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Articles from 2002 In July


Beef Checkoff To Continue While Appeal Is Pending

State and national beef checkoff collections will continue without interruption while an appeal is pending, thanks to a court order.

On July 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit granted a request for a stay, which was filed by the Justice Department July 8 on behalf of USDA. The stay postpones implementation of the June 21 decision by a district court in South Dakota, which ruled the beef checkoff unconstitutional and directed that the collection of assessments cease on July 15.

The July 10 decision now means beef producers and importers must continue to pay the $1/head beef checkoff assessment; those who fail to pay the assessment may be subject to late payment charges and civil penalties up to $5,500/violation.

Wythe Willey, president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, says the decision is a significant victory for the majority of beef producers who support the program.

"We are gratified the appellate court has recognized the magnitude of the national beef checkoff program," Willey says. "Every prior attempt to undermine the constitutionality of the beef checkoff has failed, and we are confident that in the end this effort, too, will fail."

BEEF Taste Test

With its home base in Minneapolis, MN, the only border the Pillsbury Co. is south of is the Canadian border. But that's apparently no obstacle to producing a great Mexican-flavor convenience beef product.

Our BEEF Taste Test panel gives Pillsbury's Old El Paso® Taco Sauce with Seasoned Ground Beef a hearty thumbs up. The fully-cooked, microwaveable product rated an overall score of 8.6 on a 10-point scale, which places it very comfortably in the top half of the 25 convenience beef products we've put to the test thus far.

Taco Sauce with Seasoned Ground Beef comes in a 20-oz., microwaveable, re-sealable plastic container, is available nationally and sells for $5.99. It's the latest in a wide variety of easy-to-prepare Old El Paso products, and it meshes nicely with other Old El Paso offerings such as taco shells, sauces, seasonings and other Mexican side dishes.

“This product is quick, convenient and really delivers on taste,” said one panelist.

“It's an attractive package and easy to heat in the original container. You can even save the container and use it for leftovers,” added another.

In the individual sub-categories within the three major categories of packaging, convenience and sensory factors, the product rated no less than a 4.4 (5-point scale), with one exception. In the serving size category, it drew a 3.6 because panelists felt the 20-oz. package's claim of 10 servings was overly optimistic.

A few panelists also felt the product was too salty. But, higher sodium content is normally found in commercial products containing a sauce or gravy, points out panelist Michelle Torno, a Minnesota Beef Council dietitian. Another thought the consistency was too “soupy.”

The product drew its highest scores in the packaging category. Panelists liked its packaging (4.7 on a 5-point scale) and the completeness of its preparation instructions (4.6) and nutritional information (4.7).

The product garnered another 4.7 in ease of preparation and a 4.6 in preparation time. In the sensory factors of visual presentation, flavor, tenderness, texture and juiciness, it averaged a 4.5.

The overall judgment of the panel was fairly well summed up by one panelist's overall comment: “This is a great way to add value to ground beef and make it convenient.”

Sold On Silage

Silage hybrids continue to be adapted for a wider geographic range and varying agronomic conditions. Thus, silage is being counted on in more backgrounding and specialty feeding operations.

Many of those producers are turning to the economy of open pits or bunkers to make and store silage. Under those conditions, the basic rule of ensiling becomes increasingly critical — keep the air out.

Silage quality may be more important in backgrounding rations than in finishing rations, says Mike Harkness, Scott City, KS. He's owner of Harkness Cattle & Land — a cattle enterprise that includes cattle backgrounding and finishing.

“There's a higher percentage of silage in the backgrounding ration,” says Harkness. “And it's just good feeding practice to give those young and growing cattle the best feed you have.”

Whether it's his own crop or corn purchased locally, Harkness says there's no substitute for a good chop and proper packing to keep the air out, especially when putting silage up in a bunker. He likes a ¼-in. cut and packs with his heaviest-wheeled tractor.

Harkness also uses a Lactobacillus plantarum-based inoculant and likes to ensure an airtight environment by covering his silage pile with plastic when at all possible.

Often, producers do an excellent job producing a high-quality corn plant only to suffer significant quality losses in storage or feedout, says Bill Mahanna, Johnston, IA. He's a Pioneer Hi-Bred ruminant nutritionist and a leading silage expert.

“Consistency is the name of the game in silage production. That means doing everything you can to make every bite taste and smell the same,” explains Mahanna. “Proper moisture helps when it comes to packing silage and helping exclude oxygen from the bunker.”

Silage hybrids should not dry down too rapidly in the fall, says Mahanna. This ability to “stay green” is an important silage trait because it also prevents too rapid a reduction in whole plant moisture, providing a wider window for harvesting the crop.

Relying on visual assessment of maturity for harvest can result in a crop being much drier than observations would suggest. Overly dry silage is more difficult to compact, and fermentation will be less desirable.

The Milkline Method

The best method to assess maturity is to chop some silage and use a moisture tester. Another indicator of whole plant moisture is to monitor the kernel milkline, he says.

Mahanna suggests walking 10-15 rows into the cornfield and snapping several ears in half.

“As the kernels dry from the top towards the tip, you'll see a line dividing the milky endosperm from the hard starchy endosperm,” he says.

When the kernels reach early-dent stage, the milkline is about ⅓ the way down toward the tip and the plant's moisture level is about 72%. “This is the ideal time to begin chopping for ensiling in a pit or bunker silo,” he advises.

At the well-dented stage, the milkline is about ½ way toward the kernel's tip, and the whole-plant moisture is about 65%. This is the ideal stage to begin chopping for ensiling in an upright silo.

