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Articles from 2015 In June

Can we measure cow efficiency? Not as a single trait

Angus cxows
<p>Angus cows in the shade</p>

Few question the notion that cow efficiency should be economically valuable. The problem is defining such a shadowy notion, let alone figuring out objective measures and collecting data that lead to an accurate conclusion.

That’s as true at ranch level as it is when it comes to genetic evaluation.

“Don’t believe for a minute that we will evaluate a trait called cow efficiency. It’s not a trait. It’s an index of components,” says Mike MacNeil, with Delta G genetics consulting.

At the recent Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) Symposium he presented “Background for Guidelines to Facilitate Enhanced Genetic Potentials for Cow Efficiency” on behalf of BIF’s cow lifetime productivity taskforce.

Genetic evaluation in some breeds gets at evaluating potential efficiency components like stayability and heifer pregnancy. But MacNeil explains such things as incomplete reporting and inappropriate contemporary grouping hamstring these measures.

MacNeil is recognized internationally as an expert in cattle breeding and genetics research. He spent more than 30 years at the USDA Agricultural Research Service Fort Keogh Livestock and Range Research laboratory at Miles City, Mont. He founded Delta G in 2011 with the mission of progress through application of statistics, quantitative genetics and systems analysis.

“Efficiency is about the balance between inputs and outputs. It’s not about outputs, holding inputs constant. It’s not about inputs, holding outputs constant. It’s not about some sort of residual,” MacNeil says. “The current suite of traits (evaluated in breed genetic evaluation) does not fully serve our needs to evaluate efficiency.”

So far, MacNeil points out experimental evaluation of cow efficiency focused on indexes of weaning weight of the calf divided by energy consumption of the dam, calf weaning weight divided by the dam’s body weight, or via calf weaning weight divided by Large Stock Unit.

“In all of these cases, the denominator is considered as a proxy for energy consumption by the cow,” MacNeil says. “Use of these indexes as a selection criterion to improve efficiency seems debatable; certainly they fail to account for differences in reproduction and the latter indexes may not explain much variation in energy consumed. Furthermore, selection for ratio traits places inconsistent emphasis on the component traits, resulting in variable responses to selection.”

MacNeil shared a quantitative definition of efficiency designed by Gordon Dickerson, who was internationally recognized for his work in quantitative animal breeding and genetics. Suffice it to say, essential components such as annualized replacement cost and annual maintenance cost for cows and their progeny are not routinely collected for genetic evaluation.

In fact, MacNeil explains much effort has been expended by animal breeders to exclude maintenance cost information, although according to research by Dickerson, there’s lots more genetic variation in feed required for maintenance than in feed required for performance.

Complete, accurate data is essential

“Efficiency cannot be quantified, and therefore useful in genetic selection, without recording the economically relevant inputs and outputs,” MacNeil explains. “Successful evaluation of efficiency is contingent upon evaluation of the components’ traits. The biggest impediment to a reasonable evaluation of cow efficiency is the lack of data to evaluate the components. The challenge for breed associations is to design a genetic evaluation system where we capture the information we need without being wasteful of the resources of producers reporting the data.”

MacNeil believes this data rests upon two distinct pillars: whole-herd reporting and complete reporting.

“It’s not OK to report a few data points, we need them all,” MacNeil says. “Accurate reporting matters. Proper contemporary grouping matters.”

Armed with such data, MacNeil believes the results can be combined, using one selection index technology or another to predict the genetic value for efficiency.

Editor’s Note—MacNeil invites interested producers to participate in the task force by reviewing the proceedings and offering comments. Any he receives by August 15 will be considered in making revisions. Email him at [email protected]


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5 western novels to add to your summer reading list

Last summer, former BEEF Editor Joe Roybal compiled a list of five books for summer reading. His list focused on autobiographical history, with non-fiction works such as “Unbroken,” and “The Worst Hard Time” as a few of his favorites.

In case you missed it, check out Roybal’s recommendations here.  

I thought I would continue the tradition with some recommendations for summer reading in 2015. Although the days are long, our free time is often short during the busy, hectic summer months; however, if you like to do some reading before bed, here is a list of five of the best western novels ever written from

1. "Lonesome Dove" by Larry McMurtry

McMurty's "Lonesome Dove" won a Pulitzer Prize and was also made into a mini-series. This classic story is a traditional western in every sense, and even if you’ve read it a dozen times, it’s certainly one worth flipping through again. When you’re done, be sure to watch the mini-series, as well.

