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The end of the cow path

Published: Friday, Dec. 20, 2013 2:50 p.m. CDT

As another year draws to a close, our family is thankful for another successful year.

The corn and bean yields were very good, and our calves were the best we have ever had. We did have a very rough spring as you may remember, but the way our calves sold made up for our early troubles. The calves averaged 85 pounds more than last year and brought 25 cents a pound more as well! A good ending always makes you look forward to next year with bright anticipation.

We checked the cows for pregnancies last weekend (caught a break in the weather) and only had two open cows. One did not bother me at all as she tested and broke fences all August and September. She was probably going to be sold anyway; this just made the decision easier.

The cows handled fairly well with only one cow being belligerent. Cool hands prevailed and with extra gates (and no yelling), we finally did get her in the chute. Along with checking for pregnancies, cows were wormed and given updated inoculations for diseases.

The cold and snow have forced us to start feeding hay a little sooner than I would like, but I think we have plenty of hay to make it to green grass time. Along with good quality hay, we feed 32 percent protein tubs to keep the cows in good condition throughout the winter, so they will be in good health come calving time. Also important is access to fresh water and a well-bedded barn. Cows can stand some cold, but they need to stay fairly dry and out of the wind when arctic temperatures arrive. To keep the water tank from freezing, we have an electric thermostat around the float area and we put a heat bulb near the water line. Frozen water tanks and lines are no fun, so we keep our fingers crossed we don’t lose electricity for an extended amount of time, and I make sure the heat bulb isn’t burned out. I do have several spares!

In other beef news from around the country: Last year’s drought played a role in a recent outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD), discovered in 14 eastern and southern Iowa cow herds. EHD is commonly found in deer, but the drought caused deer and cattle to share watering areas. While EHD is fatal in deer, death is uncommon among cattle. The big problem in cattle is fetal health because the cow gets so run down, health-wise. There were several cases this fall of higher than normal rates of aborted or stillborn calves. The hard freezes we have had should abate the problem, as biting midges and flies are the culprits for spreading the disease.

The cow-calf herd in the United States may be starting to rebuild. Large areas in the southwest that have suffered through two-plus years of dry weather may have gotten enough rainfall to begin to replenish pasture and grass areas, thus allowing cattlemen to think about starting to rebuild their herds.

In Illinois and Iowa, there is a trend being seen that more heifers are being retained for breeding instead of being fed out for slaughter. This will continue to keep inventories of finished cattle low, but in 18 months we may see larger numbers of calves available for the feed lots, thus giving us a larger and somewhat less expensive supply of beef.

At the same time, remember beef exports have reached records levels, 67 percent more tonnage shipped than a year ago. U.S. beef is sent to 110 countries worldwide, and people crave the taste of U.S. beef. The percentage of U.S. beef production that is exported is a little over 13 percent. Agriculture exports are the only thing helping to keep our balance of trade from becoming a total disaster.

One last subject I would like to address is accurate food production facts. Illinois Beef Association (IBA) is part of the Illinois Farm Families (IFF) program. The new vice president of IBA, Mark Martz, has been working with IFF for over three years by hosting urban moms on their farms. The moms are concerned about hormones in beef and also antibiotics. There are all sorts of wild stories on TV and the Internet concerning animal agriculture, which Martz addresses. The USDA requires withdrawal periods of all antibiotics, 30-60 days prior to harvest, to prevent their presence in the meat. As far as hormones – a three-ounce steak from a non-implanted steer contains 1.4 nano grams. The baked potato you have with that steak has 225 nano grams of estrogen, and naturally each one of us produces 100,000 nano grams of estrogen daily. Oprah and Dr. Oz use non-facts and sensationalism to bash agriculture. Go to the IBA, National Cattlemen Beef Association (NCBA) or IFF websites to learn the true story of the U.S. agriculture. Read the blogs on the IFF website and hear what the moms that have visited farms have to say.

I hope that all cattle or cow-calf producers are members of IBA. Check out their website to see the benefits of membership. You can join online. While there, check out the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) link. BQA’s focus is on education and training cattlemen on the issues of cattle and food safety and quality. BQA also provides tools for verifying and documenting animal husbandry practices. A producer can become BQA certified online or call Travis Meteer for one-on-one training.

As the title of this article states, this is the end of my “writing” career. I have truly enjoyed this opportunity to tell the story of beef producers. I hope this last year’s series of articles about our operation was enjoyable and informative. I have been doing this column since about 2004 or 2005, with a year off when Jeanine May wrote. It’s exciting to know that four young people have agreed to share in writing about beef in my place. Give them your support!

This time of year is meant for reflecting back on the year. Our family is so very grateful for all the blessings we received this year — a wedding, bountiful harvest, wonderful calf prices and good health. We wish all of you a wonderful and safe holiday season, and remember the blessed gift of Jesus’ birth that we all received. Enjoy BEEF over the holidays!

Larry Magnuson is a cow-calf producer from TIskilwa.

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