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Articles from 2013 In August

It's Not Voodoo! Veterinary Acupuncture Can Be A Helpful Tool For Beef Producers

bovine acupuncture

It’s not voodoo. It’s more than simply sticking needles.

Veterinary acupuncture, based on scientific research and measurable results, has proven to be a beneficial and profitable addition to veterinary practices across the country.

Bovine practitioners are also witnessing its effects in cattle herds, as well.

Acupuncture, simply put, is the stimulation of specific points on the body, which can alter various biochemical and physiologic conditions. It is a means of helping the body heal itself.

Tim Holt, DVM, clinical sciences department faculty at Colorado State University (CSU); and Kristol K. Stenstrom, DVM, a private practitioner in Shawnee, KS, have practiced veterinary acupuncture for several years. Their clients couldn’t be happier.

Dr. Holt graduated from veterinary school in 1988, after which he went into private practice in Gunnison, CO. After about a decade of practicing in this rural mountain town, he felt as if he was missing something in the way of therapy.

“I was recommending rest and anti-inflammatories, in some cases, but it ended there,” he says. “I felt like I was missing something. About 15 years ago, with speculation, I took a two week acupuncture course to see what it was. After that course, I began using the practice on animals and realized the success was quite drastic. I got addicted.”

He continued acupuncture training while in private practice. After 18 years, Dr. Holt moved from Gunnison to begin a career with CSU. Today, he teaches acupuncture courses and conducts acupuncture on cattle, horses and other ruminants.


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Dr. Stenstrom has practiced veterinary medicine for nearly 20 years in Shawnee. A graduate of Kansas State University, she received her initial training in veterinary acupuncture from CSU in 2003. Today, she instructs other veterinarians in acupuncture, in addition to running her practice.

Because of her close proximity to Kansas City, Dr. Stenstrom says the majority of her acupuncture patients are small animal, with about five percent being comprised of equine and exotic patients. She does, however, treat her own cattle herd with the practice when needed.

She says many misconceptions exist regarding acupuncture and its scientific backing. By understanding the facts, veterinarians and producers can see the benefits.

More Than Needles

Often, people think of traditional Chinese medicine when they think of acupuncture, Dr. Stenstrom says. That is one version—although it’s not the only one.

According to the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture (AAVA), original traditional Chinese medicine formed the basis of acupuncture. By needling certain spots on the body, the flow of “Chi,” or energy, is regulated. The result is nourishment of tissues and organs.

vet does acupuncture on dog
Because of her close proximity to Kansas City, Dr. Kristol Stenstrom, a Shawnee, KS, practitioner, says the majority of her acupuncture patients are small animal, with about five percent being comprised of equine and exotic patients. She does, however, treat her own cattle herd with the practice when needed.

Through this theory, horses and cattle have been treated with acupuncture in China and Korea since ancient times.

However, Dr. Stenstrom says, she and many others practice medical acupuncture.

“This form of acupuncture is backed up by research and understanding,” she says. “You can often get the same end result with either form, but we gravitate toward medical acupuncture because we want to understand why it’s working.

“Our Western minds like concrete understanding,” she continues. “If we begin discussing Chinese medicine with agricultural producers, they’ll quite likely tune us out. It is imperative that we speak scientifically, so that they can be confident that it’s beneficial and a scientific practice.”

Dr. Stenstrom says Western acupuncture activates medically identifiable channels of the nervous system, which happen to also be located in the same areas of the Chinese Chi pathways.

“We are stimulating the body to produce neurochemicals,” she explains. “When the needle is placed into the tissue in a specific spot, a number of biochemical changes occur. Signals travel up the spinal cord to the brain, back down again, and changes occur from the brain level.”

Dr. Holt says when the needle is stuck into the anatomically identifiable location, this small area of microtrauma stimulates a healing cascade through a number of vessels and nerves.

“This activates cells that travel through the spinal cord, releasing healing factors and activate pain-blocking mechanisms,” Dr. Holt says. “This also releases endorphins and hormonal chemicals—somewhat of a ‘runner’s high.’”

It might surprise you to know this form of treatment can be used in a variety of ways for cattle, and other animals as well.

Seeing the Benefits

Dr. Holt and Dr. Stenstrom say they have witnessed a variety of conditions improve with the addition of acupuncture to the treatment regimen.

When a cow isn’t rebreeding as she should or is prolapsed; if a bull is losing semen quality or quantity; or if lameness is preventing a bull from doing his job, acupuncture can help, Dr. Stenstrom says.

Dr. Holt says he often performs acupuncture on bulls and heifers or cows for reproductive issues—male infertility, poor libido, decreased sperm production and injuries.

“I also do quite a bit of work on rodeo bulls for injuries, or for tune-ups before a performance,” he says. “It can also work well when wounds aren’t healing.”

Dr. Stenstrom says she most often provides acupuncture as treatment for musculoskeletal and pain issues.

“With dogs, I often treat for arthritis and terminal cancer pain alleviation,” she says. “For horses, it’s often for musculoskeletal issues and lameness. For our cattle, it’s often for scours in calves or reproductive problems in females or bulls.”

However, Dr. Holt says, acupuncture is not the end-all, be-all of medicine.

“It’s important to point out that this is a modality—it doesn’t cure everything,” he says. “But it’s something we can do in addition to our normal Western medicine and compliment the effects of traditional medicine.”

Dr. Stenstrom agrees.

“We can assist with Western medicine, and acupuncture isn’t something we will use wholly,” she says. “But we can integrate acupuncture to get the most benefit. It’s another tool for the toolbox.”

This tool is proving useful, they say.

Resounding Response

acupuncture on bull
Acupuncture can be a reproductive tool for producers. When we’ve tried everything to help a heifer come into heat or ovulate, we can try acupuncture. If a producer of breeding stock relies heavily on selling straws of semen from exceptional bulls, acupuncture may be able to provide a means of getting those last few straws from bulls that are near the end of their productive life,” Dr. Stenstrom says.

Dr. Holt says when he was in private practice, the addition of acupuncture opened a new avenue of pain control, increased healing and overall health for his patients.

“We began to use acupuncture during spays and castrations, and to relieve anxiety, vomiting and diarrhea with patients,” he says. “We were able to reduce the amount of anti-inflammatory drugs and steroids we used on all species of animals. We are able to send our patients home on very little pain control. We are pain fanatics, and we watch pain closely.”

The majority of clients are pleased with the response they see in their animals, Dr. Holt says.

“Many are quite happy with it and see their animals’ response as quite good,” he says. “We have seen bulls with no libido go out and breed cows. And we have seen semen production increase.”

In the case of small animals, Dr. Stenstrom says, owners often notice subtle changes in their pets’ behavior after two or three treatments. Cats raid kitchen counters again, or dogs jump on owners’ beds—activity that had been halted due to pain.

“Horses are more dramatic,” Dr. Stenstrom says. “They are wonderful responders. After an initial treatment that can range from 30-45 minutes, many will walk out much more soundly than they came in. The vast majority get profound relief from acupuncture.”

Acupuncture typically isn’t a one time treatment. Often, Dr. Stenstrom says, benefits can be seen with multiple visits.

“Each animal will respond differently, but with multiple treatments, we can often get a return of function that we desire,” she says.

Animals often enjoy the procedure, sometimes becoming so relaxed they even fall asleep, Dr. Stenstrom says.

“You have to be gentle, but most of the time, animals are very accepting of the practice, once they know you’re not going to hurt them,” she says.

Also, the effects of neurochemical reactions last longer than pharmaceuticals, Dr. Stenstrom says.

“In the event of nerve injury, such as paralysis, acupuncture can reawaken the body and cause the signals to work again,” she says. “Many times, collateral circulation goes viscerally. It increases the blood flow to the tissues and reminds the body that something is happening.”

Not only can patients benefit, the veterinary practice can see advantages, as well.

Benefiting the Bottom Line

Dr. Stenstrom says the addition of acupuncture to your practice can provide great financial returns.

“When you get out of veterinary school, you have a knowledge of surgical and medical practices. Acupuncture can bridge the gap,” she says.

In some cases, she says, acupuncture can provide a treatment option when all others seem exhausted.

“With small animals, if medication isn’t showing improvement and surgery isn’t feasible, this can be another option rather than euthanasia,” Dr. Stenstrom says. “When we’ve tried everything to help a heifer come into heat or ovulate, we can try acupuncture. If a producer of breeding stock relies heavily on selling straws of semen from exceptional bulls, acupuncture may be able to provide a means of getting those last few straws from bulls that are near the end of their productive life.”

If acupuncture seems like a potential addition to your services, you can turn to many outlets for advice and training.

Learning The Skills

Three primary foundations exist for veterinary acupuncture training: International Veterinary Acupuncture Society, Chi Institute and the Medical Acupuncture for Veterinarians.

Dr. Stenstrom says acupuncture training can be costly, and it requires several days away from your practice. However, trainings have become more condensed through the years, and webinar training is becoming more and more popular.

“It’s a lot for general practitioners to take, but when they leave, they are excited to be able to offer acupuncture to their clients,” she says. “But it’s not something for which you take the course and don’t use it. You have to use acupuncture frequently to get adept at it and to get a return on investment. If you don’t use it daily, you won’t get the return.”

In order to determine the best program for you, Dr. Stenstrom recommends researching your options.

“Are you interested in a scientifically based course, or more traditional Chinese acupuncture? That will help determine the best school for you,” she says. “Also, be sure you talk to other veterinarians across the country who have been through the programs and can discuss the benefits of your potential choice.”

Dr. Holt advises interested veterinarians to utilize the listing of acupuncturists in your area. The AAVA provides a search tool by state here. Find a veterinarian trained in medical acupuncture here.

Sometimes, Dr. Holt says, a veterinarian may be able to shadow a veterinary acupuncturist for a short period of time, if time simply doesn’t allow for a full, certified training.

“Many veterinarians have hung out with me, and I’ve given them resources to study at home,” he says. “Getting certified is an important aspect, but not everyone can do it because of time. Regardless of the training method, acupuncture takes a lot of practice and study to get right.”

He says beef practitioners shouldn’t assume their clients wouldn’t be interested in acupuncture without fully exploring the option.

“Veterinarians will say, ‘My interest is in beef cattle,’” Dr. Holt says. “We think that just because it’s a cow or bull, a producer won’t be interested in acupuncture. But we need to get away from that mind-set. We need to offer that modality for that animal. I’ve never had a producer tell me they don’t want to try acupuncture, but I’ve had many say that they do. We need to stop being fearful.”

Veterinary acupuncture, based on scientific research and measurable results, could prove to be an excellent addition to your practice, both for your clients, and for your bottom line.

No, it’s nothing to fear.

Learn more about the animal acupuncture here:

American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture

Chi Institute

International Veterinary Acupuncture Society

Colorado Veterinary Medical Association: Medical Acupuncture for Veterinarians



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Population And Economics Propel Beef Demand

economics and world population demand more beef

Predicting the eventual demise of the beef cattle business in the United States seems as foolish as assuming the business represents some sort of unalienable birthright.

Yet, the confidence and volume of those claiming positions in both camps continue to grow as the business seeks answers to old rules of thumb dashed asunder by a variety of business, supply and demand shocks over the past decade.

Chiseling with a broad blade, those convinced the business is unsustainable look at ongoing herd liquidation and continuing producer attrition. They earnestly wonder how the next generation or the one after it can survive in a business awash with stifling equity requirements, historic levels of price volatility, intrusive government regulations and activist groups hell-bent on the industry’s destruction.

As earnestly, those in the other camp consider the sweeping, untillable vastness of the U.S. and assume, since ruminants offer the only practical solution to utilizing the forage there, then cattle must always be part of the landscape. Besides, they reckon, higher prices and increased volatility make for more turns in the market, and more chances to turn a profit.

In between, plenty of folks are just plumb uneasy, proud of the responsibility and grateful for the opportunity to run cows, but wondering how to position their businesses for survival in an environment defined by so many uncontrollable variables.

No one has the answer, of course. But, maintaining economic viability during and after the current industry metamorphosis demands considering facts, both obvious and often overlooked.

That’s the aim of this special, though necessarily incomplete, industry focus.

It’s impossible to feed exponentially more people with exponentially less food while maintaining a current or improved quality of life.

This is the simple reality ignored or misunderstood by all of those folks wanting to ban various production technologies, claiming human and animal rights are equal and demanding locally grown agricultural commodities from the kind of operations that exist in imagination or along the subsidized margins of modern, intensive, sustainable agriculture.


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“The level of U.S. farm output in 2009 was 170 percent above its level in 1948, growing at an average annual rate of 1.63 percent,” say authors of Agricultural Productivity in the United States, published by USDA’s Economic Research Service. “Aggregate input use increased a mere 0.11 percent annually, so the positive growth in farm sector output was substantially due to productivity growth. This contrasts with a 3.6 percent annual output increase in the private nonfarm sector, with productivity growth accounting for a little more than a third of the economic growth.”

“In 1940, one person in U.S. agriculture could only feed 19 people. By 1960, one farmer could feed 26 people. Today, a farmer feeds 155 people worldwide,” say authors of Living in a World of Decreasing Resources & Increasing Regulation: How to Advance Animal Agriculture. This white paper revolves around information synthesized from the 2012 Annual Conference of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA) in March this year.

“Advances in technology means fewer people are needed in agriculture, allowing individuals to pursue other professions. They become engineers, computer programmers, researchers who discover new cures, doctors who heal more children, teachers who educate today’s children, etc. If technology was frozen in the year 1955, it would require an additional 450 million acres—the total land mass of Texas, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico and Oklahoma—to produce the beef being produced today,” the white paper authors say. “In 1961, the United States population was close to 184 million people. In 2006, that number was greater than 300 million people. Relating those numbers back to 1960, if agriculture technology today was the same as 1960, the United States would either have to expand acres by 63 percent or decrease food consumption by 63 percent.”

