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Winter Cattle Journal 2019: RFID technology is more than just tags

Like in any industry or business, ranchers are constantly searching for ways to automate and increase productivity to reduce costs and increase profit margins. There's one technology that has been around for years now that American ranchers are just now adopting, even though its use has been commonplace elsewhere around the globe for years.  

Radio-frequency identification, more commonly known by its acronym RFID, has been used in other industries since the early 1970s. It is the same technology that Amazon.com is using in its new grocery stores that have no checkout lanes. Pluck an item from the shelf, walk out the door, and the RFID tag on your milk or steak is automatically detected and your account charged. 

Whether you know it or not, you have probably used RFID technology. RFID tags can be attached to any object and used to track and manage inventory, assets, or people. For example, the retail industry has been using RFID tags for years to prevent theft. RFID tags have also been implanted into pets to locate owners if a stray pet is found.  They are also used on keyless door entry systems. There are literally hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of different uses for RFID technology in the world today. 

Jeremy Blampied is the Marketing and Business Development Manager for Te Pari Products, a company that has been leading the way to integrate RFID technology on cattle ranches. "RFID technology has been a game changer in the cattle industry in recent years. It makes identification of animals easy, and that's information ranchers can use to save money and protect their bottom line." 

Te Pari manufactures RFID-enabled load bars that can be placed under a cattle chute to weigh livestock automatically. When a steer enters the chute during vaccination season, for example, the animal's weight is then automatically recorded. That information is entered into an easy-to-use database and then that information can be used to analyze, make decisions, and perform other tasks automatically.  

A rancher, for example, can compare an animal's growth over time and determine whether a sire or dam is performing up to expectations. That kind of information allows a rancher to shape his or her herd and create a lot of additional revenue over time. 

When used with a Te Pari dosing gun or vaccination gun, a vaccine's quantity can be automatically measured and loaded into the gun to suit the weight of each animal. For the average medium to large rancher in Montana than can mean a savings of many thousands of dollars each year even after the RFID equipment is paid for. At up to $2,000 per liter for some vaccines, the savings is evident. But there are other benefits to measuring vaccine doses correctly. 

"One of the biggest challenges in the industry is administering the correct dose of medicine, and verifying the entire herd has been treated," Blampied said. "If you under-dose an animal you are essentially pouring that medicine down the drain. And you can also build up resistant parasites as a result. Product resistance is a nationwide problem. And perhaps the greatest cause for resistance is under dosing." 

RFID technology operates wirelessly and has three essential components:  a tag (which consists of a microchip and hidden radio antenna), a reader, and a computer. Wireless readers quickly identify and track tags attached to objects. The tags contain an electronically-stored ID number and can store other information, too. 

Low frequency passive tags, which are the most common RFID tags in use on ranches, will collect energy from a nearby RFID reader or wand. Because of this, their cost is relatively low; usually only $1.50 to $3 each. 

High frequency active tags use a local power source (such as a small battery) and may operate dozens of yards away from the RFID reader. 

Currently high frequency tags are not used as much in the cattle industry, but some are experimenting with them. In Canada, for example, the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) is finding exciting new uses for high frequency RFID tags. Take, for example, the not-so-uncommon occurrence of a cow and calf separating themselves from a herd. That pair could be hidden in any canyon on a 2,000-acre pasture and it might take a long time to find them on horseback. High frequency RFID tags would allow a rancher to launch a drone equipped with a RFID reader and quickly find the cow. 

That same drone technology could also be used during calving season. Imagine programming your drone to find cow number 4793, which is due to give birth that night. A drone with a RFID reader and infrared camera could easily find that cow, monitor its status, and beam infrared video back to your computer, tablet, or smart phone while you watch from the comfort and warmth of your home. 

The USDA proposed requiring electronic tags for all call cattle by 2006, but many ranchers resisted. Arguments included the expense and intrusiveness of the regulation. As a result, the proposal died. The electronic tracking of beef cattle had been required in places like Australia, New Zealand, and Brazil for many years. Similarly, electronic tracking for sheep is required in Europe and Canada.  However, attitudes are changing, according to those working with the technology behind the scenes. 

Louis Dubs, a rancher near Bridger, Montana said that weighing animals, recording that information, and then analyzing it has allowed him to save a great deal of money. 

"I can easily tell which animals are performing and which animals are not," Dubs said. "And information is valuable, even in ranching. With that data I can change breeding programs and remove certain animals who are underperforming." 

