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Articles from 1998 In August

Fescue and year-round grazing

The column on "stockpiled" hay (May issue, page 14) created a lot of confusion and controversy. To clear it up, I believe it necessary to discuss year-round grazing.

The article was aimed at Western ranchers who leave the last hay cutting in the field for grazing over winter. When I encountered this practice, I was shocked. The warm-season grasses typically used for summer hay crops would be totally dormant in winter.

Left unsupplemented, it would lead to health problems in newborn calves.

Unbeknownst to me, in the mid-South, fescue is typically left in the field and called "stockpiled" hay. In my original article, I stated I was referring to "warm-season grasses," yet many cow-calf operators in Tennessee, Kentucky, etc., thought I was referring to their practices with fescue.

The Perfect Grass If there is such a thing as a perfect grass in North America, it is fescue. What's most remarkable about fescue is it will grow under a wider temperature range than just about any other grass. Though not a true cool-season grass, it will grow during very cold weather.

Where fescue is adapted, it can substantially reduce feed costs for cow-calf operations. Of course, you don't have to use fescue for winter grazing. The same can be done with such cool-season grasses as wheat, oats or ryegrass.

However, most true cool-season grasses are either annuals or won't grow well in summer. Most commonly, these grasses are planted annually and double cropped with corn, soybeans, cotton, etc.

Cereal grasses typically supply winter grazing, not year-round grazing. They are also more nutritious than fescue. Typically, they allow double the gain of fescue. For that reason, they are most often used for stocker cattle.

For cows, however, the nutrition in fescue is totally adequate, as long as it's green. And that brings us back to the "stockpiled" hay issue.

The reality is that the term "stockpiled" hay is inherently misleading. In the original article, I called it a misnomer. To be more specific, there simply is no such thing as "stockpiled" hay.

Hay Is More Than Preserved Grass Hay is not just preserved grass. It has the same protein but not the same energy.

When grass is cut during the hay-making process, it continues to respire while lying in the field. The sugars and soluble carbohydrates in the stalk are metabolized and used up during the drying process. These sugars and carbohydrates are the most digestible form of energy in grass. In hay, while not totally absent, they are greatly reduced.

The bottom line is that cattle can gain a pound or more a day on green-growing fescue. Cut it for hay, and gains would be 11/44 to 11/42 lb./day.

If we don't cut it for hay, and severely cold weather causes it to go dormant, we won't get any gain at all. Cattle will lose weight. The reason is that like hay, dormant grass loses the soluble sugars and carbohydrates but also loses most of the digestible protein.

We can supplement protein, and either eliminate or keep the weight loss to a minimum, but in no way do we have hay. (In addition to protein loss, much of the riber in dormant grass lignifies and becomes less digestible.)

The bottom line is that the term "stockpiled" hay is misleading. If we have a standing field of grass, that's exactly what we have - grass. If the grass is green, it's better than hay; if it's dormant, it's inferior to hay.

And if it is dormant, we'd better supplement it. If we don't, we'll encounter greatly reduced gain in stockers or increased baby-calf death loss. That's the message I was trying to get across.

Far from a great year

The cattle market lost a little ground during June. Both fed Choice steers and feeders in the Amarillo feedlot area ended the month about a dollar lower. Even the feeder-fed price premium shrank to only about $10, after recording a $17 spread in April.

A New Look At '98 So far, the cattle situation for 1998 has been a far cry from being as predicted - "a great year." Unfortunately, several unforeseen factors are turning the year into a dismal failure. Let's look at some of these problem areas and their likely outcomes.

1. Ranchers in the Southwest are already facing possibly one of the worst drought years in history. The lack of rain and extreme, often record high, temperatures are forcing many operators to already seek hay sources. Thanks to the same unfavorable weather conditions, hay cuttings have been slim or not at all. The Texas Department of Agriculture has recently established a "Hay Hot Line" (877/429-1998) for ranchers to locate hay supplies.

Feeding cattle in the summer is not in the financial plans of most cattlemen. It raises the cost of keeping the cow and forces some early sales of calves. Such premature selling usually means lighter sales weights and reduced returns.

2. Feedlots in the Southern Plains are recording losses of about $70/head. That is down considerably, however, from the $100/head losses reported early in the year. Summer breakeven costs for lots are projected to be in the $67-68/cwt. range. With cattle prices in the low $60s, profits are still a long way off. This will ultimately impact negatively upon feeder prices.

3. Beef demand is not holding up well. Per capita retail consumption of beef fell from 67.7 lbs. in 1996 to 66.7 lbs. in 1997. Estimates for this year are about 66.4 lbs. Choice retail beef prices averaged slightly lower in 1997 than in 1996 and were at their lowest level since 1989. So far this year, prices have been running a little over 1% below the levels of last year. (This is hardly a good sign and suggests our efforts at changing consumer's minds about beef are not doing much good.)

Cattle Feeding Cattle and calves on feed for the slaughter market in the U.S. in feedlots with a capacity of 1,000 head or more totaled 9.70 million head on June 1, 1998. That was only 1% above last year's figure and is less than in the previous two months.

The largest gain came in Texas which recorded an 8% increase. Nebraska also had a larger number on feed but only 2% more. In contrast, Kansas reported a 6% decrease in feeding and Colorado a 3% lower number.

Fed-cattle marketings during May were only 1.95 million head, down 5% from a year ago and 4% more than in April. This lower marketing level suggests that the June and possibly even July movements may be up considerably.

Cattle and calves placed on feed in May were 2.03 million head. That represents a 9% increase in placements. The gain in Texas was a spectacular 30% and in Kansas an 11% gain. All this seems strange in face of the current poor profit picture of feedlots. It could mean that these operations have locked in some profits on these cattle either by forward selling or through futures contracts.

Despite this large gain in placements, the two lightest weight groupings of calves placed on feed were below year- ago levels. Only the 700- to 799-lb. and the 800-lb. and more classes were up, 13% and 24%, respectively. Obviously, feedlots are betting on a shorter feeding period by purchasing heavier feeders. Prices for these heavyweights have actually been slightly above the lighter calves for the last couple of months.

Forecasts Our fed-cattle marketing equations have been fairly good in projecting the likely outcome of feedlot movement. June marketings are expected to be up again from May and very close to year-ago levels. By July, the extra large movements should be over. Fed-cattle sales could then fall considerably below the 1997 level and even under the June marketings.

This reduction in feedlot trade should allow some fed-cattle price improvement over the next couple of months. While normally this is a seasonally weaker period, it may well follow the path of last summer with a slight gain in the July-September period.

Feeder cattle and calves have now fallen below year-ago price levels while still at a premium to feds. This situation will probably remain throughout the summer months or until feedlot break evens drop significantly or fed-prices improve. To some degree, both of these alternatives are projected and thus, things could get better and may allow price premiums to again increase slightly. They will remain low, however, as long as feedlot profits are under pressure.

Genetic Solutions

The Beef Quality Challenge Contest pens containing a mixture of British, Continental and Brahman-type genetics are typical of many cattle produced today.

The industry's two National Beef Quality Audits (1991 and 1995) identified and tracked a number of problems. Among those with a genetic basis were carcass size, composition, taste appeal and uniformity - there were too many carcasses that were too big, too fat, too unpalatable and/or too variable.

Can conventional genetics address these problems? Can excess size be genetically controlled? Yes, and in the process of moderating size, cow herd utility and adaptability will probably be improved.

Can fat be genetically reduced? Yes. But we know that easy fleshing is important for reproductive efficiency. We probably should not reduce inherent fattening ability in the herd. So, terminal crossing provides much of the opportunity to reduce fat through genetic selection where heifers are not retained for replacements.

Can palatability be improved by genetic selection? Certainly, but the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, NE, has identified at least 14 important tenderness determinants in beef, and only one is genetics. Some experts think there's more opportunity to improve palatability with non-genetic techniques, and new technology is sure to be developed. But genetic selection can definitely be part of the solution.

Can uniformity be improved through changes in genetic management? Yes, but that doesn't mean all cattle produced in this country are going to be alike.

For economic reasons, it's unlikely that beef cows will be managed under conditions as controlled as a poultry house or confinement swine facility. Instead, the basic cow-calf phase will be conducted under conditions ranging from marshes to high country meadows. The same beast won't fit all the various conditions, but we must reduce genetic variability while accommodating these differences in production conditions.

Genetic Management Programs A logical genetic strategy should include: (1) determination of production and marketing conditions, (2) matching applicable levels of animal performance to these conditions, (3) choosing a breeding system and (4) selection of genetic types, breeds and individuals within breeds for compatibility with the above.

* Matching Conditions and Performance. Some producers don't recognize the importance of non-genetic factors in a genetic strategy. For example, in forage-based livestock management, animals must be matched to production conditions, especially nutritional, or the animals' efficiency suffers. In general, for beef cows, as forage quantity and availability increases, and is less variable, larger body size is applicable. As forage quality increases, higher milking is beneficial.

Under restricted nutritional conditions, reproduction critically affects efficiency, favoring relatively small to medium size, lower milking, easy fleshing cows. But if nutrition is abundant, where body condition and reproduction are more easily sustained, weight production is more important and higher levels of both size and milk apply. Efficiency declines if nutrition is below or above requirements.

The number of production phases participated in also affects genetic considerations. For strictly cow-calf producers, larger size and (or) higher milk may be optimum to increase weaning weight, if reproduction is efficiently maintained. But retained ownership benefits from total system considerations, not from maximum efficiency in one specific phase.

* Breeding Systems. Understanding differences in breeding systems is crucial in genetic management. Commercial breeding systems are of two basic types: terminal and continuous. In terminal systems, herd females are not retained for breeding. Continuous systems (breed rotations, composites and most straightbreeding) do retain females. Terminal systems should use specialized sire and maternal types to match the desired market endpoint. Continuous systems should include types and breeds that are moderate in most production characteristics.

* Types And Breeds. There are currently about 75 cattle breeds in the U.S., as defined by the existence of a breed registry. They can be divided into functional groups based on genetic class - either Bos taurus, humpless cattle, or Bos indicus (Zebu) humped cattle - and on breed averages of body size, milking potential and body composition.

Only 15-20 breeds contribute significantly to the nation's cattle numbers, but there are many possible combinations, some good and some not so good. Many industry leaders have advanced the formula of not less than 1/2 British and not more than 1/2 Continental as an ideal blend. A small portion of dairy could be included. In much of the South and Southwest that should be modified to at least 1/4 British, not more that 1/2 Continental and not more than 1/4 Bos indicus.

* Individual Selection. Once conditions are assessed, breeding systems implemented and functional groups chosen, the final task is to select individuals within breeds. The following traits should receive selection emphasis: birthweight, calving ease, milking potential, rate and efficiency of gain, carcass merit, breeding soundness, structural soundness, fleshing ability and mature size. Selection criteria should be determined by the optimum level of performance required.

Value-Based Genetic Strategies Should "value" be emphasized in genetic programs? Yes, but what is valuable to one might not be to another. Beef production, particularly at the cow-calf level, is evolving into two segments, essentially distinguished by herd size. Herds large enough to deal in truckload lots have more market flexibility. And retained ownership also opens more possibilities, especially when going all the way to selling carcasses on the rail.

Large, integrated operations can implement genetic programs with little regard for industry biases. But the vast majority of producers still market on the basis of "eyeball" appraisal. In these situations, market discounts and bonuses often are applied, based on things such as color pattern and length of ear, which may not be valid. This was demonstrated in the Beef Quality Challenge Contest.

Nevertheless, these bonuses and discounts are real and they affect value. This is particularly true at the weaned calf level, where there is more difference in price than at any point in the production cycle.

Beef producers must "follow the money" to survive. This includes the number of animals you have to sell, lbs. per animal, price per lb. and total cost of production.

Righting The Rot

Foot rot is an annoying - not to mention smelly - problem for both cattle and producers. Though not difficult to treat, its management still takes up valuable time and labor.

Although specific economic data is not available, nearly 20% of farmers surveyed agreed foot rot had a significant economic impact on their cow-calf operations. That's according to a July 1997 National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) survey.

Also called foul foot or necrotic pododermatitis, foot rot is rated as the second most frequently occurring disease (after pinkeye - see BEEF, August 1997, page 42) in breeding females in cow-calf herds, NAHMS reports.

Painful Infection Foot rot is an infection in the soft tissue of the foot, causing a painful lameness that affects weight gain and breeding performance.

If left untreated, the infection can spread to joints, causing chronic arthritis. In severe cases, an animal can die from complications when the infection spreads throughout the body, veterinarians say. Few cases of foot rot result in death, however.

Still, the resulting damage can be severe if the infection is allowed to spread. "If the infection persists long enough that it provides damage to the joint ... you can sustain substantial loss because of weight loss," says Jerry Olson, associate professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Minnesota. "You have less to sell and the quality and grade of animal are reduced."

Bacteria Are The Culprits The bacteria responsible for foot rot (Fusobacterium necrophorum and Bacteroides melaninogenicus) live mostly in muddy areas. "They do well surviving in mud or wet filth," Olson says.

A cut in the foot lets the bacteria get into the foot's soft tissues. Also, chronically wet conditions can soften the feet, allowing bacteria to infect even if there is no wound, says Bruce Brodersen, veterinary pathologist at the University of Nebraska's Diagnostic Lab. Because the bacteria don't need oxygen to survive, they thrive in the deep tissue of the foot, developing an infection.

Tips For Prevention To avoid potential losses - and to save time and money on the labor to treat affected animals - you can use various methods to prevent foot rot in your herd. However, prevention costs should not exceed potential treatment costs. "Prevention becomes a site-specific issue," says Bill Epperson, Extension veterinarian at South Dakota State University.

Veterinarians recommend that cattle have adequate amounts of zinc, calcium and vitamin A in the diet for good skin health. Keep in mind, though, that too much of any nutrient can cause problems. "The key is balance," Epperson says. "Provide the necessary minerals, but not excessive amounts."

