News / USA

    Drought, Wildfires Have Beef Farmers Looking for Cheaper Feed

    U.S. President Barack Obama (R) walks around the McIntosh family farm with the owners to view drought-ridden corn fields in Missouri Valley, Iowa, Aug. 13, 2012.
    U.S. President Barack Obama (R) walks around the McIntosh family farm with the owners to view drought-ridden corn fields in Missouri Valley, Iowa, Aug. 13, 2012.
    Tom Banse
    The people who raise the cattle destined to become steak or hamburger on Americas’ dinner plates are feeling a serious financial pinch.

    Recent wildfires scorched more than a million hectares of North American rangeland. In addition, a continuing drought in the American heartland is driving up the cost of hay, grains and other basic livestock feed.

    Now, ranches and feedlots are looking to cut their feed costs in the short term while working to make the cattle more efficient in the long run.

    Big expense

    The cost of animal feed is by far the biggest expense on the ledgers of most beef farmers. Over the past several months, prices for a variety of feeds - led by corn, or maize - have flirted with record highs.

    In the northwestern state of Washington, cattleman Jack Field is going to great lengths to postpone or avoid buying hay at current sky-high prices. It's so expensive, he's made plans to truck his small herd halfway across the state -more than 300 kilometers- then move them again later, to graze on crop stubble.

    "The transportation is a little bit of a pain," Field says. "It is expensive, but by moving cattle around, if I can keep from having to feed hay, I can make that pencil-and-profit in my situation."

    Fortunately for Field, none of the land he rented has been scorched by wildfires. But others are not so lucky. It's been a bad fire year in the USA.

    Search for alternatives

    Oregon State University beef scientist Tim DelCurto is working with ranchers and feedlot owners to analyze alternatives.

    He says there are plenty of options for lower-cost feed, including grass-seed straw, distillers grains left over from ethanol fuel production, cannery waste and vegetable processing byproducts such as misshapen green beans, carrots and yes, even French fries.

    "I think one of the unique attributes of beef cattle, and sheep fit this, too, unique attributes of ruminant animals is that they can digest virtually anything," DelCurto says.

    He's in high demand as a guest speaker at seminars this autumn, offering cost-saving tips to cattle ranchers. The focus is on short-term solutions, but there’s plenty of interest in longer-term strategies, too.

    Looking ahead

    Agricultural research universities have taken note of the rising cost of fodder, and many are giving greater attention to an issue that experts call "feed efficiency."
    University of Idaho Professor Rod Hill with part of the university's purebred herd (VOA/T. Banse)University of Idaho Professor Rod Hill with part of the university's purebred herd (VOA/T. Banse)
    x
    University of Idaho Professor Rod Hill with part of the university's purebred herd (VOA/T. Banse)
    University of Idaho Professor Rod Hill with part of the university's purebred herd (VOA/T. Banse)

    In a cattle barn at the University of Idaho, physiology professor Rod Hill points out sensors and electronic gates on feed bins. They allow him to track exactly how much food each cow eats.

    Periodically, the cows also have to be coaxed onto a scale to calculate how efficiently each is converting fodder into meat, fat, bone and hide. Hill says the variation within a herd might surprise you.

    "These animals, [to] your eye and mine, they look quite homogenous," Hill says. "But the variation in intake for animals growing at the same rate is of the order of thirty-five percent."

    This is a case where cows and people have something in common.

    "We talk to people who say, 'All I have to do is look at the candy store and I put on three pounds.' We don't actually quantify it quite so precisely in humans, but we know in humans that some people can eat a little and they put on quite a bit of weight and some people can eat a lot and hardly put on any weight. It's a biological phenomenon."

    Selective breeding

    A newly published animal science book that Hill edited explains how ranchers can use selective breeding to achieve the same growth with less feed or less environmental impact on rangeland. But he warns there is risk in focusing too much on one trait.

    "Less efficient animals are slightly fatter. More efficient animals are slightly leaner. We wouldn't want to just go after efficiency and then forget about body composition. We wouldn't want animals to become too lean. That might reduce marbling in the product, especially in the quality cuts where the profit is."

    In the not-too-distant future, Hill expects bulls at auction to carry a score for efficiency.

    But that performance measure isn't widely available or standardized just yet. In the meantime, numerous ranchers - especially in the American Midwest - are thinning their herds to control costs.

    A consequence is that starting next year, beef will be in tighter supply, and domestic and export customers can expect to pay higher prices.

    You May Like

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora