Graziers to gather in St. Louis

Nearly 2,000 attendees are expected for the 3rd National Conference on Grazing Lands, Dec. 10-13 in St. Louis, MO. Hosted by the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (GLCI), it's a forum for info exchange, and an opportunity to identify grazing land research and program needs, and learn about new products and services. Offered will be presentations about grazing management from farmers, ranchers and university and agency experts. Technical assistance will be emphasized. To learn more, visit, and click on “grazing conference.”

Drought Strategies

After conducting considerable simulation work on the economic impact of alternative drought-management strategies for the 2006 drought, coupled with the 2002 drought, economist Harlan Hughes' has developed some conclusions that may surprise ranchers. The North Dakota State University professor emeritus and author of BEEF magazine's monthly “Market Advisor” column, says his simulation work suggests the drought-management strategy a rancher selects is “all-critical.”

He recommends ranchers separate “de-stocking” decisions from “depopulating” decisions. The first concerns removing cows from the grasslands; the second, removing cows from ranch ownership.

De-stocking is a production decision, he says, while depopulating is an economic decision. These are two distinct management decisions, each with its own management decision variables.

Associated with a drought are three added economic costs that can be broken down into visible and invisible drought costs, Hughes says. First, selling the breeding females at fire-sale prices. This is the visible drought cost. Meanwhile, another visible cost is buying back or raising added replacements after the drought.

Having fewer calves to sell in the years following depopulation is an invisible cost — sometimes a huge cost. In many cases, the invisible costs exceed the visible costs.

Second, Hughes suggests that optimal drought strategies vary with stage of the cattle cycle. When calf prices are high, several drought strategies are possible. When calf prices are low, about the only strategy available is to sell cows.

The 2002 drought was characterized by low calf prices and fire-sale prices for bred cows, followed by high replacement prices after the drought. Meanwhile, in the current drought, we have high calf prices, projected higher fire-sale prices for bred cows, and projected lower replacement prices after the drought.

Thus, the optimal drought strategy for 2006 probably isn't the same as the optimal drought strategy for 2002. Be careful using your 2002 experience in formulating your 2006 drought strategy, Hughes says.

“I'm simulating two different drought strategies — selling off 30% of the females to reduce grass demand, and buying feed and keeping the original cow herd in place. I'm currently looking at the compounding economic impact of the 2002 drought, and now a 2006 drought, projected over the total decade for the years 2000-2009,” Hughes says. “As a general comment, the droughts of 2002 and 2006 are projected to reduce the 10-year total net-cash flow on my case ranch by 43%!”

His simulations suggest buying feed and keeping the cow herd in place in the 2002 drought in order to continue selling full production of calves produced during the high-priced phase of the cattle cycle reduces the dollar impact of the drought substantially over the more traditional drought strategy of de-populating some of the herd in 2002. It is the record calf prices in 2003, 2004 and 2005 that made this difference.

His simulations also suggest, given the high firesale prices of breeding females, at least so far into 2006, that it makes more economic sense to de-populate the beef cow herd in the 2006 drought and re-populate the herd in 2-4 years when bred females are projected to be lower priced. This is just the opposite strategy as suggested for the 2002 drought.

Hughes says his work suggests the drought management strategy you pick is all-critical!

Editor's note: Hughes is offering a new CD, entitled, “The Economics Of Drought Management Strategies.” To order, send $25 to Harlan Hughes, 30 Ramble A Road, Laramie, WY. 82070.

Harvest concerns for drought-damaged crops

Drought is taking a toll on crops, writes Terry Mader, University of Nebraska animal science professor, at With little rain and depleted subsoil moisture in some areas, he says crops may not survive the growing season for fall harvest.

“In the present immature stage of growth, green chopping, haying, or grazing are options to consider for corn, sorghum hybrids and soybeans,” Mader writes. “If silage is to be made, some fields could be ready by mid-August or earlier, after that the plant may become too dry for good fermentation to occur. Optimum plant moisture for silage is 65%.”

Drought-damaged crops can be harvested as hay. With coarse-stalked crops, adequate drying time is needed. Plants will dry more quickly if crimped as they're cut. Since the stalks are coarse and leaves dry, corn plants in particular can be baled in round bales at around 20% moisture.

If tonnage is too low to mechanically harvest, drought-damaged crops can be grazed, he points out, but nitrate toxicity is a concern with corn and sorghum plants. Immature, drought-damaged plants are likely to be highest in nitrate content. If nitrates are a concern, cattle should be removed from the field before they graze the lower portion of the stalk, where nitrate concentration tends to be heaviest.