Some producers have prevention success in limiting cattle's access to very wet areas or rocky patches of ground by fencing them off, Epperson says. He also tells producers to vaccinate bulls before the breeding season, especially if they have a history of foot rot. However, the high cost of vaccines generally doesn't justify vaccinating the entire herd, he says.

In feedlot or drylot situations, the best way to prevent foot rot is to maintain the yard. Remove nails, wires and other objects that may cause injury to the feet. Also, keep mud at a minimum and make sure the yard is drained well, says Minnesota's Olson. "Dry is good," he says. Cement around feed bunks and waterers reduces mud and helps to keep the area dry.

Outside the yard, watch for things that could injure feet. Cows grazing on stubble, for example, are more likely to cut their feet, which increases their chances of developing foot rot, Olson says.

Treatment Options If prevention measures fail, foot rot is fairly easy to spot. "Because the animal's lame, it's very clear that something's wrong," Olson says.

Before diagnosing foot rot, rule out other causes of lameness, like a nail in the foot. The lameness in foot rot is usually followed by swelling, spreading of the toes, redness of the tissue above the hoof and, in more advanced cases, a foul odor as the flesh literally rots away because of the infection.

Treatment works best if you catch the disease before it spreads to the joints. "The key is early identification before the infection penetrates to deeper tissues and causes irreparable damage," Olson says. An animal can completely recover from foot rot if treated early.

Penicillin or other antibiotics are cheap cures for the disease in its early stages, veterinarians say. If foot rot is severe, it may be necessary to cut away the dead tissue, soak the foot in an antiseptic solution and bandage the foot.

You Can Graze Riparian Areas

Grazing riparian areas can be a delicate situation. So what works and what doesn't?

In an effort to answer that question, range scientists at the University of Montana (U of M) evaluated grazing management strategies and techniques being practiced on healthy riparian systems throughout Montana.

The study, which began in 1993, included 71 healthy stream reaches on 34 Montana ranches across 27 counties.

"We evaluated healthy riparian zones (or improving ones) and tried to determine how they have been kept in, or are getting to, this condition," explains Bob Ehrhart of the Riparian and Wetland Research Program at the U of M. "This approach was used because we already have a pretty good idea of what doesn't work," he adds.

"The study focused on private lands because ranchers operating on their own lands often have more flexibility," says Ehrhart.

What Did They Find? "The only universal characteristic of the operators was that all were actively involved in managing their land and had an interest in the condition and trend of their riparian areas," says Ehrhart.

Of the 71 riparian zones analyzed, vegetation types, seasons of use and lengths of grazing periods varied greatly. Thirty-four habitat types were identified, and operators employed the full range of seasons of use as well as lengths of grazing periods, reports Ehrhart.

Many useful techniques (fencing, riders, alternate water sources, etc.) were more important to keeping the riparian zones healthy than any type of particular grazing system, adds Ehrhart.

"This suggests that what operators do to encourage livestock not to loiter in riparian zones is more important than either season of use or length of time in the pasture," says Ehrhart.

Despite the variations, two commonalties for a healthy riparian zone did exist. They were the presence of offstream/alternate water developments and operator involvement.

In short, alternate sources of water appear to be an important tool to encourage livestock to move away from the riparian area, says Ehrhart.

"Secondly, each of these operators was actively involved in the management of their property and were concerned about the land," says Ehrhart.

For example, grazing periods weren't based on rigid schedules or calendar dates. "Few of these people used specific dates. They'd say, 'It all depends on what's going on out there.' They know there is no easy way to throw your cattle on and walk away from it," says Ehrhart.

Successful operators also conducted some type of monitoring. "They made observations of the riparian area and took notes and used that information to make changes, " says Ehrhart.

None of these things is going to work everywhere, says Ehrhart. "Management, not a particular grazing system, is the key to keeping riparian areas healthy," he says.

Once Late, Always Late

Most producers have heard the saying, "Once late, always late." And while there are females in any given herd that tend to calve at the tail end of the calving season year after year, records on my wife's ranch show them to be very few. Universities have, perhaps falsely, taught generations of producers that late-calving cows will continue to calve late and should always be culled. But, should producers routinely cull all late calvers?

My wife, Nancy, operates the Bath Ranch near Tie Siding, WY, in partnership with her sister, Bonnie. An average-sized Wyoming ranch, they have about 250 Angus-Gelbvieh cows.

Like many western ranchers, they summer their cows on federal lands which prevents a defined breeding season. They co-mingle their herd with another lessee who has a later breeding season, so bulls are present for at least 100 days. Although we'd like to limit our breeding season to about 60 days, this is not possible.

Overall pregnancy rates have averaged in the 96-97% range for the last several years. Even so, with an extended breeding season we're constantly faced with the decision of what to do with several late calving, but highly productive, younger cows.

