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Articles from 2011 In July


Hay Fires Prevention Tips

The delayed arrival of spring weather, constant rains this summer and saturated fields have producers wondering when to harvest hay.

The wet conditions also impede hay's dry-down. Thus, the chances of putting up hay that is too wet are much higher this year, also increasing the risk of hay fires, warns J.W. Schroeder, the North Dakota State University Extension Service's dairy specialist.

"Excessive moisture is the most common cause of hay fires," Schroeder says." Odd as it might seem, wet hay is more likely to lead to a spontaneous-combustion fire than dry hay."

High-moisture haystacks and bales can catch on fire because they have chemical reactions that build heat. Hay insulates, so the larger the haystack, the less cooling that occurs to offset the heat. When hay's internal temperature rises above 130 degrees F (55 degrees C), a chemical reaction begins to produce flammable gas that can ignite if the temperature goes high enough.

Fire is possible in hay that's loose, in small or large bales or stacks, and stored inside or outside. Hay fires are a danger at any time in stacked small bales when the hay's moisture content is 20 percent or higher, and in stacked big square or round bales when the hay's moisture content is more than 16%. Hay fires usually occur within six weeks of baling.

Heating occurs in all hay above 15% moisture, and it generally peaks at 125-130 F in three to seven days with minimal risk of combustion or forage quality losses. Then the temperature in a stack should decrease to safe levels in the next 15 to 60 days, depending on bale and stack density, ambient temperature, humidity and rainfall the hay absorbed.

Weather conditions greatly influence a crop's drying rate. Ideal hay curing weather has less than 50% relative humidity and some wind. Hay's moisture content will increase overnight when the air is humid, especially if dew or fog develops.

Finding a dry spot to pile hay also is a challenge.

"This year, it may be prudent to consider not piling all of your harvest in one area of the yard or field," Schroeder says." If it does overheat to the point of creating a fire, you don't want to lose the entire harvest. Fires can damage or destroy hay, barns and equipment, and cost producers thousands of dollars."

Steps to minimize the risk of hay fires

  • Check your hay regularly. If you detect a slight caramel odor or distinct musty smell, chances are your hay is heating. At this point, checking the moisture is too late; you'll need to keep monitoring the hay's temperature.
  • If you suspect your hay is heating, insert a simple probe into the haystack to monitor the temperature. You can make a probe from a 10-foot piece of pipe or electrical tubing. Sharpen one end of the pipe or screw a pointed dowel to one end, then drill several 1/4-inch-diameter holes in the tube just above the dowel. Drive the probe into the haystack and lower a thermometer on a string into the probe. Insert the probe in several parts of the stack and leave the thermometer in place for 10 minutes at each site.
  • Before surveying the tops of stacks, place long planks on top of the hay. Do not walk on the hay mass. Always attach a safety line to yourself and have another person on the other end in a safe location to pull you out should the hay surface collapse into what likely is a fire pocket.
  • Hay treated with preservatives containing ethoxyquin and butylated hydroxytoluene produce hydrogen cyanide gas at about 240 F (115 C). This gas is deadly, so use extreme caution when fighting a fire in this hay.

Producers who suspect a fire could develop should spread the bales in an area away from other feeds and buildings. Temperatures above 175 F in hay mean a fire is imminent. The smell or sight of smoke means a fire is burning somewhere in the hay.

"In any of these cases, call the fire department immediately," Schroeder advises. "Do not move any of the hay. This would expose the overheated or smoldering hay to oxygen and may result in a fire raging out of control."

Proper procedure for controlling a hay fire

  • Knock down visible flames. A straight-tip nozzle will penetrate deeper into the hay.
  • Probe for hot spots and inject water through the probe to cool the hay and raise it to a moisture content that will prevent burning.
  • When the hot spots appear to have cooled sufficiently, begin removing the hay from the barn or stack. Keep a hose handy in case of missed or insufficiently cooled hot spots.

Hay that isn't too badly damaged may be used as mulch for erosion control on slopes and in gullies, Schroeder says. Producers should have a hay sample tested if they are unsure whether it had too much heat damage to be used as feed.

Ending Ethanol Subsidies

Senate negotiators have cobbled together a plan that would significantly reduce subsidies for corn ethanol production. While the compromise is not perfect, Congress should move swiftly to pass the measure and end this monumental waste of taxpayer dollars and the economic distortions that come with it.

The deal reached by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), John Thune (R-SD), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), would end a 45¢/gal. tax credit for blending ethanol on July 31 rather than in December. A 54¢/gal. tariff on imported ethanol would also expire at the end of this month.

