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Articles from 2004 In August


Canadian Cattlemen Unveil Plan For Post-BSE World

The Canadian Cattlemen's Association (CCA) has been under severe pressure since doors all over the world slammed shut on Canadian exports in May 2003. With domestic grumbling growing that CCA wasn't doing enough to represent Canadian producers' interests, CCA unveiled a plan this week focused on building Canada's packing capacity.

The Canadian press made a lot of noise about one suggestion that called for shipping cattle to the U.S. for processing in an idled plant with all the product then shipped back to Canada. But, Canadian leaders made it clear this concept wasn't even on the drawing board.

But, what was on the drawing board calls for increased slaughter capacity, tax incentives, loans, cash advances and increased surveillance and removal of any cattle born prior to the feed bans being implemented. The plan also looks at ways to speed up the resumption of trade, and rebuilding Canada's relationship with the U.S.

In addition, a government cull program has been receiving a lot of consideration. But Canadians fear such a system could implode. And, for obvious financial reasons, government officials show little desire to implement a cull program.

With current capacity, it's estimated Canada will have more than a 500,000-head excess of fed and non-fed cattle to be processed this fall and winter. The lack of processing capability in Canada has led to record cow numbers and an expanding cowherd despite the country's harsh economic environment.

Canadian exports have fallen in U.S. dollars from $3.9 billion to $1.4 billion in the year following BSE. And it's expected to remain at less than 50% of pre-BSE levels this year, as well.

Statistics Canada data shows the cattle inventory increased by 1 million head to 16.8 million, 6.5% larger than a year ago. While not unprecedented, it reflects a significant increase. With the Canadian industry relying on U.S. packing and feeding capacity, Canada's system will likely be stretched beyond its limits.

But, while Canadian producers have been severely injured as a result of their reliance on U.S. processing, U.S. producers have benefited to some degree. Unless the border is opened quickly, the two industries will be forced to realign that capacity. Canada's industry will struggle in capitalizing this realignment, while U.S. producers will face less competition and access if it occurs.

Canada sees three options -- open the border, increase harvest capacity and/or depopulate the herd. Obviously, the first option is Canada's first choice, but it's also the one over which Canadians have no control.

Oil Price & Heavyweight Cattle Could Be Worrisome

Much has been said and written of late about the incredible growth in beef demand and other good news in the marketplace. But there are some bearish signs that deserve watching, and the big one is oil.

Oil prices continued to set new record highs this week, as prices neared $50/barrel. With oil demand soaring in China, it's a legitimate concern that world demand for oil has shifted permanently.

The price of oil has a dramatic effect on the price of all goods and the overall performance of the economy. Record oil prices will have a cooling effect on the global and U.S. economies, but the supply situation could also become precarious. With oil prices already at such levels, any disruption in supply could be disastrous.

It appears prices at the consumer level may have reached levels that are beginning to dampen beef demand. While demand has been a little softer the last 3-4 weeks, we are also in the summer doldrums when demand is traditionally soft.

Of course, there continues to be concern about the prospect of the Canadian border reopening without the U.S. having regained its export trade. Beef imports from Canada for the first five months of 2004 were down by 5.63% compared to a year ago, while beef imports overall were up by 5.23%. The reopening of the Canadian border would result in the resumption of both the feeder cattle and fed cattle trade that has been closed due to BSE since May 2003.

A recent survey conducted in Japan shows that nearly 40% of Japanese consumers claim they don't want to purchase U.S. beef. There is also concern in the U.S. that, not only will the Japan market be slow in reopening, but it will take considerable time to win back the business lost to other beef exporters.

Perhaps the most valid concern expressed by market bears, however, is simply the breakevens that have been purchased to go against the fall. The incentive, of course, will be for feeders to add extra weight to cattle in order to lower their breakevens, and that could hurt us, as well.

Technology Has Grown Beef Industry Opportunity

Given the reality that implementing new technology within the beef industry is usually one more of evolution than revolution, it's easy to take the opportunities provided by technology for granted.

