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           Iowa Beef Center, Iowa State University
July 2014   Volume 5, Issue 1
In this issue
  • Dealing with the Aftermath of Too Much Water
  • Understanding Beef Carcass Data
  • Making Your Beef Business Even Better
  • New RFI Decision Aid Tool, other news
  • The effects of management practices and pasture size on cow distribution near pasture streams
Dealing with the Aftermath of Too Much Water
By Beth Doran, ISU Extension beef program specialist
What a difference two weeks can make! Cattle producers have gone from extremely dry conditions to extremely wet and flood conditions. 
Water levels are receding, but there are still a number of issues for cattle producers - water-logged facilities, flooded pastures, earthen basins that are full and financial issues. To help producers cope with this myriad of issues, the Iowa Beef Center has updated its website with flood-related resources located at
One of the first things to check is the structural strength of the livestock buildings, electrical equipment and safety of the water systems. The potential for flooded or spilled pesticides, fuel or oil spills and flooded grain bins should also be monitored.
Flood conditions can affect the health of animals. Producers should watch for symptoms of lameness, fever, difficulty breathing, muscle contractions or swelling of the shoulders, chest, back, neck or throat. The potential exists for grazing cattle to swallow storm debris, such as nails or staples. Consequently, cattle should be monitored for “hardware disease.”
Pasture management is critical. Remove any debris and return cattle to the pasture when the ground is dry and solid. Returning cattle too soon results in trampled pastures and damaged plants. If areas of the pasture or hay ground are eroded or silt- or sand-covered, reseeding may be necessary. 
For feedlots, the issue is manure containment structures that are full and possibly over-topping. Transfer manure from full storage structures to alternative structures, if available. If no alternative storage is available, contact regional staff at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to discuss emergency measures.
There is no doubt that people who experienced flooding were affected financially. Fortunately, the new Farm Bill contains several kinds of disaster assistance programs for livestock producers. Livestock producers with livestock losses are encouraged to contact their local United States Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency. Applicants will be asked to provide documentation of the number and kind of livestock that have died. 
And, flooding surely increases the stress level of those severely impacted. But, help is available. Iowa State University maintains a Rural Concern Hotline that offers 24-hour confidential assistance related to stress, legal questions and financial concerns. It can be accessed at 800-447-1985. 
For other flood related questions, such as home cleanup, health and safety, mold or private wells, ISU Extension and Outreach has a great listing of flood resources at

Understanding Beef Carcass Data
By Chris Clark, ISU Extension beef program specialist
It's county fair time in Iowa and many young people will exhibit and sell market beef projects at these fairs. Many counties offer some type of carcass contest that may include ultrasound evaluation, and/or actual carcass data collected at slaughter. Carcass evaluations provide valuable information about the final product and are excellent learning opportunities for livestock exhibitors.

Yield grade describes the percent of carcass weight in the boneless closely trimmed retail cuts from the round, loin, rib, and chuck. Four factors are used to determine yield grade: hot carcass weight (HCW), ribeye area (REA), fat cover at the 12th rib, and kidney, pelvic, heart (KPH) fat. These four factors have traditionally been measured by USDA graders but some plants now use digital camera data to acquire this information.

The equation for calculated yield grade is 2.5 + (2.5 x fat thickness) + (0.2 x KPH) + (0.0038 x HCW) – (0.32 x REA). The yield grade scale ranges from 1 to 5 with lower yield grades being more desirable. Lean, muscular animals have lower yield grade scores. Fatter, less muscular cattle have higher yield grade scores.

Quality grade is an estimate of the intramuscular fat or marbling content of the ribeye. More marbling is considered better because it enhances the flavor and palatability of the meat. The degree of marbling is estimated by a USDA grader or by a digital camera/computer program to categorize each carcass as Prime, Choice, Select, or Standard.

Carcass designations are described as follows:  Prime - slightly abundant marbling, Choice (+) - moderate marbling, Choice - modest marbling, Choice (-) - small marbling, Select - slight marbling, and Standard - trace or devoid of marbling. When marketed on a grid, higher quality grades are worth more money. The “Choice/Select spread” is the difference between in price per cwt between Choice and Select carcasses. There are potential premiums for Prime and upper 2/3 Choice, and there are typically discounts for Standard carcasses.

Most carcass contests rank cattle according to retail value per day on feed. A mathematical equation multiplies gain in carcass weight by percent retail product (strongly related to yield grade) by carcass price (strongly related to quality grade). That product is then divided by the number of days on feed. 

For more information on carcass data, contact your ISU Extension and Outreach beef program specialist.
Director's column
Making Your Beef Business Even Better
By Dan Loy, IBC director

The beef business is good.

Cattle prices are breaking new records at every level, beef demand is strong, and feed costs are at their lowest level in years. However, competition for feeder cattle, land resources and replacement stock has never been higher.

