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Articles from 2000 In June


Ranching for Profit: Three Secrets For Increasing Profits

Any business has only three choices: make it profitable, subsidize the business or go out of business (bankruptcy). Whether we realize it or not, most of us choose the second option - we subsidize our businesses.

I'm not talking about government subsidies but rather the ways in which we subsidize ourselves. Living off inherited wealth and appreciating land values, relying on off-farm income to make ends meet and working for less than it would cost to replace yourself are all ways we subsidize our ranches.

I assume most ranchers would rather not have to subsidize their ranches and would prefer to make profit. Businesses have only three ways to increase profit. At Ranch Management Consultants we call them the three secrets. They are:

* Reduce overhead costs.

* Improve gross margin per unit.

* Increase turnover.

Reduce overhead costs - Overhead costs are those costs that don't change much as livestock numbers change. Land and labor costs are two types of overheads. Any costs related to land (i.e., fencing or water trough repairs, property taxes, leases, etc.) are overheads. Likewise, any costs related to labor (i.e., salaries and benefits, vehicles and equipment costs, etc.) are labor overheads. Economists sometimes call these fixed costs. But, they are not fixed; they can be changed, and that is one of the three secrets for increasing profit.

Improve gross margin per unit - Gross margin is a measure of the economic efficiency of your livestock. It's calculated by subtracting the direct costs of production from gross product. Direct costs are those costs that increase or decrease as cow numbers increase or decrease. Direct costs include feed, health, freight, marketing commissions and interest on livestock loans.

Gross product refers to the gross value of production. This includes livestock sales minus purchases. It also includes changes in the value of your herd. Total gross margin is divided by the number of animals in the herd to calculate gross margin per unit. Increasing gross margin per unit (the efficiency of production) is another way to increase profit.

Increase turnover - In ranching, "turnover" is the number of animal units carried. If gross margin is positive, increasing turnover will increase profit if it doesn't increase land or labor costs or damage the resource base. Nevertheless, increasing the number of units is pointless if each unit makes a negative contribution toward overhead costs.

As an industry we historically have tried to increase profit by increasing production (increasing gross product). We have done an amazing job increasing conception rates and weaning rates. In fact, I'm told the average beef cow in Alberta produces 20% more pounds of beef/year than she did just 20 years ago. So why aren't we 20% more profitable?

Part of the answer is obvious: the increased production resulted from, among other things, increasing direct costs (i.e., feed, health products, etc.). But there is more to the story. Those direct costs had to be administered by someone (increasing labor overheads) somewhere (increasing land overheads).

On most ranches today, overheads account for 60-80% of total costs. It is the cost of building and maintaining the infrastructure we created to increase our efficiency that has depressed profit.

Imagine a chain with three economic links: overheads, gross margin per unit and turnover. If the gross margin link is weak, strengthening the overhead and turnover links won't make the chain stronger. In fact, they may make the chain weaker by putting more stress on the weak link.

In the next article, we'll discuss how to find the weak link for your business. It's critical if you want to be ranching for profit.

David Pratt of Ranch Management Consultants teaches the Ranching for Profit School. For more information visit www.ranchmanagement.com, or contact him at 707/429-2292 or e-mail: [email protected]

Preparing for drought grazing

The predictions of a hot, dry summer continue. Coupled with less than normal snow pack in most of the mountain ranges, pastures and harvested feed may be in short supply in late summer and fall.

This isn't a certainty, but compounding the problem is that some areas were dry last year, and the subsoil moisture is not there to carry through another dry year. I am advising livestock producers to book hay and other feeds that they plan to use this fall.

In some areas, the Bureau of Land Management and other government grazing land agencies are restricting the turning out of cattle onto the range due to insufficient moisture for grass or forbs to grow. Their concern is for the sometimes fragile ecosystem, but cows and calves won't do well either with reduced feed. This puts additional pressure on hay fields and meadows, which in turn may reduce hay tonnage and limit fall grazing.

I encourage producers to be prepared for what may happen this grazing season by having a contingency plan. Several factors to consider include:

* Cull all open and older, poor- doing cows.

* Save the best feed for first- and second-calf heifers.

* Supplement the cow herd with by-product feeds, straw, grain hays or other cheap feed sources.

* Creep feed calves.

* Early wean the calves.

The Best Way To Supplement

What is the best (cheapest) feed to supplement the cow herd? It depends a lot on location. Whatever feed is available to the producer in quantity and price is what I try to work into the ration, keeping in mind that in a limited feed situation, dry matter and fiber may be as important as protein and energy.