Another reason ranchers are adopting RFID technology is because of changes in the marketplace. Recent studies have shown that millennials, for example, are willing to pay much more for food that is marketed as "sustainable," with the source identified. RFID technology in New Zealand is allowing consumers to know the backstory of every piece of meat on their plate. Millennials crave that knowledge and it is likely to become increasingly important in years to come. Millennials are the first generation willing to consciously spend more money for sustainability and traceability. And restaurants and grocery stores are willing to pay ranchers extra for that information. RFID technology makes that possible. 

Lastly, and perhaps more importantly, ranchers are beginning to realize that RFID technology can also help isolate the outbreak of certain diseases that could potentially cripple an industry for years, if not decades. In 2003 a case of BSE, also known as mad cow disease, was discovered in a dairy cow in Washington state. It took 13 days to trace the cow back to the farm where it was born in Canada. RFID technology today could trace the origin of that animal in hours, not days. And as a result, electronic tagging could prevent the spread of a disease that has the capability of destroying an entire industry. 

Blampied said he didn't know if the United States government would ever try to make RFID technology mandatory again but said the benefits of RFID technology may appeal to ranchers even if the government doesn't require it. 

"The management of data on a ranch will become much more important in the future and RFID technology makes that possible," he said. "Having more information can make ranchers more profitable. And saving money is what makes RFID technology so attractive."

Livestock Forage Disaster Payment Calculator is now available for 2018

The Livestock Forage Disaster Program provides assistance to producers for grazing losses caused by drought.

Livestock producers in 10 North Dakota counties may be eligible for Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP) payments because of drought in 2018.

North Dakota State University has an Excel program that quickly will provide an estimate of LFP payments under most scenarios in North Dakota, Montana and South Dakota, says Andy Swenson, the NDSU Extension farm and family resource management specialist.

The LFP calculator is available at http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/farmmanagement/farm-bill.

LFP, authorized under the 2014 farm bill, provides assistance to producers for grazing losses caused by drought. Payments are determined by the duration and intensity of drought as determined by the U.S. Drought Monitor. Payments can be made for one, three, four or five months of forage loss.

As of Oct. 11, livestock producers may be eligible for payments on four months of forage loss in McHenry, Renville and Ward counties; three months in Eddy, Foster, Nelson and Wells counties; and one month in Bottineau, Rolette and Pierce counties. Montana and South Dakota have three and four counties, respectively, that are eligible for one month of forage loss.

LFP eligibility rules require that producers own, lease or be a contract grower of covered livestock during the 60 days prior to the qualifying drought. Producers also must have owned or leased grazing land for the livestock in a county affected by drought. Producers must file an acreage report on that grazing land by Nov. 15.

Contact your local Farm Service Agency office for complete details.

–NDSU Extension

Brucellosis infection reported in Park County

Wyoming state veterinarian, Dr. Jim Logan, has been notified by the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory and the National Veterinary Services Laboratory that there is a new case of Brucellosis in a cattle herd in Park County which is in the Wyoming Brucellosis Designated Surveillance Area. Serologic testing at both laboratories has shown reactor level results on three animals from one herd. Further testing including bacterial culture will be conducted to confirm serology results.

Logan, and assistant state field veterinarian, Dr. Thach Winslow, are working with the owner of the infected cattle, and the owners of six contact herds, to determine risk levels and conduct an epidemiologic investigation. The herd with known Brucella-positive animals is under quarantine at this time and quarantines will be issued to contact herd owners as the investigation proceeds. Contact herd owners are currently under hold order movement restrictions and no sexually-intact cattle can be moved until the herd has been cleared by a complete risk assessment and appropriate brucellosis testing is conducted.

Brucellosis is a bacterial disease that can cause cattle, elk, and bison to abort their pregnancies, typically late term. All of Wyoming's brucellosis cases since 1988 have been determined to have been caused by transmission from infected wildlife to cattle or domestic bison. Wyoming's last cases were found in late 2015 and the last affected herd was released in June of 2017.

For more information, contact the Wyoming Livestock Board field office at 307-857-4140.

–Wyoming Livestock Board

Today’s Ranch: Cell Grazing and Three Secrets for Increasing Profit

Dave Pratt, an internationally-known grazing and sustainable ranching expert, will present a one-day pasture and ranch business management workshop in Big Timber, Mont., this month.

Pratt is the owner of the Ranching for Profit schools and Ranch Management Consultants. The workshop will offer condensed versions of two of Pratt's most popular courses: "The ins and outs of cell grazing" and "Three secrets to increasing your profit."

