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Articles from 2002 In September


10 Trade Myths

A lot of myths and misunderstandings are floating around the countryside regarding the U.S. beef industry and international trade. No doubt trade is a complex and involved subject, and it carries a target that seems to be moving far too fast for some people.

I've recently been subjected to a few instances when awareness of some basic information could have turned a convoluted debate over trade into a productive discussion of the elements at hand. These experiences led me to do some research. Whether you're in favor of trade or not, the following might help out the next time you find yourself engaged in a discourse over trade:

  1. Canada, Australia and New Zealand account for nearly 91% of the beef tonnage and value imported by the U.S. Australia has an annual 378,214 metric tons (mt.) tariff-rate quota (TRQ), and New Zealand has a TRQ of 213,402 mt.

    New Zealand filled its quota in 2000, but it did not quite fill quota during 2001. Australia filled its quota during the week of Dec. 5, 2001, bypassing Canada as the largest supplier of U.S. beef imports in 2001.

  2. Once a country's TRQ is met, suppliers may continue to ship, but they must pay the U.S. treasury a tariff of 26.5% applied to the customs clearing price. If a country is reaching its TRQ, product shipped late in the calendar year is often placed in bonded storage until the next year's TRQ becomes effective and to which the beef is subject.

  3. Because Canada and Mexico are NAFTA trading partners, beef imported to the U.S. from those countries is not subject to TRQs.

    With some exceptions, cooked, canned and processed beef from certified and inspected plants may be imported to the U.S. from all other countries without quota restrictions.

  4. TRQs of 20,000 mt. each limit the imports of fresh and frozen beef into the U.S. from Argentina and Uruguay, even when both countries are free of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). Both Argentina and Uruguay filled their TRQs in 1999, but neither filled its TRQ in 2000.

  5. Argentina “voluntarily” suspended exports of fresh and frozen beef to the U.S., Canada and Mexico on March 13, 2000, after a bout of FMD outbreaks. All livestock in Argentina are reportedly being vaccinated, and it will likely be a year or more before Argentina again attains FMD-free status without vaccination.

  6. Uruguay also suspended exports of fresh and frozen beef after cases of FMD were reported near the border with Argentina, but it may regain FMD-free status late this year. For now, beef imported from these countries must be cooked, canned or preserved in inspected and certified plants. The same is true for Brazil, which for many years has not been allowed to export fresh, frozen or chilled beef to the U.S.

  7. Brazil's initiative to attain FMD-free status suffered a setback when an outbreak in November 2000 delayed it indefinitely. Brazil has applied for regionalized FMD-free status in two southern states. It's important to note that a NAFTA team completed its evaluation of the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) status in Brazil in February 2001 and determined that Brazil has no BSE risk.

  8. No matter the country of origin, or ownership, all imported beef and beef products are subject to a beef checkoff collection on a 1$/head carcass weight equivalent at their point of entry into the U.S. A series of formulas in the Beef Act and Order establish the equivalence.

  9. All imported live cattle are subject to $1/head checkoff collections — even if they do not “trade hands” when imported. If they trade hands once they have entered the U.S., an additional $1/head is assessed. Northern-tier ranchers and stockers who pasture cattle in Canada can be required to pay the checkoff twice — once when they re-cross the border, and again when they are sold in the U.S.

  10. At the time of slaughter, packers pay the $1/head checkoff fee for any cattle they have owned for more than 10 days. For imports, this is in addition to the checkoff assessment paid when they cross the border. The Cattlemen's Beef Board (CBB) has the authority to audit packers' records to make certain that assessments are being paid. In fact, CBB has done several such audits to ensure compliance.

    These 10 points certainly won't clear all the haze that often hangs over the trade debate. But hopefully they'll help dilute some of the sophomoric rhetoric being spewed about, unintentionally or otherwise, at meeting halls and coffee shops around the country.

Beyond Emergencies

With the majority of the U.S. population now several generations removed from the land, those in agriculture must work harder than in past generations to win consumers' trust. But beyond reshaping America's view of our business, we need to expand its sphere and influence, attract non-traditional students to our industry and work to increase the value of our products at the production level.

  • The beef industry must also guard against the notion that it's a “mature” industry. The auto industry, after all, is a mature industry. Yet it seems to be able to increase sales and the value of its products almost yearly.

    The auto industry doesn't just sell cars. It builds and sells Cadillacs, Chevrolets, Fords, etc., in a number of different styles, models and options. It couples these quality, finished products with major marketing strategies to persuade the public to purchase its product.

    Only relatively recently has the beef industry begun to explore the concept of beef products marketed as a unique quality food product.

  • The industry must continue to emphasize that producers aren't just cattle producers but food producers. Producers also must understand that cattle by-products (non-edible products) have value and are potentially more valuable than the food that's produced.

    Beyond the well-acknowledged cattle by-products — such as fats, proteins and leather — lies an even greater potential for increased value at the farm level — the pharmaceutical industry. This includes products such as blood factors, chymotrypsin, cortisol, glucagon, heparin, insulin, pancreatin, thrombin, vasopressin and vitamin B12.

Currently, the companies that produce these products for the pharmaceutical industry have no contact with the source of cattle used. Instead, they deal with brokers who assure them of a high level of quality control. While this may be true when they control the product, brokers have no idea of the quality of the product they receive.

Packers, brokers and producers of the final products currently retain these profits. How can the producer recoup some of the value of the cattle used to produce such a highly valued final product?

By demonstrating a quality grade of cattle that meets or exceeds specifications of the highest order — that's how. For example, animals that contribute to a supply of blood products or substitutes should be free of infectious disease, as unstressed as possible and have been fed no meat and bone meal.

They should have had no contact with any cattle with transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, scrapie in sheep, or chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer and elk. The identity of the cattle must be maintained from conception through final processing. In addition, all products used in production and for treatment of animals should be recorded.

Cattle such as these could be considered pharmaceutical-grade cattle. Cattle produced in this manner and in large enough quantities could meet the demand and should be worth $5-$10/cwt. more than commodity-grade cattle. To achieve this level of quality, producers may need to adopt certain management practices that would help assure consumers of beef and beef by-products that beef industry practices reflect the high standards of quality they demand in other industries.

