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Articles from 2005 In August


Hereford Debuts Its Hereford Verified Program

A value-based program that rewards commercial cattle producers for raising superior-performing cattle -- but without the risk common to other value-added programs -- is what the American Hereford Association (AHA) says it offers with its new Hereford Verified Network (HVN) program.

The new source-verification program from AHA and Certified Hereford Beef (CHB) LLC will engage all facets of the beef supply chain, AHA says. It creates an open-market supply of CHB-eligible cattle and pays real premiums to program participants. The organization says HVN will allow commercial cattle producers to receive traditional alliance benefits such as an open market, information and premiums without the risk of owning stock or feeding cattle.

Jim Williams, CHB LLC vice president of supply, says HVN is about more than product traceability. It adds value up and down the line, and will engage Hereford seedstock providers, commercial cattle producers and selected cooperating feedlots. The cattle will be harvested by National Beef Packing (NBP) LLC.

The program's aim is to deliver genetic-, source- and age-documented beef to the retailer's door in a pull-through demand system. Two levels of involvement are offered. A Yellow Tag program tracks genetics, source and age, while a Green Tag program only accounts for source and age. Green Tag program participants qualify for $2-3/head bonus while the participants in the Yellow Tag program enjoy $2-6/head.

All HVN program participants qualify for direct marketing to five CHB LLC preferred feeders, receive carcass performance data and benchmarking, obtain feedlot performance data and benchmarking, and have the option of individual carcass data at a discounted price.

For more info, go to www.herefordverified.com or call 816-842-3758.

Keeping Good Hands At Home

There's an old saying, “You can tell a cowboy, but you can't tell him much.”

But, to keep good cowboys or other feedyard or ranch employees, it takes good pay, good benefits and good communication. It also requires luring them to a job that can be more physically uncomfortable than working “in town.”

Whether you're a two-employee outfit or one with 40 or 50 workers, keeping good help is as difficult as it's ever been. New Wal-Marts in just about any town of more than 5,000 people, mega hog farms in the heart of cattle feeding territory, McDonald's and Pizza Huts, even new dairies, are milking the ag work force.

Stocking shelves may be a lot more attractive than cleaning bunks and breaking ice. And, when winter weather puts even more pressure on keeping cattle eating and healthy, a 70° F discount store interior can be mighty attractive, even at less pay.

Even veteran ranch and feedlot workers, whose independence can run as strong as the employer signing the checks, need special care so they don't move down the road.

But all isn't lost, says Gregorio Billikopf, University of California-Davis professor and a top agricultural employee management expert.

“In general, ag workers love their jobs; cowboys even more so,” Billikopf says. “People who work with cattle tend to love their jobs more than other ag employees. So ranchers and feedlots are starting out with points in their favor.”

Retaining veterans

It can be a challenge, however, to keep a veteran pen rider or feed truck driver on your payroll. Richard Winter, Friona Industries' (FI) feedyard operations manager, who has more than 25 years of experience, has advice on how to get that done.

“First, we provide a competitive wage and reasonable benefits, including life and health insurance,” he says.

But that's just the start for the Amarillo, TX-based feeding operation. FI's employee ratio is below the typical rule of thumb of one worker/1,000 head of cattle on feed. The program also accounts for the type of cattle handled and the number for which each worker is responsible.

“We look at current expenses, where we're spending our money and where it's most effective,” Winter says. “We look at what it costs to handle certain types of cattle. Unweaned sale barn cattle, for example, not only cost more in reduced performance but require extra handling.”

About 50% of FI's feeder calves arrive preconditioned, so they naturally require less doctoring and other attention.

“We can affect inputs on the cattle side and provide our people with more resources and equipment to accomplish their jobs in a timely, safe and efficient manner,” he says.

FI employee numbers average 0.8/1,000 cattle, and less in some areas. Winter says it's the result of FI achieving its goals of working with better cattle and better people. In reducing empoyee numbers, however, care must be taken to not diminish the quality of the people and resources.

Employee turnover rates are among the items retained ownership prospects may consider in selecting a feedyard. FI's annual employee turnover rate is 12%, with yard maintenance and cattle handling areas being the highest. Turnover in milling, feeding and administration is low.

Whether or not a feedyard is a Beef Quality Assurance yard, and the extent of the yard's safety and employee training program should also be considered.

