Planning, reality and planningWritten by Steve Suther
’Tis the season to plan so you can stay jolly all through the year. That may include deciding it is time for Plan B in a few cases, but being on the fortunate side of the drought/recovery line, we are still on Plan A.
It is hard to say when our production year starts. It’s probably at breeding in May and June, about the time we get steer carcass data from the previous year. But it always feels like it starts with calving.
The first calves are supposed to share my birthday in early February, and that means they are supposed to wait till I get back from NCBA. That’s short for the Cattle Industry Annual Convention and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Tradeshow, which is in Nashville, Tenn.this winter.
A few generations of artificial insemination (AI) and breeding up to greater accuracy in calving ease let us hit the target most of the time, with AI’d heifer the second week of May and cows a little later. When something comes more than a week early, it’s usually small and no problem in the sheltered heifer corral. We have a seasoned hand “on call,” just in case.
Last February it was the AI cows calving that shattered my plans. Given access to basic shelter, they’ve been selected and culled to be problem-free. However, the one night that the little black book said most were due was the one night everything went wrong. For a long time, I thought it was too bad to even write about.
I won’t dwell on it now, because it’s nothing compared to what folks in west Dakota went through, except to say I could have done more in this case. And I will do more this year. The calves are due one week later, and a key fence that failed to keep several head from drifting with the snowstorm will be reinforced. I’ll patrol three times as often those crucial few days.
We’ve seen cold nights already, that’s for sure. I think we’re ready, and I’m excited to think about a great calf crop on the way, surely the best ever.
When I look past the possible pitfalls of winter calving, I think longer term. Will the 2014 heifer calves get every chance to be all that they can be? I have lately considered what sires would be on my shortlist for a flush to make full-brother bulls. You’re free to pick your own, if only for a mental exercise, but it will make you think ahead.
A flush this winter for a fall band of brothers would mean I’ll likely not use them until 2016 in my spring-calving herd. I’ll use a complementary AI sire that year to double-down on consistency.
After all, that’s the main reason for such a strategy – it brings more dependable results for all of us, from here to the consumer’s plate.
It will be especially interesting to see those 2017 calves, get the steer carcass data in 2018 and choose AI sires for those heifers, so I can see how well it’s working in 2019. Kind of like thinking about a package you can’t open for five years.
Whoa, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. This business is all about the past, the present and the future. Keeping them all in perspective will help us build tomorrow together.
Prime the pumpWritten by Steve Suther
It’s time to prime your herd to produce Prime beef.
That herd is a well of potential that can meet consumer demand for high-quality beef.
Any intact male will provide some variety of calves, all worth more than ever. If they make it through the finishing phase, consumers will eat them all, even though the beef will cost more than ever. If they are disappointed, will they go back to that well?
With the fewest cows in 60 years and the cattle cycle primed for rebuilding, a long-range view will ensure consumer demand. When today’s replacement heifers are in their prime, they must profitably produce not only more but the best beef.
Say you can get $1,000 for a calf right now. Can somebody else make money on it in the months ahead? Can the beef industry make money on it in the months after that? With Choice boxed beef at $200 per hundredweight (cwt) and Prime $30 or $40 higher, the buyer will pay more to make sure he or she won’t be disappointed.
A few years ago, Prime beef made up less than two percent of the fed cattle supply, and there were $10 cwt premiums over Select. Most producers ignored that incentive, even when it shot up to $40 cwt. Prime was a freak of nature, not a target for logical producers to think about.
The supply of premium Choice brands stayed below 15 percent for decades, which led to dismissal.
Why would I focus on two percent or 15 percent of my cattle when I could work on the other 98 or 85 percent?
Go for more pounds and don’t chase quality, we were advised. Any target so rarely hit will never be an important factor in the market.
What’s true on average for commodity beef is reality, so don’t expect more from your herd.
But wait a minute.
In the last 10 years, Prime boxed-beef has often risen to more than $50 cwt above Select, and grid premiums offer much of that to cattle producers. Variable-price grids often pay more than five dollars cwt for carcasses that qualify for premium Choice brands, which you could think of as a consolation prize.
Even when such premiums appeared, it was not uncommon to hear the reasoning that an extra $200 per head is not worth thinking about when you take it times the two percent likelihood in a typical herd.
Those who ignored the premium targets may still be in business, but it’s a limiting view of the cattle business. It is too limiting when consumers are expected to pay so much more for any beef.
Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote in 1949 what the Kennedys famously quoted in the 1960s: “Some men ask why. I dream things that never were and ask why not?”
Fortunately for the U.S. cattle business, a lot of producers asked, why not? Bringing selection pressure to bear on not only bulls but cows, based on records, progeny data, ultrasound – and lately DNA testing – hundreds of them moved up to five percent, then 10 percent, 20 percent and more than 30 percent Prime.
Feature stories have shown us English-breed cattle that produce 75 percent Prime and gain faster than industry average. Those cattle are worth at least $200 above average and their “consolation prizes” still beat the heck out of average. Such herds are owned by some of the most forward-thinking, profit-minded ranchers in the business.