Open cows and late calving, less productive cows are culled. However, younger cows with good production records are routinely kept if pregnancy examination shows they should calve within about 90 days of the start of the calving season.

Check Calving Records Records for all cows calving after 60 days from the start of calving were examined. About 10-15 cows per year were kept that fall into this category. Surprisingly, these cows averaged a gain of 36 days at the time of calving in the subsequent year (see Table 1). Two cows gained 72 days! Only five of the 92 cows represented calved later the following year (average loss of 18 days) and only six failed to get pregnant.

Bath Ranch's calves typically gain about 2.5 lbs./day on the cow. So, a calf born 30 days later than the main herd would be about 75 lbs. lighter and would bring about $65 less at current prices.

Costs For Developing Heifers Compare this with the cost of developing or purchasing a replacement heifer of unknown production history and with an equal or even higher probability of not getting pregnant. The later-calving but high-producing cow has about an 80% chance she'll gain at least two weeks and, on average, she will gain about five weeks. The chance that these animals will not get pregnant is certainly no greater than that of a virgin heifer.

Whether you could expect to have similar results in your own herd would depend on the condition of the cows at the time of calving and whether they're on an increasing plane of nutrition to provide for lactation and estrus.

On average, if you have good records, check the subsequent parturition dates on any late calvers that are retained. Depending on your level of nutrition, it will probably be cost effective to retain some of your tail-enders if they have been productive mothers in the past and are physically sound.

Market Wizard

Robert Rothwell runs 400 cows and operates a 1,700-head feedlot in the middle of Nebraska's Sandhills. Last spring, he decided to improve his marketing skills by enrolling in an agricultural marketing class taught by Jim Kendrick on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus.

"The industry is changing. Producers need to protect themselves," Rothwell says. "Improving my marketing skills to limit my risk on grain and cattle is more important than ever."

Rothwell's commute to class, however, wasn't the 270 miles from his western Nebraska farm in Hyannis to Lincoln on the state's east side. Instead, Rothwell's commute to Kendrick's class amounted to a walk from his mailbox to his video tape player.

Rothwell is one of 1,400 students nationwide who have "attended" one of Kendrick's marketing classes by satellite, cable television, videotape or on the Internet since 1994. Over the years, individuals, couples, feedlots, banks, grain elevators, Extension offices and educational institutions, rural restaurants, even bars, have used Kendrick's Distance Education classes to better their operation's marketing effectiveness, train employees and attract clients.

Kendrick, who has taught agricultural marketing at the University of Nebraska for 36 years, says the aim of his courses is to teach students "how to fish," rather than just give them marketing advice.

"My course is designed to train people to be their own marketing analysts. It would be easier to just give them marketing advice. But, by definition, it has to be too general. I've never seen two farms or feedlots that were identical. They're all different because of finances, goals, management, personalities, risk comfort, etc.," he says.

So rather than tell people what to do, Kendrick's classes enable them to look at the information and make a decision based on their management style and type of operation.

"I'm trying to teach them how to fish rather than giving them fish," Kendrick explains.

Kendrick teaches two courses:

* "Agricultural Marketing and Entrepreneurship" is a sophomore-level class designed to give students an understanding of the procedures and techniques, and the theories behind them, used to market U.S. livestock and the major grains. By the end of the semester, students learn to assess the probable impact of local, national and global events on price and future production.

* "Agricultural Marketing in a Multi-National Environment" is a senior-level class that focuses on international trade. The class is structured as a hypothetical firm based on the East Coast of the United States. Each student is assigned to a particular global trade region. There, they are responsible for researching political and economic events, as well as food patterns, in that region and advising the firm on import and export opportunities. Students rely exclusively on the Internet for research. A beginning marketing course is a prerequisite.

Each course is conducted three times per week in the University of Nebraska's Chase Hall, a media classroom with full electronic media capabilities. While Kendrick lectures and questions the 30-40 students seated before him in each class, the proceedings are videotaped for mailing to the off-campus students each Friday.

Internet Figures Heavily Both classes are also broadcast live over the Internet. Kendrick's Multi-National class is unique in that the off-campus students are linked to the lecture in real time over the Internet and participate in the class discussion.

"Having these off-campus students participating in the discussion really helps the undergraduates in class," Kendrick says. "Students sitting in class realize that these folks all over the country taking the class with them don't have to take it. That reinforces to them that maybe this stuff is important. There's a real synergism there," Kendrick says.

The courses can be taken for credit, but the vast majority of off-campus students don't. Those that do take it for credit, Kendrick says, use course credits as added incentive to keep up with the material.

Besides the 15 weekly videotapes, each carrying two to three, one-hour lectures, Distance Education participants also receive the course textbook and membership to the Internet listserv, an ongoing Internet discussion group. Students also have access to a 24-hour help line and Kendrick's live Internet discussion three times per week regarding the events shaping the market that day. In addition, Kendrick publishes his e-mail address for direct contact.