Safety first

A solid safety program offering consistent training and evaluation is one tool for retaining a good work force. It begins when an employee is hired, and is reinforced with specific measures geared toward the particular job.

“We define each job and the safety involved with it,” Winter says. “Employees undergo awareness training, monitored by a department supervisor. Whether it involves riding a horse or working on a doctoring crew, employees must follow set guidelines that provide for a safe environment for them and the cattle.”

Safety meetings are held monthly to analyze new equipment or techniques. Any accident is thoroughly examined.

“We determine the cause and look at how it could have been prevented,” Winter says. Employees are encouraged to discuss any situation that could potentially cause an accident. Safety awards, usually in the form of cash bonuses, are given to employees who maintain a good safety record.

Safety recordkeeping is precise, and third-party safety audits are conducted twice/year. Such organizations as the Texas Cattle Feeders Association, Nebraska Cattlemen and the Kansas Livestock Association (KLA) perform third-party safety checks for their feedlot members. Some consultants also specialize in this area.

“Safety is significantly important to the success of the pool,” says Rich McKee, KLA senior vice president. “About $2.7 million has been paid out in dividends from the pool (since 1993); 75% of those payments are based on the safety record.”

A “safety culture” is important for good employee retention, McKee says. Like other associations, KLA has helped develop drug and alcohol testing protocols at feedyards. Since many feedyard employees are Hispanic, KLA now conducts some safety seminars and other programs in Spanish and English.

About 50% of FI's employees are Hispanic, a typical ratio in the industry. Winter's credo is this: “Respect the person first. You become aware of cultural needs and diversity. Like any employee or culture, if you respect them, they'll respect you.”

Good employee relations

Get to know employee family members, where their children attend school, even special dates like birthdays if possible. California's Billikopf stresses such good communication is essential in managing employee morale and maintaining good productivity. Certain on-the-job situations can be delicate, so being closer to an employee can help solve problems.

“Out of concern for how we're perceived, we may err in saying too little when things go wrong,” he says. “Instead of saying things directly, we often hint.”

Don't ignore problems or allow them to accumulate. Effective dialog can help reduce employee-supervisor stress.

“Conversation entails as much listening as talking,” Billikopf adds. “While effective two-way exchanges sometimes happen naturally, they generally need to be carefully planned. Discussing challenging issues can place you outside your comfort zone, but the rewards are immediate satisfaction and improved long-term relationships.”

One way to ease an employee's mind is to make assignments ahead of time. Ask them to bring answers to a few challenging questions to a set meeting.

“For instance, you can ask them to make a list of positive contributions they bring to the (ranch or feedyard) enterprise, and areas they feel they need to improve,” he says.

Don't rub it in if an employee admits a fault. Ask about steps he or she will take to meet the challenge, and how you can help.

Asking employees about your own performance can be an important part of the dialog, as well. But rather than ask if you're a good supervisor, ask: “What can I do differently, as your supervisor, to help you better help me?” Billikopf says.

That way the employee isn't asked to speak against you; he's enlisted to make the enterprise more effective.

But be sure to give the employee plenty of time to prepare his answer. When he gives his answer, don't interrupt. Any misconceptions can be cleared up later. Ask questions and try to better understand his perspective, he says.

“A third-party facilitator can be effectively used in this approach,” he says. “Either way, the potential exists for a healthy amount of self disclosure to take place, and each person can stretch to consider his blind spots.”

If possible, match employees with jobs best suited for them.

“Above all, we try to provide employees with a work atmosphere that allows them to feel gratified at some level,” Winter says. “We want our work environment to make an employee feel good about coming to work.”

Larry Stalcup is a freelance writer based in Amarillo, TX.

U.S. has first native BSE case

A 12-year-old, Brahma-cross cow from a commercial operation in Texas is the first domestic case of BSE in the U.S., USDA said June 24. The downer cow spent its whole life in Texas and was discovered at a pet food plant in Waco. USDA won't name the source herd or its location in Texas. John Clifford, Chief Veterinarian for USDA, stressed the animal didn't enter either the human or animal food chain.

The Houston Chronicle reported the positive animal was from Southeast Texas. That's what USDA told Benjy Bauer, owner of Waco-based Champion Pet Foods, which took delivery of the animal, Bauer said.

