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Articles from 2013 In September

What Will A Government Shutdown Do To U.S. Farm Economy?

government shutdown looms closer

On the eve of a government shutdown, officials in the Beltway continue to bicker about a proposed spending bill. The crisis has momentarily shifted agriculture producers' focus from a much-needed farm bill, which is also set to expire Monday at midnight, to a potential government shutdown that would limit many day-to-day government activities. This would be the first shutdown in 17 years.

So what would a government shutdown mean to ag producers?

Staff members at our sister publication Farm Press have diligently covered the farm bill debate and the budget battle. David Bennett reports that a document found on a USDA website, updated Sept. 27, says the department is "working to ensure that we are prepared for all possible scenarios. Agency operational plans are still being finalized, but in the event of a government shutdown most USDA activities would be shut down or significantly reduced and most USDA employees would be furloughed."

However, certain USDA activities related to law enforcement, protection of life and property, or funded by available financing will continue. According to Reuters, meat inspectors would be one of those areas considered to be vital to national safety and would stay on the job.

Among USDA activities that would not continue during a government shutdown:

  • Market news reports, National Ag Statistics Service (NASS) statistics, and other agricultural economic and statistical reports and projections would be discontinued.
  • Research facilities would be closed except for the care for animals, plants and associated infrastructure to preserve agricultural research.
  • Provision of new grants or processing of payments for existing grants to support research, education, and Extension.
  • Economic Research Service (ERS) Commodity Outlook Reports, Data Products, research reports, staff analysis, and projections would be discontinued. The ERS public website would be taken offline.


Read the complete update on the farm bill and the looming shutdown here.

Do you think a spending bill will be passed today? What questions do you have about the looming shutdown? Are you optimistic about a new farm bill in 2013? Leave your comments below.


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Meat Matters

Issues Management Is A Huge Beef Industry Challenge

market attacks for US beef industry

One of the more challenging jobs in the beef industry is issues management. Those involved must not only respond to issues that suddenly arise, but construct strategies to deal with topics that potentially could threaten the industry’s well-being, and decide how proactive to be about them.

The latter is what the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) faced over the use of the feed supplement Zilmax®. NCBA staff and elected leaders knew of concerns about Zilmax’s possible effect on cattle well-being and on beef quality for a long time. NCBA’s dilemma was what to do in the face of 30 years of research by manufacturer Merck Animal Health, which said Zilmax was perfectly safe if used as directed. Its “correct” use will now be one of the most interesting areas that researchers will examine.

NCBA and the American Meat Institute (AMI) have directed most of the issues (and crisis) management for the industry the past 20 years. The two biggest issues over that period were E. coli 0157:H7 in beef and BSE.

  • E. coli 0157:H7 sparked profound changes at the processing level, and was the single most responsible factor for consolidation in the packing industry. The industry’s main role was to accept new regulations (such as a 1996 declaration that E. coli was an adulterant in beef), and to tell Americans that beef was even safer than before. But the pathogen still cost the industry $1.6 billion in lost demand in the decade after 1993.

  • That decade had just ended when the U.S. discovered its first BSE case. Another 10 years have now passed since the “cow that stole Christmas” in 2003. BSE wrought much more economic damage on the industry than E. coli, and its effects still linger in the form of restricted overseas markets for U.S. beef.

While the industry was dealing with the fallout from E. coli and BSE, the longest-running issue of all kept unfolding. Talk about mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) began in the late 1990s, and the meat industry continues to battle over it today — both in the courts and at the World Trade Organization. In hindsight, I can’t help but wonder whether COOL’s outcome might have been different had NCBA adamantly opposed mandatory COOL early on, as AMI did.

By the time you read this, a federal district court judge will have ruled on whether to grant a preliminary injunction against COOL’s continued implementation. NCBA, AMI and seven other North American groups had asked for an injunction as part of their lawsuit against USDA over its final COOL rule, which took effect May 23.
Granting an injunction would mean USDA could not enforce its rule, and its previous final COOL rule would become the prevailing rule. This would mean retailers and packers could keep using the same labels and systems in use since 2009. They would not have to spend millions of dollars making more changes. This potential added cost was one of the key points in the groups’ request for an injunction.

Perhaps the most important aspect of an injunction is that it would suggest the judge believes the plaintiffs’ lawsuit has enough merit to win at trial. The lawsuit’s key legal argument is over the constitutionality of the COOL law. An injunction would suggest that the judge might eventually overturn the COOL law. Should the judge deny the plaintiffs an injunction, they might be forced to challenge the COOL statute more directly.

Given all this, industry leaders are no doubt relieved that Zilmax is off the market. But they must still be vigilant should social media users decide to attack beta-agonist use in beef production. They should remember what happened to lean finely textured beef because the industry failed to act well before ABC’s media blitz. 

Steve Kay is editor and publisher of Cattle Buyers Weekly ( See his weekly cattle market roundup each Friday afternoon at


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Are You A Cowboy, A Stockman Or A Grass Farmer?

how to pick good employees

I’ve thought a lot over the years about what makes the ideal ranch employee.  I know many of you reading this are self-employed, so you’re both ranch employees and owners. I might ask, “Do you like your boss?” or “Do you like your employee?”