The milkline eventually disappears and a black layer of cells will be visible at the kernel's tip. Waiting until this stage to harvest will result in silage less than 60% moisture — too dry for proper compaction and fermentation.

“The key is to eliminate oxygen as soon as possible after the silage is placed in the bunker,” adds Mahanna. “Be sure your packing capacity can keep up with how fast the silage comes to the pit.”

Forage experts point out that a hard frost will stop maturity, and moisture levels will even out across all maturities.

“Once frost hits, everything left in the field will be ready to chop at the same time,” says J.W. Schroeder, North Dakota State University Extension dairy specialist.

Keeping Up With The Cutters

A good pack is so important to Jay Hasbrouk, Ault, CO, that he switched from a six-row to a four-row chopper to reduce harvest speed. Hasbrouk backgrounds and finishes 5,000 calves and 60,000 lambs/year. As owner of Double J Farms and Feeding Inc., he puts up 17,000 tons of silage/year.

“The biggest challenge is keeping up with the silage cutters,” he says. “It's easy for the choppers to get ahead of the packers.”

Reducing cutting volume makes everybody slow down and do a better job of making silage, he says.

“Patience is the key — and everybody tends to start a little early anyway. But you want to wait and cut the corn at the right stage of maturity.”

Hasbrouk produces beef for Laura's Lean Beef and Coleman Natural Products, as well as his own brand — Double J Signature Cuts. To get as much “natural-based” nutritional boost as possible, Hasbrouk also uses a Lactobacillus plantarum inoculant available from Ecosyl Products Inc.

“It's perfect for starting calves. We get good fermentation and don't see the spoilage or sourness we might otherwise see,” he says. “It's just one more step in producing consistent silage. And it stays fresh whether it's a year old or more.”

Juan Reyes, Wheatland, WY, puts up about 20,000 tons of silage/year for his backgrounding and finishing feedlot. He makes silage from grain corn and feeds it all before the next crop is harvested. He says the extra cost of inoculant doesn't fit his program.

“Maybe if I carried some silage over it would be a different story,” Reyes says. “For the cost of adding inoculant, though, I can go out and buy quite a lot more silage if I need it.”

He maintains that a good pack and a fine chop do wonders for a silage crop.

A significant number of maturity studies on corn silage digestibility have been conducted. Most suggest that increasing grain content of the forage during grain fill will eventually be negated by the increasing cell wall content (and reduced digestibility) in the stover portion of the plant.

The general conclusion is that while grain content is important for energy density, increasing maturity beyond the _ milkline stage may result in corn silage with reduced energy content.

Storage Matters

Whatever the storage facility though, quality losses are primarily attributed to respiration, effluent and aerobic deterioration.

Joe Harrison, Puyallup, WA, recommends layering the corn forage into a bunker silo at depths of 6 in. or less and packing to a rate of 2-3 minutes/ton. The Washington State University (WSU) forage nutritionist says this can be done when forage delivery is in the range of 40 tons/hour. Greater delivery rates require larger tractors or multiple packing tractors, he adds.

Harrison suggests producers cover their bunkers with plastic (preferably white) held down with tires. Check the plastic regularly to ensure it's well sealed.

“Bunker silos are an inexpensive and convenient way to make, store and use silage,” says Schroeder. “Use hybrid maturity information, planting dates and moisture levels to plan a harvest sequence that will put the driest silage in first and finish with the wettest.”

For unavoidably wet corn silage, adding a drier feedstuff may be an option.

“In some regions, it's common for grain, beet pulp, grain screening pellets or alfalfa cubes to be layered into bunkers of wet corn silage,” he says. “Adding these drier feeds holds moisture and prevents effluent, as well as changing the feeding quality of the silage.”

Barley can reduce fiber and increase crude protein and digestibility of the mix. The addition of 10-15% barley (200-300 lbs./ton) reduced the overall moisture content to levels suitable for ensiling in WSU studies. Fermentation acids and pH are generally not affected by adding barley to the silage.

Schroeder cautions that adding absorbents can be inconvenient, and if the grain is moldy it can contaminate the silage. “Also, if an absorbent is added, that level of concentrate must be fed for as long as the silage lasts,” he says.

For the best feed out, it's best not to “buck” into the silage mass when removing silage as this allows channels for the entry of air back into the silage mass. “The face of the pile must be managed carefully or the quality of the silage will be inconsistent,” concludes Schroeder.

Respiration Checklist

Whether it occurs during wilting or after storage, silage respiration involves the oxidation of sugars by plant cells or aerobic microflora, producing carbon dioxide, water and heat. Excessive respiration can severely degrade dry matter and nutrients in fermented corn silage, says Bill Mahanna, a Pioneer Hi-Bred ruminant nutritionist. His checklist for minimizing respiration losses includes:

  • Control moisture content. A 65-72% moisture level for bunker silos allows superior packing and thus the exclusion of more oxygen in the silage.

  • Chop corn silage at a length to allow compaction. Most recommendations indicate ¼- to ⅜-in. length of cut. Chopping finer than ¼-in. may increase effluent losses.

  • Fill and build the face of the bunker quickly to reduce exposure to oxygen. Slow filling or delays increase respiration loss and could encourage surface deterioration or deterioration in the feed bunk when the forage is re-exposed to air.

  • Pack the silage densely.

  • Prevent air penetration into the storage structure. Air leaks in upright silos, holes in bags, and bunkers or piles uncovered with plastic/tires encourage respiration losses.

Find publications and software-based tools for silage storage at www.uwex.edu/ces/crops/uwforage/storage.htm. Look for the spreadsheets entitled “Bunker Silo Density Calculator” and “Bunker Silo Sizing Spreadsheet.”

A Hopeful Superpower

Brazil is already a beef-producing machine. With 165 million cattle and 200 million acres of undeveloped savannah ready for agricultural expansion, the nation is poised to become a beef superpower.

But this status is far from certain, First, a substantial implementation of technology, infrastructure investment and a boost in overall productivity are essential.

“The country has incredible potential,” observes Dan Dierschke, Austin, TX. A cow/calf producer and a U.S. Meat Export Federation director, he recently toured numerous beef farms in south-central Brazil.

“Brazil has the capability to be as competitive with the U.S. in beef as they are in soybeans,” he says. “But they have problems to overcome before they're a major threat.”

Dierschke lists those challenges as:

  • With interest rates approaching 45% annually, there's virtually no borrowing for agricultural production.

  • Endemic parasitic and animal disease concerns, especially the threat of foot-and-mouth disease, are problematic.

  • Government money for agricultural growth and development, especially in the beef sector, is limited.

Yet, Brazilian beef production is anticipated to rise this year and into 2003. Brazil is expecting increased calf crops, reduced slaughter ages, better forage production and improved overall profitability, says Keppler Filho. He's a scientist with Embrapa, Brazil's agricultural research arm.

“Further increases in exports are expected mainly due to advanced productivity in meat packing,” he explains. “Exports will also be helped by the relative weakness of the Real (Brazilian currency) compared to the U.S. dollar.”

Not Time To Panic

Chuck Lambert allows that Brazil has the resources — the cattle, the land and the grain resources — to be a huge beef player. But the National Cattlemen's Beef Association chief economist says those things alone don't justify panic on the part of U.S. producers.

Lambert notes that U.S. beef producers still have a distinct advantage in capital availability, transportation and storage, government research, packing efficiency and animal health.

“That's beyond the all-important factors of basic political and economic stability,” he says. “It should not be understated how important a stable government is to the competitiveness of a country's agricultural sector.”

In many ways, Brazil's livestock sector is similar to the one in the U.S. 100 years ago, says rancher Kathleen Kelly, Meeker, CO. Kelly was a delegate to the International Federation of Agriculture Producers in the Philippines, and she participated in negotiations in Argentina for the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas.

“Brazil has vast regions available for groundbreaking and homesteading,” she says. “And the people are tough, crafty and intent on surviving.”

But she believes Brazilian beef farmers still manage in ways that keep them from becoming more competitive.

“They slaughter cattle at a much older age than most of their competition. And their climate dictates to a great degree the type of cattle they can raise and, therefore, the quality of beef they produce,” she says.

Furthermore, the transportation system, beef processing and cold storage facilities, especially in undeveloped areas, leave a lot to be desired, she adds.

Economic Disparities

Kelly and Dierschke say Brazilian agriculture exhibits the same economic disparities found elsewhere. A lot are “marginal” beef producers — very poor farmers with six or eight cows. Then there are the very rich who have cattle as a sideline.

A recent survey conducted by the International Farm Comparison Network (IFCN) reflects a dim view of Brazilian “family” beef farms. IFCN data indicate the smaller sustainable (no off-farm income) Brazilian beef farms return about $1,500/year. But larger enterprises, many averaging 7,500 animal units or more, are capable of 10% or better profit margins.

“None of the family beef farms in the IFCN study showed a return to labor reaching the wages of local labor markets,” says Filho. The national minimum wage, something ignored more often than not, is about $90/month.

“Beyond the immediate income factor, I believe access to capital is our biggest long-term concern today in Brazil,” explains Filho. “This will constitute a major problem if necessary investments to increase our productivity are not made very soon.”

Depending on the region and production system, the fixed and variable costs of growing a beef animal from birth to slaughter range from 20-31¢/lb. The lowest costs are found in large, extensive farms in Brazil's central-west region, says Sam Giordano of the University of São Paulo. The highest costs are associated with the smaller intensive operations in the south.

“The low costs are mainly due to land and labor prices and the lack of external feed costs,” adds Giordano. “It compensates for the relatively low productivity and low prices farmers receive.”

Dierschke says farmers he saw received about $260 for a 1,000-lb., slaughter-ready animal. “One man I met was buying year-old stockers for $100/head,” he says.

João Mella, buyer for the Independéncia cattle farming and meat packing conglomerate, pays local farmers $120-$160 for 400-lb. calves, depending on quality and raising techniques. He notes that most of the 65,000 cattle Independéncia fattens for slaughter annually graze pastures seeded to Brachiaria sp. — a productive perennial grass yielding 8-12% protein.

“Without this grass, many farmers would not be in the cattle business to this degree,” says Mella. “The investment has been large, but the grass helps us produce more beef at a lower cost. Therefore, we can pay more money to our calf farmers.”

Beyond Corned Beef

Paul Nieuwenhuis, Monaco, is a buyer for Tutty Bon International. He exports beef from Frigorifico Bertin, Brazil's largest exporter. He says Brazilian beef is a mainstay in Europe, where meat consumption is returning to pre-1999 levels. He has no doubt Brazil will continue to be the major beef supplier to Europe.

“Being hormone-free is a major competitive factor,” he says. “And with or without trade sanctions, Europeans will continue to demand hormone-free meat.”