The demographics of those who take the class, Kendrick says, is "35- to 45-year-old, college-educated, very progressive producers who don't go to coffee shops and are planning to expand their operations.

"These folks love Freedom To Farm and hope to use the class to expand by buying out their neighbors who are used to the subsidies," he says.

Distance Education students are surveyed each semester as to the value of the courses. "Made a lot more money" or "learned to hedge livestock or crops" are two common responses. Another finding is that most of Kendrick's Distance Education students don't finish the course by semester's end due to seasonal time demands of the farm.

Serious Time Commitment Kendrick admits the course is a serious time commitment. "These aren't skills you can learn by just watching the tape. You need to be diligent in your study, review and concentration to get this stuff. But by the end of the semester you'll know how to market your products rather than sell them," he says.

Kendrick says understanding the interplay of factors that determine price, and therefore supply and demand, is like viewing a large bowl of marbles - move one and they all move.

"Hopefully, by the end of the semester, students are able to roughly predict which marbles are likely to move when there is a change in the economic environment," he says.

"Dr. K," as Kendrick is known by his students, is an Ohio native, but he spent much of his youth in Washington, D.C. There, his father served as Assistant Secretary of Agriculture in the Hoover Administration.

He's a graduate of Ohio State University, where he earned his three degrees. He joined the Nebraska faculty in 1962. Thirty-eight years later, Kendrick is currently teaching the grandchildren of his first students.

Co-Founder Of AGNET Kendrick's Distance Education classes fit a pattern of outreach education that he has long championed. He was a co-founder and co-leader of the International AGNET computer network that existed from 1975 through 1988.

One of the first such "user-friendly" systems, AGNET was a self-supporting computer and communications network where public and private sectors worked together to provide management models and time-sensitive information to decision makers. The system provided remote access to programs offered at many land-grant institutions.

In 1990 Kendrick experimented with satellite transmission throughout the U.S. and into Canada and Mexico. Too expensive to retain, Kendrick adapted new technologies such as cable television and stream video to arrive where his courses are today.

His teaching, whether on campus or by video, as well as numerous public appearances, have made him familiar to tens of thousands of people. In fact, Kendrick reports that he has a wager with his wife that he'll pay her $50 if he fails to encounter a prior acquaintance during any leisure trip with her.

"The closest I've come to paying was a trip to Minnesota," Kendrick says. "We were waiting to board the plane to go home when I remarked to her that she would finally have to collect. But, as we boarded the plane, the pilot recognized me and said 'hello.' He was a former student of mine at Nebraska."

Performance Is Part of the Quality Picture

Profitability for a cattle feeder is the difference between income and costs. If a feeder markets cattle on a grid or formula, carcass merit will determine income. But, the best grading cattle may not be the most profitable if the costs of owning and feeding them are too high. Feedyard performance must be considered part of the "quality" picture.

Initial cost of feeder cattle, feed cost-of-gain and non-feed cost-of-gain are the three cattle feeding cost centers. Most producers feel they should receive premiums for their calves. If we expect a premium, then cattle must either have the performance (lower feed and non-feed costs) or the carcass merit (higher sale value) to justify them.

If a cattle feeder pays a $3/cwt. premium on a set of 600-lb. steers, there must be at least $19/steer (interest on premium included) of added performance, lower feeding costs or higher sale value to offset the premium. Obtaining information such as that presented on the Beef Quality Challenge calves is the only way for a producer to know if their cattle are worthy of premiums. There are numerous avenues available - from Extension Service programs to direct collaboration with feedyards and packers - for producers to obtain this type of information.

Rate of gain, ration costs and feed efficiency drive feed cost-of-gain. When cattle of similar initial weights are fed to similar slaughter weights or carcass endpoints, cattle that gain faster will usually have better feed conversion.

Age and weight also affect feed efficiency. When comparing cattle of similar type and quality, lighter cattle are typically more efficient than heavier cattle due to differences in composition of gainand maintenance requirements. Daily gain may be lower for younger, lighter calves, but feed conversion is usually better than that of older, heavier calves. Genetics also plays a major role.

Daily gain was relatively similar among the Beef Quality Challenge pens. However, feed efficiency for Pen A was 6.7% better than the average of the other three pens, resulting in a lower feed cost-of-gain. Pen A's better feed efficiency is partially due to the lighter initial weight and lower death loss. Any feed consumed (or at least delivered) to a calf prior to death is charged against the rest of the cattle in that pen. So, death loss will increase feed per pound of gain at close-out.

A final consideration is return on equity. Assume a feeder is required to retain $125/head equity and expects to net $25/head income. If a pen requires 140 days to sale weight, then the annualized return on equity was 52.1%. But, if the daily gain on those cattle decreased 10% and required 154 days to the same sale weight, the $25/head income represented a 47.4% return on equity!