Standard Operating Procedures

Many industries including manufacturing and transportation have standard operating procedures (SOPs) in place to guide their businesses. SOPs at the farm level should begin with two requirements:

  • Provide farmers and ranchers with clear, concise procedures for eliminating and controlling disease risk factors on their operations.

  • The execution of those procedures should be clear to others.

    The development of SOPs begins with specific areas of risk and application. A quality control program utilizing the principles of hazard analysis of critical control points (HACCP) is a good model.

    Such a quality control program utilizing HACCP principles should include the following:

  • Identify the potential risks related to production — disease risks, public health concerns and quality, along with identification of critical control points (CCP) in production.

  • Determine the appropriate parameters for CCP and set the “normal/abnormal” values.

  • Monitor the CCP.

  • Establish corrective action when a parameter deviates from a normal limit.

  • Establish a record system that verifies the program and is simple to use.

As an example, let's look at the area of abortion diseases. Leptospirosis is a cause of abortions in domestic cattle. Therefore, determining the risk of contracting lepto in the herd could involve:

Step 1. Lepto is a zoonotic disease that can be carried by a number of wildlife, as well as domestic livestock. Some estimates put the prevalence of lepto at 65% in cattle.

Step 2. The appropriate parameter for this disease is 0% loss due to abortion. Determining carrier animals is difficult and likely doesn't show a cost benefit.

Step 3. To monitor the event, each abortion should be submitted for diagnosis. Since preventing exposure will be difficult due to the potential for wildlife contact, it's important to raise the level of resistance through immunization to protective levels.

Step 4. In most herd situations, this requires annual vaccination. In highly endemic areas or when abortions occur due to this organism, two or more vaccinations/year may be required.

Step 5. The last step is developing a system to record these events.

The Veterinarian's Role

The veterinarian's role in defining and writing SOPs in the production of quality beef cattle would include:

  • health of animals and public health,

  • environment and facilities,

  • nutrition and reproduction and

  • genetics.

Health of animals and public health are the areas that must be at the forefront of a veterinarian's total commitment to quality. The cornerstone is a biosecurity program.

Biosecurity is a program or plan designed to prevent introduction, increase disease resistance and minimize exposure to animal, zoonotic and foodborne pathogens. Three principles guide a biosecurity program.

  • Prevent the introduction of infected animals.

  • Raise the overall level of resistance and specific resistance to infectious disease.

  • Minimize herd exposure to infectious disease.

Preventing Introduction

Certain diseases must be kept from entering the herd. But because it's virtually impossible to keep all disease or pathogens from the production unit, a focus must be maintained on a few.

Several principles are involved in preventing introduction of infected animals.

  • Limit additions to the herd, or only purchase heifers from well-known sources. This also applies to bull purchases.

    Producers purchasing cattle from other sources need to have some information about the overall and specific disease incidence, as well as vaccination history. There needs to be a high level of trust between seller, buyer and their veterinarians.

  • If information is incomplete, test the cattle for certain diseases. According to survey data from the National Animal Health Monitoring Service (NAHMS), only 1% of cattle are tested for bovine viral diarrhea (BVD) and 0.2% are tested for Johne's.

Veterinarians must push harder for sound incoming animal testing protocols. Animals brought in without benefit of history should be quarantined for at least 30 days, tested and vaccinated. This is particularly true for Johne's, bovine leukosis virus and persistent BVD shedders.

Raise The Resistance Level

Raising the overall level of resistance combines proper genetic selection, proper nutrition and minimization of stress. Cow-calf producers need sound unbiased information regarding genetic selection.

Important genetic influences that affect cow costs and production include mature size, calving ease, mothering ability, teat and udder conformation, disposition, uniformity and fleshing ability. Factors that influence production are weaning weight, milk production, fertility, yearling and carcass weight and quality. Color is not indicative of either cost or production, though value at the feeder calf level is influenced by color.

The goal of any cow-calf operation should be to maintain a herd uniform in color and size, and as efficient and low-cost as the environmental conditions dictate. For many beef cowherds, this may mean a herd that is 50-100% of British breed in origin. For other operations, combinations of bos tarus and bos indicus breeds may be the most appropriate. The remainder will consist of one or more other breeds that fit the color, production and efficiency criteria.

Purebred cattle can be used in commercial operations if enough genetic diversity exists within the breed to provide some free heterosis. Once proper genetic selections have been put into effect, the nutritional issues can be addressed.

Cow-calf nutrition is challenging but not difficult. The major goal is minimizing feed costs while maintaining body condition adequate for reproduction and lactation at critical times of the year. To minimize stress, both on animal and man, perhaps we must challenge our traditional notions of a winter or early spring calving season.

Meanwhile, specific resistance is influenced by the choice of vaccinations, particularly lepto, campylobacter, infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR) and BVD. NAHMS data indicates that only 17-28.5% of cows are vaccinated on an annual basis for these pathogens.

The main economic loss due to lepto is abortions. Susceptible animals usually abort in the third trimester due to infection of the developing fetus.

Because lepto can be spread by other animal species, it can't be effectively prevented from entering the herd. Thus, lepto vaccines must be used at least annually. In areas where lepto is endemic, more frequent vaccination is necessary.

In closed herd operations, the risk of contracting campylobacter (campylobacter fetus spp. venerealis) is low. The disease is spread venereally by mating. The most common clinical effects of vibrio are a drop in pregnancy rate and a longer calving interval.

In a clean herd with no introductions of outside females or bulls, the risk is very minimal. But in most commercial operations today, this doesn't exist.

Most vaccines today incorporate the five most common serovars of lepto (canicola, grippotyphosa, hardjo, icterohaemorrhagiae, pomona) with campylobacter.

Today, annual vaccination against IBR and BVD is controversial. The greatest risk of IBR and BVD infections is economic loss associated with abortion, increased morbidity and mortality and for BVD persistently infected (PI) animals.

For years, it was assumed that protection with modified-live vaccines (MLV) was a lifetime effect. This is still open to debate, but the real issue is one of risk analysis and risk management. What's the risk of herd exposure to a field challenge of either IBR or BVD?

The risk exists in most commercial operations. Females are often purchased without benefit of testing or quarantine, while bulls are purchased without any knowledge of current herd disease status.