The event begins at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 23 at the American Legion in Big Timber. Lunch will be served, and the event will adjourn at 3:30 p.m. On-site registration will be available, but pre-registration is appreciated for meal planning. Registration is $25 per person or $40 per couple.

Nathan Anderson, president of the Crazy Mountain Stockgrowers Association, said the local stockgrowers regularly support continuing education for its members. Partnering with the Livingston-based Western Sustainability Exchange (WSE) offered an opportunity to welcome one of the most sought-after and well-respected educators on grazing management in North America to Big Timber.

"If people are interested in looking at techniques that will help build healthier pastures and make decisions that impact the financial well-being of their ranch, this should add a few more tools to their belt to make that happen," Anderson said.

Pratt's workshops examine practical, applicable pasture management principles focused on increasing soil health, building drought resilience, growing forage availability without costly inputs and other techniques to help the ranch achieve its business goals.

Anderson and his wife attended one of Pratt's full "Ranching for Profit" schools last year.

"One of the most important things I learned from going through the Ranching for Profit School Is that change is possible; don't be stuck in a rut," Anderson said. "We learned to ask ourselves questions: 'Why are we doing what we do, and how does it affect our business? What can we do to make our business more profitable?' When you start asking those questions, you can make a huge impact on your pastures and your business."

Jesse Tufte, WSE's Resilient Ranching program coordinator, said their organization recognizes a key component of sustainable ranching is economic success.

"If we can help keep family ranches intact and sustainable, that means they can stay on the land and maintain those ecosystems that benefit healthy soils, wildlife habitats, water quality and rural communities," Tufte said. "But the business has to be thriving for everything else to work, too."

Ranchers who have previously attended a Ranching for Profit school or other Dave Pratt workshop will find the one-day course to be a valuable refresher or an opportunity to re-hash ideas they haven't implemented yet. Newcomers will get a valuable introduction to Pratt's grazing principles with immediate take-home ideas.

"All the on-the-ground decision making in pasture management he talks about goes directly back to financial success," Anderson said. "There is no golden ticket – he's not going to say, 'you have to do this or that to make your ranch successful.' But he'll offer some tools and get you more curious about how you can use them to fit your own ranch."

Event sponsors encouraged participants to consider attending the workshop with their spouse, a member of the next generation or business partner.

"Going through the workshop as a ranch team makes the training more valuable," Tufte said. "It's a low-cost investment for a high-level training on using sustainable ranching to increase your bottom line."

For more information, contact Jesse Tufte at jtufte@wsestaff.org or (406) 599-0188. Pre-registration at http://www.westernsustainabilityexchange.org/events/ is encouraged.

–Crazy Mountain Stockgrowers, Western Sustainability Exchange

South Dakota Per Pair and Yearling Monthly Pasture Rental Rates in South Dakota for 2018

BROOKINGS, S.D. – Results from the 2018 SDSU South Dakota Farm Real Estate Survey are now available on iGrow.org. The 2018 data was collected throughout the state and shows rental rates for cow-calf pairs and yearlings.

The 2018 cow-calf pair statewide weighted average was $48.41 with a high of $61.63 and a low of $35.26.

"There is a lot of variability within the state with averages in the Western part of South Dakota being $37.33 to the Eastern side of the state being $50.88 per pair (Table 1)," explained Shannon Sand, SDSU Extension Livestock Business Management Field Specialist. The yearling statewide weighted average was $39.44 with a high of $49.67 and a low of $25.93.

Average ranges from $31.00 in the West to $47.17 in the East. (Table 1).

"It is important to note the per pair and yearling rates are weighted monthly average estimates, and within each of these regions there exists a wide range of variability," Sand said.

These rates are meant to give additional information to producers and landowners when making future decisions.

Complete report available at iGrow.org

To view the full report, visit iGrow.org and search by the complete name, South Dakota Agricultural Land Market Trends, 1991-2018: Results from the 2018 SDSU South Dakota Farm Real Estate Survey or view at this link: http://igrow.org/up/resources/07-3000-2018.pdf.

Note: This report contains an overview land values and cash rental rates for regions/ county clusters and is not specific to any property. Readers should use this report as a general reference and rely on local sources for specific details.

For more information, contact one of the following SDSU Extension staff:

Jack Davis, SDSU Extension Crops Business Management Field Specialist – Jack.Davis@sdstate.edu; Heather Gessner, SDSU Extension Livestock Business Management Field Specialist – Heather.Gessner@sdstate.edu; Shannon Sand, SDSU Extension Livestock Business Management Field Specialist – Shannon.Sand@sdstate.edu.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is believed to be reliable and correct. However, no guarantee or warranty is provided for its accuracy or completeness. This information is provided exclusively for educational purposes and any action or inaction or decisions made as the result of reading this material is solely the responsibility of readers. The author(s) and South Dakota State University disclaim any responsibility for loss associated with the use of this information.

–SDSU Extension

Braunvieh Performance on the Rail: Genetics for an increased ribeye area

Braunvieh breeders know firsthand that Braunvieh-influenced cattle deliver on a host of profit drivers such as fertility, docility, feed efficiency and carcass merit. The breed has developed an especially sound reputation for carcass merit dating back to the 1980s when they first entered the United States and won repeated carcass contests.

Today, it is commonplace for Braunvieh-sired steers to be sorted to the top of carcass contests all around the country, including tests such as the Great Western Beef Expo in Sterling, Colo.; Beef Empire Days in Garden City, Kan.; and the Texas A&M Ranch to Rail Program.

Carcass merit is one of the breed's key characteristics. It is steadily gaining distinction and added marketability under a number of grid programs.

In a three-year research project and carcass evaluation at Louisiana State University (LSU), Braunvieh genetics were put to the test as part of a crossbreeding system to evaluate carcass trait performance. Matthew Garcia, Ph.D., geneticist at Utah State University, utilized Braunvieh, Simmental and Charolais bulls on LSU's tropically adapted cowherd to evaluate their carcass traits at harvest and determine candidate genes for growth, performance and carcass traits.

Garcia is no stranger to carcass genetics. He started his carcass genetics research during his postdoctoral work at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) in Clay Center, Neb. "While I was at MARC, my main focus was trying to correlate genetics with carcass quality and yield," Garcia says. "I was working with the GP-8 population, which was the tropically adapted Bos taurus cow group that was later used for the research at LSU."

Garcia arrived at LSU to find a major issue with bovine respiratory disease (BRD) in a group of Angus-sired calves out of the Bos taurus F-1 cows he had worked with at MARC. As a result of the BRD, carcass quality greatly suffered.

"My thought was, how can I look at this from an applied standpoint and improve our productivity in the feedlot, and improve our disease resistance without sacrificing carcass quality and feed efficiency?" Garcia explains.

"At the time, I wasn't familiar with Braunvieh cattle, but my herdsman at LSU had a group of cows that he was using Braunvieh bulls on. He would send his steer calves along with ours to the feedyard to make a load. His Braunvieh-sired calves always made it through the feedlot process. They always graded high Choice, and their feed efficiency was great. Those Braunvieh-sired calves were just blowing our university cattle out of the water."

Watching the successes of these Braunvieh-sired calves piqued Garcia's interest. "I started asking about these Braunvieh bulls and wanted to utilize them not only to see success at the feedyard but also to better our cowherd to generate some females to keep in the university system," Garcia says. "So, we began using some Braunvieh bulls alongside Simmental, Charolais and Angus bulls in this research project.

"The university herd had a conception rate that had been about 65 to 70 percent, which wasn't great," he says. "The first year this crossbreeding project was done, the conception rate was 92 percent. The first major difference we saw was in weaning weights. Traditionally weaning weights had been about 550 to 575 pounds. The first year that we incorporated these three new breeds – Braunvieh, Simmental and Charolais – our weaning weights went up to 615 pounds.

"The weaning weights between the three breeds were not significantly different. Hip heights between the breeds, though, were significantly different," Garcia explains. "The Braunvieh breed didn't have that huge frame that the Charolais and the Simmentals did, but the weaning weights were the same. The Braunvieh were compacting that muscle mass that onto a more moderate frame."

Cattlemen and producers became interested. They loved the Braunvieh calves on hoof but were curious what they were going to look like when it came time to evaluate underneath the hide.

"When it came time to look at the carcass quality on these Braunvieh-, Simmental- and Charolais-sired calves, we sent some Angus-sired calves along, as well, as a control group, knowing that the Angus-sired calves out of the crossbred cowherd had typically been about 50 to 55 percent Choice. When we got our carcass data back, we were almost 80 percent Choice on the Braunvieh-, Simmental- and Charolais-sired calves, and there was no significant difference between marbling score or quality grade between the Braunvieh, Simmental, Charolais as compared to the Angus-sired calves," Garcia says.

"The most notable difference we found was that the Braunvieh calves had a significantly bigger ribeye than all of the breeds combined, to the note of five square inches larger."

