The world’s a changing. The nation’s cowherd is improving. What tweaks have you made in your own beef cattle operation?

Presenters at the Feeding Quality Forum, August 28 to 29 in Sioux City, Iowa, encouraged questioning the routine.

More than 200 took in the two-day meetings, where they got practical tips to use now as well as the “10,000-foot view” to spur thought, said Justin Sexten, director of supply development for Certified Angus Beef LLC (CAB). “People left with some knowledge they didn’t have before and hopefully more questions for their own team of experts, too.”

A dozen experts spoke to cattle feeders and their commercial cow-calf customers.

“We’re making genetic selections today that will impact your cattle herd for at least the next 10 years,” said Dan Moser, president of Angus Genetics Inc. There are more tools and data available than ever to create an animal that fits many environments while producing superior beef.

“Notice that word, ‘while’ – it’s not either/or,” Moser said. “We’ve got to think ahead to what the marketplace will demand.”

Rick Funston, University of Nebraska animal scientist, shared ways to develop heifers into long-lasting herd improvers.

Advanced genetics won’t live up to their reproductive efficiency potential without focused herd management, he said. “What if we expose more heifers than needed but for 30 days only? What if we keep late-calving cows by using CIDRs and a shot of prostaglandin to move them up one, two, even three cycles?”

“Keep in mind we need well-rounded feeder cattle,” said CAB’s Paul Dykstra. The No. 1 reason cattle don’t make the brand is because they lack adequate marbling, but feedlot performance and yield on the rail are part of a calf’s value to buyers.

“At a time when we have dramatically more quality supply than ever before, we’ve increased the premiums because the cattle perform well on several levels,” he said.

John Gerber and Kevin Hueser of Tyson Fresh Meats talked about the source of all of those premiums: consumer demand.

“At Tyson we’re not going to say ‘no.’ That’s how we give the consumer what they want,” said Gerber, the packer’s head of cattle buying.

The trend includes more transparency and higher quality. All cattle Tyson sources are required to come from Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) certified suppliers by January 1, 2019.

“We’ve got to be transparent. We’ve got nothing to hide,” Gerber said.

Nigel Gopie, of IBM Food Trust, said sharing will get easier.

“A transparent food system matters,” he said. “Today we’re seeing a blurry view — 80 percent of the world’s data is locked up in organizations’ databases. Only 20 percent is available through things like Google.”

The IBM Food Trust looks to change that using blockchain technology to assign each data point a fingerprint, or “hash,” so users know the information source and that it’s in its original form.

A handful of large food companies from Walmart to Dole currently use blockchain, but it will take innovative thinking to get the masses onboard.

That’s exactly what veterinarian Sam Barringer, a commander on the Air Force Reserves medical team, suggested we need more of: out-of-the-box thinking.

“We’ve been doing the same things the same way for 20 years and we don’t even know why we’re doing it,” he said, drawing on his experience in Middle East war theaters.

Cattlemen can’t look at health and vaccination as synonymous, Barringer said. “If we were to vaccinate for every pathogen facing cattle, it would be 32 vaccines upon arrival. That’s not viable.”

Even the standard health protocols need some scrutiny, said Paul Walz, Auburn University veterinarian.

“We are at a point with evolving BVD that some of our vaccines no longer provide the same amount of protection,” he said, noting a survey of Nebraska calves showed 82 percent of BVD strains were outside of those on which vaccines are based. Risk varies from herd to herd and strategies may need to vary year to year.

Regardless of vaccine strain, the stress on newly arrived cattle at any feedyard can hinder efficacy, said Brian Vander Ley, epidemiologist at Nebraska’s Great Plains Veterinary Education Center.

“Vaccines are intended for use in healthy cattle,” he said. On arrival, some calves are too stressed to meet that practical definition. University of Arkansas data on high-risk calves showed an advantage to waiting a couple of weeks before administering those shots.

“Go home and talk to your folks, and make sure you’re doing the right things,” said nutritionist Jeff Heldt, with Micronutrients.

Referring to conversations about cattle supplement timing, storage and delivery, he said vitamins are finicky. They don’t like environments that are too hot, acidic, light or wet.

“Feed manufacturers do a good job meeting mineral needs, but storage time of our products is pretty critical,” Heldt said.

Nutrition on the ranch, must be continued with a solid plan in the feedyard.

Dale Blasi, Kansas State University animal scientist, suggested feeders ask their consultants about limit feeding a grain-based ration to calves at 2.2% of their body weight.

K-State work shows many benefits, from decreased cost of gain and better health to reduced labor and manure management.

It was common practice two or three decades ago. It might be time to revisit the strategy, Blasi said: “Something that’s been so in vogue for so long, working, why didn’t we stay with it?”

The world of nutrition may change slowly over time, but markets are the opposite.

Dan Basse, president of AgResource Co., returned to the forum to talk global markets and the causes of volatility.

“The world is really, really focused today on politics,” he said. He predicted fed cattle prices of up to $120 per hundredweight in the fourth quarter, nothing the model did not account for a trade deal with China in the near future.

“If that happens, it changes a lot,” he said. “That’s our big hope in terms of the U.S. opportunity, to build demand and really get back to a bull market longer term.”

During the evening reception, longtime Nebraska cattle feeder Gerald Timmerman accepted the Industry Achievement Award.

“Gerald has a long history of putting the consumer first, and using technology and innovation to do it,” said Mark McCully, CAB vice president of production. “We’re proud to honor him.”

For more information about the meetings and additional post-event coverage in the coming weeks, visit feedingqualityforum.com.

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