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Articles from 2017 In August

Fewer placements helped boost feeder cattle prices

Feeder cattle prices were steady to $3 higher, but some weakness at times caused just a little lower bottoms and wider spreads on price ranges. Lower fed cattle prices lately is definitely causing some caution. Some new crop calves are just starting to show up at the auctions, but not big numbers yet.

Turning to slaughter cow, the typical normal increasing fall runs are starting with 6,200 head which was up 700 head at our test auctions. Prices were steady to $3 lower which is a typical decline as numbers increase every fall. The cow meat prices are declining slowly but still above last year.

Hurricane Harvey Update: Ranchers step up to help

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images Epic Flooding Inundates Houston After Hurricane Harvey
Cattle find a strip of dry ground after the area was flooded by Hurricane Harvey on August 30, 2017 in Port Arthur, Texas. Harvey, which made landfall north of Corpus Christi late Friday evening, is expected to dump upwards to 40 inches of rain in Texas over the next couple of days.

Hurricanes are not new phenomena along the Gulf Coast. They are a natural part of the weather cycle and always will be.

But taken in human terms, hurricanes can be one of the most destructive natural disasters around. That’s saying a lot, given the tracks that 2017 will leave in the annals of ranching history. Drought, wildfires, and now Harvey will leave an indelible mark on agriculture nationwide.

But when disaster strikes, the ranching community steps up.

The All-American Beef Battalion, BEEF’s 2012 Trailblazer winner, is a perfect example. The group is on-site in the disaster zone, cooking for relief workers, according to the Oklahoma Farm Report.

The All-American Beef Battalion’s efforts are being supported by packers, which have donated more than 100,000 hamburgers, and Oklahoma livestock markets. Southern Oklahoma Livestock Market in Ada, along with all of the National Livestock Companies, are assisting with relief for hurricane victims in southeastern Texas.

“We are assisting the All American Beef Battalion in their efforts to feed families and relief workers around Houston,” the livestock market group said in a Facebook post earlier this week. “AABB volunteers will be on site cooking as long as resources hold out. We are accepting donations on behalf of AABB to help purchase buns, plates and other items to be served on site. Any amount will help. If you want to contribute, please call the office of National Livestock Credit at 800-310-0220 for instructions."

Additional programs that are accepting contributions to help agricultural producers can be found on the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association hurricane website.

Cattle stranded

Meanwhile, along the Texas Gulf Coast, “It looks like a bomb went off,” says Texas AgriLife Extension agronomist Josh McGinty, Corpus Christi. McGinty toured many of the small coastal towns and says many of them were nearly or completely destroyed by the violence of the storm, according to Southwest Farm Press.

While it is too early to assess the total effects of the hurricane on cattle and cattle producers, those effects are likely to be significant. 

South Texas ranchers are scrambling to relocate cattle from massive flooding spawned by Tropical Storm Harvey, with many hauling livestock up to the north of the state while others rush to move the animals to higher ground nearby.

About 1.2 million cattle are located in a 54-county disaster area drenched by Harvey, which made landfall as a hurricane last weekend. With more torrential rain in the forecast, ranchers are expressing worry that some animals could perish despite efforts to save them, Reuters reports.

Of immediate concern to ranchers were cattle stranded by high water infested with venomous snakes, fire ants and alligators, said Hollis “Peanut” Gilfillian, a cattle rancher in Winnie, Texas, about 60 miles east of hard-hit Houston.

“We’re in gator country ... period,” said Gilfillian, adding that nearly every pond on the ranches in his area contain alligators.

“It’s not unusual to see an alligator in my backyard or road ditch,” he said, but added, “There’s plenty other animals that they (alligators) would much rather eat, such as fish, as opposed to trying to go after cattle.”

Ranchers had tried to prepare for the storm last week by moving cattle to the nearest hills or trucking them to safety in the north of the state, cattle industry groups said.

Chuck Kiker, who raises cattle on his farm near Beaumont, about 60 miles northeast of Houston, opted to leave his animals in place but was caught off guard by the storm’s severity.

