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Previous issues of the BEEF Cattle letter
Issue # 702
September 8, 2010
So we have bTB, "What's all the fuss about?" - William Shulaw, Extension Veterinarian, Ohio State University
Since the bovine tuberculosis (bTB) eradication program began in 1917, huge changes in the livestock industry have taken place. In our previous article we mentioned some of the more recent changes of which the trend toward increasing herd size and increased animal movements around the country are the most obvious. By the late 1980s, most states had been given "Accredited Free" status with respect to bTB. Although the disease was not eradicated, the prevalence had become so low that infected herds were only infrequently detected. These herds were almost always depopulated quickly, and often no evidence for further spread was found.
In the early 1970s, the "every-six-years" bTB testing of cattle herds by township was discontinued in Ohio. Sometime in the early 1980s, routine testing of Ohio-origin cattle being exhibited in Ohio was discontinued. (Yes, I am old enough to remember doing township TB testing and TB testing 4-H market steers going to the county fair.) For many years the primary form of surveillance for bTB is routine post mortem inspection at state and federally inspected slaughter facilities, although some routine herd and individual animal testing is still done. The USDA does not currently require bTB testing for most classes of cattle if they move between Accredited Free states, and many states, but not all, have similar rules for importation of cattle into their state. (1) Ironically, the success of the bTB eradication effort, along with the largely successful effort to eradicate bovine brucellosis, may have created a sense of complacency.
Having USDA "Accredited Free" status has been a major benefit for a state's livestock producers. However, for sneaky diseases with long incubation periods and imperfect diagnostic tests, like bTB, the potential for spread is always present until they are completely eradicated. With the coming of today's large, multi-source herds; the tremendous amount of movement of animals for breeding, feeding, grazing, and exhibition; and the reduced level of animal and herd testing, outbreaks of bTB in many states over the last decade are not too surprising. And the meaning of "free" may not mean the same thing now that it did in 1985. Until very recently, the finding of two or more infected herds within a state within a 48-month period caused it to lose its free status. The states of CA, NM, MI, and MN have all lost their free status over the past decade, and several more have discovered infected herds in very recent years (TX, NE, IN, KY, CO, SD, and now OH). For MI and MN, the discovery of wild white-tailed deer with bTB in the areas where cattle herds with bTB were found has complicated their efforts to regain free status tremendously. In the past, when a state lost its "Accredited Free" status, farmers and ranchers of that state who wished to sell or move their animals interstate or internationally had to test their animals or herds to be eligible for movement. The resulting costs to the individual and the state can be enormous as exemplified by the situation in Michigan since the discovery of a focus of bTB in the northeastern Lower Peninsula in 1994.
Last year the USDA published its intent to develop a new approach to its management of bTB. (2) This was driven by the recognition that the current rules were developed before changes in herd size and animal movements have come about and that the actual number of infected cattle in infected herds tends to be small. Requiring depopulation of all animals in infected herds, and paying indemnity for them, has become very expensive and harder to justify to a public that is more animal welfare conscious. The steps needed for a state to regain its free status require a tremendous investment in public and private resources, and the unaffected farms in that state share heavily in that burden. In a Federal Order issued on April 15, 2010, the USDA announced its intention to suspend its enforcement of federal law that downgrades a state's "Accredited Free" status to a lower status when bTB is found provided that the state animal health officials:
* Are maintaining all affected herds under quarantine;
* Have implemented a herd plan for each affected herd to prevent the spread of tuberculosis;
* Have implemented a program to periodically test the animals under quarantine for tuberculosis and remove and destroy those that do not test negative; and
* Are conducting surveillance adequate to detect tuberculosis if it is present in other herds or species." (3)
In addition, cattle from herds in that state that are not known to be infected with, or exposed to, tuberculosis may be moved interstate without restriction for tuberculosis. Indemnity for herd depopulation will still be available "when the evaluation indicates that other options will not mitigate disease spread, there is an imminent public or animal health risk, and/or it is cost-beneficial to do so." Similar policy is being extended to states that have had their status downgraded one level providing there is no evidence of a wildlife reservoir. USDA intends to reevaluate this Order in two years.
This is good news for most producers in states that have had their status downgraded and for states that have already found a bTB infected herd within the last few months. It will ease the USDA-imposed bTB restrictions for interstate movement for them and reduce the cost of doing business. It also reduces the burden on state animal health officials somewhat.
However, for farmers whose herds are found to have bTB, little is changed. Indemnity may still be an option, but federal monies for indemnity have been very sparse in the past few years. Approximately $207 million of emergency funding has had to be infused into the bTB program since 2001. (2) Much of this went for indemnity payments and tracing efforts to and from infected herds. If the funds available for indemnity don't change, it is possible, if not likely, that farmers will be expected to share more of the burden of having bTB. An infected herd may not have to depopulate, but they will remain in quarantine, and the herd plan will almost certainly require multiple years of intensive testing if they expect to regain uninfected status. Commercial dairy farms may be able to remain in business, but the animals that leave the farm will have to go directly to slaughter under supervision of the state authorities or into approved feeding facilities. Slaughter markets may be somewhat limited as not all plants may want to deal with the requirements for slaughter of cows from these herds. For commercial beef herds, requirements for animals leaving the farm may make marketing them very difficult. For purebred herds selling seed stock, being under quarantine could effectively end those sales.
