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Down the cow path

Published: Wednesday, May 22, 2013 10:32 a.m. CDT

As I write this article early Thursday morning, we are finally getting some rain in far southern Bureau County. The rain will be greatly appreciated as the pasture was getting sparse, and the cows were beginning to push fences around the corn fields. We need to get one 40-acre field combined, so we can turn the herd into it and get ready to wean calves Oct. 18. There has been a little harvesting around us, but our corn was testing 35 to 36 percent as of 10 days ago. This welcome rain should get all the beans ready to harvest, so it could be an interesting harvest — maybe corn in the morning and beans in the afternoon.

As I have said in the past, this country’s cow herd is the lowest in numbers since the early 1950s. With falling corn prices, we should see a growth spurt in those numbers that also means with more heifers being retained for breeding, fewer numbers are available for slaughter. So beef prices may remain high for some time yet.

A very good site for help in buying and preparing beef (and utilizing cheaper cuts) is the Illinois Beef Association website. It’s an easy site to navigate, and consumers can learn a lot about the cattle industry, as well as, getting help with kid-friendly beef recipes and affordable options. The site is funded by Beef Check Off funds, so cattlemen should check it out to see what their money goes toward. “Exploring Beef” and “Meet a Beef Producer” are two excellent portals on this website.

While we in this country eat steaks, hamburgers and roasts, we export “variety meats” around the world. In fact, beef exports in 2012 set a record at $5.51 billion. Beef offal represented almost 13 percent of the total. Large and small intestines are sold to South Korea and Mexico. More than 90 percent of the United States’ produced beef tongues are exported to Northern Asia and Mexico. The Middle East, South America and Russia (when the Russian market is open) buy 9 out of 10 U.S. beef livers, hearts and kidneys. Consumers in Mexico and Southeast Asia consume more than 75 percent of U.S. beef stomachs. We may not think much of these items, but they are sources of protein and may open the door to more beef exports in the future.

Besides unique beef choices, there is a new development in feeding cattle, A long established and accepted way of gaining sugar and starch content in a beef ration has been to add candy bars and confectioners’ waste to the diet. When a feed lot is located close to a cookie or candy factory, bad batches, fallen cookies, spills and recipe mistakes have been sent to the cattle yard instead of the landfill. It was a win-win, and the cattle loved it.

Now, Southern Illinois Cattlemen are feeding fresh produce waste that before had been sent to the landfill. United Fruit and Produce worked with Farm Bureau leaders to create new and unique relationships. The fresh produce waste includes sweet corn husks and tips, vegetables that don’t meet size or ripeness qualifications, fruit waste and both vegetables and fruits that are out of date. One beef producer feeds the fresh produce waste to his cows and feeder calves. The feed helps stretch his hay supply; the cattle love the feed; and it helps reduce his feed costs. Another producer that fed the produce waste said even with feed costs down, it is still a profitable alternative.

Over the summer, United Fruit and Produce will generate 360 tons of produce waste; with this new partnership, cattlemen reduce their feed costs, and the landfills have less coming in.

The rain is letting up. Time to check the gauge, type this up and beat my deadline! Have a safe harvest, and everyone remember to share the road this fall. Farmers’ equipment is big and slow! We all need to use caution and common sense. Enjoy beef when you can because it’s what’s for dinner!

Larry Magnuson is a cow/calf producer south of Tiskilwa.

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