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Technology is rapidly advancing the cattle business. The capability now exists for specialized ear tags and drones to check on cattle and monitor their health.

“Five years ago, no one had even heard of a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle), other than drones used by the military,” says Pete Cunningham with Ag Eagle and Cunningham Ag Services in Ansley, Neb. “There has been a lot of progress since then and especially in the last year.”

“There is no limit in what data these drones can gather. Producers just need to decide what data they want,” he says.

Drones for management

Cunningham sees the drones becoming part of everyday cattle management, if producers are willing to embrace this technology.

“UAVs, or drones, are tools to carry a sensor of some type,” he explains. “These sensors can be of any endless possibility from precision livestock management to locating an animal. It can change how we manage and identify sick and under-performing individuals even sooner than a pen rider or by horseback in a pasture.”

“Whatever our program is, this technology will only make that better,” he adds.

If a farmer/feeder has 1,000 head of cattle in a feedlot, he may also be the pen rider, Cunningham continues.

“If there is a snowstorm, he may have to concentrate on feeding the cattle and other chores and let the pen checking go. The UAV can check the cattle for him and issue alerts. It is capable of catching an outbreak of sickness or even alerting us to a single animal that doesn’t show its normal signs of activity. It allows us to handle a couple head and leave the other 998 alone,” he says.

Try it out

Cunningham encourages producers to experiment with this new technology.

“It may start out as a toy until the rancher can figure out how to make it usable in the operation,” he says. “Anyone can experiment with drones at a relatively low cost. Until a producer determines how they want to use the technology, I wouldn’t recommend starting with a high-end device,” he states.

Under new Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations implemented in August, persons who want to fly a drone must be at least 16 years old and be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration. They must also hold either a remote pilot airman certificate with a small UAS rating or be under the direct supervision of a person who does.

To qualify for a remote pilot certificate, a person must demonstrate aeronautical knowledge by either passing an initial aeronautical test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center or hold a Part 61 pilot certificate, according to the FAA regulations for using a drone.

Benefits across the board

Cunningham believes small producers can even benefit from using drones.

“The advantage of being a smaller operator is having the time to evaluate all the data these drones can provide to us and determining how to implement it,” he explains. “The drones have the capability of gathering more information than some operations have time to evaluate.”

Andrew Uden with Quantified Ag in Lincoln, Neb. says the development of a biometric sensing ear tag, when combined with a data analysis tool set, can improve traceability in the whole system and change big data’s role in precision beef production.

“In the livestock business, as we utilize biometric readers, smart ear tags and better technology with individual animals, we can actually manage at that level,” he says. “We no longer have to pull an entire pen of cattle to treat one individual. We can manage cattle on a head-by-head basis, which fits very well into what our industry has built from a management perspective.”

“It puts more of the efficiency and cost management structure back into the hands of the producer,” he says.

This technology can measure biometrics and behavior of animals, verify if an animal was treated for disease and the outcome, and determine if the animal was treated humanely, he notes.


What these advancements will require is the development of a reliable network so these products can be used in remote areas.

“The problem with this technology is it takes a lot of infrastructure to put in place,” Uden explains. “Our technology steps in to fill some of these gaps by creating reliable range that animals can be away from the reader.”

“We have a two-mile range on our reader right now,” he notes.

“We are also creating a platform that will take some of these same sensors that monitor inner ear canal temperature, head position and mobility of the animal, and from that we can use this data to create a health picture of the animal at any given time of the day,” he says. “With that information, the producer can decide if they want to pull and treat that animal.”

“In fact, finding that animal in a pen of cattle is as simple as turning on a light on the ear tag. We have built an ear tag that can basically send and receive data. Doing this gives us options of what we want to change and turning the light on and off when we are sorting groups of cattle,” he explains.

In the future, Uden says this technology will be able to tell a producer what disease an animal has and whether or not it should be treated for it.

“This technology will help make the industry more sustainable,” he says.

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


“Every five years, Health and Human Services and the United States Department of Agriculture comes out with dietary guidelines,” said Gary Sides, a ruminant nutritionist with Zoetis, during a producer dinner on April 20. “In 2015, the original report said we shouldn’t eat any red meat at all because of dietary reasons, and the second reason was because raising cattle raises carbon dioxide, which causes global warming and destruction of the planet.”