This difference in ribeye area generated more interest for Garcia as a geneticist. "I wanted to see what mutations these Braunvieh-sired calves had that were making them different," Garcia explains. "We found that the Braunvieh-sired calves had genetic mutations very similar to the Charolais, Angus and Simmental when it came to birth weight and weaning weight.

"When we started looking at the carcass side of things, marbling was similar, but the ribeye on the Braunvieh-sired calves was statistically very different from the other breeds. We started looking at the raw DNA. We found that Braunvieh had a different set of genetic mutations on the markers for ribeye area that was really driving that ribeye size.

"The Braunvieh brought some very good DNA markers into the mix, partially thanks to the hybrid vigor and crossbreeding, but also just in part to bringing in those Braunvieh genetics."

Armed with these statistical advantages, the Braunvieh breed has once again proven itself as a viable crossbreeding option in modern American beef producers' quest for carcass premiums.

– Braunvieh Association of America

Is it sustainable?

Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) programs over the past few decades have helped educate beef producers about cattle handling techniques and injection protocol.

Producers take BQA certification classes to gain their BQA certification certificate. Shannon Williams, Lemhi County (Idaho) Extension Educator, says each state has its own BQA program and state coordinator.

"Ranchers can check with their state coordinator for in-person training. They can also do online training; the national BQA program has an online process and recently updated it. Sometimes there is a $20 fee, but at certain times Zoetis sponsors that program and it is free. This program can be found at http://www.bqa.org and you can type in your state—which will give you contact information for your state coordinator. The certification is good for 3 years, and then you need to get recertified," says Williams.

Most states honor the national online training, she said. "The class takes about 90 minutes, to get the BQA certification. Ranchers attend a workshop, then take a quiz, and sign the BQA contract afterward," she explains.

There is some talk that packers may eventually require BQA certification, only buying cattle from producers who are certified. "Another thing that is currently talked about is the new transportation BQA. Some packers are requiring haulers/drivers to be certified. For this certification they go through a 3-hour program. We are working on hosting a couple of these programs through the University of Idaho. There is an online training for this one also—for producers and for the hauling companies with semis."

The BQA programs are primarily funded through Beef Checkoff dollars but some states have a mix of funding. "Idaho Beef Council funds a big portion of our BQA workshops. We don't charge anything for these classes. We find sponsorship money for a free workshop and meal, to encourage people to come!"

At this point BQA certification has been used by a few people as a marketing tool but not all producers take advantage of it, and there is no guaranteed financial incentive. "We can't say that you'll get a premium on your cattle if you are certified. There is no guaranteed financial incentive, but a buyer may not buy your calves the next year if they had problems or weren't handled properly, or some end up with carcass blemishes." If a buyer knows your cattle are healthy, calm and have quality carcasses, that buyer will want them again.

"BQA doesn't guarantee that you'll have healthy cattle, but guarantees that you know what to do, know how to handle cattle with low stress, and have done the best job possible," says Williams.

"It also puts more beef on the table. When we toured the new processing plant near Kuna, Idaho, we saw some carcasses with big bruises, and areas they had to cut out some of the meat. This is lost profit for that packing plant. As this trickles down, it takes money out of producers' pockets," she says. It's better for the entire industry if we try to have the best product possible.

"I encourage everyone to take the training. You may be doing all the right things already, but to have the certification and utilize it when marketing your calves may be helpful," says Williams.

Jack Holden, (Holden Herefords, Valier, Montana) says BQA is a great tool. "A lot of us practice these things anyway, but I think it's important to be certified because it helps the industry. To go through it again and get recertified is always a good reminder of all the things we should be doing. We always want to keep in mind our goal to have a quality end product for the consumer. All the issues BQA covers helps ensure quality beef—proper antibiotic use, proper injection sites and techniques, low-stress cattle handling, etc.–the whole picture of what we should be doing. As an industry, the better picture we can present to consumers, the more it helps us all," he says.

"There are always live classes available at various meetings, such as the annual convention for the Montana Stockgrowers, the Cattlemen's College, etc. Bill also puts on other classes during the year for people who don't feel comfortable doing it online," he says. These in-person classes can be beneficial for a new employee or someone getting started in ranching. Some people might benefit a lot from a hands-on workshop for their first time, and then might keep up their recertification on-line.

"Every year when we go to the NCBA annual convention there are live classes, and a person can take those to become certified, or recertified. The more producers who are certified just shows that we are trying to do things right. Some controversial issues, like antibiotic use, are not necessarily based on fact, but get brought up by people who worry about residues, or antibiotics in food animals," says Holden. Having producers BQA certified is part of our message to the public that we are careful about antibiotics we use, withdrawal times, etc.