Brazil is scrambling to meet the demands of overseas markets following Europe's episodes with FMD and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). Brazilian exporters are also capitalizing on the void left after Argentina's ill-fated monetary policies put that country into economic chaos last fall.

Nieuwenhuis says it's no secret that Brazilian packers aspire to compete with fresh U.S. and Canadian beef in North American restaurants and meat cases.

“For Brazil today, though, the U.S. market is only in industrialized beef,” he adds. “And, there's a limit to how much canned stew and corned beef Americans can eat.”

Or, is there?

Kelly says she's concerned the U.S. beef industry's push for pre-cooked and further processed beef will open the door for Brazil. Cooked meat is not subject to import quotas or FMD restrictions.

“This is something we have to watch carefully,” she says, “along with keeping Brazil out of our fresh meat markets.”

As number three in exports behind the U.S. and Australia, Brazil knows it's fighting an uphill battle against what it sees as “subsidized” beef sectors in other countries. It also has other problems.

“We are a fragmented country with a lot of different social conditions and problems,” says Antonio Netto, Independéncia founder and president. “But we aren't going backward in Brazil, only forward. Brazil has the desire to become a force in the world economy — with that comes the desire to be the world's premier beef producer.”

See more on Brazil at www.beef-mag.com.

Hopper Poppers

When local ranchers find themselves up to their ankles in grasshoppers, Darrin Pluhar knows it's time to fly into action. For several years, his choices for rangeland grasshopper control have been a short list of insecticides — malathion, acephate (Orthene®), methyl parathion (Penncap M®) and carbaryl (Sevin®).

Pluhar is the owner of Plu's Flying Service of Miles City, MT. He's among a growing number of folks on the front lines of the hopper war who have added to their arsenal a new tool in rangeland grasshopper control — Dimilin®. Other insecticides are labeled for control of grasshoppers in forage grasses, alfalfa and crops.

“Everything considered, Dimilin is a great product for grasshoppers,” says Pluhar. “If we have a year like 1997 — the last year hoppers were really bad here — Dimilin would be a no-brainer.”

This year, because of a cool spring, Pluhar says grasshoppers might be set back a few weeks in his region.

“We really have no idea of what we're going to face until hoppers start showing up,” he adds. “It's just a matter of watching and then moving fast when you decide there are enough under the right conditions to do damage.”

The U.S. has more than 700 different species of grasshoppers. Among the 40 or so that can damage crops, the most damaging to rangelands are the migratory (Melanoplus sanguinipes), bigheaded (Aulocara elliotti) and whitewhiskered (Ageneotettix deorum) grasshoppers.

Outbreaks of grasshoppers and Mormon crickets (Anabrus simplex), a ground-dwelling katydid found in western Rocky Mountain basins, have historically occurred in the 17 states that lie on or west of the 100th meridian. In 2001, they caused an estimated $25 million damage to crops in Utah alone.

Rancher Craig Randall, Broadus, MT, has had experience with grasshoppers. In 1998 he sprayed 10,000 acres of rangeland for grasshoppers. He wishes Dimilin would have been available.

“We'd have had a better kill — and it's definitely safer,” he says. Now, after two years of experience with Dimilin, he's ready to roll with it again if necessary.

As a growth regulator, Dimilin disrupts the nymph's ability to molt and affects a young grasshopper's coordination and feeding habits. Dimilin is also effective on Mormon crickets, primarily a pest on croplands, but they can damage rangelands when at very high populations.

Observation Is Key

“The best thing a rancher can do is get out early and look around,” advises Randall. “But, you have to be a good scout, otherwise you're throwing you're money away no matter what material you use.”

He says economic thresholds are very tough to figure. “It's a matter of past experience — and getting to grasshoppers early.”

Greg Jackson, of Wheatland, WY, says it takes a few days to begin seeing results with Dimilin, but it's “rainfast” and can provide up to a full month of residual control.

“We sprayed 10,000 acres with Dimilin last year,” says Jackson, an aerial applicator. “Within two to three weeks, the areas we sprayed were almost void of grasshopper activity.”

Cost of control is the first thing customers ask, Pluhar and Jackson say.

“We're looking at less than $2 per treated acre for Dimilin, not including application costs,” says Pluhar. “And because it can be applied in alternating treated and untreated swaths, costs can be cut in half.”

This strategy for rangeland grasshoppers is called Reduced Agent/Area Treatment (RAATs). The ultra-low volume product can be aerial applied at 8 oz./acre — half normal rates.

Randall says Dimilin poses no risk to wildlife, birds, fish or nontarget insects, including honeybees. But, the restricted-use pesticide is toxic to some aquatic invertebrates and should not be applied by ground within 25 ft., or by air within 150 ft., of water bodies. Care should be taken to avoid drift and run-off that may reach aquatic organisms.

Ranchers also may need to consider other registered insecticides for spraying protective “barriers” around crops and valuable forage production areas, such as hay meadows, seeded crops like alfalfa or annual forages.

For more information on grasshopper identification and control, check out http://scarab.msu.montana.edu/hpipm/ and www.sdvc.uwyo.edu/ grasshopper.

Zapped!

When margins grow finer than a flea's whisker, some performance management tools can look more luxurious than necessary, especially if results are hard to see with the naked eye.

For instance, Alberto Broce, Kansas State University (KSU) professor of entomology, says stocker operators never realize the damage that flies can cause until cattle hit the scales at the end of the summer grazing season. “Often, producers don't have any idea what it costs them,” he says.

Unchecked, the most common stocker fly pests — face flies, horn flies and stable flies, each can take sizable bites out of performance. For instance, horn flies and stable flies are both bloodsuckers whose painful bites can take a toll of more than 0.5 lb./day in gain.

Face flies, on the other hand, irritate eyes already made fragile by the ultraviolet rays and dust of summer, helping create a productive environment for the Moraxella bovis organism. It's the common culprit behind pinkeye, which the flies also spread from one animal to another.

According to the 1997 National Health Monitoring Service Cow/calf Health and Health Management Practices Report, pinkeye costs the industry about $150 million annually. That's in treatment costs, as well as lost weight gains and milk production.

No surprise then that producers responding to KSU's landmark Beef Stocker 2000 Survey cite pinkeye as one of the most prevalent health challenges they face in cattle 30 days and more after receiving.

Even producers who understand the potential cost of flies and who struggle to control them can find the exercise akin to branding the moon. Flies that are a problem one year may not be the next; products that seemed lethal one year apparently lose their steam the next, and on and on.

Horn flies — the primary pest of pastured cattle — swishing tails are the barometer.

“Since the development of the insecticide resistance problem in horn flies, we've learned important facts about the biology of these flies that producers can use in controlling them,” says Broce.

For one, horn flies are transient pests, moving helter-skelter among a group of cattle. That means not every animal in a group needs to be treated in order for every animal to receive protection. In fact, Broce says the closer to 100% horn fly control within a group of cattle, the faster the flies become resistant to the particular control being used.

“We've also learned we don't need to achieve 100% control of horn flies to prevent the losses they can cause,” says Broce. “Cattle can withstand the attacks of a low number of horn flies without showing any effect on weight gain or performance.”

To control horn flies while battling a build-up in resistance, Broce recommends alternating season to season between organophosphate and pyrethroid products. That's whether the application is eartags, sprays, pour-ons, back-rubbers, dust bags or feed additives.

As for endectocides that control both internal and external parasites, given the mobility of flies, Broce recommends using them to control internal parasites and viewing any control of external parasites as gravy. In other words, these products certainly may reduce the horn fly population a pasture is producing, but they can do nothing to prevent flies from moving in from other pastures.

“In addition, some of these chemicals can be detrimental to dung beetles developing in cow pats,” says Broce.

Face flies — indicated by ear twitching and head tossing.

“Pyrethroid tags remain effective against face flies. Insecticide tags still offer the highest level of face fly control (about 70%),” says Broce. In areas where reduction and prevention of pinkeye transmission is key, he recommends supplementing with an additional and different method of control, primarily to prevent build-up of resistant horn fly populations.

To prevent pinkeye, Harold Garner, Otter Creek Ranch, Eureka, KS, takes the nutritional and stress reduction approach in his stocker pastures. He also feeds chlortetracycline in his mineral, he says, because he says research indicates that feeding chlortetracycline — FDA-approved for low-level feeding to prevent liver abscesses — also reduces incidence and severity of pinkeye, as well as footrot, another common and vexing stocker health challenge.

With mineral in mind, Roger Bechtal of the Bechtal Ranch, Eureka, KS, also emphasizes nutrition as the foundation of a health program. He makes sure he keeps a balanced mineral and trace mineral program in front of his stocker cattle. He also feeds chlortetracycline, along with iodine, in the mineral for prevention.

“I wouldn't just take things for granted, either. Things are always changing, and with new technology, you can come up with better evaluations of what you have,” says Bechtal.

Finally, given the research and practical experience underscoring the value low stress plays in cattle health, Garner says, “Something that has helped us as much as anything is using a dart gun to administer treatment and not having to hassle the cattle as much.”

Stable flies — look for tail switching, feet stomping and bunching.

It used to be that stable flies were viewed as a challenge only in confinement situations such as feedlots and dairies. Turns out, these are the Charlie Lindberghs of the fly world, able to move with the wind as far as 155 miles.

“Ask anyone who had cattle in pasture around here last summer if they saw cattle bunching up,” says Broce. It's a sign of cattle seeking protection from stable flies. “We saw a lot of cattle standing in ponds or lying down to protect their legs.”

In fact, Broce says that in north central Kansas last summer, researchers trapped as many as 820 stables flies/trap/day in pastures. In the feedlot, he explains 150 flies/trap/day is the flashpoint for taking action against them.

Unfortunately, Broce says no efficient chemical control is available for stable flies in the pasture. Consequently, control is about preventing stable fly reproduction rather than picking them off with insecticides.

“Research we did last summer identified winter feeding grounds for round bales as a major source, perhaps the primary source, of these stable flies in pastures,” he says.

Depending on the feeding method, Broce says cattle waste as much as half of a round bale. This hay waste mixed with urine and manure makes an ideal breeding habitat for the flies. Adding insult to injury, Broce emphasizes no chemical application can be applied to the hay ground to control developing stable fly maggots.

With that in mind, Broce suggests reducing the amount of hay waste, reducing overuse of the same ground for feeding, making sure cattle aren't supplied with more feed than they need, and plowing the feeding grounds after winter feeding.

Incidentally, Broce also mentions, “In the past 10 years we've observed what appeared to be failures of insecticide treatments against horn flies in the pasture. Upon investigation, many of these situations turned out to be high populations of stable flies.”