Even when vaccination programs are outlined in sale catalogs, most bull buyers don't seek veterinary advice regarding the program's quality. In the majority of purchases, this may appear to work quite well. But in a quality control system with responsibility for disease control, the veterinarian will likely seek to lower the risk of exposure and increase the specific immunity.

The risk of infection with any of the common pathogens is really not known. However, there is information as to the number of immune animals necessary to prevent spread of disease.

The spread of disease depends on the basic reproductive rate — Ro (how many new cases arise on average from one infectious animal) of an infectious disease agent. It's been estimated that the critical proportion of needed immune animals is expressed by this equation: critical proportion = 1 - 1/Ro.

For IBR using two different vaccines, it was estimated that Ro was 2.4 and 1.1. Therefore, the critical proportion would be 0.24 and 0.10, or 24% and 10% of the animals.

The higher the Ro the greater the number of animals that must be immune in order to prevent spread of the infectious agent. If Ro in a vaccinated population is larger than 1, then the vaccine cannot totally prevent the spread of infection and other biosecurity principles must be used. For BVD it has been estimated that, in a herd with exposure to PI animals, approximately 97% of the herd must be immunized (not the same as vaccination) to stop transmission of the virus and protect the herd.

As veterinarians, we must recommend that producers maintain a high level of herd immunity. Costs to the cowherd will be anywhere from $1.50-$3/cow/year. By maintaining an annual vaccination program consisting of lepto, vibrio, IBR and BVD, the number of immune animals is increased and the actual risk of infection with these agents and disease transfer is significantly reduced.

Assuming that one case of abortion disease costs $350, the equivalent of a cow's annual cow costs, then a 1% loss would cost $3.50/cow.

There are other causes of abortion in the cowherd, but they tend to be sporadic in nature and not highly contagious. Still, they can cause significant losses in individual herds.

Neospora caninum is an emerging abortion pathogen. Neospora is a coccidian protozoan originally found in dogs. The life cycle is not entirely known, but evidence exists that points to the dog as the definitive host. There seems to be evidence for congenital infection of the parasite and also epidemiological evidence of a higher abortion rate for previously infected cattle.

Feed and water should be protected from fecal contamination by dogs, cats and wildlife. When a proper vaccination protocol is in place for IBR, BVD, vibrio and lepto, and an infectious abortion storm is experienced, Neospora caninum must be high on the deferential list.

Minimize Herd Exposure

Infectious disease and pathogens of importance are salmonellosis, cryptosporidiosis, E.coli 0157:H7, IBR, BVD, campylobacter, brucellosis, tuberculosis and listeriosis. From a practical standpoint, animals and people will never be free from exposure to microorganisms, nor is it necessarily desirable.

Several actions are necessary to implement this objective:

  • All animals showing evidence of contagious disease should be isolated from other animals and a diagnosis of the cause pursued.

  • Minimize contamination of feed sources, water sources, bunks and equipment.

  • Require veterinarians, other professionals, truckers and visitors to bring clean boots, clothing and vehicles to the farm. This is important not only in terms of keeping infectious disease off the farm but also minimizing the spread of disease within the production unit and minimizing the spread of potential foodborne pathogens.

In cases of foodborne illness, it's important to remember that animals may be the pathogen source but not the cause. For such an illness to occur, pathogens must be present, replication of the agent must take place and improper handling and preparation is usually required for the agent to survive.

Pathogens may be introduced at any point in the system, at the farm or during slaughter, processing, packaging, distribution and preparation. Prevention programs should be in place at every step to reduce the risk to the end user. It's also important to keep in mind that zero risk is not possible.

Veterinarians have been involved in total quality management of food production operations for years. Veterinarians in the pork industry have learned the importance of biosecurity and exposure control.

But for many in the beef industry, written documentation of a plan or set of goals hasn't been a part of our service. Quality control (using HACCP principles) for the farm and ranch is coming, and we're the ones with the knowledge and access to implement the principles. Let's be ready.

G.L. Stokka, DVM, MS, is a former associate professor and Extension beef veterinarian at Kansas State University. He's currently a member of Pfizer Animal Health's technical staff and is headquartered in Cooperstown, ND.

Hot Topics in research

Cow/Calf

Safflower Supplementation

Linoleic and oleic fatty acids have been the focus of a great deal of research in ruminant nutrition for several years. Animal scientists from Wyoming, Montana and New Mexico continue this work by comparing the effects of safflower seed supplements with different fatty acid profiles.

They recently compared safflower seeds high in linoleic acid with safflower seeds high in oleic acid. They wanted to know how the different acids affected cow body weight change, body condition score and milk production. They also looked at the different acids' effects on calf weight gain, cow serum metabolites and metabolic hormones.

Angus-Gelbvieh cross cows fed safflower supplements were compared with controls fed a corn-soybean supplement. All cows had free access to native grass hay and trace-mineralized salt.

The researchers found the different fatty acid contents didn't influence post-calving reproductive performance. Body condition score and milk fat percentage, however, were influenced by the fatty acid profile of the supplement.

The selective use of high-linoleic safflower seeds may be useful to increase body condition score when pre-calving energy deficiencies are present or when poor body condition scores exist at calving. Researchers say, though, that in moderate-condition cows, supplementation with oilseeds was not accompanied by increased animal performance.

Journal of Animal Science 2002 80:2023-2030.

Test Improves Grub Monitoring

More targeted control of cattle warble grubs may soon benefit cow-calf and feedlot production, thanks to a new breakthrough diagnostic test.

Scientists at the Lethbridge Research Centre in Alberta, Canada, collaborated with Spanish scientists to develop a test that's 95% accurate in diagnosing active grubs. What's more, the test can be used on all age classes of animals. The previous test was inaccurate and only reliable on calves after their first pasture season, researchers say.

Extremely sensitive, the new test detects very small traces of a protein secreted by the parasite as it migrates through the animal.

Researchers explain that adult flies lay eggs on the legs and underside of cattle. When the eggs hatch, the tiny maggots burrow into the animal's skin and migrate through the animal's connective tissue by excreting enzymes that break down tissue for the developing maggot to ingest.