Combined, those subsidies cost taxpayers $6 billion/year. About two-thirds of the $2 billion in savings from the early termination would be dedicated to deficit reduction. The remaining third would go to fund a different set of subsidies, including some for ethanol, to promote alternative energy production and use.

Consider this two steps forward, one step back on ethanol. However, the deal is imperiled by the ongoing negotiations concerning the debt ceiling and dueling deficit-cutting plans.

To read the entire article, link here.

Beef Quality Assurance: How Does Your Ranch Stack Up?

Cattlemen have long recognized the need to properly care for their livestock.

Sound animal husbandry practices – based on research and decades of practical experience – are known to impact the well-being of cattle, individual animal health and herd productivity.

Cattle are produced using a variety of management systems, in very diverse environmental and geographic locations in the U.S.

As such, there is not one specific set of production practices that can be recommended for all cattle producers to implement. Personal experience, training, and professional judgment are key factors in providing proper animal care.

The consumer wants assurance

When consumers were asked what they would like to know from farmers about food production that they currently did not know, 68% said they wanted to know what farmers were doing to ensure animal care.

University of California researchers asked shoppers to evaluate five potential food label claims, and “humane” was the most often top-ranked choice.

To read the entire article, link here.

Debt Ceiling Debate Is Start Of 2012 Election

Everyone is talking about the federal debt ceiling and the ramifications if a default should occur. Sorting through all the political rhetoric is difficult. For instance, one would have expected the U.S. dollar to take a hit this week, but the European debt crisis (Greece is the first member forced to face reality, but other European countries are at the tipping point as well), actually drove the dollar higher this week. If anything, the world’s money flow into U.S. treasuries is increasing.

To understand the debt ceiling debate/debacle, one must first understand that this issue is largely about positioning for the 2012 elections. While everyone talks about the importance of winning over independents, both sides believe this election will ultimately be determined by voter turnout. Thus, generating enthusiasm in one’s party base is very important.

Republicans are trying to make the case that after decades of failing to bring fiscal sanity to Washington, they are finally serious and can be relied on to rein in government spending. Meanwhile, Democrats want to make the case that if you want to protect entitlements, environmental protections, and the like, you’d better vote for them.

Sadly, however, these talking points are red herrings. The cuts being discussed – and even characterized as draconian – aren’t even real cuts. They’re simply decreases in the growth of spending. Entitlements, which are growing at an incredible rate and make up a huge portion of the budget, haven’t been seriously addressed.

For instance, the increase in the debt ceiling that is under discussion would take effect immediately, but the proposed cuts are minimal in comparison to the problem and are spread out over 10 years. While it may be true that the deficit might not grow as fast going forward as it has the last three years, these measures don’t get the federal government anywhere close to balancing a budget.

Even the argument about a potential downgrade in the nation’s credit rating isn’t genuine. The U.S. government has already been downgraded by several agencies, while others have indicated that a $4-trillion spending decrease would be needed to avoid a downgrade.

The debt ceiling is a short-term issue being used as a political posturing tool and/or leverage to force the nation to address long-term issues. In the end, it is all about posturing because neither side is close to addressing the real problem.

Elections are indeed important. Plus, as the two major parties move away from center and more left and right, this coming election has become, in essence, a battle for the future of our country. In our two-party system, that means virtually all policy decisions will be shaped by the election results of 2012.

If we end up with one party that controls the White House and another that controls both houses of Congress, we may actually see some compromise. When Democrats controlled the White House and both Houses of Congress, it was their agenda that dominated. But, with control split today of the House and Senate, Congress is incapable of doing anything. Thus, the power ends up in the White House.

Sadly, however, this White House has failed to lead, never offering a proposal of its own. President Obama agreed to a deal last week, but buckled under pressure from the left and added $400 billion in additional taxes. The Senate version has more tax increases than the House plan, and bigger spending cuts, but the cuts are largely backend-loaded and thus less likely to be realized.

The reality is there isn’t much difference in the competing proposals – as none of them address the real issues. They’re just political instruments designed to position the parties for the 2012 election.

Mid-Year Cattle Industry Meetings Are Important

Pick up any cattle market report this week and the dominant topics are weather and the corn market, the debt ceiling deadline, and debt worries in Europe. One thing I’ve found amazing the past several years is just how much the buzz in the beef industry mimics events and drivers occurring at the national level. That never used to be the case, but will likely be on full display next week as representatives of the beef industry head to Florida for the mid-year meeting.

All one has to do is read the various releases to sense the ongoing tension over the checkoff. The Rules and Responsibilities document was altered very little despite earlier comments and concerns raised by the state beef councils. Thankfully, however, this issue finally will be debated, and the full board given an opportunity to weigh in and vote.