For instance, consider the technological improvements of the past 50 years. Without those improvements, the number of cattle required to produce the 2004 beef supply would number more than 180-million head, rather than the current U.S. inventory of 95-million head. And, at current stocking rates, those 85 million more cattle would require additional land equal to the combined acreage of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Kansas to provide the needed pasture and grain.

That's just one of the nuggets gleaned by Rod Preston and Tom Elam in their review of technical literature, entitled "50 Years of Pharmaceutical Technology and Its Impact on the Beef We Provide Consumers," released this week during the cattle industry summer conference.

Preston is a Texas Tech University professor emeritus of animal science. Elam is an associate lecturer in economics at Indiana University and an adjunct fellow for the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues.

"While decreasing resource use, cattlemen have increased total beef production from 13.2-billion lbs. to 27-billion lbs. in the last 50 years," the researchers say. "Beef quality has improved while inflation-corrected retail prices have decreased by more than 25% during the same period."

The study makes for interesting reading. It also underscores how much more progress is possible considering how little some technologies, such as artificial insemination, are currently used and other new technologies, such as DNA marker-assisted selection, are.

The review was funded by a grant from the Growth Enhancement Technology Information Taskforce. For a full report, send an e-mail to Beef Technology Report Request.

U.S./Canada Border War Continues -- Stakes Increasing

Cargill, Inc., officials in Canada say they won't knowingly kill and process cattle owned by members of R-CALF USA, the U.S. group fighting to keep Canadian beef and cattle out of the U.S. Two weeks ago, Cargill faced a blockade by Canadian ranchers and feedlot operators at its High River, Alberta, plant when its trucks tried to haul cattle from feedlots that the protesters believed were owned by R-CALF members (see July 23 BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly, "Alberta Cattle Feeders Try To Blockade R-CALF Cattle").

R-CALF opposes reopening the U.S. border to live cattle from Canada. The group argues Canadian beef is unsafe because of the threat of BSE. As a result, many Canadian cattlemen don't believe R-CALF members should be allowed to profit from selling Alberta cattle, whose prices have been driven down by the BSE crisis, when they are actively working to keep the border closed.

Feedlot operator Rick Paskal, who helped organize the mid-July Cargill blockade, claims R-CALF members own as many as 50,000 cattle in the province. He adds that there is now solidarity among Canadian packers -- they simply will not knowingly kill R-CALF owned cattle.

Paskal says there's never been more communication among Alberta cattle feeders as there is now. "We know who owns the cattle -- R-CALF members can't hide them from us -- and we'll make sure they don't get their cattle killed," he says.

But, Paskal says the border closure will end up hurting all U.S. cattlemen. "The handwriting is on the wall," he says, pointing to Tyson Food's recent announcement of a $17-million expansion at its Brooks, Alberta, beef plant, Lakeside Packers. Instead of shipping live cattle across the border, Paskal says, Tyson plans to ramp up its Canadian slaughter and processing operations.

The Lakeside expansion, scheduled for a fall 2005 completion, is designed to address "production capacity issues and challenges facing the Canadian beef industry," says Garnet Altwasser, CEO of Lakeside Farm Industries. It will increase Lakeside's capacity by 1,000 head/day over current slaughter levels of approximately 4,000/day.

"I'll guarantee you, Tyson's expansion here will come at the expense of the Tyson plants in Boise [ID] and Pasco [WA]," Paskal says. "That will take significant market access away from U.S. producers in a large area of the U.S. -- right in R-CALF's backyard."

It's common knowledge, Paskal adds, that those two plants have been especially hurt due to decreased cattle supplies resulting from the live-cattle import ban.

"It's becoming very sad for all of us," Paskal says of the border closure and the animosity caused by the continuing R-CALF anti-trade mentality. "And, cattlemen on your side of the border won't see the light until it's too late."

Lifetime Of Commitment

Richard Willham has worn many hats in his long, prestigious career in the beef industry, including beef cattle geneticist, author, livestock historian and artist.

These many successes have garnered Willham, professor emeritus at Iowa State University, the honor of being the 2004 inductee into the Saddle and Sirloin Club, the beef industry's hall of fame.

The Saddle and Sirloin Club portrait gallery was established in 1903 to pay tribute to the beef industry's most significant and influential leaders. The portraits of the 341 members hang in the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center (KFEC) and the Executive West Hotel in Louisville.

Willham's portrait, painted by Richard Halstead, Evanston, IL, will be unveiled Nov. 14 at the Saddle and Sirloin Club banquet during the North American Livestock Exposition at the KFEC.

His nomination was spearheaded by Merlyn Nielsen, University of Nebraska animal scientist and his former student.

“He has a great affection for anything related to tradition, history and livestock,” Nielsen says. “So we knew this was very special to him.”

Academic Life

Willham describes himself as an “academic kid.” He received his bachelor's degree from Oklahoma State University (OSU) in 1954. His master's and PhD were both earned at Iowa State University (ISU) under the guidance of Jay Lush. He worked at OSU for three years — from 1963 to 1966 — in beef cattle breeding, starting a selection project involving Angus and Hereford cattle.

“This was the time when the performance movement was just gaining great momentum,” Willham says. “It was a very exciting time to be involved in performance research.”

In 1966, Willham went back to ISU and initiated research in beef-cattle breeding. He wrote the “computer cowgame,” an internationally recognized tool that teaches selection principles.

“Thousands of undergraduate students in animal breeding courses have used this simulation to gain insight into response to selection,” Nielsen says.

Father Of EPDs

The dairy industry was the frontrunner to beef cattle in the genetics field, using predictive differences (PDs) in sire evaluation. But, seeing the success of evaluating sires for breeding in dairy cattle motivated the beef industry to adopt a similar philosophy, Nielsen says.

The Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) wrote its first National Sire Evaluation guidelines in 1971. Before that meeting, Willham and two other researchers met and worked on writing the guidelines.

“One evening, we were working and discussing what we should call these genetic predictions,” Willham says. “We didn't want to call them PDs, because the dairy industry already had predictive differences.”

Willham suggested calling them expected progeny differences, or EPDs, since the goal was to measure the differences among progeny in animals. “Every time I hear the term now, it just sends chills down my back,” he adds.

Association Ties

Willham has served as a consultant to several breeds — including Hereford and Charolais. He says most of his work, though, was done for the American Angus Association (AAA) in helping initiate its performance records program.

“He assisted in setting up our AHIR (Angus Herd Improvement Records) program and helped develop the forms and computer programs we ran prior to 1970,” says John Crouch, AAA executive director.

In 1971, Willham developed estimated breeding values (EBVs), expressed as ratios with 100 being breed average. “It developed in the breeders a concept of breeding value,” Willham says.

This led to Willham working with AAA in 1972, to develop structured sire evaluation using reference sires.

“He analyzed the data and produced the first set of EPDs for the American Angus Association in 1974. And, from 1974-1980 continued to refine the process,” Crouch says.

In 1980, AAA published the first field data sire evaluation report along with the structured sire evaluation. In 1981, the two reports were combined.

“He was the driving force in the cattle industry who made way for National Cattle Evaluation as we know it today,” Crouch says. “No question in my mind about that.”

Interests, Accomplishments

Willham is also known for his love of history and art — especially livestock art. His interest in art stemmed from a humanities class his wife, Esther, attended. “She'd come home every night and teach me the course,” he says. “I've always had an interest in it, but our discussions really fueled it.”

He was the curator for the art exhibit “Centuries of Fascination: Art About Livestock,” at ISU in 1990 during the annual American Society of Animal Science meeting.

His livestock history class is titled “Our Livestock Heritage,” and has been taught at ISU and Colorado State University.

He wrote the 100-year history for the ISU animal science department in 1996, co-wrote the 25-year history of BIF with Frank Baker, and co-wrote the 100-year history of the Saddle and Sirloin Club with beef industry icons Dale Runnion and Harlan Ritchie last year.

“The beef industry really has been good to me,” Willham says. “It's kept me very busy, but it has been a lot of fun to work with.”