Many cattlemen feed drought-stricken crops as green chop. If the damaged crop is prone to being high in nitrates, take precautions to reduce the risk of livestock losses. A nitrate analysis is recommended. An analysis on the lower third of the plant prior to harvesting is a good indication of what the highest levels of nitrates may be.

If a nitrate analysis isn't conducted on the silage or green chop, Mader advises feeding it to a few animals for a couple of days while observing for toxicity problems, before offering it to the whole herd.

“Turning a few tester animals in first to screen for nitrates is a good idea if you're going to graze a drought-stricken field,” he says.

Don't hold green-chopped corn or sorghum overnight, or let it heat or spoil. A delay in chopped forage will increase the conversion of nitrates to nitrites by bacterial action and increase toxicity several-fold. Chop and feed on a daily basis using a relatively coarse cut, and don't feed more than the cattle will eat in a few hours.

If green chop isn't needed immediately, it can be ensiled, as silage often loses a third to half its nitrate content once fermentation is complete. Of the harvesting alternatives available for immature drought-stricken crops, ensiling is preferred, Mader says.

He cautions producers to, before beginning any harvesting, check into any crop-insurance provisions that may apply. More info on nitrates and prussic acid may be obtained from your local Extension office.

Editor's note: Learn more about drought management at Click on “Drought Management” from the list on the opening page.

A step-up program for early weaning

How do you get very young, early-weaned calves to eat when it's brutally hot outside? K.C. Olson, Kansas State University associate professor of cow-calf nutrition and management, offers this advice.

He says his “step-up program” has produced outstanding results with eight different sets of calves over the last several years. Details of the diet change from year to year but the principles of managing water and feed intake basically have stayed the same.

Olson likes to provide water in large (more than 300-gal.), open-top tanks. Position the tanks perpendicular to the fence line so calves will encounter them as they circle the pen. One larger tank can be split between two adjacent pens. He cleans the tanks every 2-3 days.

“Producers shouldn't expect newly-weaned calves — especially early-weaned calves — to be able to drink adequate water from a watering device they have no experience using,” Olson says.

Olson's suggested step-up weaning feed program is based on tight control of intake. Its goal is to have early-weaned calves consuming about 1.7% of their body weight (DM basis) of a 65-85% concentrate ration seven days from the time they're weaned. In recent studies, he used a sorghum grain-based ration to feed early-weaned calves. Other rations with similar characteristics would work about as well, he says.

For a basic concentrate ration he uses:

  • 50% rolled sorghum grain.
  • 25% corn gluten feed (loose).
  • 15% chopped hay (3-in. particle size).
  • 10% whole raw soybeans.
  • A “custom” supplement containing minerals, vitamins and ionophores.

“Our hay is good-quality, 10-12% crude-protein prairie hay chopped in a standard round-bale processor,” Olson explains. “Our calves are 130 days old and weigh just over 300 lbs. when weaned.”

Feed is offered once/day at 5 a.m. His suggestions, on page 32, are on an “as-fed” basis.

K.C. Olson's seven-day step up plan:

Day 1: Wean early in the morning and expose calves to feed that afternoon. Offer each calf 1.5 lbs. of concentrate, 0.3 lbs. of custom supplement and 1.5 lbs. more chopped hay. The concentrate goes into the bunk first, the supplement second, and the extra hay on top. After 23 hours, sweep the bunks clean — discarding any remaining feed.

Day 2: Offer 3 lbs./head concentrate, 0.3 lbs. of custom supplement and 3 lbs. more chopped hay. The feeds are placed in the bunk as they were on Day 1. Sweep bunks after 23 hours.

Day 3: Offer 3.5 lbs./head concentrate, 0.3 lbs. of custom supplement and 2.5 lbs. more chopped hay. The feeds are placed in the bunk as they were on day one. Sweep bunks after 23 hours.

Day 4: Offer 4 lbs./head concentrate, 0.3 lbs. of custom supplement and 2 lbs. more chopped hay. The extra hay goes into the bunk first, the concentrate second and the supplement on top. Sweep bunks after 23 hours.

Day 5: Offer 4.5 lbs./head concentrate, 0.3 lbs of custom supplement and 1.5 lbs more chopped hay. The feeds are placed in the bunk as they were on Day 4. Sweep bunks after 23 hours.

Day 6: Offer 5 lbs./head concentrate, 0.3 lbs. of custom supplement, and 1 lb. more chopped hay. The feeds are placed in the bunk as they were on Day 4. Sweep bunks after 23 hours.