Feedlots typically treat cattle for grubs as part of broad-spectrum internal parasite treatments. Researchers say the new test not only can monitor treatment effectiveness but also prevent overuse of such products, thus preventing a resistance buildup.

For more information about the test, contact Doug Colwell at 403/317-2254.

Identifying Parasites

New serological and genetic tests may help researchers distinguish a host of insidious look-alike parasites, such as Toxoplasma gondii and Neospora caninum, which cause abortion and other health problems in livestock.

According to researchers at the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the ability to make such distinctions will help define the distribution of single-celled parasites in domestic animals, wild animals and people.

Millions of infectious-stage oocysts are excreted in the feces of infected animals on or near farmland. When the oocysts come in contact with feed, livestock can get infected.

But the two protozoans' oocyst stages are virtually indistinguishable, making sensitive tests necessary to diagnose or distinguish the infections from each other.

ARS scientists are working to discern how many cyst-forming parasitic species exist, how they're related to one another, and how to tell them apart. To do that, they look at variations in genes by genotyping strains of parasites taken from all classes of food animals.

A better understanding of the epidemiology of these parasites and assessing the risk are the ultimate goals of the research.

For more information, contact the ARS information staff at 301/504-1617.

Grazing Birdsfoot Trefoil

Animal scientists in Missouri investigated the performance of steers grazing rhizomatous birdsfoot trefoil (RBT) compared to nonrhizomatous birdsfoot trefoil (NRBT). The birdsfoot trefoil was seeded in pure stands and interseeded with endophyte-free tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea).

Researchers say beef producers could improve the performance of grazing steers by interseeding birdsfoot trefoil to tall fescue pastures. In addition, no nitrogen fertilizer would be needed for interseeded pastures compared to pure tall fescue pastures. Thus, the cost to produce beef would likely be lower for interseeded pastures.

Compared to NRBT, the ability of RBT to spread by rhizomes didn't lead to greater total forage production or livestock performance in this short-term study. Perhaps RTB will have improved persistence in the longer term, but at present it appears NRBT provides the same benefits.

Journal of Animal Science 2002 80:1970-1976.

Feeder

Improving BVD Vaccines

One particular strain of bovine viral diarrhea (BVD) virus, BVDV1b, has been found in cattle with shipping fever but isn't currently in most commercial vaccines. But researchers from Oklahoma State University (OSU) are working to remedy that.

In two studies observing calves from mixed sources for four to five weeks, BVDV infections occurred and often appeared to contribute to shipping fever, researchers say.

What's more, a recent study demonstrates antigenic differences between subtypes BVDV1a and BVDV1b. The former is in current modified-live and killed vaccines, but only one killed vaccine and no modified-live vaccines have BVDV1b.

Researchers say the ability of BVDV1a vaccines to protect against BVDV1b strains has not been demonstrated, and they plan to conduct additional studies in this area.

Ultimately, researchers hope to improve BVD vaccines so they provide cross protection to the diverse strains. They say BVDV1b strains eventually might be incorporated into the BVDV1a vaccines. Already, two U.S. veterinary biologics companies have asked the research group to prepare a budget for an improved vaccine.

For more information, contact OSU's Robert Fulton at 405/744-8170 or e-mail> [email protected].

Corn Flaking

The digestibility of starch from corn grain is limited by the protein matrix that encapsulates starch granules. It's also limited by the compact nature of the starch itself, say researchers from the University of California-El Centro.

Disruption of the protein matrix (by shear forces on hot grain during flaking) is the first limiting step toward optimizing starch digestion. Five critical production factors influence the quality of steam-flaked corn: steam chest temperature, steaming time, roll corrugation, roll gap and roll tension.

For optimal shear, it's important that rolls be hot and that kernels be hot when flaked. Steam chests should be designed to allow a steaming time of at least 30 minutes at maximum roller mill capacity producing a flake of 24 lb./bushel. As little as 5% moisture uptake during steaming appears adequate. The rate of flaking and distribution of kernels across the rolls also are critical.

Proper steam flaking will increase normal yellow corn's net energy for maintenance (NEm) and for gain (NEg) values by 15% and 18%, respectively. Current feeding standards underestimate the NEg value of steam-flaked corn by 3.8% and overestimate the NEg value of dry-rolled corn by 5.5%, researchers say.

The increase in digestibility depends on disruption of the protective protein matrix surrounding the starch granules, rather than simply increasing starch solubility. Flaking of corn increases extent of digestion of starch both in the rumen and in the small intestine; this can largely explain the increased net energy value of the grain.

The availability of starch can be estimated from various measures — flake density, flake thickness, starch solubility and nutrient release during incubation with amylase. But the adequacy of steam flaking can be predicted most reliably and directly by measuring the starch concentration of feces.

Journal of Animal Science 2002 80:1145-1156.

Carcass Quality

Testing for E. coli In Water

Detecting E. coli O157:H7 in water just got easier and faster, thanks to ARS researchers. Usually spread in contaminated food, E. coli is sometimes waterborne. Researchers have developed a rapid, easy-to-use test to detect and count E. coli O157:H7 bacteria in natural and constructed bodies of water.

The test uses magnetic beads coated with anti-E. coli monoclonal antibodies that bind to the bacteria. This makes it possible to count the bacteria.

Until now, testing methods were designed only to detect the bacteria, not to measure how many are present. The number of E. coli bacteria present is crucial information since the levels that cause infection can vary depending on a person's health status.

The new method also makes it possible to detect E. coli in water samples in a day or less, compared with traditional testing that took up to four days.

Investigations are under way to assure no other bacteria cross-react with the magnetic beads. However, if this test proves to be accurate and selective, it should allow for detection of E. coli in a variety of liquid samples, such as swimming pools and other recreational water.

For more details, contact the ARS information staff at 301/504-1617.

How much performance?

I'm a self-proclaimed performance fanatic, have been for years. But too much performance can be as bad as not enough.

In years past, we called it optimization. The concept never really caught on, but it seems like we're not happy unless we're changing something in cattle breeding. The theory holds that profitability results when a lot of traits are at middle-of-the-road levels, where they can co-exist.

Having been involved with a breed association's performance programs in the early days of genetic evaluation, I remember all to well the struggle to get cattlemen to use expected progeny differences (EPDs) in their breeding programs.