Editor's note: Nominators of Willham for the Saddle and Sirloin Club are responsible for raising money to fund the banquet and commission a portrait. Contributions can be sent to: ISU Foundation — Willham Recognition, in care of Maynard Hogberg, Department of Animal Science, 1221 Kildee Hall, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011.

Outward Visionary

American beef producers are at the heart of a great national debate — the trade debate. And, it will not only set the course for U.S. agriculture, but influence this country's trade policy for at least the next decade.

There are two possible visions for trade policy, says Allen Johnson, the chief agriculture negotiator for the office of the U.S. Trade Representative. One looks inward and is stagnant; the other looks outward and is dynamic.

“The inward vision is basically economic isolationism where we limit our engagement with the world,” he says. “It focuses only on supplying our own markets.”

But, he explains, the U.S. has become so mature and efficient that producing for the domestic market simply isn't enough.

“It's impossible to paint a positive picture of U.S. agriculture without looking outward,” he says. “U.S. farmers and ranchers must recognize that a growing global economy creates new opportunities to access new customers and rapidly growing markets overseas.”

And, by using trade to help energize other economies, the U.S. gains customers who have more disposable income to spend on things like higher-quality food.

“Why shouldn't we want to help make the world a better place?” Johnson asks. “By engaging in trade, standards of living will improve and incomes will increase.”

Johnson says most nations' populations, and their food consumption, are growing at a much faster rate than in the U.S. And, in many cases, the U.S. has a comparative advantage in the production of those higher-value agricultural products. And, the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Uruguay Round of the World Trade Organization's (WTO) trade negotiations have put more money into the pockets of U.S. consumers.

“We've calculated those agreements are worth about $2,400/year for each family of four in this country,” he says. “That's money that fuels an improvement in our standard of living — to where we can, in turn, buy higher-quality food items like beef.”

Engaging In Trade Policy

Johnson warns though, that trade is a two-way street. While other countries are “in awe” of the strength of U.S. agriculture, we should never expect them to open their markets to us if we don't open ours to them.

“There are people we'll never convince that trade is good for them,” he says. “But, in every free trade agreement, we will include agriculture — and we will work to maintain a U.S. trade surplus in the value of beef.”

He points to free-trade agreements (FTAs) the U.S. recently signed with Central America, Morocco and the Dominican Republic, where he emphasizes there's virtually no “down side” from an agricultural standpoint. And, he says, other FTAs in the works — Thailand, Columbia, Peru and Panama — will also be positive for U.S. agriculture.

“The American Farm Bureau analyzed the Dominican Republic and Central American FTAs alone and found agricultural exports would increase by $1.5 billion,” Johnson says. “How can you argue these agreements are bad for U.S. ag?”

Some of the items on Johnson's big-picture trade agenda include:

  • Elimination of export subsidies through the WTO. The European Union (EU), for example, is allowed to spend $2 billion in export subsidies on wheat and beef alone.

  • Reduction and further harmonization of trade-distorting domestic support programs. The EU provides $70 billion in trade-distorting domestic support — substantially increasing access to world markets where the allowed WTO tariffs are 72% for wheat and 85% for beef.

  • Targeting in WTO negotiations a long list of trade-distorting policies that frustrate U.S. producers, such as the monopoly on export rights held by the Canadian and Australian wheat boards.

  • Negotiating new and pending FTAs, which combined, would constitute the third-largest U.S. export market and the sixth-largest economy in the world.

“As we work through these trade agreements, we remain sensitive to concerns of domestic producers,” Johnson says.

The FTA with Australia, for example, maintains significant limits on beef imports through quantitative restrictions and safeguards. Additional beef imports from Australia will amount to less than 1% of U.S. production over the next 18 years.

“The vast majority of these imports do not directly compete with our high-quality beef products,” Johnson explains.

Looking beyond specific FTAs, he asks U.S. farmers and ranchers to embrace the outward vision in regard to trade.

“That's the only way to ensure we're growing and leading the road to the future,” Johnson says. “The alternative of being left behind as our competitors and customers move on without us should not be tolerated.”