It’s logical that most producers don’t think about such premiums. They don’t sell finished cattle.
There are many ways to prime the pump to deliver more quality and turn around a 60-year decline in numbers. Tag calves with an information link to each cow. Weigh cows and calves to chart efficiency; then get a benchmark reading on what comes after weaning.
Use the steer futurities, help a neighbor complete a feedlot load, partner or negotiate with a feedlot that returns individual data. If you can’t tag calves now, be more selective of bulls and add to your herd with proven females.
More and more of us need to think about those premiums, or there will continue to be fewer and fewer of us.
Commodity beef will never compete with chicken, pork or fish on a price basis. That’s just biology. If we want consumers to pay $200 or more per year for beef over other proteins, we need to take another look at how to produce calves that are worth $200 more to everybody in the chain.
Opinion by Ken HamiltonWritten by Ken Hamilton
By Ken Hamilton, Wyoming Farm Bureau Executive Vice President
Anyone who belongs to an organization knows that the time commitment to actively participate and build the organization and agriculture is significant. As always the folks who attend these meetings take the time to renew old acquaintances and update themselves on agricultural problems around the state. The first question that is usually asked deals with the weather and, this year, the drought.
Everyone in agriculture recognizes the importance that weather plays in our lives and perhaps secretly hopes that the weather was worse where they live than where the other ag producer lived, if for no other reason than to feel good that they had it rougher than anyone else but were still standing. Of course in Wyoming, everyone, at one time or another, has had worse weather than his neighbor. That’s just the nature of our climate. Last year’s flood will transform itself into this year’s drought.
The issues that concern folks can be just as variable. This year there were policies dealing with drought related impacts of wildlife on irrigated lands, the beef checkoff and of course the perennial over-reach of regulators into producers lives.
The national financial problems lead to a discussion and adoption of a policy asking Wyoming legislators to adopt a gold and silver alternative to the U.S. dollar in case of a default. The new school lunch requirements resulted in renewed calls for local control of our schools.
The Wyoming Farm Bureau Foundation held a symposium on private property rights with comments from Alan Romero, with the UW School of Law, Olen Snider with Summit Title and Stacia Berry from Hageman and Brighton. One of the topics that was discussed was the property owners “right to exclude” as an important part of the bundle of sticks in the property rights bundle. This information supported a resolution asking for strengthened trespass laws for landowners.
Another almost perennial topic of discussion was strengthening Wyoming landowner protection from eminent domain, as well as some protection for adjacent landowners on damages from entities that have easements but no agreement with non-easement landowners.
Anyone who has made a recent trip to the Wyoming Department of Transportation will appreciate the Wyoming Farm Bureau members call to repeal the federal Real I.D. Law that requires multiple documents in order to obtain or renew a drivers license. Concern about possible bison relocation efforts in Wyoming lead to the Wyoming Farm Bureau members adopting a policy that bison be considered a “fence in” species and not be designated a wild free roaming species.
Farm Bureau members, in carrying forward their concern over too much regulation, adopted a policy that would support the ability for consumers to purchase food products under less regulations. There were also expressions of concern over the recommendations that came out of the United Nations Agenda 21 project. Like most members the concern over more regulations, even if on a local level, drew a lot of criticism from ag folks.
As always perhaps the most important business that gets done at these meetings is the conversations among fellow producers. In the age of social networks and email, people still like to have an opportunity to just sit and visit.
Opinion by Dean FinkenbinderWritten by Dean Finkenbinder
Local processing of poultry in Wyoming has become more popular in the recent past and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has procedures to accomplish this without having daily inspection by federal or state inspectors. While small local poultry processors are exempt from daily inspection, it’s important to point out that they are not exempt from other specific requirements that allow them to sell the slaughtered birds.
Here are some of the basic requirements to sell local processed poultry to restaurants, grocery stores, institutions, end consumers or at farmers’ markets under the 1,000 bird limit.
Restaurants, grocery stores and institutions are required to obtain food from approved sources. In order to be an approved source the local poultry producer must slaughter and process their poultry in a licensed and inspected facility but will not receive daily inspection.
The poultry producer/grower must have raised the birds from not more than one week of age, and they have to slaughter and process their own birds.
The slaughter and processing procedures must be conducted under sanitary standards, practices and procedures that produce products that are sound, clean, fit for human food and not adulterated.
The slaughter and processing facility, whether a mobile unit or a permanent building, must be completely enclosed and constructed of smooth, durable and easily cleanable surfaces. A list of construction requirements can be found in the Wyoming Food Safety Rule, which can be obtained by contacting the phone number or e-mail above.
Records must be maintained to include slaughter records, sales of poultry products to customers and age verification of the birds to show they are purchased/raised at less than one week of age.
The poultry products may only be sold within Wyoming and not across state lines.
While these establishments won’t be inspected on a daily basis, it’s important to know and follow these basic requirements to sell locally processed poultry. Food safety is a top priority of the WDA. If you have any questions about food safety or the requirements for processing poultry, please contact us at 307-777-7321.