On smaller ranches, each person needs a larger set of skills because generally there is no one else to compensate for your lack of skills. In this column, I want to mention a few items of strategy and then deal with the day-to-day aspects of running a ranch.

Regular readers of this column know I place good grazing management at the top of my strategic list of things to be good at.  You also know that I want to graze as many days of the year as possible – hopefully all year long. To do this, you need cows that fit their environment. You also need cows that require very little or none of your time individually for doctoring, calving, etc.

Therefore, the question arises, “Should we be cowboys, stockmen or grass farmers?” If you have cows that can calve unassisted out in a pasture rather than in a calving lot, if your livestock seldom or never need to be doctored, and if you’ve learned good livestock handling skills so that cattle moves, gathers, corralling, sorting and working are easy, you don’t need to spend very much time being a cowboy.

If the cattle are right and your handling skills are good, your main job is to make sure cattle are where they belong and that they have a good drink of water whenever they want it. Being “where they belong” means that you have a well thought out grazing plan that offers plenty of grazable feed and controls where a herd grazes and for how long.

To do this, fencing and stock water are required. I’ve found that “cowboys” typically don’t like to fence, set water tanks or fix water lines. It’s much more fun to get on your horse, go to the pasture and hope that something is sick so you can rope and doctor. Or hope that some of the neighbor’s cows got in, or that some of yours are in the neighbor’s pasture. This, of course, justifies your riding and checking cattle rather than building or repairing fence or further developing stock water so you can manage grazing a little better.

A good stockman is able and willing to do both – take care of the cattle, make sure the fences are good enough to hold them, and that they are bred to fit their environment so sickness is only occasionally a problem. He also loves the challenge of good grazing and reducing the amount of feeding, so he will think of ways to improve grazing with fence and water and improved time control. You can see that this good employee is also a grass farmer.

There are times that I’ve thought I should quit hiring cowboys and just hire a good fence and water person. But in reality, we need the complete set of skills, plus a willingness to use them. We need to prioritize by need and by the best economic use of our time. Quite often, that does not mean riding a horse.

I’ve interviewed a lot of people for ranch jobs. Too many of them have touted their ability to start a green colt and to rope and doctor sick cattle. Neither of those was very high on my priority list.

Many also talked about being ranch-raised. However, I learned that too many were raised in the house that was on the ranch, but somehow escaped the opportunity to learn how to ranch.

There was also the flip side. I have worked with over 100 student interns over the years. Over half were quite good and showed the kind of attitude and ability required to be a good employee. And there were a few that showed outstanding abilities – in their work ethic, previously learned skills, ability to learn, attitude, questions, and suggestions.

I’ve followed the career of several of them who are doing very well in ranching or in closely related agricultural professions. Two are managing large ranches, and one has a consulting business while farming and ranching with family. Another is an Extension educator and one is a department head in a very good college of agriculture.

It seems like those who were well prepared at a young age and have work ethic, willingness to be lifelong learners, and a passion for what they do will continue to rise. I’m sure, and have seen, that some starting later in life can also become very well qualified and make important contributions.

So, on larger expansive ranches, a good set of cowboy skills can be very helpful. But if the cowboy insists on being glued to his saddle, he doesn’t have nearly as much value as one who will become a complete stockman by learning good handling techniques and an ability to see the range or pasture and the cattle condition. To become really valuable, the employee will also learn to manage grazing and increase carrying capacity.

I really don’t care what you want to call yourself or your employees – cowboy, stockman, grass farmer or rancher. Personally, I would simply like to be a good, complete rancher. If I don’t have some of the necessary skills, I will work to find someone for my team who can compensate for my lack of skills.

Burke Teichert, consultant on strategic planning for ranches, is retired as vice president and general manager of Deseret. He can be reached at [email protected].


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Figure Your Best Strategy For Marketing 2013 Calves

cattle marketing strategy tips

To discuss fall calf prices, let’s begin by reviewing current sale-barn prices for my study region of eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska (EW/WN). By detailing my price analysis method and results, readers hopefully can perform a similar analysis of their own local sale-barn prices.

Figure 1 presents USDA’s sale barn summary for steers in EW/WN the week of Aug. 18, 2013. Figure 2 graphs the price/weight relationship for that week’s market prices, along with the trend-line equation relating price and weight.

Eastern WY & Western NE Sale Barn PricesI consider any calf price above the calculated trend line to be above-average cattle, and any price below the trend line as below-average cattle. In general, calf prices were quite strong for all weights during this week. These prices were all above year-ago prices, a favorable signal.

As normally expected, calf prices trended down by $11/cwt. as calf weight increased. In other words, the price slide for this week’s sale-barn prices averaged $11/cwt. more than the total weight range reported.

In practice, price slides typically aren’t constant over all weight ranges. If I calculate a statistical equation relating market price to two variables — calf weight and calf weight squared — I can generate considerable added market information with respect to the study week’s sale-barn information.

For example, I can calculate feeder steer weight in 25-lb. increments with market price, price drop (price slide), value per head, value of last pound, and a market price basis for each incremental steer weight.

Figure 3 presents the generated steer price for EW/WN sale barns for the week of Aug. 18. In practice, I graph each column in Figure 3 and study each graph, but space precludes including the graphs here. Considerable price analysis can be gleaned from Figure 3, however.
Nebraska feeder steer prices

Market prices

I also like to compare weekly sale-barn prices with that week’s midweek reported feeder-cattle futures price: $154.77/ cwt. for the week of Aug. 18. I can then calculate a market price basis to relate my EW/WN sale-barn prices to the futures market price for feeder cattle. Basis is defined as cash price minus futures price. Thus, 550-lb. EW/WN feeder steers had a positive basis of $27.57 the week of Aug. 18 (Figure 3).

Knowing the Oct. 13 feeder-cattle futures price is $159.87 allows me to project that 550-lb. steer calves in EW/WN will bring $187.44 ($159.87+$27.57) in October 2013.

Let’s calculate the sale price of 800-lb. feeder steers off grass this fall. The Figure 3 statistical equation for Nebraska sale-barn data for the week of Aug. 18 has 800-lb. steers selling for $155.96. My calculated basis for 800-lb. steers that week is a positive $1.19/cwt. Given the October feeder-cattle futures price of $155.96, my projected EW/WN October selling price for 800-lb. steers is $157.15/cwt. ($155.96+$1.19). Figure 4 presents the calculated basis for alternative weights of feeder cattle.

calculated cattle basis

Basis calculation plays a critical role in my projected feeder-cattle price projections for the next year. All my future projection tables are generated from this basis table and the respective months’ futures market feeder-cattle prices. Each month’s price projections are summarized in a table exactly like Figure 3. These tables give me price projections for January, March, April, September and October.

The futures market plays an important role in my price forecasting. Figure 5 presents my latest feeder-cattle futures price chart (as of Aug. 18). Because futures prices go several months into the future, my price projections also can go these same months into the future.

Feeder cattle future prices

In Figure 5, notice three items:

  • The price increase from April 13 through Aug. 13.
  • The statistical trend line suggests feeder-cattle prices rose an average of $1.17/cwt./month from 2009-2013 — an average price increase of $14/cwt./year.
  • There are seasonal price patterns around this trend line, but the long-term trend is upward.

Figure 6 presents actual 2012 prices and the actual prices for the first three critical marketing months of 2013. The last seven columns cover the rest of 2013 and all of 2014, and reveal my projected planning prices for marketing 2013 steer calves.

planning prices for cattle producers

Each line represents a different weight of feeder steer. Slaughter-cattle price projections are along the bottom of the table.

What are the marketing implications for 2013 calves? The traditional marketing alternatives for my 250-cow study herd are summarized in Figure 7. I project this herd’s 2013 unit cost of producing a cwt. of calf at $165.
Given the 550-lb. weaning weight for the steer calves, I project a sale price of $183/cwt. With 44 heifers to be held back for replacements, the remaining heifer calves are sold at a projected $169/cwt. — an $18 heifer discount. The total gross income from all sales, including cull sales, is $1,025/cow.

traditional marketingThe projected earned economic net return for this herd is $102/cow (Figure 7, line 1). This compares to $171 earned net return for this herd in 2012. The lower projected net return in 2013 is due to higher winter hay prices as a result of the 2012 drought.

Backgrounding these 2013 calves to 800 lbs. and selling in January 2014 projects a minus $23 buy/sell margin, a 90¢/lb. cost of gain (COG), and a $35 earned net return per head (Figure 7, line 2). Finishing these backgrounded steers in a commercial feedlot projects a negative $33 buy/sell margin, a 97¢/lb. COG, and a loss of $129/head (Figure 7, line 3).

Growing and finishing these weaned calves directly into a commercial feedlot projects a negative $54 buy/sell margin, an 89¢/lb. COG, and a loss of $57 (Figure 7, line 4). This rancher needs a $4.81 price premium to break even.

Your ranch numbers will be different. Evaluate your calves’ backgrounding and finishing marketing alternatives by using your own projected backgrounding and feedlot COG and my Figure 6 numbers to calculate your buy/sell numbers. You should be able to generate your own Figure 7 numbers. See if you can beat the profitability projections of my study herd.

Harlan Hughes is a North Dakota State University professor emeritus. He lives in Kuna, ID. Reach him at 701-238-9607 or [email protected].


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Stockers Offer Tremendous Marketing Flexibility

stocker opportunity has grown in beef industry

“If ever there was a year for cow-calf producers to wean, precondition and background spring-born calves, this is the year to do it, because most folks’ cost of gain would be less than the value of gain,” says Andrew P. Griffith, University of Tennessee agricultural economist.

In late August, Griffith used the example of a 350-lb. calf bringing $192/cwt. in the Southeast. Assuming the calf was grown to 750 lbs. and sold for $150/cwt., the stocker value of gain would be $1.13/lb.

Retaining home-raised calves through a growing phase comes with an added benefit, depending on the genetics. It’s that cattle performance has more relative value with the increased stocker value of gain seen in recent years.

“Higher value of gain puts more relative emphasis on the ability of cattle to gain weight,” says Derrell Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist.

