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What to do?

Written by Dennis Sun

The smart people say one should plan for a drought during the wet years. I agree, but I always thought that one should draw up the plans during a drought and develop the plan in the wet years. If nothing else, constructing water pipelines and drilling wells in the wet years always confused the neighbors.

The same can be said for how we should plan to market our livestock, as there are some good, value-added programs out there to utilize if one wants. Some say it is too complicated to worry about while others enjoy participating. After all, in the past, producers just worried about putting pounds on the calves or yearlings as they either sold from home or the auction barn. Marketing was pretty simple then. Today, things aren’t nearly as easy.

You can still market your livestock from home or the auction barn, but getting there has sure changed. And if you choose to get involved, value-added programs may bring you more money. In a sense, we are most likely marketing the same number of cattle or the same pounds of beef. But just like a pie, you can only get so many slices from it. What you can do is make your product look and sound better through marketing. Years ago a program like “lean beef” would pop up in a tough market, but quickly disappeared when good prices made their appearance. Now with supply down and demand up worldwide, we realize we can make those good prices even better.

There lies the best part. Worldwide more people want our beef and lamb, but they have some demands, and if we choose to join the world market, we have to meet their conditions. “All Natural” was the first major demand and was pretty easy to meet. One didn’t need a lot to qualify, and if you had a picture of your calf or lamb with a mountain behind it, that was marketing at its best. Because “all natural” forbids the use of antibiotics, it turned out to be a popular program with consumers. It seems to be a bit of a contradiction that it’s ok to use antibiotics for consumers and their children, but not in a cow or sheep. This worked with the feeder as long as the price of corn was reasonable but with higher prices, the feeder margins grew slimmer and “all natural” didn’t suit producers as well.
While all of these programs were popular, even the “age and source verified,” and brought more dollars and hats off to the livestock marketers for making the programs easy to implement, there is a new program out there to sell beef to the European market. Remember in 1989 the European Union required all beef sold to be free of any growth stimulants and had to be age and source verified at 30 months or younger, but antibiotics and ionophores were ok. There is now a program “Non-Hormone Treated Cattle” (NHTC) for producers to use with some 35 third party process verified programs (PVP) that have been approved by the USDA to certify cattle. For those interested in bringing in top dollars in lean years, this might just be one of the answers.        

Dennis