One can still see remnants of the personal battles and agendas, with sniping continuing from all sides on certain issues, even as arcane as the location of the meetings. But while there are a lot of hurt feelings and animosities among those in leadership, the vast majority of producers appear to be focused on moving forward. Certainly, there will be those who will continue to push the politicization of these issues, but there are indications that leadership is getting the message that it’s time to put down the swords and get behind the plow.

On the positive side for the checkoff, the proposed nominating process appears to be a step in the right direction. Meanwhile, on the policy side, there remain monumental challenges despite the fact the industry has enjoyed a string of successes over the last year that few would have believed possible in today’s political environment.

Listening To Those You Disagree With

If you follow Democrat political strategist James Carville, you might find it a little difficult to listen to Rush Limbaugh. And, if you’re a faithful watcher of Fox News, switching over to MSNBC might cause you to throw something at the TV. The truth is, however, that listening to and reading opinions you disagree with is almost always a positive thing. What’s dangerous is exposure to only those with whom you agree.

In listening to opposing views, it’s often pretty easy to pick up on the fallacies and misconceptions that the opposition labor under, but it also raises your awareness of the very same danger. I subscribe to some really left-leaning newsletters that actually tend to reinforce my right-leaning world views, but they broaden my perspective as well.

Certainly, there are those passionate individuals on the fringes who believe anyone who doesn’t agree with them is either immoral or intellectually dishonest; they don’t accept the facts and they attack those who oppose them. Without question, the fringes tend to operate with their own set of “facts” – facts that often have little basis in reality.

While you certainly shouldn’t accept everything at face value, it does provide insight into what the legitimate opposing views might be. Some things are black and white, right and wrong. But when it comes to politics, there are often only varying shades of gray.

We’ve all seen political groups or management teams that begin to associate only with themselves and reject all information that does not align with their own worldviews. That’s a prescription for disaster, especially when they begin to attack not only opposing messages but the messengers as well. Both our political views and management tactics should be strengthened by seeking out different perspectives.

Connect Your Pasture And Your Twitter Feed

Bring your pasture to your Twitter feed with the new online discussion forum, #HayTalk Chat. Starting Wednesday, Aug. 10, at 8 p.m. EST, forage producers and consumers can meet online for an hour of hay, forage and grazing discussions on the micro-blogging site Twitter using the hashtag, #HayTalk.

Brought to you by AgBoards Network (@agboards), creators of Haytalk.com and RanchingForums.com, along with social media advocates Jesse Bussard (@cowgirljesse) and Ryan Goodman (@AR_ranchhand), #HayTalk Chat will be an opportunity for producers from around the country to learn and grow from each other every Wednesday night.

“Through these #HayTalk discussions we hope that farmers and ranchers will come away with a better understanding of current forage-related issues and use this knowledge to improve their current management practices,” explains Bussard, a University of Kentucky graduate student in plant and soil sciences.

Goodman, ranch foreman at Stephens Farm in Arkansas, agrees. “Twitter allows producers to swap information and ideas with the click of a button and receive instant feedback. By including a hashtag like #haytalk, I can direct my question to other producers and receive instant feedback from anyone listening in to their Twitter feed,” he says.

However, while #HayTalk will be a valuable tool for producers on Twitter, it also offers a chance to connect with consumers. Twitter makes it easy to post photos and videos from the pasture and then share the story and information with consumers following the #HayTalk hashtag. “Consumers are hungry to learn more about their food sources and they find it pretty cool to learn about agriculture straight from the pasture,” Goodman says.

Available exclusively on Twitter, the chat will be similar to other agriculture Twitter chats like #agchat (every Tuesday at 8 p.m. EST) and #horsechat (every Monday at 9 p.m. EST). Each week will bring new discussions or guests to the community at large. Discussion points will include grazing techniques, storage, equipment, feed quality, noxious weeds, forage types, regional challenges, upcoming workshops and livestock questions. Chat sessions will be moderated to ensure participants stay on track and contributors will also have a chance to discuss their operations and services.

If you are a Twitter user looking for hay and forage tips, start following the #HayTalk hashtag today and remember to mark your calendars for the first #HayTalk on Wednesday, Aug. 10 at 8 p.m.

Drought Accelerates Liquidation In Southern Plains

The expanding extreme drought in the Southern Plains is causing a significant acceleration of cattle liquidation in the region. In Oklahoma, for instance, the combined total for federally reported auctions the past several weeks has shown a 56% increase in feeder cattle sales and a 205% increase in cow and bull sales compared with the same period one year ago, says Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University (OSU) Extension livestock marketing specialist. The auction totals include significant numbers of double-stocked summer stockers from the Osage country that are typically marketed this time of year.

