Archive for the 'Miscellaneous' Category

Free-ranged, pasture-raised chicken *cooks differently* than its industrial counterpart!

Free-ranged, pasture-raised chicken *cooks differently* than its industrial counterpart!

“Spring chickens.” Although industrial chickens are not a seasonal product, this expression has remained in our communal memory. A spring chicken is one that is hatched in the spring, not one that is harvested in the spring. In fact even that observation has a further cause: eggs have become symbolic of Easter because right around Easter is when natural egg production peaks. Chickens are hormonally sensitive not only to the number of daylight hours, but also to the rate of change of the number of daylight hours. When the days are long and rapidly increasing, like now, egg production increases because the hen’s body knows that now is a good time to start a family.

So in the days before confinement feedlotting, chickens for meat were generally started in the spring. In 1935, a meat chicken took 16 weeks to reach full maturity, at which point the dressed-out carcass had an average weight of 2.5 pounds. With selective breeding, antibiotics, and hybridization, in the industrial sector a chicken now reaches a dressed-out weight of five pounds in only 45 days (5.5 weeks). Puberty for a chicken occurs at about 18 weeks of age. Forgive the human analogy, but this is rather like a kindergarten child (1/3rd the puberty age) weighing twice the normal, healthy adult weight!  In 1935, a spring chicken was one that was started in the spring and ready some four months later, in mid-summer, when the chicken had had the full benefit of several months of lush pasture to eat.  In other words, chickens harvested in July and August are the best spring chickens!

Pastured chickens at Kookoolan Farms in Yamhill, Oregon

Pastured chickens at Kookoolan Farms in Yamhill, Oregon

Through WWII, chicken was the most expensive meat on the table. They took a long time to raise and required more careful guarding from predators than larger animals. After WWII, with the development of artificial light, artificial environment control, and artificial vitamin D, a 40-year series of “production improvements” gradually led to much lower-priced chicken produced on a massive scale. Most recently these include disturbing practices such as keeping the lights on 24 hours a day and giving the chickens caffeine, so that they almost never sleep and just eat all the time, gaining weight much more quickly!

When you buy pasture-raised chickens direct from a small farmer, you are in general getting a product that is different from its industrial counterpart in every conceivable way. At every step of the industrial process that reduces cost, your local small farm is likely doing things closer to the methods of 100 years ago, with vastly superior quality and commensurately higher cost.  Generally you can expect to pay $5 to $6 a pound for pasture-raised chicken that has received 100% certified organic feed.  The question really is not why does this chicken cost so much:  it’s how can industrially-raised chicken cost so little?

The eggs of industrially-raised meat chickens are injected with a long-acting antibiotic the day before the chick hatches; this antibiotic causes the animals to retain water. This is why “regular” chicken exudes so much water when you cook it. Our chickens do not get antibiotics and do not retain water, so that water is not available during cooking. Also industrially-raised chickens are killed at only 45 days old (5.5 weeks old) while ours are killed at nine weeks old. This is still a very young chicken: chickens reach puberty at about 18 weeks old. But the slower growth means that the chickens are far healthier; in general chickens raised on small farms have far fewer heart attacks and leg defects compared to industrially raised chickens.

Chickens that are truly free-ranged on pasture get the health benefits of far more exercise than industrial chickens. The extra 3.5 weeks of outdoor exercise means they have more muscle development compared to industrially raised chickens.

The sum of these better husbandry practices results in a meat that actually tastes like chicken, with a depth and richness of flavor that industrially-raised chickens cannot even approach.

Because the meat is qualitatively so different start to finish, perhaps it’s not surprising to hear that the meat performs much differently in the kitchen as well, and that different cooking methods are needed to bring out the tenderness. These are the same cooking methods our grandmothers used; it’s only since the 1980′s that boneless skinless breasts were available and we started using quick cooking methods for chicken!  Pasture-raised chickens must be cooked more slowly: at a lower temperature for a longer time; or else they can become very tough. When roasting a chicken, turn the oven down to 275 and expect it to take 50% longer. When grilling, turn the heat down to low. When cooking on the stovetop, turn the heat down to braise rather than quickly fry. If simmering in a Quorma sauce for example, turn the heat down to a simmer and let it simmer longer. Also moist cooking methods (covered roasting, simmering, or braising) are better than dry cooking methods (searing, grilling, or uncovered roasting) because again all that extra water is NOT present in unmedicated animals.

Juicy slow-roasted, pasture-raised chicken has a depth of flavor unmatched by industrially-raised chicken.

Juicy slow-roasted, pasture-raised chicken has a depth of flavor unmatched by industrially-raised chicken.

Pasture-raised chickens have far more flavor and nutrition compared to their industrially-raised counterparts, as well as being better for the chicken, and better for the environment. It’s a seasonal product, and farmers are just beginning to start their baby chicks now for the season. Use www.localharvest.org, and www.eatwild.com, to find a farmer near you!

THERE IS NO ZERO

THERE IS NO ZERO

Concern over nitrate-nitrogen in our waters seems to mounting.  This is not new.  There have always been individuals who want to focus on nitrate-nitrogen in surface water and/or the water flowing through tile lines.  As discussions about nitrate-nitrogen in our waters continue, there appears to be a few individuals who believe that there should be absolutely no nitrate-nitrogen in our waters.  In other words, the concentration should be zero. Better yet, is this realistic thinking?

In order to address this question, a study was conducted at the Research and Outreach  Center, Lamberton to measure the amount of nitrate-nitrogen flowing through tile lines placed under various cropping systems.  These were 1) continuous corn, 2) corn/soybeans, 3)soybean/corn, 4)alfalfa, and 5)prairie  grasses.  To keep this discussion  simple, this blog will focus on the alfalfa and prairie grasses.  Suggested practices were used for the production of each crop.  The soil in each plot was encased in plastic  to the depth of the tile lines to prevent any lateral movement of nitrate-nitrogen.  Flow through the tile lines was measured and tile water was analyzed for nitrate-nitrogen.  By multiplying concentration by flow it was possible to calculate load reported as pounds per acre.  The alfalfa and prairie grass plots were not fertilized.  Alfalfa was treated with inoculant at the time of seeding to stimulate nodulation.

I’ve summarized the data collected from 1991 through 1994.   For these four years, the average load of nitrate-nitrogen in tile lines below alfalfa was 2.3 lb. per acre. This value is for the entire growing season.  For the perennial grass mixture, the average load for the growing season was 1.3 lb. per acre.  These values are low.  But, they do show that nitrate-nitrogen flows through soil to tile lines –even when no nitrogen fertilizer has been applied.

So, where does the nitrate come from?  There are two potential sources: 1) the soil and the organic matter in the soil and)the above and below ground residue from the perennial forage crops.  Both sources of organic material are decomposed via the process called mineralization.  The end result of this important process is the production of nitrate-nitrogen.  This nitrate-nitrogen is free to move to the tile lines in the same way as nitrate-nitrogen from manures and/or commercial fertilizers.

Mineralization is largely affected by both soil temperature and soil moisture content.  Therefore, there is no reliable way to predict  the amount of nitrate-nitrogen formed in this process.  So, it’s important to take measurements used in this study over several years.  Precipitation, the driving force in downward movement, varies from year to year.

The load of nitrate-nitrogen moving through the tile lines is, of course, affected by the amount of water moving downward through the soil which, in turn, is affected by crop  water use.  Water flow is reported as acre-inches.  From 1991 through 1994 at this site, there were 5.1 inches of flow under the alfalfa for the entire growing season (a four-year average).  During the growing season for the same number of years, average flow was 7.4 inches for the mixed grass cropping system.  These values are approximately one-half the flow from the corn-soybean rotation.  These data provide support for the general concept that perennial forages can reduce the amount of nitrate-nitrogen flowing through tile lines when compared to the corn-soybean rotation.  The merits and disadvantages of these cropping systems have been debated and discussed for some time.  No doubt, these discussions will continue.  These data also clearly show that the amount of nitrate-nitrogen leaving a soil system is never zero.

We will probably never know for sure; but, it’s reasonable to conclude that downward movement of nitrate-nitrogen was probably taking place when the buffalo roamed the grass prairies. There is no zero.  Putting perception and emotion aside, the facts show that nitrate-nitrogen is produced in any biological system.  There  is no zero.

 

 

New Year Tax Reminders !

New Year Tax Reminders !

The end of 2012 and beginning of 2013 have been full of’ buzz’ about what taxes might change or wouldn’t change unless Congress took some action. All the talk was in fairly general terms, but now that things are a bit more settled down, you need to remember to take action based on what really did happen.
There are two quick items employers need to remember before making tax deposits on behalf of their employees.
1. The social security rate reverted to its old level which means 2% more than you were withholding last year from employees’ paychecks. Be sure you make that correction in pay checks, and in your deposits.
2. There are new federal tax withholding tables. In fact, there have been two editions issued since December 31. A notice sent January 16, indicates that a second,apparently revised set, was just issued so disregard the tables published December 31. Here is a copy of that IRS notice along with information about a couple bulletins that might be helpful to you.

