Get ready for an interesting year in the cattle business

2016 is shaping up to be a year that will keep us all on our toes. From the cattle market to the ballot box, this year’s storylines will find their own place in history.

By all indications, 2016 should be a lot more interesting for cow-calf producers than cattle feeders. And that’s just looking at the cattle market. However, the cattle feeding industry has to be looking forward to 2016 if for no other reason than it has to be better than 2015.

Estimates are that the cattle feeding industry lost over $4.5 billion in 2015. We used to say that when the cattle feeding industry lost money for two to three turns, they will buy their profits, but there simply wasn’t that opportunity in 2015.

Will that change in 2016? Cattle feeders are buying replacements today well over $400 per head less than they were a year ago, and feed prices are down. While all the experts are predicting corn prices to remain low, I’m sure the cattle feeding industry is starting to believe in the old mantra that cheap corn leads to cheap cattle.

The market promises to remain volatile. Numbers will be tight. Will beef demand get better or worse? Perhaps the question should be, will the global economy remain sluggish? The U.S. remains the largest economy in the world, but we have been stagnant for six years, with median income sliding and participation in the work force at historically low levels.

hard working ranchers gallery

70 photos show ranchers hard at work on the farm
Readers have submitted photos of hard-working ranchers doing what they do best – caring for their livestock and being stewards of the land. See reader favorite  photos here.


We’ve been fortunate that China picked up the leadership and become the driving force in the global economy, but their economic prosperity is being questioned as well. As cattle producers, we used to talk longingly about cheap corn and cheap fuel, but having oil at its lowest levels in over a decade has brought with it more bad news than good, as it signifies just how severely the global economy, and especially China’s economy, has slowed down.

2016 not only promises to be a year of volatility on the economic side, the political side may be even more interesting. The general school of thought is that little gets done of significance in a presidential election year, even less if the president is a lame duck, and especially so if the presidency and Congress are controlled by opposing parties.

During his farewell State of Union address, Obama didn’t even bother to lay out an agenda for his last year or initiatives he wanted to work on. Yet, it looks like the politics of posturing will keep it interesting throughout the year. Obama has expanded the power of the executive branch more than any presidency, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t elect to more fully use that power in his final year; essentially acting without Congress’s approval through executive action and bureaucratic rulemaking to move forward and even accelerate his agenda.

I question the pundits, though, who say Obama will attempt bold, sweeping actions. He may not be running for election, but he is also the most partisan president in history and I do believe that he will be constrained by the electorate perceptions. He will not do anything that will hurt the Democratic contenders chances for election.

seedstock 100

BEEF Seedstock 100 List
Looking for a new seedstock provider? Use our UPDATED Seedstock 100 listing to find the largest bull sellers in the U.S. Browse the list here.


It is more than a little interesting that a full-blown socialist who nobody in the Democratic establishment wants to be the nominee is leading in Iowa and New Hampshire. On the Republican side, a billionaire, who not only happens to be the most liberal of all the candidates, but also the one who has managed to alienate women, Muslims, Hispanics and African-Americans, just to name a few, is also winning or close to winning in the two early primary states.

It probably won’t and can’t happen; reality has a way of interfering with fairytale storylines, but just imagine a presidential election with Sanders vs. Trump. There wouldn’t be a single establishment figure allowed to remain in either party’s leadership. If nothing else, it would send the message that we are sick and tired of business as usual.

If 2016 was a movie, it would be worth grabbing a bag of popcorn and sitting down; it should be an interesting ride.

The opinions of Troy Marshall are not necessarily those of and the Penton Agriculture Group.

Tips for assisting a difficult birth

Being prepared before the start of the calving season to assist with difficult births can improve calf survival. It is good to review the stages of parturition and when intervention should occur.

Dr. Robert Mortimer from Colorado State University has written “Calving and Calving Difficulties,” and Dr. Richard Randle from the University of Nebraska has written “Assisting the Beef Cow at Calving Time.” Both resources provide information for assisting a difficult birth and are the basis for the guidelines given here.

Stages of calving

In a normal delivery, the calf should be born within two to three hours after the water sac appears in heifers and one to two hours in cows. If it is longer than this, the calf may be born dead or weak.

