Vet’s Voice: A lifetime of change
August 24, 2016
It is hard to believe summer is almost over and the kids and grandkids are heading back to school. It seems the older we get the faster time passes. It was only yesterday I was in school and now some forty plus years later are thinking of retirement. What changes have we witnessed in the cattle industry in my lifetime?
Through the years large corporations have attempted to try their hand at farming and cattle raising. We all know that the profits are not that great and we believe in our lifestyle. It was obvious to the accountants in the large corporations that the rancher was much more willing to put in the hours if it was his. They could not afford to pay a worker an hourly wage compared to what the rancher will sacrifice if it is his. They decided the best way to make money in agriculture is to control the inputs and purchase the outputs while allowing the ranch/farmer to acquire capitol for financing and take all the risks. The cost of production and cost of living have risen rapidly. If times get tough again and interest increases, I don't know how many producers would be able to become self-sufficient and diversified as in the thirties.
Technology has improved agriculture in our area. Corn yields have increase by more than 100 bushel per acre. The cow-calf producer has been a bit more reluctant om the uptake of technology, but there are some real opportunities for innovators and early adopters.
Genetics are very important to the cow-calf producers. We changed the cattle life cycle from two years to one year. Grandpa sent cows and calves to grass one year, over wintered the calves and the sent them to grass again as yearlings. Then they were sold to feedlots to be finished. No one thought of breeding a heifer until she was two. Now we hope to sell our steers fat at fourteen months and breed heifers at one year of age. Thirty years ago we heard about EPS's for bull selection. Now we can genetically test males and females to select the best individuals to produce selected traits. Changes have been rapid in the last few year and hopefully we are moving forward. Strangely, I've noted that a mistake in breeding selection in swine can be rectified in about a year while in cows it may take seven to ten years to repair.
Artificial insemination has been an easy way to improve your herd. Originally AI was started to rid dairy herds of Trich. Now the beef producer has access to high quality bulls. Initially we had prostaglandins to synchronize estrus making AI easier. Now we have CIDR's and management protocols allowing better than 60 percent conception in cow herds. There are crews breeding 20-30 thousand head yearly making improvement simple.
Growth implants improve efficiency. I still remember Stilbestrol. This was once the answer and now it is illegal. When I went to I.S.U. there was a plaque in the Kildee Hall (the Animal Science building) which stated this building was built with a portion of the patent funds from the product. The product we have now are safe, and very effective. When used in a program where hormone levels are gradually increased there is little or no decrease in quality grade. They offer the highest return on investment of any management tool.
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Technology is very important to all of us involved in agriculture. There will be no more land to be utilized in farming and ranching, in fact urban sprawl is absorbing ag land. As the population of the world increases we must improve our technology and thereby increase our productivity, so we are able to feed the world. What more could we ask? Feeding the world while we are doing what we love.