“That's all they would say, and believe me, I've asked them several times. I want to know, too,” Bauer told the Chronicle. He said a livestock hauler brought in the cow, which was dead on arrival at Champion and no part of the animal made it into the company's products.

The now-confirmed, BSE-positive animal is among more than 400,000 animals tested for BSE since USDA initiated its enhanced surveillance program. Tissue from the cow and two other animals tested “inconclusive” in a quick test performed last November and were later cleared using USDA's “gold standard” immunohistochemistry (IHC) test.

Early in June, however, USDA's Office of Inspector General ordered a retest of the animal's tissue without the knowledge of USDA Secretary Mike Johanns. The sample was hand-carried to a Weybridge, England, lab recognized by the World Animal Health Organization, or OIE, as a world reference lab for BSE.

The development was an embarrassment for USDA, which has trumpeted the accuracy and tightness of its BSE testing procedures. In response, USDA changed its testing protocol. If another BSE rapid screening test results in inconclusive findings, USDA will run both an IHC and Western blot confirmatory test. If results from either confirmatory test are positive, the sample will be considered positive for BSE.

“By adding the second confirmatory test, we boost that confidence and bring our testing in line with the evolving worldwide trend to use both IHC and Western blot together as confirmatory tests for BSE,” Johanns said.

A “hold” order was placed on the source herd of the positive animal, identified via DNA testing. At press time, 67 herdmates had tested negative and the quarantine was removed.

Clifford said it's highly unusual to find BSE in more than one animal in a herd or in an affected animal's offspring. APHIS is working with the Food and Drug Administration to determine the herd's feed history. Given the animal's age, he said the cow likely was infected by consuming feed prior to U.S. implementation of its feed ban in 1997.

Alliances' impact is growing sort of

You don't hear much about alliances these days. Their novelty has worn off; their warts exposed. There's been no revolution, no mass exodus to alliances per se, though the number of cattle flowing through them is growing.

But, the fact they've become a standard part of how cattle business is conducted — one of the reasons they're talked about less these days — affirms their value.

If there's a lesson to be learned from alliance evolution thus far, it simply may be that changing the industry — carcass value and retrieving that value in this case — is as hard as it is slow.

At least that's the case when you compare the details in aggregate and individually of the alliances listed in this year's BEEF Alliance Yellow Pages (see insert in this issue on page A1) to those in the 2001 edition.

Up front, the review and interpretation by this author are completely unscientific, sure to curl the toes of even amateur statisticians. But the overall trends and lessons make sense relative to what seems to be happening in the industry.

Still lots of variation

For instance, by and large, most of the alliances listed tend to be as mainstream as apple pie. Of those sharing par value points on their pricing grids, 86% list Choice (up from 60% in 2001); and only about 25% continue to demand better than Yield Grade 3 cut-ability for par.

Likewise, the range in allowable carcass weights across the alliances (500-1,000 lbs.) remains virtually unchanged. Of course, this 500-lb. window continues to be much more restrictive than the range seen on the commodity chain day in and out, which should make aficionados of product consistency quiver.

That said, 20% of the alliances sharing carcass weight information do limit the range to 200 lbs. or less, while 44% allow a range of 400 lbs. or more.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, while the range in premiums reported has grown substantially ($5-$109/head this year, compared to $10-$60/head in 2001), just a few more than in 2001 report average premiums of more than $20/head. But then, the direct cost (fee) of participation has remained even more static at $0-$12/head over time.

However, fewer alliances this year report being cost-free (32%) than five years ago (44%). Whether that reflects initiating a charge or failing to report it in the past isn't known.

Incidentally, when you compare just the 21 alliances reporting cattle numbers in this year's listing and also in 2001, you find the same basic trends.

Requirements increasing

Really, the greatest change revealed in the comparison of annual surveys is the substantial increase in the number of alliances requiring specific management practices for participation, in tandem with carcass specifications. In 2001, 33% of those responding to the question had no requirements for source verification, weaning, preconditioning or natural beef management. This year, only 8% are as carefree.

The most prevalent management practice required is source verification, followed by preconditioning, then weaning. Only one more alliance in this year's edition has a natural beef management requirement than in 2001. What's more, this year, three alliances cite process verification as a requirement. In 2001, I'm not sure that term had even been coined.