In these times, vitamin and mineral supplementation may be more critical than at other times. (I stressed the importance of water in my May column, "Water - the overlooked nutrient," page 18).

Byproduct feeds such as cottonseed and sunflower seed hulls, citrus pulp, malt sprouts, wheat midds, low test weight grains, beet pulp and soy hulls are some of the feed sources that I use. High fiber sources (hays) include small grain hays, millet, straw and grass straw or hay.

One beef Extension specialist suggests that even 2-year-old straw in good condition may be used, as it may be more easily digested than newer straw. Treating straw or other fibrous roughage with molasses or ammonia may make the feed more palatable while increasing the feed value.

Early weaning of calves may be a viable option for producers. After four months, the cow's milk production is declining, the calf's nutrient requirements are increasing, and the calf is obtaining more nutrients from other sources.

The Benefits Of Early Weaning It's always more efficient to feed the calf directly rather that feed the cow to produce milk for the calf. It usually takes 15-20% less energy to feed the calf by itself than to feed a cow nursing a calf. By removing the calves from the cows or creep feeding the calves, grazing pressure is reduced and the cow's nutrient requirements are lower.

If the decision is made to early wean the calves, they should be presented a creep feed 20-30 days prior to weaning. This allows them to get accustomed to the ration and minimizes stress.

The diet of early-weaned calves needs to be high in energy, high in protein, highly digestible and balanced for vitamins and minerals. Producers may feed a total concentrate ration if time allows sufficient supervision. But, most producers should feed a high-quality hay in limited amounts with a good concentrate supplement.

Pelleting the supplement prevents sorting of the ingredients and also ensures that calves get a balanced ration and the cost is minimal. Molasses, anise oil (licorice), bubble gum flavor, apple or other additives may be added to increase palatability. Intake is very critical in early-weaned calves.

Corn is usually the most cost-efficient ingredient for creep or early weaning feeds, but calves tend to become overly fleshy. Oats and dehy are good "safe" feed sources as are wheat midds because they cause few digestive problems.

I usually recommend using wheat midds as the primary ingredient in a pellet because they are a good source of digestible fiber, medium source of protein and energy, and are high in phosphorus. Wheat midds do not cause acidosis or bloat, and these are critical management factors during the busy summers.

One concern of some producers is that early-weaned calves will not perform as well in the feedlot as later- weaned calves. In most cases, this hasn't proven to be true. In reality, early-weaned calves of larger breeds may finish at a lighter weight (1,100-1,200 lbs.) rather than at the heavier weights that may be discounted. However, this is highly dependent on the total program.

As always, most recommendations are good, but they have to fit each individual's operation and be both cost-effective and time-effective. Producers need to be cost-conscious even in these times of good prices.

Editor's note: For comprehensive information on byproduct feed values, see the March issue of BEEF ("2000 Feed Guide," page 10) or visit www.beef-mag.com for the online version.

David Wieland is a nutrition consultant specializing in cow/calf, feedlot and horses. Based in Shepherd, MT, Wieland also publishes a subscription newsletter. For more information, contact him at 406/373-5512 or e-mail at [email protected]

Individual ID offers expontential value

If cattle producers had a nickel for every time during the past several years that some industry guru declared: "You can't manage what you can't measure," their saddlebags would be bursting at the seams. If those same producers had already followed that advice, however, profits might be easier to come by.

"Everyone is worried about carcass traits, and rightfully so, but one of the reasons we're doing this is to see how efficient we can be," says Mark Williams of the Twin Oaks Ranch at Canton, TX. He's explaining the electronic individual identification (ID) and records management his family is using to boost the net returns of their commercial operation.

Specifically, Williams says, "Electronic identification will not make you money. It is a mechanism to make you more efficient and reduce the overall cost, then more effectively channel cattle to defined targets."

Indeed. Will Pape, chairman of the board for AgInfoLink Global, Inc. says in his family's stocker operation, "When we started weighing animals before and after trucking we discovered one trucker consistently delivered cattle with 1.5 percent more shrink. Because we had individual measures, we also knew the impact of that lasted six weeks... These impacts are not visible at group level, only on an individual basis."

Whether it's cows, calves or feeders, Pape explains, "There is more variability within groups than there is across groups." As an example, a group of 418 stocker calves posted an average daily gain of 2.3 lbs. four weeks after receiving. But, individual gain ranged from 0.7 lb. to more than 4 lbs.

"You have 30-40 percent variation in that group. That's what I continue to see when I look at the data," says Pape. Using individual data to make management decisions has added $30/head to his revenue and reduced per-head cost $7-8.

The reality of potential economic return - for a cost of $5 per head or so, depending on the system - might at least make a mandatory national ID system palatable.

