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Articles from 1998 In July

Smart Breeding

Here's a rundown on various natural vs. Al breeding systems.

Time and again the greatest opportunity I see in all herds I work with is through genetic improvement. This doesn't mean buying the most expensive bull you can find and throwing him on a bunch of inconsistent, mongrelized cattle that have never been selected for production efficiency and expect a miracle.

At today's price level, it's difficult to justify spending more than about $2,250 for a range bull. With the synchronization programs either currently or soon to be approved, the cost of AI per pregnancy can compete very favorably with as low as a $1,750 range bull.

Let's look at three range bulls. One is purchased for $1,750, the second for $2,750 and the third for $3,750. Each will have a $500 salvage value and last an average of five years. Each will be exposed to 30 females annually and will have a 92.5% pregnancy rate (see Table 1). We will not assume any bull death loss, which would make the bull breeding numbers look even worse.

There are a number of different AI programs, and I've used nearly all. I'm currently using several different programs across the country on 7,500 females. The newest one we're using is the Co-Sync program developed at Colorado State University. It uses a combination of GnRH, heat detection, prostaglandin and another shot of GnRH.

The Co-Sync Program Cost synchronization treatment, excluding labor and semen, is $13.30 per AI service. The labor cost is dependent on the number of cows to be AI'd in any given period. It's possible to AI as many as 1,000 head in a day without elaborate facilities. In the double breeding setups I've designed, it's not uncommon to breed one female every 30-60 seconds or 600 head/day. If it takes six people to do this at $100/day each, that's $1/head for labor. For argument's sake, we'll put $1.50/head in labor. Per-service AI cost (excluding semen) is now $14.80.

Semen costs vary about as much as used car costs. It's best to select several AI bull candidates from the EPDs (Expected Progeny Differences) that match or exceed your goals, then call those bulls' owners to see who's ready to "make a deal."

You get the best semen prices when you buy in volume, so co-op with a neighbor or contact AGRI-PLAN and get in on our collective buying program. Normally, we are able to get very high-quality bull semen at $3-5/unit. Again, for the sake of argument, we'll plug in $6/unit (see Table 2).

Conclusion: According to published data, AI pregnancy rates of over 60% with the Co-Sync Program are not uncommon. Therefore, using our assumptions, breeding with bulls of $2,500 or more is more costly per pregnancy than breeding AI no matter what the environment or region.

Assuming even the worst result (50%) and $1,750 bulls, the per-pregnancy cost with AI is only $20.80 more!

The Syncro-Mate B System

With Syncro-Mate B (SMB), semen cost will remain the same but labor will increase by 50 "cents"/head (20% more will go through the chute three times) and treatment cost per exposed female will decrease. At one time, I was part of an organization that was the largest end user of SMB in the world.

The other difference between the SMB System and the Co-Sync Program is that with SMB (on average) you will have a lower AI success rate (40-45%) (see Table 3).

Conclusion: SMB is more inconvenient to use than the Co-Sync Program but may be slightly lower on a per-pregnancy basis. When comparing the published success of Co-Sync (60%) to SMB (45%) the costs are very comparable: $34.67 and $33.89, respectively.

Electronic Heat Detection Using HeatWatch saves time and labor over a traditional "heat detected" AI program. It will also improve detection and pregnancy success and decrease the required skill level of the cowboys involved. Heat detection is not a science; it's an art. The HeatWatch system turns the process into a science. Because of the computerized compilation of mounts and their duration, a more accurate insemination time can also be achieved. For purposes of illustration, we'll assume using the HeatWatch system on 500 cows/year. As with all other methods, Opportunity Costs are calculated at 8.25%.

Initial Software Cost:--$4,000 Life Expectancy:--7 years Salvage Value--$0.00 Cost Per Year (Including Opportunity Cost): --$901.43 Cost Per Female Exposed:-- $1.80

Transmitter Cost:--$55/Patch Life Expectancy:--5 years Salvage Value--$0.00 Cost Per Year (Including Opportunity Cost):--$11.00

There will be no synchronization treatment cost. Labor costs will be much higher than synchronization, though lower than traditional observed heat detection. For our purposes here we will assume a 21-day AI program, using three people to gather and AI the females that indicate estrous via the electronic system. In 1997 on one ranch we AI'd 984 of 1,001 head of mature cows (98.3%) in the first 21 days using HeatWatch. Our AI pregnancy rate for the 984 head was 79%.

If three people were used for 21 days at $100/day/person, total labor cost would be $6,300 or $12.60/Exposed Female. Semen is again priced at $6/unit on the average (see Table 4).

Conclusion: For the commercial cow-calf man it is very difficult to cost justify a HeatWatch system unless they're in an extreme value-added program (i.e., Super Heifers) or are using bulls with an average cost of more than $2,750.

However, for the seedstock producer wanting and needing every pregnancy to be an AI pregnancy and early in the season, HeatWatch may well be a very attractive alternative to the traditional means of observed heat and AI.

This is especially true when considering the difficulty one has with finding truly qualified heat detection and AI technicians. In addition, because HeatWatch is a wide ranging, electronic heat detection system, females may be placed on a larger acreage reducing feed costs or eliminating excess feed entirely. The 1,001 head of cows previously mentioned were AI'd on two 600+ acre sub-irrigated meadows using no supplemental feed.

Traditional Heat Detection Traditional AI will require additional labor and possibly additional feed costs if, in fact, cattle are kept in a closed area for heat detection. If the program is performed after grass has come and/or in an intensive grazing system during the growing season, no additional feed will be necessary. Normally, traditional heat detection will result in a 70-85% AI success rate (see Table 5).

Conclusion: As with most other AI systems, the traditional systems compare favorably with that of breeding naturally to a bull on a per-pregnancy cost basis.

In the last 10 years, AI has changed the entire dairy industry and revolutionized the hog industry. Fifteen years ago, the hog industry AI'd only 5%; today it AI's over 95%. It's time our industry takes advantage of one or more of the many AI systems. The cost can and should be less on a per-pregnancy basis.

Next month: The benefits of AI to your bottom line.

Tom Hogan owns and operates AGRI-PLAN Corp., an operational efficiency and financial management consulting firm. For more information or to order his 100+ page manual, "Planning Your Way To Profit," which guides you through the development of an Integrated Business Management Plan (IBMP), call 800/793-1671 or e-mail:

[email protected]


This new composite breed is tailor made for producers in the Northern Great Plains.

The Northern Great Plains (NGP) is the ideal spot for cattle ranching if you manage the land and the cattle to meet the special challenges there, says Pat Currie.