Timing is critical to providing help, so checking on calving heifers or cows frequently is important. Good facilities, equipment and tools can provide the restraint and assistance needed to safely deliver a live, healthy calf.

Visit with your veterinarian for advice on when to call him. The goal of assisting a difficult birth is to minimize stress to both the cow and calf. Experience will aid in determining if the calf can be delivered with assistance or if a caesarean is needed.

Calving ease scoring system

This can often be decided when examining the cow for the first time. The following are steps to use to decide if a calf can be delivered or if a caesarean should be done.

Steps in calving assistance

Examine the pelvis vaginally to determine how much the cervix is dilated. The cow’s vulva and rectum should be scrubbed and clean prior to entry. A plastic shoulder-length OB sleeve should be worn and lubrication used when examining the cow.

Determine if the calf is alive and evaluate the situation based on what Dr. Mortimer identifies as the 3 P’s of presentation, position and posture of the calf. Presentation refers to whether the calf is coming frontward, backward or transverse.

Abnormal positions of the calf just prior to delivery

Position refers to whether the calf is right-side-up or upside-down. Posture refers to the relationship of the calf’s legs and head to its own body.

The size of the calf in comparison to the birth canal should also be determined when examining the situation. A big calf pulled through a small pelvis may kill the calf and injure/paralyze the cow. If it is determined the calf is too big while the head and front feet are still in the birth canal, there is still the chance for a successful caesarean.

Dr. Mortimer recommends calling for professional help when a producer encounters any of the following during examination or early on in the delivery process:

  • A problem they don’t know how to deal with.
  • A problem they understand and know the solution to but are unable to handle.
  • A problem they understand, but after 30 minutes of work they aren’t making progress toward the solution.

The rest of this article will describe assisting a normal presentation where the calf is positioned right-side-up with the front legs postured so that they can move into the birth canal (Figure 2).

Normal position of the calf prior to delivery

Attach the chains or nylon straps to the front legs of the calf, placing the loop of each chain around each leg. Then slide the chains up on the cannon bone 2 to 3 inches above the fetlocks (ankle joints) and dew claws.

Place a second loop between the fetlocks and the top of the hoof. Make sure the chain pulls from either the top of the leg over the fetlocks (Figure 3) or the bottom of the leg (dew claw side).

Proper attachment of the pulling chains

Once the chains are in place, if the cow isn’t already lying down, lay the cow down on her right side. This allows the calf to enter relatively straight into the pelvis. Attach the obstetrical handles to the chains and gently pull, making sure the chains haven’t slipped.

Pulling should only be applied when the cow is pushing with abdominal pressure. Start pulling on the calf’s left leg, which is the down leg if the cow is lying on her right side.

This leg usually comes through the pelvis easily. The real test for delivery is if the second shoulder can be moved past the cow’s pelvis. Once the first shoulder is through the pelvis, it should be held in place and traction applied to the other leg.

This process is called “walking out the shoulders.” Good judgment should be applied in the use of pressure on the calf. If the calf’s other shoulder will not move through the pelvis at this point with appropriate tension, a cesarean is recommended.

The amount of tension should be limited to the strength of one man per leg. Two strong men can exert from 400 to 600 pounds of force, while the inappropriate use of a calf puller could exceed 2,000 pounds of force.

Excessive pressure may deliver the calf but will increase the chance of death to the calf during delivery and trauma to the cow. A calf puller should be used correctly and only by experienced people. A calf puller can apply traction equivalent to the pull of seven men.

Once the shoulders have been moved through the pelvis (Figure 4), the calf should be able to be delivered using “bilateral traction,” where each leg is pulled together. Before the pelvis of the calf enters the cow’s pelvis, a break can be taken. This is what usually occurs in a normal delivery.

Walking out the shoulders

At this time the umbilical cord is compressed, and the calf should begin breathing on its own. This is also the time when an oversized calf is rotated a quarter-turn so the widest part of the calf’s pelvis is going through the widest diameter of the cow’s pelvis.

Once the calf has reached this point, constant pulling will not allow the calf to expand its chest and breathe. Make sure the calf is breathing and observe that the calf continues to breathe as the calf’s hips are pulled through the pelvis of the cow.

The “Calving and Calving Difficulties” publication written by Dr. Mortimer gives excellent instruction in how to correct abnormal presentations.

Stockmen calving cows would do well to review the advice given by Dr. Mortimer and think through how the techniques described could benefit them this calving season.

Good planning, preparation and the application of proper techniques can improve calf survival when difficult deliveries occur due to calf size or abnormal situations.  end mark

Aaron Berger

9 things $1.4 billion Powerball buys farmers and ranchers

What could you buy in agriculture with $1.4 billion?

With the Powerball at world-record lottery levels, it has farmers and ranchers dreaming big. After all, there are endless possibilities as to what someone could do with $1.4 billion.

It got us thinking: “What could farmers and ranchers actually buy with that kind of money?”

We’ve gathered up our nine ideas as to what producers could buy. Since the majority of lottery winners take the cash prize, we’ve calculated the values at the $868 million cash-out value:

  1. 248 Million Bushels of Corn

Corn prices haven’t been all that great as of late. At midday on Jan. 11, March corn was trading for $3.50 per bushel. If you wanted to get in the grain-buying business, you could purchase 248 million bushels of corn. Now you just need a place to store it all.


  1. 438,383 Dairy Heifer Replacements

Source: Wyatt Bechtel

Dairy heifer prices have been sliding as the price of milk and beef continue to go down. The U.S. average replacement heifer price in October 2014 was $2,120, and it fell $140 the next year. The latest USDA heifer price on Oct. 2015 has replacements selling for $1,980. At those prices, you could replace 10 times the estimated amount of dairy cattle lost to the Goliath blizzard.


  1. 2,113,464 Shares in Chipotle

Source: Google Finance

Chipotle Mexican Grill hasn’t exactly been agriculture’s greatest ally, given the fast-casual chain’s stances on genetically modified organisms and antibiotic use in livestock. At midday on Jan. 11, shares in Chipolte were selling for $410.70. You could buy 2,113,464 shares in Chipotle. That’s almost 10 times the shares which co-CEOs Steve Ells and Montgomery F. Moran have for the burrito giant. That should give you plenty of clout in the boardroom when you move to buy all beef in the U.S. from grain-fed cattle and tortillas made with GMO corn.


  1. $725 Million Ranch in Texas

Source: Bloomberg

The historic Waggoner Ranch in north Texas has been on the market for more than a year. The 510,000-acre property, which is spread across six counties, has attracted plenty of prospective buyers. The ranch has the distinction of being larger than New York City and Los Angeles combined. If you bought the ranch at the current asking price of $725 million, it would leave you with $143 million to buy more land and cattle.


  1. 4,183 Used Case IH 385 Quad Tracs


Machinery Pete’s Pick of the Week for the New Year was a 2010 Case IH 385 Quad Trac. It recently sold for $207,500 at a Missouri auction, with just 930 hours. You could buy 4,183 Quad Tracs. That’s enough Quad Tracs to run a different tractor each day of year for you and 10 friends.

  1. 2,894,2980 “Slaughterhouse Truck” Toys

Source: Walmart

Last year, some animal rights activists got up in arms about Walmart selling the ERTL Big Farm 1:32 Peterbilt Model 579 Semi with Livestock Trailer. Activists called it a “slaughterhouse truck” and demanded the big box retailer stop selling them. Well, Walmart no longer has the toy for sale … because it totally sold out of them. You can still find the toy online for $29.99. When you’ve purchased the 2,894,2980 toy livestock haulers, be sure to donate a few to Farm Toys for Tots.


  1. 6,944,000 Wild Horses or Burros

Source: Wyatt Bechtel

If you wanted to clear the American West of wild horses and burros, winning the lottery would be one quick way to do it. The minimum bid for a wild horse or burro from the Bureau of Land Management is $125. If you spent all your winnings, you could have 6,944,000 mustangs running free on your property instead of federal lands. The only problem is this: You’ll need to figure out how to feed them all. We hear corn is cheap. (Sidenote: there are only 58,150 horses and burros running wild. There are an additional 47,303 on long-term pasture or holding corrals. It should only take $13.2 million to buy those equines, so you’ll have $850 million to buy them feed!)


  1. 723,333 Dryland Crop Acres in Kansas

A recent land auction in central Kansas saw 320 acres sell for $1,200 an acre. With those types of land prices, you could buy 723,333 acres. But you might need to drill a few water wells for irrigation.


  1. 86,886,886 Farmland DVDs

Source: Farmland 

Perhaps you’ve seen the documentary Farmland. If not, be sure to give it a watch. And when you win the lottery, you might want to buy some DVDs of Farmland for your city cousins who don’t know much about agriculture. Currently, Best Buy is selling the DVD for $9.99. Spending your lotto winnings would allow you to give 86,886,886 copies of Farmland to the masses.

Healthy calves are more profitable

By Jennifer Carrico

Healthy calves make for more profitable calves, according to Mark Hilton, Purdue University clinical professor in the department of veterinary clinical sciences.

“Health matters when calves are put in feedlots. Our research shows when calves are treated once for sickness, it can decrease profits by about $15 per calf,” said Hilton. “But when calves are treated two or more times, it can affect profits by as much as $140 per calf.”

When cattle prices were inflated in 2014, treating a calf made a difference of $100 per calf on profits. Hilton said high-risk calves—not prior weaned or castrated or lightweight calves—must have a very good health protocol when they are sent to the feedlot or profits are greatly affected.

“Health starts the day the cables are conceived. Cows need good nutrition and proper vaccinations to make sure her calf starts out life healthy,” said Hilton. “You cannot short the cow of what she needs at any time to be able to save money. It will cost you money in the end.”

Hilton said 75 percent of the calf’s growth in utero happens in the last two months of gestation, but the placenta develops early in gestation.

“If the cow is not getting good nutrition early in gestation, 18 months later the calf will have respiratory problems. The lungs develop early and need proper nutrition to develop properly,” said Hilton.

Protein supplementation during gestation leads to heavier weaning weights, heavier carcass weights and better health for the calf. The calf needs proper colostrum after birth and will be three times less likely to get respiratory disease once placed in a feedlot. When calf vigor is high at birth, the calf is more tolerant and gets up more quickly to nurse.

Hilton said proper vaccination of the cowherd will help have better calf health. Giving vaccines that are needed at the proper time is only 2 to 5 percent of the total cost of raising cattle and can make a difference in reducing the cost of treating calves for illness.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all vaccination program. It’s important to work with the herd veterinarian on a health program,” said Hilton. “With nearly all herds purchasing animals to add to the herd, herd health becomes even more important for disease prevention.”

Purchased animals should be dewormed and quarantined upon arrival to analyze their health. Hilton said producers should have their veterinarian call the vet of the producer whom they are purchasing the cattle from in order to know what the health plan has been on those animals.

Parasite control is more effective in an injection or oral dosage versus a pour-on. Hilton said to follow timing and frequency guidelines on the package directions and pour-on should only be used for lice once or twice per year.

“Beef cows are supposed to be low maintenance. Our goal is for zero sickness. With great nutrition, a good vaccination program and a good environment, we will see less sickness,” said Hilton.

Hilton suggested the Sandhills calving system as a good way to help ensure a clean calving environment. In the system, cows start in one grass paddock and after several calves are born, the cows yet to calve are moved to a clean area. This system is continued throughout calving. Hilton said the system helps provide a clean environment for the new calves.

“Sometimes all it takes is a change of the environment to improve health,” said Hilton.

Heifers should have a body score condition of 6.5 to 7, and cows should have a body score condition of 5.5 to 6 for calving. Having bred females in proper condition can improve the quality and quantity of colostrum and will improve the percentage of females that breed back in a reasonable time period.

“If cows are too fat, I’m wasting my money, but if cows are too thin, I’m wasting my investment,” said Hilton. “It’s important to have cows in the proper condition at calving.”

Hilton suggests testing hay and balancing a winter ration for cows to improve calf health in utero, cow colostrum and rebreeding.

Some of the improvements can be made by crossbreeding cattle to improve calf vigor. Hilton said generally a crossbred cow will also live 1.2 years longer than a purebred cow.

