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Is the beef industry sustainable: A look at grass-fed, hormones, growth promotants, and more

Lindsay does a great job of summarizing highlights from Dr. Jude Capper’s presentation at our Sensitive Issues Media and Communication training.

Agricultural with Dr. Lindsay

Recently, several of my colleagues and I hosted a Sensitive Issues: Media and Communication Training, we worked on developing and improving our communication skills around agriculture and agricultural topics. One of the topics we received more information on was sustainability.

Dr. Jude Capper, a livestock sustainability consultant, was our first speaker. I want to share with some of the messages about sustainability shared by Dr. Capper.

Capper– Sustainability is defined as “able to last or continue for a long time.” Many livestock farmers and ranchers are sustainable – whether they raise 10 head or 1,000 head. If you have never heard of the Century Farms Program, you should check it out. The American Farm Bureau Foundation recognizes farms or ranches by state that have been in a family for 100+ years! That is sustainable.

– There are essentially three things that need to be considered to be…

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Nebraska’s Advantage

This week, I’d like to share some information that came out in a white paper from the UNL nebraska advantageAgricultural Economics Department on the special relationship we have here in Nebraska between crops, livestock, and biofuel production capacity not found in other parts of the U.S. to the extent we have here.  It’s called the “Nebraska Advantage”.

I think it’s important for all of ag industry to realize we need each other as it seems we sometimes forget how inter-dependent we are.  Crop producers need the livestock and ethanol industries as they are a high percentage of our end users.  Yet many times I hear of crop producers fighting livestock expansion or livestock coming into an area.  The purpose of the white paper was to share the numbers of where Nebraska livestock, grain production, and ethanol production currently stands, and what Nebraska could gain if we worked to increase livestock production in-state where we have a wealth of resources with our crops, water, and biofuel production.

Nebraska currently ranks 1st in irrigated acres, 1st in commercial red meat production and is tied with Texas for cattle on feed, 2nd in corn-based ethanol production, 3rd in corn for grain production, 4th in soybean productions, 6th in all hogs and pigs, and 7th in commercial hog slaughter, and 9th in table egg layers.  However, in reading this white paper, one quickly realizes we’re not taking advantage of the tremendous grain production capacity here in the State.

We export over 1/3 of our annual corn crop, at least half of the in-state production of distiller’s grains (a co-product from ethanol production that is fed to livestock), and more than 80% of our soybean meal output.  Corn and soybean production have increased in our State by 50 and 25% respectively, which is a blessing due to our irrigation capacity.  But increasing amounts of this grain are being shipped out-state instead of benefiting rural economies in Nebraska if it was used in-state for value-added livestock production and processing instead.

In the white paper, graphs are shown comparing Nebraska to neighboring states.  These graphs show Nebraska lagging neighboring states in growth of the livestock industry.  For example, while Nebraska overall increased in hog production, the inventory increased 17.2% during the first half of the decade, but declined 11.8% in the second half.  In comparison, Iowa realized an increase of 31.5% within the decade.  What was really interesting to me is the fact that Nebraska exports 2.5 million pigs annually to neighboring states to be finished and shipped back to Nebraska for processing, showing potential for growth in the market hog sector.  The dairy sector has also declined in herd numbers in Nebraska compared to other states and Nebraska’s poultry industry (mostly egg laying hens) has declined over the past decade in spite of constant numbers across the U.S.

When one looks at Nebraska’s economy, cash receipts from all farm commodities totaled over $25.6 billion in 2012 and livestock/livestock product sales was 45% of this total ($11.6 billion).  Increased employment, local tax revenue, value-added activity, and manure for fertilizer are all economic benefits of livestock expansion.  The paper stated,

A base expansion scenario that includes a 25% increase in market hogs, a doubling of dairy cow numbers, a ten percent increase in fed cattle production and a tripling of egg production, along with the associated processing industries, has the potential to provide an additional 19,040 jobs, with labor income of almost $800 million and value-added activity of over $1.4 billion. This activity has the potential to generate over $38 million in local tax revenue. While this amounts to a fairly small percentage of Nebraska’s total economy, these impacts will occur almost entirely in non-metropolitan areas of the state and would be quite beneficial to rural economies.