He explains the market has historically paid relatively more for upgrading cattle and assembling them into larger and more uniform groups. Though still true, Peel points out, “All else being equal, a high value of gain puts more of a premium on higher-quality cattle. Cattle that gain better have more value.”

For others, carving more net return from available forage may come from marketing home-raised calves and buying back others. The point is that increased value of gain opens more doors of stocker opportunity.

“Now that feedlot cost of gain is not the cheapest way to add pounds, stockers have another 200 lbs. of weight gain to work with, and a broader range of placement weights,” Peel says. “We have more opportunity to hold cattle longer and to put more weight on them. The market gives you more room to work than it ever did.”
Jay O’Brien of Amarillo, TX, this year’s BEEF Stocker Award winner sees extra opportunity for stocker producers in the Southeast who buy and straighten out calves there before shipping them west. He uses this approach for calves coming to the ranches he owns and manages in Texas and Colorado.

“If I had pasture in the Southeast, I’m not sure I wouldn’t look at double-stocking it,” O’Brien says. “There is great benefit to stocker operators in that part of the country to buy calves from the sale barns and get them straightened out before shipping them this far … There are fewer lightweight calves now than there used to be, but they’re discounted more because of the health risk.”


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Obviously, none of this is easy or makes for any sort of guarantee, especially with dwindling cattle numbers.
The August Cattle on Feed report indicated a staggering 10% fewer cattle placed in July than the previous year. That’s way fewer than the industry expected. The total number of cattle on feed on Aug. 1 was 6% fewer.

The recent reduction in beef-cow slaughter also suggests that moisture and forage are finally allowing some cow-calf producers to begin thinking about expansion. Some are even beginning to inch their way across the starting line.

Snubbed to a different post, between cattle supply and empty feedlot pens that could look for residents to feed grower rations, competition for calves will likely remain fierce.

In early September, analysts with the Livestock Marketing Information Center (LMIC) expected 500- to 600-lb. steer calves (basis Southern Plains) to average in the low $170s/cwt. for the remainder of 2013. LMIC analysts forecast that 700- to 800-lb. yearling steers would average in the low to mid-$150s.

“Looking ahead, if cattle feeding returns are aided by substantially lower feedstuff costs, calf and yearling prices are forecast to post annual increases throughout 2014,” LMIC analysts say. “More year-on-year increases could happen in 2015, with the normal drought caveat, and two additional requirements — the U.S. economy steers clear of economic recession, and foreign markets can absorb most of the expected dramatic increase in U.S. chicken and pork production.” 


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Wolves’ Economic Bite On Cattle Goes Way Beyond Predation

how researchers are tracking wolves and livestock interaction

The West’s growing wolf population is significantly impacting ranchers and livestock, but to what extent hasn’t been well-documented. That need is being addressed by a 10-year study funded by the Oregon Beef Council (OBC), with help from USDA; some of the early results are surprising.

Begun in 2008, the study uses GPS collars on cattle in the study area — and on a few wolves. The collars allow researchers to monitor movements of these animals, and when and where they interact. 

Pat Clark
Pat Clark, range scientiest at USDA’s Northwest Watershed Research Center in Boise, ID

Range scientist Pat Clark of USDA’s Northwest Watershed Research Center in Boise, ID, has been involved with the study since its inception. Clark attracted the attention of OBC, which learned he was using GPS collars to collect data on the wolf-livestock issue in central Idaho. Doug Johnson from Oregon State University had also been doing GPS collar work on range cattle in northeast Oregon with a collar design of his own. 

Figuring it was only a matter of time before wolves extended their range into Oregon from Idaho, OBC wanted to evaluate how wolves would impact rangeland cattle production in Oregon. So OBC asked Clark and Johnson to extend Clark’s wolf-cattle interactions research to northeastern Oregon (where there were no wolves yet), and western Idaho (where wolves were common).

Thus, the Oregon/Idaho Wolf-Cattle Interactions Project began with three study areas each in western Idaho and in eastern Oregon.

“We selected Idaho study areas from the western part of the state, where range-cattle grazing is the dominant land use, and where wolves were common. We searched for sites in Oregon with similar topography, vegetation types, soil types, cattle breeding, calf age at turnout, grazing schedules, etc.,” Clark explains. Wolf presence was the main differing factor between the Oregon and Idaho sites.

“This type of experimental design is called a BACIP [before-after/control-impact, paired] design. The Idaho study areas served as the control, since wolves were already present. What would eventually change [and create impact] was wolf presence in Oregon. Wolves were expected to travel from Idaho into Oregon and establish packs in the Oregon study areas,” Clark says.

The researchers wanted to collect at least two years of data in Oregon before wolves arrived in sufficient numbers to exert a true impact. They could then contrast that data to data collected after wolves extended their range into Oregon.

“We put GPS collars on at least 10 cows in each study area. Herd sizes in these areas ranged from 300-450 cows. The sample size was limited by available funds from OBC,” Clark says. The study was later expanded to two more ranches, giving enough sample size for adequate data to detect differences in cattle range use and other behaviors.


