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  • Modified Sand Hills Calving System
  • USDA Cattle Report Summary
  • A lot to talk about in the beef industry
  • New Decision Tool -- Heifer Replacement
  • Announcements and Updates

Modified Sand Hills Calving System
By Grant Dewell, ISU Extension beef veterinarian
The Sand Hills Calving System has demonstrated an effective way to reduce calf diarrhea by decreasing the buildup of pathogens in the environment and breaking the transfer of pathogens from older calves to young susceptible calves. Unfortunately, most Iowa producers do not have access to eight calving pastures to implement the Sand Hills system. However, the principles involved with decreasing exposure of neonatal calves to pathogens can be utilized.

The reason that the Sand Hills system works is that late pregnant cows are moved to a new clean pasture while pairs which have already been exposed and are potentially shedding pathogens are left behind in the pasture they have already contaminated.

For producers with limited pasture opportunities I recommend having three different calving facilities available. Rather than moving pregnant cows every 7 days into a new pasture according to the Sand Hills method, pregnant cows are moved when calf diarrhea becomes a problem. Once several calves have begun to shed high levels of pathogens from a bout of diarrhea then every calf in the area will have been exposed and pathogens levels will increase in the environment. By moving pregnant cows we can break the exposure to the new calves that are born.

Some potential scenarios for Iowa cattle producers may be to start in a calving barn early in the year when weather is more of an issue. After scours start you would start calving in a dry lot facility, and if you have to move again the third area may be pasture or hay field.

In a good year you may be able to stay in the first facility the whole time and never need to utilize the pasture. However, during a severe outbreak pre-planning to have a place to move calving areas to can save a numerous calves from neonatal diarrhea. Other options for calving areas include stubble field before planting, machine or hay storage barn, or a sacrifice pasture. The main point to remember is that we are better off moving pregnant cows to a new pasture rather than moving pairs.

USDA Cattle Report Summary
By Lee Schulz, ISU Extension livestock economist
USDA’s annual cattle inventory report confirmed what the industry had been suspecting for the past year — another year of contraction. Most final estimates were within the range of pre-report expectations with a few exceptions (namely heifers for beef cow replacement being up only 1.7%, calves under 500 pounds being down considerably at 3.7%, and the annual calf crop being down only 1.0%) ultimately reminding us that while herd rebuilding is pending in the beef cattle sector, it will likely be a slow process (at least initially) given the historically small inventory that the herd will be rebuilding from.

All told, market signals for expansion are stronger than they have been in years and continue to grow and the industry is poised to respond. Conditions permitting, 2014 could be a year of herd stabilization (with little or no growth) that often occurs in first year of herd expansion. Most herd expansions in the past have included one to two years of minimal or modest herd growth before accelerating for two to three years.

U.S. Cattle Inventory
At 87.73 million, the report showed the lowest Jan. 1 inventory of all cattle and calves in the U.S. since the 1951 total of 85.57 million. By this year, one of the longest and most severe liquidation phases in the history of cattle cycle has reduced the U.S. beef cow herd to 29.04 million, its lowest level since 1962. Last year marked the eighth consecutive year of declining beef cow numbers. And, although the 2013 beef cow culling rate of 11.0% (2013 beef cow slaughter as a percent of the Jan. 1, 2013 beef cow inventory) was recorded as the sixth consecutive year of double digit beef culling, low rates of beef cow slaughter in the last quarter of 2013 suggest producers are indeed beginning the process of herd rebuilding.

The report suggests that collectively cattlemen have continued to add youth to their breeding herds as replacement heifers are up from last year, even while the national beef cow herd has declined. And though heifer replacements are higher than estimates for the past three years, they collectively remain lower than any consecutive years since the early 1990’s suggesting “real industry-wide expansion” has yet to be initiated. But perhaps one of the most notable things about the report was that the inventory of beef replacement heifers as a percent of the beef cow herd -- at 18.8% -- was the largest in almost 40 years, including the large expansionary phase experienced in the early 1990’s.

Iowa Cattle Inventory
Iowa’s total cattle inventory was 3.70 million head, down 150,000 head or 3.9% lower than a year ago. The bulk of the decline came from a 40,000 head or 4.3% decline in the number of beef cows. The number of beef cows now stands at 885,000 head. Some of the drop is likely related to the dry pasture conditions that persisted for much of the year. According to USDA/NASS 49% of Iowa pastures were rated as poor to very poor at the close of the productive season in 2013 this is compared to 28% in the Cornbelt region (IL, IN, IA, MI, MN, MO, OH, WI ) and 29% nationally.

Heifers for beef cow replacement in Iowa totaled 150,000 head, unchanged from last year. However, important to note is heifers for beef cow replacement are at or above levels dating back to 1997 (an expansionary phase in the Iowa herd) and the inventory of beef replacement heifers as a percent of the beef cow herd, at 16.9%, was the largest in the history of the data revealing quite explicitly what the industry in Iowa would like to do. The number of cattle on feed in Iowa was 1.9% lower at 1.23 million head. Iowa’s total calf crop in 2013 was 1.02 million head down 30,000 head or 2.9%.

The full version of this article, including descriptive tables and graphs, is available in the February 2014 Iowa Farm Outlook report from Iowa State University http://www.econ.iastate.edu/ifo/files/ifo2014/ifo020114.pdf

Director's column
A lot to talk about in the beef industry
By Dan Loy, IBC director

I have to be honest, as I sat down to write this column my head is spinning.

The cattle markets are breaking through new barriers. Feed prices are moderate and everyone has a new feeder cattle price report story to top the last.