Livestock development has been held back by various issues and policies including:  limitations on corporate farming activity in Nebraska, state and local permitting processes, nuisance roles and lawsuits, and issues/concerns from the general public and interest groups.  The final conclusion of the paper was that significant growth in employment and economic output throughout Nebraska is dependent upon these issues being overcome.

I would challenge all of us to keep an open mind when producers desire to diversify by including livestock in their operations or through livestock expansion.  In many cases, doing so allows another person to come back to an operation, or allows someone to get started farming, which in the long run benefits our rural economies.  It’s ok to ask questions, to become more educated.  It’s through these questions that one learns how production practices have changed to ensure the health and welfare of our livestock and in odor reduction from the facility and manure application.  You can read the entire white paper contents here.

Cow-Calf College

This looks like an excellent workshop for anyone in cow-calf production.  Hope to see you there!
(Click on the agenda below to enlarge the view).

Cow-Calf College

#Ag Tour Day 1

UNL Extension Ag Educators from throughout Nebraska gathered together in late October for an excellent professional development tour toWhat is that bush and how many educators does it take to figure it out?  Apparently a lot and we still sent it to Elizabeth Killinger! Iowa and Minnesota!

Before the bus started moving we were working on plant identification for a client.  Then we learned about the status of Emerald Ash Borer among other pests at the Douglas-Sarpy County Extension Office.  By the end of the presentation we were considering getting a meat thermometer and recordable Hallmark card!  (will explain later).

Along the way, John Wilson provided an update regarding the flood recovery efforts from the 2011 flood.  He mentioned at Gavins Point Dam, the lake would have drained every 25 hrs. when releases were occurring for  the flood.  He was involved with an effort in putting togetherJohn Wilson speaking a webinar that involved 25-30 agencies and 14 speakers from 5 states.  During the recovery there were 2″ to 25′ drifts of sand in fields.  One piece of ground that was reclaimed cost $125-150K and needed 7 excavators for a month.  One 300 acre piece of ground that wasn’t reclaimed was going to cost $10,000/ac. to reclaim it.

John Hay provided an update regarding wind energy.  He pointed out the different types of towers along the way as we passed several wind farms.  Facts included:  a 1.5Megawatt wind turbine can run 1000 homes each and the gear box is turning 2000:1 compared to the blades.  Iowa is #1 in  percent of electricity produced from wind power (20%) and it costs $3-6 million each to install a wind turbine (essentially double the cost of how many megawatts).  The life span of a turbine is 20 years with a maintenance cost about $0.05/kwh.  When considering efficiency, wind turbines are 40-50% efficient vs. coal power (35%), nuclear (35%), cars (25%); so they’re more efficient at converting free energy into electricity but they are less cost John Hay speaking about wind energy.efficient than those other energy sources.  Windfarms also typically pay for themselves in 5-10 years.

Our first stop was at Hawkeye Breeders where we saw their semen storage facility that essentially had enough semen to fertilize every cow in the U.S.  They ship all over the world and their primary customer is the dairy industry.  We also toured their semen collection facility and got the coolest pen from there.

From there we stopped at Blue River Organic Seeds and were surprised to learn that all their organic seed research is done conventionally.  They provide organic seed for corn, alfalfa, soybean, and various forages and are looking for more growers.  We also learned about PuraMaize which was developed by Dr. Tom Hoegemeyer to essentially block pollen from outside sources to maintain purity.Semen storage at Hawkeye Breeders.

That night we had supper with faculty from Iowa State University talking about programming efforts there, including their manure programming, ag economics, and Roger Elmore spoke of the corn programming there.  But before that, a few of us took advantage of the 45 min. of time to get a few geocaches in the area 🙂

IMAG2514 Geocache #1Geocache #2

Toothless grins…Fun Fact Friday

Welcome Dr. Lindsay Chichester, UNL Extension Educator, to the blogging world! Here is her first post regarding a “fun fact Friday” on how cattle eat!

Agricultural with Dr. Lindsay

Did you know…

Ruminant animals (animals that have one stomach with four compartments and chew their cud; includes cattle, sheep, goats, lamas, etc. – will explain more later) do NOT have teeth on their upper jaw?

Well, technically they have premolars and molars in the very back of their mouths on the upper and lower jaws, but no teeth upper front teeth. Instead they have a dental pad, which would be hard, slick surface.

Photos used in blog(Photo: Virginia cooperative Extension)

So how do they eat? Glad you asked! The part of their mouth where the upper teeth would normally be is called a dental pad. When they take a bite of grass they wrap their tongue around it and use the dental pad and their bottom teeth to bite it off.

So how do the young animals nurse you ask… They wrap their tongues around the mother’s teat and use pressure from…

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Feeding Storm Damaged Corn; a Few Thoughts from a Veterinarian

With the recent sprouting of grain on the ears and with more producers now learning what percent loss their crop insurance is determining for each field, I felt it would be good to talk about feeding this damaged grain again.  This post is written by Dr. Dee Griffin, DVM at UNL’s Great Plains Veterinary Education Center at Clay Center.  I appreciate Dee’s willingness to provide this information from a Veterinarian’s perspective.  Hail Damaged Corn with fungal growth.

Also a note, to date we have not found Aspergillus in our hail damaged fields.  The grain molds we are seeing are Diplodia and Fusarium.  Diplodia does not have the potential to produce mycotoxins.  Fusarium has the potential of producing fumonisin, vomitoxin, or DON.  You can bring forage samples to Husker Harvest Days this coming week to the IANR building and have them tested that day for nitrates for free if you wish.

Dr. Griffin writes:  Any time a growing grain producing plant is damaged there is a potential for changes in the plant or grain on the plant contaminated with fungus/molds to grow.  The most common change in stressed plants is the accumulation of nitrates.  Aspergillus or Fusarium will be the most likely fungi to be contaminating harvested grain from storm damaged corn in our area.

It is really important to know that most molds are not toxic.  Therefore just because mold growth is observed doesn’t mean the feedstuff will harm livestock.  Even though a mold may not be toxic it can still cause feed refusal.  Not all livestock species are equally sensitive to mold contamination and not all production groups are equally sensitive. For instance pregnant and young animals are more sensitive than mature non-pregnant animals.

Nitrate accumulation in stressed plants can cause be harmless or cause serious harm depending on:

  • the level of nitrate in the feed harvested from stressed plants,
  • on the life stage of the animal,
  • and on the species of animal.

Nitrates accumulate in the forage portion of the plant, so nitrates are not a concern in grain harvested from stressed plants.  Additionally, it is important to know nitrate levels will always be highest in the bottom part of the plant and lowest in the top foliage.  Nitrate testing is simple and reasonable quick.  Your local UNL Extension Educator can help you locate the nearest facility that does forage nitrate testing.

Feed containing nitrate levels less than (<) 1000 parts per million (ppm) seldom are associated with an animal health concern.   Feed containing nitrate levels greater than (>) 1000 ppm may be a concern in younger animals and levels >2000 ppm should not be fed to pregnant cattle.  Feeder cattle are reasonably resistant to nitrates but feeds containing >4000 ppm should not be fed to any animals.

Molds in corn grain of concern could be either Aspergillus or Fusarium.  Your UNL Extension Educator can be a great help in identifying mold growing on ears of your storm damaged corn before the grain is harvested.  Both of these fungi are potentially dangerous when found in livestock feed.  Toxins produced by molds are extremely stable, therefore if a significant level is found, the level will not decrease over time.  Silage produced from damaged plants and grain harvested from mold infested plants is potentially a problem.

Good silage management is critical to lessen the likely hood of continued mold growth after ensiling.  Proper packing to remove oxygen and improve fermentation which ensures the pH will be below 4.5 is critical.

You can’t look at harvested grains from storm damaged fields and visually identify mycotoxins.  Corn grain from storm damaged fields can … and mostly likely should … be tested for mycotoxins before feeding to livestock.  Your local UNL Extension Educator, nutritionist or veterinarian can help with mycotoxin testing.

Proper sampling is crucial to getting reliable results back from the laboratory.  A “grab sample” is not adequate. The sample submitted to the lab should be representative of the entire load, bin, pit or pile of feedstuff being evaluated.