Day 7: Offered 6 lbs./head concentrate and 0.3 lbs. of custom supplement. Each day thereafter, read bunks at 6 p.m. and 4 a.m. When feed is consumed by 6 p.m., an additional ¼ to Ω lb. of concentrate is added to the next day's feeding. Sweep bunks as needed to keep fines to a minimum.
Clint Peck

Drought and infertility

Infertility needs to be steered out of beef-cattle management systems, says Kris Ringwall, North Dakota State University Extension beef specialist. During a drought is a good time to make those hard decisions.

Bulls incapable of settling cows are useless and, with the current feed shortage, compromise the system. Open and late-calving cows impact the bottom-line the same as infertile bulls, he says.

Early detection of open or later-calving cows can be a potential group of cattle to cull. Ringwall says Cow Herd Appraisal Performance System (CHAPS) benchmarks indicate 6.6% of the cow herd is typically open in any given year, and 5.4% of the cows typically calve very late (defined as 63 days after the start of the calving season).

Another 8.2% of cows typically calve between Days 42 and 63 of the calving season. This group of cows is another potential group for culling.

Heifers are another area to review, Ringwall says. CHAPS data indicate only 71% calve within 21 days and 85% calve within 42 days of the start of calving. This could be an area to review.

“The bottom line is simple. Call your veterinarian and get that ultrasound date booked so you have an idea of your calving spread, and can cull as feed supplies and performance dictate,” he says.

Stocker management program feeding could provide drought strategy

Though still a novel concept to most cow-calf producers, a growing number of stocker operators are utilizing program feeding to work their way around a lack of forage, and to improve the predictability of cattle performance.

In fact, barring lots of late-summer and early-fall rains, Dave Lalman, Oklahoma State University (OSU) Extension beef cattle specialist, sees program feeding as the primary opportunity for stocker operators in his neck of the woods.

“It's serious and getting more serious every day,” Lalman says of his area's environmental conditions. “If an operator has the facilities, skill and ambition, it's another year — like 1998 — when feeding with corn and a supplement, or with corn and commodities, can achieve a respectable cost of gain.”

In fact, at current prices, Lalman says, “We can develop a program ration for $110 to $120/ton, another $10/ton if you have someone else do the blending. That's 6¢/lb. for feed with conversions of 5:1 to 6:1.”

For producers with little or no program-feeding experience, Lalman advises, “You have to go into it with the right mindset and understand the principle behind it. You're feeding a high-energy ration but only about two-thirds to three-quarters of what the cattle would eat ad libidum… It won't work on pasture because you have to control what the cattle consume.

“Program feeding is all about you deciding what you want the cattle to consume and to gain…You can't be sloppy. You have to feed every day at about the same time, and have the capacity to feed the right amount; you can't guess at it,” he adds.

You can find a complete description of the practice, as well as sample rations, in the OSU Extension fact sheet CR-3025 at
Wes Ishmael

Editorial was nave, misleading

The June “Editor's Roundup” on private testing offers some conclusions that are somewhat naïve and overly misleading.

Your point that “USDA turned down Creekstone's testing request, claiming only it has the legal authority to control and use BSE testing kits” leaves the impression that if the USDA wasn't so recalcitrant, all one would have to do is to go out and buy a “BSE testing kit” and be all set up to do private testing. The detection methods used by USDA and the other very few authorized state and private labs have all been duly validated in accordance with the regulations by both USDA and FDA. These methods, however, are highly complex and can be expected to be reliable within the limitations of each test only in the hands of highly skilled technicians specifically trained in performing these methods.

Moreover, USDA has sole statutory authority to perform, or authorize to have performed, the needed screening and confirmatory (the “gold standard”) methods used on suspect samples.

If as you state, “Creekstone, which has always pronounced all U.S. beef as safe, responded by filing a civil suit,” has such exacting certitude on their cattle's health, why are they proposing to test all their cattle? Haven't they heard of Murphy's Law?

In my view, Creekstone is doing nothing more through its proposed testing plan than casting unnecessary aspersions on the safety of the U.S. beef supply. It involves much, much more than “free-market entrepreneurship” and “simple product differentiation,” as you describe it.

For the sake of conjecture, let's say, if Creekstone were allowed to perform this testing in its own lab or one they contracted with, there comes a test result that's either suspect or downright positive. Now, what does the technician do? If so inclined, he could “bury” it in that vast wasteland of equivocal “insignificant” test findings.

Or, more properly and legally, he absolutely must tell his boss who must report the results as a reportable disease to the state and federal authorities, even though in all likelihood, because of the extremely low incidence of BSE in this country, the sample is probably no more than a false positive. Thus, Creekstone gains publicity, all of it unwanted — Murphy's Law, again!

If this scenario were to unfold, it wouldn't be a problem only for Creekstone.