In fact, while some new consumer-based alliances always seem to crop up to replace those exiting the business, it's the calf-based alliances — identifying, sorting and getting cattle ready to enter value-added programs within alliances or without — that have been growing the fastest the past few years.

Overall, while the total number of alliances listed remains close — 36 consumer-based alliances in 2001 vs. 33 this year — the number flowing through these alliances is 28% more than five years ago; 2.5 million head this year vs. 1.99 million head in 2001.

The figure may surprise some who sense alliance participation has waned, especially in light of historically high fed cattle prices the past couple of years that have, in some cases, overwhelmed the incentives to accept the added risk of grid pricing and lengthier ownership. However, some alliances have become such a standard practice that the cattle flow through them, though they're not necessarily thought of as alliances anymore.

On the flip side, even with the modest increase in the volume of alliance cattle, alliances still represent the mass minority of fed cattle being aggregated, managed and marketed. However, it's likely these alliance cattle influence far more numbers than actually flow through them.

Remember the industry war on fat, its battle against injection site blemishes, or the industry's thirst for pricing mechanisms that valued something other than average? Arguably, the alliance structure continues to foster the environment and quantifiable measurements to demonstrate industry challenges, along with spurring collective opportunities to address them.

And, isn't more open communication between industry segments what alliances were really all about to start with?

My Top 10 Clicks

Jeffrey J. Knight
Feeding Manager
Simplot Land & Livestock
Grand View, ID

  1. www.cattle-fax.comCattle-Fax homepage.
  2. www.wlj.netWestern Livestock Journal.
  3. www.cattlenetwork.comNews, market information.
  4. www.beef-mag.comBEEF magazine.
  5. www.usda.govUSDA information.
  6. www.meatingplace.comMeat and poultry processor news.
  7. www.stockmanship.comBud Williams Schools.
  8. www.msnbc.msn.comMSNBC news.
  9. http://hill.beef.orgNCBA Government Affairs Center.
  10. www.hancockhorses.comHancock Horses Breeder Group.

BIF Honors Industry Leaders

A record number of participants — 752 — attended the 37th Annual Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) meeting and research symposium in Billings, MT, last month. Themed: “Genetics for the Next Generation,” the gathering included general sessions and committee roundtables focused on reproductive efficiency, cow adaptability, multi-breed evaluation, Web-based decision-support tools, selection indexes and producer profitability, as well as day-long tours of area seedstock and commercial cattle operations.

Comprehensive online coverage of the 2005 BIF annual meeting (including video streams of the presentations) is available at www.bifconference.com. The coverage is provided by Angus Productions Inc., and sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica.

Recognized by BIF with awards were:

  • Seedstock producer of the year — Rishel Angus, North Platte, NE.

  • Commercial producer of the year — Prather Ranch, Fall River Mills, CA.

  • Pioneer Award — for lasting contributions to beef cattle improvement — Jack and Gini Chase, Buffalo Creek Red Angus, Leiter, WY; Jack Cooper, Cooper Hereford Ranch, Willow Creek, MT; Dale Davis, Rollin' Rock Angus, Belgrade, MT; Les Holden, Holden Herefords, Valier, MT; and Don Kress, emeritus professor at Montana State University.

  • Ambassador Award — given annually to a media person — Steve Suther, Certified Angus Beef LLC director of industry information.

  • Continuing Service Award — Robert Williams, American-International Charolais Association director of breed improvement and foreign marketing; Terry O'Neil, Tomahawk Land and Cattle, MT; Jerry Lipsey, American Simmental Association executive vice president; and Michael MacNeil, Fort Keogh Livestock and Range Research Laboratory animal research geneticist, Miles City, MT.
  • Frank Baker Memorial Scholarship Awards — Matthew Cleveland, Colorado State University; and David Kirschten, Cornell University.

Got Bullers?

In a kinder and gentler world they're called bullers. These cattle, for which pen riders have their own not-so-kind names, can be defined as steers that will stand to be ridden. Whatever you want to call them though, bullers are a significant problem throughout the cattle feeding industry.

Late-'90s data indicates that in most feedyards, 1-4% of all steers are identified as bullers. But, in some regions and at some times of the year, buller cattle can attract other steers like flowers attract bees. The economic impact of buller steers has been empirically estimated at $25-$35/buller animal due to performance, and mortality and morbidity issues.

“Bullers are just a horrible animal to have in a feedyard,” says Chris Hitch, Hitch Enterprises, Inc., Guymon, OK. “You can't treat a buller like you can a sick animal, yet you have to get him out of the pen and deal with him in some manner.”

Hitch says bullers also complicate things when determining billing charges for a customer. He contributes to a list of why bullers are so hated:

  • Losses due to injury or death.

  • Reduced final weight of the bullers and the cattle riding them.

  • Bruising, leading to excessive carcass trim.

  • Labor required to segregate bullers.

  • Complicated pen utilization.

  • Increased paperwork and recordkeeping.

No one knows for sure why bullers act the way they do. Published data indicates the following factors contribute to bulling activity:

  • Mixing of cattle or put-together groups.
  • Crowding — limited pen space.
  • Pens greater than 150 head.
  • Placement weight — favoring heavier steers.
  • Crushed or bunched hormone implants.
  • Abscessed implant sites.
  • Implants containing trenbalone acetate (TBA).
  • Animal size variation with a pen.
  • Seasonal and climactic variations.
  • Presence of cycling heifers.

The implant effect

The implant-effect concept drew Hitch's attention when feedyard employees began seeing bullers decrease after a switch from the feedyard's traditional implant program. Hitch veterinarian Shawn Blood reports that in early 2001 when Hitch Enterprises changed to Component® with Tylan®, buller rates began to drop unexpectedly.

“We switched implants for other reasons,” Blood says. “But, it didn't take long before we saw buller rates drop like a rock.”

Hitch's feedyard data showed the frequency of bullers decreased by 41% across each of their three feeding facilities. Overall buller rate* (see end of article) was 1.25% before and 0.64% after inclusion of Component with Tylan.

The implants are patented, differentiated growth promotants that include a localized antibacterial agent (tylosin tartrate) as the first pellet of each dose. While reducing bullers is not a label use of the implant, Hitch's observations corroborated Kansas State University (KSU) research on the implants.

Hitch says that while other factors could be involved, the only potential causative factor that's been identified is the transition to Component and Tylan implants.

“None of the yards changed nutritional programs or made major changes in animal health or other management during this period of time,” Blood adds.

The favorable effects appear to have been the greatest in the situations that typically produce the highest frequency of bullers — big pens, heavy cattle and/or late summer placements.

The first scientific evidence of reduced buller rates was generated by Brandon Depenbusch in 2003. He's an animal science graduate student and assistant manager of KSU's research feedlot. The work he led shows feedyard buller rates dropped from 3.83% to 1.71% — a 55% reduction (see Table 1).

“In this study, we found the inclusion of a pellet of the antibiotic Tylan within Component TE-S implants seems to result in significant reductions in the incidence of buller activity among feedlot steers,” Depenbusch says.

The research data also fits the Hitch buller data in big steers placed in June and July, which might be expected to have a high buller incidence.

Depenbusch notes the Tylan addition to the implant regime did not have significant impact on normal feedyard performance measures like average daily gain, feed efficiency or final weight.

Insight into implants

Iowa State University research shows that when an animal is implanted, the animal responds by initiating an inflammatory response. Over time, this results in a capsule of connective tis sue around every implant.

The research shows that as the level of contamination increases, so does the thickness of the capsule. A reduction in bullers due to use of Component with Tylan is likely the result of a healthier implant site and more consistent consumption of the implant's active ingredients.

Since Component with Tylan results in a thinner capsule of connective tissue around the implant, contact between the animal and the implant could be greater. In addition, it would be expected that consumption of active compounds would be more consistent both across animals (one animal compared to another) and within animals (from day to day in the same animal).

An infection due to an ear abscess may cause an increase in localized blood flow to the infected ear, resulting in rapid payout of the active ingredient. This could result in abnormal behavior, including increases in the incidence of buller-related activity.

Depenbusch points out that aseptic techniques, such as cleaning the surface of ears and using clean needles, are important factors contributing to effectiveness of implants. Even with proper techniques and visually clean ears and needles though, problems can still exist.