The steps are simple

  • If sampling a field before harvest, sample at least two dozen ears that appear to have mold growth and submit all the ears to the laboratory for mycotoxin evaluation
  • If sampling after harvest, take multiple samples uniformly from throughout the silage or grain in question
    • The sample should be taken from what would be used in a single load of feed
    • That means, if five loads of feed could be made from a 50,000 lb semi-load of corn, collect not less than five samples from the semi-load of corn
    • The sample should be based on sample volume not weight
      •  For instance, collect “coffee can” size samples
    • Mix all the all samples together that were collected from the feed in question
      • For instance, if 10 coffee can size samples were collected from across the face of a silage pit, pour all 10 samples onto  a plastic sheet and thoroughly mix them together
      • Next, collect a single sample from within the 10 mixed samples
    • Submit the single sample to the laboratory

The laboratory results usually will provide some recommendations for how the feedstuff can be used.  There is an old saying, “Dilution is the solution …” meaning in this consideration, that many feedstuffs that contain higher levels of mycotoxin than would be acceptable, might be usable if a sufficient amount of non-mycotoxin contaminated feedstuff is used to dilute the mycotoxin.  Your UNL Extension Educator, nutritionist or veterinarian can help evaluate the possible uses of a damaged feedstuff containing unacceptable levels of a mycotoxin.

County Fair Time!

This year marked my 10th Clay County Fair.  It was bitter-sweet in a way as I have watched this group of youth from their pre-4-H Clay County Extension Office shows our Patriotic spirit!  Jenny, Deanna, Rachel, Holli, Cindyyears through graduation this year.  It’s neat seeing the young men and women they’ve become, ready to take that next step in life towards college and careers!  Rachel and Kristen, our interns, helped us greatly in different ways which was a blessing; it was another smooth fair overall!

Also bittersweet is the fact that this was Cindy Strasheim’s last Clay County Fair as a UNL Extension Educator as she plans to retire in December.  We will miss her and if you see her around, please thank her for her 29 years of dedication to the Clay County Fair and serving our constituents here!

I realize I say this every year, but we wouldn’t have fair if it wasn’t for all of our 4-H and FFA leaders, families, and youth-so thank you all for your hard work and efforts with your projects and the many ways you volunteer at fair!  Thank you to our awesome fair board who we greatly enjoy working with and who keeYouth showing meat goats; judge appreciated the quality of their meat goats.p our fairgrounds looking great!  Thank you to Deanna, Holli, and Cindy for the long Greatly enjoy working with these guys and all our Fair Board members! hours of preparation and also during fair in ensuring everything ran smoothly!  Thank you to our 4-H Council and all our Superintendents for working so hard in various capacities during fair and throughout the year!  Thank you to Tory, Kris, Teri, Karla, and Megan with the Clay County News for sticking out all the shows in the heat to cover the fair for us; we truly appreciate your support!  Thank you to Lonnie Stripe for auctioneering, all our auction buyers, plaque and award sponsors, and donors for supporting our 4-H and FFA youth!  Thank you to everyone who made the 2013 Clay County Fair a success!

Dusk at the end of entry night of fair.

Blurry pic but youth competing in Beef Team Fitting Contest.  So cool how youth from different clubs throughout the County are brought together to work together on teams!

Adorable kitchen set made from recycling a tv stand by a 4-Her!  Would love to make something like this sometime!

Roasting marshmallows for smores at Family Fun Night :)Family Fun Night at the Fair-beautiful evening and lots of activities for kids of all ages!

Aflatoxin Concerns in #Corn

Aspergillus ear rot. Photo courtesy UNL Plant Path Dept. and the following publication: http://www.ianrpubs.unl.edu/epublic/live/ec1901/build/ec1901.pdf

This article originally appeared in http://cropwatch.unl.edu written by Dr. Tamra Jackson-Ziems, UNL Extension Plant Pathologist.

Drought and high temperatures promote development of the disease Aspergillus ear rot (pictured right). The fungi that cause this disease (most commonly, Aspergillus flavus) can produce aflatoxin. Aflatoxin is one of many chemicals in a group known as mycotoxins that are produced by fungi (molds). Mycotoxins, such as aflatoxin, can be toxic to animal and human consumers and, at certain concentrations, can lead to dockage or rejection of grain at elevators.The unusually high temperatures and drought this summer are having severe impacts on Nebraska corn. In addition to reductions in test weight and overall yield, secondary problems are developing in some corn fields as a result of these conditions.