Population & Economics Propel Demand

Unfortunately, producers and consumers must worry about more than current reality.

The global population today is 7.1 billion; it’s expected to peak at 8.5-9.5 billion by 2050. Various analysts suggest the world’s food supply must double in the next 40-50 years in order to keep up with the demands of the growing population.

“The demand for animal protein in the next 38 years is anticipated to increase significantly,” according to the NIAA white paper. “Economists estimate that by the year 2050, global meat production must increase by 73 percent to meet the expected 43 percent boost to the world’s population. Three other basic factors driving global demand for animal protein are economic growth and income, the rising middle class of countries, particularly China and India, and urbanization. Broken down by species, to meet anticipated animal protein demand, global poultry production will need to increase by 125 percent, followed by sheep and goat meat at 78 percent; beef at 58 percent; and pork at 37 percent.”

Keep in mind that 925 million people in the world were undernourished in 2010, according to World Hunger Education Services (WHES). That’s about 13 percent of the global population or about one out of every seven people.

Though it’s true that many of the world’s hungry live in undeveloped and developing countries, plenty of folks go hungry in the U.S., too. According to WHES, 17.2 million U.S. households were undernourished in 2010, or about 14.5 percent of households.

So, even as economics have some questioning their survival in the beef cattle business, the need for current and increased production has never been more urgent.

“While the United States has a reputation for providing safe, affordable food and will be a major player in helping provide animal protein to meet this growing global demand, economists maintain that the answer is not only intensification of production,” say authors of the NIAA white paper. “Achieving anticipated increased demand for animal protein by producing twice as many poultry, 80 percent more ruminants, 60 percent more cattle and 40 percent more pigs using the same level of natural resources is unrealistic.”

Efficiency Must Increase

Amid the challenges imposed, experts contributing to the NIAA paper explain U.S. agriculture—already the most efficient in the world—must become even more so.

For perspective, according to The Changing Organization of U.S. Farming from USDA’s Economic Research Service, “Use of two major inputs, land and labor, has decreased over time. From 1982 to 2007, land used in agriculture dropped from 54 percent to 51 percent of total U.S. land area, while farming used 30 percent less hired labor and 40 percent less operator labor. Meanwhile, new technologies (such as precision agriculture), often requiring new or advanced management techniques, have been increasingly adopted by farmers.”

Looking ahead, the NIAA white paper authors say, “One economist maintains that 70 percent of the anticipated needed food supply will have to come from advancements in efficiency improving technology: practices, products and genetics. For example, in the beef industry, technology has resulted in each pound of beef produced in the United States in 2007 requiring 14 percent less water and 34 percent less land than in 1977.”

While that’s true, it’s also a fact that much of the increased production with fewer cows the last several decades as been largely the result of post-weaning technologies aimed at increasing weight gain and ultimately carcass weights.

Stan Bevers, an agricultural economist with Texas AgriLife pointed out a couple of years back that key measures of cow productivity, as measured by decades of Southwest Standardized Performance Analysis data, remained static or declined. These measures include average calf weaning weight, annual calving rate and average pounds weaned per cow exposed.

One of the basic reproductive technologies available to cow-calf producers, one that continues to gather dust, is heterosis, especially the maternal heterosis developed through managed, complimentary crossbreeding.

Crossbred cows remain in the herd 1.3 years longer than their straightbred counterparts and yield 30 percent more lifetime productivity. Crossbred cows have crossbred calves that serve up 10-20 percent more weaning weight than their straightbred peers. Those are just some of the benefits.

Moreover, for all of the strides that have been made for assessing and rewarding added value in the marketplace, arguably, pounds gained and marketed continue to drive the profit equation at all production levels.

Feed Me What I Can Afford

There has been plenty of bantering the past couple of decades about the beef industry evolving into a two-tiered system. One tier that’s pricier, value-added, has all of the quality and verification bells and whistles; the other being everything else—commodity beef. Directly or indirectly, these conversations commonly include the inference that producers make the choice which tier to serve, the assumption being the most progressive, business minded will get in the line for quality and value added.

In fact, economic necessity may dictate this kind of tiered system based simply upon the ability of consumers to pay for beef.

Consider the growing wealth gap in the United States.

For the 1 percent of the population with the highest income, average real after-tax household income grew by 275 percent between 1979 and 2007, according to Trends in the Distribution of Household Income published by the Congressional Budget Office. For the 60 percent of the population in the middle of the income scale (the 21st through 80th percentiles), the growth in average real after-tax household income was just under 40 percent. For the 20 percent of the population with the lowest income, average real after-tax household income was about 18 percent higher in 2007 than it was in 1979.

“The U.S. ranks third among all the advanced economies in the amount of income inequality. The top 1 percent of Americans control nearly a quarter of all the country’s income, the highest share controlled by the top 1 percent since 1928,” according to Stanford University’s Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality (CPI).

According to CPI, “In 1983, the wealthiest 20 percent of Americans held 81 percent of the wealth. By 2009, they held 87 percent. Currently, more than 25 percent of Americans have zero or negative wealth.”

None of this should be construed as political commentary; these are simply facts that will define and lead the market.

At least anecdotally, the information about income and wealth, in tandem with beef sales during the Great Recession provide some potential insight. As most folks tightened their purse strings, it was ground beef and the lower value end meats that supported wholesale beef values, while demand for the more expensive middle meats languished. Amid economic recovery a more typical pattern emerged with middle meat prices showing more strength than the end meats. Simplistically, a case can be made for the fact that those who have the economic wherewithal to afford beef, have enough jack in their pockets to afford the middle meats at least occasionally. At the other end of the spectrum, as tight supplies push retail beef prices higher, it appears some consumers are getting shut out of beef altogether unless it’s ground beef.

So, it seems logical that a tiered industry could emerge based more on serving a growing dichotomy of domestic consumer wealth, and less on producer’s willingness to manage more or less intensively,


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BEEF Vet: How To Choose The Best Lender For Your Practice

BEEF Vet: How To Choose The Best Lender For Your Practice

Debt can seem like a burden, but for veterinary practice owners it can also mean starting their own business, expanding the operation and obtaining critical equipment or facility upgrades.

At every stage of a veterinary career—from new graduates to established practices—acquiring and paying off debt is a constant companion. So why not choose a companion that can help build and grow the clinic?

Livestock veterinarians are at a rare crossroads between production agriculture and business. Partnering with institutions that know the unique challenges of both industries can help a practice start out strong and continue to flourish.

Choosing a Lender

Bruning State Bank in Bruning, NE, knows the importance of having a range of businesses to serve its communities, including veterinarians.

“We are seeing fewer veterinarians in the large animal business,” says Fred D. Bruning, president of the bank, which started in 1891 with his great grandfather. “More people are doing small animal focuses and moving to an urban area. It’s harder to get young people in the large animal business because of the wear and tear on the body and less livestock in the area. Then, specialization in hogs and dairy has eliminated lots of producers.”

Bruning sees this trend as a reason for new and established veterinarians to work with other business in their communities, helping each other grow and succeed beyond simply good interest rate terms and healthy credit lines.

“I view the veterinarian as part of that triage of mentors, along with a farmer or rancher’s banker and nutritionist,” he says. “When a veterinarian comes to an area to start a business, he needs to have a business plan or model that he wants to take to several bankers. He should ask himself: Who’s going to be there during the times when it’s not going to be good? Who’s going to refer his customers to me, who trusts, asks questions, gives me vision? Who are the community leaders that I need to see? Now, I can talk about the interest rate and terms, and you can compare that with all lenders, but which guy is going to help me get started relationship-wise? Is it worth saving $1,000 in interest to sacrifice $10,000 in advice, relationships and referrals?”

For one of Bruning State Bank’s customers, investing in the community he operates in was nearly as important as any other financial factor, says Larry L. Coleman, DVM, owner of Veterinary Care & Consultation in Broken Bow, NE.

smart financial decisions“My local bank is very connected in the community and is the bank for a number of my clients,” Dr. Coleman says. “It’s an ecosystem where everyone’s interrelated, if not financially, at least our lives intertwine in what we do.”

He attributes his success as a veterinarian and a small business owner to mentors in both areas.

“If you’re going to go into business, work to teach yourself the business basics or find a mentor,” Dr. Coleman says. “There’s a lot that could go wrong. I think it’s really important to be connected to an older person that has been through a lot of these things. They can shorten the time dramatically that it can take to get up to speed on how business cycles work.”

Growing up on a farm himself, buying and selling livestock helped Dr. Coleman earn the collateral to start his own practice more than 25 years ago. Later, the decision to take out an additional loan helped fuel his practice expansion and helped him provide jobs in the community.

“My banker is very knowledgeable,” he notes. “He’s involved personally in a lot of the things I do. When I go to conduct my business, we often have conversations that revolve around mutual challenges or opportunities. I value relationships highly. I suspect I could have cheaper interest rates, but that would require involving people that don’t know what I do, my reputation, and I don’t think I’d get the value out of it.”


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A partnership that can help make introductions to new customers and solve challenges collaboratively is what a veterinarian would expect of his own customers, says Bruning, who owns a herd of Hereford-Angus cross cattle.

As part of that partnership, Bruning recommends letting lenders in on the long-term business plan. It can help prepare both parties to make quicker decisions down the road when opportunities pop up.

“Even if you think about expanding a year from now, it’s good to think about it today because bankers don’t like surprises,” he says. “The worst thing you could do is call up your banker and say, ‘The sale is tomorrow, I need a loan tomorrow.’”

Newly Minted DVMs

For veterinary students, there’s no better time to think about starting up their own practice than while they’re still in college. Prior to graduation, students should make a list of communities where they would want to practice, develop a business plan and take it to different bankers in the community.

“That banker is going to start hustling to get you to come to his community,” Bruning says. “Find a banker with some tie to ag. Instead of just looking at rates—the best deal—ask how he could  help you get started in the community.”

One of the first financial challenges new graduates face is the mountain of debt acquired before their first post-graduate paycheck is cashed, and the burden is only increasing. In 2011, the average debt just from veterinary education loans was $118,772 according to the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

This is a trend across agribusinesses as well as production agriculture, says Kendal Kay, President and CEO of Stockgrowers State Bank in Ashland, KS.

“Student loans are high and growing all the time,” Kay says. “Small business owners should take it into account in their global cash flow and projections. When they have extra cash flow, look for opportunities to pay that debt down. But, you always need to keep a cushion and save money for situations like now with the drought. Part of that cushion may be to pay ahead on your debt.”

An experienced vet cautions against taking out loans for all the latest and greatest equipment during the early years of a new practice. Debt can be a heavy burden to pay.

New graduates may not be able to build a cushion immediately, Kay cautions. The last few years of drought reduced cattle herds significantly and affected businesses across Main Street. More mature business learned the lessons of similar hard times. In this environment, joining an established practice may be a more reasonable goal than a brand-new start.

Joining an established practice that is willing to transition the ownership over a period of time can help all parties. New veterinarians can learn the business, establish themselves financially so both customers and lenders can grow to trust the new partner.

“We’ve seen that in several places around here, in southwest Kansas, where the veterinarian is in his 60s or older,” says Bill Neier, Senior Vice President at Stockgrowers State Bank. “When you have a feel of ownership, it makes all the daily business decisions easier. When times are tough, it exposes weakness faster. We are blessed with a lot of mature business. They’ve learned from their past experiences. We, as a bank, have to step up and work through the tough times just as they work through the good times.”

With personal roots in southwestern Kansas and the livestock industry, Kay and Neier note from their own experience that sweat equity is going to be required for any type of small business owner—but especially in agriculture.

“Production agriculture, when it’s in your blood, it’s hard to get away from that,” Kay says. “You can do very well, you just have to put in a lot of time and energy and sweat equity. Being on-call every weekend, that’s what it takes to start a small business.”

Starting Up

For new veterinarians with the goal of opening up their own practice, every dollar saved can be put toward a down payment, says Donald E. Sanders, DVM, Dipl. ACT, PAS, Associate Professor at The Ohio State University.

“I’ve been at Ohio State University for seven years, and it’s pretty routine for students to drive nice cars, take vacations, travel and generally not work to be penny pinchers,” he says. “There are some exceptions to that, but students need to get creative on ways to deal with that debt.”

That creativity can extend prior to veterinary school as well as afterward, notes Dr. Sanders, who started a practice with his wife just after both graduated. He recommends taking business courses during undergraduate education and looking into programs through the USDA and armed services.

A cautious approach to debt during college will help new graduates devote their cash to collateral that can be used to start a practice, but Dr. Sanders notes that doesn’t mean the austerity measures should stop there.

“During the first years of our practice, we worked hard, provided lots of service and would care for anything that crawled or walked through the door,” he says. “We operated on a shoestring budget and made ourselves available for emergency service regularly. We made more money weekends and at night than we did weekdays, because clients knew they could reach an emergency service.”

Dr. Sanders also cautions against taking out loans for all the latest and greatest equipment during the early years of a new practice.

“New vets think ‘I’ve got to have a new pickup truck,’ but if you were to buy it off the showroom floor it’s close to $60,000,” he says. “I recommend buying the basics. Even if you just own an SUV already and buy a veterinary storage insert for about $3,000. If you’re especially innovative, you can build your own to fit in the back of a full-size car. Cash flow is king. You don’t want to compromise the quality of your practice but there are ways to do it cheaper.”

Dr. Sanders recommends referring clients to other practices until you can afford to own more expensive equipment that can expand a clinic’s offerings.

That approach works to a point, says Randall Hobrock, DVM, owner of Tallgrass Veterinary Clinic in Concordia, KS, who started his practice in October 2006.

“I grew up on a farm, and before we could start the job, we always had to fix something,” Dr. Hobrock recalls. “When I started, I set out to have good equipment. When you spend 99 percent of your time fixing stuff, you’re not getting much veterinary work done. You have to weigh the cost of the time it takes to fix the equipment against the service you could be providing. At first you don’t have all the nice equipment, but it didn’t seem like it took us that long to acquire what we needed.”

