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January 2013 Archive for Out to Pasture

RSS By: Steve Cornett, Beef Today

Read the latest blog from Steve Cornett.

A Slow Start for Animal ID

Jan 14, 2013

Yawn. Did you see a lot of news coverage about USDA’s new animal disease traceability program last month and you wonder what it means to you?

Not much, I’m afraid. Not in this form, anyhow. It applies only to cattle moving across state lines and then only to cattle over 18 months or traveling to shows, exhibitions, rodeos or recreational events. Cattle moving straight to slaughter—cull cows and bulls , for instance—are exempt, as well.

So, nearly as I can tell, most of the people impacted with be those who haul cattle to shows or sell mature cows and bulls to people from other states So, mostly purebred breeders, I guess. If you’re like me and sometimes haul cull cows--or calves, for that matter--to an out-of-state sale barn, it seems to have no effect.

Not that there’s anything to complying, anyhow. A bangs tag or brand will do as well as an electronic ID tag, thank you.

Which is to say, we are working our way into a national identification program very slowly and, I daresay, not very surely.

It makes me impatient. This deal will be of some help in tracing things like brucellosis, trich and BSE—the stuff they find in old cows. But those are molehill problems alongside the mountainous threat of foot and mouth disease. where these rules  won’t be much help at all. FMD’s most likely route to industry ruin would  be in the millions of feeder cattle shipped around the country.

I can understand where USDA is coming from. Their efforts at building a useful program in 2009 ran into a super storm of whining from producers. I suppose I shouldn’t blame USDA—or NCBA, for that matter—for not standing up to the rowdies and pushing ahead with the sort of ID program that will protect us against disease outbreak AND make it easier to get our beef into foreign markets.

It’s obvious the plan is to move into it a bit at a time. USDA says this will give them a chance to feel feel their way into the program—identify glitches, and such. It also will let the "reluctants" see that it isn’t that hard or expensive. So then, you bring the feeder cattle and calves in later. They probably know what they’re doing. And we’ll probably get away with it.

We’ve been a long time without an FMD outbreak.

And, all they’ve done is set up a minimal set of rules for interstate shipment, states can go further for in-state movement. In Texas, for instance, we have to provide ID on any animal marketed. Other states are even more stringent.

So for now, the smart thing is to check with your state animal health authority before you ship cattle. Your veterinarian will also know what it takes to get the interstate certificate of veterinary inspection or other documentation, such as owner-shipper statements or brand certificates needed to comply with the federal law, as well as any local requirements.

Meanwhile, I’ll be patient. And hope we don’t get a nasty surprise while we’re easing into this "21st Century" 15 or 20 years too late.


It’s Time to Ask: What If It Never Rains?

Jan 10, 2013

In Elmer Kelton’s iconic novel The Time It Never Rained, we read: "Moving across a bare, ashen pasture and remembering how green it used to be, Charlie found himself almost wondering if it was worth the fight. Who knew how long it might be until it rained again?"

Nobody has captured the ethos of drought as well as Kelton did in his story about rancher Charlie Flagg’s battle against the West Texas drought of the ’50s. Not many people remember how bad that drought was. I remember because my dad had chosen 1951 to return to farming, hocking everything he’d built and saved since the Dust Bowl years. We kids wore flour-sack shirts and got underwear and socks for Christmas.

My mom had to report every egg she sold to the Federal Housing Administration. And she was, uncharacteristically, short of temper some days.

During the 1930s—the years of the Dust Bowl, so well documented in Ken Burns’ recent PBS special— average rainfall in Amarillo was more than 17". From 1952 through 1956, it averaged little more than 12". Even with those 12", it was an epic drought. But in 2011, Amarillo received just 7.01". As of this writing, it looks like the city will come in under 12" in 2012. And, as Kelton would say, who knows when it will rain again?

Hard decisions. Prompted by Derrell Peel’s recent series "Can We Rebuild the Beef Cowherd?" I sat down to write this column about the prospects for a recovery. Peel recognizes this as a historic drought. I wonder how it will affect beef supplies and—as people react to record prices—demand.

I can keep my cows through the winter, thanks to $200 hay and pasture leased from a neighbor who keeps it for hunting. But I’m hauling my calves to town tomorrow, three or four months too early. Their wheat pasture is gone. I can’t get them to pencil at a feedyard, given corn prices. And I had a depressing conversation with a friend about where we might be able to fi nd green pastures to preserve seedstock.

I haven’t had as much rain in the last two years as Amarillo has. When I walk my pastures, I wonder how much of that grass is dead forever. I wonder how long it will take to come back after the rains come. I lie awake at night, wondering if I should hope for rain that isn’t in the long-term forecast or haul my cows to town before everyone else does.

I can’t imagine how my parents made it through the ’50s. Or how some of my neighbors, who have more at stake than me, cope. To have hundreds of cows—your whole life’s work, in many cases— teetering? Knowing that if you can just make it until the rains come, it promises to be better than ever, but that if you do sell, you may never get started again. Thousands have already decided.

If the rains don’t come, more will decide this year. Peel estimates the U.S. herd will be down as much as half a million this year. Beef prices, as well as calf and cow prices, will reach all-time highs.

It will be great for those who ride it out. But most of us will be like Charlie Flagg, I fear—wondering if it’s worth the fight, and how long it might be until it rains again.

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