Product And Timing

More than anything, Broce and other veterinarians say zapping flies and the profits they steal requires identifying the fly and then using the right chemical in the right application at the right time. For instance, a particular eartag may be exactly what is needed in a given situation, but if it's applied too early, the active agent may be the weakest when the flies are the heaviest, Bechtal says.

“It's not because there's anything wrong with the tag,” says Bechtal. “It's just the time factor.”

Of course, avoiding flies is an effective strategy, too. In this case, fly control is another benefit some stocker operators attribute to intensive early-season grazing — doubling the stocking rate and halving the pasture time to roughly two and a half months.

“I'm an enthusiast of intensive early stocking because of its benefits in reducing the damaging effects of horn flies and face flies,” says Broce. “An additional benefit is that by taking the cattle out of the pastures in mid-summer (July), there will not be any face flies and horn flies to start new populations next spring.”

In the Flint Hills where Bechtal runs his cattle, flies start cropping up toward the end of the summer season in August and September, depending on the pasture and the location, Bechtal says. So, intensive early season grazing allows some folks to miss the glut of flies.

Bechtal's bottom-line strategy is simple: “Don't be lulled into complacency; always be asking questions.”

For more detailed information on fly control and other stocker management issues, visit www.beefstockerusa.org.

Making money on 2001 calves Part 2

Given the marketing events of the last nine months, marketing your 2001 calves during the current turn-around phase of the cattle cycle has to be the ultimate challenge. My studies suggest that ranchers should seriously consider a different marketing strategy for the expansion, contraction and turn-around phases of the cattle cycle.

Based on my producer contacts of last fall, many Northern Plains 2001 calves were kept back and backgrounded. My analysis shows that if these calves were backgrounded hard (fast-track backgrounding) and marketed at 800 lbs. in January 2002, a small profit beyond that of selling them at weaning was possible.

The feeders who bought these fast-track calves fared worse. Most of them were to be harvested in June 2002. Price projections (as of late May) for June cattle harvest were in the low $60s.

June typically is a period of seasonal price lows, but no one projected prices in the low $60s. I project losses of $96/head for finishing these fast-track backgrounded calves.

When I wrote my June issue column at the end of April, the April 2002 price downturn had just occurred. By May 10, June futures turned upward but weakened by the week of May 23. These weaker prices are reflected in the profit forecasts in this Market Advisor.

Five Short-Run Strategies

My evaluation of six traditional, short-run marketing strategies for 2001 calves is shown in Figure 1. The strategies are:

  • sell at weaning,

  • fast-track backgrounding and sell in January,

  • finish the fast-track, backgrounded calf in another lot,

  • grow and finish in the same lot,

  • run grass steers in summer 2002,

  • finish 2002 steers off grass.

The highest accumulated profit for Northern Plains ranchers is projected selling fast-track backgrounded 2001 feeders right after the first of the year. The lowest profit is projected for the rancher who backgrounds his 2001 calves in one lot and finishes them in another with a target harvest date of mid-June 2002.

I project a loss for running grass steers in summer 2002 and a $25/head profit for the cattle feeder who finishes these 2002 grass steers. Delaying the harvest of 2001 calves can potentially increase the economic returns.

This further suggests that ranchers running grass yearlings this summer should consider retaining and feeding out their grass cattle. Stay flexible; see what price forecasts are at grazing season's end. There's some light ahead.

Less Traditional Strategies

Would ranchers be better off marketing their 2001 calves under a less traditional strategy like split marketing or summer calving?

  • In split-marketing, a rancher divides his calves into heavyweight, middleweight and lightweight groups, then uses a different strategy for each group.

    I prepared an economic analysis in which heavyweight 2001 calves were weaned and sent directly to a growing and finishing lot. The middleweights were backgrounded, then sold right after the first of the year. And lightweight calves were wintered, then run on grass during summer 2002.

    The only weight group projected to add value beyond the value available by selling at weaning is the middleweight group. Heavyweight and lightweight groups would lose money. (Figure 2).

    The projected total herd outcome from this split-marketing strategy generates 30% less total herd net income compared to selling all calves at weaning 2001. As of late May 2002, this split marketing strategy does not look to be a good strategy for marketing 2001 calves.

  • Summer calving strategy. A Nebraska study suggests that May/June calving on grass can reduce production costs, mostly via savings on winter feed. The researchers recommend that calves be weaned and marketed in January or February rather than the more traditional October-November period.

Other advantages of summer calving are higher calf prices with very little weight loss when compared to conventional spring calving and selling at weaning. My analysis suggests summer calving is the most profitable strategy for producing and marketing 2001 calves.

If these summer-born calves were kept past weaning (mid-January 2002), wintered, and then run on grass in summer 2002, I project a substantial reduction in total herd profits compared to selling at weaning. Summer calving in 2001 and selling at January weaning was the best marketing strategy.

Harlan Hughes is a North Dakota State University professor emeritus. He lives in Laramie, WY. Reach him at 701/238-9607 or [email protected].

Figure 1. Traditional marketing alternatives (2001 calves)
Marketing strategy Buy/sell COG Profit/head
1. Sell at weaning N/A $0.70 $113
2. Bckg high ADG -$14 $0.45 $7
3. Fin bckg steer -$16 $0.48 -$71
4. Grow and finish -$30 $0.40 -$20
5. Steers on grass -$12 $0.45 -$19
6. Fin grass steer -$9 $0.47 $20
The six marketing alternatives evaluated here are: 1) selling 565-lb. calves at weaning, 2) backgrounding 565-800 lbs. sold after first of the year, 3) finishing backgrounded steers 800-1,200 lbs., 4) growing and finishing 565-1,175 lbs., 5) steers on grass 625-800 lbs., and 6) finishing grass steers 800-1,250 lbs.
*Projected week of May 29, 2002
Figure 2. Special marketing alternatives (2001 calves)
Marketing strategy Buy/sell COG Profit/head
Split marketing:
1. Sell at weaning N/A $0.70 $100
2. Heavy Calves -$25 $0.42 -$22
3. Middle Calves -$14 $0.47 $2
4. Light Calves N/A N/A N/A
5. Winter -$14 $0.70 -$37
6. Fin grass steer -$13 $0.61 -$68
Summer calving:
1. Sell at weaning N/A $0.71 $142
2. Winter Calves -$14 $0.65 -$61
3. Graze Calves -$13 $0.55 -$55
*Projected week of May 29, 2002

Confinement cow feeding

Confinement feeding of beef cows both before and after calving is standard practice for some operators. For others, it's only a stopgap measure in times of drought or loss of pasture.

Grass is still the preferred practice. It's less expensive and easier to manage. But with the rising cost of pasture — $20-$26/animal unit month (AUM) — and the increasing availability of by-product feeds, confinement feeding may become more feasible.

  • The extra costs of feed storage, processing and feeding equipment are generally the biggest obstacles. All roughages must be ground to improve intake, digestibility and reduce waste. Grinding also improves mixing in the feed wagon when other by-products are added.

  • Mixing is a key to successful confinement feeding as no single feed is usually economical or nutritionally sufficient by itself. Generally, we use a blend of ingredients to balance the diet. Mixing also allows the addition of less palatable feeds to the diet.

    Many by-product feeds are high in moisture (wet pulp, citrus pulp, wet gluten) and need to be mixed with drier feeds. There are also a number of liquid by-products, such as corn steep, condensed Steffens filtrate (CSF) and whey, that can be mixed with dry or high-fiber feeds.

  • Because many rations fed in confinement are fibrous and bulky, bunk size should be adequate to hold a daily feeding and, in some instances, two daily feedings. In feedlots, 9-14 inches of bunk space is usually adequate, but mature cows need up to 3 feet or more/head as boss cows will chase more timid cows from the bunk.

    In some cases, feeding every other day or feeding ad libitum with high-fiber feeds may be the answer. Some feeds, however, must be limit fed so cows will maintain weight and not get fat. Costs go up when feed is wasted.

  • After economics, disease in calves is probably the biggest concern. Diseases tend so spread more rapidly in confinement situations than on pasture or range. Calving in a dry lot is conducive to navel infections, scours and coccidiosis.

    In dry, dusty lots, respiratory infections can be a problem. Wet, muddy conditions also present problems. Provide plenty of dry bedding for calves.

    If possible, a sheltered area only for calves should be made available. In addition, provide some bunk space or creep area for calves as the cow ration is usually too high in fiber.

    Creep-fed calves can be early weaned, thus reducing feed costs for the cow. It's more economical to feed the calf directly than to feed the calf through the cow. Dairy calves are routinely weaned off milk at 6-8 weeks. That's providing that starter intake is 2.5-3 lbs./head/day for one week.

  • Contrary to popular belief, hay is not a good starter feed for calves, even though they may start eating it early in life. Rumen development starts with anatomic and physiological changes in ruminal tissue.

    The esophageal groove closes and the digestive tract grows larger as the calf grows. However, the major factor influencing the development of the forestomach (rumen, reticulum and omasum) of the young calf is diet.

    Dry feed with a high fermentation value — carbohydrates and soluble protein — produces volatile fatty acids (VFAs) that stimulate development of the rumen. Hay produces low levels of VFAs and grains produce high levels. The “scratch” factor (fiber from hay) isn't as relevant as we once thought.

  • Clean water is essential for calves. It's needed to promote starter intake to allow for early weaning. The higher the dry matter intake, the higher the water requirement. The calf can't obtain enough water through milk. Bear in mind that a water trough that is just right for cows is too high for calves.

Despite the management and feeding differences of confinement, a number of producers make it work. A big key is planning ahead.

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

Dead-On

Selecting genetics for economically relevant traits (ERTs) in the cattle business has typically been akin to driving cattle from Fort Worth to Dodge City, via Seattle.

Rather than aim directly at the desired trait, producers often must settle for emphasizing presumably related traits. Instead of selecting for calving ease itself, as an example, producers have relied on such calving ease indicators as birth weight and pelvic area. Until now.

“I think these are some of the most valuable tools available to us as animal breeders. They give us information about economically relevant traits, selection tools that we've never had before,” says Donnell Brown of the R.A. Brown Ranch, Throckmorton, TX.

Specifically, Brown is describing the opportunity he sees in the industry's first Reproduction Sire Summary released by the Red Angus Association of America (RAAA) in May. Besides the industry-standard fare of expected progeny differences (EPDs), mostly indicator traits, the new summary provides a suite of EPDs for reproductive ERTs, including heifer pregnancy, stayability, direct calving ease and total maternal calving ease.

“Our goal is to comprehensively describe Red Angus for reproduction, growth and carcass traits, using as few different EPDs as possible. Since reproduction is the most economically important area of traits in cow/calf production, that has been our first priority,” explains Bob Hough, RAAA executive secretary.

In a nutshell, rather than predict trait differences between sires in units of size and weight like most EPDs, reproductive ERTs predict the difference in probability of success or failure for each trait (Figure 1):

  • Calving ease direct — the probability a sire's calves will be born unassisted.