I worked with a breed that needed to improve growth performance and milk production, so I had worthwhile goals in mind. I recognized that EPDs were a breeding decision tool, but the only way I could get breeders excited about using EPDs was in their advertising and sale catalogs.

As breeders jumped on the EPD bandwagon, I soon recognized that what had been intended as a breeding tool had become a marketing tool. A potential monster lurked in cattle breeding.

At the same time, the show ring was fueling a horse race for frame score. A few practical cattlemen warned the industry that single-trait selection for frame was dangerous; I sensed that EPDs could force the same type of competitive race, a race for the numbers, and someday we'd face the consequences.

Cattle breeding is full of antagonisms. Stretch performance and biological type too far in one direction, and you'll surely pay for it somewhere else.

Selection for frame was a good idea carried to an extreme. Bigger framed cattle tend to be later in their compositional maturity pattern. In other words, they are not as fat at a given weight.

That's just what the industry needed to improve lean yield in cattle and get away from some of the dumpy, overly fat cattle of the past. We postulated that bigger framed cattle grew faster; a delayed maturity pattern resulted in faster gains, some university specialists said. We convinced ourselves muscle growth was more efficient than fat deposition. But as we selected for frame, we started to see birth weights and gestation length increase.

  • Mature cow size jumped, and so did maintenance requirements.

  • Pregnancy rates dropped. Bigger framed cattle also tended to have delayed physiological maturity. Scrotal circumference was a problem with many of the big breeds.

  • Heifers didn't cycle as early; two-year-olds were still growing and not rebreeding. We rewrote the book on nutrition for developing breeding heifers.

Many of the things performance cattlemen started to measure were merely patches for problems we shouldn't have had in the first place. We started measuring pelvic areas to eliminate calving problems and found that bigger pelvic openings were associated with more frame and birth weight.

Breeds developed EPDs for scrotal circumference, gestation length, heifer pregnancy, stayability; all patches for problems we hadn't had in the past. Big heavy milking cows always looked thin, so we developed body condition scores.

We increased production costs on the cow side; carcass weights have climbed steadily since 1975. We decreased carcass quality and, most importantly, lost consumer acceptance of the product. It cost this industry billions.

But we came to our senses and renewed our interest in British cattle, Angus in particular. The timing was right for the Angus breed; a look at their genetic trend lines for growth indicates that Angus breeders in the meantime had made improvement as a result of using EPDs. These improvements were truly needed for the Angus breed to successfully lead an industry turnaround.

We backed off the frame size of all breeds of cattle to the point that we can't even easily recognize some of the European breeds that led the performance race. We improved carcass quality and may be witnessing the first blip upward in consumer acceptance in a long time. We came back to the middle of the road and are finally satisfied. Right?

Not quite. My prediction about a numbers race with ill consequences may be surfacing in the Angus breed. More and more Angus bulls have yearling weight EPDs more than 100 lbs. as we push the genetic trend lines to new heights.

When you look at the across-breed EPD adjustment factors, those bulls would rank with the high-growth cattle we shunned a decade ago in favor of Angus. Meanwhile, I've heard more than one savvy commercial cattleman remark, “Fertility ain't what it used to be in Angus cattle.”

Ultrasound technology provides a snapshot of carcass traits in live breeding animals. At the recent National Western Stock Show, a friend talked about a yearling Angus bull that scanned an 18-in. ribeye. Big numbers impress people.

Folks I've talked to say we only need a 1½-in. bigger ribeye in a yearling bull than a finished steer. The big ribeye breeds all yielded their popularity to Angus because extremes in muscling carry some undesirable baggage in muscle quality and fertility problems.

Genetic evaluation and ultrasound technology have had a big impact in this industry. But merely quantifying an animal in several individual traits isn't going to be enough to keep us in business.

In the future, seedstock and commercial producers will benefit from more sophisticated data analysis, modeling and information feedback. We'll develop new tools to fine tune production and balance biology and economics in beef production. We'll be more focused on specific targets for the end-product. The growing influence of grids and alliances will force us in that direction.

A gap will appear and widen between seedstock producers who are just playing a numbers game and those who are truly data-driven cattle breeders.

Wayne Vanderwert, PhD, is a partner in H-Squared Genetics near Madison, MO. He consults for Chrono-Logic Systems Inc., a data management company. E-mail him at [email protected].

Tradition Teams With Technology

Want to see what the livestock market is doing on sale day in Philip, SD; Joplin, MO; or Beatrice, NE? Nowadays you can, simply by logging on to the Internet.

New Internet technology is making online broadcasts from the auction ring possible. As a result, producers, feeders and order buyers can view and bid on cattle in the sale ring almost simultaneously on the Internet — from any location.

Jerry Roseth, owner of the Philip (SD) Livestock Auction, began offering Internet broadcasts of his weekly cattle sales in mid-January.

“You always want to have as many bidders and buyers available,” Roseth says. “We got involved with this Internet service because this is an opportunity to expand the exposure of our sale offering.”

Roseth has teamed with Lincoln, NE-based DVAuction, a company that offers real-time video streaming and actual online bidding. DVAuction's Internet software allows cattle buyers to view video and listen to audio with a delay of one second or less. This real-time transmission allows Internet bidding to take place as the cattle are in the sale ring.

Roseth says it was that real-time capability that appealed to him. Other livestock auctions around the country are also turning to the technology to expand their base of potential buyers.

Joplin Regional Stockyards went online with DVAuction this spring. Like Roseth, Steve Owens, co-owner of the Joplin facility, sees this online service as a tool to get more exposure and more buyers for the nearly 400,000 head of cattle they sell annually.

“As a marketer, our job is to sell cattle at the highest market price possible. And the more buyers involved in the competitive bidding process, the more opportunity there is to do that,” Owens says.

The auction markets at Beatrice and McCook, NE, and Guymon, OK, currently offer real-time broadcasts through DVAuction as well, says Craig Blunck, president of the company. And, more than a half dozen additional barns — including Billings (MT) Livestock — are looking to sign on with DVAuction in the next few months, he reports.