In situations when the need for BSE detection or any other important communicable disease may arise, testing and other decisions necessary to protect the public health are best left to the federal and state authorities and the scientific community, not to “free entrepreneurship.”
Marvin O. Maul, DVM
Colorado Springs, CO

The Color Of Grass

When New Mexico State University beef cattle specialist Clay Mathis looks at fall cow nutrition, he begins by asking the rancher a simple question. “Is there enough forage out there for her to eat all she can?”

If the answer is “no,” the alternatives are obvious — wean calves early and reduce cow numbers, or find a way to increase the amount of available forage.

If the answer is “yes,” or once the manager finds a way to balance available forage with animal numbers, Mathis asks what might seem like a strange follow-up: “What color is the forage — green or brown?” It's an astute question because as pastures and native ranges turn from green to brown, the nutritional value of standing and stockpiled forage supplies takes on a whole new meaning.

An immediate next question is, “Are the cows in adequate body condition?” This is critical, especially as producers look at grazing prospects, and the degree of supplementation, to make the best use of available pasture and range forages as the cattle head into winter.

“Most ranchers know intuitively how far available forages will last given the degree of grazing pressure on them,” Mathis says.

But it's not always as easy to size up the nutritive value of the forages available after drought. In fact, in times of drought, the forage that does grow can offer slightly better quality than when more normal growth occurs.

“We've certainly seen this when we've looked at the mineral content of forages following a droughty summer in New Mexico,” he says. “Often, in the Southwest, on ranches that do a really good job of balancing forage supply with the needs of the cow herd, producers report heavier weaning weights following a droughty summer, and they attribute the extra pounds to ‘stronger’ forage quality.”

Nevertheless, Mathis says when the grass is brown you're probably going to be short on protein. “The rule of thumb is: brown grass is probably less than about 7% protein,” he says.

Intake/digestibility issues

When crude protein (CP) in forage falls below about 7%, intake declines rapidly as a result of a deficiency of nitrogen (protein) in the rumen, which limits microbial activity. Thus, even with enough forage for a cow to consume a full feed, there's probably not enough protein available for body condition maintenance at any point in time.

“Lower-quality forage remains in the rumen longer before exiting and is less digestible,” Mathis adds.

In about any region, cows grazing those forages are likely to show a positive response to protein supplementation. If forage quality is less than 7% and a protein supplement is provided, grazing intake and forage digestibility will be improved.

Mathis likes to include a dietary protein supplement of 32% or higher, supplied at 0.1-0.3% of body weight/day for cows with a 4.5 or better body condition score when forage is brown.

“By fixing the protein-deficiency problem, we've increased the cow's energy intake substantially,” he says. “If the cow is too thin, I'd look at a 28-32% protein — fed at 0.25-0.4% of body weight/day.”

Then the question is — what do ranchers supplement with — and how much?

There are numerous commercial feed supplements available to producers, and an unlimited number of options in developing custom supplements. It may be difficult to decide which supplement type (i.e., energy, protein, etc.) best fits the goals of a particular production system.

“To optimize intake and digestion of low-quality forages, supplements should contain more than 30% CP,” Mathis explains. “This is true even though supplements with less than 30% CP still may yield a slight enhancement in forage intake” (See Table 1).

In the “bad, bad scenario” where there's not enough forage for the cows, and the forages are brown, Mathis says it's a matter of balancing supplemental protein and additional energy. In that case, he suggests a 20-28% protein supplement fed at 0.3-0.5% of body weight/day.

“As your energy needs increase, it's better to feed a lower-protein supplement and feed more of it,” he says. “But if the forage is brown, we still must ensure the rumen microbes function as efficiently as possible.”

Energy-feeding tips

While most dietary energy limitations can be managed with adequate forages, increasing energy intake with a direct energy supplement (low protein, high energy) may be cost-effective in some situations. Mathis says energy supplements typically cost less per ton than protein supplements, but response can vary.

“A common result of feeding supplemental energy is the ‘substitution effect,’ which occurs when the supplemental feed reduces forage intake,” Mathis says.

He likes fiber-based energy sources such as wheat-mids, soy hulls, even grass or alfalfa hay. Corn gluten feed works well, too.

“If fed at more than 5 lbs./head/day, corn gluten feed should be tested for sulfur content to avoid polio problems,” he adds.

A chief concern when feeding additional energy to beef cows consuming forage is the supplement's starch content. Research demonstrates high-starch feeds (i.e., corn, grain sorghum, wheat, barley, etc.) can suppress forage intake and digestion, especially when protein is deficient.