Corn harvested for grain to this point has been predominantly from fields that sustained substantial drought damage leading to early maturation and plant death. Notable aflatoxin contamination appears to be in a small percentage of southeast Nebraska fields, based on samples submitted to several laboratories in the area.

Mycotoxins are common and can be safely consumed at low concentrations. The concentration of aflatoxin that is considered safe for consumption depends on the age and species of the consumer. An abbreviated summary listing the Action Levels identified by the FDA for aflatoxin is listed in Table below.

Testing for Aflatoxin:  Farmers and crop consultants can scout high risk fields for Aspergillus ear rot as an indicator for aflatoxin, but only lab testing of grain samples can accurately identify the concentrations of aflatoxin in the grain. Accurate lab test results for aflatoxin will depend greatly on the quality of the sample that is collected and the laboratory methods used to test it. The test results are only applicable to the sample that is submitted, so it is very important to collect an adequate sample for the best results. Refer to the publication, Sampling and Analyzing Feed for Fungal (Mold) Toxins (Mycotoxins) for recommendations on how to collect and submit a high quality sample for mycotoxin analysis.

Contact and submit samples to a laboratory that is certified by the federal Grain Inspection Service and Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) for mycotoxin analysis for the most accurate results. A GIPSA website lists laboratories certified to conduct testing in Nebraska. They include

  • Lincoln Inspection Service, Inc.;
  • Fremont Grain Inspection Department, Inc.;
  • Omaha Grain Inspection Service, Inc; and the
  • Sioux City Inspection and Weighing service Company.

Some grain elevators and individuals may be using a black light (ultraviolet light) to detect for fluorescence as a method for rapid screening of grain samples. This practice is NOT recommended when making decisions about aflatoxin contamination in loads of grain. The component that produces fluorescence under black light is called kojic acid. Although kojic acid is produced by the same fungus that produces aflatoxin, its presence is not necessarily an indicator of aflatoxin and might lead to false positive results and unnecessary rejection of grain.

High Risk Factors for Aflatoxin Contamination in Corn

  • Drought-damaged fields, including rainfed (dryland) fields and non-irrigated pivot corners
  • Fields or areas with higher incidence of corn ear-feeding insects, such as the corn ear worm
  • Grain damaged before or during harvest or after harvest while in storage

Ear rot diseases and aflatoxin are not evenly distributed across fields or in the grain, so scouting and/or sampling should include a substantial portion, at least several acres. The presence of the fungus in kernels does not always correlate well with the presence of aflatoxin, nor does the absence of visible fungal growth necessarily indicate the absence of aflatoxin.Scouting For Aspergillus Ear Rot

  • Open husks to view a large number of ears.
  • Look for the presence of dusty yellow-green to olive-green spores, especially on the surface of damaged kernels or ear tips (Figure above).
  • Pay special attention to higher risk areas.

Harvest and Storage:  If fields have documented Aspergillus ear rot and/or risk of aflatoxin contamination, it is recommended that you harvest and keep grain separate from other grain at less risk, such as irrigated fields. Storage of affected grain is not recommended because ear rot diseases and mycotoxins can continue to accumulate during storage. If storage is necessary, cooling and drying grain to less than 15% moisture within 48 hours of harvest will help to slow fungal growth and aflatoxin production. Grain intended to be stored for longer periods of time should be dried to less than 13% moisture.

Presently, it is too early in the harvest to know the extent of aflatoxin contamination in this year’s corn crop, but at this time only a small percentage appears to be affected.

Resources:  For more information, refer to the list of publications below or view this week’s episode of Market Journal.

Table 1: FDA action levels for aflatoxin contamination in corn intended for livestock.

Commodity Action Level (ppb)
Finishing (feedlot) beef cattle  300
Finishing swine of 100 pounds or greater  200
Breeding beef cattle, breeding swine, or mature poultry  100
Immature animals and dairy cattle  20
For animal species or uses not otherwise specified, or when the intended use is not known  20
Human food  20

Source: FDA Action Levels for Aflatoxin

County Fair-Special Time of Year

Fair time is a special time of year. It’s the one time in the year where people from all parts of the county come together for the youth. Yes, there’s healthy competition involved, but 4-H and FFA are building life skills in our youth. Families congratulate each other and are excited for a youth’s job well done. It’s the one time in the year where people from all parts of the county come together for the youth.  