“You can’t move animals at this point, so you’re kind of stuck because of high water everywhere. There’s really no place to move them,” he said.

Relief efforts

Rescue and relief efforts are underway, according to the Texas Animal Health Commission. TAHC is the state's coordinating agency for all disaster response issues related to animals, both large and small.

TAHC has boots on the ground in some of the hardest hit areas of the state where local authorities have authorized entry, assessing animal issues resulting from Hurricane Harvey. Agency personnel deployed and continue to work with local disaster district committees, calling on resources to meet animal-related needs locally whenever possible.

Strong winds and rising flood waters destroyed fences and displaced large numbers of livestock. TAHC is coordinating with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension to establish livestock supply points in areas of critical need, and with Texas Department of Agriculture to receive and distribute donations of hay and livestock feed. TAHC requested the services of Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers (TSCRA) Special Rangers to assist in capturing stray livestock and returning them to rightful owners.

The number of shelters available to receive animals is at 74 and growing as response efforts progress. In addition to pre-designated shelters, the TAHC has received numerous offers of sheltering space from livestock owners with pasture or barn space. With their permission, this information has been forwarded to the 2-1-1 operators and posted on the TAHC website.

Updates will be provided as new information becomes available and assessment teams are able to report damages and needs for assistance. Click here for the latest information on Hurricane Harvey animal response efforts.

Storm track

The Weather Channel predicts the storm will continue on a northeast path across the Southeast, initially affecting Louisiana and Mississippi, with 20-mph winds and continued heavy rain.

According to the National Weather Service, Hurricane Harvey has set a preliminary record, surpassing 50 inches for the greatest amount of single-storm rainfall ever measured for the continental U.S. Additional rainfall accumulations of 6 to 12 inches are expected to the north and east of Houston from far east Texas into southwestern Louisiana. This is producing devastating flooding throughout the region. Numerous Flash Flood Warnings are currently in effect.


Veteran newsman Steve Alexander fills in with today’s report.

Today is final day of huge Farm Progress Show in Decatur, Illinois.

20 charged in Dubuque, Iowa, yesterday, in a scam where several elderly people around the Midwest received a call from a person posing as a sheriff deputy. The caller told them relative in jail, most often a grandchild. The caller knew the name of the grandchild. When the relative sent money, it went to scammer.

Battle against Asian carp continues. The Army Corps of Engineers has mounted underwater speakers in lock gates to scare carp away.

Rebecca Campbell and her three children had just sat down to supper when mom got piece of chicken lodged in her throat. Her 8-year-old son did the Heimlich maneuver and saved his mom’s life.

Midnight Star in Deadwood opened in 1991 and is now closed. It was filled with Kevin Costner’s movie memorabilia.

Will be Devil’s Tower UFO Rendezvoous Sept. 14-16.

Corn crop conundrum: Will it be a bin-buster?

Will it be a bin buster crop?

The 2017 corn crop has something to offer everyone. Seemingly, this year’s theme is one of variability: concerns range from drought to too much moisture. So, depending on where you live provides a very different view of this year’s crop. As such, the next six weeks or so are going to be very telling in terms of where we ultimately end up in terms of total production.

In the meantime, USDA recently estimated nationwide yield average to equal 169.5 bushels per acre. Total production is forecast at 14.2 billion bushels, down 7% versus 2016 but still the third-largest crop ever produced. And that certainly had the market talking. While variability is true every year, 2017 has seemingly magnified uncertainty going into September.

Moreover, it’s especially important given that we have record-large on-farm storage; basis shifts in the coming weeks will provide an early indication of what’s occurring out in the country. Expectation for bigger yields will likely mean we’ll witness accelerated movement off the farm.  

The general—or maybe loudest—sentiment among many producers has USDA likely over-estimating nationwide yield. That’s stimulated lots of back and forth chatter about what’s actually happening out there and USDA’s general ability to forecast final yields in August. To address some of those questions, this week’s illustration highlights USDA’s August accuracy since 2000.  