“Ultimately this reduces the energy the cattle derive from the grazed forage or hay,” Mathis says. “To truly supplement energy to grazing cattle, highly digestible fiber sources are generally more desirable, as fiber sources don't elicit the same negative effect on forage intake.”

Any time substitution occurs, the animal's energy intake may not increase to the desired level because of a corresponding reduction in forage intake.

As a general rule, 1 lb. of high-starch feed reduces forage dry matter intake by 1-1½ lbs. Supplementing energy with highly digestible fiber sources will have a lesser impact on forage intake until the feeding rate exceeds about 6 lbs./day. Feeding high levels of hay may also cause substitution. Generally, 1 lb. of hay replaces 1 lb. of pasture forage.

Researchers have demonstrated a significant decline in reproductive performance when the frequency of feeding a high-starch grain cube was decreased from daily to twice/week. Thus, energy supplements should be consumed daily or every other day (see sidebar below).

Cost-effective supplementation

Supplemental feeds for livestock are often classified as energy or protein supplements by considering the percentage of protein alone. This is because the primary feedstuffs used in supplements are generally 75-90% total digestible nutrients (TDN; energy).

“Yet, the protein content of high-protein feedstuffs like cottonseed meal or soybean meal are 3-5 times higher than commonly used sources of energy like corn or sorghum grain,” Mathis continues. Because of this relationship, the primary difference in nutrient content of a 20% and 40% protein supplement is the protein concentration, not energy.

Developing a cost-effective supplementation program is dependent on identifying the nutrient most limiting to productivity, and providing it at the lowest cost. If protein is deficient (i.e., less than 7% CP), supplements should be evaluated based on cost/lb. of protein.

“Similarly, if forage supply is limited and energy is deficient, supplements should be evaluated based on cost/lb. of TDN,” Mathis explains. “Sometimes, both energy and protein are limiting, so a balanced approach to provide supplemental protein and energy is recommended.”

Generally, high-protein feedstuffs are more expensive than lower-protein supplements, grains or energy byproducts. It's critical to evaluate potential supplements based on cost per unit of nutrient needed.

“When considering supplemental feeding, it's important that money is spent on nutrients that don't limit animal performance,” Mathis concludes. “The primary considerations when purchasing or formulating supplements for grazing cattle are forage supply, forage CP content and cow condition.”

Table 1. Average improvement in low-quality forage (<7% crude protein) intake in response to various concentrations of crude protein in supplements fed in 31 trials.
Supplement protein content, % Improvement in forage intake above unsupplemented, %
Less than 15 3
15 to 20 10
20 to 30 21
Greater than 30 44
Source: Heldt, 1998.

Feeding frequency

Feeding frequency (daily vs. 3x/week vs. 1x/week) of some supplements may affect animal response. New Mexico and Texas research indicates hand feeding high-protein supplements once/week doesn't significantly reduce performance when compared to feeding supplement three times/week or daily. This is important because transportation and labor costs are reduced with less frequent distribution.

As a conservative rule of thumb, supplements containing 30% protein or more can be delivered twice/week without a significant performance decline. So, instead of feeding 2 lbs. of a protein supplement 7 days/week, 7 lbs. of the same supplement can be fed twice/week.

Trace-mineral bioavailability

The effectiveness of trace-mineral supplementation isn't only dependent on its concentration in the diet but its bioavailability once it reaches the animal's digestive tract.

Jerry Spears, North Carolina State University, recently reviewed the bioavailability of certain trace minerals in feeds. He says selenium (Se) in ruminant feeds is more bioavailable than inorganic Se from selenite. A portion of the zinc (Zn), copper (Cu) and manganese (Mn) in plants is present as various complexes or “chelates.” A sizable portion (20% or more) of the Zn, Cu and Mn in forage is associated with the plant cell wall. A prerequisite for trace-mineral absorption is release of the mineral from feeds in a soluble form in the digestive tract.

Several studies have shown more than 50% and 70% of Zn and Cu, respectively, in dried forages are rendered soluble in the rumen. Research with grass silage indicates more than 90% of the total Zn and Cu present is released in the rumen.

Another study found similar absorption of Zn in calves from radioactive 65Zn in calves from radioactive labeled 65Zn in ZnCl, or from corn forage where labeled Zn was incorporated during plant growth. However, retention of labeled Zn at 7 days post-dosing was higher in calves fed Zn labeled corn forage compared with ZnCl.

Going Forward With BQA

The U.S. beef industry has changed a great deal since the forerunners of today's Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) programs were initiated nearly two decades ago. And, there's a movement afoot to ensure national and state BQA programs stay on the same track with changes in the industry.