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GPS data track the location of collared cows and determine how fast they travel. “From this, we can calculate how much time a cow spends foraging during the day, vs. standing looking around, or resting. A hyper-vigilant animal spends a lot of time standing watch, rather than foraging, which could impact nutritional status. With GPS data collected every five minutes, we can detect changes such as increase in vigilant behavior and decreases in foraging time,” Clark says.

One of the Idaho study sites is the OX Ranch near Council, ID, managed by Casey Anderson, where data have been collected since 2008. The ranch experienced wolf predation before the study started, but had no documentation. “In 2009, we were able to confirm more of the wolf kills — 18 animals. But five cows, two yearlings, a bull, and about 70 calves also were unaccounted for,” Anderson says.

There were few wolves in Oregon when the study began — just those passing through and returning to Idaho. Within two years, however, the wolves established packs in northeastern Oregon, and the study moved into the “after” phase: comparing high wolf pressure with low wolf pressure (rather than no wolf pressure).

wolf control and predatation
Researcher study the indirect effects of wolves on livestock range-use patterns impact foraging efficiencies, disposition and stress levels.

Tracking interactions

“Having wolves and cows collared enables us to match up their location and time, and determine where and when wolf-cattle interactions are occurring,” Clark says. Data on wolf presence and activity are augmented by wolf scat sampling along forest roads, and use of trail cameras.

Though only one wolf was collared in 2009, the results proved interesting. “We found interactions between all 10 of the collared cows and that single GPS-collared wolf within a very extensive study area [over 50,000 acres]. The 10 collared cows were part of the larger herd of 450 cow-calf pairs, yet the data showed this wolf was within 500 yards of every one of the 10 collared cows many times throughout the summer [for a total of 783 contacts],” Clark reports.

In fact, the collared wolf’s area was 210 square miles, with a 55-mile perimeter. The least distance he traveled was six miles/day, and the most was close to 29 miles/day. “On a day of confirmed predation, we could look back to the data and see that the wolf was in the immediate area at that same time,” he says.

This wolf was part of an 11-animal pack. There were three different packs, totaling 34 wolves, roaming that study area during 2009. The producer in that area suffered more than 40 confirmed or probable wolf depredations.

wolf-cattle interaction
Resource selection patterns of 10 GPS-collared beef cows (shown as red dots), representing a herd of 350 cow-calf pairs, and movement paths of one GPS-collared wolf (shown as yellow arrows), representing a pack of 11 wolves, are all illustrated relative to wolf-cattle interactions between these 10 collared cows and 1 GPS-collared wolf (shown as blue crosses). A wolf-cattle interaction was defined as where a collared cow was located within 500 meters (about 547 yards) of the collared wolf, and when the cow and wolf locations were temporally separated by less than 15 minutes. The area highlighted with a purple circle represents a pasture occupied by uncollared beef cattle that are managed separately from the study herd.

The collared cow with the least number of interactions with the collared wolf had 23 interactions within 500 yards during that grazing season. One cow encountered that wolf 140 times (at less than 500 yards) over the course of 137 days (mid-June through early November 2009). All 10 collared cows had interactions within 250 yards, and nine cows had interactions at 100 yards or less.

Envision 450 cows with more than 30 wolves moving among them. If one wolf had 783 encounters with just 10 of those cows, how many encounters might there have been with 30 wolves among the 450 cows? In other words, the cattle were constantly being affected by the presence of wolves. Two of the collared cows’ calves disappeared that summer.

“We wondered how many of these GPS-detected wolf-cattle interactions resulted in predations. We looked at the wolf GPS data and compared the tracking logs with locations of known 2009 predation sites. We could see tight spiral patterns in the wolf movements that occurred at those sites. These circling activities may illustrate prey-appraisal or pursuit events,” Clark says.

The following spring (2010), the researchers hiked into sites where spiral patterns occurred in the 2009 wolf track log. Inspecting the sites for signs of predation, they found fresh cattle bones at one of those sites.

Indirect effects of wolves

Clark says earlier research on the direct effects (death and injury losses) due to wolf predation on cattle indicates the impacts are underestimated. Some cattle just disappear; a pack of wolves can consume a carcass overnight.

“However, no one had researched indirect effects of wolf presence on rangeland livestock production. These indirect effects may much more greatly impact livestock producers than death and injury losses. Indirect effects of wolves on livestock range-use patterns impact foraging efficiencies, disposition and stress levels,” says Clark.

Those effects could cascade to affect cattle diet quality, nutritional status and disease susceptibility. Wolf presence also may indirectly affect — and reduce — calf weaning weights and cow body condition in the fall, perhaps resulting in increased veterinary care and supply costs, and death loss to disease.

OX Ranch’s Anderson says he weighs and assesses his cows when they’re collared in the spring before turnout; he does the same when they come off the range to move to winter pasture. Collars are then removed.

“We’re seeing cows come home a full body score less than in the past. With a mature cow, each score is about 100 lbs.,” he explains. This translates into extra feed costs to get cattle through winter.

He says the herd’s conception rate has also plummeted. “With our herd health program, mineral and protein supplement, there’s no reason for this other than the wolves. What normally would be a 90%-95% conception rate in our herd has gone as low as 82%,” Anderson reports.