  • Heifer pregnancy — the probability a bull's daughters will conceive to calve as a 2-year-old.

  • Calving ease total maternal — the probability a bull's daughters will be able to calve unassisted.

  • Stayability — the probability that a bull's daughters will remain in the herd beyond the point of breaking even, defined as 6 years of age.

In fact, the either/or nature of these categorical traits is one reason complete development took so long.

“This summary is the culmination of 10 years of effort between Red Angus breeders and researchers at Colorado State University,” says Hough. It took researchers that long to develop threshold models for calculation, which could account for the non-linear qualities of these traits.

Red Angus was the first breed to introduce a stayability EPD seven years ago. They debuted heifer pregnancy exclusively last year and then introduced the two snapshots of calving ease this year.

Besides pinpointing the aim of selection, ERTs also address the frustration of producers who try to incorporate more and more EPDs into selection decisions. Because ERTs incorporate other EPDs into their calculation, more information can be transformed into fewer, more meaningful selection considerations.

“If you can measure it, you can create an EPD for it,” says Hough. “Instead of seeing how many EPDs we could create, we decided to see how few we could use to describe the most economically important areas.”

For example, both calving ease EPDs incorporate birth weight data. Over time, that may mean that while a birth weight EPD is still calculated as a useful component of calving ease, it may no longer be published some day because it's been combined with calving ease scores into a single, more useful prediction.

While Brown isn't ready to disregard birth weight EPDs, he does say, “If it's a bull with a high accuracy that has been used on heifers, I'll put a lot more weight on the calving ease EPD than the birth weight EPD.” He has plenty of experience using the calving ease EPD developed for Simmental cattle more than 20 years ago.

Likewise, the heifer pregnancy EPD can incorporate scrotal circumference data. Hough, however, says RAAA has concluded scrotal circumference isn't indicative of anything useful in their breed, so they no longer publish it.

Lowell Gould, RAAA genetics and information systems director, emphasizes, “The RAAA philosophy on EPD development is that an EPD should only be developed if the trait it represents is directly related to a revenue or an expense. This philosophy allows Red Angus to be described with the fewest number but most meaningful EPDs possible.”

Consequently, some indicator traits producers traditionally apply to their selection decisions may shift in importance over time as they are folded into ERTs.

Catching A Slow Wave

So far, this possibility exists only in the Red Angus breed and a couple of others with ERTs for one or two traits. A key reason Red Angus has been able to develop reproductive EPDs for ERTs is why some breeds may find such calculation difficult.

Total Herd Reporting (THR), which RAAA adopted seven years ago, requires all Red Angus cows be reported, even if her calf is not. Only one other widely used breed requires this; the rest use Voluntary Herd Reporting in which registering calves isn't contingent on reporting cow data.

Subsequently, while it's possible to calculate ERTs with data submitted on an optional basis, presumably on fewer cows, Hough believes, “THR makes this possible and unbiased. It's fundamental to providing this kind of information accurately.”

Besides, Hough says, THR allows assumptions on the biological distribution of the data. This means abnormal data can be filtered out. For the record, several breeds recently have attempted to adopt a THR model of performance reporting but have been lambasted by their breeders as being too regulatory.

Arguably, part of the reluctance might have to do with perceptions about how current genetics will rank in measures that get at traits directly. Or downright confusion. For example, while it may seem intuitively impossible for a bull siring females with superior stayability — sustained fertility over time — to be inferior for heifer pregnancy, Gould says the two types of fertility are actually different traits. That underscores the value of EPDs, which measure ERTs versus indicator traits.

“It opens up a whole new train of thought on these cattle because the reality is that the facts don't lie,” says Brown. It also makes sorting easier by thinning the list of potentials.

“I'm selecting for bulls that don't make mistakes, bulls at least better than breed average for every trait,” explains Brown. “The more tools we use in selection, the shorter and better our list of sire options becomes. Most importantly, the commercial cow man wins because he can more easily and accurately select bulls to fit his needs.”

To be included in the inaugural RAAA Reproductive Sire Summary, bulls must: have been progeny recorded during the last two years, have a minimum accuracy for weaning weight EPD of 0.5 in the spring 2002 sire evaluation, and have genetic predictions for all of the reproductive EPDs. All told, 1,482 sires met the first two criteria; only 527 met all three (Figure 2).

“Where the industry used to take homerun hitters — bulls that excelled in one or two traits — and mass multiply those, we discovered they also struck out a lot of the time in other traits. Now we're mass multiplying the cattle with a better earned run average, Brown says.

Figure 1. Interpreting EPDs for reproductive ERTs

Rather than predict trait differences between sires in units of size and weight like most EPDs, reproductive EPDs predict the difference in probability of success or failure for each trait. For instance, consider this example of heifer pregnancy — the probability a bull's daughters will conceive to calve as a 2-year-old:

Sire Heifer pregnancy EPD*
A +1
B +14
Difference +13%
In this example, Sire B is predicted to sire daughters 13% more likely than those by Sire A to produce daughters that will conceive to calve as 2-year-olds.
*Accuracy assumed to be the same

Figure 2. Averages for Red Angus reproductive traits*

Trait Minimum Average Maximum
CED -12 4 23
HPG -9 7 21
CETM -9 4 20
ST -6 9 20
*CED = calving ease direct; HPG = heifer pregnancy; CETM = calving ease maternal; ST = stayability.
Source: Red Angus Association of America