And while the final dietary guidelines didn’t include any reference to climate change or global warming, Sides noted that the use of old, incorrect data is problematic for the beef industry.

The information alleging that cattle are major contributors to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions comes from a 10-year-old report from the United Nations.

“They said 18 percent of all global CO2 emission was due to cattle,” Sides said. “That data was five to six times off.”

The report has since been disproven by other scientists.

Sides spoke to producers during an April 20 presentation, sponsored by Superior Livestock and Zoetis, in Casper.  Producers from around the region attended the event.

Flawed science

Sides noted that the United Nation report was based on a flawed computer simulation that did not reflect actual trends over the last decade.

“Software programs that predict what temperatures will be are based on rising CO2,” he explained. “We’ll go up one degree centigrade between 1975 and 2025, according to the models. The actual readings from the satellites show that we have not had global warming since 1998.”

With 19 years of no warming, CO2 levels have continued to increase, and Sides noted that the theories haven’t corresponded with observations.

With a focus on CO2, Sides asked, “In all this discussion about global warming, have we heard anyone mention what percentage of the atmosphere is made up of CO2? It’s 0.04 percent.”

He continued, “If we had heard that CO2 is causing the disruption of the planet, our BS meter would have gone off.”

At the same time, Sides commented that plants would starve without CO2, noting that the optimum level for plant growth is 1,500 parts per million. The current atmosphere is 400 parts per million.


While CO2 is a concern, despite its basis in science, Sides also noted that beef cattle are twice as efficient as wild ruminant.

“We produce half as much or less CO2 and methane,” he explained. “There were 80 million buffalo in the U.S. They weren’t worried about emissions back then, and we shouldn’t worry about it now. They haven’t gone up from what they were.”

Sides also noted that U.S. cattle production is more efficient than anywhere else in the world.

“Ranchers in the U.S. produce 25 percent of the world’s beef with 10 percent of the cattle,” he said. “We were green before it was cool. We improved gains, feed efficiency and carcass quality at the same time we reduced our carbon footprint.”

A grass system with feedlot finishing adds to the efficiency of the system.

“Combining grass and feedlots have produced the most efficient beef production system in the world,” Sides added.

Looking back to the past

Sides took a quick trip to the past, noting that if beef were produced today the same way it was in the 1950s, only half of the world’s population could be fed.

“Half of the world’s population would die without advances in agriculture technology,” he continued. “Worldwide, we’d need an additional 25 million square miles, which is the land mass of South America.”

“How are we going to feed a 10 billion?” Sides asked. “We’re going to have to double production from current acres. If not, our lifestyles are going to go way downhill, or people will starve.”

Sides also noted that in 1776, it took 19 farmers to feed 20 people. Today, one farmer or rancher feeds 155 others.

“People in cities don’t need to worry about where their food comes from,” he said.

And while people want agriculture to use the same technology as was used at the turn of the century, Sides said that those techniques resulted in environmental events like the Dust Bowl years.

A farmer in 1920 produced 20 bushels of corn per acre. Today, farmers produced an average of 170 bushels per acre.

“We can’t feed many cattle, chicken or pigs with 20-bushel corn, and we can’t make ethanol,” he commented.

“Agriculture in 1920 is not sustainable for today’s populations,” Sides emphasized. “The sky is the limit today because of modern agriculture and technology.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The way calves are handled during their weaning period makes a big difference in whether they stay healthy, and many people are starting to realize the value of gently working with these pens of calves. 

“It really pays to work with the calves, walking through them quietly when we get them in for weaning or get in a new load of purchased calves,” says Ron Gill of Texas A&M. 

“We become the caregivers, and this helps take the stress off them.  They are in panic mode and looking for guidance during weaning,” Gill continues. “Thus it is really important, especially with co-mingled calves that were brought together from multiple sources, to get in with them and give them something to focus on.”

“Ranchers can stop all the walking and bawling if they understand this acclimation process,” he says. 

Reducing stress

“We can get calves to stop pacing the fence and work for us.  This takes a lot of stress away from them,” he explains, referencing methods taught by the late Bud Williams, showing ranchers and feedlot employees how to “settle” these calves upon arrival at the new place or the feedyard.