The back and forth will continue going into harvest—that’s especially true because of wide-spread disparity through the heart of the Corn Belt. And as noted in previous columns, there’s tension in the market. That tension will remain until we start getting some solid yield numbers from the heart of corn country.  

How do you perceive USDA’s ability to forecast yields prior to harvest? Where do you see final yields ending up? Where do you ultimately see the corn market headed? How does the crop look in your area? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Nevil Speer is based in Bowling Green, Ky., and serves as vice president of U.S. operations for AgriClear, Inc. – a wholly-owned subsidiary of TMX Group Limited. The views and opinions of the author expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the TMX Group Limited and Natural Gas Exchange Inc.

Part 3: How to find the right manager for your ranch

Ranch managers

The ranching landscape is changing as fewer and fewer young people want to take over the family operation, So, as the older generations retire or pass away, the heirs are left with some big decisions—sell the ranch or keep it in the family and hire a someone to run the day-to-day operations.

If they choose to sell, many buyers don’t buy with the intention of living and working on the ranch. They, too, will need to hire someone for day-to-day operations.

In Parts 1 and 2, we looked at the various roles on a ranch and what defines a ranch manager. Let’s finish the discussion with a look at some other issues, including compensation.

For a good ranch manager, money is not a motivator. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t important. It is a hygiene factor. That means it should be paid in proportion to the abilities of the individual worker. Under-paying for experience and ability of a manager usually leads to discontent, resentment or simply losing that individual to a better paying opportunity. So, pay must be sufficient, not merely adequate.

The candidate, too, must be candid about his personal financial situation and needs. If the pay is inadequate to sustain the individual and his family as circumstances require, eventually the arrangement will become unworkable for them.

An owner must know and address the real requirements of getting and keeping the right person. This is always best done in the beginning, utilizing a thorough interview process. That process will require multiple conversations and face-to-face meetings where layers of unfamiliarity are patiently removed to reveal the true story. This goes both ways: no matter how badly a candidate might need a job, the most responsible and conscientious do not want a job that will not work out.

Be honest in your assessment about how any employee will live successfully on the pay and benefits package you offer. Put yourself in their position and consider their happiness and success your own.

A ranch manager brings a unique set of skills and experience to the table. The ability to manage implies a level of skill and experience that is not common. If you have concluded that you, in fact, need and want a manager, be prepared to pay for that in return for the advantages the manager brings. In most cases, this means a base salary of $80,000 to $100,000 per year and a benefit package that prevents the erosion of that salary by other costs to the employee. Meaning, they must be able to remain whole. The ability to save money for later years is the best proof of this.

Use of a spreadsheet to identify and capture all of the financial needs of the individual, under the conditions they will live, is essential in this process. The candidate should quickly appreciate your interest and willingness to do this, both for his benefit and yours.

Once completed, you will have the tool to make the design of the overall compensation package simple and self-evident. It is the owner’s responsibility to lead this process. If a successful compensation package is arrived at, few things will help more to ensure the success of the relationship going forward.

The local vs. newcomer question

Nearly all ranches have the choice of hiring a “local,” someone who knows the area and people. Often, they come with the ranch. Can this be a good thing? Sure. But, “local” is no recommendation. In fact, it often brings as many unwanted issues as it does apparent advantages.

If you consider yourself progressive in your approach, a long-time local might be more intent upon “how things are done around here” than what needs to happen in order to realize your objectives.

good manager will naturally do one thing: manage. No matter if dealing with local issues or navigating state and federal agencies, his approach will need to be objective, discerning and representative of your interests. This level of maturity does not come automatically with a local candidate. This suggests that a mix of both local and outside candidates is the best approach.

If more needs to be said, the local candidate will be challenged to maintain his loyalty to the ranch owner, while doing the same with longtime friends and neighbors, suppliers, and county government. The outside candidate’s challenge is to enter a new community, becoming a respected member, while advocating for the owner.