Non-feed cost-of-gain includes interest, yardage, medical expenses, death loss and railers. At today's prices, each 1% increase in death loss adds a $5-10 cost to each beef animal eventually sold out of a pen. Railers, or non-performing cattle sold early (usually at salvage value), also add cost to the cattle eventually sold from the pen.

Information generated by feedyards and programs such as Texas A&M's Ranch-to-Rail Program have pointed out the costs of sick cattle entering the feedyard. Calves never treated for disease in the feedyard are worth $9-17/cwt. more as feeders compared to calves that require treatment for disease (this is a comparison of 0% treatment rate to 100% treatment rate).

Using $13/cwt. (average of $9 and $17/cwt.) as the added value of 100% healthy cattle, the appropriate feeder calf discount for each 1% of treated cattle is $0.13/cwt. So, a group of feeder cattle with an expected treatment rate of 25% would be discounted $3.25/cwt. compared to a group with no anticipated health problems.

The added value of healthy calves results from lower medical costs, higher weight gain, fewer days on feed and higher carcass value.

Morbidity rates in the Beef Quality Challenge pens ranged from 33.33% to 44.54%. Using the initial weights on feed and the reported morbidity costs (which only include treatment costs and don't account for reduced performance), these calves were worth $1.94-3.76/cwt. less at purchase than similar pens of calves never treated for disease.

The morbidity costs for Pen C increased the breakeven sale price of the finished steers by $2.01/cwt. live basis, or $3.09/cwt. carcass basis. Let's compare Pen C to a pen of cattle with similar gain, feed efficiency and out weights, but no medical costs. Using a $5 Choice/Select spread, the percent Choice carcasses in Pen C would have to be 60 points higher than the other pen to offset the morbidity costs and equalize returns between the pens.

Our perceptions of "beef quality" need to address not only the end-product to the beef consumer but also raw products being supplied to the production segment of the beef cattle industry. Competitive meats have not only striven to produce a more consistent end product but they've also made tremendous strides in production efficiency. We must do the same.


The weaning and receiving period is the most stressful period in a calf's life. That's nothing new. That's when these highly-stressed, undernourished calves are most susceptible to disease, warns Don Gill, Extension animal nutritionist at Oklahoma State University. And it's also why the many VAC (Value-Added Calf) health programs have grown by leaps and bounds.

The emphasis is on health in these VAC programs, but sometimes we forget the vital role that nutrition plays. As a result, Gill and co-worker David Lalman updated recommendations on receiving and growing rations. This is important in a state that ranks second in stocker cattle and third in beef cows.

No "Fits All" Program Gill doesn't recommend a specific receiving program. "The most important thing is to make calves comfortable and give them a diet designed to minimize health problems," Gill says. "For many Oklahoma ranchers this means prairie grass hay, which is usually low in protein, or higher-protein forages such as Bermuda grass in other areas.

"In either case, you want to feed about two pounds of supplement containing an ionophore and coccidiostat," he adds.

"In some cases, it may be more important to add an antibiotic rather than a coccidiostat. Because of the rules and regulations of joint clearances of feed additives, sometimes you have to choose between one or the other."

When selecting between highly palatable hay and a palatable feed mixture, it's important you feed enough energy so calves regain their strength and make modest, but not high, daily weight gains.

Gill has several guidelines to minimize stress, improve health and bump up weight gains during this crucial time.

* Give calves clean, fresh water on arrival. No research supports the withholding water and feed theory, he says. Many cattlemen put out good quality grass hay for the first 24 hours before calves go on a receiving diet.

* Feed the same time each day. "Calves get used to coming up to eat," Gill says. "Sickness is easier to detect because they come up slower to the bunk."

* Tailor your receiving rations to the condition of the calves. On thin calves, rumen fermentation is low and remains low for several days after arrival. If they remain healthy in transit, they get back to normal appetite and feed intake in about two weeks. Sick calves take longer.

For sick calves, here are Gill's general ration recommendations.

* Use higher energy receiving rations to offset dry matter intake. This means maximizing nutrient intake. For stressed calves, proteins should come from plants, like soybeans and cottonseed meal.

"Stressed calves have a lower tolerance for nonprotein (urea)," Gill warns. "Don't feed urea to calves under 600 pounds, and particularly those under 300 pounds."

* Also, use a coccidiostat in the feed, such as Deccox, Bovatec or Rumensin, or by treating water with amprolium. Include vitamin E at 400-500 IU per day. This can boost gains and reduce sickness, research shows.

Gill warns, however, that injections of Vitamin E at processing time can be non-effective, and even detrimental.

