work and cost.

I could go on, but I won’t. The bottom line for BRD is this: until we find a way to reach those producers who don’t vaccinate their calves prior to weaning to change their management philosophy, we’ll never make much of a dent in reducing the incidence of BRD. I’ve been scratching my head over that one for all of the nearly 40 years I’ve been in this business and I haven’t come up with any good ideas. How about you?

Tulare mayor criticizes ag & sparks controversy

Tulare County Farm Bureau Tulare Agriculture

The mayor of Tulare, Calif., Carlton Jones, has found himself in a bit of hot water recently after he posted a series of comments on social media slamming production agriculture in his area.

In part of a longer statement, Jones says, “Ag strips the natural resources and contaminates our groundwater and air.”

After his post which criticized modern agriculture, Jones then challenged anyone who disagreed with him to an open debate but warned these individuals that he has his mind made up.

Keep in mind that Tulare is home to the World Ag Expo, which bills itself as the largest ag show in the world. It boasts 1,500 exhibitors and attracts around 100,000 people from 50 countries.

READ: Tulare mayor takes on ag community


Jones wrote, "You’re having a conversation with someone in your head. Ag depends on people. Ag strips the natural resources and contaminates our groundwater and air. Ag causes asthma and Valley Fever, cancer and kills bees. You can’t educate me. You’re trained. You can share with me what you’ve been trained to think. We can debate the difference between what you think and what I think.”

After his comments were posted on the Facebook group, “My job depends on ag,” which has 81,000 members. Jones says his comments were taken out of context and that he was talking as a private citizen and not as a public official.

READ: On Cheerios, honeybees & cattle grazing

Jones doubled down on his insults adding, "Jobs don't always depend on ag. My job as mayor depends on taxpayers. My job as a firefighter depends on accidents.”

Of course, members of this Facebook group didn’t take to these inaccurate digs kindly. At press time, the post had 539 shares, 699 reactions and hundreds of comments from farmers and ranchers who didn’t take kindly to the mayor’s offhanded comments.

In a statement, Tricia Blattler, Tulare County Farm Bureau executive director said, "As the mayor of a city located in the epicenter of agriculture, his comments reflect a perspective that we would disagree with strongly. While we have work to do in educating this individual we believe his comments should not be allowed to speak for the heart and will of Tulare's citizens, many of which are deeply rooted in agriculture and recognize the positive impact and economic vitality that agriculture provides to our county, state and nation.”

According to an article recapping the events of this ongoing story, the Visalia Times reports, “City of Tulare officials said they have been inundated with calls from media outlets and farmers, all wanting to speak with the mayor. Jones said he's ready to debate.”

Standing firm in his previous positions, Jones said, ”I don't have anything against ag, but ag has its issues. Ag causes asthma. Ag can contaminate groundwater. If it wasn't true, farmers wouldn't be spending time trying to fix those issues. If anyone disagrees, they're wrong.”

READ: Tulare mayor says ag causes cancer & kills bees

Per the Visalia Times, “Eric Bream, ‘My job depends on ag’ administrator, released the following statement:

"Surely he’s not talking about the thousands of generational family farms that built his community and continue to support it. Surely he’s not talking about the many thousands of jobs that ag provides to those who live in his community. Surely he’s not talking about the tax revenue generated by his city when farmers and dairymen buy vehicles, tractors, parts, and services at local businesses. Surely he’s not talking about the folks who sit on school boards after long days of work on farms. Surely he’s not talking about people who live and work on their farms in their community.

"I’ll be the first to admit that ag isn’t perfect and that we have some work to do in certain areas, but for a sitting city leader to have such a disconnect with his community takes ignorance to a whole new level. Mr. Jones, you have a standing invitation to come and spend some time at my family’s farm that has been operating in Tulare County for over 70 years. Hopefully, I can educate you on what it means to be a part of the community. You need it."

READ: What's the best way to handle a biased media reporter?

He is literally biting the hand that feeds him, clothes him, provides transportation for him, lights up his home and put him in political office. If you’ve never been to Tulare, Calif., let me give you an idea of the landscape. After traveling there for several years to speak on behalf of BEEF magazine at the World Ag Expo, I can tell you from firsthand experience that at the heart of Tulare is agricultural production.

You can’t go far in and around Tulare without seeing one kind of a farm or another. In fact, the area around Tulare produces more than 240 agricultural crops including dairy, nuts, citrus, stone fruits, berries, livestock, hay, silage and milk.

READ: Tulare County agricultural facts

According to the Tulare County Farm Bureau, “Tulare County leads the nation in dairy production. Milk is the first agricultural commodity worth $1.6 billion in the 2016 report. Tulare County also ranks again in the top three of all farm counties in America. Kern and Fresno were respectively #1 and #2 this past year.  

“Agriculture is the largest private employer in the county with farm employment accounting for nearly a quarter of all jobs. Processing, manufacturing, and service to the agriculture industry provides many other related jobs. Six of the top 15 employers in the county are food handling or processing companies, which includes fruit packing houses and dairy processing plants. One in every five jobs in the San Joaquin Valley is directly related to agriculture.