Updated withholding tables show new rates in effect for 2013 and supersede tables issued on Dec. 31.

“Employers should start using the revised withholding tables and correct the amount of Social Security tax withheld as soon as possible, but not later than Feb. 15.
Related links:
IR-2013-1, IRS Provides Updated Withholding Guidance for 2013
Notice 1036, Early Release Copies of the 2013 Percentage Method Tables for Income Tax Withholding

While you are at tax updating. This isn’t a bad time to remind your employees they can update their W-4 information which establishes how many exemptions they want to claim for tax withholding purposes this year. The W-4 can be revised at any time, but the beginning of the year is always a convenient time to remind them.

Nearly all tax forms and information packets you might need are available to you on-line at www.irs.gov.

Enjoy your tax season !

We Aren’t Alone in the Dairy Labor Quandry

We Aren't Alone in the Dairy Labor Quandry

Immigrant labor on dairy farms is the frequent subject of discussion and debate. A 2010 survey of dairy farms in Minnesota found that 45% on non-family workers on Minnesota dairies are Spanish-speaking. Reasons often given for employing Hispanic workers include a willingness to work the long hours, dependability, and lack of local workers interested in the work.

The U.S. isn’t facing this issue alone.  A recent article published by an on-line New Zealand newspaper pointed out they are facing the same issue.  New Zealand’s dairymen are employing more and more people from Southeast Asia, the Pacific Island nations, and even South America for exactly the same reasons farmers in the U.S. are employing immigrants. One of the most common is that local, sometimes unemployed, workers have little desire to work the long hours of a dairy worker.  Does that sound familiar?

One significant difference is that New Zealand has an immigrant worker program that helps them identify and bring qualified workers with the verified skills necessary to successfully perform the tasks they are asked to cover.   It helps screen immigrants and improves the quality of the laborers employed on the farms.  New Zealand is also an attractive place for those immigrants to work.    As Willy Leferink, the chairman of Federated Farmer’s Dairy Industry Group, said,  “Additionally, there was the pull of “earning $14 per hour as opposed to $14 per day…”

To read the full article, go to:  http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/8141473/Dairy-farms-turn-to-migrants