In the worst of times, a segment of beef producers are still profitable and successful. Similarly in good times, some producers can be unprofitable. Often this is because of high costs due to either inefficiency or structural factors such as high fixed costs.

In fact, for the period of 2008 to 2012, Kansas beef cow-calf enterprise returns show a 30% difference between the highest third of operations in net return to management and the lowest third. Those in the lowest third had total per-cow costs that exceeded $1000 over that time period.

Since that time, the current optimism has fueled additional cost increases due to lowered availability of pasture and grassland as well as replacement stock.

Competition for feeder cattle already is narrowing the margins for feedlot operations, yet there’s no question that the current situation has allowed beef producers to recapture some profit after years of narrow or even negative margins.

This also is a fantastic time to do some long range planning.

Yes, times are good. However margins will narrow and the cattle business will continue to be competitive. Now is the time to develop the skills and acquire the tools to be ready for the future.

So what can you do to compete today and be successful when margins become narrow?
Read all of this column on the IBC website.
New RFI Decision Aid Tool
By Megan Van Emon, ISU animal science post-doctoral associate
Dr. Garland Dahlke of IBC at Iowa State has developed an Excel-based RFI Calculator Tool for bull or heifer developers. This tool can be used to calculate several values, including a phenotypic raw feed to gain, adjusted feed to gain, residual feed intake, residual gain, and a Feed Efficiency Index on tested contemporary groups. It facilitates the ranking, reporting and subsequent management decisions to improve the individual herds selecting for improved feed utilization.

Screen shot of the RFI calculator tool title slide
Sample data has been placed in each of the tabs to aid in working with the tool.  For easy use just replace the sample data with the data collected from the contemporary group. Multiple body weights can be used as suggested by Beef Improvement Federation guidelines (BIF) or just two weights can be used in the calculator, depending on the methodology. RFI outcomes can include ribfat measures as well in the calculation if desired. For additional operation information, please see the “notes” tab in the program.
The RFI Calculator was developed in conjunction with the National Program for the Genetic Improvement of Feed Efficiency in Beef Cattle.  A link to download the RFI Calculator tool is on that website For any questions relating to the tool, please contact Dahlke by email at or by phone at 515-294-9910. 

Reminder: International Beef Cattle Welfare Symposium
Late registration is still available for $275 for the 4th International Beef Cattle Welfare Symposium set for July 16-18 in Ames. If you're looking for another reason to attend, consider this: Greg Peterson of The Peterson Farm Brothers from Kansas will speak at the opening reception Thursday evening. (You can see their videos

Coming soon: Gerrish grazing series
A series of five workshops featuring grazing consultant Jim Gerrish will be held in different locations across Iowa August 18-22. Each session includes classroom discussions and pasture walks at local farms, with Gerrish as the featured speaker. Cost is $20 for preregistered IFGC, ICA or PFI members, $40 for the public. Walk-in fee is $10 more. The session is included in 2014 Certified Grazier or Greenhorn Grazing programs, so no fee to those participants. See the IBC website for more details.
Contact us at:
Iowa Beef Center
313 Kildee Hall
Iowa State University
Ames, IA 50011-3150
Phone: 515-294-BEEF

Twitter: @iowabeefcenter

The effects of management practices and pasture size on cow distribution near pasture streams
By Justin Bisinger, animal science graduate student (major professor -- James Russell)
Cows congregating in and near pasture streams increase risks of sediment, nutrient, and pathogen loading of water bodies. Previous research has shown management practices like off-stream water can reduce the presence of cows near streams in western rangelands.

However, the presence of cows near streams is more likely in small and/or narrow pastures. If cattle are limited to grazing land near pasture streams, management practices to reduce the presence of cattle near streams may be less effective. Therefore, a study was designed to evaluate the effects of management practices on cow distribution in 10 or 30-acre pastures.

The distance between the stream and boundary fences averaged 550 and 1550 feet in 10 and 30-acre pastures. Management treatments included unrestricted stream access without off-stream water, unrestricted stream access with off-stream water, and stream access restricted to stabilized sites. Cow positions were located with GPS collars and matched with ambient temperature.

Off-stream water sites had little effect on cow congregation near streams. The presence of cows in the riparian zone (within 110 feet of the stream) was less in pastures with stream access limited to stabilized sites and in pastures with boundary fences at a greater distance from the pasture stream.

Furthermore, limiting stream access to stabilized sites reduced the presence of cows in the riparian zone by a greater amount in pastures with boundary fences closer to the pasture stream.

Cows congregate near a pasture stream.

Cows in all treatments were more likely to spend time near the stream and shade as temperature increased. However, cows in pastures with boundary fences closer to the stream were more likely to spend time in the riparian zone over the temperature range.

In summary, implementing management practices which physically limit the presence of cows in or near pasture streams are more effective in small and/or narrow pastures than large, wide pastures.
Copyright © 2014 Iowa Beef Center at Iowa State University, All rights reserved.

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