Gary Smith, Colorado State University Monfort Chair and professor of meat sciences, says BQA programming has been instrumental in building beef demand in the U.S. and elsewhere. He says it's important at this juncture to look back at BQA's history and remember that early beef-safety-assurance programs were aimed at assuring freedom from violative chemical residues in beef. Originally called “Beef Safety Assurance,” the program's early emphasis was on assuring the real and perceived safety of beef.

“Measures were successfully designed to discourage inappropriate use of blended concoctions of antibiotics then being used at some feedyards,” he explains. “This included educating stakeholders about proper use of pharmaceutical products and the honoring of withdrawal times.”

In wrestling with the residues issue, safety-assurance program architects adopted principles developed by food giant Pillsbury for its quality control in supplying food to the NASA space program. By 1985, a cadre of feedlots had been certified by USDA as Verified Production Control feedlots using Pillsbury's novel Hazard Analysis, Critical Control Point (HACCP) program as their template.

BQA evolved into a pre-harvest concept designed to get the “lemons” out of the beef-supply chain. Led by the then-National Cattlemen's Association's Darrell Wilkes, Chuck Lambert and Gary Cowman, BQA programs, funded by checkoff money through the Cattlemen's Beef Board (CBB), fired up in nearly every state.

The concept matured in the early 1990s as the industry's Beef Quality Task Force began to look into why and where beef was falling short of consumer expectations.

The 1991 National Beef Quality Audit, the first comprehensive audit of beef carcasses, concluded the industry lost an average of nearly $280 in quality defects on every fed animal marketed — the majority due to excess fat, lack of marbling, and other carcass defects, including injection-site blemishes.

Since then, the reduction of injection-site lesions has been among BQA's major success stories.

“Injection-site lesion audits and educational programs were initially thought by some in the packing, processing and retailing sectors to be a food-safety issue,” Smith explains. “Demonstrating it was an issue of loss of saleable product, creating problems with tenderness/toughness, allowed it to be transformed to a ‘quality’ issue.”

While BQA's signature has been in improving the quality and consumer confidence in fed beef, attention focused also on non-fed cattle — cull bulls and cows — and the beef they produce.

The 1994 Non-Fed Beef Quality Audit indicated the top 10 defects found in non-fed animals were due mainly to pre-harvest management practices. By managing and monitoring cull animals properly, and marketing non-fed animals appropriately, the audit said the industry could recoup about $70/head marketed.

Dee Griffin, DVM and associate professor, Great Plains Veterinary Education Center, University of Nebraska, was among the BQA pioneers.

“It's a process of figuring out what could go wrong, plan to avoid it, and document what you've done,” Griffin says “BQA is just part of good business.”

Griffin adds beef quality audits for fed beef in 2000 and 2005, along with the International Beef Quality Audit (co-sponsored by USDA and U.S. Meat Export Federation) in 1994, were critical to improving beef quality and providing direction to local, state and national BQA educational programs.

BQA under scrutiny

Of late though, BQA programming has been under scrutiny if not outright criticism from within the industry.

“There's concern the BQA program has lost energy and focus — and there's considerable variation in state programs,” says Ken Odde, DVM and chair of the North Dakota State University (NDSU) Animal and Range Sciences Department. “This variation is explained by different views of needs in different states — and variation in sources of money that are funding the state programs.”

Odde, along with Barry Dunn, Kingsville, TX, King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management executive director, was commissioned by the CBB to review and report on the current status of the BQA programming. In doing so, they were charged with evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of national and state BQA programs and suggesting future direction for BQA.

“I think BQA is very vulnerable, unless it's improved,” Dunn says. “The question becomes how do you ‘standardize’ BQA programming while keeping it adaptive to regional and local needs and resources.”

Dunn believes BQA programs need to be more accountable, and the industry should adopt rigid standardized terms, definitions, processes and reporting techniques relating to BQA.

“Those deeply involved in BQA programming activities perceive that their mission, organizational structure and activities are transparent, easily accessed and well understood by anyone interested in the program. But, the program has no official recordkeeping system to track its impacts so it's impossible to communicate how much work has been done,” he adds.

“Another confusion stems from BQA training protocols, which are different from one state to another,” Dunn continues. “There are some structural similarities, but also quite a few differences. This leads to confusion of what BQA really is, and a reluctance of meat industry companies to adopt BQA certification standards because of the state-to-state variations.”

Dunn says a set of standards should more reflect what BQA “is” and what it “isn't” — and that state beef councils get clear-cut guidelines from CBB on what can be funded and what can't be funded with checkoff funds.

“Future BQA efforts should become integral to the successful completion of the beef industry's long-range plan,” he adds.

The future of BQA

In addition to recommending BQA programs be maintained, Odde offers the following suggestions for rejuvenating BQA:

  • Develop a strategic plan for BQA programming.
  • Ensure BQA has strong leadership at the national level.
  • Continue the beef-quality audits.
  • Make BQA market driven.
  • Continue to invest in dairy-beef quality assurance.

Smith believes, all the scrutiny and criticism of BQA notwithstanding, the industry has been doing enough things right over the past two decades — reflected in the results of the latest national beef-quality audit.

“BQA participants, its advisory board and the NCBA can take great pride in its progress,” Smith says. “Future BQA programming will most certainly continue emphasizing the essential elements of what it's done so successfully.”

He's confident the BQA advisory board will continue to stand ready as the “rapid response team” to address all new concerns about the quality and safety of the U.S. beef supply.

NDSU BQA specialist Lisa Pederson sees the current scrutiny of BQA as a time to regroup and reenergize state programs under a common focus. She says the local direction to BQA programming has been a key to its success — and BQA needs to evolve with the industry.

“As we move down the road with new ideas and initiatives, we shouldn't lose sight of where we've been and how we got here,” she says. “A strategic plan will be a good thing — as long as we have the freedom to develop BQA programs for our individual states and the unique needs of our beef producers.”

Death-tax battle tells larger story

Taxpayer relief from the Death Tax (estate tax) suffered strike two in the August Congressional session when a compromise bill attached to the minimum-wage law fell four votes shy (56-42) of the necessary 60 votes to bring it to a vote on the Senate floor. The compromise wouldn't have repealed the tax, as an earlier measure would have, but would have supplied some relief by raising the exemption levels and lowering the tax rates.

The real issue is no longer really about the Death Tax, however, or its inability to garner a vote. The issue is that it's no longer the majority that rules in the U.S. Senate, but the super-majority. All one has to do to impede movement on a measure that has close majority support is threaten a filibuster and it takes 60 votes to get it to a vote.

We'll have to see how this plays out, but a super-majority might actually be a good thing for agriculture, as agriculture increasingly finds itself in the minority. The situation, however, illustrates a much deeper problem for agriculture, which is simply the erosion of its political power. Some rural-state senators wouldn't even give the Death Tax measure the courtesy of a simple up or down vote despite the strong and almost universal support from major constituency groups.

Meanwhile, in the House, which overwhelmingly voted for Death Tax relief only to see the measure die in the Senate, redistricting is sapping rural representation at an alarming rate. The Senate theoretically should have been the intervening factor, as smaller and less-populated states have equal power in that legislative body with the powerhouse population states like California, New York, Texas and Florida. But even some rural senators apparently decided it was more advantageous to vote their party than their constituency.

The beef industry has seen its political clout severely diminished on some issues the last several years, as internal battles sapped our ability to speak with one voice. But this largely transpired on issues where essentially only some anti-beef activist groups, well recognized for their fringe positions, were in the opposition.

We can regain our powerful voice if the industry can squelch its self-destructive tendencies and work together. But the bigger question is how the beef industry, agriculture and rural America can get its collective voice heard on issues where they face strong opposition.

Agriculture, as an industry, can't continue to see its political influence erode inside the Washington Beltway. We're at the mercy of long-term demographic and political trends that require new alliances and creative tactics to combat.

To be sure, agriculture has the advantage of the respect America still holds for it and its practitioners, but the failure of the Death Tax is a great example of how agriculture's political power is eroding.

Troy Marshall is editor of Seedstock Digest, and a weekly contributor to BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly, a free weekly newsletter delivered by e-mail every Friday afternoon. To subscribe to BEEF magazine's BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly newsletter, which provides timely news, opinion and analysis of events and trends of particular importance to the cow-calf production segment, visit

Carlson lauded for service

Jay Carlson, BEEF magazine national sales manager, was presented the Livestock Publications Council's (LPC) Distinguished Service Award during the recent Ag Media Summit in Portland, OR. Carlson was feted for his efforts in 2005 in helping raise more than $30,000 for the continued development of the new LPC Heritage Center, in the American Royal Building in Kansas City, MO.

In addition, BEEF magazine carried home a total of 17 awards in LPC writing, design and photography competition. BEEF staff garnered eight first-place awards, five second-place awards and four honorable mentions. LPC is an organization of 130 U.S. and Canadian livestock-oriented publications.

2006 State Of Industry Report

BEEF magazine's “2006 State Of The Industry Report” is available at: Compiled for BEEF magazine by Iowa State University Extension economists John Lawrence and Shane Ellis, the 15-page report provides a concise, one-page overview of the U.S. beef industry, with easy-to-absorb, supporting graphics on demand, inventory, production segments (seedstock, cow-calf, stocker and feedlot), prices and profitability, and industry structure.