Pre- and post-weaning practices to enhance cattle health and profit

Pre- and post-weaning practices to enhance cattle health and profit

By Alfredo DiCostanzo University of Minnesota Beef Team | 0 comments
As feeder prices have increased, the old adage “Fragile, Handle with Care” is taking on a more relevant meaning.
Prior to or after weaning, whether retained on the farm for backgrounding or sent to grass as a stocker or yard on a growing or finishing diet, current feeder calf values dictate careful management to prevent illness and subsequent death and to ensure prompt adaptation to their new environment.
Even at a time of high grain and input prices, higher feeder prices remain the single most expensive investment for an operation that grows or finishes cattle.
Concurrently, for cow-calf operators, the value of a single feeder calf weaned at their farm or ranch increased nearly 35 percent since 2010. Because costs of keeping a cow have also increased since 2010, a single weaned calf represents a major contribution to both recovering costs and the difference between profits and losses.
Consider results from recent sales in South Dakota (USDA South Dakota Weekly Summary, Nov. 17, 2012). Steer calves selling at 500 to 600 lbs averaged $165/cwt while their female counterparts weighing from 400 to 500 lbs averaged $167/cwt. Assuming a simple, combined average of $166/cwt, for a cow herd that exposed 100 cows and weaned and sold 85 525-lb calves, the effective revenue from sales would be $74,077, $870/calf or $741/cow.
Interestingly, USDA ERS reported costs of production for cow-calf operations in the Upper Midwest region from $640 to $740/cow. This value demonstrates that although calf prices are attractive to cow-calf producers, the possibility of netting a profit is not large.
Therefore, although feeder prices are attractive for cow-calf operators, the incentive remains to conduct the appropriate practices to ensure calf health at weaning and beyond. It is interesting to note in local sales reports the number of lots selling bulls or non-vaccinated cattle. Yet, research conducted and reported prior to feeder price increases of recent years demonstrated the main three factors negatively affecting feeder calf price obtained at sales barns: horns, bulls, and sick-looking cattle.
Dairy breeds were also discounted, while lot size, black color coat, and previous vaccination returned premiums in feeder price.
The characteristics of a good vaccination program must be discussed with a veterinarian attending each farm or ranch to determine the most appropriate program for the herd and calves given the particulars of each specific situation.
However, once the decision is made for a given program, care must be given to procuring, storing and handling vaccines to prevent reduction in effectiveness. Maintaining vaccines refrigerated immediately after arrival and until ready to be used is the first step in retaining their immunity-stimualtingproperties.
Proper storage and handling, while processing cattle in working facilities, involves use of coolers, ice packs, and portable cooler thermometers to monitor temperature while vaccines are temporarily away from the main storage unit. Reconstituting only the amount of vaccine needed for a given group of cattle to work within a day is also important in achieving a good immunization response.
Further, any reconstituted vaccine remaining once the day’s work is done must be discarded. Use of clean needles of the appropriate gauge (16 ga for automatic syringes) and length (3/4″ for subcutaneous administration) are also recommended. Changing needles often will prevent disease transmission.
Continuous observation of calves will lead to discovering and treating sick animals promptly. Treatment plans for respiratory, digestive and locomotion diseases must be based on observation of facilities, feeding program, previous disease incidence and disease response to treatments, necropsy results, vaccination and deworming programs, purchasing and marketing programs, and nutrient analyses of feeds and water.
These plans must be discussed with the attending veterinarian at least once yearly, and reviewed in case of outbreaks. Further treatment plans must be shared with every person observing cattle in pens or working facilities.
Evaluations of facilities and facilities management plans must include yard orientation, ventilation, and access to feed, water and shelter. Often times, certain pens within a yard are more prone to stale, windy or muddy conditions leading to poorer performance and greater incidence of sick cattle.
Careful consideration must be given to reducing carrying capacity or simply not stocking these “problem spots.” High-moisture diets, common when feeding co-products, may produce excessive moisture conditions in bedding and high-traffic areas. Therefore, management adaptations to include greater scraping and bedding schedules, and manure pack clean-out rate must be made to prevent health issues resulting from excessive moisture conditions in the pen.
As grain and input prices have increased, beef cattle producers must adapt and re-think their health management plans. Although prices they receive for cattle they raise have also increased, profit margins are still narrow.
Therefore, retaining profitability during these conditions will require additional attention to detail, and frequent re-evaluation of management approaches. Managers that are observant, analytical and quick to evaluate and change their established approaches to retain efficiencies in managing genetics, nutrition and health will continue to reap benefits yet possible with narrow profit margins.

Be prepared for feed quality issues with 2012 harvest

By Grant Crawford, Ph. D. Form-A-Feed Beef Technical Services and Allen Bridges, Ph.D. North Central Research and Outreach Center, University of Minnesota Beef Team | 0 comments
The summer of 2012 has presented us a great deal of challenges. This fall’s crop will be characterized by lower than expected yields in many places as well as dryer than expected crops. These concerns could lead to quality and quantity issues when harvest high-moisture crops such as corn silage and earlage and even dry kernel corn.
Common issues regarding crop quality include molds and mycotoxins. Mycotoxins in feedstuffs can reduce performance in cattle and can have detrimental effects on both finishing animals and reproducing males and females.
Aspergillus, an olive-green powdery mold, is favored by hot, dry conditions at pollination. These conditions were present in many areas this summer. Aspergillus begins to grow when corn moisture is around 32 percent, and will continue to grow until moisture drops below 15 percent.
Aspergillus itself is not the greatest concern. The greater concern occurs when Aspergillus fungi produce the mycotoxin aflatoxin. Aflatoxin growth is promoted with high temperatures during grain fill and pollination, and may also be promoted when high overnight temperatures (greater than 70 degrees) are present.
As kernel moisture decreases, aflatoxin production increases. Optimum aflatoxin growth occurs at 18-20 percent kernel moisture and stops at around 15 percent kernel moisture. If Aspergillus is a potential concern, producers should scout their fields at 5-10 locations throughout the field. If powdery-green molds are present on greater than 10 percent of the ears sampled, the field should be scheduled for immediate harvest and ears should be sent in to a testing laboratory for analyses.
If suspect feed is tested and aflatoxin concentration is below 200 parts-per-billion (ppb), the feed should be safe for all classes of cattle. At 200 ppb, calves may show reduced intake and weight gain, while adult cattle may not be affected until concentrations reach 500 ppb or greater.
These feeds can be utilized, but should be diluted so that aflatoxin concentrations do not exceed 20 ppb in the total ration for calves, 100 ppb for breeding cows, and 300 ppb for finishing cattle.
For the reproducing animals, the mycotoxin zearalenone (ZEA) is also of concern. Zearalenone is produced by the fungus that causes gibberalla ear rot, Fusarium graminearum, and often co-exists with the mycotoxin deoxynivalenol (DON), also known as vomitoxin. Zearalenone has many profound impacts on reproductive function due to its estrogenic actions.
Zearalenone competes with the naturally produced hormone estradiol-17‚ for binding sites (estradiol receptors) in various organs in the body of both males and females. Although the efficiency that ZEA will bind to the estrogen receptor is low (< 10 percent the affinity), it can interfere with normal reproductive functions. By mimicking the actions of estradiol, ZEA can cause estrogenic effects even when natural estradiol concentrations should be low.
Additionally, ZEA can obstruct normal steroid hormone (estradiol, testosterone, progesterone) synthesis in the ovaries and testicles of livestock.
Prolonged exposure to ZEA through consumption of contaminated feed is a concern in heifers. Effects of extended exposure to ZEA may be similar to the effects of implanting heifers at birth or at weaning with estrogenic implants and may negatively impact subsequent reproductive function.
Beef and dairy producers should be cautious when feeding ZEA-contaminated corn (5+ ppm) to developing heifers, since the estrogenic activity of ZEA can compromise normal endocrine function and uterine development. Heifers consuming as little as 1.5 ppm of ZEA in the feed have exhibited swelling of the mammary gland and increased incidences of vagintitis.
This would also include creep rations for beef calves. In females during the breeding season, ZEA concentrations greater than 10 ppm in the feed can result in failure to conceive and increased incidences of abortions. Diets of non-lactating cows in late gestation should not contain more than 20 ppm of ZEA.
If you are concerned your feedstuffs may be contaminated with a mycotoxin and/or animal are exhibiting aliments associated with mycotoxins contact your nutritionist or extension specialist. They can provide additional information on handling feeds that may be infected with aflatoxin or zearalenone.
For more information on this and other beef-related topics, visit the University of Minnesota Beef Team website at www.extension.umn.edu/beef .

MN Agricultural Workers Must be Paid Overtime

MN Agricultural Workers Must be Paid Overtime

On July 9, 2012, The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed an order by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry that a Minnesota dairy operation must pay overtime premium wages to its agricultural employees. At issue in this case was whether the commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry correctly determined that agricultural workers who are paid on an hourly basis are not exempt from the overtime requirements of the Minnesota Fair Labor Standards Act (“MFLSA”).
Under the MFLSA, employers must pay minimum wages and overtime compensation to all employees unless the employees are specifically exempt under the law. More specifically, workers must be paid at a premium pay rate of 1-1/2 times their regular rate if they work more than 48 hours in a workweek. Under Minnesota law however, there is an exemption for certain agricultural workers, excluding from the definition of an employee “any individual employed in agriculture on a farming unit or operation who is paid a salary greater than the individual would be paid if the individual worked 48 hours at the state minimum wage plus 17 hours at 1-1/2 times the state minimum wage per week.” Minn. Stat. § 177.23, subd. 7(2).
In the case in front of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, the Minnesota dairy farm argued that its employees meet the statutory exemption because their weekly wages exceeded the threshold set by the statute. In contrast, the Department of Labor and Industry argued that, in order to fit within the exemption, the agricultural workers must be paid on a salaried—rather than hourly—basis. The Court held that because “salary is defined by the rules to require a predetermined wage for each workweek” the exemption did not apply to the Minnesota dairy farm’s employees.

Feeder and Feed Procurement and Prospects for Profit in the Feedlot

A. DiCostanzo and G.I. Crawford University of Minnesota Beef Team

A quick look at the US Drought Monitor website, under the animation tab (http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/6_week.gif), reveals the progress of one of the worst droughts on record.
At the moment, this tool indicates that we are at the worst of the drought.

States where corn is grown are in the center of areas deemed to be suffering extreme to exceptional drought.
The animation feature aids in demonstrating how Eastern Corn Belt states were already experiencing moderate to severe drought by mid-June. Concurrently, prospects for the U.S. corn crop are forecast near 11 billion bushels, the lowest since 2006.
Political, environmental, and socio-economic discourse on whether we should be using ethanol for fuel continues from coffee shops in suburbia and towns across America to government buildings in Washington.
The reality for many cattle feeders in the Upper Midwest, although affected by the outcome of these discussions, is summarized by one question: I have facilities to feed cattle, I planted corn both for cattle feed and grain sales, do I feed cattle in 2012-2013? If I decide to feed cattle, when, where, and how much can I pay for feeders, how much feed can I provide from my farm ground, and, more importantly, will I be profitable?
Currently, the situation is one of uncertainty: feeder prices have dropped 30 precent from bullish prices in June, corn fields are either in very poor to somewhat good condition, depending on where the feedlot is located, fed cattle markets are slowly recovering from an early hit caused by drought-forced feeder and cow liquidation.
In addition, the economy is recovering slowly, but will likely be impacted by increasing food prices brought on by effects of the drought. On top of all this, it is election year—real decisions on items of political importance will not be made until after a winner is declared.
Barring a massive economic recession and/or continued drought, fed cattle prices and feeder prices will likely regain strength. The reason: lower feeder and fed cattle inventories.
Considering the continued liquidation of the US beef herd both in 2011 and 2012, prospects for inventory-imposed price weakness are nil for the next 5 to 7 years; unless world beef consumption drops at a faster rate than cattle inventories.
Thus, are there windows of opportunities for profit in the feeder-farmer feedyard? A few scenarios where this is possible are outlined below.
The main requirements to take advantage of these are to be nimble, astute, and neighborly, and always take into consideration negative responses by plants to drought: nitrates, prussic acid poisoning, mycotoxins, etc.
Here is a list of opportunities for a feeder-farmer facing, from worst to best scenarios:
Drought-obliterated corn field: prospects for end to the drought have been raised as El Nino is forecast to reoccur. Prospects for fall rains in Midwest states present an opportunity to consider planting small grains such as winter wheat, triticale, oats, etc., which can potentially be harvested for raising some feed for backgrounding cattle or wintering beef cows (see below).
Immature, low-yielding, drought-stricken corn fields: raising lightweight feeders to heavy weights for entry into feedlot or wintering beef cows for friends, neighbors or investing partners from other drought-stricken states.
Based on purchase price of $1.50/lb as a 550-lb feeder steer, sale price of $1.30/lb as a 950-lb backgrounded steers, a feed conversion of 8 lb DM/lb gain, non-field crop expenses (supplement, bedding, yardage and delivery fees) of $235, returns a net worth to standing corn or small grain fields of $500/acre. Greater returns may be achievable if non-field crop expenses are lower than presented herein.
Nearly normal corn fields: feeding heavy yearlings to harvest weights near 1,400 lb or selling corn to local elevator. It is not necessary to emphasize that 2012-2013 will be the year heavy cattle will be favored to feed to heavier end points.
What is necessary to emphasize is that health costs, albeit increasing, and measures to improve efficiency are worth every penny. A dead $1,235 950-lb feeder is worth $12/head prevention in a 100-head pen.
Similarly, finishing cattle to heavier end points reduces feed efficiency. Some of this efficiency can be gained back by implementing strategic use of implants and ?-agonists. Worth of corn acres harvested either as dry rolled corn or as earlage by subtracting all other non-field crop expenses ($211/head) from total income derived from selling a 1,400-lb steer at $1.20/lb, a 950-lb yearling purchased at $1.30/lb, gaining 3.3 lb/d and converting 7.25 lb DM/lb gain, is $800/acre.
When corn price is expected to be around $8/bu, feeding cattle, given the scenario above, would return only $6.50/bu. However, purchasing 950-lb yearlings at $1.25/lb or selling 1,400-lb steers at $1.25/lb easily transforms corn field worth to $1,000/acre. Neither calculation includes the value of manure returned to corn fields.
There will be no easy answers or pathways to decisions for feeder-farmers in 2012; only the opportunity to become a better business manager and neighbor. Our hope, too, is that you remember to be safe during harvest and cattle processing.

Poisons, productivity and profits – Managing cow-calf herds during drought

Poisons, productivity and profits - Managing cow-calf herds during drought

By A. DiCostanzo,
G.A. Bridges, and G. Huber
University of Minnesota Beef Team

It seems every year we are talking about some weather event. Summer of 2012 will be remembered as one long, hot, dry summer.

As we go to publication, most of the U.S. is under severe to exceptional drought conditions. Even for southern regions, precipitation events may now only serve to replenish surface and sub-soil water.

Implications of drought will be felt in various ways: low-producing pastures and forage fields; high toxin content forages and grains; lower calf gains and weaning weights; low, albeit temporarily, calf prices; and higher costs to feed cows in winter.

A list of strategies, never complete as drought effects and production conditions vary widely, to cope with poisons and low productivity to remain profitable must include the following: managing cow body condition score from now until calving; giving consideration to retaining healthy open cows; early weaning and/or retained ownership to heavier feeder weights or finishing; monitoring toxicity in ponds (blue algae) and plants (nitrates, prussic acid); and learning to scout opportunities derived from working with neighboring farmers.