2. "True Grit" by Charles Portis

Written from the vantage point of an old maid, “True Grit” follows the story of a young girl who vows to bring justice to her father’s murder. Written by Charles Portis, this American classic is set in the Wild West in the year 1875. Be sure to check out both movie versions of the book, as well.


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3. "The Shootist" by Glendon Swarthout

Although I haven’t personally read “The Shootist,” says this book could “easily be considered one of the best western novels ever written.” According to the website, “The Shootist” is hard-edged and more violent than John Wayne film adaptation of the book and is highly recommended for its brilliant writing.

4. "Monte Walsh" by Jack Shaefer

Here’s another one I need to tackle on my summer reading list. My dad says “Monte Walsh” by Jack Schaefer is one of his favorites. This collection of stories follows a young cowboy’s journey to become a cattleman. According to, “The depiction of cowboy life is very realistic. Jack’s writing puts you right in the middle of stampedes, death, train wrecks, bar room fights and lost loves. Excellent read that you should not miss.” Also, when you’re done with the book, check out the movie version of “Monte Walsh” featuring Tom Selleck.

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5. "Hondo" by Louis L’Amour

I would be remiss not to include a Louis L’Amour book on a western novel list. “Hondo” is considered one of his best novels of all time and according to, “‘Hondo’ is one of the most talked about western novels of all time. One of the reasons is because it has all of the classic conflicts:

  • Man against nature
  • Man against himself
  • Man against his enemies.

To read the complete list, which includes “Centennial” by James Michener, “The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains” by Owen Wister, and more, click here.

The site also reviews 10 of the best non-fiction old western books, which you can check out here. 

What are your favorite western novels? Share your recommendations in the comments section below.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or Penton Agriculture.

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Roberts announces resignation as CEO of NCBA

Roberts announces resignation as CEO of NCBA

After six eventful years at the helm of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), Forrest Roberts is resigning as chief executive officer, effective July 31. Roberts has been the CEO of NCBA since 2009.

According to a release from NCBA, Roberts will pursue other opportunities in the cattle industry and agribusiness. He will remain with NCBA until the end of July to help the association with transition of staff leadership, including his roles in several industry-related organizations.

“For the past six years, it has been a privilege to serve as CEO of NCBA,” Roberts says. “While I have decided to turn a new chapter in my career, I leave NCBA with many great memories of the time I spent working with the NCBA staff, state partners, members, producer leadership and stakeholders across the global beef industry.”

Forrest RobertsAccording to NCBA President Phillip Ellis, Roberts contributed significantly to the organization and the industry. “Under Forrest Roberts’ leadership, NCBA membership has increased significantly, NCBA is in a solid financial position, convention attendance is at record levels and the NCBA-managed programs to build consumer demand for beef as a contractor to the beef checkoff are achieving significant results. In addition, Roberts has strengthened industry partnerships domestically and internationally,” he says. “We wish him well as he pursues other interests in the cattle industry and agribusiness.”

NCBA Chief Operating Officer Kendal Frazier has been named interim CEO to manage the day-to-day operations, including NCBA staff, until a new CEO is identified. “Frazier has more than 30 years of experience working in the different areas of NCBA,” Ellis said. “I know he will do a good job of guiding the organization during the transition period.”

Ellis said the NCBA officers will work with the NCBA Executive Committee to develop a process to search for and identify a new CEO.

“Even as our leadership changes, our commitment does not,” said Ellis. “At this critical time in the beef business, the NCBA directors and staff will move forward aggressively to protect the interests of our members and the industry.”


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6 Trending Headlines: How to handle rained-out hay, PLUS: Are you ready for drones?

It’s hay season. It’s the rainy season. Now what? Tips on how to handle rained-on hay, plus more news that you can use, await you in this week’s Trending Headlines.

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Prime Time Gala raises money to fight hunger; PLUS: 15+ photos from the event

Over the weekend, I joined more than 3,600 cattle men and women, beef lovers and country music fans at the 2015 South Dakota Prime Time Gala in Sioux Falls, S.D. The event featured an upscale steak supper, auction, speaker, country music concert featuring Billy Currington and Tyler Farr, and an after party that brought beef producers together for an elegant evening out while raising money for a good cause.

The Prime Time Gala is a fundraiser of the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Foundation and aims to raise money to support Feed South Dakota, particularly in purchasing beef to offer hungry families the protein they need to have a healthy, balanced diet.

Learn more about the goals of the Prime Time Gala here.

