Cowboys and Cowgirls on the RangeWritten by Governor Matt Mead
An enduring image of Wyoming is one of cowboys and cowgirls on the range. They are on horseback, taking care of the livestock and the land. A historic ranch building may be sitting nearby. In the distance, there are mountains, forests or splendid open spaces as far as the eye can see. The cowboys and cowgirls are dressed for the job, with cowboy hats, boots and rugged outdoor wear.
On the range, the cowboy hat protects against the elements. In other settings, for example, at stock shows or around town, it shows what the wearer does for a living. Beyond that, though, ag producers feel at home in their hats and use them for nearly every occasion. Cowboy hats are a symbol of the West, to be sure, but they are much more than symbolic headgear. They are comfortable and practical for our work, which is often outdoors in all kinds of weather. They are like another appendage. Wearing a cowboy hat says louder than words, “I’m an ag producer and proud of it.”
I have learned not to underestimate the value of a cowboy hat. This past summer I had the honor to travel to Asia looking for new trade opportunities for Wyoming companies and for the people of Wyoming. In Taiwan, I attended the Taipei International Travel Fair. This was an enormous event with well over 200,000 people passing through it. It was an event filled with potential for our state, and folks from the Wyoming Office of Tourism made the trip with me. The United States had recently signed a new policy allowing the 23 million Taiwanese citizens to visit our country without a visa. We would love to host lots of visitors from Taiwan in Wyoming, and we said so.
While I was at the Taipei Fair, I donned one of my cowboy hats for the occasion and walked through the dense crowd. I stood out. Let me say up front, the cowboy hat made a big difference. It was a warm reception as people heard I was from Wyoming, a state most know. Reporters approached to ask about the Cowboy State, and I posed for many pictures and heard only glowing reviews of our state, people and reputation.
Half a world away, our way of life, culture and heritage are recognized and revered. The cowboy and the cowgirl are icons. The chance to meet one in the flesh is unique, and a cowboy hat is an invaluable asset – it says something important about what we stand for, and people are drawn to it.
Of course, the men and women who work in agriculture every day over many years have built the great reputation Wyoming agriculture enjoys. Wyoming has 11,000 farms and ranches, each with a special story and each preserving a way of life esteemed in the United States and across the globe. Wyoming ag producers supply food for the nation, add to the state’s economy as Wyoming’s third largest industry and preserve centuries-old history and traditions.
And there’s more. They provide habitat for wildlife, places for hunting and fishing and vast open areas that improve the quality of life. The incomparable views, as well as the sight of working farms and ranches, are sought out by travelers from other states and from around the world.
I couldn’t help but notice the interest in American ag products during the Asia trip. One stop was a supermarket. In the meat department, an entire section was devoted to American beef. In the most populated continent, I saw that there is intense demand for U.S. beef, which is sold at a premium. This bodes well for our future, and I am committed to highlighting Wyoming’s agricultural products whenever and wherever I travel.
Success does not come by accident, nor does it come easy. Those of us in agriculture have had to overcome adversity and many challenges. We have a proven record of adaptation and of using our resources in a conservative manner. We are good stewards, and centennial farms and ranches are a testament to the staying power of Wyoming ag. We build on our successes, educate the next generation and run operations keeping the past, present and future in mind.
In particular, I believe now is the time to focus on water. Water is the most vital resource in our state. Those of us in agriculture live with this reality every day, every season. So, I am asking that you help me create a Wyoming water strategy. Already hundreds of people from across the state have given us input about how to approach water development, management, conservation, protection and restoration. A water strategy is needed to safeguard our water for present and future generations. Thanks to all those who are engaged, and I have heard the call to push for more water storage projects of every size. Water storage projects can protect Wyoming water, and they will be a great legacy.
Forests are another significant resource for those in agriculture. We have seen forests ravaged by beetles, and overall forest health has deteriorated. In response, I have asked a diverse group of individuals representing many backgrounds and interests to develop strategies to make sure our forests are sustainable and safe. This is another way to plan for the future.
Exporting more products, healthier forests, new water storage projects – these are major undertakings, not easy endeavors. Encouraging and rewarding private land ownership is also critical for the future. But Wyoming ag is worth every effort. We always want to see that iconic image of cowboys and cowgirls, not just in our memories or the history books, but on the open range.
A tip of my cowboy hat to Wyoming ag producers and all you do!
Tall Fescue Shows Potential in WyomingWritten by Anowar Islam
Grass pastures are essential components of western U.S. agriculture, especially on cattle ranches of the intermountain region. Unfortunately, the yield and quality of these grasslands are low, and continues to decline over time, which has been further accelerated by soil degradation. The yield of these pastures averages less than one ton per acre in many instances.
Attempts have been made to increase forage yields of these pastures by fertilization and applying or controlling irrigation, but these efforts have resulted in little or no success. The price increase of fertilizer, energy and fuel has made improvement of these natural grasslands more difficult and, thus, threatens the profitability and sustainability of current production systems.
Introduction of a novel, drought tolerant and winter hardy tall fescue system in these grass pastures may have potential to increase productivity, profitability, quality and sustainability.
Tall fescue is one of the most productive cool-season grass species in the U.S. that can grow on a wide range of soils, has high drought and winter hardiness and can be used for pasture, hay, stockpiling, silage, soil conservation and turf grass.
Due to the nature of prolific seed production, tall fescue will be a potential resource in producing seeds in the northwest Wyoming regions.
Recently, scientists in the Plant Sciences Department in the University of Wyoming initiated and completed a study to identify novel tall fescue cultivars and lines that would be suitable for growing in the western mountain regions, specifically in the Big Horn Basin area, and generate information on growth, forage yield and seed yield that would benefit not only local growers but also growers throughout the state and in neighboring states.
The study was conducted at the Powell Research and Extension Center in Powell and at a producer’s farm, the Stroh farm, also in Powell, under irrigated conditions from 2009 to 2012. The study was repeated four times each year.
The experiments included a forage yield trial with three doses of nitrogen – zero, 50 and 100 pounds nitrogen per acre, a seed yield trial with three doses of nitrogen – zero, 100 and 150 pounds nitrogen per acre, and three times of clipping – no, early and late. Standard seeding rates were used for both studies, with a rate of eight pounds pure live seed (PLS) per acre for seed production and 20 pounds PLS per acre for forage production.
Forage yield, seed yield and forage quality were measured, and finally, an economic comparison was made.
Tall fescue cultivars and lines used in this study responded very well to nitrogen treatments. The highest forage and seed yields were associated with the highest nitrogen treatment.
Clipping treatments influenced seed yield, as well. The highest seed yields were associated with the highest nitrogen rate of 150 pounds nitrogen per acre and no clipping treatments.
Nitrogen treatments did not affect the forage quality, and all cultivars and lines produced acceptable forage quality.
Economic comparisons indicated that at least 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre is needed to make the forage production profitable under irrigation.
Seed production from tall fescue cultivars and lines were more profitable than forage production.
The highest expected net returns were obtained from the no clipping treatments. Early clipping may be used in years when late freezing injury and/or limited forage availability are expected. Based on three years data and economic comparison, late clipping is not recommended.
The study generated useful data for the producers and growers in the region and beyond who look to use tall fescue as a potential forage and seed crop and to add revenue to their enterprises.
Further studies warrant determining the maximum nitrogen rates for the maximum profits.
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.