“If Tulare County were a state, it would rank very high in the U.S. in agricultural production. The county has 45 crops worth more than $1 million each in farm gate gross value.”

So obviously, Mr. Jones, if one in every five jobs in the area you serve as a political official is directly connected to agriculture, then yes, your job depends on agriculture. What’s more, if you eat, travel, wear clothes, use electricity or utilize any type of technology in your job, then you need agriculture in your daily life.

Perhaps one of the best responses was written by Janet Golden, another administrator on the “My job depends on agriculture” Facebook page. Golden debunks many of Jones’ claims, and because of length, I won’t post it on this blog post, but I encourage you to check it out by clicking here.

If I were a gambler, I would place good money that the rural community in Tulare will show up to the next election in masses to let Jones know what they think about these ignorant comments.

It just goes to show we have a lot of work to do in agriculture, and sitting back and letting doubt, mistrust and confusion take over consumer sentiments is not going to help the long-term success and sustainability of today’s farmers and ranchers. We better get to work in telling our story before someone else, like Jones, does the talking for us.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.

MIDDAY Midwest Digest, May 22, 2018

It's hard to save money. There is more evidence to support that more American's aren't prepared for unplanned bills. 

Dust in the heartland could have come from South Dakota, where farmers planted more than 40% of their corn crop in one week.

Illinois' population is not growing. 

Brett Favre talks about his addictions during his career. Maybe his story can help those currently addicted to drugs.

Fed Cattle Recap | Cash prices tumble

The cash market for fed cattle is, in many respects, much like the weather. Even those who have all the technology and tools and experience they can amass sometimes get their predictions wrong. And, like the weather, if you don’t like it, just be patient. It will change.

That certainly was the case for the fed cattle market for the week ending May 19. But up until now, cattle feeders very likely were happy with how the market has performed so far this year.

And while everyone knew that cash prices would turn south, the magnitude of the drop took many market watchers by surprise.

Looking first at the volume of cattle traded, the Five Area formula sales volume totaled 230,545 head, compared with about 216,462 the previous week. The Five Area total cash steer and heifer volume was 96,657 head, compared with about 119,383 head the previous week.

The national cash sales for the week include about 51,496 head of 15 to 30-day delivery along with 40,000 head the previous week. This week, almost half of the national cash sales were 15 to 30-day delivery.

The estimated weekly total federally inspected cattle harvest was 660,000 head, compared with 612,000 head the same week last year.  The current year-to-date total is about 334,000 head higher than last year and 965,000 head higher than the same period in 2016.

So we’ve had two years of big volume increases in total cattle harvest. We’re half way through the year and we’re running just short of a million head above 2016.

Nationally reported forward contract cattle harvest was about 44,000 head, compared with about 41,000 head the previous week. The packers have about 202,000 head of forward contracts for May along with about 220,000 head for June.

Now looking at the prices, the weekly weighted average cash steer price for the Five Area region was $114.73 per cwt, compared with $121.65 the previous week, down $6.92. The weighted average cash dressed steer price for the Five Area region was $184.02, compared with $191.99 the previous week, a drop of $7.97. These very big drops in cash prices no doubt impacted some by the 15 to 30-day delivery prices.

The Five Area weighted average formula price was $198.83 per cwt, compared with $198.95 the previous week, showing that formula sales follow cash sale trends more slowly.

The latest average national steer carcass weight for week ending May 5 was 849 pounds, 1 pound lower than the previous week but still quite a bit higher than the 832 pounds recorded the same week last year. Weights a year ago dropped 15 pounds and were the low weights for the year. 

The Choice-Select spread was $23.79 on Friday, compared with $22.28 the previous week and a $25.72 spread a year ago. Last year this spread jumped to $30 in June so we will watch it closely.                                                                    

 

U.S. beef making headway in Brazil

Port of Los Angeles port of los angeles

It has been just over one year since U.S. beef returned to the Brazilian market, following a long absence due to the December 2003 discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in the U.S.

Cheyenne McEndaffer, U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) technical services manager, recently traveled to Brazil and provided an update on how demand for U.S. beef is developing.

McEndaffer said Brazil opened for U.S. beef exports in the fall of 2016, but because the country has some fairly complicated plant label registration requirements, no U.S. product was shipped until the spring of 2017.

“A year later, we are shipping, but we only have about three to four approved suppliers,” she said.

McEndaffer noted that U.S. picanha (top sirloin cap) was expected to perform well in Brazil, and demand for this cut has been strong. Brazilian buyers are also interested in U.S. loins, ribs, tri-tips and livers. She joined several USMEF member companies in São Paulo, Brazil, for the APAS Supermarket Show, one of South America's largest food trade shows, to discuss these and other U.S. beef cuts with prospective customers.

“We had a few members that had booths set up within the U.S. pavilion. We took an opportunity to meet with their Brazilian offices to discuss some of the challenges of bringing product in,” she said, adding that they also met with importers who are currently buying or interested in buying to learn more about the interest.

McEndaffer said the trip additionally included efforts to learn more about import procedures for the various states and ports.

“We wanted to learn if there was a national standard or if the import procedures vary by state,” she explained. “What we found is that there are absolutely state variance, and we tried to make note of those to help our exporters be better informed and prepared.”

10 pro-ag TED Talks to watch

Amanda Radke Allen Savory

What is your preferred method for receiving information? Is it print magazines and newspapers? Online publications? Podcasts? Radio? Audio books? Documentaries? How about TED Talks?

READ: 10 podcasts ranchers love

In this digital age, there are more opportunities than ever for farmers, ranchers and consumers alike to dissect new research, discuss innovative ideas and explore new avenues for feeding a growing planet.

Of course, having the opportunity to provide the public with credible information about modern day production practices is extremely beneficial; however, the opposition has those same opportunities.

For example, Netflix’s video library is full of anti-agriculture, drama-filled documentaries produced to scare the living daylights out of every consumer anytime they walk into the grocery store. These documentaries, however fictitious they may be, always seem to get a lot of attention and add fuel to the animal welfare and environmental activists’ fires.

So what can we do to get the other side of the conversation in front of our consumers?

READ: Netflix documentary "Down the Fence" highlights ranch life

It starts with promoting positive agriculture stories and speakers.

I recently ran across a top 10 list of recommended agricultural TED Talks. While I haven’t listened to all of them yet, the ones I have checked out were relevant, informative and impactful in telling the modern production agriculture story.

Compiled by Tim Hammerich, agribusiness recruiter for the “Future of Agriculture” podcast, this list was published on LinkedIn.

Here are a few examples of the recommended TED Talks worth listening to:

  • Allen Savory's "How to Green the World's Deserts and Reverse Climate Change”
  • Pamela Ronald's "The Case for Engineering Our Food”
  • Carl Peterson's "The Challenge of Feeding a Growing Population”
  • Lauren Riensche's "Dinner Reservations for 9 Billion”
  • Stephen Ritz's "Growing Our Way Into a New Economy”

Click here to view the entire list and let me know what you think.

Which TED Talks would you add to this list? Shoot me an email at [email protected] or comment below with your suggestions.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.

MORNING Midwest Digest, May 22, 2018

The incoming NRA president is blaming a "culture of violence" for the recent school shootings. "We're treating the symptom without treating the disease," he says.

Since 1990, more than 150 children and adults have been killed in shootings in American schools.

There was market optimism yesterday about the U.S.-China trade spat. 

Airports are interesting places to watch the crowd. In San Antonio yesterday, a baboon escaped a crate.

Farm Progress America, May 22, 2018

Max Armstrong offers insight on the opioid crisis including a unique potential solution. A USDA official says increasing access to high-speed Internet service could be a solution to the problem. The options for distance learning and access to information would be improved, including help with healthcare.

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.

Photo: monsitj/iStock/Getty Images

Does creep feeding pay in dry years?

Close up of calf sucking

By Sandy Johnson

Creep feeding as a management tool has been around for a long time. And it has both its proponents and its detractors. But does drought change the economics of replacing forage with supplement for both the cow and her calf?

During drought, many people often look to creep feeding to support calf weaning weights. If creep feeding could decrease the nursing pressure on the cow and lower milk production, presumably the feed needed by the cow would be reduced. Additionally, this may allow the cow’s body condition and reproductive performance to improve.

Unfortunately, research does not support these assumptions. Calves receiving creep feed will spend just as much time nursing as those without creep feed and daily milk production is not changed. That holds true for situations when forage availability is relatively normal or limited.

Creep feeding is a tool most applicable to cow-calf producers who want to increase weights of calves marketed at weaning. As with any tool, there are situations where it fits and where it does not. Factors that should be evaluated before creep feeding include the cost of the feed, expected efficiency of gain based on the type of feed, the difference in value at marketing considering the price slide and forage conditions.

The preference for the calf seems to be milk, creep feed and then forage. When forage quality is low, creep feeding can make a bigger difference in weight gain because the feed is much higher in energy than the forage.

Conversely, when forage quality is very high, creep feeding may only have a minimal impact on gain. Drought’s impact on forage quality is variable based on the timing, type of forage and the extent of the stress. Nutrient density can be higher in drier years because the reduction in stem growth may exceed the reduction in leaf growth.

Both quality and quantity of forage available are critical in animal performance. If drought is limiting quantity of forage and, subsequently, milk production, creep feeding will help calf performance. However, if forage availability is so low that milk production is reduced, early weaning would conserve cow body condition and reduce forage and water demand for lactation.

This may allow cows to remain on pasture longer without overgrazing and should reduce feed and the overall cost to have cows in appropriate body condition at calving. A short period of creep feeding may benefit the weaning transition and increase early intake of the weaning ration.

To help determine the profitability of creep feeding, use the spreadsheet “Creep Feeding Calculations” on www.ksubeef.org.  

Sandy Johnson is an Extension livestock production specialist with Kansas State University.