With alliances, video/satellite marketing and closed-bid Internet sites offering stiff competition to auction barns for marketing calves, many speculate this new technology could be a key to survival for the next generation of auction barns.

Blunck points out that the continued success of feeder cattle auctions via satellite transmission shows the willingness of feeder cattle buyers to purchase livestock online. “In our case, buyers will be purchasing cattle for immediate sale and delivery just as if they were attending an auction in person,” he says.

“We came into business because a lot of folks were putting up Internet sites to sell cattle that were closed-bid style,” says John Shepard, DVAuction's vice president of information systems. “That was taking market share from auction barns. We believe these online video broadcasts allow livestock auctions to stay in the game and expand for the future,” he says.

Simple And Convenient

Gary Jessen of Jessen Feedlots at Bloomfield, NE, and Marvin Koehler, an order buyer from Osmond, NE, bought cattle through DVAuction's site. Both are pleased with the system's ease and the cattle they purchased.

“You can walk in the office, turn on the computer and buy cattle. It's that simple,” Jessen says. He's bought nearly 1,500 head through the online sales.

“You can see the cattle very well on the Internet. And if anything, I think the cattle are actually greener once they arrive than they appear on screen,” he adds.

Neither Jessen nor Koehler had bought anything over the Internet prior to using DVAuction. Now it's a regular part of their cattle buying routine.

“I wouldn't have had the opportunity to buy a lot of these cattle just because I wouldn't have had time to get to the sale,” says Jessen, who watches at least one online sale per week. “I'm looking forward to DVAuction getting a lot more barns from around the country on the Internet. This will increase the availability of cattle to suit my needs.”

Koehler agrees. “This system is convenient, and it broadens the area we can buy cattle from. In the future, I think it's going to be part of everyone's business.”

Lots Of Window Shoppers

For now, Jessen and Koehler are in the minority. At Philip, Roseth reports there's been a lot of interest from online lookers, but it took a month of offering the broadcasts before his barn had its first actual sale of cattle over the Internet.

“Right now, we have a lot of buyers looking and investigating,” Shepard says of the video broadcasts. “Because it's new, people are cautious.”

However, interest continues to mount, and Roseth is enthusiastic: “It's going to take some time for people to get used to buying cattle this way. But already we've had some new buyers pre-register, so we know we're getting additional exposure.”

Roseth realizes that for some buyers there's no replacement for seeing the cattle in person. But he does see a niche: “We have a lot of feeders who buy the same calves every year because they know and like the history of them. Those are the people this will appeal to.

“As the younger generation of order buyers comes in, I see this method of buying gaining popularity because they are comfortable with the Internet and e-commerce,” Roseth adds.

He also anticipates those feeders who don't have time to travel or who want to reduce travel expenses purchasing more cattle online. He sees future opportunities to offer video broadcasts of bull and horse sales as well.

And, even if producers or order buyers don't want to buy cattle this way, online broadcasts are still beneficial for the price discovery information they provide, according to all those involved.

Kindra Gordon is a freelance writer based in Spearfish, SD.

How Online Telecasts Work

At the auction barn, a video camera displays the cattle entering the ring. A second camera records the head count and weights from the weight board. This live video and the audio of the auctioneer are then broadcast simultaneously on the Internet through a high-speed or wireless Internet line.

During this process, a computer operator at the barn can type additional messages, like breed and health history on the calves, to the online buyers as the cattle are in the ring.

To view a specific sale online, it's recommended that buyers have access to a wireless or high-speed Internet connection. Before bidding, they're required to register at the DVAuction Web site (www.dvauctionline.com) and receive pre-approval from the auction barn. Registration provides buyers with a username and password that gives them access to a bidding console. The computer operator at the sale can then accept bids from the registered online buyers.

While the mechanics of the system might sound complex, those who have bid and bought online say the process is relatively simple for buyers.

Technology's Price Tag

While online buying offers a broader audience to sellers and convenience to buyers, it comes with a price.

Hardware and software costs for auction markets installing the DVAuction system are about $30,000 — including broadcasting equipment, computers, software, installation, training and an equipment warranty.

For online buyers, DVAuction charges $1.50/head to purchase cattle from any of the participating livestock auction markets. (There's no cost to the auction market.) The buying fee is added to the total purchase price of the cattle. The buyer submits payment to the livestock auction market, and it reimburses DVAuction for the fees.

Another Online Option

In addition to DVAuction, Livestock R Us is another Internet start-up company working with auction barns to offer video viewing of livestock sales. The Mobridge, SD-based business was initiated in August 2001 by Jesse Hubner and Eric Ulmer.

Livestock R Us differs from DVAuction in that it has about a 20-second delay in the video picture, and it does not currently allow for actual online bidding. But Hubner says it still serves the same purpose of allowing potential buyers and sellers the opportunity to see what is being offered at the sale and then phone in to place a bid with an order buyer.

They say utilizing an on-site buyer to do the actual bidding means less for bidders in the quality and kind of cattle they purchase. Their system is also less expensive for the sale barn to install and maintain, they add.

Herreid, Fort Pierre, Mobridge, Gettysburg and McLaughlin are South Dakota auction barns that have teamed up with the Livestock R Us service. The livestock auction at Manchester, IA, also utilizes the service, and additional barns in the region are in the process of adding the service, too, the company reports. Viewers just simply log on to www.livestockrus.com to view a sale.

Fort Pierre's Dennis Hanson was the first livestock auction to sign up with Livestock R Us and has been pleased with the response to the video broadcast.

“It gives producers and buyers an idea of what's going on at the sale and what's happening with the market,” he says.

Although buyers can't bid online, Hanson says it offers the opportunity for interested buyers to phone in to an order buyer with bids.

“This is more of a tool to let people know what's happening at the market. I believe the vast majority of buyers still want to be there,” Hanson says.

Hubner and Ulmer agree. “The purchase of tens of thousands of dollars of cattle over a computer screen is something we feel will never become a substitute for being there. That is why we feel our simple yet effective format covers all the bases,” they say.

In addition to their video broadcasts, Livestock R Us offers services for producers to list everything from seedstock to bison, horses and livestock equipment on their site. They also have the ability to upload sale catalogs and supplement sheets to the Web.

Hubner describes it as a one-stop shopping site where “livestock people can find everything they need.”