Receiving Recommendations 1. Light calves under 300 lbs. They can't do a good job digesting low-quality roughage. Receiving rations should be palatable and higher in protein and digestible carbohydrates than for calves weighing over 300 lbs., Gill notes.

"All-hay diets aren't as effective as mixed rations higher in concentrates," he notes. Lighter calves are less prone to acidosis than yearlings and prefer concentrates to roughage when stressed or sick, according to New Mexico research.

Light calf diets have higher energy and protein content than yearling diets. But this is needed because of their relatively low feed intake. At diets of 3% bodyweight, calves should gain 1.75-2.25 lbs./day.

Gill says these rations should be fed as a complete diet, without other roughages. "Dilution of a complete diet with another feed, like hay, can result in a nutrient-deficient diet which can severely depress the immune system and increase the incidence of disease," he says.

2. Normal weaned calves that are over 400 lbs. and weaned at 6-8 months of age. Gill says you can use either a high-energy or high-roughage diet, depending on your farm resources and costs.

New Mexico research indicates that calves fed high-concentrate diets (75%) gain faster and more efficiently, but tend to have slightly more sickness than those fed prairie hay supplemented with a high protein pellet (see Table 1). Morbidity tends to increase as concentrate increases from 25-75%.

Gill lists three suggested rations for these calves (see Table 2), all with cottonseed hulls as fiber source, which stimulates rumen motility and reduces acidosis. They don't add many nutrients, but are palatable and are justified during the feeding period, he says.

Ration C is based on corn and alfalfa pellets. It's worked well in Oklahoma for several years, according to Gill. Diets D and E use by-products like corn distiller's grain, wheat midds and soybean hulls. These provide more digestible fiber with moderate to low starch. And if under-priced compared with other commodities, they may offer a chance to cut costs. However, this may not be true if a near record corn crop this year reduces prices.

MFA's Receiving Progam MFA's Cattle Charge is one receiving ration that features a high-energy, low-starch, highly-digestible fiber product that generally fits the general Diet E criteria, although MFA officials do not reveal its exact ingredients. It was developed four years ago and accounts for 60,000 tons in annual sales, half of it for receiving rations, according to Dan Netemeyer, MFA's director of nutrition.

MFA Incorporated is a regional cooperative with 150 agri-service centers in Missouri and surrounding states. Feeding Cattle Charge is required in the MFA Alliance Advantage program which certifies that cattle have been handled according to Beef Quality Assurance and Vac 45 guidelines. Calves are usually fed up to 10 lbs. of MFA's Cattle Charge supplement per head per day for 45 days before being sold. "They've been held long enough to get past health breaks," says Virgil Bruner, area sales manager.

Buyer Benefits, Too There are also values to the buyer, says Texas stocker operator Mike Schreiber. He compared medical costs and death losses on preconditioned calves in the MFA Alliance Advantage label with stockyards-bought, run-of-the-mill kinds of calves.

The result: no death losses or medicine and veterinarian costs on MFA Alliance Advantage calves vs. a $6.08 cost for the 1.43% death loss plus $12.94/head medical costs for calves of unknown origin. Schreiber calculated the savings at $3.06/cwt. on a 500-lb. calf selling at 85 cents/lb.

Netemeyer has several suggestions for receiving calves:

1. Put newly-arrived calves on a full feed of Cattle Charge, with hay fed free choice for as long as you want. "Light calves will eat about two percent bodyweight which amounts to 10 to 12 pounds in two days," he explains.

2. "Keep thin calves on the feed for 7 to 12 days, and if they look healthy, turn them out," says Netemeyer. "If you're not sure about their health, hand feed them until you feel they're straightened out. Then turn them out so you don't have to bust them into different groups. Any of these programs will work economically at today's prices, because gain is worth so much."

In essence, Netemeyer's policy is: "Get 'em in, get 'em good and healthy and get them on their way. Providing good nutrition is a crucial part of the program of keeping that calf healthy."

Added gain put on during the receiving period from a high-concentrate ration is often lost if calves must go on a low-input, dry-winter grazing program, according to Gill. However, if they're going on high-quality pasture or into the feedlot, the higher gain during receiving may be justified.

Roughage-based programs often require more labor and covered storage space, but if it's available on your farm, you may prefer a hay-based receiving program rather than buy expensive concentrates, Gill suggests. But weight gains will be considerably lower.

In cases where you don't need gains over 11/42 - 111/42 lbs./day during the receiving period, a diet of high quality hay plus 2 lbs. of high protein works well in research trials and for many producers, Gill says. But the ration should include necessary minerals, protein, vitamins and feed additives.

Though gains are slower, health disorders and digestive disorders are minimized. Gill suggests a ration of 88.9% soybean meal, 5% cottonseed meal, salt, premix, coccidiostat (decognuinate, lasalocid or monensin), vitamin A and E and dicalcium.