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5 Good Things to Know From '15 National Cattle Convention

1. Environmental good guys. Rock Hills Ranch and the Perman Family of Lowry, S.D., are the national winners of the Environmental Stewardship Award for 2014. The award recognizes ranchers for their dedication to exceptional land management practices which serve to improve soil, air and water quality for all. The family has shifted to rotational grazing, no-till farming techniques and planting cover crops to increase the amount of water soaking into the soil after precipitation. During the growing season on Rock Hills Ranch, they use a rotational grazing system in which cattle move to fresh pastures frequently and a pasture may only be grazed once or twice per year. To accomplish this, the Permans have installed an extensive cross-fencing system, which includes about 60 miles of permanent fence. Temporary fence is used to split many of the 40 permanent paddocks into smaller paddocks for grazing depending on conditions.

2. Electric fencers go completely high-tech. The new iSeries Fence Energizer Systems from Gallagher can be fitted with phone technology that will call or text you in event of a shorted-out fence. Says Ray Williams, “I had a rancher tell me that his fencer sent him a text in the middle of the night. It turned out a dear had run through a line and broke it. The rancher went out and fixed it before the cows had found the break.” The iSeries fencers can also be fitted with a siren or light to signal a break in the current. The i1200 fencer will charge around 40 miles of fence, and sells for about $1,200.

3. How’s the weather? Art Douglas, Creighton University meteorology professor and long-time weather prognosticator for CattleFax, says 2015 will be a good year. Warm water in the ocean off the U.S. west coast should give us moisture this year from California all the way into the Plains states, he says, including Texas. Lone Star cattlemen suffered most in the drought of 2009 to 2012. If anyone needs some good fortune in the effort to rebuild herds, it’s them, and Douglas says it will happen this year. In the Midwest, Douglas expects a cool spring, a cool pollination period, then a hot August and September. But with fairly normal rainfall, it should be a good crop season.

4. Alternative cow herd expansion. You can always count on Don Close, the cattle industry expert from Rabobank, to have an interesting story. Last year at Cattle Convention, he created a stir with his call for a change in cattle market incentive systems to more appropriately encourage producers to raise hamburger cattle. This year, he was at the meeting proposing an alternative way to expand the nation’s cow herd: using excess feedlot capacity for cows and calves. Part of his reasoning is that for many producers, there just isn’t any pasture ground available – it’s been converted to row crops or some other use. And, there is excess feedlot capacity, with many lots only feeding at 50% to 70% of capacity. Close sees these “feedlot cow herds” as providing opportunity for young people to get started without the expense of buying or leasing pasture land. Feed would have to be prepared and delivered to the confined cows and calves, but most feedlots have excess capacity to do that, too.

5. Why more open cows? Joe Campbell has a potential answer: trichomoniasis. Campbell is a cattle veterinary expert at BIVI, and he explains that “trich” is a sexually transmitted disease, from bull to cow, caused by a protozoa. It will cause the cow to abort early in pregnancy, but if you don’t actually see her abort, there are no other symptoms. You won’t know anything is amiss until she and up to 40% of her herdmates show up open at preg check. Trich used to be known as a Western disease, but it has now been seen in every state and is very aggressive in some places. Typically, it might spread to your herd through a purchased bull, says Campbell, but it could come from a neighbor bull jumping a fence. If he infects one of your cows, she then infects your bull, who infects the rest of your cows. Your veterinary can detect it by doing a culture on your bulls. If you find out you have the disease, you should replace your bulls (there’s no treatment for them). There is a vaccine for cows, called TrichGuard, which may come in combination with other common cow reproductive and respiratory vaccines.

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