The ID Puzzle

Don't expect the government to strong-arm the beef cattle industry into accepting a mandatory national identification (ID) system. But count on USDA to continue encouraging the industry to partner with it in designing and implementing a standardized program within two years.

“Do you want me to follow the disease or get ahead of it?” USDA's John Clifford recently asked the international, multi-species representatives gathered for the National Food Animal Identification Symposium. “If you want me to get ahead of it, then I need real-time data,” he says.

Currently, the U.S. has no national cattle ID program. The closest thing to it would be a de facto program such as the brucellosis eradication program that is coming to a close, Clifford says.

But he adds, “If we have an outbreak of a disease like foot-and-mouth, I can't guarantee that I can trace it, or if I can, how quickly. We need real-time traceability, or we (the U.S.) will continue to be vulnerable and at risk.”

An outbreak of a virulent, market-smashing disease like foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is what's often talked about, says Gary Wilson, chairman of the Animal Health Committee for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA). But when it comes to beef cattle, Wilson says that over the long-haul at least, it's really the breeding herd that's at highest risk and in most need of ID.

Moreover, Wilson and others emphasize that ID does nothing to prevent disease. It just allows timely, effective disease surveillance and herd health monitoring that could help mitigate the consequences of a catastrophic outbreak of a foreign animal disease. It also could pull up the slack for re-emerging domestic diseases such as bovine tuberculosis.

NCBA drew a new line in the sand of regulatory acceptance this year when members separated the ID needs of animal health monitoring from those associated with production management. NCBA voted to accept mandatory ID for health monitoring purposes but stood pat on its conviction that any ID system incorporating production information should be market-driven and voluntary.

All told, both urgency and casual consensus appear to be running higher than ever before across livestock species and between government, producer groups and private industry. Few disagree there's an immediate need for a standardized national ID system, at least for the purposes of disease surveillance and herd health monitoring. And also to stem the growing number of traceback-based trade barriers other countries continue to mount against U.S. meat exports. Most involved say they and their respective producers are willing to accept a mandatory system if that's what it takes for this purpose.

In fact, frustration is increasing among some producers who can't understand why getting a system in place is taking so long.

What kind of system and whether such a system should be voluntary or mandatory continue to be among the most vexing questions. Plus, the ID debate so far has been a classic example of plenty of Indians but too few chiefs. No single entity has ever really been in charge of coming up with a game plan and building consensus across diverse species and their producers.

Bull By The Horns

In essence, that's the evolutionary role that the National Food Animal Identification Task Force finds itself in. Established by the National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA), the task force includes representatives from all the key players that need to agree.

Through working groups representing each species, key producer groups, private industry and government — along with public input — this task force is drafting recommendations for a national system that will be submitted to the U.S. Animal Health Association (USAHA) in October. USAHA advises USDA in matters pertaining to livestock health and disease.

If USAHA accepts the recommendations, the task force hopes USDA will adopt a national plan by the end of 2002 and implement it within two years.

Possible Recommendations For The Plan:

  • Species-specific premise and/or individual animal ID with a standardized numbering system that enables trace-back to animals within 48 hours; market driven, but mandatory if need be.

  • A secure central database, or multiple ones networked together, housing basic animal ID, origin and movement information, accessible by government for the purpose of health monitoring and disease surveillance, but inaccessible for other purposes.

  • Government endorsement that would make for a system recognized as valid by international trading partners.

  • Producer-friendly in terms of use and compliance, and paid for by those who derive benefit (likely a combination of public funds and producer fees).

BEEF Taste Test

When you think “rice,” you think, Uncle Ben's, says Uncle Ben's promotional literature. But as the Houston, TX-based firm's Web site points out, Uncle Ben's has not only moved well beyond just rice but taken a giant's leap into the convenience category as well.

Uncle Ben's has added noodles, breakfast offerings, chili dishes, pasta, puddings and even a natural rice category to its offerings. Basically, they've developed a menu that includes breakfast, lunch and dinner offerings, and snack time, too. What's more, most of these are packaged in extremely convenient, microwave-and-serve, individual serving bowls.

This month, the BEEF Taste Test panel put one of the two beef dishes — Orange Glazed Beef — in Uncle Ben's four-offering line of Noodle Bowls to the test. The frozen, 12-oz., single-serving dish garnered an overall score of 8.7 (on a 10-point scale), which ranks it among the top third of all products we've critiqued thus far in our series.

The offering consists of noodles with orange sesame sauce, vegetables and beef strips. The 98% fat-free dish is available nationwide, needs only six minutes of microwave time and sells for around $3.45.

The product's highest scores came in the convenience category where the panel, made up of BEEF editorial staff and staff from the Minnesota Beef Council, rated it a 4.8 (on a 5-point scale) in ease of preparation, a 4.6 in preparation time and a 4.5 in serving size.

“This is easy, quick and tasty,” said one panelist. Another added: “I really liked it because there are no dishes to worry about. It's perfect for bringing to work for a quick lunch.”

Overall, panelists felt Uncle Ben's really delivered in the convenience area. The only negatives expressed by panelists were that most felt there wasn't enough beef in the package and that the serving size might be too much for some individuals. A pair of panelists found the flavor “too bland,” though the packaging did carry a “mild” label on the front.

On the whole, if this product is representative of its other offerings, Uncle Ben's has the formula for convenience, taste and value in this genre of product. For more on Uncle Ben's, check out the Web site at www.unclebens.com.

A more perfect disunion

America's Civil War was fought to preserve the Union almost 150 years ago, but sensitivities still linger between the adversaries. That same condition will probably exist regarding the beef checkoff no matter how the courts decide its constitutionality in the coming months.

So rather than put up with this bickering into infinity, here's my solution. Why not just divide the industry into two camps and let each go their own way? Forget unification. Let's create a more perfect “disunion.”

This is how it would work. Checkoff proponents would swear allegiance to a mandatory checkoff. We'll call these guys the “progressives.”

The progressives would pledge to pay the checkoff, commit to actually being knowledgeable about it and take an active part in the program. They'd also promise to work through the system if they didn't like decisions made by the producers named to represent them.

