News and notes from the 2020 Cattle Industry Convention

The most interesting talk at the NCBA Cattle Industry Convention happens in the aisles and hallways of the giant trade show, away from the formal meetings. Here are a few of my leftover notes from this past week in San Antonio.

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Dairy calves get a beef upgrade. Many dairy farmers are seeing the advantage of breeding their Holsteins to a beef bull, such as Angus. They’ve never had a good market for the straight dairy bull calves, anyway, and only a few of the heifers are destined for the milking herd. So, why not breed to an Angus and get an Angus price? Don Close of Rabo AgriFinance told cattle producers that’s exactly what’s happening, and alignments are forming between dairies and feedlots. With the right matings and feeding, the beef-on-dairy steers can grade Choice beef or even Prime, something a straight dairy animal could never achieve. Plus, they grow faster on less feed. Close thinks 10% of feedlot animals could eventually be these half-dairy animals.

More producers certified for quality animal care. The NCBA started a program three years ago called Beef Quality Assurance (BQA), a checkoff program that trains producers in common-sense husbandry techniques for raising cattle under optimum management and environmental conditions. After a big push in 2019, BQA now has issued over 100,000 certifications. It’s done to instill consumer confidence in the industry, says Josh White, NCBA’s producer education director. Among the good things that BQA teaches is how to follow proper animal injection sites (in front of the shoulder) and low-stress weaning and preconditioning techniques. It also teaches producers how to set up good health protocols with their veterinarians, who are highly trusted by consumers when it comes to animal welfare. Anyone can become BQA-certified at

Pinkeye in winter? Yep! You usually think of pinkeye in cows and calves as a summer disease, made worse by dust, pollen, and tall grasses. But now, producers across the country are seeing more pinkeye in the winter. It’s still a bacteria, but slightly different and more progressive than seen in the summer, says Randy Shirbroun, a veterinarian with Newport Laboratories/Boehringer Ingelheim. He says the problem may be related to the fact that cows and calves are kept in closer contact in the winter, and feed dust or even snow may compound it. “Work with your veterinarian to get the pinkeye diagnostics done,” he says. Then, you may need to get an autogenous vaccine made. You take an eye swab and have a lab make a specific vaccine for your exact bug. Shirbroun says you would vaccinate the calves with it at summer turn-out time, then boost them in the fall.


Don’t feed a cow in third trimester. Two Provimi/Cargill cattle nutritionists detailed some common cow-feeding myths. One of the big ones, according to Dusty Abney and Wesley Moore, is that if you give a pregnant cow supplemental feed in her third trimester, it will all go to the calf and lead to a more difficult birth. “Not true,” says Abney. “If a calf weighs 85 pounds at birth, about 50 pounds of that is put on in the last trimester. Where’s that going to come from? If the cow has to pull it from thin air [her own body reserves], it’s not going to go well.” Research says a cow in good body condition will have a calf that is about 8 pounds heavier at birth than a cow in poor condition, and Abney says eight extra pounds will not produce a difficult birth. Plus, he adds, a cow in poor condition is less likely to rebreed on schedule.

What's New

Save time picking up round bales. John Deere has an option on its new round baler, the 460M, that is an in-field bale accumulator. As you roll up bales, this rear attachment will hold and carry two bales. When a third bale is finished making in the chamber, you can drop all three (two in the accumulator, one in the chamber) in one spot for easier pick up later. Product manager Lyle McMillan says this gives the potential to cut bale pickup time in half.

Precision ag tool for pastures. Corteva AgriScience is bringing to pasture managers some management tools that compare to the precision ag tools that row-crop farmers have had for years. Called LandVisor, the new system uses satellite imagery and public weather data to help you pinpoint weed infestations and brush, then it helps you pick the best timing and method of control. Producers who use LandVisor will work with a trained Corteva consultant to pinpoint their problem areas and weeds, and the ideal times and methods of control. You will typically pay for the new service through a premium fee with your local chemical applicator. LandVisor will be available to southwest ranchers this year (2020) for control of mesquite, then it will be rolled out to the entire country in the future.

Ear tags borrow from dairy technology. Allflex Livestock Intelligence has a new cattle ear tag called the SenseHub Beef tag that is the “smartest” in the industry to date. It rivals what has been used for dairy cows to track movement, rumination, and feeding times to give information for breeding and general health. The ear tag transponder has to come within about 1,500 feet of an antenna, usually placed near a water source. Through her movement and other activity, it will tell you when a cow is in heat and the best time to artificially inseminate. It will also give you a health index based on her movement. All of the information is accessible from a phone or computer app. The cost for the system is about $2,750 for the main controller box and $56 for each starter reproductive tag.

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