This was the second year of the Prime Time Gala, and I attended on behalf of BEEF, which was a sponsor of the event. This year’s event raised an impressive $173,000 for Feeding South Dakota, which will buy more than 100,000 lbs. of beef for families in need. 

SD Prime Time Gala raises $173,000 to buy beef for Feeding South Dakota, Photo courtesy of SD Prime Time Gala

There is plenty of buzz on social media about this event. If you’re interested, check out the hashtags #SDPrimeTimeGala and #Cowboys4Hunger to see what attendees had to say about the event.

Plus, you can view a gallery of 15+ photos from the event here. 

It was such an honor to attend the Prime Time Gala. What a great opportunity to network with other cattle industry professionals, raise money to fight hunger, and enjoy a relaxing evening of good food, great people and awesome music.

The Prime Time Gala is truly one of those advocacy efforts that hits the mark just right. It brings together beef producers to raise awareness about an important issue while also inviting the general public to participate in the fight to end hunger by purchasing tickets to the concert — all of the proceeds of which went to Feeding South Dakota. It’s truly a win-win in my book, and I congratulate the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Foundation on a successful evening.

What a lot of folks don’t realize is even in America — the land of abundant and affordable food — there are so many who struggle to put food on the table.

Here are 10 facts about hunger in the U.S. from that are worth sharing. 

1. The USDA defines "food insecurity" as the lack of access, at times, to enough food for all household members. In 2011, households with children reported a significantly higher food insecurity rate than households without children: 20.6% vs. 12.2%.

2. Food insecurity exists in every county in America. In 2013, 17.5 million households were food insecure. More and more people are relying on food banks and pantries. You can help your local food bank by collecting food outside your local supermarket.

3. 49 million Americans struggle to put food on the table.

4. In the U.S., hunger isn’t caused by a lack of food, but rather the continued prevalence of poverty.

5. More than 1 in 5 children are at risk of hunger. Among African-Americans and Latinos, it’s 1 in 3.

6. Over 20 million children receive free or reduced-price lunch each school day. Less than half of them get breakfast, and only 10% have access to summer meal sites.

7. For every 100 school lunch programs, there are only 87 breakfast sites and just 36 summer food programs.

8. 1 in 7 people are enrolled in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Nearly half of them are children.

9. 40% of food is thrown out in the U.S. every year, or about $165 billion worth. All of this uneaten food could feed 25 million Americans.

10. These 8 states have statistically higher food insecurity rates than the U.S. national average (14.6%): Arkansas (21.2%), Mississippi (21.1%), Texas (18.0%), Tennessee (17.4%), North Carolina (17.3%), Missouri (16.9%), Georgia (16.6%), Ohio (16.0%).

To raise awareness of this issue, please pass this blog along on social media today using the hashtags #Cowboys4Hunger and consider donating some protein to your local food bank.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or Penton Agriculture.

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Third annual Eng cow efficiency symposium agenda announced

Third annual Eng cow efficiency symposium agenda announced

With the theme “Innovations in Intensive Beef Cow Production, Care and Management,” the third annual Dr. Kenneth and Caroline McDonald Eng Foundation Research Symposium is set for Sept. 17-18 in Oklahoma City. Hosted this year by Oklahoma State University on a rotating basis with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Texas A&M University, the symposium will focus on practical applications of the research on cow efficiency at the three universities, partly funded by the Eng Foundation.

A strong line-up is on tap for attendees interested in learning more about how to improve the efficiency of their cow operation. The symposium will run from noon to noon, Sept. 17-18, at the historic Skirvin Hotel.  Pre-registration is $125, or $150 at the door. Find more information on registration, schedule and hotel rooms online or email [email protected] or call the Eng Foundation at 575-743-6331 or Oklahoma State University at 405-744-6060.

Click here for a look at the full agenda. In conjunction with the symposium, Eng will release his latest book, “Memories of Old Friends, Old Flames, Old Times and the Tales We Can Tell.” It’s a book of poetry and prose that celebrates the cattle industry and the people who make it special.

Eng is a long-time educator, rancher and consulting nutritionist who developed the Eng Foundation “to improve the long-term economic sustainability of the cow-calf sector in the U.S. beef industry though development and adoption of beef product quality.” The Eng Foundation is his tribute to his wife, Caroline McDonald Eng, who died in a June 2010 accident. She served as chief financial officer of Eng Ranches, including g their land, cattle, research and consulting operations. Eng was honored as BEEF magazine’s 2013 Trailblazer Award nominee.