However, there are large numbers of cows and lightweight feeder cattle that aren’t typically marketed this time of year.

Most likely we are seeing a second wave of cow liquidation made up of cows with spring-born calves that are just now big enough to early wean and sell. We’re receiving many anecdotal stories from auctions, both large and small, of excessive numbers of feeder cattle and cows being marketed. Livestock haulers are booked and it is difficult to arrange shipping at this time.

Prices for slaughter cows, bred cows and cow-calf pairs have dropped sharply in the past several weeks. This is likely a temporary situation due, in part, to the bottleneck of selling and shipping so many animals in a short period of time. Producers are selling because they have no other alternatives; however, those able to postpone sales for a couple of weeks may find the logistics as well as the price better. It is hard to say how long the current bulge in cow liquidation will last but most likely it will be a matter of no more than another 2-4 weeks.

Unfortunately, many of the cows are going to slaughter, contributing to additional cow herd liquidation. Beef cow slaughter in Federal slaughter Region 6, which overlays the drought area, is 16% higher for the year to date compared to last year. In the most recent two weeks of data, beef cow slaughter in Region 6 is up 35% compared with the same period last year.

Total year-to-date U.S. beef cow slaughter is down 2.7% but the gap is closing due to large slaughter totals in the drought area. For most weeks of the year, the national total beef cow slaughter has been down compared with last year. However, in the last four weeks of slaughter data, the week-to-week totals for beef cow slaughter have exceeded year ago levels.

The drought is not only devastating producers in the drought region, but impacting the beef cattle industry nationwide and will have impacts for several years. By pushing beef-cow slaughter close to last year’s record levels, the drought ensures additional herd liquidation that deepens the hole from which the industry must start to rebuild. The July Cattle Inventory report confirmed that the July 1 beef cow herd was down 1% from last year but this survey value likely doesn’t reflect the accelerated liquidation that has occurred so far in the month of July.

Drought Information & Resources Available Online

Ranchers impacted by the drought and heat of 2011 now have an important resource available to them. The Oklahoma State University (OSU) Extension Beef Team has put together a listing of drought management tools at www.beefextension.com. Click on “Drought Resources.”

The website contains maps, weather forecast information, forage management suggestions, hay listings, cattle supplementation information, other cattle management suggestions, financial services, tax considerations, ongoing government policies resulting from drought, and much more.

In addition, Texas AgriLife Extension and OSU have developed a decision aid to help cattle producers make culling decisions due to extreme drought. The Cow Bid Price Estimate Calculator, a spreadsheet program, is available at agfacts.tamu.edu/~lfalcone/newweb/droughtmgmt.htm.

The Noble Foundation in Ardmore, OK has developed www.noble.org/drought>, a Web page that will serve as a central repository for information to assist agricultural producers in managing their properties and resources throughout this difficult situation.

"This is a once-in-a-generation drought," said Billy Cook, senior vice president and director of the Agricultural Division. "We haven't seen this type of heat and lack of precipitation since the record-setting drought of the mid-1950s or even the Dust Bowl. Lloyd Noble established the Noble Foundation to assist producers after he witnessed the devastating effects of the Dust Bowl. Decades later, we're equipped with the knowledge and experience to help farmers and ranchers to successfully endure this drought."

Native-American Settlement Opened

The period to file a claim in the Keepseagle class action settlement for Native American farmers and ranchers has opened, says Janie Hipp, senior adviser for tribal relations to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.

"Now that the claims process is open, Native American farmers and ranchers who believe they are entitled to funds under the Keepseagle settlement must file a claim within 180 days in order to have a chance to receive a cash payment or loan forgiveness," Hipp says. The filing period opened June 29 and continues until Dec. 27.

"Tribal leaders may want to consider advising Tribal members of the requirement to obtain and submit a completed claims package if they wish to participate in the Keepseagle claims process."

Keepseagle v. Vilsack was a lawsuit alleging that USDA discriminated against Native American farmers and ranchers in the operation of its farm loan program. The lawsuit was settled in 2010 and the settlement approved by the court.

Up to $760 million will be made available in monetary, debt and tax relief to successful claimants. There are two tracks for claims: Successful Track A claimants may receive up to $50,000, while successful Track B claimants may receive up to $250,000. The standard of proof for Track B claims is higher than that for Track A.

Keepseagle class counsel will hold a number of meetings in the coming months to assist Track A claimants fill out a claims package. Dates and times are posted at www.indianfarmclass.com/.

Claimant services reps can be reached at 888-233-5506. Claimants must register for a claims package (call the number or visit the website) and the claims package will be mailed to claimants. All those interested in learning more or receiving information about the claims process and claims packages are encouraged to attend a meeting and contact the website or claims telephone number.