Expanding Carefully

Most business owners start their own operation because of a specific skill or knowledge base in that area—not necessarily because they have general business skills or superb financial management, says Dennis Fike, Senior Vice President of Risk Management at Frontier Farm Credit in Manhattan, KS.

For agribusiness, one of the key concerns for a new practice should be managing the ups and downs of agricultural business. The cyclical nature of the industry must be addressed financially to be successful over the long term.

“Owners really need to manage liquidity,” Fike says. “It’s the most common piece of advice we give. A lot of times, they try to carry too much debt and don’t provide cushion for those times when there is a lower demand for services. You need to have cushion in the balance sheet to have cash on hand.”

Frontier Farm Credit recommends about three months minimum of cash on hand as a cushion for volatile times, or a current assets-to-liabilities ratio of 1.5 to 1 or better.

“Hand-in-hand with liquidity is making sure debt is properly structured,” he says. “When you’re buying vehicles or equipment, make sure it’s on a five- to seven-year term not a three-year term. Even when you anticipate strong cash flow, it’s important not to stretch yourself too thin.”

In addition, Fike recommends doing a cash flow projection at least annually and monitoring it throughout the year. It’s one of the ways business owners can be more aware of excess cash from month to month, which will help determine what type of financing they will need throughout the operating loan.

For agribusinesses, it’s important to manage financing of customers appropriately, he notes.

“For instance, carrying six to nine months in accounts receivable can change your cash flow considerably,” Fike says. “Veterinarians can manage financing customers through their own lender and develop a credit policy that would set a maximum amount to carry with any one customer.”

As with most agribusinesses, veterinarians should be aware of the dynamics within the community when setting credit terms. For instance, large or influential ranchers in the area may warrant a customized set of terms based on their business. Their reputation within the community for paying back accounts receivable should factor into the credit terms, he says.

With most of its customer base in production agriculture, Fike says Frontier Farm Credit has seen an increase in loans for farmers and ranchers that are expanding. However, that increase hasn’t translated to a greater number of new veterinary customers.

Just like production agriculture, the capital needed to start a new operation from scratch can be intensive.

“With farming, like you’ll see in a vet practice or any other business, it can be hard to start on your own without having family involved working on a part-time to full-time basis because it’s so capital intensive,” Fike says.

For both lender and veterinarian, the goal in taking on debt is the additional profit or efficiency gained from what is acquired. Veterinarians should not be afraid to discuss the cost versus the benefit.

“Sit down with your lender and really evaluate what they are looking at or why,” Fike recommends. “It’s hard to pencil out the profit potential from acquiring a new piece of equipment; how much efficiency is your operation going to gain from that? As lenders, we know agribusinesses have to keep up with technology if you want to be competitive. Maybe you can’t see a piece of equipment paying for itself, but it may help keep or add to your client base. Most lenders can help evaluate those needs and help set up financing terms that will not hurt their cash flow.”

Dr. Hobrock notes another important consideration in financial partnerships is the opportunity cost for the practice owner’s time. When he started his practice, the resulting loan required strenuous reporting requirements.

“Initially, I had to take what lending I could get,” Dr. Hobrock recalls. “As our business grew, I needed more time to be a vet and less time for financial reporting.”

After refinancing with Frontier Farm Credit, he says the process was much easier and took 11 years off his payment schedule. Focusing more of his time on his clients is critical to his current and future success.

“It’s important to focus on client care,” Dr. Hobrock says. “We’re very client focused. The reason we succeed is that we care for our clients. They know they’re our source of income.”


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What’s The Middle East Got To Do With Hamburger Demand?

The one thing that seems to be a constant in today’s world is the geopolitical nightmare that is the Middle East. There was some hope that the so-called Arab Spring created when democracy came to Iraq would alter the region, but it’s turned into a total quagmire instead.

Pick the country – Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Syria – and it looks like the needle is heading in the wrong direction in all of them. Even the promise of Palestinian/Israeli peace talks got sidetracked before they even began.

We don’t export a tremendous amount of beef product to the region, so it would be easy to shrug off all the problems in that part of the world. Surprisingly, despite all the turmoil, oil continues to flow from that region.

The threat of an impact on the oil trade presents a serious economic risk to the world. It is undeniable just how important oil is to the world’s economy, and even the impact that the price and availability of oil has on overall beef demand.

In fact, since the advent of ethanol in the U.S., the corn price today is dictated as much by fuel prices as by feed demand. That’s made the cattle industry, all agriculture really, pay a lot more attention to what’s happening in the most volatile region of the world.

I can’t help but wonder if the whole problem with the Middle East is a lack of beef consumption. I haven’t taken the time to do the research, but I can’t imagine that the citizens of any country that are comfortably eating a couple of tasty steaks each week would commit themselves to killing each other.

So, instead of expending millions on weapons, maybe we should air-drop in a couple of million grills. My experience is that a man with a good steak or hamburger sizzling on his grill isn’t likely to stop grilling to war with his neighbor.


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Beef Quality vs. Economy Isn’t The Real Question

Beef Quality vs. Economy Isn’t The Real Question

I’m hearing the question of beef quality vs. economy come up quite a bit this summer. The question actually has two parts:

  • Is beef is becoming too expensive to retain its place at the center of the American plate?
  • And if it is, is it destined to become a high-end luxury food with a decreasing role in the American diet and a greater reliance on exports?

There are a lot of factors contributing to this debate, and every sector of the industry seems to be weighing in on the issue, with each having a little different take on the situation. But I think the question is a bit nonsensical in that it’s really a backwards way of talking about other serious issues. These include:

  • Can our industry remain competitive with the other protein sources?
  • Can we grow as an industry?
  • Can we increase profitability for participants?

The answers, of course, aren’t hard to determine; they’re just hard to implement.

There are three primary ways to increase revenue – increase the price you receive for your product, increase the amount of the product you sell, or decrease the production and marketing costs associated with your product. Virtually every business seems to focus on either increasing margins or increasing volume, while history tells us the two are often antagonistic.

Businesses have tended to focus on either being low-cost producers or purveyors of high-end products, but it doesn’t mean one can ignore the other. Walmart still cares about product quality, and Bloomingdale’s still focuses on being more efficient.

As a commodity business, the biggest focus has always been on lowering the cost of production. But the great irony is that beef can’t compete on a cost basis with pork or poultry. Nor can the U.S. beef industry compete on a cost basis with countries like Brazil and Australia. Thus, our niche is being the low-cost producer of a high-quality product. The trick is, and always has been, finding the balance.

It isn’t an either-or question for the cattle industry. Even on an individual carcass basis, we have huge variation in the valuation the marketplace assigns to various cuts. We have low-value hamburger and high-value middle meats. In fact, one of the industry’s great success stories in recent times has been the upgrading of cuts that used to be ground into hamburger.

In addition, there’s a misconception that exports amount to just sending high-end middle cuts to Asia. However, significant value is created in sending everything from tongues, livers and tripe to foreign markets at a significant premium to what they would bring in our domestic market.