At the recent inaugural meeting of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture, John Wiemers, national ID director for USDA's Animal and Health Plant Inspection Service, had this to say. "The private sector will have three years to develop livestock ID systems that work... At the end of three years, livestock ID will become mandatory unless the industry has evolved to where it is already doing it as a course of business."

Whether or not Uncle Sam ever makes such a system mandatory, their interest is easy to understand.

"When you as a cattleman send your cattle from the farm, they are no longer your cows or your calves. They are food for the public," says Wiemers. And, as the nation's longstanding de facto national ID systems - including the Brucellosis eradication program - come to a close via the commitment of producers, the government is facing a cattle supply it cannot track.

So, Wiemers says a standardized national system is needed to protect the national herd from disease, to monitor health and productivity, and to expand domestic and international markets. Globally, the U.S. is already a fair step behind countries like some in Europe that can tell consumers the specific farm from where a specific cut of beef originates.

It's Also A Competitive Tool Besides, adds Williams of Twin Oaks Ranch: "From an industry perspective, we have to do certain things to set ourselves apart from the other protein sources." In other words, beef needs to document the food safety advantages it possesses, relative to the competition.

"It's not the packers' problem and it's not the feeders' problem, it's all of our problem," says Williams. Plus, closer to home he believes individual ID reduces his liability. If anyone ever comes knocking, he can verify the health and management of every head that has walked his pastures.

Moreover, Williams says, "I'm all for a national data base because right now you have a situation where the first person who puts a tag in the ear is bearing all of the up-front costs of enrolling the animal in an ID system."

Obviously, developing a national system - voluntary or mandatory - currently raises more questions than answers. Who will own the data? Who will have access to it? How much cost does it add to the system?

However, as these questions and others are sorted, Williams suggests, "Producers need to sit down and figure out where they want to be in five years, in 10 years and what target they're going after." Then use the power of individual ID, coupled with individual management to get there.

"What we're delving into is not a silver bullet," says Williams. "It is a holistic approach to look at every aspect of the animal and its profit or loss throughout its life."

Drought is a concern

The cattle market continued to rack up solid gains in April. Choice slaughter cattle in the Amarillo area moved up another $2 and ended the month close to $74/cwt. Feeder cattle and calves didn't fare as well as prices moved lower in mid-month and then increased in the final week. Heavy weight feeders were again scarce and price quotations difficult to find in the Texas feedlot area.

Cattle and calves on feed for the slaughter market in the U.S. located in feedlots with capacities of 1,000 head or more totaled 11.19 million head on April 1. This is 8% above last year but the smallest gain in three months. Kansas and Texas recorded the largest percentage increases. Nebraska and Colorado also recorded healthy gains.

Feedlot cattle marketings in March reached 2.05 million head, only 3% larger than last year. This helped the cattle market in March. Major gains came in Kansas and Nebraska, each with 11% more. Texas increased just under 1%.

The really good news in this latest report was a 1% decrease in feedlot placements in March. At 2.03 million head, it's the lowest level in three years and is encouraging for cattle feeders later in the year. Only Nebraska and Colorado recorded significant increases in placements over a year ago.

Cattle and calf placements by weight groups were down for every size class except the heaviest. The 800 lbs.-or-more category was up 22%. All others were 7-13% lower.

Fed cattle prices are probably at their highest yearly levels right now or close to them. The increased feedlot marketings, resulting from last winter's large placements, will weigh heavily on this summer's market. Feedlot movement in March was light and suggests substantial fed cattle marketings are just down the road.

Feeder cattle and calves still have a good outlook for most of summer and into fall. There may be price weakness if feds slacken, but not much. More important to the feeder market will be the range and grazing situation.

Texas hasn't recovered from last year's drought and is embarking on another one. That could make things tough this summer. Strong heifer prices combined with high hay costs might cause ranchers to reevaluate their plans to expand breeding herds.

A good omen on fall calf prices

We're nearing the end of our 35-day breeding season. We'll take the bulls out a week before the cows go to summer range.

We treated the bull with foot rot, confining him for six days in a corral where we carried him feed and water. When he recovered enough to walk, we put him back with his group of cows and took the spare bull out. We kept track of which cows were bred to that bull, so if we keep a heifer or a bull calf, we'll know the sire.

The main concern in using a bull after recovery from foot rot is that he might have temporary infertility due to the fever that commonly accompanies this condition. Fever adversely affects the formation of sperm being produced during that time.

But, we'll gamble on this bull the rest of our breeding season since it's so short; the infertility comes about 60 days after the fever, when those defective sperm mature.