Long-duration release implant

Duralease by Merial is the first implant to use liquid suspension technology by combining sustained-release estradiol benzoate with Theraphase technology. Theraphase provides long-duration release of a controlled dose of growth stimulant to cattle. Providing a constant, sustained-release of estradiol benzoate has proven to increase the rate of weight gain and feed efficiency in fed cattle. Duralease uses a standard syringe to deliver a small, 1-mL dose.
(Circle Reply Card No. 160)

Target Pasture Weeds

Farmers and ranchers can now use PastureGard to control brush and broadleaf weeds on rangeland and pastures. The herbicide, manufactured by Dow AgroSciences, can be tank-mixed with fertilizer or broadleaf herbicides for broadcast applications; used to control blackberry, rose and privet complexes in the southeast U.S.; or used as an effective broadcast option for Sericea lespedeza in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri. PastureGard is not a federally restricted-use pesticide, and does not contain 2,4-D.
(Circle Reply Card No. 161)

Self-regulating gate

Eliminate gates and cattle guards with the Gatekeeper by Agri-tronics. Unlike all other electronic gate systems or conventional cattleguards, the Gatekeeper has no moving parts. It uses series of near ultra-sonic, double modulated sound pulses to repel cattle. And, the sonic frequencies have, in most cases, no effect on horses. The motion detection system used by the Gatekeeper is completely self-regulating, so there are absolutely no adjustments to worry about.
(Circle Reply Card No. 162)

Rodent Control Web Site

Motomco, a manufacturer of rodent control products, has redesigned its Web site www.motomco.com. The Web site is organized into three sections — producer, retailer and homeowner. Each section offers in-depth information for situation-specific rodent issues. Information is also provided about rodents and baiting, products, situation-specific tips and support materials.
(Circle Reply Card No. 163)

Stacking Bales

The Automatic Stack Saver by Westendorf Mfg. eliminates messy stacks and the dangers of falling bales. Models are available for big-square bales and round bales. The Stack Saver has a mechanical push-off that eliminates the need for extra valves, extra hoses, hydraulic couplers or extra cylinders. It fits most makes and models of loaders and is available in many different tine configurations.
(Circle Reply Card No. 164)

Self-Propelled Swathers

Massey Ferguson's 9000 Series self-propelled swathers (MF 9220 and 9420) are built to handle tough field conditions and heavy crops. The increased durability starts with the welded, all-steel frame. The MF 9220 is powered by a waste gate turbocharged B3.3T delivering 85 hp. A waste gate turbocharged 4.50 SBTII delivering 110 hp powers the MF 9420.

The servo-assisted, hydro-control handle raises and lowers header and reel height, controls direction and ground speed, as well as reel speed and header tilt. The operator control panel houses draper speed and shift controls, optional reel fore and aft control switches and header engagement toggle switch.
(Circle Reply Card No. 165)

Brochures Available

Quali Tech Inc. has developed two, free, comprehensive guides outlining the benefits of trace-mineral supplementation. One guide is specifically for beef producers; the other describes Quali Tech's Sea-Questra-Min trace mineral technology.
(Circle Reply Card No. 166)

Monitoring Wind

Onset Computer Corp. is offering the HOBO Wind Monitoring Station, a cost-effective, data-logger system for measuring and recording wind speed and direction. The station accepts up to four wind speed and direction sensors, making it ideal for wind profiling at multiple heights, and reports average wind speeds, wind gusts and wind direction. It also features battery-powered operation and wireless data retrieval.
(Circle Reply Card No. 167)

Hay On The Stump

There is a child's rhyme which begins, “Hay is for horses. Grass is for cows …” Perhaps this is better advice than most modern cattle producers ever imagined.

A new Iowa study shows properly managed stockpiled winter forage is cheaper and of higher quality than the same forage mix harvested and fed as hay for wintering bred replacement heifers. It puts more weight on them and does it at lower cost. Also, its profitability is less subject to fluctuations in pasture costs than is a hay-feeding program to changes in the price of hay, meaning it has lower financial risk.

This is something most southern cattle raisers have practiced for generations because winter annual forages are prevalent there and winters are comparably mild. “Snow grazing” instead of hay feeding is a less-tried concept, however, from the Midwest on north.

The Iowa State University (ISU) study compares a drylot, hay-based program and a winter-stockpiled forage-based program for developing replacement heifers. It shows a big advantage in body condition for the grazed heifers.

In the two-year study, hay-fed heifers lost 0.1 to 0.2 body condition points on a nine-point scale, even though they met their target weights for calving. Grazed heifers gained from nothing at all to 1.0 body condition points, depending on stocking rate.

Further, in the first year, grazing heifers supplemented to the low target weight got 18 lbs. of corn gluten (CG) feed, while those supplemented to the high target weight got 94 lbs. of CG. In the second year, neither group required any CG to meet their target weights. Compare that with 186 and 286 lbs. of CG in the first and second years needed by the drylot heifers.

Then, don't forget the two tons average diet of hay fed to each drylot heifer vs. no hay fed to the grazing animals.

The good performance posted by the grazing heifers is no surprise if one considers that the standing forage showed a large advantage in the amount of digestible dry matter and a small advantage in crude protein over the hay. The live forage also posted lower levels of acid detergent insoluble nitrogen, a measurement of indigestible protein in the forage.

Is it any wonder then that the researchers were able to develop the grazed heifers for about 50-75% of the cost to develop the drylot heifers? The grazing treatments varied from 61¢/heifer/day to 90¢/ heifer/day. The drylot treatments cost $1.16 the first year and $1.18 the second year.

How They Did It

The heifers were grazed for 127-154 days on an endophyte-free, fescue-clover mixed pasture beginning in late October or early November. The forage was stockpiled from early August. Researchers used two stocking rates — 0.34 heifer/acre and 0.48 heifer/acre. Forage was rationed in each pasture by dividing it into eight strips using temporary electric fence and allowing the heifers l7-21 days in each paddock.

The drylot heifers were given fescue and red clover hay free-choice. CG was fed daily as required to meet the target weights.

Although the two years of the Iowa research project had mild winters with little snow cover, snow cover in 2003-2004 was much heavier and the pastured heifers continued to perform well, adds ISU animal scientist James Russell, lead researcher on the project.

The researchers assigned pasture costs of $60/acre, hay costs of $41/ton, and CG costs of $55/ton.

“What we've found, and I think it's pretty well true across the country, is the largest cost in cow-calf production is feeding stored feeds,” Russell says.

“We had done this (stockpiling) enough that we felt like we had some pretty sound economics on cows. So, of course, the next thing producers wanted to know was ‘What about heifers?’” Russell adds. “So that's how we got into this.”

Talking About Heifers

Past ISU research projects have found cows grazed on cornstalks could get by with 400 lbs. of hay over the winter, vs. nearly three tons of hay for those wintered in drylot, for example.

ISU's studies on cow wintering costs match well with such studies from other Midwest states.

Jim Gerrish, formerly the research agronomist at the Forage Systems Research Center (FSRC) at Linneus, MO, quotes Missouri and Iowa research at 50¢ to 70¢/day higher feed costs for a beef cow fed hay compared to a cow grazing. He says decreasing the hay feeding period to 60 days would save cow-calf producers $40-$60/cow/year.

A Purdue University study in the mid 1990s on adult cows grazing 45-60 days during the second trimester of pregnancy showed similar results. Average hay cost savings when cows grazed corn residue and stockpiled pasture, instead of being fed hay in a drylot, were $24.28 and $14.88/cow, respectively. Cost savings varied from $3.74 to $24.91/cow with use of stockpiled pasture and $11.84 to $41.08/cow with use of corn residues. The cows posted good performance in this study.

A demonstration with grazed heifers at Missouri's FSRC is showing similar success. Area livestock specialist Chris Zumbrunnen says topgrazing of the standing forage by pregnant heifers is providing all the nutrition they need in the third trimester. Calving under those circumstances is much better because there is less mud and the plane of nutrition is excellent. The FSRC typically moves cattle onto new forage strips every three days, giving them greater control and consistency of forage quality than researchers there would get with less-frequent moves.