But our industry’s contraction and the subsequent rise in prices do raise legitimate concerns about our ability to compete effectively. Still, after pondering all these legitimate points, I’ve come to believe that the conversation is misguided. Improved genetics and management practices don’t make this an either-or debate.

As seedstock producers, we’re all guilty of promoting our emphasis. If we focus on the maternal side, we downplay the terminal side. If we focus on muscle, we downplay quality. If we focus on growth and efficiency, we downplay the value of calving ease and fertility.

We tend to do the same thing commercially. If we focus on low input, we tend to accept lower weights. If we focus on smaller mature size, we’re willing to sacrifice growth, etc.

That same scenario plays out in every single cattle production sector. The reality is that the 400-lb. weaning weight calf that will finish at 1,150 lbs., with an average quality YG 3 carcass is an absolute drain on our industry. So is the 900-lb. weaning weight calf that will finish at 1,500 lbs., with a low quality YG 1 carcass.

The “optimum” cow that produces a less-than-optimal calf for the other segments in the chain isn’t optimum. The “optimum” carcass that will not work for the cow-calf industry is a long way from optimum as well. There are always tradeoffs, and everyone’s optimum will be different depending on their target market, resources, management and marketing programs, but the bar is ever rising.

Don’t get me wrong, the industry continues to focus on the right things. We’re making better cattle – cattle that work better in every segment of the industry. Sires popular 10 years ago would be below-average bulls compared to a lot of commercial producers’ bull batteries today.

With that said, I think we’re using this debate between quality and efficiency as an excuse to say we don’t need to continue to change and make improvement. The bar is always rising.

A decade ago, our operation laid out a set of goals I didn’t know if we would ever achieve. We were going to run our cows with less input than our competitors. And we were going to focus on building a cowherd adapted to our environment in eastern Colorado, while producing cattle for our customers that were not only profitable, but would help build beef demand and grow our industry.

Our primary focus had to be on calving ease, maternal, environment adaptability and convenience traits. But we also set the goal of producing 5x5, 80x80 and 0 cattle. That stood for cattle that gained 5 lbs./day and converted at 5:1; were 80% average Choice or higher, and 80% Yield Grade 2 or lower; with 0 outliers.

At the time, we thought we might never reach those goals. While we don’t have many customers whose cattle are routinely gaining over 5 lbs./day, we certainly see pens of cattle that do. Meanwhile, conversions are improving dramatically and, with the help of beta-agonists,we’re seeing conversions zero in on the mark. We’ve increased growth significantly, while seeing mature size decrease.

While the 80x80 cattle goal perhaps wasn’t 100% accurate, market signals are continuing to encourage producers to feed cattle to a point where they have no more than 20% YG 3s, and we’re eliminating 4s, with significantly larger rib eye area and hot carcass weight. And our environment and emphasis on maternal traits hasn’t allowed us to put the kind of selection pressure on post-weaning traits as others have! 


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There is no debate between calving ease and rapid early growth, mature size and growth, muscle and marbling, etc. The answer is moving forward simultaneously on all the economically relevant traits of beef production. It’s true that there’s no right animal for every environment, or one right animal for every market, and there are thousands of combinations of genetics, resources and target markets that equate to that many or more optimums at any given time. Yet the tools are getting better to analyze and improve.

The exciting thing is that we do know that what is optimum won’t be optimum in five years. The only debate is whether we can make these strides at a faster rate than our competitors, and that should be the focus.

There will never be a one-size-fits-all solution. We will have people eating at Morton’s, Applebee’s, and McDonald’s every single day, and we’ll be raising cattle in Nevada, Iowa and Florida. About the only thing that will be constant is that the cattle will be much better. The challenge isn’t overcoming the antagonisms that exist, but improving at a faster rate than our competition.


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Global Warming – Science Is Just An Afterthought

climate change in beef industry

The media has been reporting that the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is about to release a new report on global warning that will ratchet up the pressure on the whole global warming debate. I have to admit that the more I read, the more confused I become when it comes to global warming.

Well, actually the correct term is now “climate change.” It was changed when the data showed there had been no warming in the past 15 years. Oops.

What is obvious is that the issue has very little to do with the science. The shift to the phrase “climate change” was a game changer, in that whatever weather event occurs can be attributed to climate change.  Which when you think about it, is right. 

Skeptics of climate change don’t question whether climate change is occurring; it always has. They question man and society’s role in that climate change.

The data are clear the climate has been changing for thousands of years and will continue to change. The tough thing about the data is that history indicates there are cyclical changes coupled with dramatic changes. Scientists have yet to develop climate models that can explain the changes, let alone predict the timing or scale of them. In fact, recent models have been almost universally discredited.

Even the impact of CO2 isn’t understood. The historical data would say that temperature changes have preceded changes in CO2 rather than the inverse. But skeptics are making a big mistake if they rely on the lack of warming that’s occurred in recent times. The earth has been warming since the little ice age, and is expected to continue to rise for at least a couple more centuries, so there will be warming.

The other thing we can be certain of is that CO2 levels will also rise. Today, 97% of CO² levels are from natural sources, and even then CO2 is a minuscule part in that it only represents about 400 parts per million.

But it’s all irrelevant because climate change has moved beyond global politics. Even the billions of dollars being raised and spent on its behalf are minor. It’s a global movement that’s absorbed a myriad of ideologies – everything from science vs. religion, to anti-capitalism.  

This new UN report is expected to state that the risk and certainty of the cause has increased. As Forbes reports, “When the UN Environment Programme’s spokesman, Tim Higham, was asked by New Scientist about the scientific background for this change, his answer was honest: ‘There was no new science, but the scientists wanted to present a clear and strong message to policymakers.’”

So critics are wrong if they believe highly touted predictions that prove inaccurate will undermine support for their opposition. In its 2007 report, the IPCC said the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035. It was discovered that there was no science behind this claim, but there will be other claims that will prove to be incorrect as well. The IPCC has already been shown to be far more of a political organization than a scientific one, but that won’t change the media coverage that their latest or subsequent reports will generate.

Anyone who bases their response to climate change on science or weather occurrences is missing the point. Climate change isn’t about climate change; it’s about how we distribute the world’s wealth. One needs to go further than the rising sea level statements. The models are all predicting it, but the data since 1950 shows no evidence of it; perhaps the oceans haven’t seen the models. 

If you publicly doubt the impact of manmade CO2 on global warming, you will be labeled as anti-science, uneducated, greedy or uncaring. While the science may be inconclusive, the moral high ground has already been won. Climate change has morphed into a moral imperative, and it’s now no different than fighting racism or some other injustice.

The only thing way to deal with climate change is to appeal to the same moral high ground. Science is used for added credibility, but it’s not the basis of the argument.


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Increased Forage Value Could Offer Vets More Stocker Opportunity

as forage value increases so does the need for vetstocker relationship

As we continue to see stocker operations get more business minded, I think there can be a growing role for veterinarians,” says Shaun Sweiger, DVM of Sweiger Enterprises, LLC based in Oklahoma City.

