Symposium focuses on practical science
The theme of the 26th Range Beef Cow Symposium was “Moving Science into Practice,” but there was a common thread of optimism that carried through the conference. The bi-annual conference, hosted this year by the University of Nebraska Extension in Mitchell, Nebraska, brought together 500 participants from across the country. A wander through the parking lot showed license plates from the four core states of Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado and South Dakota, plus Utah, Texas, Montana and more.
One of the most popular presentations was by Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam, a cooperative extension specialist in the field of animal genetics and biotechnology in the department of animal science at the University of California, Davis. She shared some of the technology surrounding cultured meat products and pointed out many of the pitfalls and difficulties that stand in the way of mass production of lab-grown meat. She said she’s gone through the process of growing cultured muscle tissue and it’s very difficult, time-consuming and expensive. “The process for making cultured meat has technically challenging aspects. It includes manufacturing and purifying culture media and supplements in large quantities, expanding animal cells in a bioreactor, processing the resultant tissue into an edible product, removing and disposing of the spent media, and keeping the bioreactor clean. Each are themselves associated with their own set of costs, inputs and energy demands.”
It’s a process a cow does effortlessly while using land and resources that otherwise wouldn’t have a productive use, adding fertilizer to the plants it consumes, and turning them into a product that has a high economic and nutritional value.
Based on her extensive research, she concluded, “I do not foresee the demise of grazing ruminants as a food production system, and contend that at the current time there is no viable substitute for animal agriculture.”
Another popular speaker was Jim Robb, a senior agricultural economist at the Livestock Marketing Information Center. He gave the market outlook, which he said is optimistic, barring any unpleasant surprises, like the Tyson fire, the cow with BSE and the terrorist attack on 9/11. He pointed out that the drought in Texas and surrounding areas has brought down the cull cow market, but there’s an end in sight for that sell-off.
Hands-on breakout sessions gave participants the chance to take hay samples and discuss forage quality, correcting malpresentation at calving, evaluating bulls both visually and with EPDs, embryo transfer recips, manure sampling for nutrient analysis and taking blood samples for DNA and preg-testing.
Libby Fraser, a veterinarian, producer and veterinary technology instructor at NCTA from Ogallala, Nebraska, said this is her fourth trip to RBCS. “I think it’s a really well-planned gathering for producers of any capacity,” she said. “There are purebred producers that sell in excess of 200 bulls a year, or people who run 50 cows and just want to do a better job.”
She said the collaboration between the schools is good. “It’s refreshing that they come together and bring in a nice variety of different topics with pretty well-referenced speakers. Dr Van Eenennaam is one of the best in her field. She calmed some of the hype. This is a passion-filled crowd about their business and their beef. I think she gave us some good tools to intelligently address these other food technologies.”
Fraser also appreciated the presentation about handling lab samples. “If you are doing that yourself at least you have some information on doing that correctly.”
Blane Lowe, managing veterinarian in beef cattle technical services for Zoetis, said he’s known about the symposium for more than 20 years, but this was his first time attending. “I have a very favorable opinion. It’s very good, practical sharing of practical information that people should be able to put to use pretty immediately. I’m impressed by the size of the group. After hearing about it all those years, it’s impressive that in Mitchell, Nebraska, you can gather and host a group this size. Every talk I’ve heard so far, there’s either something new or something I’ve forgotten.”
He also mentioned Dr. Van Eenennaam’s presentation as particularly interesting. “I really get some current information that helps me help our customers out. You can never have too much knowledge of our industry. In the times of social media you might say these aren’t as necessary but it’s good to get here and get different perspectives just visiting with people and the talks I always find that are very valuable.”
Each evening offered attendees the chance to visit with the presenters at Bullpen sessions, allowing for more in-depth discussions.
The day before the symposium started, the four states offered Beef Quality Assurance training to provide producers with best practices for cattle handling, vaccination, euthanasia and transportation.
Dr. Ron Gill, professor and Extension livestock specialist for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and associate department head and program leader for Extension animal science faculty at Texas A&M gave a cattle handling clinic, moving a pen of bulls through a corral system, sweep and chute horseback and on foot. He focused on using appropriate pressure to get cattle to respond, and addressed common misconceptions about moving and sorting cattle.
The next RBCS event will be in Rapid City, South Dakota in 2021.