Besides actual kills, additional animals were severely maimed. “We spend a lot of time doctoring these, and end up with a bunch we can’t sell because they’re crippled,” he says.

In one week of summer 2012, he says nine calves had wolf bites. “The calves may live, but we have to doctor them. We believe the pack’s alpha female is using calves to teach the pups how to hunt,” Anderson says. Four young cows in the first-calf heifer group had big abscesses behind the shoulder and/or above the flank area, due to infected wolf bites. The wolves are playing with these animals.

“We’re also seeing changes in the way cattle are using the range. They bunch up more against fences, which the wolves use to corner them,” Anderson says.

Wolf predation usually stimulates a change in cattle use patterns, Clark says. Anxiety over wolves may prompt cows to shift from high-quality foraging areas to low-quality ones. “Cattle may get up on an open hillside where they can see farther, to detect if wolves
are approaching,” he says.

“Cattle under threat bunch up, standing in open areas where they feel safer,” Clark adds. “These areas become dry and dusty from concentrated trampling, which can lead to respiratory disorders — especially in stressed cattle that are more vulnerable to disease,” he says.

If cattle are being bred on the range, all these factors work toward decreasing the number of cows that get bred on time, or come up open in the fall, Clark says. Late calves alter uniformity of the calf crop, which adversely affects the price received, and may also affect the number or quality of heifers a rancher is able to keep; the future productivity of the herd is adversely affected.

There are also changes in cattle temperament. Cows that were calm and easy to handle become difficult. “In one Idaho herd, a wolf followed cattle down to the calving areas, and the cows were very aggressive trying to protect their newborn calves. The rancher couldn’t tag a calf without being attacked by the mother cow,” Clark says.

Anderson says that before wolves arrived, his cattle were easy to work with dogs. “Our cow boss of more than 25 years has good dogs, and the cattle respected them. Now the cattle chase the dogs, and we can’t use them for herding anymore. Without them, it’s extremely difficult to move cattle in this steep, rugged country,” Anderson explains.

The OX Ranch calves in late May through June, and calves are branded at the fall gathering. “The calves are 350-400 lbs. by that time; when they come into the corral, they’ll size you up and take you,” he says. They’re totally focused on defending themselves, attacking a dog or person.

There also are more handling-related injuries to cattle, along with increased frequency of bunching and flight events, Clark says.

Cattle use of riparian areas

collared cow
This beef cow is wearing a Clark ATS Plus GPS collar.

The wolf-cattle study has added insight into how cattle use a range area. John Williams, Oregon State University Extension, says data from collared cows have helped answer some resource management questions, including how cattle spend time in a riparian area.

“We’re now collaring more than 80 cattle each year [10 from each study site] and have four years of data. Each study site gives us close to a half-million data points.” he says.

Several graduate students have done masters’ theses on cattle use patterns in riparian areas. “One looked at how much time cattle spend in a riparian area, and found that regardless of where they are on various ranges, cattle spend less than 3% of their time within five meters of the streams,” says Williams.

Another graduate student looked at what cows do while in a riparian pasture. “We put one-second collars on cattle to see how much time they spend eating, lounging, and how much total time they spend within five meters of the creek — and where they cross the creek. They picked about three spots where they go down to the water to drink, and then go back out,” he says.

Data from these studies indicate that range cattle are using riparian areas far less than traditional literature suggests. They generally come in to get a drink and move back to the uplands. If they spend any time near the stream, it’s generally up on the stream terrace and not in the riparian zone, Williams says.

Wolf threat to humans

When wolf numbers are controlled, wolves tend to stay farther back in the high country, says Anderson, manager of the OX Ranch near Council, ID. “When they’re protected, they lose their fear of humans.”

His wife found wolf tracks in fresh snow less than 50 ft. from their house. “We’ve had wolves lie on the county road in the snow at night, next to the corrals, watching cattle under a light at the end of the barn,” he says.
Data from the collared wolf show how close these wolves are coming to homes and human activity. “We have several houses here on the ranch. The collared wolf came within 500 yards of one house 307 times that summer,” Anderson says.

The pack of 12 came within 300 yards of the ranch lodge, and spent all day there. “The people who take care of the lodge have three little boys. The wolves were right above the county road in a little clump of timber, watching the lodge. The collared wolf was there with them, in what we call a ‘rendezvous site.’ ”

A rendezvous site is where wolves park their pups with a baby-sitter wolf while the pack hunts. Dave Ausband, a University of Montana wildlife researcher, has developed a wolf rendezvous prediction-site model. From that, he created a wolf rendezvous site map for the state of Idaho.

“These rendezvous sites anchor the distribution patterns of the entire pack to specific points,” says Clark, a range scientist with USDA’s Northwest Watershed Research Center in Boise, ID.

“Out of curiosity, we plotted our wolf GPS data and our cattle GPS data from one of our Idaho study areas onto Ausband’s map, and found the clusters of concentrated wolf location data lined up with areas predicted on the map as high-quality wolf rendezvous-site habitat,” he says. He says the map and model could help predict where wolf-use patterns and cattle-use patterns frequently overlap.