The bigger picture requires answering the question of how we will decide to deal with bTB for the future. If we expect to really eradicate the disease, it will take a renewed commitment on the part of the livestock industry and government. Because government money comes from taxpayers, it may mean they will have to be convinced that there is benefit to everyone to justify the cost. Furthermore, since much of the risk to public health is controlled by pasteurization of milk and inspection of meat, there may be reluctance to support what might be viewed now, almost 100 years after eradication efforts began, as "only" a livestock problem that should not be supported with public monies. There is current precedent for this very opinion in the United Kingdom. (4) bTB in the UK has become an enormous problem where there are now several thousand farmers living with bTB restrictions on their herds. The bTB problem in the UK is complicated by a significant reservoir of the disease in wildlife, principally the European badger, and reluctance by government and the general public to cull them even in high-risk areas. We must not let the disease become established in wildlife populations - for many reasons. England's Bovine TB Advisory Group report, published about a year ago, provides us with a glimpse of the challenges we face if our bTB situation deteriorates. A quote from that Report is instructive:
"Finally, there is a need to acknowledge the human costs of this disease. TB has negative effects not only on the health of animals and trade but also the health and well-being of the herd owners involved. It has become apparent in discussions with industry that the stress of dealing with herd breakdowns, particularly in areas of repeated or extended breakdowns, has very real effects on individuals that extend beyond the immediate cost of the animals that are slaughtered. Some form of support (both business advice and direct financial support) is needed to help farmers to manage the impact of living under disease restrictions." (5)
If we expect to effectively manage, let alone eradicate, bTB, we must realize that our individual actions regarding the biosecurity of our herds and flocks impact everyone, including people not involved in livestock production. (6) And we must develop a more effective system of livestock traceability to enable livestock disease control officials to track the movements of diseased and exposed animals. Those herd owners that have had to deal with a bTB infection in their herds can attest to the value of having even minimal methods of identification and recordkeeping in reducing the impact on their farm. On September 22, we'll visit about these issues in the next installment in this series.
Forage Focus: Pasture Management in the Fall - Rory Lewandowski, Extension Educator, Athens County, Buckeye Hills EERA
The fall period, particularly the months of September and October, is an important time to manage pastures. Specifically, pastures must be managed to insure that the desirable grass and legume plants are able to build up and store carbohydrate reserves for the winter period. It is this ability to store carbohydrate reserves and thus keep a root system living over the winter months that distinguishes a perennial plant from an annual plant. It is during the short day, long night periods in the fall of the year that flower buds are formed/initiated on the crown of the plant. While the leaf tissue dies during the winter, the buds and roots of the plant remain as living tissues over the winter and continue to respire and burn energy. If root reserves are insufficient the plant may die over the winter. If the plant survives but root reserves are low, spring re-growth and vigor of the plant is reduced.
So, what is necessary for plants to build up these carbohydrate reserves? Simply put, there must be adequate leaf area so that the plant can maximize the photosynthetic process. Pastures must continue to be managed in the fall of the year so that they are not over grazed. We know that regrowth is slower in the fall of the year. Plant growth is more temperature sensitive than photosynthesis. This means that even if plant growth is very slow because of cool temperatures in the fall, if leaf area is present, photosynthesis is still taking place at a good rate. Therefore, the mistake of overgrazing is amplified in the fall of the year. Depending upon the severity of overgrazing, the plant may not regrow enough and develop enough leaf area to take advantage of sunshine and produce carbohydrates.
We often hear the term carbohydrate root reserves used when talking about winter storage. The root is the storage area of carbohydrates for plants with a taproot, including legumes like alfalfa and red clover. For white clover, the carbohydrate storage area is the stolen. Technically, our cool season grasses store the majority of carbohydrate reserves in stem and tiller bases, some in rhizomes and only a little in roots. However, this technicality does help us to understand some management aspects of pasture grass and fall carbohydrate storage. For example, orchardgrass stores carbohydrates in the lower 3 to 4 inches of stem bases and tillers. Tall fescue and bluegrass both maintain carbohydrate storage at the base of tillers as well as rhizomes. Tall fescue and bluegrass can both tolerate lower grazing/clipping heights than orchardgrass.
Once we reach the fall period it is critical that grass plants be managed to insure that adequate leaf area is left after a grazing pass. Photosynthesis will provide the carbohydrates needed for winter storage, provided there is adequate leaf area. Since leaf growth will be slow, this means leaving a typical grazing residual plus some extra. For orchardgrass this probably means 4 to 5 inches at a minimum. Tall fescue and bluegrass should probably be managed to leave a 3 to 4 inch residual.
Pasture management in the fall of the year that insures there is adequate leaf area to allow plants to maximize photosynthesis and build carbohydrate reserves will pay off in quicker spring green up and more vigorous spring plant growth.