Land-wise, the former USDA researcher says that means managing the grass resource to prevent grazing too early and too heavy in the spring, as well as managing for drought and winter. On the cattle side, it means good foraging animals with a low incidence of calving difficulty, moderate calf birthweight and milk, rapid growth, moderate mature size, good temperament, sound feet and legs, and offspring that produce a high-quality, marketable carcass.

Exploiting Heterosis Unfortunately, Currie says, not all these traits are found in one cattle breed. Structured crossbreeding programs can be used to exploit heterosis (hybrid vigor) and heritable differences among breeds, he adds. But many operations are hindered by the number of breeding herds or source of female replacements needed to maintain the system.

Currie's answer was to develop a composite cattle breed he calls "Ranchstar" for use as a terminal cross sire. Composed of 50% Red Angus, 25% Charolais and 25% Tarentaise, Ranchstar is an acronym using three letters from each of those breed names.

"Ranchstar is an outgrowth of the CGC (crossbred genetic combinations) composite - utilizing the same three breeds - that was developed at the Ft. Keogh Agricultural Research Service (ARS) station in Miles City, MT," Currie says. He served there 11 years as a range scientist and research leader prior to leaving in 1989 to help Ken Harding set up and operate his 56,000-acre ranch - Harding Land & Cattle Co. (HLCC), now headquartered in Terry, MT. Currie retired earlier this year. His son Dan now manages the operation.

Currie says the three parent breeds were selected to optimize specific attributes necessary for efficient production on the Northern Great Plains. Red Angus (RAN) was selected for maternal characteristics and the consistent Angus carcass quality; Charolais (CHS) for its rate of growth, carcass merit and contribution to milk production; and Tarentaise (TAR) for its sustained milk production, range "toughness" and efficiency of overall production in a less than ideal environment.

Currie and Harding set up HLCC with the intent on scouring the available body of peer-reviewed research in rangeland management and cattle production, and putting what they could to practical application. That research emphasis is obvious throughout the operation. Its cornerstone, however, is the cattle breeding program under range conditions.

It was in 1989 that HLCC began assembling available surplus research animals from the Ft. Keogh CGC composite work. Through careful mating and selection, HLCC evolved those genetics into the Ranchstar composite. The composite, Currie says, has been developed upon specific merits that are genetically linked but are independent of the Ft. Keogh research.

Sires Are Only Half The Story Sires, however, provide only half the genetics necessary for producing high-quality beef. The cow side provides the other half and must also have a sound genetic foundation, Currie says.

"The black baldy has long been recognized and shown by research to be one of the most efficient beef-producing animals in the Northern Great Plains. It's the F1 generation or first cross of purebred Hereford and Angus which maximizes expression of heterosis," Currie says.

Therefore, HLCC selected a commercial cow herd composed of reputation F1 black baldy females to be the primary parent female stock. Mating of the Ranchstar sire to the black baldy female produced offspring with highly desirable attributes for both the producer and consumer, Currie says. Those offspring carry the attributes of:

* Efficiency of growth and production for Northern rangelands.

* High predictability and conformance of these production characteristics in nearly 100% of the calves.

* High carcass merit relative to industry standards.

The Ranchstar herd numbers 160 brood cows, 210 total animals. Thirty bulls are sold each year in November; 800-900 steers and heifers, the offspring of black baldy F1 crosses bred to Ranchstar bulls, are finished annually in the HLCC feeedlot in Terry, MT.

Specifically, Currie says, here are the benefits of the Ranchstar composite as a terminal sire:

* Produces offspring with an average birthweight of 88 lbs. Cows bred to these terminal sires have been easy calving and had thrifty offspring.

* Weaning weights average 499 lbs. for steers and 473 for heifers.

* Of 4,600 finished steers and heifers marketed marketed since 1991, more than 76% of steers have graded Choice with more than 96% achieving a yield grade of 1-3. In 1997, 94% of the steers were Prime and Choice with 98% falling in Yield Grade 1-3. Most of the calves were marketed within 15 months of age.

* The calves produced are vigorous and "quick starting" at birth, usually on their feet and nursing within 30 minutes, Currie says. This is an important trait for range calving in the Northern Great Plains where temperatures can still be sub-zero in April.

* Fertility is high, with breeding percentages consistently hitting 94-97% in range service under natural conditions.

"The bulls are aggressive breeders," Currie says. "Breeding pastures on the ranch measure 411/42 to 5 sections each. A 94-97 percent conception rate under those conditions is exceptionally good."

The commercial herd sires from the Ranchstar herd are selected on EPDs relative to the entire parent population, actual production records, within herd indexing, and visual appraisal, Currie says.

"Our total program evaluation shows that Ranchstar cattle can provide beef producers in the Northern Great Plains with a consistently superior genetic animal for cost-effective beef production in an extreme environment," Currie says.

More Discipline Is Needed Currie admits the development of composites is "growing like topsy." He believes widespread concerns regarding mongrelization of the U.S. cattle herd are valid.

"But mongrelization and designed crossbreeding programs are two different things. I'm afraid that, in a lot of cases, this industry is into mongrelization rather than putting genetic characteristics together to accomplish something," Currie says.

"We set out in 1978 to use the heritabilities and the heterosis in crossbreeding to accomplish certain goals. That's why the breeds were selected the way they were into this Ranchstar composite," he adds.

But the sire side is only part of the equation, Currie says.

"You must have a good female side to use a composite effectively," he says. "That means using F1s. Many people keep their own calves and raise a bunch of heifers. But as you begin breeding that animal back to its offspring, you immediately start losing heterosis and you lose it in substantial amounts.

"That cow doesn't have to be a black baldy, but it should be an F1 or another purebred in order to maximize heterosis," Currie says.

Selling On Performance Bill McKinney runs the six-generation, V-Bar-C Ranch in Birney, MT. He first tried Ranchstar terminal cross sires in 1993 on 100 of his 500 Red Angus/Hereford F1 cross cows. He says he saw a definite difference in the calves. He now uses Ranchstar bulls exclusively.

He was attracted to the Ranchstar composite, he says, by the indexes and frame. "We also wanted to take the guesswork out of our calves in the feedlot. We know the genetic potential and history of our females and we knew from the data on the Ranchstars that we'd get the performance we wanted."

McKinney says he foresees a day soon when calves will be marketed on feedlot performance history. It's already paid off for his operation, he adds. In bad markets, he says, he's been able to move his calves because the buyers knew the performance would be there.

"Our buyers have been very happy with carcass performance," McKinney says. One group of 200 steers fed out at HLCC's 2,000-head feedlot recorded 90% Yield Grade 1s and 2s and 98% Choice, he reports. "I think this type of breeding program is what will keep a lot of people in business," McKinney says, "especially with all the crossbred cattle out there."

Ammonia adds value to low-quality forages

Sometimes finding a new use for a feedstuff can be more valuable than adding a new forage to your program. Take, for example, chaff and straw. In the eyes of many beef producers, they offer little feed value.

That image can be changed by ammoniating low-quality forages, says North Dakota State University (NDSU) Extension beef specialist Greg Lardy.

Treating cornstalks and small grain straw with anhydrous ammonia breaks down the linkages between fibers, increasing digestibility 10-30%and boosting consumption of those feeds by 15-20%. It can also double or triple crude protein levels and make those crop residues equivalent to prairie hay in feed value, according to Lardy.

Improving the nutritive value to that extent could help some producers cut the cost of buying additional hay, says Norwood Van Dyke, Extension animal scientist at Auburn University.

"As long as the price of ammonia is reasonable, ammoniating forages can be cost-effective," says Lardy. The cost of ammoniation ranges between $24-35/ton of dry matter, with wheat straw estimated at $18/ton, plastic at $5/ton and anhydrous ammonia at $9/ton.

While those numbers make straw and chaff sound more appealing, "it's still not used enough," says Van Dyke.

Van Dyke says that is in part due to some of the hazards involved in using anhydrous ammonia and the work involved, but also because producers simply don't know much about ammoniating forages.

When Ammoniation Works Best Lardy says ammoniation works best on low-quality forages including wheat, barley and oat straws, corn stover and very mature, low-quality grass hay.

"We've seen quite a bit of ammoniation of forages used in Canada, especially of chaff. One producer put the chaff in a pile, ammoniated it and then put an electric fence around it to let the cows self-feed on it," says Lardy.

However, ammoniating forages above 6% protein isn't recommended, Lardy says. Medium- to high-quality forages treated with anhydrous ammonia results in only small changes in digestibility and intake and may cause toxicity problems when fed, he adds.

In a forage program, Van Dyke says ammoniated forages are well suited as feed for cows with the lowest protein requirements, such as dry cows in the winter.

But gestating cows can utilize the feed as well. Cows fed ammoniated residues will maintain weight and condition during gestation until 50 days prior to calving, Lardy says (see Table 1). However, he cautions that ammoniated residues may not work well if cows are in thin condition.

Phosphorus, trace minerals and vitamin A should be supplemented whenever ammoniated residues are fed, Lardy adds. For gestating cows, additional supplementation will be required immediately prior to calving and during lactation.

Step By Step While ammoniating crop residues requires some time and effort to stack and cover the bales, it's relatively easy, says Lardy.

However, caution should be taken when working with anhydrous ammonia. Misused, it can burn skin, eyes or throat or even explode and burn.

* Forage stacks must be covered and sealed with plastic to make an airtight environment. Six to eight millimeter black plastic is recommended.

Bales should be stacked in a pyramid with about 2 in. between bales to allow for maximum exposure to the ammonia.

If possible, stacks should be located in an area with protection from strong winds and good drainage. Lardy suggests disking the area to loosen the top few inches of soil for anchoring the plastic.

* Once the pile is covered, leave a small space to insert a pipe for adding anhydrous at the midpoint of the stack.

Insert a pipe 6-10 ft. long on the ground and seal plastic with loose soil around the pipe. Connect the pipe to the anhydrous tank hose with an adapter. Use a shut-off valve on the pipe to eliminate back flow of anhydrous when disconnecting.

* Add 60 lbs. of anhydrous ammonia per ton of dry forage (3% dry matter content). Best results are achieved when the forage has greater than 10% moisture, with 15-20% being ideal. To ensure moisture in the forages, bale the forage shortly after harvest, or in early morning or late evening when there is dew on the forage. Molds won't grow on ammoniated forages because ammonia is a fungicide.

Total time for addition of the anhydrous will be 8-10 minutes/ton of residue; a 30-ton stack requires about five hours.

* After treatment is complete, turn off the valve, remove the pipe and seal the area where the pipe was removed. The forage will need to be sealed for one to eight weeks depending on temperature (see Table 2). The cooler the temperature, the longer the residue needs to remain sealed.

Open one end of the stack three to five days prior to feeding to let the excess ammonia dissipate.

For more information contact your local Extension agent.

Use Goals To Build A Recipe For Success

Managers, teams and individuals need the focus that goals provide.

Before setting performance or production goals in today's competitive business climate, managers need to ask themselves this question: Am I creating a list of static rules and regulations, or am I designing a fluid set of goals that will encourage employees to excel?

Static "rules" - often disguised as goals - seldom work in a dynamic business that is afflicted by the vagaries of bad weather, volatile markets, fickle customers and evolving consumer tastes.

Instead, goals should represent targets that instill pride in employees, and they should build upon one another to create a cohesive, understandable framework of expectations.

Jeff Rudolph, general manager of Hi-Gain Feedlot at Cozad, NE, begins by putting in writing the five most important elements of each employee's job.

"I call it an individual's recipe for success because that's precisely what it is," Rudolph says. "It tells that employee what is important, what the level of performance needs to be, and how to achieve it. Quality people really thrive in an environment where they know the recipe for success and how to reach it."

When setting production goals, Rudolph bases his decisions on what it takes to be competitive. He begins with individual goals then expands to team goals.

"An example would be a goal of 20 or fewer deaths per month for a 15,000- to 20,000-head feedlot," Rudolph explains. "The pen riders and the hospital crew are chiefly responsible for that, so if you have 18 deaths they've met that goal.

"Then you ask if 20 was too many. Involve the crew in that decision, but beware. They are likely to hold themselves to a higher standard than you would. So pull back and stay realistic.

"When you establish goals, you empower your employees to strive and achieve. In effect, you've said, 'Here's the goal, go win it.' "

Positive Attitude Another important factor when setting goals is to frame them in a positive light. That starts at the top.

Jim Miller, president of Miller Feedlots in Lasalle, CO, says, "I have a tremendous group of employees that always does its best to achieve our goals. So my chief responsibility is to stay positive even when times are tough. The power of positive thinking is real and I have to communicate that.

"When discussing goals, I always do it in the yard - in their environment - rather than in my office. And I always begin by asking, 'How can I help you?' Make the discussion personal, and make it a natural part of everyday business. As the top guy, my attitude will help our people work together for common goals."

Rod Weatherly, president and general manager of Heritage Beef Cattle Company in Wheeler, TX, shares Miller's concerns. After a period of rapid expansion, Weatherly is refocusing his management approach to a team concept.

"We've reached the point where management responsibilities must be spread out," he says. "Goals for individuals and teams are shifting, but my chief goal is unchanged: I must strive to be an effective coach and leader. Morale is my responsibility. I can never hang my head. I must maintain an air of confidence. And I must express that attitude around everyone - customers, managers and employees."

Time Frame As part of the recipe for success, goals first must be doable, then they must be rational. At Sudan Livestock and Feeding in Sudan, TX, manager Dan Cantrell focuses on specific time frames when he sets goals.

For regular employees Cantrell reviews goals on a weekly and monthly basis. "The reason," he says, "is that those guys are the ones in the trenches battling every day. There is no need to confuse them with too much of the big picture. Their goal is to accomplish that next task right now or next week.

"The next level is my department managers, and I've found that they are very good at providing input for our mid-range goals, six months to a year. A two-year goal is not really valid for them.

"Then come my partners and myself. We tackle the long-range goals like growth and maintaining or expanding our customer base. All customers have some service needs in common, but we have to be able to fit their needs individually, as well. Adopting new technology fits there," Cantrell says.

Jeff Curtis, owner/manager of Curtis Custom Feeders in Connell, WA, also says meeting customer needs is his No. 1 goal.

"First of all, customers rely on me for sound advice," he explains. "In this business climate I'll recommend a client sell his cattle at a break-even price. And if they have a couple of respiratory deaths that I don't feel are justified, I'll buy those cattle. Sometimes they don't even know - they probably figure they were purchased for slaughter. But if you set a goal of providing great customer service, that's one of the ways you meet it."

Team-Oriented Goals The next level of goals concerns those that are team oriented. Erick Farmer, owner/manager of Eckley Feed Yard near Yuma, CO, embodies the team player. Two years ago, he bought an old feedlot containing only 600 head. He expanded it to 12,000 head within three months.

Farmer's first goal was simple: Fix gates, fences, feed bunks and equipment to get the place in top shape. Then, he implemented real team goals.

"I'm a hands-on manager who functions as one of the crew," he says. "We all work together and we share the same goals. We shoot for 0.3% annual death loss and we don't want any pen-deads. That takes constant vigilance.

"Once we got fine-tuned, we decided to eliminate chute bruises and injection damage. With implants we want 100% accuracy with no site contamination. It's continuous pursuit of team goals and you can get there. But it takes a top-flight crew. They have to be honest, motivated and confident. In effect, they set goals for themselves. I don't even have to tell them what the goals are; they just trickle down through constant communication."

While some goals are easily measured, Jim Cobine finds himself in quite a different situation. As general manager of Masami Foods in Klamath Falls, OR, Cobine feeds for a Japanese owner and an export (Wagyu beef) market.

"We face a very difficult feeding environment," he says. "We get specific instructions from Japan, there are language barriers, and we feed these animals for a year - not for 100 days. So the whole operation revolves around team effort.

"Success is measured by grade, so we have to have employees who are very skilled at examining the animals. They have to determine if they are still progressing, or have they reached the stopping point? Did we start them on feed too early or too late? If they are put on feed too early it costs too much to feed them out. If we start them too late they won't make grade. So education/training is the No. 1 goal. Still, because there is no formula we are proved wrong about as often as we are proved right. It's a constant challenge, and we never stop monitoring our progress."

Individual Goals When setting goals for individuals, Dan Cantrell says the most important factor is that the goal must be attainable - with some stretch - and also measurable. For example, he says a goal for 0% death loss is a poor goal because it's not attainable. But shooting for less than 1% is attainable and measurable.

"We want our feed truck drivers to deliver within one percent of the called amount of feed," he says. "And the feed must be placed in clean bunks - that's pass/fail. They are either clean or they are not. We also don't want any spoilage or any feces in the bunks.

"Another goal, during processing, is that implant retention be 97% or higher. To measure that we have ear checks twice each month.

"Goals should be set very carefully. But I believe that if there's no stretch involved, you are not dealing with a goal. Instead, you are living with the status quo."

According to Neal Odom, managing partner of McLean Feedyard, Inc., in McLean, TX, individual goals need to evolve.

"Goal setting is an ongoing process that is particularly valuable for an employee who is not up to speed," Odom says. "Consistency in job performance is what I look for and goals are stated along the way. If an employee is performing something poorly, I'll set a goal for the next step - sometimes within a time frame. I like to work from a baseline and show them the targets we are working toward. When their performance hits that desired level of consistency, I move the bar up."

All goals, however, are not strictly based on performance levels. Rod Weatherly has a unique set of goals that are based on pride.

"In 1995 we won the Environmental Stewardship Award from the National Cattlemen's Beef Association," he says. "We wanted to continue that tradition so we put cleanliness and neatness on the top of our list.

"There are no soft drink cans on the ground. Whether it's cleaning a fence or blading a road we want it to look great when it's done. It may sound simple but everyone here takes a lot of pride in the way our grounds look. Employees of each department take care of their area and it has been a real morale booster."

When setting daily, weekly or monthly production goals for employees, it's important to understand the process - and know how goal setting can go wrong. For a concise, thorough explanation on the psychology of setting goals, it's hard to beat a Web site based in Great Britain called Mind Tools ( Designed as a self-help resource, it will aid managers who want to construct practical goals for their employees. Here's their recipe for success:

Common problems to avoid Many managers make the mistake of setting goals that are unrealistically high. Even if done unintentionally, it's likely your employee will put little effort into trying to achieve it. On the other hand, goals that are not challenging enough will be perceived as a waste of time. So be realistic.

Goals also should be very specific. If a goal is too vague, and performance cannot be measured, it's difficult to decide if the goal has been reached. Goals must be precise and measurable.

How to set effective goals It's much better to set positive rather than negative goals. People respond better when they are taught how to reach a goal, rather than told the consequences of failure.

Another important concept is to set priorities because employees need to know what comes first. Give each goal a clear ranking so the person responsible for reaching the goal does not feel overwhelmed.

Also, keep routine production goals in the proper perspective. If basic goals are too large, employees may get the feeling that they are not progressing. Achievable goals give more opportunity for reward and a feeling of satisfaction.

Be realistic A common problem is to set a goal for someone else based only on what you want. Consider the desires and ambitions of the person expected to reach the goal.

Another common problem is not providing sufficient information to the employee. This is a training issue. Be sure the employee has the knowledge needed to successfully reach the goal.

Goals also should not be based at a level considered to be top performance. If someone ran a four-minute mile when they were 22 years old, it's unrealistic to expect them to beat that time when they are 45.

Set performance goals, not outcome goals Outcome goals are risky for two reasons. First, they set a specific plateau that is the only measure of success. Second, an outcome goal does not allow for outside influences beyond the employee's control - like weather, poor markets or injury.