There is more good news from the ISU study. Russell says grazed heifers, even at the higher stocking rate, exceeded the target weight needed for healthy calving and rebreeding. That means lower pasture costs per heifer could probably be had.

Also, the cost of labor in the two systems was assumed to be equal, but most experienced graziers report they invest much less time on forage systems than they did in drylot/hay systems. That could provide additional cost savings.

This news about grass being better than hay should be no surprise. The industry struggles with a petroleum-dependent mindset which, over the years, made it seem easy to increase hay supplements until they became hay subsistent. As diesel and equipment prices continue to rise — and they will — grass on the ground looks increasingly inviting, and profitable.

Alan Newport is a freelance writer based in Carnegie, OK.

Tips On Snow Grazing

Differing growth traits means some forages are better suited for snow grazing than others. The University of Missouri's Forage Systems Research Center (FSRC) in Linneus has long worked with stockpiled winter grazing similar to that done in the Iowa research project.

Tall fescue or a late-summer-seeded oat crop stand up well under several inches of snow, sometimes up to a foot of dry snow, the center says. Softer grasses, such as orchardgrass or bluegrass, tend to lay down under the snow and be less accessible.

That means soft grasses should be used first, when the fields are open. More erect grasses should be saved for snow times.

The question most producers worry about is this: How much snow will cattle graze through comfortably?

“Producers from across the country have told me they have had their cattle graze through 10-12 in. without a problem,” says Jim Gerrish, former FSRC superintendent. A few will claim deeper depths, he says, but 1 ft. seems to be the practical upper limit.

The type of forage below the snow is an important factor, Gerrish adds. The taller and more erect it is, the deeper the animals will dig. If the forage height is less than 5 in., cows seem to quit grazing.

Adaptability Symposium Set For Oct. 29-30

The consensus is that genetic differences for adaptability exist among cattle. The theory is that an animal adapted to a certain environment is better suited to perform in that environment, and identifying and selecting for those traits would raise production efficiency by extending an animal's longevity, disease resistance, etc.

To further develop that concept, a Cow Adaptability Symposium is set for Oct. 29-30 in Kansas City, MO. The sessions begin at 8 a.m. on Oct. 29, and end at noon the following day. Registration is $150.

Among the presentations are: Australian research on adaptability, adaptation and learning in beef cattle; physiological observations related to beef cattle under stress; role of disease resistance in adaptability; high-altitude disease: an example of genetic variation for adaptability; economic importance of adaptability; an example of selection: cows matched to the production environment; and a discussion on adaptability.

For more detail, go to http://www.ansci.cornell.edu/adaptability/, or contact John Pollak ([email protected]) or Susan Herbert ([email protected]) or 607/255-4416.

Taking The Money

Take the money and run. Sell your calves at the first and best opportunity and let someone else worry about the risk. With calf and yearling prices climbing to unprecedented levels, it's a no-brainer, right? Of course it is.

Well, maybe…

“This has to be one of the most confusing times we've ever seen in this business, especially for the cow-calf producer intent on finding a market niche,” says John Paterson, Montana State University Extension beef cattle specialist, Bozeman.

“Yet, it's one of the easiest times to give marketing advice,” he says. “Pay attention to your fundamentals — and just do it.”

Does this mean ranchers should shift away from participating in any of the beef production and marketing alliances that have popped up over the past decade?

Paterson looks at the question through the eyes of a rancher.

“If I'm a 55- or 60-year-old rancher carrying serious or even significant debt — or facing severe drought — I'm going to sell my calves and never look back,” Paterson says. “I don't think I'd carry that risk into the winter. I'd take the money and run.”

But for the producer who might have a long-term vision, or who is looking to grow or build a herd — and can find a forward-thinking banker — the advantages of an alliance may be in order.

“It really depends on the kind of alliance you're talking about and on your short- and long-term goals,” Paterson says. “It's hard to pigeon-hole the alliances. There's an alliance for just about any beef producer in the country.” (See the “BEEF Alliance Yellow Pages” that follow in this section.)