Any producer who couldn't commit to these baseline requirements could join the ranks of the non-checkoff payers — the “regressives.” These folks wouldn't have to contribute a dime and could rest assured that no one would bother them again about not paying their “fair share.”

The progressives would be the most populous group, probably numbering about two-thirds of U.S. beef producers. That's the percentage of U.S. beef producers that annual surveys indicate support the mandatory beef checkoff.

Meanwhile, I suspect the regressives would comprise less than 10% of total U.S. beef producers. I get this figure from the fact that the Livestock Marketing Association couldn't muster the required valid signatures of 10% of U.S. beef producers to call for a referendum on the checkoff last year.

The remaining 20% or so would consist of those steel-crotched folks riding the fence. Under my plan, they'd have to decide to be either a progressive or a regressive. There's no fence sitting in this perfect disunion.

Everyone in this disunion would still be independent. And they'd have the option of entering into any kind of marketing and business agreement they choose. In this exercise, each producer — progressive or regressive — picks his or her own path, but there are no checkoff freeloaders. You get what you pay for.

Progressives would pledge to work in a coordinated production system designed to produce cattle with performance and end-product quality in mind. Their cattle would be individually identified and source verified.

Progressive cattle would be raised with set health and management protocols designed to foster efficiency and optimum performance. They would be sold as individuals on a quality basis for use in both foreign and domestic value-based markets developed by checkoff-funded research and promotion programs.

The progressives' aim would be to collaborate within and among segments to deliver products that meet consumer desires for tenderness, flavor and convenience. All information and profits would be shared throughout the chain.

Meanwhile, the regressives would sell into a commodity market. Since they don't contribute to product promotion and research, the regressives would be prevented from participating in any quality-based markets developed via checkoff dollars. They also wouldn't have rights or access to any of the production, marketing, promotion or research and development breakthroughs generated by the progressives' checkoff expenditures.

Regressives would simply take the price offered by any buyer willing to assume the risk of their undocumented cattle. Producing beef the cheapest is the only criterion for success.

It's likely that the ranks of regressives would dwindle each year as high-cost producers are run out of business. As numbers shrink, the regressives' existence increasingly would be dictated by what they can beg off the government. Eventually, that would disappear, too, as legislators and taxpayers noticed the viable, stand-alone industry and market-place that the progressives had built.

Eventually, regressives would become like harness makers are today. And once they're gone, our perfect disunion would become a perfect union.

Best of all, everyone involved picked their own path and was responsible for their own fate. No freeloading.

Does she stay or does she go?

Fall is generally the time we perform the “yearly physical exam” on our beef cows. Most cows in the U.S. calve in the spring and their calves are weaned in the fall. This is the time of year we ask ourselves, “Does she stay, or does she go?”

While some cows fall into culling's gray zones, others are considered absolute culls. These include:

  • Cows with very poor disposition

  • Open cows more than 8 years old

  • Open heifers

  • Cows with cancer eye

  • Cows with physical defects

Culling cows with extremely poor disposition is really a “no-brainer.” We just can't risk having aggressive cows.

Points To Ponder

  • The early fall of 2002 should provide adequate prices for cull cows, and all open cows should be marketed. It appears we're at or very near the top of the cattle cycle, and keeping an open cow through the winter of 2002-2003 looks to be a very poor business decision. Open yearling heifers should be placed on a finishing ration and fed for finished beef.

  • Most cows with cancer eye need to be surgically treated and then marketed as soon as they are healed. These lesions can metastasize to other parts of the body. Lesions on the eyelids are most likely to spread while lesions on the cornea (clear part of eyeball) are the least likely to spread. Consult your herd health veterinarian on treatment and marketing options for cows with cancer eye.

  • Cows with physical defects (stifled, severe injury, very poor udder, etc.) should be marketed for obvious reasons.

Records Are Important

Having good financial and production records programs allows further culling of cows that aren't profitable to the operation. Often, after the cows on our absolute cull list (disposition, opens, cancer eyes, physical defects) are sold, we've culled so many that we're forced to keep all the remaining bred cows so we will have enough cows and calves for the following year. This allows us little opportunity to improve the herd.

Table 1. When to sell cull cows
Calving season March 10-May 15
Breeding season June 1-Aug. 5
Palpate cows Sept. 15-Oct. 1
Sell cull cows Sept. 15-Oct. 1

Real progress in a herd is possible when the unit cost of production (UCOP) per cwt. of calf is known. This information allows us to cull cows that are not profitable to the herd.

For more information on UCOP, see Harlan Hughes' “Market Advisor” columns in the March 2001, May 2001 and May 2002 issues of BEEF. You can also find these stories in BEEF's online archives at www.beef-mag.com.

Since we're near the cattle cycle high (some analysts, in fact, now say last year was the high for this cycle), most cows that are bred for 2003 have a high probability of being profitable. If we follow a typical cattle cycle, this won't be the case in five to six years. Keep your eye on the cycle because price movement may change due to drought-related liquidation and fluctuating beef demand.

This year's goal should be to add financial and production records to your beef business to assist in planning for market changes. Contact your herd health veterinarian, Extension specialist or state cattlemen's association for details.

The timing in selling market cows can make a large difference on overall profitability to your herd. There's a fairly typical pattern to the seasonality of cull cow prices. Our recommendation is to avoid selling cull cows in the months of October, November and December (Figure 1).

The price of cull cows tends to fall sharply from September to October, and then it falls further in November. While the December price tends to rebound somewhat, it is still generally lower than the price three months earlier. If you pregnancy-check cows early, you can market cows in average or better condition in September before the price slide occurs.

If you have cows in thin condition and an abundance of cheap winter feed (cornstalks, stockpiled grass, very low-cost hay), your best option is to winter those cows on the low-cost feed and then feed a high-grain ration for 50-60 days starting about Jan. 1. This allows you to market cull cows at the seasonal high that generally occurs in March (Figure 1).

Cull cows can account for 15-25% of annual returns to a cow-calf operation. Planning ahead and marketing cows instead of just selling cows can improve overall herd profitability.

Mike Apley, DVM, PhD, is an associate professor of beef production medicine at Iowa State University in Ames. W. Mark Hilton, DVM, is a clinical assistant professor of beef production medicine at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN.