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

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

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.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid