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Articles from 1999 In September


Trade is a two-way street

Tweaking The System

Recent feeding systems improvements have boosted feed intake, cattle gain and lowered ration costs at McElhaney Cattle Co. The Yuma, AZ, company fed 105,000 head last year with enhancements coming in three areas.

"Our mill had been the stepchild, as it is in many feedyards," says Rich Zarr, feed plant manager. "It ought to be brought to the forefront."

Appropriately, then, Zarr has overseen the biggest and most visible up-front measure to improve feeding. That is the installation of a new feed unloading upgrade at the railhead, which saves money before a calf takes a bite.

"A couple of years ago the railroad approached us and said we can give you a reduction if you can unload 100-car shuttle trains in 15 hours or less," says Zarr.

Big Investment The drawback, was the size of investment required. It took $2 million to upgrade to that unloading speed at the yard's rail site, where equipment was undersized and storage was in open, flat bunkers.

"We had a five-year payback on this $2 million project," Zarr says, noting it paid for itself in two years.

What it took was the installation of 40,000 bu./hr. unloading equipment with new storage and tracking systems.

"We used to unload a car in 42 minutes," Zarr says. It took 21/2 days to unload a 75-car train. Now it takes only 51/2 minutes to unload a car, and 11 hours to do a 75-car train. "The speed comes from the size of the equipment."

>From the grain dump to the scales to the conveyor system, the new equipment is much larger than the old. But it's the storage that gives the feedlot improved feed protection. Two new silos hold 850,000 bu. of grain, and three of the five flat storage barns remain as backup in case the company finds a good deal on feed.

The new system also connects directly to the mill, whereas the old system relied on a front-end loader to haul from storage to mill. Consequently, McElhaney eliminated a loader from the operation and now has 11 instead of 15 employees at the mill site. "We calculated it costs more than $100,000 per year to run a wheel loader," Zarr says. "Economics demand you build something of this nature."

The automated system allows the mill operator to control grain flow to the mill. The rail car unloading process is also controlled by one person using Wonderware software to run the computerized delivery system.

"We just cue the car up, hit the button, and the computer runs it," Zarr says. The computer gives precise information about the grain, including vendor and destination weights - which can be compared to calculate shrink. Eventually these figures will be networked to the accounting system.

Mike Hubbert, director of technical operations, says the company couldn't clearly see its feed picture. A computer consultant and a couple of programmers implemented his ideas.

"We're trying to put this information in graphical interfaces and exception reports," Hubbert says. A graphical interface is a better way of visualizing data using graphs. Exception reports detail if feeding goals are being met.

The graphs are an immediate educational tool. Colored lines rising or falling give workers an immediate grasp of what's happening in each pen.

"It'll tell everything about that pen," Hubbert says. Each of the 650 pens is tracked and information about the ID'd cattle in it illustrated graphically. Data ranges from the date the cattle were received to their implant histories.

Thus, it links information that the company once wasn't able to link to other tasks. For example, cattle death is noted, and if a pen has abnormally high mortality, Hubbert can check the illness and medication each animal has had since arrival.

"With the use of drugs and billing," he says, "computers are a must." For example, the computer shows when each animal clears drug withdrawal before being shipped.

Four exception reports illustrate feeding trends:

* Details too much feed consumption,

* Details feed consumption that is too low,

* Shows feed increases different from orders,

* Number of sick cattle and dollars spent on health care.

This simplifies most jobs and allows them to employ fewer management personnel. It takes Hubbert 30 minutes to check the feeding program, as opposed to a day's work before.

Named the McElhaney Cattle Co. Cattle Information System, the computer methodology has been shown to other feeders. Some have concocted similar systems.

Simple Changes Effective Possibly the most simple and productive change has come from inexpensive changes Hubbert made when he started consulting here in 1993. He cut the feed and increased consumption.

Hubbert, who has a Ph.D. in ruminant nutrition, believes when cattle eat too much at one time they lost gain potential and died of bloat more frequently. He implemented a 3X/day feeding system to provide only what would be needed at each feeding.

"We didn't want feed left in the bunk every day," he says. Hubbert had done this for a feedlot in Texas, so he took McElhaney managers and truck mechanics there to see how it worked.

Upon returning, mechanics adjusted feed truck belt drives and hydraulics for more accurate delivery. Then each truck was outfitted with a laptop computer connected to the truck scales. The feed supervisor determined how much feed each pen should get, based on previous feed consumed, and that amount was uploaded into each laptop.

Now when a driver puts feed in a bunk he is matching output to the requirement on the laptop. Cattle are consuming more than they did previously.

"Our objective was to increase intake by 1/2 lb./day," Hubbert says, noting that a 1/4-lb. increase would pay for the changes. Instead, the increase was 2 lbs./day. That's the equivalent of 0.3 lb. of weight gain per day, he says.

The cost of this simple system was "minimal" compared to feed savings. Much of that cost was initial software and computers. Hubbert says a laptop lasts only about a year in a truck, but costs are contained by buying reconditioned computers from $500 to $800 each.

Driver training - the other crucial aspect of the program, has worked out well. Though none of the drivers was accustomed to working with computers, each mastered the system. They deliver feed to within 1/3 lb./head/day of the correct volume stipulated by the feed caller. They have to, because their computers connect to his, and he can check exception reports to see if feed is being delivered correctly.

"The secret in feeding is feeding cattle a consistent amount and at consistent times," he points out. "Weight gain is up, bloat death is down."

It's also measured in the ability of McElhaney employees to adhere to a company strategy and see it work.

Triple-Duty Hay Wedges

Manager Mike Moon will get triple duty out of the 2,300 tons of large, round bales he'll stack this summer at the John E. Rouse Beef Improvement Center near Saratoga, WY.

* The hay will serve as winter feed for the Colorado State University (CSU) facility's 350 commercial Angus cows and 70 yearlings.

* Meanwhile, a new stacking method should help stabilize the cattle's nutritional requirements by sheltering them from chilly winter winds.

* Plus, the new stacking method - a V shape - makes snowed-in hay stacks a thing of the past. Folks around this south central area of Wyoming are used to seeing innovative ideas put into practice on this progressive operation gifted by philanthropist John Rouse to CSU about 13 years ago. The two hay structures the Moons built for use last winter are an example.

They're giant, V-shaped walls of large round bales set in winter grazing areas. The bales are stacked two high to a height of about 12 ft. with the bottom row standing vertically and the top row laying horizontally atop them.

The two, 125-ft.-long wings (50 bales each side) come together to form a 90 degrees angle. The point is oriented directly into the prevailing winter winds blowing off the Sierra Madres 15-20 miles to the southwest.

The hay compacts to form a solid surface that's impervious to wind. When the wind encounters the V shape of the bale stack, it spills to the sides, channeling wind and snow along the sides of the V rather than over the top.

This diversion greatly reduces the wind velocity in the area behind the stacks for as much as 300-400 ft. downwind. It also virtually eliminates the accumulation of blowing snow in the protected area.

Building More This Year Moon built two of the structures he calls "wedges" for use last winter and plans to build three, possibly even four, this fall for use this coming winter.

"It's worked well and we intend to keep using them," he says. "We're very happy with them. It's much more comfortable for the cattle and the design prevents snow buildup around the hay stacks."

The hay wedges are the brainchild of Bob Jairell, a hydrologic technician with the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Laramie, WY. They're born out of research he and a team of world-renowned experts on blowing snow have developed over the past 30 years. Their methods and designs are in extensive use throughout the world.

Two of them - capturing blowing snow to augment livestock water supplies and livestock wind shelter techniques - have been chronicled in past issues of BEEF (see "H2O On The Blow," May 1990, page 12; and "Wind Wedges," February 1992, page 10).

The wedge design grew out of a producer request for a method to stack hay that would prevent snow drifting and guarantee its accessibility in winter. Jairell went to work with models, constructing miniature replicas of round hay bales in traditional single rows, as a long pyramid of three rows, a solid triangle shape and the V. He then placed them on a frozen lake bed and recorded the performance.

No matter the variation in stacking, single rows collected snow. The solid triangle was totally inaccessible due to drifting. The V shape was theclear winner.

Jairell then went looking for a real-life test. Moon, whose family has managed the Saratoga facility for 40 years, volunteered to participate.

"We have some open meadows that tend to be a problem because the cattle don't have anywhere to go on cold, windy days," Moon says. "We decided to build two of the wedges. We put one up on a windswept bench with little cover and the other in the bottomlands along the river with good, natural cover."

The wedges, he says, worked beyond their expectations. "It looks like wedges are a good idea. The trick is to make sure they're oriented directly into the traditional prevailing winds," Moon says. "Ours were off by about 20 degrees, but we were still surprised how well they worked, even in the area we thought had good, natural protection."

Old-style stack yards tend to drift in, Moon says. It isn't unusual at times to use a crawler tractor to cut a path into a stack yard and dig out the bales, he says. The V design, however, kept every bale accessible as the wind scours snow from along the front of the structure and deposits it downwind outside the shelter area.

Moon feeds from the ends, working toward the middle as the winter progresses and the need for shelter dwindles. On the coldest of days (those 0 degrees F. and below), he feeds behind the shelter. On most days, he spreads hay out away from the shelter to draw cattle out from the protected zone to spread out the manure buildup.

Group Feeding By Age Cattle are grouped in meadows by age - yearlings in one area; coming two-year-olds in another; threes and fours and thin cows in another; and five-year-olds and older in another.

The Moons supplement feed from Nov. 15 to May 15. Two to 3 lbs. of alfalfa hay per head per day is fed as a protein source, along with a custom organic mineral mix high in copper. The grass hay is fed at the rate of 23 lbs./head/day in early winter, building to 40-50 lbs./head/day by calving.

"When it gets below 10 degrees F., we begin to increase the feed by 1 lb./degree. But, we feel the shelters help to lessen the requirement," Moon says.

The Moons feed their cattle to keep them in a condition score 5. While they admit that might seem a little high, winters can turn so severe in this high country that the extra condition is needed as an insurance policy. "It's tough to get the condition back by calving time, if you lose it," Moon says.

As part of the wedge project, Moon also worked with Doug Hixon, a beef cattle Extension specialist at the University of Wyoming. They wanted to determine if nutritive value of the hay would be affected by the stacking method.

Moon took core samples in October, December, February and April on both the V stacks and old-style stacks. The nutrient analysis completed this summer found that "the stacking arrangement did not appear to have any negative effects on nutrient retention."

Energy and protein values appeared similar between the wedge samples and controls, Hixon reported. Nor were there any obvious differences between samples in terms of acid detergent insoluble nitrogen, which gives an estimation of any heat damage loss to protein. The sampling project will be continued this winter at the CSU facility, Hixon says.

Moon is still tweaking the design on his hay wedges. He plans to build them with double rows of bales in order to prolong the life of the shelter through the winter. He'll feed the inside row first.

"We're just as happy as can be with the wedges," he says.

Unlimited Opportunity

Roberto Zambrano, owner of Rancho El 17, an 8,000-head feedyard in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, has watched his country's domestic cattle feeding industry develop from three vantage points: as a veterinarian and consulting nutritionist, as a feedyard owner and as developer of Mexico's first branded fresh beef products. Here, Zambrano provides an incisive glimpse into the structure and potential of the struggling Mexican grain-feeding industry.

BEEF Feeder: How did you personally become involved in feeding cattle in Mexico?

Zambrano: In 1991, I entered the feeding business because there were great opportunities. I am a veterinarian with a master's degree in nutrition from the University of Arizona, and used to work as a consulting nutritionist for many feedyards in Mexico. I supplied implants, vaccines, vitamins, premix and equipment to many feedlots.

In the 1980s, the dynamics of Mexico's economy were accelerated. Agribusiness faced new risks and opportunities and soon cattlemen all over Mexico saw a way to capitalize on their cattle by finishing them at feedyards. Feedlots rose near urban areas, close to slaughter plants and grain storage.

By the end of the decade, the government imposed a price control for the consumer's benefit. Only feeders who were efficient stayed in business. At that time, we had four or five feedlots between 15,000 and 25,000 head that were forced out of business.

So I took the opportunity to get in when they got out. I invested all my money and I borrowed some money to start with about 300 head. We've grown to about 8,000 head.

BEEF Feeder: Describe the Mexican cattle feeding process?

Zambrano: In most feedlots here, you start with a 20-30% grain ration and finish with about 80% grain. In Sonora the grain we use is wheat and corn. The feeding period is about 140-160 days, and the cattle finish at about 1,050 lbs.

In Mexico, people do not like carcasses that are too big and too fat. They want a carcass that weighs about 600 lbs. (the lower end of the U.S. carcass preferences). Most of what we feed here and in the northern states of Mexico are heifers, since Mexican cattlemen send most steers to the U.S. Mexican feeders cannot buy steers because the price is too high.

Most heifers come in at 450-500 lbs., depending on time of the year. It hasn't rained in Sonora in a year, and cattlemen are weaning very light calves. That has dropped the weaning weights to about 350-400 lbs.

BEEF Feeder: How would you characterize the health of the Mexican industry?

Zambrano: We have problems we can't control like expensive electricity and gasoline prices that increase constantly. Plus, Mexican interest rates are really high - 22-26%.

U.S imported beef is a great competitor that we also have to deal with. But I think there is a good opportunity in Mexico if a feeder does a good job as an integrated enterprise, producing excellent fed beef and reaching the consumer directly. That's our objective at Rancho El 17.

BEEF Feeder: What changes would make the Mexican feeding industry more competitive?

Zambrano: Some of the actions the Mexican cattle feeders may choose to take in order to assure their competitiveness are:

* To develop branded products supported by enterprise-organized feedyards that are integrated to reach consumers.

* To improve the cattle feeders' organizations so that they share information and work with the government to gain support for the industry.

In order to compete on more equal terms, Mexican feedyards must invest a period of time to consolidate their industry. In that time we need to grow by reinvesting our earnings or by partnering with new investors.

BEEF Feeder: Some Mexican cattlemen are blaming imported beef from the U.S. for their problems. What do you think?

Zambrano: I don't agree with it totally. I don't know how much, but it does affect us. We know costs in the U.S. are lower than here, especially the cost of the money. We wonder how the U.S. can price beef so inexpensively in Mexican supermarkets. Imported beef is priced so low that is hard to compete.

BEEF Feeder: What is your opinion of the dumping suit against the U.S.?

Zambrano: I don't know if the U.S. is dumping. But I know it is selling beef at 30-60% below our costs, and that the difference in U.S production costs is not that wide. I also know that an importer has to add freight, permits and broker fees to the cost of beef. So I don't know if the U.S feeders or packers are making money on beef that they export at those prices. But if they are not, how long can it last?

BEEF Feeder: Don't you think U.S. beef promotions are building demand in Mexico for grain-fed beef and this helps the Mexican feeding industry as well?

Zambrano: Yes, in some ways. The southern states like Tabasco and Yucatan are beginning to change part of their production from grass-fed to grain-fed. However, we have been producing grain-fed beef in the northern states for more than 30 years.

In 1969 Sonora started a meat and cattle grading system, similar to the one in the U.S. Since that time, the northern states have supplied their needs as well as markets in the south of Mexico with carcass fed-beef. What U.S beef promotions are doing is building demand for boxed beef. Before NAFTA, the supermarkets were buying carcasses from the feeders. Now they are demanding boxed beef.

BEEF Feeder: Is there room in Mexico for U.S. and Mexican products?

Zambrano: I believe so. With Mexican cattle supplies down, U.S. beef makes an important contribution to the meat supply here. But we cannot put ourselves in a position to depend on imports.

For the Mexican economy, we have to produce most of our own demand. I don't know what the most beneficial balance is between Mexican-produced and U.S.-imported beef, but we have to find that balance, and make it work.

BEEF Feeder: Where will the Mexican feeding industry be at the end of the next decade?

Zambrano: If we can overcome some of these problems, and integrate the whole chain of beef production from calf to boxed beef, the Mexican feeding industry will be strong. At Rancho El 17, we have a fully integrated enterprise: We buy the yearlings, we finish them at our feedlot, we cut and pack the beef in our own facility and we deliver the finished product to the supermarkets or directly to the consumers in our own meat markets. I believe this is one of the ways in which the Mexican feeding industry can prevail in the future.

BEEF Feeder: Do you see any joint ventures taking place between the U.S. and Mexico in feeding cattle?

Zambrano: We are looking for that. We have working relationships with producers in Arizona. I import U.S. cattle for feeding in my feedlot. I believe there are opportunities still available in the Mexican beef industry that are different than those in the U.S.

Spotlight On Research

Carcass Quality Increased Marbling Weaning calves earlier and placing them on a higher grain diet improves marbling, according to researchers at Iowa State University. They conducted a study to evaluate the effects early weaning has on feedlot performance and carcass characteristics. Researchers weaned 120 Simmental- and Angus-sired steer calves at 67 days or 147 days. At 750-800 lbs. the calves were allotted to 16 feedlot pens (7-9 head per pen) by weaning treatment and sire breed.

The early weaned calves were fed a concentrate mixture and long-stem alfalfa hay for 94 days.

Early weaned calves were heavier in initial feedlot weight, but there were no differences on daily gain, dry matter intake, feed efficiency or slaughter weights. Simmental steers required more days on feed than Angus steers.

Hot carcass weight, fat thickness, ribeye area, marbling score and kidney, heart and pelvic fat were measured at slaughter (see Table 1). A ribeye face sliver was collected for the determination of intramuscular (IM) fat by ether extract.

Early weaned calves had a higher percent IM fat, 5.7% vs. 5.1%; higher average marbling scores, Small78 vs. Small20; a higher percentage of cattle grading Choice and higher, 38% vs. 14%; and a higher percentage of Prime, 10% vs. 0%.

For more information contact Dan Loy, Iowa State University, at 515/294-1058 or [email protected]

Real-Time Ultrasound Seedstock producers will be able to avoid long-term and expensive carcass testing programs and use real-time ultrasound to directly scan yearling bulls for body composition traits, claim researchers at Iowa State University.

Their research indicates that traits measured in steer carcasses are directly and highly correlated to traits measured with ultrasound in yearling bulls.

Real-time ultrasound images from more than 27,000 yearling Angus bulls were analyzed to determine adjustment factors and genetic parameter estimates. The traits analyzed included ribeye area, 12-13th rib fat thickness, rump fat thickness and percentage of IM fat (marbling).

EPDs for these traits were computed for the sires that produced the yearling bulls. As accuracy for real-time ultrasound EPD increases, the rank correlation with carcass EPD increases positively.

For more information contact Doyle Wilson, Iowa State University, at 515/294-6914 or [email protected]

Enhancing Carcass Quality University of Missouri researchers say that cattle can be finished to heavier weights than traditionally done without impacting carcass quality.

The researchers wanted to determine if marbling rate accelerated at a certain point in growth and if carcass quality could be enhanced through diet modifications.

Using Angus crossbred steers, researchers found that the breakpoint at which steers accelerated marbling deposition fat was 64% of their mature body weight. The weight the steers were placed on feed did not affect the weight at which marbling deposition rate accelerated.

Researchers have also been able to enhance carcass quality by providing oil in the diet. They used whole soybeans to introduce vegetable oil into the diet. When whole soybeans were included at 16% or 24% of the diet, 1.25 times more of the steers graded Choice than the control. These improvements occurred in cattle that had been fed whole soybeans for about 60 days.

Funding for this research was provided by the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council and Missouri Beef Industry Council.

For more information contact Monty Kerley, University of Missouri, at 573/882-0834 or [email protected]

Feeder Cattle Controlling E. Coli Researchers at the Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) in Clay Center, NE, found that it is possible to reduce fecal shedding of E. coli O157:H7 in feedlot cattle. But, the most successful method was associated with some adverse effects on health of cattle and had obvious negative economic effects.

Researchers looked at three aspects of feedlot calf management, pen sanitation, dietary shifts and transportation. Feedlot cattle were randomly assigned to groups with 50% of each group shedding E. coli O157:H7 in their feces.

Treatments included complete washing of concrete floored pens three times a week, a shift from a standard grain-based feedlot diet to an alfalfa hay-based diet and simulated transport to slaughter including 24-hour feed withdrawal. These studies showed that even a high level of pen sanitation had no effect on the percentage of cattle shedding E. coli O157:H7.

Shifting to a hay-based diet, however, significantly reduced the percentage of cattle with O157:H7 in their feces from 52% to 18% after seven days. Significant economic effects, such as weight loss and increased pulls, were associated with switching to a hay diet. Simulated transport had a similar effect.

For more information contact William Laegreid, MARC, at 402/762-4177 or [email protected]

Aerosol Vaccination Louisiana State University researchers suggest that animals should be vaccinated against Pasteurella haemolytica using a nose aerosol.

Vaccination in the lower respiratory tract stimulated a systemic immune response and an immune response in the lung, but did not stimulate an immune response in the nose.

Researchers also showed that the repeated exposure of the lung to even a Pasteurella haemolytica vaccine resulted in decreased clearance of the bacteria from the lung of three calves (out of 11) at 28 days after the first aerosol.

Under field conditions, the failure to clear the bacteria could result in pneumonia (shipping fever).

In shipment, Pasteurella haemolytica colonize in the animal's nose and their lungs are then in jeopardy.

Researchers recommend that cattlemen aerosol-vaccinate their animals two times just prior to movement to sale barns and shipment. This means vaccination at the point of origin (the farm). In this way they should be protected in accumulation and subsequent transit to the feedlot; and, for the first 30 days in the feedlot. This time period is a critical time in determining whether animals will break with pasteurellosis.

For more information contact Richard Corstvet, Louisiana State University, at 225/388-4194 or [email protected]

Cow/Calf Energy Limits Performance Fifty-four mature beef cows were used in a completely random design to determine supplemental protein requirements when grazing stockpiled bermudagrass pastures during late fall and winter.

Researchers at Oklahoma State University allotted the cows to one of four supplemental treatments at two different locations. Bermudagrass pastures were grazed or clipped to about 2-in. stubble height during late August and fertilized with 50 lbs. of nitrogen per acre. Grazing was deferred until Nov. 3, 1998, at which time grazing and supplemental treatments were initiated and continued for 90 days.

Forage crude protein concentration ranged from 11.6% to 15.3% of dry matter throughout the experiment. Forage protein degradability varied from 50.5% to 67.4% of crude protein.

Supplementation improved overall cow performance, but cows did not respond to additional protein supplementation. In this experiment, energy limited forage utilization and animal performance.

For more information contact David Lalman, Oklahoma State University, at 405/744-6060 or [email protected]

Hay Supplementation Supplementing heifers with hay will increase gains when grazing ryegrass, whereas supplementing with corn will decrease gains, according to Mississippi State University researchers.

It is common practice for producers to use winter grazing throughout the southeastern U.S. Two of the most prevalent forages used for winter grazing are ryegrass and fescue.

Researchers evaluated energy supplementation for heifers grazing ryegrass and heifers grazing fescue.

For the ryegrass grazing trial, 36 crossbred heifers grazed six, 5-acre paddocks. Each paddock contained six heifers. Animals had either no supplementation, a hay supplement or a corn supplement. Both supplemental groups were fed three times per week to average 2.5 lbs./heifer/day. Every 28 days, heifers were weighed and blood was collected for analysis of blood urea nitrogen (BUN).

Ryegrass dry matter intake was similar for all treatment groups, averaging 8.4 lbs. Heifers grazing ryegrass and receiving a supplement of corn gained slower than those receiving either no supplement or supplemental hay.

Heifers receiving a supplement of hay had lower BUN concentrations than those receiving a supplement of corn during the third and fifth periods.

This would indicate protein utilization was reduced when corn was used as a supplement compared to a supplement of hay.

This data may help explain the faster gains by heifers receiving hay or no supplement, in that they better use the protein in their diet allowing them to gain faster.

In the fescue grazing trial, 24 crossbred heifers grazed four, 5-acre paddocks. Each paddock contained six heifers. Because fescue growth was limiting, animals were allowed ad libitum access to hay. The heifers had either a corn supplement or corn/cotton seed meal supplement. Both supplemental groups were fed three times per week to average 5 lbs./heifer/day. Heifers were weighed every 28 days.

Fescue dry matter intake was similar for all treatment groups, ranging between 5.75 and 7.5 lbs. There were no significant differences in gains for heifers grazing fescue.

For more information contact Brian Rude, Mississippi State University, at 662/325-2802 or [email protected]

Limit Feeding To Save Money Researchers at Oklahoma State University concluded that when forage availability is low, or when hay is expensive, limit feeding grain and/or byproduct feed to cows and developing heifers can save money.

The researchers compared the efficiency of limit-fed fibrous byproduct diets or limit-fed corn diet to free choice hay.

Thirty six Angus and Angus-Hereford crossbred heifers were used in a randomized complete block.

Dietary treatments consisted of: 1) free choice prairie hay plus a soybean meal-based supplement, 2) a whole shelled corn-based diet and 0.5% body weight prairie hay, 3) a wheat middlings/soybean hull-based diet and 0.5% body weight prairie hay, and 4) a barley malt sprout-based diet and 0.5% body weight prairie hay. All diets were fed once daily and contained 200 mg of Rumensin per head.

Weight gains were higher in the three concentrate diet groups. Gains among concentrate diets were not different. Cost per pound of gain was cheapest for the barley malt sprout and corn diets. Based on observed performance, the improvement in dietary energy use was similar among limit-fed corn and limit-fed fibrous byproduct diets (see Table 2).

Conducted at the Willard Sparks Beef Research Center. Funding for the facility was provided through a coordinated effort led by Oklahoma Livestock Industry Foundation.

For more information contact David Lalman, Oklahoma State University, at 405/744-6060 or [email protected]

Self-Preservation

So far, agricultural disparagement laws, which aim to level the playing field of public critique by ensuring that free speech is also fair speech, have hardly been used. In fact, they've never even been tested. But, their potential seems to be keeping the rest of the gang a little more honest.

"I think they've been a disincentive, at least for some activists," says Steve Kopperud, senior vice-president of government affairs for the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA). "Our goal is to at least give producers a tool to use to go after critics."

Apples Led The Way In an effort to help its members protect themselves from unfounded, damaging public claims, AFIA crafted a model agricultural disparagement law. The impetus was that apple producers found general business libel and common-law disparagement laws offered them no legal recourse in the aftermath of the media-fueled Alar scare that turned the apple industry rotten in 1989. Some of the 13 states that currently have agricultural disparagement laws used the AFIA model in total or in parts to make their laws.

"This is a way to protect individuals, who otherwise fall through the cracks of general business disparagement laws," says Bob Turner, the Texas state representative who authored and championed the agricultural disparagement legislation which became a Texas state law in 1995. "The intent of the bill was never aimed at creating a basis for a law suit. It was aimed at making people think twice before ruining an industry with unfounded claims," says Turner.

In a layman's nutshell, with ordinary business disparagement laws, a specific business - XYZ Cattle Co., as an example - must prove false and defamatory comments aimed at them damaged their business. Conversely, most agricultural disparagement laws are designed to help producers hold critics accountable for making known and false claims about the product, which in turn cause harm to all producers of that product.

So far, Turner says the law has only been used three times in the Lone Star State. One claim was tossed out of court, one was settled out of court, and the most infamous case of all is still in the appeals process.

Cactus Takes On Oprah In 1996 Paul Engler, president and founder of Cactus Feeders, and other plaintiffs used the Texas law to sue Oprah Winfrey, her production company and a guest on her show, claiming false comments made about beef and bovine spongiform encephalopathy fueled a slide in cattle prices. Ultimately, the judge in that case ruled that live cattle were not a perishable product and that the case had to be tried under general business disparagement laws. In that scenario, plaintiffs were forced to prove the false claims were made about them and their product, specifically. Thus, the current appeal.

Opinion Vs. Disparagement "One problem we had, and that the media never fully understood with the Oprah trial, is that it wasn't really about Oprah's opinion of hamburger," says Kopperud.

The media focused on Winfrey's comment about being too scared to eat hamburger, rather than the accusations her production company allowed allegedly false comments to be made without scientific evidence.

In fact, the case and the law used to sue her became new First Amendment flagpoles for activists to rally around.

As an example, consumer activist groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest are working for repeal of the laws nationwide. In Texas, a bill was introduced during the last legislative session to repeal that state's law.

Ultimately, the effort died in the House of Representatives. "Free speech has to be fair speech," emphasizes Burt Rutherford, communications director for the Texas Cattle Feeders Association, which helped push for legislation in Texas. "The law doesn't say you can't speak an opinion. What this law does say is that if you make a specific claim against an agricultural product, you'd better be able to back it up."

Turner explains, "Freedom of speech folks think you should be able to say whatever you want, truth beside the point ... The way the Texas law is worded, the statement has to be made knowingly and intentionally, and the burden of proof is on the person bringing the suit."

For those hiding behind freedom of speech, Kopperud points out there have always been restrictions on speech in this country. One of the most dog-eared examples is that no one can stand up in a crowded movie theater and shout, "Fire!" without being held accountable for the results. Unless, of course, the theater is actually on fire.

"First Amendment protection extends to personal opinion, and there is no law that overturns that," says Kopperud. "But when you make a claim that a product will do X, Y and Z, and say it to affect the sale of the product, then there should be a way to protect yourself. No one says you can't say something, but if you say it, be able to answer for it."

Moreover, Kopperud, who was a reporter for 10 years and holds freedom of speech dear to his heart says, "I've come to believe these laws in many ways are a form of consumer protection."

Manufacturers and producers must jump through all kinds of legal hoops to make claims about their product, protecting the public along the way. He believes agricultural disparagement laws protect consumer on the other side of the fence by keeping others from making misleading statements about products.

Swinging While There Is Time Currently, state agricultural disparagement laws are a study in patchwork contrasts that make it tough to gather ahead of steam for them nationally. Some protect only meat and eggs. Others protect only vegetables. Still others blanket all perishable agricultural commodities. And, none has been tested in a court of law.

Even so, Kopperud says, "In some respects, I think there is more resolve to do these kinds of laws today." And, some who have the laws believe they're making critics weigh the value of their rhetoric.

"The laws are still doing what we intended them to do, in that they're keeping the issue at the forefront," says Rutherford. "If nothing else, I think the opinion would be that the laws have kept the issue alive about what is good, honest, fair reporting."

Likewise, Scott Dewald, executive vice-president of the Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association (OCA) says, "I think it has been a help. It has sent a message to people that if they're going to say something about our perishable agricultural products in Oklahoma, they'd better be accurate about what they're saying."

When OCA worked with other agricultural groups to enact state agricultural disparagement laws there was no pressing problem and virtually no opposition. Dewald explains, "We didn't have a crisis, like Alar. There was no burning issue on the table, so we went in and quietly did it in an anticipation of something happening in the future."

Tougher Sledding In Other States Producers who want the same protection in some other states are finding the sledding tougher. George Gough, vice-president of the California Cattlemen's Association, says producers there have worked with other groups to enact legislation for several years.

"There's a feeling among our membership that their needs to be a leveling of the playing field. We definitely support some sort of legislation," he says. But they haven't been able to rally enough support so far.

As time goes on, Turner says support could be tougher to muster for all agricultural issues as agricultural representation continues to shrink within the legislative process. With that in mind, he believes producers must take more responsibility in protecting their own interests.

"Something people don't think about a whole lot is that if we let our own agricultural industry flounder and go away, we will become a food-deficient country," he explains. Keeping the safest most inexpensive food supply at home requires consumer support, but first it requires consumer education.

Although Kopperud believes there is even more resolve to enact agricultural disparagement laws today, he believes other efforts could make them unnecessary.

"We spend a lot of time and effort selling our products. Milk, meat and egg producers do a fantastic job. But I would like to see a tiny percentage of the money spent on product sales being spent to tell the public about how well the product is produced and how good the people producing it really are. Let's reintroduce the public to the American rancher and farmer.

"If we could spend just a tenth of a hundredth of a percent of all checkoff money (in all commodities) selling producers and production practices, I don't think we'd have to worry about agricultural disparagement laws because there wouldn't be anything to disparage," Kopperud says.

Drought Feeding

Jim and Pat Lanier of Lanier Limousin, Giddings, TX, faced a big dilemma in the spring and summer of 1998. A severe drought had them wrestling with how to get optimal body condition and bloom on their purebred Limousins by their annual purebred sale in September.

As summer progressed and supplemental feed became increasingly expensive, the Laniers and their neighboring commercial cattlemen were desperate for relief.

"The costs (of supplemental feed) began climbing through the roof," recalls Jim Lanier, "as it was increasingly being used to compensate for the lack of quality forage."

Along with other cattlemen, the Laniers began making inquiries in an effort to decrease their feed costs. An ad for supplemental drought feed from a dairy-focused feed supplier caught their eye.

Cary Zipp, a nutritionist at Gorman Milling, Gorman, TX, says, "As the drought set in, hay became scarce and expensive. As we could buy high-energy feed at a cheaper price, we began combining and promoting alternate carbohydrate sources - soy hulls, peanut hulls, flaked grains, dried distillers, cottonseed hulls, etc. - with grains and added yeast culture to maximize the digestibility of these feedstuffs."

Yeast culture nurtures rumen microflora that break down feedstuffs into the nutrients needed by beef cattle, he explains.

Gorman Milling periodically tests most feedstuffs in an extensive Dairy Herd Improvement Association (DHIA) lab. So Laniers knew the quality was there. Two other concerns were distance (Gorman Milling is 200 miles from the ranch) and concern over the cattle's acceptance of a new ration.

The fact that Gorman Milling custom tailors about 90% of the rations it mixes to the specific situation saved Laniers "about 30% on our supplemental feed costs," Lanier says.

"Historically, we've been good at maintaining price," Zipp says. "With 25 major ingredients available, we can change formulas as needed to minimize costs while maintaining nutritional values."

An initial, limited shipment of three tons resolved concerns over ration changes. "We were pleasantly surprised," Lanier says. "The cattle switched over immediately. And the feed was gone in nothing flat." He says the inclusion of dry distillers grain may have helped by enhancing palatability.

Within three weeks, the Laniers were ordering shipments of 23 tons of feed at a time. A mold inhibitor was added to avoid spoilage. Jim tested its effectiveness by setting aside five bags of feed under typical feed-storage conditions. After four months, no signs of spoilage had appeared.

The drought held through the September sale date. The Laniers' cattle, however, showed little, if any, drought stress.

"Several respected cattlemen commented on the excellent sale condition of our cattle," Lanier says. "We felt they were in as good a body condition as we could hope for with most having a body condition score of 6 or 7. They'd been on the drought supplement since early May."

The cattle also had good breed back. Weaning weights ranged from 625-675 lbs. for heifers and 650-700 lbs. for bull calves on a 205-day adjusted basis. In addition, the bulls had adequate yearling weights of 1,068 lbs. on average.

When under pressure to be cost conservative, careful shopping for supplement relieved a lot of pressure for us, Lanier says.

Dennis Herd, a beef cattle specialist in nutrition with Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, offers these drought feeding recommendations.

Plentiful Pasture, But Low Quality * Provide a good mineral supplement to maintain forage intake and efficient use. A complete mineral supplement containing 10-20% salt, 12% calcium, 12% phosphorus, 5% magnesium and 0.2% copper has worked well in many areas.

* Feed a high-protein supplement to maintain forage intake and efficient use of the forage as well as the energy coming off the cow's back as weight loss: 1-2 lbs. to dry cows and as much as 2-3 lbs. to lactating cows. Appropriate supplements include soybean meal, cottonseed meal, protein blocks and liquid supplements.

Pasture Lacking Volume And Quality * If only slightly limited: feed range cubes (20% protein) or mixtures of grain and oil meal protein supplements at rates of 3-5 lbs. per cow daily.

Cubes with a large amount of natural protein and low crude fiber level (less than 10%) are preferred.

* When pasture becomes extremely short: consider purchasing hay or a replacement feed for the pasture and selling stock. Remember, most grass hay has only 50-65% the energy content of grain.

One pound of grain can replace 1.5-2 lbs. of hay or 1.2-1.4 lbs. of alfalfa hay. Start cows on grain slowly and feed so all cows have an opportunity for their share of the feed.

Up to 80% grain can be fed in a maintenance diet for British bred cows, but do not consider such high levels for Brahman cattle. All cattle require some forage in the diet to minimize digestive problems.