Summer Slump to Summer Shortage - Dr. Mark A. McCann, Extension Animal Scientist, Virginia Tech
As beneficial as late spring moisture was for Virginia pastures and cattle performance, we annually brace ourselves for the heat and many times the dryness of our July and August. This seasonal decline in pasture and cattle performance during this period is usually called "summer slump". Infected Kentucky 31 tall fescue gets most of the blame and is certainly a major contributor, but there are other factors in addition to fescue toxicity that come into play and contribute to this seasonal slump. Unfortunately, this year dry conditions across parts of Virginia have escalated pasture conditions from summer slump to a simple shortage of available forage.
Different strategies exist for each situation. If there is adequate forage available, but quality is suspect, consider the following management suggestions:
1) The age old suggestion for diluting infected tall fescue still works. The dilution can be other grasses, legumes or even supplemental feed, anything that takes the place of infected tall fescue.
2) Managing pastures through clipping or grazing management to reduce seed heads and stems which contain higher toxin levels. These management practices will produce a more open forage canopy which will prevent shading of diluting forages such as clovers and warm season grasses.
3) Limited creep supplementation of calves. Rather than maximizing calf feed intake, consider a target intake of 1-2 lbs of feed/hd/day. Resulting performance impacts will not be as dramatic but they will be more efficient and cost effective. Past research would indicate that 1lb/d of soybean meal could increase daily gain .25-.33lb/d. Salt can be added to limit feed intake to the desired level.
If drought has severely limited forage availability, one of the most effective strategies is to wean spring calves early. Calves can be retained and offered the best remaining pasture and limited feed while dry cows can rough it on low quality forages or poor quality hay. Early weaning reduces both the quantity and quality of forage that a cow requires. Calves weaned early can quickly adjust to palatable rations and are very efficient in their feed conversion. Early weaning also allows culling of open cows from the herd. Pregnancy diagnosis will identify open cows which can then be sold saving the remaining forage for your pregnant cows. This is also an excellent time to cull any other undesirable cows.
In closing, remember every drought is followed by a good rain. In the midst of dealing dry times, don't forget to plan for fertilization and stockpiling of tall fescue for the upcoming fall and winter.
Cattle Outlook, September 3, 2010 - Ron Plain, Ag Economics, Missouri University
With a tight beef supply (per capita consumption this year is expected to be the lowest since 1952) the primary obstacle to high cattle prices is weak demand. A big factor in meat demand is the strength of the economy. When people have more money to spend they usually spend some of it on meat. Last year, consumers spent 0.73% of their disposable income buying beef. A strong economy with increasing employment and rising income is positive for meat demand. Unfortunately, that is not what we have. The Labor Department reported today that the nation's unemployment level rose slightly in August to 9.6%. The futures market is forecasting fed cattle prices at $1 per live pound for much of the upcoming winter. That looks readily achievable if the economy improves.
The one bright spot for beef demand this year has been exports. In the first half of 2010 export demand for beef was up 28% but domestic retail demand was down 5%.
Fed cattle prices dropped back this week after four weeks with higher prices. The 5-area daily weighted average price for slaughter steers sold through Thursday of this week on a live weight basis was $96.45/cwt, down $2.60 from a week earlier but $13.81 higher than a year ago. Steers sold on a dressed weight basis averaged $152.69/cwt this week, down $2.31 from the week before but $22.95 higher than last year.
This week's cattle slaughter totaled 669,000 head, down 1.3% from the previous week but up 1.1% compared to the same week last year.
Steer carcass weights averaged 840 pounds during the week ending August 21. That was the same as the week before and 15 pounds lighter than a year ago. This was the 39th consecutive week with steer weights below year earlier levels. With cattle futures higher than cash prices, look for carcass weights to increase in coming weeks.
On Friday morning, the choice boxed beef carcass cutout value was $1.6351/pound, down 1.08 cents for the week but 21.29 cents higher than last year. The select cutout was down 1.33 cents from the previous Friday to $1.5624 per pound.
Feeder cattle prices are being pressured by rising corn prices. September corn futures are 75 cent higher than 6 weeks ago. Cash bids for feeder cattle this week were mostly in the range of $3 lower to $1 higher than last week. The price ranges at Oklahoma City for medium and large frame steers were: 400-450# $135-$141, 450-500# $122-$134.50, 500-550# $120-$131.50, 550-600# $117.25-$123.25, 600-650# $109.50-$121.50, 650-700# $110-$118, 700-750# $113-$118, 750-800# $110.50-$116.25, and 800-1000# $102-$113/cwt.
The October fed cattle futures contract ended the week at $98.45/cwt, down 35 cents from a week earlier. The December contract closed at $100.65/cwt and the February contract settled at $101.65. September corn ended the week at $4.4975 per bushel.
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BEEF Cattle is a weekly publication of Ohio State University Extension in Fairfield County and the OSU Beef Team. Contributors include members of the Beef Team and other beef cattle specialists and economists from across the U.S.
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