However, as harsh as it may be, a deciding time like this is also a good opportunity to determine how much longer an operator plans to stay in the business. It makes less sense to consider these strategies when a sunset for the cow herd is within 3 to 5 years.

In situations when forages available to graze are limited, or of poor quality, and stocking rates cannot be adjusted, other managerial strategies must be implemented to extend forages available and to minimize losses in body condition score (BCS).

One potential option is early weaning calves. This provides two benefits. First, removing suckling calves and ceasing lactation, reduces cow nutrient requirements. Thus, cows do not need to eat as much grass to meet their requirements, and to maintain BCS.

Secondly, weaning calves preserves forage for the cows. Additionally, providing ionophores to grazing cattle improves feed efficiency, thereby permitting cows to better utilize forages available.

Lastly, if forage supply is severely limited, and cows are experiencing a dramatic loss in BCS, supplementation of feedstuffs that provide additional protein and/or energy feeds is required. While expensive to feed, failing to maintain cows in proper BCS results in reduced production, reproduction, and ultimately negatively impact production efficiency.

In spite of how intensive drought is in your neighborhood, one fact remains, and has been intensified by widespread drought – the U.S. cow herd is not expanding. Therefore, corn crop and other factors being “normal,” feeder and replacement cow inventories dictate for healthy competition in the marketplace.
This competition was observed early in the year. Missouri bred cow prices, reportedly from quality sales, dropped nearly $500/head since March 2012 (USDA Market News). Because replacement cow costs will eventually recover, when precipitation normalizes, keeping a healthy open cow in regions where winter feed supply is already secured is an option that ought to be considered.

Clearly, any cows that are not fit, healthy, or have producer lightweight calves must be culled. However, for those producers that have secured winter feed supply, the option also exists to feed cull cows to gain additional weight before selling.

Similarly, because price pressure already exists for feeder calves, the option to retain calves to a heavier end point should be considered for producers who have adequate access to winter feed supply. Consideration to retain ownership to finish weight will require additional analysis of market trends, custom feeding arrangements, and financial stability.

Several excellent publications and websites exist on the importance of testing for greater concentration of toxins in drought-stricken crops and forages. Therefore, the reader is referred to these to determine warning and maximum concentrations of these in forages and crops.

Although much of the current information on the Web is about nitrates in forage and crop plants, blue-green algae infestations of stock ponds and lakes is common during hot, dry climate observed during drought.

Initially starting as green, as algae begin to die, they change in color to blue. On observation, dying blue algae resemble glass clippings or specks of sand.
All livestock are susceptible to their strong neurotoxins from drinking blue-aglae “bloomed” water, leading to tremors, decreased movement, and difficulty breathing. The only strategy to avoid this toxin is to keep cattle away from contaminated water sources.

Precipitation or water flow reduces algae toxin accumulations, and toxicity. Similarly, prussic acid (cyanogenic compounds) accumulates in certain drought- or frost-stricken forages such as birdsfoot trefoil, sudangrass, forage or grain sorghums, Indiangrass, and white clover.

Typically, re-growth after a frost or drought in these species will lead to accumulations of prussic acid. Strategies to use these forages for cattle feed dictate a waiting period after drought or frost exposure of at least 7 days.

Also, harvesting forages as hay or silages may reduce concentrations of prussic acid, but the decrease in concentration is dependent on the initial prussic acid concentration.

One of the often underestimated and undervalued strategies in dealing with disasters such as the drought of 2012 is plain, old-fashioned neighborliness. In many locations, even in the heart of severely drought-stricken areas, there are many farmers facing different challenges.

Stunted, drought-stricken, corn fields with 4′ to 6′ tall corn plants represent a loss to a corn farmer who planted corn with the expectation of at least $6/bu at harvest time. The same field is worth anywhere from $200 to $300/animal for a cow-calf operator in need of winter feed for cows, or to add weight to 500-lb feeders. At a stocking rate of 2 head/acre, two producers who began the year with different objectives in mind can agree on $500 to $600/acre for access to a “failed” corn crop.
Similarly, cattle feeder-farmers who planted corn with the expectation of harvesting earlage or high-moisture corn for a feedlot full of high-priced feeders may alternatively consider housing wintering cows for neighbors or friends from within their county or across the country using silage from a “failed” earlage or high-moisture corn crop.