It's Been A Cold Spring We usually have pasture by late April, but this year we had to stretch our hay longer and buy a few bales. By early May, we were able to take some cows to our 160-acre mountain pasture and a group to another piece of dryland.

Spring is a frenzied time. It's also a time of renewal and hope. We're on the edge of a drought area, but we hope to have moisture for a good grass crop, and enough water in the creek to make the hay - and hopefully irrigate the fields again to grow a little fall pasture for the calves.

We're gambling there will be regrowth this year since our son wants to hold the calves longer and get them a little bigger before sale. We usually sell them in early October, but he opted to hold them until early November.

Calf prices give us cause for optimism; a lot of calves are already being contracted - unusual for this early. This seems a good omen; buyers would be reluctant to commit to a contract if they thought market prices might go down.

The satellite auction representative came last week to video our calves. The cows in the fields came when we called and grouped around us.

We like our cattle gentle. Calm cattle are easy to handle at calving time or when working or sorting them. They also tend to do better in the feedlot than high-strung, untrained cattle, and are more likely to produce tender beef and fewer dark cutters at harvest.

Heather Smith Thomas and her husband Lynn own and operate the Sky Range Ranch in Salmon, ID.

Stomping down on foot rot

The rains have come, the pastures look great, and the stockers seem full and content. But, today you notice one animal lying down when all the others are up and grazing.

As you approach, the calf gets up and moves away but is dead lame on the right rear leg. On closer inspection, you note that just above the hoof seems swollen, the toes are separated and the area between the toes appears reddened. You may have your first case of foot rot for the summer grazing season.

Foot rot (Necrotic Pododermatitis, Interdigital Necrobacillosis) is one of the most common causes of lameness in cattle. But, it's also arguably the most misdiagnosed and overdiagnosed lameness in cattle.

There Are Many Causes There are many causes of lameness. Not every limping calf has foot rot. Fortunately, the signs of foot rot are pretty characteristic. Unfortunately, ruling out all the other causes of lameness requires that you restrain the calf and pick up the foot.

Correctly diagnosing foot rot is more than just an academic exercise. Lack of response to treatment is often due to misdiagnosis. Even more economically significant is the calf who has a lameness due to a condition in which timely marketing could salvage much of the calf's value. If we are in the habit of treating all lameness as foot rot, antibiotic withdrawals will prevent us from being able to salvage the calf.

But, let's assume you've carefully examined the foot and didn't find any wires, nails or other reasons for the lameness. You noted a characteristic odor, and it seems the calf has a bona fide case of foot rot. Why does this disease occur, and what are the prevention techniques and treatments?

The bacteria Fusobacterium necrophorum and/or Bacteroides melaninogenicus cause foot rot in cattle. These bacteria are common in the environment and F. necrophorum is present in the rumen and feces of normal cattle. F. necrophorum has been shown to survive in the soil for up to 10 months.

To become infected and exhibit signs - this takes about five days - the continuity of the foot skin must be broken. This provides entry for the infectious agent that is present in the environment. When objects such as stones, plant stubble, wire, nails, and/or glass injure skin of the interdigital space - even microscopically - infection may result.

In many instances, conditions around feed bunks and watering areas are conducive to hoof injury. Exposure to manure-laden mud or water; frozen, rough ground; or extreme drought may also contribute to infection by these organisms. High temperatures and excess moisture or humidity also cause the skin between the claws to chap or crack, allowing bacteria to invade. Foot rot incidence varies with weather, season and pen or pasture condition.

Prevention Strategies Management procedures that eliminate insults to the skin between the toes will contribute to the prevention of foot rot. Two key insults are chronic exposure to wetness, such as mud, and objects that get between the toes and break the skin.

In the feedlot, good pen maintenance is key. Making sure pens are free of sharp objects such as stones or glass or frozen, muddy, rough ground will aid in preventing foot injury and infection.

Building mounds is a common preventive measure. Mounds promote drainage and give cattle a dry place to rest. Mounds should allow 10-20 sq. ft./head and be oriented to receive maximum exposure to the sun.

Feed additive preventive agents can be used in outbreak situations. Aureomycin (chlortetracycline) is labeled for prevention of foot rot in beef cattle at a dosage of 100mg/head/day for cattle over 700 lbs.

Extra-label drug use privileges (i.e., higher dosages) do not extend to feed additive drugs. Ethylene Diamine Dihydriodide (EDDI) cannot be added to feed to control foot rot, but it can be used as a nutritional source of iodine. The maximum level of EDDI in the diet allowed by FDA is 10 mg/head/day.

A variety of nutritional supplements has been suggested to affect the incidence of foot rot. To our knowledge, there haven't been published scientific reports of efficacy for these products.

Dairies use walk-through footbaths containing 5% solution of copper sulfate or 5% formalin. These procedures are cumbersome and inconvenient in most feedyards and pastures.

Volar (Bayer) and Fusogard (ImmTech Biologics) are licensed vaccines consisting of strains of F. necrophorum. Two doses are required for protection.

Medication Speeds Recovery While some cases of foot rot heal spontaneously, the spontaneous cure rate is unknown, and it's widely believed that medication speeds recovery. Approved antibiotics for the treatment of foot rot include Naxcel, Nuflor, Liquamycin LA-200 and other brands of long-acting oxytetracycline, Sulmet and other sulfamethzine boluses, sulfadimethoxine oral solution or powder, and tetracycline powder. Remember that use of Naxcel, Nuflor or any of these drugs other than according to label directions requires a veterinary-client-patient relationship along with a veterinary prescription.

If feasible, local treatment by cleaning the foot, trimming dead tissue and applying an antiseptic may be of benefit.

Treatment is optimized when an appropriate dose is given as soon as possible after discovery. If treated early, response is quick and recovery can be expected in three to four days. When treatment is delayed, recovery is significantly delayed or fails.

When foot rot fails to respond to medication and terminates as a suppurative arthritis, claw or hoof amputation may be used to correct the condition and make the animal suitable for marketing.

Louis Perino, DVM, PhD, is a professor of immunology, health and management at West Texas A&M University in Canyon. Gerald Stokka, DVM, MS, is an associate professor and Extension beef veterinarian at Kansas State University in Manhattan.

Election-year plundering

Preservationists and environmental extremists appear to be stretching for the finish line in a mad dash to get their agendas in the hopper before the November elections. Maybe they know something the rest of us aren't quite willing to predict - that Al Gore won't be our next president, and, after eight long years, there will be a political buffer zone placed between the extremes and common sense natural resource users.

From the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse to grizzly bears, endangered species are taking center stage in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (USFWS) run to fill a slate of candidate species.

* Idaho's sharp-tailed grouse population appears to be the highest in 40 years, but federal officials are sorting through the Endangered Species Act listing comments received earlier this spring. The Idaho Fish and Game Department have joined Gem State ranching groups in opposing the grouse listing.

* Idahoans aren't working alone, as the USFWS continues its plan to reintroduce grizzly bears to the Selway-Bitterroot ecosystem that straddles the Montana/Idaho border. Despite widespread opposition by state wildlife agencies, politicians and agricultural groups in both states, the first bunch of grizzlies could be released sometime later this year.

* Meanwhile, Western ranchers are watching the proposed listing of the lynx as an endangered species. But, remember, lynx habitat as specified in the listing includes all lower 48 states. The habitat issue is likely to be the subject of litigation while opponents dissect the lynx listing proposal.

* The Bureau of Land Management recently released its proposed management plan for the Soda Mountain Area in Oregon. The BLM proposes to limit grazing as the White House considers designating the Soda Mountain region as a national monument because of its rare and diverse mix of plants, topography and wildlife.

* Wyoming ranchers are wincing as the U.S Forest Service revises its management of the Thunder Basin National Grasslands. New standards in the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the area, which takes a huge bite out of northwestern Wyoming, places severe restrictions on all commodity uses and would virtually strangle livestock grazing activities.

* Last but certainly not least, there's Nevada's Black Rock Desert. U.S. Senator Richard Bryan (D-NV) will introduce a bill in Congress (S. 2273) to create a 690,000-acre national conservation area for the Black Rock Desert region. The bill would designate the Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area. This designation would affect 13 ranchers who have grazing permits within the proposed area.

The tone of this hell-bent-for-election rush to promote preservation in a politically expedient fashion can be summed up with a look at the Wyoming Thunder Basin DEIS. Nowhere, nowhere, in thousands of pages, does it place livestock grazing in a favorable light.

Bill Laycock, a Laramie, WY, range scientist, says it best in his analysis of the plan: "The U.S. Forest Service deliberately promoted discord and contention among well-meaning Americans who may have different beliefs concerning management of these lands."

It's likely that, as the political rhetoric heats up over the next few months, these and other resource-based issues will be little more than undercurrents on a national scale.

Livestock interests can be more than innocent bystanders, though. This national election will be one of the most important in decades when it comes to the long-term, multiple use of our natural resources. We can all work to be sure word gets out on these issues - at the right times and in the right places - so enough "well-meaning Americans" will help slam the window on radical environmental agendas that threaten the ranching way of life.