Watch for lameness

As we wean calves and move them to feeding facilities, nothing's more frustrating than dodging respiratory disease only to lose a calf to an unresolved injury or infectious lameness. Even more frustrating from a veterinary standpoint is when the management of lame beef cattle is relegated to seeing what a shot of an antibiotic will do for the problem. There are other options.

Let's focus on two common problems found in backgrounding and feeding situations — footrot and toe abscesses, and one emerging challenge — hairy heel warts.

  • Footrot is the old standard. The theory is irritation or trauma to the foot allows the primary pathogen of Fusobacterium necrophorum to colonize and grow. You first notice a lame animal with swelling or erosions between the toes. As the swelling advances, the toes may spread apart.

    The secret is to catch such cattle early, which is difficult without getting every animal up when you walk the pen. Cattle treated late in the disease have a high potential to become a “club foot,” a condition from which recovery is very limited.

    Swelling above the hoof due to infection requires extended attention. When caught early, many antibiotics will provide rapid response. Anti-inflammatories may also help but first talk with your veterinarian about treatment options.

    Footrot prevention includes dry pen surfaces (not always possible) and minimizing trauma to feet. While a few inches of mud in the pen isn't always in our control, we can control whether cattle have to slog through hock-deep mud to reach feed and water. In the winter, running a box blade over rough, frozen ground to smooth the surface can help minimize trauma.

  • Toe abscesses commonly are attributed to trauma. A typical site is the outside claws on the hind legs, though any claw can be affected. Many cases probably start with damage to the “white line,” the line on the bottom of the foot between the hoof wall and the sole. It's the extension of where the hoof wall hooks on to the bone inside the claw (the corium or “quick”).

    This line, or the toe itself, can be worn down and separated by abrasion of the foot on rough surfaces, such as improperly finished concrete. Talk to a facility-design professional to avoid concrete that's too rough or too smooth.

    The pressure of an abscess spreading along the corium separates the hoof wall or sole from the bone, which results in a sensation similar to a torn human fingernail (the anatomy is very similar). Corrective foot trimming can remove pressure from the damaged area, but should only be done by someone who understands how much to take off, and in what area.

    Indiscriminate digging in with a hoof knife can cause bleeding and damage the corium, and the corium is what needs to heal for the animal to return to normal. Problems are also caused if the sole becomes too thin.

    Another option to relieve pain from a severely affected claw is to glue a block on the adjacent claw to take the weight. This can dramatically change how the animal moves. Work with your veterinarian to relieve the pressure and pain and get the calf gaining again.

  • Hairy heel warts were previously thought to be solely a dairy industry issue but have been documented recently in beef feedlots. Many of the affected feedlots also feed Holstein steers. Causes and pathogens are still being worked out, but an organism of the species Treponema is commonly isolated.

To the uninitiated, this disease looks a lot like footrot, but there are key differences. Footrot tends to start between the toes and progress up the foot, while hairy heel warts start at the back of the foot and progress down.

The classic early lesion is a raised, red, wart-like swelling surrounded by elongated hairs (Figure 1). Thus the names “strawberry foot rot” and “hairy heel wart.”

In the feedlot, many cases go unobserved until extensive erosions appear on the heel (Figure 2), which can spread between the claws to the front of the foot. The typical affected animal stands on the toe of the affected foot to keep pressure off the heel (Figure 3).

Treating as typical footrot will lead to poor response, so work with your veterinarian to recognize this disease and develop a treatment program. It might include wrapping the affected area with an antibiotic powder, or systemic therapy with an appropriate antibiotic. This disease can spread rapidly, so early identification is key.

Lameness is among the most common causes of performance loss and early sale in feeding situations. Plan now to prevent and appropriately treat these conditions.

Mike Apley, DVM, PhD, is an associate professor in clinical sciences at Kansas State University in Manhattan.

BEEF Book Corner Grass-Fed Cattle

Designed for either experienced grass farmers or those just entering the field, “Grass-Fed Cattle” is a 374-page manual that offers all the whys and how-tos on producing natural beef, regardless of herd size or acreage.

“Grass-Fed Cattle” is authored by Julius Ruechel, who spent three years converting his family's British Columbia beef operation into a certified organic farm with grass-fed cattle and organic field crops. The book provides readers with the practical knowledge needed to create, build and operate a profitable grass-based beef production business.

“Grass-Fed Cattle” is available from Story Publishing for $24.95(ISBN 1-58017-605-4).