“It's plausible that the cattle implanted with Component with Tylan had fewer abscesses and resulting scar tissue immediately surrounding the implant site,” he says. “It's also possible that the addition of Tylan to implants may reduce variation in uptake of the growth-promoting compound.”

This improved consistency would likely result in a less frequent need to re-establish the social order within the pen, resulting in greater behavioral stability and fewer bullers.

However it works, the Hitch crew is happy having fewer bullers to deal with these days.

“This implant program has really helped the manpower situation around here,” Blood says. “Anyone who's had to deal with bullers in a feedyard knows how something like that can make life easier for everyone.”

*The Hitch data actually characterized as the buller-head-day rate — the ratio of buller-head-days/total head days.

Table 1. Finishing performance and carcass characteristics of yearling steers implanted with Component TE-S or Component TE-S with Tylan
Item Component TE-S Component TE-S with Tylan
No. of head 919 924
No. of pens 6 6
Days on feed 116 116
Initial weight, lb. 826 828
Final weight, lb. 1,289 1,297
Dry matter intake, lb./day 21.6 22.0
Average daily gain, lb./day 3.84 3.86
Feed:gain 5.61 5.69
Bullers, % 3.83 1.71
Hot carcass weight, lb. 818 824
Depenbusch et al. 2003, Kansas State University
To access the complete study “Growth performance and Carcass characteristics of finishing beef steers implanted with Component TE-S or Component TE-S with Tylan” go to www.oznet.ksu.edu/library/lvstk2/SRP923.pdf for the proceedings of the K-State Cattlemen's Day 2004.

Grab The Pendulum

Sometimes it seems the cattle industry is driven more by what's in style than what makes the most sense. If there's a long-range plan in place for the cow herd, and an established breeding program, why do so many folks jump every year on what's “hot” in sire selection?

As you review your long-range plan for heifer development, remember it will be your herd's foundation for the next 15 years or more. Single-trait selection never will be the model for developing replacement heifers.

The current industry trend is carcass traits. But should carcass take precedence over birth weight, calving ease, yearling weight, milk production or stayability? Many of these production variables make up the foundation on which today's cow herd is built. They're also what allow a producer to sleep at night knowing his cows will successfully produce and raise the calves that will make it to market.

To abandon such proven selection criteria to chase the latest fad may not allow the industry to continue its progress. While some folks may argue that not applying new information will leave the industry behind, more important is that any movement be in the right direction.

Industry profitability is still driven by the number of live calves marketed. Selection for traits that may compromise our ability to put live calves on the ground and raise them to weaning can also compromise our ability to survive as an industry.

Barry Dunn, director of Texas A&M University's King Ranch Institute for Range Management, recently postulated that the number of live calves weaned per number of cows exposed is the best measure of profitability for the ranch. Based on this methodology, producers still need to concentrate on the traits that help maintain a high percentage of live calves.

Key areas of heifer development

Tom Woodward of Broseco Ranches in Texas identifies three key areas of importance for a heifer development program.

  1. Good genetics

    The financial investment to develop heifers is significant. It takes at least 24 months from weaning until the retained heifer generates revenue. If you take the lost opportunity cost by not selling the heifer, and add the costs of a health program, breeding, maintenance and interest associated with her development, the total cost will exceed the initial value.

    A heifer's genetic ability to achieve all the required production criteria, while continuing to grow into a mature cow, requires she be well adapted to her environment. This may be one time the most valuable female in the herd is overlooked — the older cow.

    The industry's philosophy is to retain replacement heifers from the herd's younger females, as they possess the herd's most current genetics. But, older cows have survived all the environmental and management challenges of your operation, and continue to produce a live, viable calf each year.

    If stayability is a selection criterion, this cow surely meets it. She's likely calved and weaned a calf every year and bred back, with few calving problems. Otherwise, she'd be gone.

    These old girls have long been off the depreciation schedule and are just providing raw income. If we're looking to develop females from those adapted to our environment and management style, older cows should be considered some of the herd's more valuable genetics.

    It's hard to refute the basic economic argument on replacement heifers that “it's cheaper to buy them than raise them.” However, if your goal is to raise good replacement females that perform in your environment, and if a priority has been placed on the genetic base of the females being raised, it's tough to replace the genetic selection priorities established for the herd.

    Heifers can be purchased from an outside source but the management style and environment they come from had better be similar to, or tougher than, the environment they'll be required to produce in.