Another Look At Minerals

New findings are forcing even the cattle-feeding industry to take an entinrely new look at trace mineral supplementation.

Don't overlook the importance of trace minerals and trace mineral supplementation. That's the message spreading around the country following some landmark cattle nutrition research conducted over the past few years.

All classes of cattle need trace minerals for vitamin synthesis, hormone production and enzyme activity. These functions, along with collagen formation, tissue synthesis, oxygen transport and energy production, are processes important to growth, reproduction and overall animal health.

The problem for ranchers and cattle feeders is that most times there just aren't enough minerals or mineral combinations in forages and grain-based rations to meet the demands we place on cattle in today's production environments. Further, it's becoming increasingly clear there are regions of the country where some important minerals are critically low in pastures and harvested forages - and these mineral deficiencies follow cattle all the way to the feedyard.

Recent forage survey data show large areas in Texas, Montana and Arkansas where copper and zinc, especially, are deficient in many common forages. Data show that more than 60% of the forages across the country are short in recommended levels of copper, and nearly all regions are deficient in zinc.

John Paterson, Montana State University-Bozeman (MSU), Extension beef specialist, and MSU researcher Ray Ansotegui went a step further though, coordinating liver biopsy testing of 1,200 cows in Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Texas. The biopsies were used to determine variations in copper, zinc, manganese and molybdenum in cattle livers.

They report a large percentage of cows from Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota were considered to be of marginal copper status. Copper is an element that plays an important role in fighting infectious diseases. More than 55% of the cows from Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota had liver copper levels below 30 ppm, which is considered deficient. Approximately 69% of the cattle surveyed in these states had marginal (less than 60 ppm) copper levels in their livers.

"We can certainly see reproduction problems, as well as reduced disease resistance, with sub-clinical mineral deficiencies," says Connie Swenson, Eden Prairie, MN, a research nutritionist with Zinpro Corp. "Growth, feed intake and feed efficiency may also be adversely impacted."

Swenson, a former research associate at Montana State University (MSU), believes sub-clinical mineral deficiencies may be a larger problem than acute deficiencies because producers simply cannot see the problem in individual animals. When decreased rates of gain and feed efficiency are realized, or when pull rates rise, feedyard operators might begin to suspect mineral deficiencies.

Meeting All The Specs These trace mineral deficiencies are becoming better understood as animal diagnostic methods improve and producers fine-tune management to shave health treatment costs, according to Paterson and Ansotegui, who have worked extensively with Swenson.

"This work builds on the foundation of other research across the country - especially research by Jerry Spears at North Carolina State University," says Paterson. "We've also worked with ranchers, feeders and veterinarians to make sure we're asking the right questions. There is definitely a link between trace minerals and the immune system."

It's this business of immune response that hit home with Al Perez last summer. For the past several years, Perez, general manager of ConAgra Better Beef, LLC, Greeley, CO, has insisted on a vaccine-based pre-conditioning program for calves coming into his finishing program. But, Perez has continued to see health "breaks" in pens of cattle from some regions.

Last summer, Paterson happened to be in the Greeley area and walked through some of the ConAgra pens with Perez.

"John suggested there might be a mineral deficiency with some of these cattle," explains Perez. "As we looked further into it, the only difference we could come up with was in mineral programs - the calves met all the other specs."

Trace mineral deficiencies were then identified and addressed. Perez and Paterson saw a tremendous improvement in overall pen health.

"A lot of the cattle we saw with health problems were otherwise big, strong calves from areas noted for good genetics and top-notch management," adds Perez. "But, they were actually quite naive when it came to their immune system."

Given his experience, Perez emphasizes that an adequate calfhood vaccination program needs to be coupled with carefully planned trace mineral supplementation.

Feedyard owner Bob Capser, Edgar, MT, agrees with Perez.

"I can't emphasize enough the importance of a good trace mineral program," says Capser. "If your cattle are trace mineral deficient, or if the mineral balance is out of whack, you're just throwing vaccines and antibiotics away."

Capser goes as far to suggest that priority be placed as much, if not more, on trace mineral supplementation as on vaccination in a pre-conditioning program.

From Ranch To Feedyard Unless he's sure the mineral program a rancher has been using is working properly, Capser will automatically include a chelated copper supplement to starter rations as calves come into his feedlot. His trace mineral regime costs about $1.50/head for 30 days. Compared to shelling out $15-20 to treat a sick calf, Capser says that's not a bad investment.

"Everybody wins when you can cut costs like that - especially when you figure you're getting more from your health program." He notes that in his area the copper/zinc balance is important - and feels most Montana forages already have enough zinc.

"This business of trace minerals is one of the most critical management factors we're facing today," adds Capser. "We've fed cattle from two neighboring ranches - one with a good trace mineral program and one without - it's not hard to figure where we had the wreck. We know where we'll go looking for calves next year and where we won't bother going back."

Long story short: Paterson, along with Capser and Perez, suggests ranchers consider testing their forages for mineral content or screen their herd for mineral deficiencies through liver biopsies - then work with a nutritionist to match the trace mineral needs to the needs of the cattle.

"We've done a great job developing and using vaccines," says Paterson. "Now we need to use what we are discovering about minerals and put it to work in a complete herd-health package - from ranch to feedyard."

For more information contact MSU's John Paterson at 406/994-5562.

Traditionally, trace mineral supplements have been fed in the form of inorganic sulfates, oxides, carbonates and chlorides. But, John Paterson, Montana State University Extension beef specialist, leans more toward organic trace minerals because he sees evidence of improved feed efficiency, growth, reproduction and immune response.

"We need to define the conditions where performance or health responses can be expected with organic trace minerals," he notes. "But, there's data out there that show organic minerals have higher bio-availability than inorganic forms."

The organic forms appear to have greater value when an animal is under nutritional, disease or production stress, according to Connie Swenson, Eden Prairie, MN, a research nutritionist with Zinpro Corp. "There is significant data which show enhanced immune function and reduction in respiratory disease when feeding organic trace elements as opposed to inorganic trace elements - as well as increased average daily gain and feed intake."

Looking beyond the feedyard, Paterson and Swenson agree that attention to mineral supplementation should follow the production cycle - from breeding to weaning.

"The most important time to pay close attention to trace mineral supplementation appears to be just before calving and just before weaning," says Paterson. "There's a lot we don't know about fine-tuning trace minerals in beef cows. But, what we do know is we need to pay more attention to this part of cattle management."

Trading On The Cowboy Way

Polish demand for American beef charges ahead with their hot economy.

Only yesterday, in terms of history, Poland was squirming beneath the proverbial iron fist of communism and a government-mandated economy. Consumers stood in lines around the block, waiting their turn to snatch sparse choices from shelves that were all but empty. Consumption of luxuries like meat, gasoline and shoes revolved around government-issued coupons.

Now, a free-market system - in place for a decade - is forging one of the steamiest economies in the world. Polish consumers are making more money and eagerly spending it for things they could only dream about for a half-century of state rule. Today, they casually shop in supermarkets that would rival any in the U.S., and beat most of them for size, service and selection.

"No one could have believed that we could have come to the moment we're at today where we could promote U.S. beef in a Polish supermarket," says Piotr Rucinski, agricultural specialist for the American Embassy in Warsaw. He's referring to a crowd of Polish chefs jammed around a display table at a Warsaw restaurant to hear more about how to cut, cook and present U.S. beef for profit.

The five-city educational tour was sponsored by the Texas Beef Council (TBC), Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA), the U.S. Meat Export Federation (MEF), and Polish meat importer, P. Elkopol.

Attitudes Are Changing Fast Although Poland has been a steady and growing importer of U.S. beef tripe for several years, the notion of grain-fed beef cuts is still a novelty to most Polish restaurants, retailers and their customers. Until three years ago, Thad Lively, MEF vice president of export services, says only one restaurant carried American beef. Today, at least 20 restaurants have American product on their menus.

"Right now, the main problem is that it is expensive. We have to change the chefs' minds about the calculation," says Jerzy Wierzbicki, president of P. Elkopol, which has led the charge to introduce Polish chefs to U.S. beef. Before Elkopol shifted gears to muscle cuts, the importer handled 30% of all the U.S. beef tripe business in the country.

"The chefs calculate the food cost plus several hundred percent margin. With beef they need to calculate their cost per plate in Zloty (about 25 cents U.S.)," explains Wierzbicki.

Specifically, Grzegorz Kazubski, corporate chef for Orbis, S.A. - which includes 56 hotels and more than 100 restaurants - says, "We cannot make a 300 percent profit for each dish. With beef we try to make 100-150 percent." Even then, making the margin can be tough. For example, Kazubski says in some restaurants the highest priced menu item might be 45 Zloty and the cost for the beef in the serving might be 35 Zloty.

On top of that, Wierzbicki says the dynamics of American export beef pricing - sometimes fluctuating as much as 30-40% from month to month - makes it difficult for chefs to lock in a profit margin.