No matter the original inspiration, vision, or what has been the case since acquiring your ranch property, the prospect of a new ranch manager can be as much opportunity as it is risk.  Having a deliberate approach and method to follow in this search can remove risk and bring new possibilities.

The best color on a horse is whatever color a good horse is wearing.  As with love, when the right one comes along, we don’t get to choose the package. So, be open during the appraisal process and expect to be pleasantly surprised by what you find.

Leahy operates DL Resource Management, LLC, based in the High Desert of Oregon. He has managed properties from Texas to Alaska as an independent resource manager.  Contact him at [email protected]

Winter is approaching. Are you ready for a lice infestation?

Lice infest cattle all year, but numbers are usually low in summer because most of them are shed off in the spring with winter hair. Lice also tend to leave the hottest areas of the animal in summer and don’t reproduce as fast. So generally, producers generally don’t need to treat cattle for lice in the spring if a few show up in late March or early April, because the population won’t grow at that late date. 

“Lice don’t survive very well in heat. If the cow is standing in bright sunlight in summer, the temperature on the skin may go up to {115 to 120 degrees F} and this is outside the thermal tolerance of a louse; a louse or a louse egg can’t survive at those temperatures. Adult lice are dying off and not reproducing, so the population crashes when weather warms up,” explains Doug Colwell, livestock parasitologist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Lethbridge, Alberta.

Winter, however, is a different story. “We ran a serological survey here in western Canada [southern Alberta, Saskatchewan and a few herds from Manitoba] for several years, checking for lice,” says Colwell.  “We found that 75% to 80% of beef calves coming off range in the fall tested positive for sucking lice. This is fairly consistent with results we found a few years earlier, checking calves coming into a feedlot about the same time of year.” Calves pick up lice from their mothers or herdmates, and most of them have lice by end of summer.

Many cattle also have chewing/biting lice, but it’s harder to test for these. “We don’t have recent information on prevalence because we don’t have a serological test for them. The counting survey we did about 15 years ago indicated a fairly high proportion of calves had chewing lice,” says Colwell. Many cattle harbor both types.

“By mid-October we started seeing lice again. Our basic treatment program has been to knock the top off the population growth curve so that by January we don’t have a massive outbreak,” he explains.

Some animals, due to poor immune function or some other factors, are more vulnerable to extensive lice populations and transmit lice to the other cattle in the herd. “This is the old 80-20 rule; about 80% of the cattle don’t have lice and 20% do, for some reason. The carrier animals always have heavy loads, and general recommendation is to cull those,” says Colwell. Cattle with lice readily pass them to herdmates through direct contact, since cattle are social animals. 

Smith Thomas is a rancher and freelance writer based in Salmon, Idaho.

What’s the big deal with VAC-45?

Value added calves

By Glenn Selk

There has been a lot of conversation in recent years about value-added calves, and many organizations have developed successful value-added calf sales. Because many value-added programs require a 45-day preconditioning period, weaning time is upon those who want to be included in the sales that will begin to fire up, offering calves that are ready to handle the next phase of their marketing journey.

Some cow-calf producers may wonder why the post-weaning period needs to be so lengthy. Data from Iowa over a nine-year period in a couple of their feedout tests compared the health status of calves weaned less than 30 days to calves weaned longer than 30 days. Data from over 2,000 calves were summarized.

Calves that had been sent to a feedlot at a time less than 30 days had a higher incidence of bovine respiratory disease (28%) compared to calves weaned longer than 30 days (13%). The percentage of calves that required three or more treatments also was significantly different (6% versus 1%) in favor of calves that had been weaned more than 30 days. In fact, the calves weaned less than 30 days were not different in health attributes than calves that were weaned on the way to the feedlot.

VAC-45 calves apparently have a real advantage in terms of health compared to calves weaned for less than a month or those weaned on the way to the livestock market for sale date. Certainly, part of the “value” in value-added calves can be attributed to properly applied vaccinations. However, there is little doubt that a portion of the improved health is due to the length of time between weaning and the movement of calves to the next owner.