  2. Nutrition

    Many times, getting a heifer to target weight for breeding is a challenge. Research shows a heifer needs to attain 65% of her mature weight to begin to cycle and breed successfully. If the cow herd's average mature weight is 1,200 lbs., the heifer needs to weigh 775-800 lbs. to initiate regular reproductive cycles.

    Weigh the heifers at weaning. The beginning of the breeding season has already been established. To determine the weight needed — or the average daily gain required to attain breeding weight — subtract current weight from target weight to determine how many pounds the heifer needs to gain by the start of the breeding season.

    If you divide the gain needed by the number of days between weaning and breeding, you'll learn the lbs./day she must gain to hit the target breeding weight (TBW). Regarding TBW, it's easy to understand why early-born, heavier heifers at weaning are the heifers most likely to achieve it, compared to the late-born, lighter females in the calf crop.

    Next, formulate a ration to achieve the needed weight gain. Hopefully most of the required nutrition can be found in cheap forage or stockpiled feed, but it often requires supplemental energy or protein to maintain a rate of gain equivalent to about 1.5 lbs./head/day.

    Don't overdo supplemental feeding — it's expensive and heifers can get too fat. Always provide a good mineral with high availability of elements, and check routinely to ensure adequate consumption.

  3. Management

    Here, Woodward includes heifer selection, service sire selection, setting the breeding season and calving management.

Heifer selection is a multi-step process. At weaning, sort heifers by weight. Do a second sort by phenotype.

Consider keeping 10-15% more heifers than required. This allows for two more sorts, one just prior to the start of breeding season and a final sort of open heifers after breeding season.

Many producers like to breed heifers 15-30 days prior to breeding the cow herd. This allows more available time to manage heifer calving, and hopefully conclude it before the cow herd begins to calve. It also allows heifers 2-4 weeks more recovery than cows before the start of their second breeding season.

One drawback is it lengthens the time between heifer calving and the availability of grazing. Research indicates the closer heifers calve to available grass, the shorter the calving interval. If the plan is to maintain a yearly calving cycle, a cow must rebreed in an 80-day window to maintain the 365-day calving interval.

Moderation's the key

The key to sire selection for the commercial cow herd is moderation. Selecting sires with a good balance of traits, including carcass traits, is the best foundation. Selection for a specific trait for the calf crop can be added through the use of a terminal sire.

The cattle industry and current trends in the cattle industry are similar to a pendulum. It first takes a full swing to the right, then a full swing to the left, but a pendulum spends more time at the center of its swing than at either end.

Moderation will help keep a cow herd's genetics in the middle of the road. It's a plan that will allow the cow herd to adapt to current beef industry trends via responsible sire selection.

Dan Kniffen is Extension beef associate and assistant professor of animal science at Pennsylvania State University in University Park.

Plan for mid-summer supplementation

The effect of decreased range forage quality in late summer can be significant for cow-calf producers. When mid-summer forages become deficient in protein and energy, producers often turn to supplements.

However, research indicates some supplements may reduce both forage intake and digestibility. In one Northern Great Plains study, yearling cattle gaining 3 lbs./day from mid May to mid July were reduced to an average of 2 lbs. or less/day average weight gain for the summer.

“Studies show grain-based supplements reduced forage intake and digestibility to such an extent there was no benefit from supplementation,” says John Paterson, Montana State University Extension beef specialist.

Supplements can stimulate a change in rumen microbes, Paterson says. The microbes that do a good job metabolizing grain-based supplements aren't the same as those digesting fibrous forage. By favoring the microbes that do well with supplementation, those that do the best job on forage may be reduced.

Research also suggests that when forage crude protein content falls below about 6-7%, dry matter intake also declines. At levels below this, it may be difficult for the cow to consume enough forage to meet energy requirements.

After last year's drought in many parts of the West, Patterson says, a forage analysis is critical in determining how well the resources will meet the nutrient requirements of the gestating cow.

For more on cattle nutrition research, browse the 2005 Montana Nutrition Conference proceedings at: www.animalrangeextension.montana.edu/Articles/Beef/Main-Nutrition.htm. Or visit www.beefcowcalf.com, a cow-calf production and management information Web site by BEEF magazine.
Clint Peck