Furthermore, Wierzbicki points out frozen beef, grain-fed beef with added intramuscular fat and French-style cuts - those that American consumers expect to see in the meat case and on their plates - are new to the Polish.

"Poland has no tradition of producing beef," says Rucinski. "It has always been a side-product of milk production." In other words, the only beef most Polish people know is grass-fed dairy product.

With those things in mind, the escalating demand for American beef is a tribute to the efforts of organizations like Elkopol that have been using education and demonstration to win over restaurants one at a time.

For perspective, Lively points out the U.S. exported 789 tons of beef muscle cuts to Poland last year, up 152% from 1998. Total beef and beef variety meat exports to Poland increased 31%, to 9,153 tons, during the same period.

"Each month demand is going up," says Alicia Wozniak, Elkopol vice president. She emphasizes, "Our idea is to develop a market for high quality beef."

Banking On New Traditions Of course, as Polish buyers and American sellers take initial baby steps in this fledgling market, they understand there are mountains to conquer.

First, although Polish beef imports from the U.S. are increasing, domestic per capita beef consumption remains static (Table 1). Last year, Rucinski explains Poland consumed about 17 lbs. of beef per capita. That compares to about 97 lbs. in the U.S. and 44 lbs. in Mexico (carcass weight basis).

"Beef production has been sufficient in Poland, not because consumption is so high, but because demand has been so low," says Rucinski. He explains Polish people traditionally eat about as much pork as Americans eat beef.

Plus, even as the nation grows wealthier, many of its people still struggle to make ends meet. Rucinski explains part of that has to do with the fact that 27% of Poland's 40 million people are farmers - many eking out a living on just a few acres - and 40% live in rural areas.

"This is still a market limited by the income of the majority of the population," says Rucinski. But, he explains, "People are growing richer here. They will have an opportunity to own their own homes and to pay for what they want... Quality-wise, there is a big potential for the U.S. to get this market."

And, not just the beef market, per se. As Polish producers seek to meet growing domestic beef demand, Rucinski believes American producers will have ample opportunity to market genetics and technology as well.

But, the clock is ticking. Poland has petitioned for membership into the European Union (EU), the same pesky organization currently trying to exclude U.S. beef from their markets.

However, with the EU in mind, Rucinski says, "I think it's important for Poland to develop this beef market now, before Poland becomes a member."

Although no one knows if or when Poland will gain EU membership, Lively explains the hope is that beef consumption when they become a member would be factored into their beef import quota. Such was the case when Austria, Finland and Sweden joined the EU during the past five years.

The Language Of Universal Taste In the meantime, Peter Rosenberg, internationally recognized executive chef and owner of DELICATEXAS Food Creations at Kingwood, TX, told the Polish chefs, "The biggest challenge is always to find a cut of meat that is cost-effective and risk-free to your reputation."

His own belief in beef as a profitable, crowd-pleasing menu staple led him to help the industry explore alternative uses and added value for the under-utilized beef cuts demonstrated at these seminars. Besides preparing all the meat, he could talk to the chefs in dollar and customer terms they understood.

As excited chefs gathered around a barbecued brisket, juicy steamship round or tantalizing beef fajitas, Rosenberg explained, "I'm a chef, not a salesman. From a consistency standpoint, U.S. beef is second to none. Because it is grain-fed, the flavor is far superior and more dependable. And, from a visual standpoint there is white fat rather than yellow (grass-fed) and that has better eye appeal in the finished product."

Since the product is new to the country, Scott McNeill, TBC manager of beef quality, says, "We have to teach them how to cook it and how to cut it." At each stop, he showed chefs how to fabricate the boxed subprimals they would be buying.

"We're using these seminars as a way to increase the acceptance of American beef and of underutilized beef cuts," says Hawley Shaw, TBC international marketing manager. In a new market that also means helping buyers figure out how to excite their customers about a new product.

Shaw told the chefs, "Some of the cuts we consider to be under-utilized can offer you a high value at a low cost. Plus, you can take advantage of the taste and reputation of U.S. beef to have a highly marketable product."

Incidentally, through three TBC-TDA-MEF seminars, only one chef asked about the safety of U.S. beef. At each seminar, McNeill explained, "The U.S., I'm happy to say, has the safest beef supply in the world because every animal going through our packing plants undergoes mandatory inspection... Every animal is given a seal of approval."

Through it all, Rucinski emphasizes, "Quality is the key issue. That's why a seminar like this is so valuable. It's important for Polish consumers to see what an American steak is."

If the hungry mob of Polish chefs was any indication, Polish consumers are eager to see more American beef. The chefs paid the same high compliment we do here: They cleaned their plates and came back for seconds.