Feedlot heifers are rumored to be in short supply as the herd expansion seems to be taking shape. McDonalds announced that they will move to verified sustainable beef by 2016.

There is a proposal to increase imports from Brazil and rumors of potential of beef exports to China. Add to all this the observation that the drought monitor is beginning to show the development of some areas of drought potential in Iowa.

There is a lot to talk about in the beef industry. Whew!

The USDA will publish its cattle report that should show the extent of the expansion of the beef herd. Analysts such as Iowa State's Dr. Lee Schulz will be pouring over these numbers and evaluating their significance.

For producers, the prospects of moderate and more abundant feed costs along with higher prices are an opportunity to grow the industry. However, challenges exist as well, both long term and short term.

As part of our effort to identify those opportunities and challenges so profitable, sustainable growth of the industry will occur, you may be receiving a survey (or perhaps already have) from the Iowa Beef Center. This survey is designed to obtain information from Iowa cow-calf producers. We place a high value on your input as it helps us conduct the best research and extension and outreach programming, and to meet the future needs of Iowa beef producers. We hope you will take the time to fill out and return this survey.

Later this year we will conduct a similar survey to identify the opportunities and challenges for sustainable growth in the feedlot sector in Iowa. One of the keys to long-term success in rebuilding the beef herd is bull selection.

Look for two programs from the Iowa Beef Center (February 27 in Iowa City and March 6 at the McNay Research Farm in Chariton) that cover bull selection including the use of tools such as genomic enhanced EPDs and the “dollar” indexes.

Also, we will be webcasting the University of Nebraska Feedlot Roundtable to five Iowa sites on February 13. This is the major annual producer education event on feedlot topics hosted by UNL.

Read all of this column on the IBC website.
Raising Versus Buying Heifers for Beef Cow Replacement – New Decision Tool Now Available on Ag Decision Maker
By Patrick Gunn, ISU Extension cow-calf specialist and Lee Schulz, ISU Extension livestock economist

A major cost for cow-calf producers is obtaining an adequate supply of acceptable heifers for replacements in the herd. Although most producers raise their own, purchasing replacements sometimes can be an attractive alternative.

Selecting the most economical source of replacement heifers has major implications for effectively using resources, controlling costs, and sustaining business vitality.

Determining an optimal herd replacement strategy is a complex decision driven by several factors including:
  • Interest rates on savings or other alternative uses of capital
  • Interest rates on borrowed capital
  • Cash flow needs
  • Feed costs
  • Labor availability and costs
  • Relative price difference between cull cows and heifer calves
  • Reproductive rates
  • Forced (or involuntary) culling rates
  • Environmental restrictions on growth to weaning
  • Genetic improvement potential and/or maintaining a desired genetic base
  • Ensuring the heifer population will thrive in the given environment
  • Price and availability of bred replacement heifers
  • Tax implications
Considering these factors can determine the difference between profit and loss in any given year. So it's imperative that producers be flexible and capable of modifying herd replacement strategies as needed to take advantage of changing conditions.

To assist producers in determining which management strategy is best in any given year, we have developed a factsheet and two decision support calculators. These calculators are Excel spreadsheets that can be downloaded and used on any computer with the Microsoft Excel program.

The first spreadsheet, Buying Heifers for Beef Cow Replacement, considers the returns and costs that will change if replacement heifers are purchased rather than raised from within the herd.

The second spreadsheet, Raising Heifers for Beef Cow Replacement, considers the returns and costs that will change if replacement heifers are raised from within the herd rather than purchased.

All three resources are available on the Ag Decision Maker website.
Announcements and updates
New Beef Export Record
Beef exports eclipsed the $6 billion mark for the first time, setting a new annual value record, according to statistics released by the USDA and compiled by U.S. Meat Export Federation. Totals for 2013 were up 3% in volume to 1.17 million metric tons and 12% in value at $6.157 billion, breaking the 2012 value record.

2014 ISU Animal Industry
Report Available

This annual report boasts 10 sections (animal health, beef, companion animal, dairy, environmental, equine, meats, poultry, swine and teaching) with more than 100 individual articles on a wide range of research and teaching topics. Each article is available for download from the ISU animal science department website.

Free Online BQA Certification
Thanks to a partnership with Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc., the beef checkoff-funded Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program is offering free online BQA Certification for approximately two months.

This opportunity is open to all beef and dairy producers, veterinarians, allied partners, agricultural friends, and students and is available online at no cost through April 15. Start at www.BIVI-BQA.com and click on "Beef Quality Assurance and Beef Cattle Care" or one of the other 18 categories. Register and then enter the code BIVIBQA for your payment method.

After watching all videos within a specific category and successfully passing the quizzes, you'll become BQA certified. For more information, Iowa producers can contact Iowa BQA coordinator Doug Bear by email at doug@iabeef.org or by phone at 515-296-2305

Three New Beef Health-related Pubs from ISU
Three new beef health-related publications are now available through the ISU Extension and Outreach online store. Iowa State Extension beef veterinarian Grant Dewell authored the publications and said each addresses a specific concern.

“The one on vitamin A deficiency in beef calves is perhaps the most timely because of upcoming calving season, but the others also offer current and valuable information for beef operations,” Dewell said. “Both ergot poisoning and trichomoniasis topics provide  details on recognizing specific signs and symptoms of those concerns.”

All three new publications are two pages in length in pdf format and can be downloaded at no cost through the following links:

Producers with additional questions about these or any health issues are encouraged to contact their Iowa State Extension beef program specialist or their veterinarian for more information.

Contact us at:
Iowa Beef Center
313 Kildee Hall
Iowa State University
Ames, IA 50011-3150
Phone: 515-294-BEEF

Twitter: @iowabeefcenter