Canada Gears UP

It wasn't long after commercial cattle feeding began in the U.S. that Canada got in the game. It's proven to be a viable player. Alberta alone is fifth in cattle feeding behind Texas, Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado.

Anne Dunford, senior marketing analyst with CanFax in Calgary, Alberta, says commercial cattle feeding began in the late 1960s. During the early '70s, about 500,000 head were fed annually. Today it's 2.4 million head.

"Growth has been primarily fueled by ample feed supplies and the proximity to feeder cattle," Dunford says. Approximately 80% of the national cow herd is located on the nearby prairies.

She adds that 250 feedlots in Alberta have feeding capacity greater than 1,000 head. These represent 90% of the fed cattle marketed in Alberta. Average capacity of these feedlots is 6,280. The largest holds 102,000 head and three operate with a capacity of 75,000 head.

EconomicsFinished cattle mostly end up at packing plants in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario or at U.S. plants in Washington, Utah, Idaho and Colorado. Selling methods include sealed bids, private treaty, formula or grid pricing and forward contracts. Estimates show about 14% of the 1998 fed cattle supply was packer-owned.

Despite having every marketing tool at hand, Dunford says price volatility is one of the toughest challenges.

"One of the greatest economic challenges facing Alberta feeders is volatility in basis levels. The difference between the local market price and the U.S. market can vary dramatically. During a year it can range from $2-13 Canadian (CDN) under the U.S. price in periods as short as four months.

"Other than a basis contract with a local packer, basis risk is difficult to manage," Dunford adds. "This is one reason we've experienced consolidation in the feeding business and it's expected to continue."

Despite normal industry consolidation, industry leaders display a relatively bright outlook for feeding in Alberta and the surrounding region.

Ron Axelson, manager of Alberta Cattle Feeders Association, says several factors point toward growth. One is environmental regulation.

"Currently, there are no existing environmental laws pertaining specifically to feedyards," Axelson says. "We're governed by laws under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act and the Health Act. These come into play if an event contaminates water sources or puts public health at risk. That's not to say regulations are lax - there are examples of action being taken by the authorities in justified instances."

New and evolving regulations continue to be part of daily operations, and Axelson sees some as benefits. He says new siting requirements and a provincial approval body to review new development applications on a technical basis offer chances for feeder input.

"Under this forthcoming system, land use remains a municipal responsibility. Technical standards will be established under regulation to guide approval processes for new or expanding operations," Axelson says.

"However, there will be operating standards under the same regulations that will govern activities of existing operations, monitored by the province. This gives livestock operators a solid set of standards to guide nutrient management planning and is seen as a plus," he says.

Those operating standards, Axelson adds, were developed by the provincial government for operation locations and safe manure handling. Formerly voluntary, many municipalities adopted the criteria into land use bylaws. New regulations are being developed by a broad group that includes government, industry, municipalities and environmental groups.

Will the new regulations create negative business changes? Axelson doesn't think so. He thinks expansion in this region is needed to compete, and that likely includes Montana, Idaho and Washington. It's a scenario that if it becomes reality, "will create a powerful regional industry to compete globally," Axelson says.

Adapting To Thrive

Mixing realism, pragmatism and long-term planning keeps Ben Thorlakson high on the cattle feeding business. The owner of Thorlakson Feedyards near Airdrie, Alberta, and partner of Cattleland Feedyard near Strathmore, Alberta, has strong viewpoints on where the industry is headed and how he intends to continue.

Thorlakson started the business in 1970 after buying a quarter-section of land that now boasts farming and an 18,000-head feedyard. He expanded five years later by purchasing Cattleland Feedyard when Pat Fisher joined him as managing partner. Combined capacity of the yards is about 43,000 head. Several modifications, enhancements and related businesses have developed since and more are happening at an accelerated pace.

"Feeding is a mature industry. We have sufficient capacity to supply the system. This happened because of an unsaid assumption: we assumed there would be constant demand for our product," he says. "Needless to say, we assumed incorrectly. Now everyone's looking to adjust and retain profitability.

"Cow/calf producers, stockers, feeders and even packers are changing the way they operate," Thorlakson adds.

The current industry status propels Thorlakson to continually fine-tune the feeding operation and tighten other parts of the business. Contracts for manure composting for a wholesale retailer and research trials are two ways he's increasing income-utilizing characteristics inherent to a feedyard.

"We built some pens several years ago for research," he says. "Now we have 112 pens dedicated to replicated studies."

Unsatisfied with the long-term prospects of the status quo, Thorlakson relentlessly examines steps to ensure business success into the next century. A combination of proven strategies, realistic trend analyses and gut-truth economic analyses are his tools.

"We have to find ways to structure our business so it will survive and prosper," he says. "And, our enterprise responds to economies of scale, which presents unique challenges in this industry cycle.

"In a mature or declining industry, the first strategy is to manage cost. The other is to manage risk and identify synergies. An obvious synergy for our operation is the farmland to supply feed, spread and compost the manure. It'd be hard to extract the value of the manure if we didn't own the land next to us," he says.

Thorlakson plans to expand and says feeding cattle will get even more competitive as this expansion begins. He won't say which direction, he's going - only one that complements existing business.

Integration? Yes!At Sunterra Enterprises Ltd., integration is the foundation of the business. Doug Price, president of Sunterra Cattle Division, oversees Sunterra Farms Feedyard and its herd.

Price and four brothers run the diverse operation, which includes a farming operation, retail stores in Calgary and Edmonton, a meat processing plant and a pig breeding facility.

The retail stores are full service grocery stores with delicatessens, prepared foods, catering, even delivery service.

"We've had to think long-term to accomplish this much," he says. "It's committed us to things such as building a new feedyard and going from 5,000 head capacity to 35,000."

The feedlot supplies the approximate 50 head per week average for the retail stores, plus some Japanese exports and general marketings.

"The marketplace shows us what to buy. I like to feed a mixed exotic #1 feeder steer," he says. "Our retail customers are still unable to believe how much better our product is. Everything combined - the genetics, feeding and initial processing make it so. Further processing and sometimes full preparation at the stores enhance the products more."

Seeing this at work has caused the Prices to visualize what it will take to stay profitable.