Feeder and Feed Procurement and Prospects for Profit in the Feedlot

A. DiCostanzo and G.I. Crawford University of Minnesota Beef Team

A quick look at the US Drought Monitor website, under the animation tab (http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/6_week.gif), reveals the progress of one of the worst droughts on record.
At the moment, this tool indicates that we are at the worst of the drought.

States where corn is grown are in the center of areas deemed to be suffering extreme to exceptional drought.
The animation feature aids in demonstrating how Eastern Corn Belt states were already experiencing moderate to severe drought by mid-June. Concurrently, prospects for the U.S. corn crop are forecast near 11 billion bushels, the lowest since 2006.
Political, environmental, and socio-economic discourse on whether we should be using ethanol for fuel continues from coffee shops in suburbia and towns across America to government buildings in Washington.
The reality for many cattle feeders in the Upper Midwest, although affected by the outcome of these discussions, is summarized by one question: I have facilities to feed cattle, I planted corn both for cattle feed and grain sales, do I feed cattle in 2012-2013? If I decide to feed cattle, when, where, and how much can I pay for feeders, how much feed can I provide from my farm ground, and, more importantly, will I be profitable?
Currently, the situation is one of uncertainty: feeder prices have dropped 30 precent from bullish prices in June, corn fields are either in very poor to somewhat good condition, depending on where the feedlot is located, fed cattle markets are slowly recovering from an early hit caused by drought-forced feeder and cow liquidation.
In addition, the economy is recovering slowly, but will likely be impacted by increasing food prices brought on by effects of the drought. On top of all this, it is election year—real decisions on items of political importance will not be made until after a winner is declared.
Barring a massive economic recession and/or continued drought, fed cattle prices and feeder prices will likely regain strength. The reason: lower feeder and fed cattle inventories.
Considering the continued liquidation of the US beef herd both in 2011 and 2012, prospects for inventory-imposed price weakness are nil for the next 5 to 7 years; unless world beef consumption drops at a faster rate than cattle inventories.
Thus, are there windows of opportunities for profit in the feeder-farmer feedyard? A few scenarios where this is possible are outlined below.
The main requirements to take advantage of these are to be nimble, astute, and neighborly, and always take into consideration negative responses by plants to drought: nitrates, prussic acid poisoning, mycotoxins, etc.
Here is a list of opportunities for a feeder-farmer facing, from worst to best scenarios:
Drought-obliterated corn field: prospects for end to the drought have been raised as El Nino is forecast to reoccur. Prospects for fall rains in Midwest states present an opportunity to consider planting small grains such as winter wheat, triticale, oats, etc., which can potentially be harvested for raising some feed for backgrounding cattle or wintering beef cows (see below).
Immature, low-yielding, drought-stricken corn fields: raising lightweight feeders to heavy weights for entry into feedlot or wintering beef cows for friends, neighbors or investing partners from other drought-stricken states.
Based on purchase price of $1.50/lb as a 550-lb feeder steer, sale price of $1.30/lb as a 950-lb backgrounded steers, a feed conversion of 8 lb DM/lb gain, non-field crop expenses (supplement, bedding, yardage and delivery fees) of $235, returns a net worth to standing corn or small grain fields of $500/acre. Greater returns may be achievable if non-field crop expenses are lower than presented herein.
Nearly normal corn fields: feeding heavy yearlings to harvest weights near 1,400 lb or selling corn to local elevator. It is not necessary to emphasize that 2012-2013 will be the year heavy cattle will be favored to feed to heavier end points.
What is necessary to emphasize is that health costs, albeit increasing, and measures to improve efficiency are worth every penny. A dead $1,235 950-lb feeder is worth $12/head prevention in a 100-head pen.
Similarly, finishing cattle to heavier end points reduces feed efficiency. Some of this efficiency can be gained back by implementing strategic use of implants and ?-agonists. Worth of corn acres harvested either as dry rolled corn or as earlage by subtracting all other non-field crop expenses ($211/head) from total income derived from selling a 1,400-lb steer at $1.20/lb, a 950-lb yearling purchased at $1.30/lb, gaining 3.3 lb/d and converting 7.25 lb DM/lb gain, is $800/acre.
When corn price is expected to be around $8/bu, feeding cattle, given the scenario above, would return only $6.50/bu. However, purchasing 950-lb yearlings at $1.25/lb or selling 1,400-lb steers at $1.25/lb easily transforms corn field worth to $1,000/acre. Neither calculation includes the value of manure returned to corn fields.
There will be no easy answers or pathways to decisions for feeder-farmers in 2012; only the opportunity to become a better business manager and neighbor. Our hope, too, is that you remember to be safe during harvest and cattle processing.

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