“It takes a little bit of time to work with these calves, but it pays big dividends in less sickness, reduction of pull rates, etc.,” Gill continues. “We don’t have research data on this, but we have a lot of observational and personal experience.”

Gill says that when he owned a preconditioning facility, they began acclimating calves upon arrival, a practice which dramatically reduced health problems. He also used to own a preconditioning facility, and when we started acclimating calves upon arrival, health problems and death losses dropped dramatically. 

“That’s when I started doing cattle handling clinics because I felt that other people needed to know how beneficial this is,” says Gill.

Off the truck

“When preconditioning fresh calves, in our experience if we can get them calmed down when they get off the truck and let them go through an acclimation process immediately after coming of the truck, they do really well,” Gill begins.

He says that it is important to take the time to get them relaxed, to the point the calves would walk by ranchers, rather than running, and where the rancher could stop them if they wanted to.

“Starting them eating was not a problem as soon as their mind calmed down, once they were calm enough to think about things instead of just reacting to their environment,” he adds. “Consumption, average daily gain, etc., were quite a bit higher in those calves.

“Most of the calves that get sick are getting sick because they are not eating or drinking enough,” he explains,. “so even nutrition helps. The interaction is huge because it calms them enough that they will then eat and drink.” 

Gill says, “We want them calm enough that they are not worrying about being in a new place, just looking for something to eat, whether it be grass or some kind of supplement.”

Health benefits

By calming calves down early, Gill says the immune system begins to function better.

Additionally, he suggests that waiting to vaccinate calves until after they are settled can also help improve immunity.

“A lot of times people process the calves the first day they come in and give them vaccinations.  This puts additional stress on the calves, and if the calf has a compromised immune system, some of those vaccines will actually depress immunity,” he explains. “I like to wait a day or two, until we get them calmed down and they are not so flighty, not reacting so much to the processing part of it.”

By waiting, vaccines are more effective in the first round of shots.

Gill also notes that waiting a few days for calves to calm down also provides an additional opportunity to work the animals, calming them further before processing.   

“Every time we moved calves, we always settled them down, to where they’d walk past us and then put them where we want them,” Gill says.

Increasing handling ability

“We may not get them all to a point where they are not so flighty, but we get a high percent to calm down enough to walk past us,” Gill explains. “This helps calm the whole group.  Otherwise, they all run wildly, running into one another. This is stressful and creates a panic mode for the whole group.”

“After we’ve worked with them and they are accustomed to us, if a flighty one runs into the rest of those calves they look at him like, ‘What did you do that for?’  Taking time to work with a group of purchased calves is very important,” he says.


A lot of people worry more about the injections involved in preconditioning – whether vaccinations or antibiotic treatments or whatever it might be, and that’s where a lot of the focus is. 

“I feel we need to shift that focus more to handling and management. Vaccinations and antibiotics are important tools, but if we don’t manage those calves properly, those tools don’t have a chance to be as effective,” says Gill.

“Those 45 to 60 days post-weaning are crucial.  If we take care of those calves like we should during that time, the rest of it becomes very easy.  This is the critical time, yet this is the segment in our industry that gets the least attention,” he notes. “We talk about the need for it, but not everyone has the resources to do that.  I think sometimes we don’t utilize possibilities.”

Gill emphasizes that taking time to calm cattle down doesn’t take a good cowboy or highly experienced stockman, but rather, anyone who takes the time to work with livestock can be accomplish the goal.

“We just need someone who will do it and spend a little time,” he says. “It could be a spouse, young family members just someone who enjoys being with cattle and doesn’t mind doing it.”

He adds,  “If we send someone who doesn’t enjoy it, the cattle won’t respond as well.  A cow knows what we know and what we don’t know.  They are good at ‘reading’ people.”

Heather Smith Thomas is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Cody – In their April 29 meeting, the Wyoming Beef Council (WBC) looked at their fiscal year 2016 budget and marketing efforts for the next year. As part of that discussion, they received updates from Greg Haines of the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) on the impact of beef exports on the industry.

Haines explained that 96 percent of the world’s population of 7 billion resides outside the U.S., and the world’s population is expected to grow to 11 billion by the end of the century.

“If we look at growth of the population within the U.S, it is limited, even through the end of the century,” Haines said. “In another 10 to 15 years, 97 to 98 percent of the population will be outside the U.S. – which is where our consumers are.”

He added, “It is essential we are working out there and being aggressive with our marketing.”


At the same time as the population around the world is increasing, Haines noted that the number of consumers with the disposable income to purchase beef is growing.

“Beef is the premier protein on the world market,” he said, adding that U.S. beef grades above other protein products.

“Seven years ago, in 2009, the U.S., Europe and Asia Pacific were leaders in terms of middle class consumers that can afford our product,” Haines explained. “We had about 18 percent of the global share of the middle class.”

However, he noted that in 14 years, by 2030, North America will only have about six percent of the world’s middle class consumers, while Asia will hold 67 to 68 percent of those consumers.

“We’ve got a huge shift in purchasing power within the global economy,” he said. “With that shift, overall red meat consumption will also grow tremendously over the next few years.”

Increasing consumption

USMEF predicts that red meat consumption will increase by 10 percent over the next eight years, an amount equivalent to 36 billion pounds.

“To put that in perspective, total U.S. beef exports last year were about 2.4 billion pounds,” Haines commented. “There are huge opportunities for us.”

With global beef supplies remaining fairly flat, prices will increase as a result, he said.

As consumers increase and demand jumps, the value of beef will also continue to grow.

“From 2009, global trade was a little over $18 billion in value,” Haines said. “In 2014, that jumped to about $37 billion.”

While 2015 saw a decline, Haines also noted that the overall trend showed an increase.

“If we look at the overall trend, we are positive in terms of global demand and international marketability to buy more beef,” Haines said.

Marketing opportunities

The largest markets by volume for U.S. beef include Mexico and Japan, followed by Korea, Canada, Vietnam, Greater China, the Middle East, Taiwan and central South America.

At the same time, Haines noted that USMEF is seeking to add as much value to beef as is possible.

“The biggest thing is we’re trying to add more value,” Haines said. “With beef, we look for cuts that fit into local styles or look at different price points to meet their ability to pay for those products.”

Less valuable cuts and offal from beef are highly sought around the world and often are nearly worthless in the U.S.

“There are a lot of cuts that we don’t really eat, but a lot of these markets want them – and they’ll pay a premium for them,” he added.

The additional value from beef through these additional products was $300 per head in 2014. While the number dropped to $278 in 2015, Haines noted that the overall trend is still positive.


USMEF is working to target Japan with its marketing efforts right now for several reasons.

“If we look at just three months ago, the exchange rate was 122 yen to the dollar,” Haines said. “Today, it is 109. That is a 12 percent decrease in the price of the product, which makes us much more competitive.”

He continued, “Japan is a big market and one of the biggest importers of beef in the world.”

The country has a population of nearly 130 million people and is only 40 percent self-sufficient in its ability to supply meat.

At the same time, Japan’s tourist market is expected to increase by 30 to 45 percent over the next five years, particularly with the upcoming Olympics.

“When people go to Japan as tourists, they want to eat Japanese food, and a lot of traditional Japanese dishes use beef,” he said. “This is a huge opportunity, as well.”


“At least 20 beef supplier are looking to get in and get market share in Japan because it is such a lucrative market,” Haines noted, adding that U.S. beef has a slight advantage because of the recognition by consumers and companies that U.S. beef is high quality.

Haines also added, however, that U.S. beef is more expensive compared to Australia, particularly with the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).

The EPA went into effect in January 2015, and it dropped duties on chilled and frozen beef from Australia into Japan by six percent to 31.5 percent. That decreased an additional percentage point to 30.5 percent at the beginning of the fiscal year in April 2015, and it has continued to decrease.

“We’re paying 38.5 percent,” he said. “This disparity is why the Trans-Pacific Partnership is important. That agreement will level the playing field.”

USMEF aims to increase its beef marketing in Japan over the next year to capture some of the market share and capture profits for U.S. beef producers.

“We’d like to be able to work with Wyoming to target key retail chains, depending on their needs, and create individual, customized promotion plans that include education buyers and store managers,” Haines said.

WBC approved $20,000 from their fiscal year 2016 budget for USMEF marketing in Japan. The funding will be leveraged with support from other producer groups around the nation, and the WBC logo will be present on marketing materials.

Haines commented, “There are huge opportunities for us in Japan.”

The next meeting of the Wyoming Beef Council will be on June 8 in Casper beginning at 10 a.m.

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..