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Can you afford preconditioning programs? Can you afford not to implement them? Recent research at Kansas State has tried to put economic values on various preconditioning programs.
    Feedlots nationwide were surveyed to determine the value of various preconditioning programs as well as various types of certification in terms of willingness to pay for calves. The feedlots surveyed were mostly large, with 95 percent of respondents having at least 1,000 head capacity. Of those surveyed, on average 23 percent of the cattle purchased had undergone some form of preconditioning. However some operators indicated that greater than 75 percent of the cattle they buy had undergone some preconditioning.
    As expected, the survey suggests feedlots generally prefer calves that have undergone some sort of preconditioning program and are willing to pay extra for them.
Health programs
    Feedlot operators generally stated that having identified health programs prior to the feedlot setting tended to decrease morbidity and increase efficiency and gains. However, feeders also realized these animals were likely to cost more to purchase. The type of verification also appears to be important in the premiums paid for calves that have undergone some form of preconditioning.
    Results indicated that calves vaccinated against respiratory and clostridial/blackleg as well as being treated for both internal and external parasites were likely to receive a $1.93 per hundredweight premium over calves without any prior health program.
    Interestingly, it appears weaning plays an even bigger role in premiums.
    For calves that had undergone the same health program but had been weaned for a minimum of 30 days prior to shipping increased the premium to $7.25 per hundredweight – an increase of $5.35 per hundredweight for the weaning claim over just the health program. If the weaning were increased to 45 days, the total premium increased to $12.15 per hundredweight. The additional 15 days of weaning is worth $5.10 per hundredweight over the 30 day weaned calves.
    However, verification of these claims also increased the premiums.
    The above results were for claims made by the seller alone. If third party verification, such as a pharmaceutical company or veterinarian, is included, all of the above premiums would increase by $0.85 per hundredweight. USDA certification increased the premiums by $2.37 per hundredweight.
    Whether or not verification pays will depend on the cost of such verification. Compare the cost to the expected increase in revenues, which for a 500 pound steer with USDA certification should be worth $11.85 per head.
Age and source
    Perhaps one of the easiest premiums to be received is the age and source verification (ASV).
    As ASV has become increasingly important for export markets, respondents said that calves that had ASV would bring a premium of $5.84 per hundredwight. Again, on a 500 pound steer that translates to an increase of almost $30 per head. The estimated cost of ASV for those operations already tagging calves was only four dollars per head.
    Surprisingly, respondents stated that only 16 percent of placements were currently age and source verified.
More studies
    In a similar study of the Superior Livestock Auction (SLA), these preconditioning premiums varied only slightly. Based on 10 years of data, VAC34 programs have steadily brought two to four dollar per hundredweight premiums, while weaning programs have increased from two dollars per hundredweight in 2001 to over $4.50 per hundredweight in recent years.
    There appeared to be more ASV calves going through SLA, and premiums were often in the two to three dollars per hundredweight range.
    In short, calves that had a health program, were weaned a minimum of 30 days and were age and source verified, brought premiums in the range of eight to 11 dollars per hundredweight through the SLA in recent years.
    These are all important options to consider when preparing to market calves this fall. An interesting note is that the research at Kansas State was based on $140 per hundredweight steer prices for a 650-pound steer, and expectations are that as cattle prices rise, these premiums will increase on a similar scale.
    Given the restricted supply of calves in coming years, I would not be surprised to see prices at or above this range for a while. Therefore, the opportunity cost of not utilizing these programs will be higher.
    Is the additional revenue sufficient to cover the cost of preconditioning? I’m not sure because each operation is different, and only you can compare the cost of enacting these programs. But, the data suggests there are some premiums to be had.
    For more information, the Kansas State study can be found at John Ritten is the UW Extension Economist and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
Hay Loads and Harvests
Colonel John L. Butler, Administrator, Wyoming Highway Patrol

    The farming and ranching industries in Wyoming have been hard hit by the drought, and as a result there has been an increase in hay transportation in the state. To help the agriculture industry, the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT), in consultation with Governor Matt Mead and the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, suspended the fees for the transportation of oversize movements of bales of straw and hay traveling into and within Wyoming.
    The fee is suspended as long as the loads are within Class “E” permit requirements and meet the safety measures and movement restrictions in WYDOT rules. This means permit fees are waived for loads up to 12 feet, six inches wide and 15 feet high. Sizes beyond these parameters are not allowed.
    The fee suspension is set to expire at the end of 2012, but WYDOT and the Highway Patrol will study whether it should be extended in order to continue to assist with hay movement.
    The following are safety requirements that currently apply. Oversize movements are limited to daylight hours on all non-interstate roadways. Loads must have warning flags, either red or fluorescent, at the extremities of the four corners of the load. They need a clean and fully visible “oversize load” sign, and they must have outside rearview mirrors on both sides of the vehicle.
    After daylight, straw or baled hay shipments up to 10 feet wide are allowed on an interstate. These loads, in addition to the requirements above, must have the following: amber clearances lights on both front corners of the load; red clearance lights on both rear corners of the load; amber lights – revolving, strobe or two-way flashing – visible to both the front and rear; and a visible “oversize load” sign on the front and rear of the vehicle or load.
    Prior to entering the state of Wyoming, the driver must contact the appropriate Port of Entry (POE) to gain clearance and provide the POE Officer with accurate dimensions and load description. This is crucial, as it prevents operation on a roadway, which has a restriction in place and avoids a potential safety hazard.
    I have been encouraged by compliance efforts and thank you for them. The Highway Patrol and the POEs continue to work with hay haulers to educate them on the requirements and restrictions and to facilitate the movement of hay across Wyoming. We appreciate the input of the agriculture industry as we continue to work together in this process.
    Switching topics, whether it is shipping livestock or harvest season, I understand the apprehension in a community when the Highway Patrol increases its presence. An increased presence usually involves one or more of our five Mobile Education and Enforcement Teams (MEET), along with additional motor carrier troopers and POE officers. The MEET mission is to travel to areas within the state to educate and enforce the commercial vehicle laws for all commercial vehicles – not to specifically target a company or individual. This occurs throughout the year, not only during certain times of the year.
    The Patrol’s focus is always “safety first” on these occasions. We work toward safety in a proven, effective way by educating the carriers and offering our services beforehand.
    For example, prior to beet harvest in the Big Horn Basin this year, we delivered pamphlets on the “Requirements for Agricultural Operations on Wyoming Highways” in the area. We also offered the opportunity for our troopers to visit local establishments and answer questions to those interested.
    In addition, we issued media releases advising folks of our efforts and time frame. Some people have taken us up on our invitation, and hopefully we have demonstrated to them our desire to work together. We would like to see more opportunity for this kind of contact outside of harvest time, which we know is an especially intense time of year.
    I assure you that the Highway Patrol is not coming to your areas with a heavy hand. Our educational efforts are focused on highway safety for all motorists. Our intent is to provide an ounce of prevention, or education and information beforehand, rather than a pound of cure, or enforcement after the fact.
    From Troopers to POE Officers, the Highway Patrol is familiar with the issues facing farmers and ranchers in Wyoming today. In interacting with you now and in the future, I have asked all our members to use the good judgment and compassion we always expect from them. I reiterate that the desire of the Highway Patrol is to partner with you to provide the safest roadways possible in our great state. We must continue to work together to achieve this goal.
    Rest assured the Highway Patrol will strive to do its best to continue to serve the citizens of Wyoming with integrity, compassion, humility, commitment and dedication. For more information, contact your local Highway Patrol Office or the Wyoming Highway Patrol at 307-777-4301.
Wyoming FFA Keeps Service in Mind
Bryce McKenzie, Wyoming FFA Association State President

    Recently I was asked what it means to be a Wyoming State FFA Officer and to describe some of my personal goals for the year. I am Bryce McKenzie, the 2012-2013 Wyoming FFA State President, and being a state officer is the highlight of my life so far. The truth is, state office is not about the title on our jackets or the chain, but is about service to the FFA, and more specifically, the Wyoming FFA Association. State office is a higher level of dedication to the FFA, and service through agriculture is the main point behind the office.
    Some of my goals this year are to get to know the members in Wyoming and across the nation and serve communities and the FFA. Even more so, I hope to stay Bryce McKenzie, and not let the title I was given determine where I go.
    However, I can’t write just about myself. Simply, state office is not just an individual experience – it is a team effort. My team of state officers is amongst the best young people across Wyoming, and I am honored to be a part of the team and the Wyoming FFA Association itself. Never before have I had such a bond with a group of people who I can rely on, and I know that the FFA can rely on us for great service as well.
    Wyoming FFA is in the top 10 percent of the nation’s FFA Associations, and the state officer team for this year has a goal to keep Wyoming’s 2,400 members in that margin, also hoping to make them even better.
    Another goal of ours is to keep service to each other, our communities and our nation in the forefronts of our minds. Since FFA is built upon agriculture and service, we plan to reach our goals through helping our communities within the state and making a difference in the lives we lead.
    Upcoming events for the state office team include the National FFA Convention held in Indianapolis, Ind. on Oct. 24-26. The Wyoming State Officer team will be traveling to Indianapolis to help support Wyoming’s members who are competing and to serve as delegates to bring new ideas to the national association.
    While in Indianapolis, we will be participating in the “Rally to Fight Hunger.” This is where service falls back into play, as we are not just affecting our nation through FFA, but also the world.  
    Visits to all the different chapters across the state are also right around the corner, coming up in December.
    We hope that everyone in Wyoming FFA is doing well this fall and getting prepared already for state convention in the spring. If anyone has questions for any of the state officers about community service, our travels or upcoming events, feel free to visit, contact us through email or give us a call. We would be happy to answer any questions you may have and hope agriculture and service stay as the heart of Wyoming.

Rangeland Management: More Than Just a Science
Racheal Mealor, UW Extension Range Specialist

    Rangeland science and management has evolved in the development of management strategies that are sustainable for our arid landscapes. This has impacted the way livestock are managed and ecological services are valued. We have witnessed and implemented numerous strategies to maintain healthy vegetative communities while considering livestock production. However, managing our landscapes for multiple species at one time can be complex and at times contradictory. Take for example, a grassland bird species, the mountain plover, Charadrium montanus. Mountain plover’s nesting habitats usually consist of areas with vegetation that is level to the ground (prostrate) along with high amounts of bare soil. Mountain plovers are cryptically colored, so they blend in and look like bare soil when viewed from above and frequently stay motionless when an avian predator is present. Long-standing range management practices tell us bare soil is an undesirable characteristic for long term rangeland health. So, how does one deal with such a paradox?
    A recent study in a short grass steppe community in northeastern Colorado characterized various types of disturbances in relation to suitable habitat for breeding mountain plovers. Breeding mountain plovers were primarily located on black-tailed prairie dog colonies or areas that had been burned during the previous dormant season. Vegetation surrounding plover nests and foraging sites were primarily patches of vegetation low in stature, or those plants less than four centimeters tall, interspersed with greater than 35 percent bare soil. Mountain plover nesting habitat was examined in relation to the following disturbances: prescribed fire, grazing by black-tailed prairie dogs and cattle grazing. Sites with bare ground created by prescribed fire or black-tailed prairie dog colonies were favored by these grassland birds. Yet, intensive grazing at twice the recommended stocking rate during spring (March to May) or summer (May to Oct) for six years did not produce enough bare ground desired by mountain plovers. Therefore, intensive cattle grazing did not substitute for fire or prairie dog grazing in terms of how vegetation structure was affected for mountain plover habitat. The disturbances considered in this study can be manipulated and used as tools to reach management goals. If providing habitat for breeding mountain plovers is a management goal, grazing as a tool may not suffice. Managing for prairie dog colonies or using prescribed burning could be considerations to add to the management toolbox in order to reach the goal of increasing habitat for a desired wildlife species.   
    Wildlife habitat continues to be an important consideration for many landowners throughout Wyoming. Whether that be providing habitat for a species of concern or maintaining wildlife populations for a hunting enterprise, understanding habitat needs can be crucial to the sustainability of an operation. This again exemplifies the need for an overall management plan that includes clear goals and objectives for the property.
    Understanding the resource that is being managed will allow landowners or managers to match the resource with the most suitable animal to more efficiently, effectively and responsibly utilize the land. For example, the emphasis in the study mentioned above was to determine the situation resulting in the most suitable habitat for mountain plover in regards to prescribed fire, grazing by black-tailed prairie dogs and grazing by large herbivores, including cattle. It is interesting to point out the characteristics of the site in which the research was being conducted (the resource). In terms of plant productivity, cover, and species composition, the short grass steppe is among the most resistant grasslands worldwide to grazing by large herbivores (Milchunas et al. 2008).
    So, within this community, it was determined that even intense cattle grazing could not match the amount of bare soil that was found on prairie dog colonies and burns. Looking closer at the resource, short grass steppe is dominated by warm-season grasses, mostly blue grama and buffalograss, which have adaptations to aridity and intensive herbivory. These grasses have a prostrate canopy, minimal stem investment, a large amount of biomass belowground (stolons), and rapid growth results after defoliation and small pulses of precipitation (Milchunas et al. 2008).
    So, now that we have identified the resource, how about the consumers? Due to the mouth structure of cattle, they only graze short grasses to a little less than half an inch above crown height, allowing regrowth to occur. Much differently, however, is how a prairie dog would use this same resource. Prairie dogs remove plant leaves more often and, in contrast to the mouths of cattle, these little critters can graze closer to the crown level. As expected, these circumstances combined with defoliation occurring year-round will result in a loss of vegetation dominance and an increase in bare soil on colonies. Therefore, it is not hard to believe that prescribed burning and prairie dog colonies are effective ways to maintain habitat for mountain plover in short grass steppe. Grazing on the contrary would not provide the same situation or reach the same goal. Knowledge of the differences on how each disturbance would affect the resource could determine the success or failure of individual goals.
    I think many would agree that there are times when management goals seem complex. It can seem hard to imagine how they will all be incorporated into an overall management plan. Having a good understanding of all the available tools that can be used to meet these goals can help assist with such complexity. As shown in the highlighted study, the use of grazing alone will not result in ideal mountain plover nesting habitat. This illustrates the need to recognize the strengths and limitations of each tool and consider combining certain tools to provide the desired result. This, in my opinion, is why there is the saying that range management is more than just a science, but also an art.         
    Rachel Mealor is the University of Wyoming Extension Range Specialist and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..