"If you go to Facebook and look at the Montana Beef Quality Assurance page, there's a video we posted in early October. In the first 3 days it was there, it had more than 72,000 views. This video shows low-stress stockmanship techniques; we made the video when our neighbors were working their cattle. These people do a great job and I videoed while they were sorting 170 pairs in 15 minutes, with no stress on the cattle. They took calves away from the cows and sorted off some crippled cows and bulls at the same time, all very quietly," says Pelton.

"When you watch this video you see cows walking by the people instead of running. It's all in how you set it up. We brought the cattle into a holding pen, and they wanted to go back where they came from, which made it easy to sort them. If you just figure out what cows want to do, and make it seem like their idea, cattle sorting is very simple," he explains. Here is the link to the video: https://youtu.be/HmRfkK36DM4

There has been some talk that packers may someday require BQA certification on cattle they buy. "There are already a few branded programs that require this, and we may see more of this in the future. There will certainly be more pressure from packers and on down the line, for cattle to come from certified producers. A person can hope for some kind of premium paid for cattle that are represented as coming from a BQA certified program, rather than discounts for the ones that aren't! At any rate, it helps us all if cattlemen can follow BQA protocols and I think it helps if we keep up our certification."

Katie Rein, DVM (Crazy Mountain Veterinary Service, Harlowton, Montana), former president of the Montana Veterinarians Association, says it helps the beef industry produce a quality product for the consumer. "Over the years, since BQA was first implemented, we've had much fewer injection-site lesions. Even if producers don't get recertified all the time, at least they think about BQA protocols, and most people follow these—in terms of giving all injections in the neck, thinking about proper use of antibiotics and withdrawal intervals, low-stress handling, etc. Even if they are not certified, I think most people keep these things in mind, she says.

There has been a good educational push regarding BQA, and most ranchers are aware of the basic principles. "I was certified in the past and I think my certification has expired by now, but these are things I just do automatically because I know what they are. As a veterinarian, I process about 50,000 cows a year (preg-checking, Bangs vaccinations, etc.) and also see a lot of injections being given," says Rein. She feels that following the BQA guidelines is very important.

Certified Hereford Beef modifies its program marbling score specification

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Certified Hereford Beef® and the American Hereford Association (AHA) Board of Directors voted unanimously to modify the minimum marbling score requirement of the current Schedule G-10 for the Certified Hereford Beef brand.

The minimum marbling score requirement will be modified from a Slight00 marbling score to a Small00 marbling score to elevate the quality level of the Certified Hereford Beef brand to a USDA Choice quality grade.

"Our Hereford farmers and ranchers have worked diligently over the years to improve the Hereford breed," says Amari Seiferman, Certified Hereford Beef chief operating officer. "This modification is a testament to their work and proves Certified Hereford Beef is a premium quality product. We are proud to move our brand forward into a new era of success."

The marbling score modification will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2019. The Certified Hereford Beef brand will serve customers with two flagship programs — Choice and Premium. The Choice program will provide a USDA Choice and higher product, while the Premium program will provide an upper-two-thirds USDA Choice and higher product.

–Certified Hereford Beef

Lone Creek Cattle Co.: Creating a common market for an uncommon breed, Piedmontese

While many in the cattle business focus on producing the kind of cattle they like, one Nebraska operation is focusing on what the customer likes.

Lone Creek Cattle Company is based in Lincoln, Nebraska with ranches situated in the western part of the state. The unique breed they are marketing is the double-muscled Piedmontese.

"Piedmontese are the only beef breed that naturally produces tender lean beef," said Robertson. "It's the opposite way of how most of us grew up thinking."

In Piedmontese cattle, the myostatin allele is naturally mutated, giving the breed a double muscled quality. According to Thad Robertson who manages compliance and traceability for Lone Creek, the breed isn't much different from traditional breeds like Angus and Hereford. They eat the same and depend on the same needs to gain weight, but the muscle they gain is structured differently.

The mutated gene happened naturally, but is a key quality to what sets Piedmontese cattle apart. The myostatin gene reduces the fiber frequency in muscle, and creates muscle mass in traditional cattle breeds. In Piedmontese cattle, the myostatin gene is inactive, producing double-muscled beef that is rich in protein and nutrients. This also means the Piedmontese breed produces very little fat.

"Research shows that as long as the animal has the C313Y inactive myostatin mutation, it is going to have lean and tender traits," said Robertson, "And I need to stress the fact that this breed has not been manipulated in any way to get the inactive myostatin gene."

The market for this breed is relatively small. Robertson says he doesn't know of another breeder in the Midwest that compares to the scale Lone Creek is operating at.

There are two sides to the business. The live side operates under Lone Creek Cattle Company, breeding full blood bulls for lease. Producers can lease bulls in a program that has a calf crop buyback program. Lone Creek Cattle Company promises to buy back all of the calves, provided producers follow the vaccination and weaning guidelines set by the company as a Verified Natural Beef program.

They aim for a 625-pound weaning weight, but guarantee a $180 a head premium on top of the state weekly average the week prior to purchase for all calves that made it through the program as specified.

Allen and Zenda Haase have been raising cattle for Lone Creek at their Valentine, Neb. ranch for nearly six years. For them, the program is effective and takes the stress out of selling at the auction barn.

"These guys come, they load them up, weigh them and then we get paid for the average," said Allen.

Haase appreciates that Lone Creek will buy back the calves all at once rather than split groups for slight size variations or imperfections like you would find at a sale barn. He says the conveniences offered by Lone Creek, like trucking and flexibility, take the stress out of selling their calves, which are out of their own Angus cows and Lone Creek Piedmontese bulls. Though the bulls' appearance gives a different idea, Allen and Zenda say they haven't posed any more calving problems than their Angus bulls did, although they don't cross the Piedmontese bulls on their heifers.

Calves are age- and source-verified, giving consumers peace of mind if meat ever needed to be traced back to where the cattle were raised. This is important for the boxed beef side of the business.

Certified Piedmontese is the raw meat side of the business. Direct marketing, online ordering, domestic business-to-business, and a small export business to the Europe and Hong Kong regions is what drives the business. According to Robertson, most of their online customers are the top-tier beef-eaters and health-conscious consumers.

Their online prices reflect that top-of-the line market, with a gift box of steaks, including tomahawk ribeyes and New York strip steaks selling for about $23.65 a pound. Their Dynasty selection offers purebred Piedmontese beef steaks for about $30 a pound.

They have also created hot dog, hamburger and beef jerky lines to create a broader audience. More than 12 portioned cuts by Certified Piedmontese and Great Plains Beef are certified by the American Heart Association as extra lean. To view these cuts, visit http://www.piedmontese.com.

Kala Holmes, Great Plains Beef process coordinator said, "It's the best of both worlds. You're going to get a steak that's lower in total fat, saturated fat and calories without sacrificing flavor or tenderness."

Lone Creek Cattle Company and Certified Piedmontese collectively believe education is key in their market. The company believes they truly have a unique product, and it is new to most consumers.

"Those who take the time to understand the difference between our product and that of a traditional beef company are so impressed with the leanness of the product while being tender and full of flavor all at the same time," said Holmes.

At Lone Creek and Certified Piedmontese, consumers will have the peace of mind knowing where their steak comes from.

"We have full farm to fork traceability and never subject the cattle to growth hormones, steroids, antibiotics or animal by-products," said Holmes.

Robertson calls this an "exciting time in the beef industry" and says one of the many reasons he enjoys working for Lone Creek Cattle Company is their progressive mindset.

The owners dedicate a lot back to the industry," he said.

He believes educating the consumer is a big part of why this niche works for them. While many consumers might think it's too good to be true, Robertson suggests just giving it a try and letting the meat speak for itself and Holmes agrees.

"We can tell you all about the program and product until we're blue in the face," said Holmes, "but once the consumer tries it, they'll believe what we've been telling them and the rest sells itself."

Livestock Risk Protection limits producers’ vulnerability to volatility of cattle market

Insurance isn't intended to be a money-making scheme. It's intended to limit losses, in the event of a negative situation. Everyone pays for homeowners' insurance, but it's usually with the hope you don't need it. Livestock Risk Protection (LRP) plays the same role, but for cattle prices.   

Cattle producers have the option to buy, with a 13 percent government subsidy, an "insurance policy" on the cattle price with the LRP program, available through many ag insurance agencies. They can lock in the price a minimum of 13 weeks prior to their estimated sale day and pay a premium. That guarantees them 70 to 90 percent of their locked-in price, in the event of market fluctuations.   

The actual price cattle bring doesn't matter with LRP insurance; it doesn't cover a deficit from an estimated price versus actual price, but the price the CME says cattle are worth on sale day. Producers list a target weight, the percent (70-100 percent) of the expected ending value they want paid for, and an ending period of 13, 17, 21, 26, 30, 34, 39, 43, 47, or 52 weeks in the future. There are variations for steers, heifers, Brahman and dairy cattle.   