Wolf rendezvous sites tend to be in grassy areas close to water — not necessarily riparian areas, but meadows without much overhead cover. These areas also happen to be good foraging areas for cattle.

Heather Smith Thomas is a rancher and freelance writer in Salmon, ID.


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Pay Attention To Animal Treatment Outcomes

calf health and BRD

Antibiotics rely on the ability of the animal to contribute to the resolution of infectious disease. To be effective, the antibiotic must be able to inhibit the growth of the pathogen, or kill it, by interacting with a target.

That might be a cell wall protein that leads to the bacteria essentially exploding. Or the target may be the protein factory within the cell — the ribosome. Some of our antibiotics work on the DNA itself, eliminating the ability of the bacteria to manage its genetic code, leading to cell death.

What all antibiotics have in common is the ability of bacteria to develop resistance. This may be from altering the binding site for activity, developing a way to kick the antibiotic back out of the cell (efflux pumps), or possessing an enzyme that inactivates the antibiotic before it can work. Here is a case from last year where laboratory results suggest that resistance was part of the challenge in some new arrivals.

A producer received calves on Nov. 1, and elected to treat them for control of bovine respiratory disease (BRD) with drug A at initial processing. The calves also received a modified-live, five-way viral vaccine and other typical receiving inclusions.

When they started to break about 10 days later, the sick calves were again treated with drug A, and non-responders were treated again with drug B (of the same class as drug A). On Dec. 1, the producer had treated 25% of the calves for BRD. While certainly not desirable, a 25% morbidity rate by itself doesn’t make this case stand out.

What was concerning was that half the treated calves had died: a case fatality rate of 50%. This is higher than observed in untreated controls in almost all of the approval studies for the antibiotics we have on the market today.

To help determine what was going on, a chronically ill calf was humanely euthanized and samples of its lung submitted. After receiving an antibiotic three times as described above, the Mannheimia haemolytica present in this calf was resistant to the antibiotic class that had been repeatedly used on it, as well as several other key antibiotic groups which we use to treat BRD. We can’t say if this was the dominant pathogen at the beginning of this calf’s illness, but what survived the treatments was a multi-drug-resistant pathogen, which most likely was present at the time of initial treatment.

Brian Lubbers and Gregg Hanzlicek, Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine, recently published a summary of susceptibility testing results for Mannheimia haemolytica isolates submitted to the Kansas State Diagnostic Laboratory from 2009 to 2011. The percentage of isolates showing resistance to at least three of our respiratory antibiotics were 42%, 46%, and 63%, respectively. Some of these isolates are resistant to five of our main drugs.


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This doesn’t mean that all BRD pathogens are like this, but it does indicate that some cases for which veterinarians submit samples are displaying this pattern. Many of these samples came from treated animals, some of them treated multiple times, and many are from high-risk, commingled calves. I believe the multi-drug-resistant pathogen was very likely part of the population of Mannheimia haemolytica in the calf at the onset of disease.

I recommend producers work closely with their vet to develop a sound strategy for antibiotic use in their cattle, and that you immediately alert him or her when you encounter very poor BRD treatment response and/or a high case fatality rate. I discourage repeated use of an antibiotic class for both the control of BRD at initial processing and first treatment of BRD cases.

Poor treatment response isn’t always due to antibiotic resistance, and switching antibiotics or getting more exotic with combinations is often not the way out. However, your vet can provide testing to determine if antibiotic resistance is part of the problem, and counsel you on treatment strategies. 

Mike Apley, DVM, Ph.D., is a professor in clinical sciences at Kansas State University in Manhattan.


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How Much Will Consumers Pay For Beef?

Consumers have been paying near-record retail prices for beef, and with fewer and fewer head on feed, one has to assume that prices are going up, and going up for the foreseeable future.

At what point do consumers say, “No thanks, I’ll have a pork chop instead?” Pork and poultry producers are banking on that in a big way in 2014, and in some cases it might already be happening.

USDA reported that August feedlot placements were the smallest on record since the current data series began in 1996. At 1.79 million head, placements were down 11% from last year, and well below the average of analysts’ pre-report estimates.

Last month’s report showed a similar surprise, with July placements down 10% from the previous year, at 1.72 million head. Consider also that placements last year declined some 10% from the July 2011 figure, so the July placements were being compared to already low placement levels in 2012.

To read more about August placements and beef prices, click here.

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HSUS Tells Shelters It’s Okay To Kill Animals

HSUS tells shelter its okay to kill pets

Nathan J. Winograd, director for the No Kill Advocacy Center, recently penned an opinion piece featured on the Huffington Post. The op-ed, “HSUS Tells Animal Shelters: Go Ahead And Kill Animals If You Want,” brings to light what many of us already know about animal rights activists: the health and safety of the animals aren’t their top priority.

You might recall that the Center For Consumer Freedom reported that “PETA killed a staggering 89.4% (29,398) of the adoptable pets in its care during 2012. Despite years of public outrage over its euthanasia program, the notorious animal rights group has continued killing adoptable dogs and cats at an average of over 30 pets/week.”

The Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) is often characterized as “PETA in a business suit,” and although it appears to be less radical in its tactics than PETA, HSUS’s multi-million-dollar annual budget isn’t saving many dogs or cats either.

Winograd is an advocate for the “No Kill Equation” model for animal shelters, which seeks to offer care to animals that can potentially be adopted. According to Winograd, “Through the No Kill Equation, every healthy and treatable animal entering a shelter can have a new beginning instead of the end of the line they face, if those shelters commit themselves wholeheartedly to building the infrastructure necessary to create and sustain a No Kill nation.”

He says that today many shelters can save 90-99% of the animals in their care, while other shelters are killing up to 99% of the animals they house in their facilities. How can this be? And why?

Winograd writes, “Can anyone with even a hint of compassion actually say it is better to kill baby kittens than bottle-feed them? Kill animals rather than promote adoptions? Kill animals rather than work with rescue groups? Of course not, especially since implementing alternatives to killing is more cost-effective, and in many cases, cheaper than killing animals. Tragically, however, many shelter directors have decided that it is better to kill baby kittens, to kill animals despite rescue groups ready, willing and able to save them, and to kill animals rather than keeping them alive long enough to find homes. In fact, some shelters have no adoption hours, are not open to the public for adoptions, and refuse to do any adoptions, choosing to kill the animals instead.”

Winograd says there’s a proven alternative that isn’t difficult, expensive or impractical to employ, and that should be promoted by the nation’s large national animal protection groups.

“But they are not. Instead, after admitting that these programs are crucial to save lives, they tell shelters that not only do they ‘remain at the discretion of each community to choose whether and how to implement,’ but that they should not be criticized for refusing to do so, while millions of animals continue to lose their lives in shelters every year precisely because those shelters have chosen not to. Worse, they tell activists that they should not try to force shelters to implement those programs, even though doing so would save the lives of the animals they are currently killing. In other words, HSUS is telling shelters these programs are necessary to save lives, but they do not have to do them and can choose to kill the animals instead.”

Winograd says such policy changes in places like California have resulted in a 370% increase in shelter-animal adoptions, at no cost to taxpayers. Yet, HSUS opposed these laws and endorsed a rollback of the rule in California when it was proposed. Why? How does that make sense? It just shows to me that HSUS isn’t even bothering to hide its true colors anymore. This wolf in sheep’s clothing has dropped its camouflage and exposed its claws and fangs. Plain and simple, they are after your dollar and not much else.

You can read the entire opinion piece here.

Check out a critical assessment of animal shelters here.

At face value, this article about animal shelters doesn’t appear to have anything to do with livestock producers. However, I urge you to think critically about how this can impact your livelihoods. If HSUS and PETA are no longer even trying to pretend to care about dogs and cats, what do you think they are busy doing instead? Animal agriculture has had a target on its back for many years now, and it’s no secret that HSUS would love to abolish animal agriculture and promote a vegan society, if given the chance.

Are you outraged at the level of euthanasia in pet shelters? Why do you think so many people willingly send money to support HSUS and PETA? Do you think these groups are direct threats to animal agriculture? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.


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Arizona, California, Ohio, Tennessee And Texas Represented On 2014 National Beef Ambassador Team

2014 National Beef Ambassadors

Five young women were selected to the 2014 National Beef Ambassador Team in recent competition held in Springdale, AR, and funded in part by the beef checkoff. During the coming year, the youth ambassadors (17-21 years of age) will appear at consumer events, in classrooms, and visit online and elsewhere about the beef industry and misconceptions, as well as educate their peers and meal‐time decision makers about beef nutrition, cattle care, safety and more.

Named to the 2014 team were Tori Summey (Arizona), Emma Morris (California), Sierra Jepsen (Ohio), Rachael Wolters (Tennessee), and Justana Von Tate (Texas). The national competition included a field of 22 state winners who were judged in the areas of consumer promotion, education and outreach strategy, media interview technique and issues response at the event held in Springdale, AR.

Contestants from throughout the country vied for a place on this elite team of agriculture advocates and $5,000 in cash prizes sponsored exclusively by Farm Credit. Additionally five educational scholarships totaling $5,000 were given by the American National CattleWomen Foundation, Inc. and Monsanto.

2014 National Beef Ambassador Team
Rachael Wolters (Tennessee), Emma Morris (California), Tori Summey (Arizona), Sierra Jepsen (Ohio), Justana Von Tate (Texas)

This year’s contest also hosted a junior competition for youth beef industry advocates ages 12‐16. Twelve contestants vied for cash prizes, competing in three judged categories: consumer promotion, media interview technique, and issues response. The first-place winner was Katelin Spradley (New Mexico). The second-place winner was Madison Martin (Tennessee), and the third-place winner was Phillip Saunders (Virginia). They all took home checks sponsored exclusively by Farm Credit for their top scores.

While preparing for this national beef promotion and education competition, youth across the nation learn about beef and the beef industry with support from state CattleWomen and Cattlemen’s associations and state beef councils. The preparation highlights industry issues of current consumer interest. Winners of the state competitions compete at the national level where they receive additional training.

You can follow the National Beef Ambassadors on Twitter at @beefambassador and visit or for more information.


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