2015 agenda highlights:

Sept. 17 afternoon session:

  • Confined Cow-Calf Production as a Viable Model for Rebuilding U.S. Cow Herd Numbers—Don Close, Rabobank
  • Economics of Alternative Cow-Calf Production Systems—Rick Rasby, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • Enhancing Ranch Land Ecosystem Services with Semi-Confinement Systems—Ryan Reuter, Oklahoma State University
  • Round Table discussion with cattle producers and consulting nutritionists

Morning session, Sept. 18:

  • Non-typical Genetic Effects and Implications for Intensive Systems—Andy Herring, Texas A&M University
  • Strategies to Enhance Cow Efficiency in Intensive Systems—Jason Sawyer, Texas A&M University
  • Optimizing Use of Corn Residues for Grazing and Harvest—Jason Warner, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • Health Management of Neonatal Calves Born in Confinement Systems—Jared Taylor, Oklahoma State University Vet Medicine

Click here to make hotel reservations or call the Skirvin Hilton at 405-272-3040. A special block of rooms will be held until Aug. 26 or when the block is sold out.


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Industry At A Glance: Cattle regain top billing in farm gate receipts

Industry At A Glance: Cattle regain top billing in farm gate receipts

As a category, cattle and calves historically represented about 20% of total farm gate receipts – the category historically has been the single largest annual contributor to farm receipts. Moreover, in recent history (2000 to 2006), from a direct perspective, receipts for cattle and calves exceeded the combined value of corn and oil crops by an average of approximately $10 billion annually. 

That balance shifted for the first time in 2007, corresponding to the introduction of the ethanol mandate, as the combined value of corn and oil crops surpassed cattle and calves by more than $8 billion. The cattle deficit peaked at $57 billion in 2012 – the turnaround represents nearly a $70 billion value reversal versus 2005, when cattle receipts exceeded combined corn and oil crop revenue by more than $12 billion.   

annual farm gate reciepts

USDA is forecasting a new record in 2015 for annual cattle farm gate receipts approaching $86 billion.  Meanwhile, corn and oil crop receipts are forecast to be $46.6 billion and $38.4 billion, respectively. If those predictions turn out to be accurate, it will be the first time in eight years that cattle receipts beat combined corn and oil crop receipts.  

From a broader perspective, that’s a significant shift in the relative contribution of cash receipts to farm revenue. Where do you see these trends headed in the future? Will cattle regain its longer-running advantage relative to corn and oil crops in the years to come? Or will 2015 reflect more of a new normal in which cattle receipts are roughly equivalent to combined corn and oil crops receipts? What impact might this have on diversified operations and subsequent investment in the beef industry’s infrastructure going forward? 

Leave your thoughts in the comment section below. 

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.

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UPDATED: 27 photos from the 2015 South Dakota Cattlemen's Foundation Prime Time Gala

More than 49 million Americans struggle to put food on the table. Here is how South Dakota cattlemen are joining together to fight hunger, promote beef and offer better protein options like meat, dairy and eggs to put on the dinner table.

Learn more about the South Dakota Prime Time Gala, which raised $173,000 for Feeding South Dakota, by clicking here.

Photos by Amanda Radke, Courtney Buck and Robb Long Imaging.

No more Pinkeye, no more tears

Pinkeye is a problem. For you, for your cattle and mostly for your bottom line. That’s why management and control of the disease is critical.

Any producer who has experienced a pinkeye outbreak is keenly aware of the discomfort and lost performance that can occur. Every year, a producer can lose thousands of dollars due to poor weight gains, drop in milk production, labor in treating infections and docked sale prices due to pinkeye. It’s frustrating for producers and downright distressing for the animals.

“Once pinkeye begins to spread through a herd, it's very hard to contain and control,” says Roger Winter, technical services veterinarian, AgriLabs. “That’s why preparing in advance for pinkeye is the best plan for a healthier herd and better weight gains at the end of the season.”

How does it spread?

The bacterium Moraxella bovis (M. Bovis) has been known to cause pinkeye for many years. It can spread in several ways, but by far the most common vector is a face fly that feeds around the eyes and carries infected eye fluids from one animal to another. The first clinical sign of pinkeye is excessive tearing in one or both eyes, then it can progress to the point where an animal holds the eye partially or tightly closed.

Compared with horn flies, face flies actually spend very little time on the animal, so one face fly can spread pinkeye to several animals in the same day. Pinkeye may occur during any season and in all breeds of cattle. However, it usually becomes most active in warmer weather when face flies are prevalent and grass is taller.

“Since fly season is approaching, now is the best time for producers to plan their pinkeye management program,” Winter says. “And since each cattle operation is different, it’s best to evaluate all options before selecting the best course of action when it comes to prevention and control.”

What are the best ways to manage pinkeye?

When developing an annual pinkeye plan, there are key steps that should be considered part of an overall plan: protect the herd before a pinkeye outbreak even occurs, maintain a proper diet and environment, and reduce fly population. Carefully following some of the tips below will help lead to an overall healthier herd.

  • Prevent with vaccines—Calves are most at risk and should be vaccinated along with cows. Vaccine protocols need to be started six to eight weeks before pinkeye cases typically begin within the herd. Several vaccines are available, which can make it difficult when selecting the best option for a herd. When evaluating pinkeye vaccines, a producer will want to make sure it has proven efficacy and that it’s safe. It’s best to look for a company that has a long track record of safely resolving pinkeye.

More importantly, there is a significant amount of variation between M. bovis field isolates, Winter says. “Producers should select a vaccine that contains as many M. bovis isolates as possible to provide the widest degree of protection. While some commercial vaccines contain only three isolates, there are broad-spectrum vaccines that contain eight different isolates.”

I-SITE XP®, a vaccine available from AgriLabs, has been proven effective against eight M. bovis isolates, plus it is safe and easy to administer. It also has a strong record of safety and is effective, even during outbreaks.

  • Manage the environment and provide proper nutrition—Eye irritation can be caused by tall grasses, so it’s best to keep pastures mowed. Also, as with many diseases, pinkeye outcomes can be influenced by nutritional imbalances, so it’s key to provide proper amounts of protein, vitamins and minerals.
  • Control with insecticides—A good fly control program is also essential. While there are many products available, it comes down to finding the right fly control tools that best fit an operation’s needs in terms of product and ease of application.

“While some products require confining the cattle or running them through a chute, there is an easier way to manage flies on cows and bulls, especially when it’s hot,” said Adam Yankowsky, business unit manager, AgriLabs. “That option is the VetGun™,” said Yankowsky. It is a low-stress, no-confining approach.”

VetGun™ uses CO2 power to project a precise dosage of AiM-L VetCap® containing an EPA-approved topical insecticide, Lambda Cyhalothrin, to treat the animal. The gelatin capsule bursts upon impact, allowing the topically applied insecticide to go to work immediately, an appreciated benefit of the AiM-L VetCap®.

With this application system, the insecticide can be applied to cattle at a range of 15 to 30 feet, allowing the producer to treat animals from a safe distance, without risk of injury to either rancher or cattle. It’s as simple as laying down a lick, hay or feed to create a positive correlation with the dosing process.

VetGun™ delivers results for Askren Farms—with no stress, handling, or confining.

Don Askren Jr. operates a cow-calf farm in Holton, Kan. After experiencing pinkeye in his operation the last few years, he decided to purchase a VetGun™ to help deter flies from spreading the disease.

“The first time we brought home the VetGun™, my wife was able to treat 20 cows in 10 minutes while still learning how to aim the gun,” Askren said. “We were very surprised at how easy it was to use and operate. Even my dad, who is 82 years old and has been a producer for 30 years, had the same results. He treated all his cows in two to three minutes.”

For Askren, it wasn’t just the ease of use, but also the savings.

“You don’t have to mix up a sprayer and over spray or even miss some of the cows,” Askren said. “Then most of the time you’re left with a half-tank of spray and don’t know what to do with it. With the VetGun™, you can just go out and treat 10 cows that day and not the whole herd. Then you’re only out 10 applications and everything else can be utilized next time. And if you notice you have a fly problem, you can be out in the pasture shooting and in five minutes you’re finished. It’s that easy.”

Askren, along with most producers, knows that response time and management is key. The quicker a rancher responds to increasing fly numbers along with the implementation of an integrated pest management program, the more likely they will reduce the overall effect on their cattle herd.

For more information about VetGun™ and pinkeye vaccine options, please contact your local dealer or visit



Meat Market Update | Cutout price drop continues in the midst of grilling season

Ed Czerwien, USDA Market News reporter in Amarillo, TX, provides us with the latest outlook on boxed beef prices and the weekly cattle trade.

The Comprehensive or Weekly Average Choice Cutout was $2.66 higher after losing $14 in the previous two weeks, but total volume has held up very well on this rising market. Meat buyers were in the midst of buying product for two big grilling holidays Father’s Day and the Fourth of July.