"It is risk protection to lock in a price for the delivery of calves and yearlings for designated sales times," said Melissa Stearns with Three Corners Agency in Hot Springs and Edgemont, South Dakota.   

No more than 2,000 head may be listed on the policy, but as few as one head can be.  

Cattle may sell through any venue, but no more than 30 days prior to the time the contract expires. The expected ending value, which is locked in by the producer when it reaches a price they like, is compared to the actual ending value, which may result in indemnity payment. If the expected ending value is above actual ending values based on the CME reported index, producers will be compensated, depending upon their coverage level.   

"It doesn't matter what they sell for, it's based on the futures price," said Shannon Sand, a South Dakota State University livestock business management field specialist. "It expires when you say you're going to sell the cows."  

Sand compares LRP with house or renter's insurance in that it is set in place to protect the value, or a percentage of the value, of the items inside the home. If everything is fine, the premium is paid, and a producer ends the year without a loss. If the year ends in a down-turned market—equating to a fire in the home and a loss of goods—LRP insurance offers protection.  

Feeder cattle are locked in one of two different target weight categories—600 pounds or less, and 600 to 900 pounds—and locked in at a price per 100 pounds, as made available from the Risk Management Agency  

"It's a game of controlling expenses. We choose to use it as a risk management program," Stearns said. "Some years we collect, other years we don't. On the years we don't collect, it's probably a good thing; that means the market went up, and we had a good year."  

Stearns gave the example of steers selling at the end of October that have a target weight of 650 lbs. locked in at $1.69.40. Those steers may actually sell for $1.80, though the CME for the past five days comes in at $1.61. An adjustment will be paid and payout received even though the steers sold for more than the LRP was locked in.  

In 2016, Stearns and her husband had a LRP contract in place, locking in their steers and heifers with an Oct. 28 maturity date. "At that time, we felt we were comfortable with our contract, but in the middle of July, we lost 70 percent of our grass to a fire from a lightning strike," she said. "We chose to feed our cows and looked at marketing options for calves."  

They hauled their calves to a sale in Crawford, Nebraska, on Sept. 30.   

"We specifically picked that day. The market had started to turn, and we knew we were in a loss position. We knew we had to stay within those 30 days, and we were fine when the contracts matured. We had payout on our contract as well."  

Some bankers ask that producers use LRP to protect their break-even point. By figuring exactly how much they have to get for the cattle to pay all their bills, producers guarantee they can make it another year in case of a market disaster. By choosing to be compensated for less than the full price they lock in (down to 70 percent), they can lower their premium costs.  

For example, if a producer locks in $1.67 on 50 head of 500-lb steers at the 70 percent rate, and the CME price drops to $1.40 by sale day, LRP will pay $19 per hundredweight ($1.67- $1.40 = $.27 x .7 = $.189), for a total of $4,750 added to the check, even if they went through the sale ring at $1.56. A lot of factors affect the premium, so it's best to talk to an insurance agent about the best options. 

While LRP is used by only a relatively small percentage of producers, Matt Diersen, an extension economist with SDSU, feels that the program is tailored to the cow-calf producer.  

"Of the 15,000 cattle producers in South Dakota, less than 1,000 LRP policies were sold last year," he said. "My bias is that it fits the cow-calf producer best. If you're a little bigger, and you're feeding calves to a feeder weight of the 800-lb. area, it's not much different than futures and options on feeder cow contracts."  

Producers with smaller numbers of cattle—usually cow-calf producers—can see more benefit  

Say a producer has 100, 500-pound steers, that would be exactly 50,000, which would make economical sense for a feeder cattle contract.  

However, if that producer has only 50, 500-pound steers, he'd have only half of a contract, so that removes the contracting as a viable option. "You're either overpaying for that 'insurance' or under-covered, if you opt for nothing," Diersen said. "With LRP you're still paying by the hundred-weight, but you're paying for only the calves you’ll be selling.   

While many variables change what a policy can cost, Diersen estimates that a policy can cost about $1 to 5 per hundredweight until sale time, so for a five-weight, approximately $5 to $25 per head. During years with high volatility, the rate can be $6 to $8 per hundredweight. Returns can range from nothing to $25 per hundredweight on an average year, so up to $125 per head on that 500-pound steer.  

"When I hear a $20 drop in weight on a seven-weight, that's a $140 decline," Diersen said. "That's a lot of money to watch just go away."