As an example, consider a mile race where the runner's goal is to finish in the top three. That's an outcome goal. During the race, a judge makes a mistake and disqualifies the runner. Due to something beyond the runner's control, he cannot reach his goal.

On the other hand, if the runner had set a performance goal - to finish the race in a specific time - he could achieve the goal despite the judge's error.

Give feedback When an employee achieves a goal, let them enjoy it. And if the goal was significant, reward them.

If an employee fails to reach a goal, make sure they learn why, so they can apply that knowledge to future tasks. Did they put enough effort into the task? Did they apply themselves enough to learn the necessary skills? Was their knowledge base adequate?

Finally, be aware as a manager that goals constantly need to evolve. Reevaluate goals regularly to keep them in line with your vision - and your employees' abilities.

Branded beef has its problems

Whenever cattle prices are in trouble, one of the first "solutions" is to dump the federal grading system and move to private branding. Before we embark on such a path toward private grading and branding, we might best consider the ultimate results of such a move. It might also pay to briefly review the history of federal grades and their impact on the industry.

The federal grading system for beef was initiated in the 1920s for one thing - to provide uniform terminology for price reporting. The grades were extended to live cattle for the same reason - so we could compare Choice steer prices in Amarillo with Choice steer prices in Chicago.

The grades were not even thought of as consumer grades until much later. In the 1950s, economists doing consumer market research found that the federal beef grades also reflected the quality of beef. The higher the federal grade, with more fat (marbling), the more tender and juicy the cuts of beef.

Through their own research studies, large food retailers also found similar acceptability results. Soon, federal beef grades were mass merchandised to consumers throughout the entire retail and HRI (hotel, restaurant & institution) industry. The federal beef grades soon added a value to the beef and, even today, the grade has a value.

Most food retailers used federal grades almost exclusively in purchasing their beef. Such grades provided beef buyers with a consistent, unbiased quality grade and also allowed them to purchase this type of beef from any packer that had federal grading. The growth of the beef industry from small local supply-consumption areas to a nationally distributed food product was due largely to the use of these federal grades.

New Breeds As newer beef breeds were developed, the grade standards were "adjusted" to allow this new beef to attain the higher grades. In fact, for a while this was done almost every 10 years. Consumer acceptability was used as the excuse for the changes but the grades themselves became less reliable. Some retailers even became confused about the newer grades and started backing away from using them.

These factors, plus the push by the cattle industry to merchandise more "lean" beef, and the altered cattle production (more exotic breeds requiring longer feeding periods and heavier weights to reach higher grades), caused the proportion of beef graded Choice to drop significantly. In 1990 almost 90% of beef was graded Choice; now the figure is closer to 60%. The image of quality beef has also probably suffered because of this production trend.

Today, federal grades are still an integral part of the beef industry. They still provide uniform terminology and the only official unbiased beef and cattle grade source. While the grades are not "sold" to the consumer as much and house brands are frequently super-imposed, they are still vital to the beef purchasing system.

Private branding may sound great but it does have some severe problems. Beef buyers who use them would be locked into purchasing from the only one supplier of that brand. As a consequence, this would reduce the buyer's bargaining ability and provide a less competitive market. Price information would also be greatly affected and market reporting might cease altogether.

Some cattle that graded Commercial in 1954 would today grade Choice. Should there be any question about why there's so much variability today? We have a good system in place, but it needs to be rescued from the periodic changes that have confused its users. Left alone, users will again become familiar with it and structure their buying programs around it.

Cattle Feeding Statistics The USDA Cattle On Feed Report showed 9.72 million head of cattle on feed in the U.S. on May 1, 1998. This is in feedlots with capacities of 1,000 head or more. That represents a 2% drop in cattle feeding from a year ago, about the same reduction as the April feeding level.

While this national total was down, some states - Texas, Nebraska, Idaho, South Dakota and Washington - actually reported increases. Based on the May statistics, these states alone accounted for 52% of the cattle on feed.

Fed-cattle marketings in April reached 1.88 million head, down 2% from a year ago. It's also the third consecutive month of steady marketings.Forecast equa tions suggest that larger marketings are coming in either May or June. Since the May weekly sales did show some very large movements of feedlot cattle in the Texas Panhandle area, they may have already occurred.

Placements of cattle and calves into feedlots in April were 1.58 million head. This is up 2% from a year earlier but down a sharp 7% from the March placement level. The largest placement gain was reported in Texas, but healthy increases were also recorded in Nebraska and Oklahoma.

Feeder cattle and calves placed on feed by weight groups were all down from the previous month except the heaviest group which remained steady. Compared to a year ago, only the very lightest calves, those in the "less than 600 lbs." category, were lower. All other groups were up 7-10%.

Here Is What's Ahead The cattle market moved higher in early May and then lost the gain in the final weeks. Both slaughter cattle and feeders followed a similar price path.

Choice fed steers in the Amarillo feedlot area reached their highest level of the year the first full week of May, as did heavier feeders. >From there, however, it was all downhill. The drop was only about $3/cwt. for feds but as much as $10/cwt. for heavy feeders.

The cattle market may be able to hold on to its current price levels as we move through the summer. This largely depends on if the anticipated larger feedlot marketings have already moved into the market or not. The later summer months should bring us back into a March-April feedlot marketing level. That would probably allow some price improvement.

Feeder cattle and calf prices will continue to track the fed-slaughter cattle. Emerging drought conditions in the South and West, however, might force some early movement of calves. That would hurt late summer prices unless feedlots again move into the black and begin buying feeders earlier this year.

Roadmaps For Success

Veterinarians detail the cost/benefit of a Volkswagen, Chevy and Cadillac herd health program.

Disease prevention means more than simply loading a syringe and injecting the magic potion. Granted, it's an integral part of a thorough infectious disease prevention program, but it's still just a part, says Texas A&M University veterinarian Steve Wikse.

Wikse says proper nutrition that supplies the right amounts of nutrients needed for a strong immune response - like energy, protein, vitamins A and E, and the minerals copper, selenium and zinc - are also the foundation for a sound herd health program.

But vaccinations alone, says Lynn Woodard, University of Wyoming veterinarian, are "just a tool to prime the immune system so when you get exposure you can ward off infection. In fact, all the vaccinations in the world won't overcome flaws in management such as poor nutrition or excess stress."

Woodard firmly believes that following a well-designed herd health program goes a long way in curtailing shipping fever problems. "But, anything you can do to minimize stress at weaning and shipping helps. If we were really adept at controlling stress, that would be just as effective as some vaccination programs," he says.

VW, Chevy Or Cadillac In an effort to put a dollars-and-cents business perspective on vaccination and herd health programs, Wikse and other Texas A&M veterinarians have developed a model of three different vaccination schedules - with costs - that can provide varying degrees of risk against disease losses and help cut shipping fever problems.

The examples are based on a 1,000-cow herd with 30 bulls, a 900 weaned calf crop and 300 heifers kept as replacements. Costs for the programs include only the cost of the vaccines purchased locally. There are no estimates for labor, syringes or needles. Also, a 60- to 90-day calving season makes administration of these three programs easier, Wikse points out.

Here are how the Volkswagen, Chevy and Cadillac vaccination programs stack up.

Volkswagen Program Plainly, this is a basic vaccination program, says Wikse. It protects calves against clostridial diseases and cows against the three most common reproductive diseases: brucellosis, leptospirosis and campylobacteriosis.

"These are must vaccinations," Wikse claims. "Herds that do not vaccinate against them are risking an unacceptable amount of loss of animals and productivity."

In addition, he says anaplasmosis and redwater could be added in areas where they are risks.

Wikse also says this program doesn't work well for retained ownership because "there are no vaccinations given for respiratory tract pathogens in this program."

Cost for the vaccines in this program in the 1,000-cow herd runs $3,114 or $3.11/cow.

Chevy Program This is a souped-up version of the VW program. It adds coverage by providing intermediate degrees of protection against viral embryonic deaths or abortions and viral pneumonia of calves, Wikse says.

In addition to vaccination of adults against the clostridial diseases, this program adds multiple vaccinations against the "Big Three" viruses to calves and replacement heifers in an attempt to develop a long-lasting immunity, Wikse explains.

"We hope that in adulthood, periodic exposure to field strains of these agents will serve as 'natural boosters,'" Wikse says.

He adds that killed virus or certain modified live virus (MLV) vaccines are options for nursing calves. Use of MLV vaccines in calves that are nursing pregnant cows has been thought to be dangerous due to possible vaccine virus transmission to the cows, resulting in abortion. Recent research, however, has shown that certain MLV vaccines do not spread from vaccinated calves to nonvaccinated cows.

"It's not known, however, if killed virus vaccines can serve as primer immunizations like MLV vaccines in the face of maternal immunity," Wikse says.

Cost for the vaccines in this program in the 1,000-cow herd runs $5,854.90 or $5.86/cow.

Cadillac Program This is a more complete program and provides better protection against reproductive losses due to the Big Three viruses, Wikse says. It also supplies all the vaccines required for preconditioning calves against pneumonia.

The basic additions to the Chevy program are annual vaccinations of adults against the "Big Three" viruses, and include Pasteurella hemolyticum toxoid in the calf vaccination program.

Cost for vaccines in this program in the 1,000-cow herd runs $8,692.80 or $8.69/cow.

Naturally, depending on location and other factors, some veterinarians would modify these cow-calf vaccination program guidelines. In fact, Wikse claims some might even add a Mercedes program that would include vaccination against trichomoniasis and/or vaccination of dams in late pregnancy against agents that cause calf scours.

Still, with the three programs above, the big question remains: Do the extra health costs pay off? Absolutely, Wikse claims.

He says the above programs show vaccine costs of roughly $3/cow, $6/cow and $9/cow, respectively, to provide different levels of risk protection.

Figuring a $400 calf at weaning, the improved production needed to cover vaccine expenses would only be eight calves for the 1,000-cow herd to implement the Volkswagen program, another seven calves as it moves to the Chevy program, and another seven calves to move to the Cadillac program.

"So, production would only have to improve by 2.2 calves per 100 cows, or 22 calves per 1,000 cows, or an overall 2.2 percent increase in production to pay for the vaccines in the Cadillac program," Wikse says. "I'd expect a good vaccination program to increase a beef herd's production far more than that."

Region-By-Region Differences Obviously, vaccination and herd health programs vary by region. For example, in North Central and Western states, Wyoming veterinarian Woodard says their vaccinations programs do not include lepto vaccination for calves. "We rarely see lepto as a cause of abortions anymore so we recommend vaccinating calves only if it's endemic to the area," he says. "As an insurance policy, cows should be vaccinated with vibrio/lepto annually."

Woodard also recommends vaccinating cows for scours - which is more common in northern states - as close to calving as possible. "Be sure to use scours vaccines that act against both E. coli and viral agents," he says.

To stay abreast of new technology and vaccine regimens, Woodard urges producers to develop a good relationship with their local veterinarian. "There is no one size fits all vaccination program. You need to do things that work in your area," he says.

(These vaccination schedules are general guidelines only. Details of a specific ranch vaccination program should be based on the advice of a local veterinarian who is familiar with that ranch's management practices and the diseases that are prevalent in that area, says veterinarian Steve Wikse.)

Moving cattle to pasture

Last month was cold and wet. One day the temperature got above 70 degrees F, but most days have been cold and many nights freezing. The grass is growing nicely, however, thanks to all the rain.

Grasses on our semi-arid rangelands are programmed to take advantage of any moisture; they put forth many seeds that may never sprout, but when wet weather comes along it seems like every seed becomes a new plant.

We've moved our cows to one of our hill pastures. The pasture has no water, but our field ditch is close enough to pump from. We moved the upper cows from one 160-acre pasture to the other, until they went to summer range. With the rain, our hill pastures are already growing back. You'd never know they had been grazed once. They will make good fall pasture when we come home from BLM range.

Checking Fences And Gates On one of the nicer days in early May, Jim hauled salt out to the range on his 4-wheeler. It gets too muddy to go anywhere out there in a vehicle when it rains, so we were lucky to get the salt out between storms. On May 15 a neighbor babysat little Emily, and Andrea and I rode seven hours checking range fences and shutting all the gates between our range and the next.

The next day we put our cows out - four bunches from our various hill pastures. Lynn hiked up to a gate in the Gooch Basin pasture, calling the cows. They trotted and galloped up the hill after him. Even the yearling heifers have learned to follow a person on foot, horseback or 4-wheeler when called.

When we brought the cows out of the Cheney Creek pasture we noticed Henny lame with foot rot. We took her and her calf to our upper corral and Lynn went home to get some LA-200 while Andrea and I put that group out to the range. We gave Henny her injections in the runway to the loading chute. The LA-200 halted the infection and inflammation; she was walking normally by the next day.

After the cattle were out on the range, Andrea and I took turns every other day or so looking after little Emily while the other rode to check on the cows. Last week the neighbor babysat for us so Andrea and I could move cows to the next range pasture.

We keep them on the low range about three weeks, then they go to a much larger pasture for about two months. We like to move them over several days, gathered in small, paired-up bunches rather than one big group. They stay mothered up better.

Many of our cows hike to the high part of that range (2,000 ft. higher than the low end) by the next day. Andrea hiked around the fence before we put cows in there, to put in staples and splice wires back together that hunters cut last fall. She also got several troughs working again, unplugging the spring boxes that had clogged with mud.

Crossfencing Plans Last week we decided where to put the crossfence on our 320-acre pasture, and flagged it. We've wanted to divide it for a long time because the cows in the fall eat the lower south-slope corner too quickly. They need to graze the top and north slope first, before it snows under, and save the sunny lower corner for last. It's accessible after the other grass snows under or the creek and troughs freeze on the shady north side.

Most years, this fence will extend our grazing three to four weeks. Jim started setting posts, and we hope to get it finished before haying. Ranchers in the lower valley are thinking about haying (if the weather ever dries out), but our hay is rarely ready until early July.

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

In his book Masterful Coaching, international business consultant Robert Hargrove urges managers to reassess the manner in which they set goals. While standard, incremental performance goals are worthwhile, Hargrove suggests adding what he calls "stretch"

When employees excel, give them independence and recognize their accomplishments.

Any "manager" who deserves the title knows his personal success is inextricably tied to his employees' success. For a manager to reach his goals, employees must first reach theirs. The challenge, then, is building the management skills that foster loyalty, strengthen the work ethic and encourage a quest for excellence.

Nothing works better than rewarding accomplishment. But before that can happen, managers must create an atmosphere within the business that allows employees to achieve their goals. And the best method, most managers say, is to give your people the power to control their own destinies.

"I went through a very interesting situation a few years ago," says Dan Cantrell, manager of Sudan Livestock and Feeding in Sudan, TX. "I had just taken over a feedlot, and when I met with the ownership group they let me know they were very unhappy with the performance of the middle managers. They were perceived as 'weak' supervisors.

"When we met again nine months later, I was congratulated - the middle managers were now perceived as a strength. But they were the same people. All I did was remove the existing constraints. I gave them the power to make their own decisions and their own mistakes. They determined how to accomplish their goals."

When it comes to employee empowerment, Cantrell says he follows a very simple formula.

"If I say, 'Do this job this way,' they have to do that. If I say, 'Do this job,' they do it their way. And I always ask if they have a better way than mine."

Like Cantrell, Neal Odom, managing partner of McLean Feedyard, Inc., in McLean, TX, believes in the value of employee empowerment to attain goals.

"All of my department managers have full authority to make decisions within certain guidelines," Odom says. "What I mean is that there are always going to be times when they need partners to help. I encourage dialogue within and among each department because input from many sources is so valuable.

"I don't spend much time worrying about their decision making. If it's a good decision, it works. If it's a bad decision, it's practice."

Odom also stresses flexibility as an integral part of setting and achieving goals. Short-term goals are managed informally - if they turn out to be poorly conceived, they are immediately culled. Long-term goals get the same scrutiny.

"Even long-range goals must be flexible," he says, "because times change, the customer base changes, and the industry changes. If our goals are on target, they are easy to monitor. I communicate them, the middle managers monitor them, then I follow up to see if we got there."

Rewarding Success Once employees are empowered to reach their goals, it's important to reward them. And rewards come in many different forms.

Neal Odom, for example, is a firm devotee to the art of bestowing praise. "It's a personal goal of mine to take the time to tell an employee or manager they have done a good job," he says. "That will buy more production efficiency and camaraderie than money or bonuses ever will."

This year, Odom is instigating another set of rewards. He is creating a list of restaurants, movie theaters and hotels where employees can just say, "Charge it to the boss."

"When someone does a great job, they'll be rewarded with a night out," he says. "It's a feel- good thing, and people need to feel good."

Like many managers, Jim Miller, president of Miller Feedlots in LaSalle, CO, mixes cash bonuses with non-cash rewards.

If death losses, for example, are held below a certain target - on a pen-by-pen basis - employees responsible for beating the goal get a bonus. Even feed truck drivers, who are assigned a specific vehicle, can qualify for bonuses. Since the driver is responsible for maintenance, Miller analyzes maintenance expenses, compares that to age and condition, then awards the driver a bonus after an inspection proves he's done a top job.

"But there are more important things than money when managing people," Miller says. "Say it's Christmas and one of my employees has young children. I'll drive their truck or loader myself and cut them loose on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I think good employees appreciate those kinds of things more than cash - especially when it's a surprise.

"We also have a tradition for Sundays. On Saturday afternoon we'll feed extra. Then we start an hour early on Sunday, knock off for church, and they don't have to come back in the afternoon. And they get paid for the full day."

At Eckley Feed Yard near Yuma, CO, owner/manager Erick Farmer says meaningful rewards begin with praise, but they don't end there. Farmer always arranges for employees to get time off when they need it. He's loaned money to an employee for a home purchase. He has even awarded a pen of cattle as a bonus.

"I believe in incentives," he says, "but not when they are proposed on the front end of a job. That's bait. Rewards should be given at the end of a cycle. Then they know they accomplished their goal on their own and earned the reward."

Rod Weatherly, president and general manager of Heritage Beef Cattle Company in Wheeler, TX, says he's experimented with a number of reward programs including 401(k) plans and cash bonuses. But he says the "little things" have meant much more to his employees.

"The power of a compliment is absolutely amazing," he says. "Once I wrote a note on the payroll checks thanking our people for all their effort and hard work. You would not believe how many of them told me that meant a lot to them.

"But the most memorable moment occurred at last year's company Christmas party," Weatherly says. "We hosted it in an old barn around the time Disney released that 101 Dalmatians movie. Anyway, my folks have an old horse-drawn buggy and we packed it full of those stuffed Dalmatians that were so popular. When we announced that Santa Claus was coming, and he rode into the barn on that buggy, the kids just went crazy. It was absolutely wonderful to participate in that."

Dan Cantrell and Erick Farmer know all about change. Cantrell recently stepped in as the new manager at Sudan Livestock and Feeding, and Farmer purchased a feedyard just two years ago. Goal-setting for employees under those conditions - when you are the new boss - must be done carefully.

"There's always a learning curve you go through," says Cantrell. "Each place has a personality. Each corporate entity has its own culture. And, length of employment varies. If you inherit a crew that has been together for 15 years, they are difficult to change."

Cantrell says he likes to ease in and work within existing boundaries at first. Within a few weeks he gets a feel for how quickly - or slowly - he can phase in new goals.

"Think small during the early stages of transition," he says. "Begin with simple, attainable, short-term goals. Build momentum and focus on establishing a 'yes' mentality. Within six months you'll know how far and how fast you can move with the employees."

Company goals, he says, are much easier to develop.

"Personalities aren't such a big part of the mix," he says. "Stockholders judge the bottom line, so you begin by setting goals for expenses, income, yard capacity and retained customers. You try to develop a program that will reduce employee turnover because it's expensive and bad for morale. Those types of goals - my personal goals - are self-imposed."

For Erick Farmer, who purchased a dilapidated feedlot and went from 600 head to 12,000 in90 days, goal setting was all-encompassing. Fortunately, Farmer is a natural at it.

"Since I was a kid, I've always been a goal setter," says Farmer, who purchased the business when he was only 22 years old. "But there's a fine line when setting goals. Put them too high and you are set up for disappointment. Set them too low, and you won't work hard enough. You have to balance the possible with the challenge."

Farmer's first goal was simple: Fill the lot. Once that was accomplished, largely with new customers, he set a goal to quickly become competitive with established feedyards in the area.

Next, he focused on establishing permanent relationships with customers, vendors and banks. Then he turned his goal setting to the big picture, a mission statement of sorts.

"I wanted to feed an animal efficiently, compete fairly with anyone, and provide a consistent product for the consumer," he says. "But accomplishing those goals was dependent on hiring top-notch employees.

"There was a lot of pressure. At first, my age was a liability because as the owner/manager I was working with employees who were a lot older than I was. But I'm a hands-on manager that works side by side with the employees and they respected that. Age is no longer an issue."

Neither is Farmer's approach to the business. He has not had a single employee move on.

"Everyone knows I set my goals high," he says, "because it's something I talk about with the crew all the time. Constant communication is the key. Everyone knows what we want to accomplish and we all take great pride in what we are doing."


* The New Dynamics of Goal Setting by Dennis Waitley

* Goal Setting: Key to Individual and Organizational Effectiveness by Charles L. Hughes

* Masterful Coaching by Robert Hargrove

* Managing for Excellence by David L. Bradford and Allan R. Cohen

* Enlightened Leadership by Ed Oakley and Doug Krug

* Teamwork: Involving People in Quality and Productivity Improvement by Charles A. Aubrey, II and Patricia K. Felkins

* Teams by James L. Lundy

* Don't Fire Them, Fire Them Up by Frank Pacetta with Roger Gittines

* The We-Force in Management by Lawrence G. Hrebiniak

* Rewarding and Recognizing Employees by Joan P. Klubnik

Internet sites: * *

Reducing BRD with nutrition

In the not too distant future, I plan to conduct courses in nutrition. Among these will be instruction in the field of consulting. An item to be stressed is that there is much more to nutrition consulting than just nutrition. You must be able to motivate people.

This is particularly true for feedlot nutrition. If you are unable to motivate those who actually process, mix, deliver and manage the feed, you haven't done your job. Feedlot performance is about 60% science, the rest is management.

To a certain extent, I must confess to hypocrisy. With respect to nutrition and BRD (shipping fever) there is one very important concept that only rarely have I been successful in motivating clients to adopt.

Specifically, 20 years ago Texas A&M University conducted research that showed a substantial reduction in morbidity (sickness) for calves receiving concentrate feed before shipping. Calves were shipped from Tennessee to Texas, and those receiving a good quality mixed ration had fewer treatments and lower death loss than those fed only hay.

Research Was Largely Overlooked Unfortunately, the industry pretty much overlooked this research. Why? Apparently, because a much more appealing study was done in conjunction. Specifically, the now famous potassium (K) work of Dr. Dave Hutcheson was super-imposed.

Don't get me wrong, the potassium work was extremely valuable information but, as Dr. Hutcheson himself will tell you, in order to get the response to K, you must have specific conditions. The calves must have actual tissue shrink (not just fill shrink), and the ration must otherwise have nominal levels of potassium. (Texas A&M used a cottonseed hull ration. With alfalfa or lush green forages you will not get the response.)

But the potassium work caught everyone's attention because it falls in line with another aspect of the psychology of nutrition: the concept of the silver bullet. Around the world, producers are looking for that one item that will solve all their problems.

With receiving rations we've seen several nutrients profiled as the key to success. Copper, zinc, chromium, selenium and vitamin E from time to time have all made the headlines. The reality, of course, is that nutrition is the balance of nutrients.

Individual minerals are important, but no single item is going to save the day. Quite the opposite. Going overboard can be detrimental. I have seen calves killed with excess copper and iodine, and have heard on occasion of so much potassium chloride being put in supplements that calves wouldn't eat them.

But the silver bullet philosophy also extends to vet medicine. Backgrounding operators are always looking for that special antibiotic or vaccine that will turn their death loss around. With respect to the vet products, there is another item that adds to their appeal: the ease with which they can be administered. All you need is a syringe.

Order buyers are increasingly willing to run calves through a chute and stick them with whatever needle you request. But ask them to provide a special feed, and in most cases you will get nothing but resistance. Vaccines and antibiotics can be ordered from and delivered by the supplier. Likewise, a large inventory can be kept in a refrigerator.

Feeds are much more problematic. Feed mills may not want to run small batches of custom feeds and in most cases will not deliver. In that case, you must take the time to review the products they have in inventory, and then make a decision. Subsequent to that, arrangements must be made for someone to pick up the feed, and storage is needed.

One client I was able to convince to feed his calves prior to shipment used truck drivers. In this case he had his own truck line and would send them the day before, along with some bagged feed. It cost an extra day's wages and a motel bill for the trucker, but we felt the reduction in morbidity was worth it.

Unfortunately, not all truckers (or order buyers) are as cooperative. If we ask them to provide special feed, most will look at us like we're some sort of dude.

The result is that most backgrounding or stocker operators don't feel the hassle is worth it. Rather than argue with order buyers on the phone, be put on hold by various feed companies, and/or try to explain the nutritional aspects of immunology to someone who doesn't know or care, they'd rather just wait till the calves arrive.

The Clock Is Ticking The problem is that the clock starts ticking way before the calves are delivered. The minute they arrive at the first sale barn or order buyer's pens, disease incubation begins. The immune response also begins, but if hay is all the calves get to eat ... the response will be impaired.

Hay simply does not have enough nutrition to maximize the immune response. And no vaccine and no amount of antibiotic (either before or after they arrive at the feedlot) can offset poor nutrition.

Next month: Fescue and year-round grazing.

David P. Price is a consulting nutritionist specializing in feedlot and range cattle. A number of his books and a subscription newsletter are available through BEEF magazine by contacting Marilyn Anderson at 800/722-5334, ext. #710.