There’s a certain hesitancy in his observation. Unlike the cattle feeding sector, consulting veterinarians are still a rarity in the stocker world. Some veterinarians have little understanding of this specialized sector. The number of operations devoted to stocker production appears to be dwindling in tandem with declining cattle numbers, drought conditions and increased concentration.

On the other hand, even if corn prices retreat to the $4-$5/bushel range, that’s still at least twice the price that served as the foundation to modern day commercial cattle feeding. Since forage cost of gain closely mirrors feedlot cost of gain, out of economic necessity, forage continues to have more value in historical terms. Push come to shove, for the same cost or close to it, many feedlots would just as soon buy the pounds and have someone else straighten out the calves.

shawn sweiger
Shaun Sweiger, DVM, Sweiger Enterprises, LLC

“I know we can put gain on cattle with grass cheaper than with any other feedstuff. Because of the stress of commingling and other health challenges, there is plenty of opportunity for stockers who can provide calves more TLC than a large, rigidly run feedyard concerned about labor,” Dr. Sweiger says.

For stocker producers willing to color beyond the proverbial lines of convention, the opportunities are richer yet.

Driving Change With Data

“I want to challenge their practices and what they think, and I want them to challenge my practices and what I think,” Dr. Sweiger says.

Dr. Sweiger is talking about the clients he serves in general terms, but specifically about the stocker operations he works with.

Consider the Gallery Ranch at Dewey, OK.

“Grass is worth too much to waste on a second-rate animal. Gain is worth too much,” says Tom Gallery, who manages the operation with his brother, Bill, and their dad, Dan.

Consequently, this was the third summer that the Gallerys shipped rather than grazed any calf treated more than once in their backgrounding program. Identifying the net economic benefit associated with the decision was enabled by the intensive real-time records and analysis system that Dr. Sweiger helped the Gallerys build.

“If we have a problem, there is no way to solve it if we don’t have the information recorded,” Gallery says. “With records, a record system and information in a format both Shaun and I can evaluate, we know what’s happening in real time rather than 90 days after the fact.”

Before Dr. Sweiger started working with them, the Gallerys recorded information on note cards. “It wasn’t until after the cattle were gone that we could tally up what had happened,” Gallery emphasizes.

gallery ranch
Dan, Bill and Tom Gallery, Gallery Ranch, Dewey, OK

These days, the Gallerys use feedlot-based software to track cost as well as cattle health and performance.

“It’s mostly for ourselves, but if you wanted to partner on a set of cattle tomorrow, I could send you a feed bill and a breakeven,” Gallery says. “The only way to know if you’re making money is if you keep track of the costs. It’s our only way to identify the ones that make us money.”

Ask Dr. Sweiger what skills a veterinarian needs to serve stocker clients that are different than those needed to serve cow-calf clients and he responds immediately, “It’s records and data management.When a stocker operation gets to a certain size, I don’t care how good their memory is, you need to help them keep records and analyze the data.”


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Dr. Sweiger points out collecting real-time data doesn’t have to be complicated. While the system is more sophisticated and automated with Gallery Ranch, for other clients, Dr. Sweiger provides hard copy templates for clients. They fill in the blanks and fax the sheets to Dr. Sweiger’s clinic where data is entered for analysis and stored.

On the other end of it, Dr. Sweiger carves out more time to interpret results by sending raw data to others who run the statistical analysis.

“When we became computerized and started using management software, we could finally pay attention to the results we were getting because we had captured all of this data in a systematic way,” Gallery says. If there’s a question about how any one head of cattle or management variable is affecting another, they have the wherewithal to ferret out the information.

Challenging Current Management Practices

When the Gallerys and Dr. Sweiger first met, getting ahead and using data to identify opportunity was the last thing on anyone’s mind. The Gallerys were stranded amid the worst health wreck they could remember. They believed a particular vaccine failed and was causing the problem. With its own technical services veterinarian out of pocket, the pharmaceutical company in question asked Dr. Sweiger to go investigate.

That was 14 years ago, and that’s when the challenging started.

“We were doing a lot of things Shaun didn’t agree with,” Gallery remembers. “He explained why he didn’t agree and it made a lot of sense to us.”

For one thing, like lots of other stocker operators, the Gallerys would treat cattle, then if they didn’t see improvement the next day, they’d treat them again, and the next day, and so on.

Dr. Sweiger encouraged them to adopt a treatment moratorium and give the cattle a chance to respond to the product. He also helped them conclude that three times was the maximum number of treatments they would administer.

“He broke us of medication overload,” Gallery says. “Hands-off for a certain period of time after treatment was the biggest eye-opener, to realize they weren’t going to die if we didn’t give them another shot that day.”

Keep in mind, the Gallerys were already generational veterans at the time, considered by many to be the best of the best.

As the relationship developed, Dr. Sweiger also helped the Gallerys understand the potential of testing new purchases for persistent infection of Bovine Viral Diarrhea Virus (PI-BVDV).

By testing and weeding out the PI calves, they figured they cut mortality in half, sliced treatment cost by 40 percent and increased average daily gain by 0.25-0.75 pounds.

Since then, Dr. Sweiger established Cattle Stats, LLC. Part of that business is offering PI testing and pregnancy testing to client operations.

“One of my objectives is that if I can’t make a client money, then there’s no reason for them to bring me in,” Dr. Sweiger says.

Neutral Ground

As it turned out, Dr. Sweiger brought another benefit to the Gallerys which neither saw clearly except in retrospect.

“When you get in a wreck like we were in—50 days of beating your head against the wall—everyone’s fuse gets short,” Gallery says. “Shaun provided common ground where we were all willing to listen. We could get behind one plan, one mission. That helps in a family environment.”

Subsequently, this common ground continues to serve as a platform for asking and answering all kinds of questions, be it concerning specific products and protocols or entire business enterprises.

To the latter, Gallery explains, “Now, we’re breeding cattle instead of feeding them for our secondary line of business.”

Used to be, the Gallerys would buy calves, background and grow them in their stocker enterprise and then feed them out in a commercial feedlot alone or in partnership.

Though grass gains and stocker production remain the heart of their program, instead of feeding cattle, they buy steers and replacement quality heifers. As the heifers grow and are sorted, some are sifted to a stocker group while others are shifted to a dedicated ranch for heifer development and breeding. Ultimately, the replacements will be sold via Superior Livestock Video Auction or through special bred heifer sales at Joplin Regional Stockyards in Missouri.

Incidentally, one of the sorts comes after heifers have been provided for use in a cutting horse futurity—one more way to add value to the calves.

Dr. Sweiger buys some of those heifers, too.

“I trust him more than the average order buyer to buy replacement quality. I don’t worry about it a lot when Shaun’s buying them because he’ll be with them all the way through breeding and marketing,” Gallery says. “If he buys some that don’t fit, we’ll point it out to him.” That last bit is said in the tone reserved for a brother, as in, “We won’t let him forget.”

“I let Shaun pick most of the bulls, too,” Gallery says. “That’s just another piece of the puzzle where we can use his expertise.”

It helps both of them in this case that most of the bulls come from Sweiger Farms at Weatherby, MO, owned and managed by Shaun’s dad and uncle.

“Grass is still our ticket, but we do those other things to help diversify the overall program so we don’t have all of our eggs in one basket,” Gallery explains. At various times, the Gallerys have been in the cow business, too.

Then, there are the research trials.

Research Pays Multiple Dividends

“I don’t know why anyone would want to do anything if you didn’t have the opportunity to keep learning,” Gallery says. “If I want to know if a product is any good, we do our own research.”

This isn’t some exercise in anecdotal philosophy. The research trials conducted are clinically designed to be scientifically valid.

“If you or a client has a question, answer it with a research trial,” Dr. Sweiger recommends. “You’ll be right or you’ll be wrong, but you’ll both learn something.”

Incidentally, Dr. Sweiger says, “Research trials have been a great tool to help me get a foot in the door with potential clients.”

At Gallery Ranch, inquisitive minds on both ends of the relationship have meant conducting a trial, learning an answer which yields another question—and repeat.

“Basically, we’re running a research trial here 365 days a year,” Gallery says. Sometimes it’s solely for themselves, sometimes it’s custom research for others.

Soon after starting to work with Dr. Sweiger, because of their operation scope and management acumen, he saw the potential for commercial research trials. Long story, short, the Gallerys began conducting commercial research trials which paid for an extraordinary pen and alley renovation at their backgrounding facility. The renovation was required to conduct the largest trials. Having access to any group of cattle without having to move other groups also meant they needed less labor.

“Having Shaun involved brings contract research to the table. That’s a pretty good indicator of the value of records,” Gallery says. “Shaun is a resource for way more than vaccine and antibiotics. He’s able to bring people to the table.” That might be folks wanting to do custom research, having the Gallerys grow cattle on a custom basis or any of a cadre of folks with special expertise they want to delve into further.

“He can serve as a platform. All of us, as owners, can put our two cents worth on the table and Shaun can help us sort out what we should try,” Gallery says. “He sees a lot of things in the field that we wouldn’t necessarily know about. He’s in the industry and can bring that back to us. He’s a good resource to bounce ideas off of. He’s a catalyst to help us change. He has been a very big part of us not doing the same thing. We thought we were doing a pretty good job when he showed up here. We do a lot of things different than we did back then.”

Moreover, Gallery says, “Having Shaun involved as a resource keeps us all realizing that we are in the food business and accountable, that it’s more serious than just running cattle.”

“Grass is worth too much to waste on a second-rate animal. Gain is worth too much,” says Tom Gallery, who manages the operation with his brother, Bill, and their dad, Dan.

Learning the Stocker Business

When Dr. Sweiger speaks at industry meetings, and stocker producers start quizzing him, he provides the answers but also encourages them to develop a relationship with their local veterinarian.

Too often, the response from those producers runs along the lines of, “I’ve asked, but my local vet says he doesn’t know much about the stocker business so he can’t help me.”

That kind of answer from peers in the profession leaves Dr. Sweiger shaking his head: “As professionals, how do we market ourselves and develop skills in different areas?”

As always, Dr. Sweiger says the most effective education generally comes from spending time with stocker producers and the veterinarians who serve them. He also encourages veterinarians interested in learning more about the ins and outs of stocker cattle production to attend stocker focused industry meetings.

Dr. Sweiger is also a lecturer in the Veterinary Diagnostic and Production Animal Medicine Department at Iowa State University. He teaches an advanced stocker/feedlot elective in the field twice each year to fourth year veterinary students. He tells them a solid grasp of epidemiology and pathology are helpful in serving stocker clients, along with knowing how to help clients sort through lots of data and critically evaluate information.

Dr. Sweiger also tells them, “You need to major in psychology and minor in animal science. It’s all about building relationships and earning trust.”


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Meat Market Update: Comprehensive Choice Cutout Up, Sales Volume Dropped For Week Ending Aug. 24

Ed Czerwien, USDA Market News reporter in Amarillo, TX, offers a summary of last week's beef trade  and how it impacts the cattle market and beef prices. The comprehensive choice cutout was up for the week ending Aug. 24, but the sales volume dropped quite a bit. The weekly total for the daily volume was lower than the previous week and only 10% of the total sales for the week. The out-front sales were 1151 loads which was 636 loads less than last week and was responsible for most of the decline in the total sales.

Find more cattle price news here or bookmark our commodity price page for the minute-by-minute updates.

Pinkeye Leaving Its Mark On Beef Herds

Pinkeye is impacting the cattle industry this summer, thanks to increased rainfall, says Clint Thompson, a professor at the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at the University of Georgia.

Pinkeye is the redness and swelling of the conjunctiva, the mucous membrane that lines the eyelid and eye surface.

The lining of the eye is usually clear but if irritation or infection occurs, the lining becomes red and swollen. Highly contagious, pinkeye can be transferred from cow to cow but is not a threat to people.

For advice on how to prevent or reduce the instances of pinkeye, click here.


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Fall 2013 Beef Industry Calendar

2013 fall beef industry calendar


20-21 McCook Farm & Ranch Expo, Kiplinger Arena, McCook, NE;

29  Ohio Cattlemen’s Association’s First Replacement Female Sale, Muskingum Livestock facility, Zanesville; 614-873-6736 or


2-4 Wyoming Stock Growers Association Winter Roundup, Parkway Plaza, Casper;

3 CattleFax Outlook and Strategies Session, Marriott Denver South at Park Meadow, Denver, CO; 800-825-7525 or [email protected].

3-5  Range Beef Cow Symposium, Rushmore Convention Center, Rapid City, SD; 605-394-223, 605-688-5458 or [email protected].

4-6  Nebraska Cattlemen Annual Convention;

6-7  Missouri Livestock Symposium, Kirksville Middle School, Kirksville; 660-665-9866, 660-341-6625 or

11-12  South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association Convention & Trade Show, Ramkota Convention Center, Pierre, SD; 605-945-2333 or

January 2014

7-10 Richard Mifflin Kleberg Jr. Family Lectureship on Grazing Management, Texas A&M University-Kingsville, Kingsville; 361-593-5401 or

9-10 Southwest Beef Symposium, Clayton Civic Center, Clayton, NM;

11 Fifth Annual Food Animal Practitioners CE Symposium and Third Annual Beef Improvement and Low-Stress Cattle Handling Seminar, Gladys Valley Hall, University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine;

11-26 National Western Stock Show, National Western Complex, Denver, CO;

12-14 American Forage and Grassland Council Conference, Hilton Memphis, Memphis, TN; 800-944-2342 or

21 Feedlot Forum 2014, Terrace View Event Center, Sioux Center, IA; 712-737-4230 or

21-22 North Dakota State University Feedlot School, Carrington Research Extension Center, Carrington; 701-652-2581 or

23-24 17th Annual Kansas Agricultural Technologies Conference, Ramada Inn-Salina, Salina;

25 Ohio Cattlemen’s Association Annual Meeting and Awards Banquet, North Pointe Conference Center, Lewis Center;