Good health helps to market calves also by adding value to the calves. Hilton said feedlot operators like to purchase calves that are preconditioned, have excellent dispositions and have had two rounds of modified live vaccines. An internasal vaccine in June or July can also lead to better immunity. Hilton also suggested castrating calves early and using fly tags to prevent diseases carried by flies.

“Preconditioned calves that have been fed 45 to 60 days post-weaning should bring more at sale time,” said Hilton. “This preconditioning usually improves profits as they require less labor once they enter the feedlot.”

Hilton said calves that have been weaned and are on feed will always bring more money at the salebarn. Eliminating high-risk calves will increase profits.

Reducing stress and having calves that go to the feed bunk is important. Feedlots will generally pay more for calves that have been properly cared for in all aspects of their lives as those calves are more profitable in the end.

“Healthy calves will produce the best possible product for the consumers in the end,” said Hilton.

4 tips for managing cold stress in cattle this winter

by in BEEF Daily

In my neck of the woods, we enjoyed warmer-than-average temperatures in December and through the holiday season. It’s now January, however, and Mother Nature has switched gears and brutally cold winter weather has arrived. In fact, despite the weatherman promising “plentiful sunshine” today, even a bright sun can’t take the sting out of a high of -9 °F with 20 mph winds that make it feel like -29°.

Ranchers don’t have the luxury of calling off work and hunkering down in the house when things get cold. Part of the rancher’s job description is weathering the elements – whatever they are – and making sure the cattle are tended to. We know what we need and can provide for ourselves. Fortunately for us, we also have warm trucks and tractors, plenty of warm layers to wear, and plenty of hot coffee to keep us from freezing when the weather gets tough.

Cattle are built to handle all sorts of weather conditions if they have the proper nutrition, body insulation and wind breaks. Still, special attention must be paid to ensure that’s all available when the temperatures drop to the extreme lows we’re currently seeing.

Here are four considerations for managing the effects of cold stress on beef cows.

1. Reduce wind speeds to increase animal comfort

Warren Rusche, South Dakota State University Extension cow-calf field specialist, says that wind speed can drop the effective temperature dramatically.

“Most beef producers understand that when the weather gets colder their cows need more energy to maintain their body condition,” says Rusche. “The questions are when do cows start experiencing cold stress and then how much more energy do they need? When we’re considering cold stress, we need to factor in both the actual temperature and the wind speed to determine the effective temperature. Any kind of available protection, whether natural or man-made, can be very valuable in reducing the amount of wind chill.”

2. Cows’ energy needs increase as the the temperature drops

Rusche says, “As a general rule, for every degree that the effective temperature is below the lower critical temperature, the cow’s energy needs increase by 1%. For instance, if the effective temperature is 17 °F, the energy needs of a cow with a dry winter coat are about 15% higher than they would be under more moderate conditions. That energy requirement jumps up to about 40% higher under those conditions if the hair coat is completely wet or matted down with mud.

“One of the ways that the cow responds to cold stress is by increasing voluntary feed intake. The animal’s entire metabolism system increases in activity. Also, the passage rate of roughages through the rumen and digestive tract increases. These changes trigger an increase in the cow’s appetite and voluntary intake.”

3. Make sure feed intake is maintained

Rusche says, “There are some management considerations that we need to keep in mind regarding changes in feed intake in response to cold stress and the cow’s need for more energy. Make sure that water is available. If water availability is restricted, feed intake will be reduced. If the feed availability is limited, either by snow cover or access to hay feeders, the cattle may not have the opportunity to eat as much as their appetite would dictate. Be careful providing larger amounts of high-concentrate feeds. Rapid diet changes could cause significant digestive upsets.”

4. Sort off thin cows for more specialized care

Chris Clark, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach beef program specialist, suggests sorting off thin cows to a separate area.

“By sorting off thinner cows to a separate area, you can provide them with a higher-quality ration while eliminating competition from other cows. If you are using lower-quality forages, it’s important to supplement those forages appropriately to meet animal requirements. Nutrient requirements go up throughout the third trimester and early lactation, so cows that are thin right now will need a high plane of nutrition to keep up with fetal growth, milk production and Iowa winter weather.”

What special steps do you take to reduce cold stress in your herd? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or the Penton Farm Progress Group.