More Than A Market

As one of the architects of the Montana Beef Network (MBN), Paterson says that, so far this year, 4,200 head of MBN calves have sold into one of the larger alliances for about a $10/head premium over cash cattle. The calves were processed through beef quality assurance (BQA) protocol and source-verified using individual radio-frequency ID tags applied at branding.

“Ten bucks is a decent premium for this market,” Paterson says. “It sure pays for the time and expenses needed to get the calves into and through the program.”

But, Paterson hopes MBN producers realize they're also better positioning themselves for that point in the cattle cycle when cattle buyers are a little tougher to find.

Unlike today's situation, the cattle cycle likely will spin around to where production and marketing alliances will look a lot more attractive to rank and file cattlemen, says Lee Meyer, University of Kentucky ag economist.

“I'll admit we haven't come as far with beef alliances as I thought we would have by now,” he says. “But, the concepts of sharing quality and performance information throughout the supply chain will continue to provide more incentives and rewards as we go along.”

Among the most positive outcomes of alliances is the general awareness of beef quality and its place in the food chain, he adds.

“That awareness tends to put producers into more of an ‘enterprise’ mindset than a production mindset,” Meyer explains. “That's something you can't put a price tag on.”

Speaking of price tags, Meyer says the progressive producers who first bought into the alliance concept probably didn't get paid enough for their innovation. This may have slowed the evolution of value-based marketing programs and production alliances.

“A few years from now, these will be mainstream concepts, especially as we move toward more individual ID and third-party process verification systems,” Meyer adds. “That's when we'll begin seeing the real payoff to the industry as a whole.”

Back in Montana, Paterson says getting producers to develop BQA and source-verification habits wasn't as easy as he thought it would be, but they are seeing the payoff. The key, he adds, is that buyers and sellers have more information about the cattle traded.

“When it comes to source verification, ranchers don't seem to be as concerned about what the government is asking of them; they're more concerned about what the end-user wants,” he says. “Certainly, source verification and alliances go hand in hand.”

Some type of integration with feeders or even processors is a fundamental part of most alliances. Many alliances and marketing programs have functions that keep participants in the loop as prices rise. Many also share in the risk as prices fall.

“There's no question that, as we see more volatility in the markets, alliances will become more attractive,” Paterson says. “Depending on the program, a rancher putting cattle into an alliance will eventually see better price protection than riding the cash markets.”

Preparing For The Dark Side

Ron Torell, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension livestock specialist in Elko, concurs.

“Oh yeah, we're presently experiencing one of the best cattle markets of all time. Marketing cattle in this type of environment is easy. If history repeats itself, however, more difficult times are down the road,” Torell says.

As a beef producer himself, he encourages ranchers to look at alliances as more than niche markets.

And, alliances are more than a marketing agreement or a set of carcass specifications, adds Twig Marston, Kansas State University Extension beef specialist.

“They are more than a breed or a product identity. They are a partnership where people and companies work together and fairly share in the final product,” he explains.

Alliances may be vertical in nature and encompass different facets of the beef industry, or they may be horizontal and be a group of businesses within a particular segment of the industry.

“Together, their main goals are to share information, improve production efficiency, and/or better place their product within a tough marketing arena,” Marston says. “Most of the vertical alliances are based on the concept of value-based marketing where anyone who donates to the total value of an animal is fairly rewarded monetarily for their efforts.”

Pricing grids are a key alliance component. Producers willing to invest the time in management and production of animals that fit a grid of choice will likely do well in an alliance situation, says Tom Anton, University of Florida Extension economist in Ona.

There can be added risk with grids.

“The returns for cattle that grade well in the grid are high, but the losses for poorly grading cattle are as high or higher,” Anton says.

Short term, alliances aren't always a good buffer against volatility, adds Jim Robb, Lakewood, CO. He's director of the Livestock Marketing Information Center.

“For that reason, this is a difficult point in the cattle cycle not to take the money and run,” he says. “But, for the long pull, if you're trying to receive a premium for the quality and quantity of your cattle, a move towards an alliance may be in order.”