"We're going to have to own more cattle and own them longer," Price says. "Turning cattle is a drain on industry dollars. If a calf is sold two to three times, that's a minimum $60 loss to the industry. We can't afford that."

Changing owners often negates obtaining all information possible about an animal, too. And, Price wants to identify the most profitable cattle from conception to consumer. He says that's one of the benefits of an individual identification system that will be in place in Canada in the near future. System data will enable performance tracking all the way to the plate.

Price admits that all operating challenges aren't removed simply by owning everything from conception to the plate. There are still environmental considerations, current and future drug use concerns and the need for tighter efficiencies.

"There are still efficiency gains to be made by working on the synergies throughout the system," Price says.

"Our retail operations will still sell less than a majority of what we produce, so we've got to find rewarding marketing methods, keep stores profitable and customers satisfied. And, more and varying regulations are coming, so we'll adjust again and again."

Winning WeaningsWhen you wean more than 20,000 head of calves per year, you know what's going on at the cow/calf and feeder levels. On top of that, what the two sectors wanted nearly 20 years ago is a far cry from what it is today.

Joyce and Miles Crandall, owners of Triple 7 Ranch near Ponoka, Alberta, started in 1981 with a pen capacity for 500 weaning calves. Last year, they weaned 21,000. About 30% went back to grass, half went to feedyards and the rest were finished on site. That 20% may be growing.

"If we remain in business, we'll have to offer all services a cow/calf producer may need," Crandall says. "Right now, we're in a 'hanging' phase, determining how we'll meet customers' newer needs."

Additional staffing needs were partly met a couple of years ago when Joyce left a healthcare career to become part of the operation.

While the average customer runs between 200 and 250 head through the yard, some run as few as 25 and as many as 5,000 per year. They all have one thing in common - each has increased the size of their operation.

Some customers go further, making use of Crandall's option to pasture the calves or winter cows, a growing part of the business. Last year, they custom-wintered 2,000 head. They're considering making it a permanent part of the business mix.

Crandall says the health program is under continual adjustment based on calf needs and customer preferences. And, there are different approaches to different loads of cattle.

Temperatures are checked on all arrivals. Long-haul calves are given extra time to settle in before processing. Ideally, Crandall prefers vaccination on long-haul calves to take place before arrival, but that's not always possible.

Dollar management being top of mind, Crandall's processing setup is fairly standard except that it's under a tarp structure that lets natural light shine through. The investment is a fraction of what a permanent building would cost, roughly $4/sq. ft. It worked so well that they installed similar structures to hold feedstuffs and equipment.

"Once in the lot, there's a high degree of pen-checking," Crandall says. "It's generally several times a day. If pulls from one pen run to 10-12 percent, we'll run the entire pen through the chutes to prevent full outbreaks."

Daily routines are more intense since the first 500 calves ran through Triple 7, but the Crandalls have modified their approach and grown with customers. And, they still see industry opportunities. Aside from that, both believe the region has strong potential as a cattle feeding area. In fact, Crandall and other board members of the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association have invited a Montana representative to join the board.

"If we work together within the region, we can build business opportunities for cattlemen on both sides of the border," he says. "There are more similarities than differences in what we do."

Niche FeedsSome feedyards have an edge on customer service, others on pricing and so on. Owner Robert VanderHeyden says an attribute of his Picture Butte yard is controlling feed costs.He grows all the barley silage and some of the corn for the 4,500-head yard, but purchases barley and other ingredients. Working with a nutritionist, he's formulated a system that allows flexibility with the type of feedstuffs bought.

"I'm finding niche feeds such as barley screening pellets that give me a cost advantage, while not affecting rate of gain," VanderHeyden says. "I can also make ration changes fairly quickly being a smaller operation. I can take advantage of alternative feedstuffs that may be offered by a processor or other business."

VanderHeyden uses nine rations, depending on the stage of calf development, ranging from 20% barley on an as-fed basis as a starter ration to 78% barley as-fed in the finishing ration.

He's been experimenting with how to better preserve the silage part of his ration, using different preservation additives in his bunker silos. "The silage here is really good, I want to keep it that way," he says. "I want to preserve it well so it remains a consistent part of the ration."

He's reduced runoff and held nutrient levels consistent by using a bacterial silage inoculant, which he says he'll apply to upcoming harvest. VanderHeyden is not the only one incorporating improvements.

"The cow/calf end of the system is making strides," VanderHeyden says. "They're getting better at medicating and vaccinating before the calves hit the feedlots, plus we're seeing more preconditioned calves. This will help us all hit profit goals."

Driven By Margins "The challenge business owners continually face is to watch margins and expenses, since margins drive the business," says Scirocco Feedyard owner Lance Carnine of Lethbridge. This fact, he adds, has forced more gains in the feeding industry the past few years than any passing fad or new gadget.

"We've had to become more efficient at handling barley, in the ways we roll it and feed it. We use several byproducts including pea vines, beet tops and beet pulp to extend feedstuffs. And, we've had to become better negotiators for our customers as well as with our suppliers.

"Overall in our region, we're seeing staffing efficiencies with a lot of yards moving to one employee per 1,500 head of cattle on average, compared to one employee per 1,000 head. More risk management tools are being employed and feedyards are using more nutritional advice than ever before," Carnine adds.

Carnine is working on several levels to ensure feeding remains a viable business in the area.

"The Alberta government is working on a Code of Practice," he says. "On a county by county basis, officials are determining business practices and various regulations to standardize throughout the province. Plus, we're working with the government on water rights and creating reciprocal agreements to determine minimum distances feedyards must be from residential areas."

Carnine says the advantage to a reciprocal agreement is that while a new feedyard can't be built close to a residential area, neither can a new development be started near an existing feedyard.

Carnine also works with a local college to develop curricula for students interested in a feeding career.

"We've got to have more training options for young people wanting to work in agriculture," he says. "Besides production skills, graduates need to know how to run a business."

Carnine constantly rethinks his strategy. "We're currently feeding some backgrounders. Depending on how the industry heads, it could lead to this becoming a backgrounding yard instead of a finishing yard," Carnine says.

"It's all part of finding where you fit in the system and making it work. If it takes a complete turnaround here, that's what we'll do."