Selk is an Oklahoma State University emeritus Extension animal scientist

Meat Market Update | Loads sold skyrocket as restaturants lock in product prices

The weekly average Choice cutout saw another big drop of $5.05, but sales volume increased tremendously with 7,836 loads sold which was the highest level in many years. It was pushed higher by the longer term forward contracts which had over 1,000 loads and are quite often utilized by large restaurant companies to lock in product prices for their menu. There was only one time that these forward contracts were higher than this week since 2012 which was a big spike in early 2015.

Mixed messages as we race pell-mell for better genetics

Cow size debate

Genetic tools and prediction accuracy are growing at a phenomenal rate, but these improvements haven’t necessarily made it easier to select the cattle and the genetics we want to move our herds forward.

I read a recent article in the Western Farmer-Stockman, which quoted David Lalman, Oklahoma State University beef cattle specialist, "Assuming milk, muscle and growth in a ranching operation have kept up with industry trends, more than likely your forage alone cannot support more milk, faster growth and higher weaning weights." 

There is a lot to ponder there. Lalman cautioned that many producers have already created more genetic potential than their environment is capable of producing. We have all heard these disturbing trends being discussed; we are feeding a ton and a half more hay per cow today than we were 50 years ago, and weaning weights have only increased marginally. 

And, of course, we have those advocating 3-4 frame, no milk, no growth cattle, and you have packers issuing edicts to their buyers not to purchase any cattle with any hint of those genetics. The question is not whether we must match the cows to the environment and the calves to the marketplace, but rather where that sweet spot exists from an industry standpoint. 

There isn’t any one single optimum and even if there was, genetic improvement would change that optimum in very short order.  

Not only is the target ever moving, ever evolving, but we must marry the sophistication of the genetic selection tools with equally sophisticated and dynamic economic analysis tools to determine what truly is the best combination of traits to maximize profits. All the while understanding that each operation will have a different outcome depending on their resources (feed, land, labor) and marketing plans. 

What we can be sure of is that the two extremes of the equation are wrong, frame score 3 and 4 cattle are not going to be the most profitable except in perhaps the toughest of environments, and even then a producer will have to rely on the marketplace not being able to differentiate the price discount those cattle should earn further up the chain. Nor are the extreme production cattle going to be the most profitable, except in unlimited feed environments. 

Of course, the optimum combination of traits will vary for each operation, but we have to move to more sophisticated and realistic economic analysis.

We love using measures like weaning 50% of the body weight but, unfortunately, maintenance costs are not linear. Maintenance costs and mature size are not 1:1, rather raised to the .7 power. So the ratio is not reflective or accurate.

But because it takes advantage of the old ratio rule, it favors little cows with no growth, so that camp will quote that percentage extensively. The big cow guys will talk net dollars and total pounds produced per cow, but those two factors are just as inaccurate as there are increased costs associated with bigger cows.

The appropriate level of milk varies, depending on a whole host of factors: growth level in calves, feed availability, feed costs, marketing strategies, projected end points, and the list goes on.

Broad generalizations and faulty economics used to justify the extremes are not productive and do not move us closer to profitability. In fact, they probably move us in the wrong direction. Simplistic, one-sided answers to a complex system with many interactions and unintended consequences are easy to market, but they are problematic for a host of reasons.

Female biz owners invent male co-founder to avoid sexist discrimination

The technology world has been widely criticized for its sexism problem. Now, two female entrepreneurs have revealed they had to invent a male co-founder in order to get their firm started.

Penelope Gazin and Kate Dwyer, who founded the online art marketplace Witchsy, created an imaginary third co-founder Keith Mann, which they would use to correspond with male developers and designers.

It came after developers and designers, most of whom were male, used a condescending tone towards them. In one instance, a developer opened an email with the phrase, "Okay, girls". Another attempted to delete their website after Gazin declined his offer of a date.

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