It’s always fun for me to watch the fairgrounds come alive Wednesday night as youth bring in their static exhibits and livestock entries. People are smiling and most youth-particularly the younger exhibitors-are excited. Many people, including me, checked the weather forecast throughout the fair in hopes of rain. This is the first fair in a long time that it didn’t rain Wednesday night or anytime during the fair. Thursday is a busy day with exhibits being judged, livestock being weighed in and the beginning of livestock shows. Something I always enjoy is family fun night on Thursday night. Clouds appeared and families enjoyed kiddie games, shelling popcorn, an obstacle course, and roasting hot dogs and marshmallows. Friday and Saturday continued with the remaining livestock shows and plenty of heat. Sunday brought a fun beef-fitting contest where youth of various ages and clubs worked together. It also brought smiles watching the young children tell their stories and show animals in the Rainbow Classic, watching all our top showmen compete in the Round Robin Showmanship Contest, and wonderful support from all our buyers at the Livestock Auction; we’re thankful for your support.

While probably most people are hot and tired by fair’s conclusion Sunday evening, it’s always a little saddening to me to watch the fairgrounds become empty so quickly again. Deanna and Holli in our office spend a great deal of time preparing for it as do all the youth, parents, grandparents, and 4-H leaders; thank you for all you do and the time you all invest in our youth! Thank you to the Fairboard members who spend countless hours preparing the Fairgrounds and always take care of things during fair with a smile-no matter how often they have to plunge the toilets! Thank you to 4-H Council for your help on various committees, your work with the food stand and BBQ, and for all you do. Thank you to all our superintendents and to all our volunteers; without you our 4-H program and fair wouldn’t be possible. Thank you to Tory and the Clay Co. News for all your support and coverage of our fair. We have something so special in our county and I truly feel blessed to work in Clay County! We may not have big-time entertainment at the fair, but I love our fair. I love how the focus is on our 4-H and FFA youth and families; many other counties would love to have that. Our numbers and entries are similar to counties much larger than us and I appreciate the quality brought to the fair each year from our youth. Thank you to everyone for making the 2012 Clay County Fair a success! 

Protecting #Nebraska #Ag & #Farm Transition

A few weeks ago I shared some thoughts with you regarding what I learned from an animal welfare conference.  We have an opportunity to hear more in at a much closer location-Sutton Community Center in Sutton-on March 12th at 6:00 p.m.  Dewey Lienemann, UNL Extension Educator will be presenting on “Protecting Nebraska Agriculture” following a meal sponsored by the Sutton Chamber of Commerce Ag Committee as well as area Cattlemen Associations, Breeders & Feeders, and Ag Producer groups.  Anyone interested is invited to attend-and I would encourage anyone who possibly can to attend.  This topic not only affects livestock producers, it affects crop producers, and consumers as well.  It’s very important to understand how various interest groups are attacking animal agriculture and why and how we in rural America can share our stories.  Please pre-register by contacting Tory Duncan at (402) 773-5576 or ccntory@gmail.com or Todd Mau at (402) 773-5224 or todd@toddstrailers.com.

Another opportunity for learning more about family farm transition is with the last Farmers/Ranchers College program this year.  It will be March 15 in Friend at the San Carlos Community Room (next to the Pour House) with meal beginning at 6:00 p.m. (Registration at 5:30 p.m.)  The program entitled “Discussing the Undiscussabull” will be presented by Elaine Froese from Manitoba, Canada.  Froese’s expertise in helping families get unstuck is sought after across the country. She has worked with families in business for over 20 years and is now coaching the next generation. Elaine believes that change is an opportunity, not a threat…she has practical tools to help people discuss the “undiscussabull” to make their dreams come true. In order to save your spot and reserve a meal, registration is needed by calling the Fillmore County Extension office at (402) 759-3712.  The Farmers & Ranchers College is sponsored by area agribusiness, commodity groups in collaboration with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension.  

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