beyond cows and pastures
See Animal production and animal science worldwide
WAAP book of the year 2007; ISSN: 1574-1125 - WAAP Book of the year;Volume 4;2009, 264 pages, ISBN-13: -13: 978-90-8686-068-5 , US$ 148 br> edited by: A. Rosati, A. Tewolde, C. Mosconi
Everyone cannot succeed at raising beef cattle for profit. Some people have lost farms attempting to do so. Others have shifted to other agricultural production. There must be reasons for this. As always in complex systems, there are many possible reasons for failure. The others include obscurity of the objective, a failure to draw the context properly, and inadequate management. Farmers often fail to maximize profits from raising cattle because of their small scale of operation. Scale is only one aspect of systems failure. -- a failure in any part can result in total system failure. Failure, or a shift to a profitable set of results, the end state, is approached from many directions.
In this chapter, I describe a beef-cattle system proposed for the Cattle Group (with evident relations with other livestock expertise of the system within the Goat System Group, The Rabbits Group, and The Goose Flock Group). Imagine a country or a region as the place where a beef cattle system might be created. An example might be the multi-county coal region of southwestern Virginia or Native American reservations in Arizona. In western Virginia, land is mountainous; grass is scattered over lands strip-mined and re-planted. The area has potential for cattle. How shall a system be designed? We follow the main parts of a systems approach.
See recent summaries.
The region is the coal counties. A manager works for stockholders in a cattle system. Land is rented from willing owners
The objectives are (1) to maximize profits to the system owner or stockholders, and (2) to maximize employment at or greater than at minimum wage. The specific formulation is given later.
Experts analyze the markets for cattle system products. These include the items in Table 1 but also include distributing and receiving centers, warehouse and refrigeration centers, transportation (including probability of interruption), and employment (including probability of interruptions), stability of markets, and alternative expansion markets in the region and world. The market analysis would explore all 23 topics (and perhaps others).
The objective is to maximize the sum of all products (K) per dollar of total system cost(s) over a period of 30 years (with the analysis and adjustments made annually).
Table 1. Potential products of the subsystem.
Q max = ( at b Ki ) / Ct
where at is the proportion of the gross income in each year t, b is the average per unit value, and K is the number of units of the i th product sold per year. There are many constraints in such a system such as available funds, and (Ct = or less than X), available pasture area and quality, available staff, computers, and storage.
The beef cattle system operated by the Cattle Group may be, and probably should be for optimum profits, a subsystem of a more comprehensive livestock system, one that optimizes profits from the year-around system operation of beef cattle, dairy goats, pigs, horses, dogs, rabbits, pigeons, chicken, and turkey systems. There are major similarities in these topics. They are very isomorphic. The same computer software will serve each of them well with minor adjustments.
All will not be discussed, partially because it is boring; partially because the point can be made of what a fully-developed, practical, profit-oriented system might be. Just any old cows will not do! What is needed is individually marked and numbered cow of optimum color (solar energy reflectivity or albedo) for a specific latitude so that it has minimum night time radiation and optimum day time energy absorption given the seasonal average day length, cloud cover, and ambient temperatures. Also there must be an optimum size (one that minimizes the surface area per unit volume). Of course it takes money to produce volume so growing muscle per unit volume for the lowest cost over time become the limited objective.
Animals are metabolic entities that respond not as volume or weight but as weight in kilograms to the 0.75 power. The consequence of this is that, as in other animals, the large animals are most energy efficient but of course they eat more. The manager will take the animal in the second it crosses the optimum size point, for after that it will grow slowly or not at all while costs continue to accumulate. Part of the optimization can be handled by management and feed but when designing systems there is no reason for going second class! A million cattle over a hundred years can produce a lot of beef and incur a lot of costs! The need is to ignore the statistician's 5 percent criterion because even 0.1 percent difference (a gain) of a big animal represents a few dollars. The need is to utilize the knowledge of animal genetics (see Ralph 1983 and Davidson 1983) and "create" the perfect animal for each particular site.
A program to aid in decisions about creep feeding can aid in improving significantly profits from cow.calf operations with genetically superior animals.
In addition to the production economies (a) the animal (or genetic service) can be sold to people with other needs or sites; and (b) the meat can be specially marketed for its name and alleged or actual special characteristics.
A small linear program can be created to determine the optimum number of acres for grazing that (a) should be purchased and (b) that should be rented. Similarly it seems that cattle may be owned or held under contract with landowners who rent pasture and operate under the management services of the system. Owners receive a contract price for animals. The advantages are that the system does not have to make large land purchases, pride of ownership of the cattle and land by local people is allowed and encouraged, and land is brought under sophisticated management.
|Fig 2. A suitability index for annual forages based on July temperatures for Wise County, Virginia. The index ranges from 3 to 5 with the darker cells indicating better values. Results are from Anderson's 1981 MS thesis.|
|Figure 3. The GIS computer-determined grazing potential of land within an ownership (about 10,700 out of 69,000 acres).|
The rainfall is high but runoff is also very high, thus net available moisture is low. These eastern rangelands are a new concept. Even though precipitation is about 35 inches per year, much runs off of compacted soils or percolates through rocky soils. In either case, the amount of available moisture is low, i.e., 12-15 inches (30-38 cm), thus semi-arid. Unlike pastures that can be mowed, limed, and fertilized and that have non-linear shapes, these areas present real problems. They have not been solved readily after 40 years of local experimentation. Kroll demonstrated that a large optimum-size herd was needed and also there was a need for high protein feeds during the winter as sensitive factors. All areas are not equally productive and some will not be profitable. Even the low-quality sites, with proper management, will produce more than poorly managed superior sites. It is not appropriate to deny the cattle system because prime land is not available. Related land has many other potential uses, an underlying message within Rural System work. Alone, however, a cattle system may not be profitable. As part of a livestock system or rural system it may play a vital role.
The market, the weather, labor, disease, and range quality may be too variable to allow a viable enterprise. Hart (1978) has shown that the effect of stocking rates (number of animals per unit area) on animal gain is not well known and that there are several conflicting theories. These theories seem to conflict because they have been based on observations of a dynamic system changing in forage growth rate, availability, quality, all with changing nutritional requirements of a herd that itself changes annually. These have produced different shapes of response curves relating gain per head to head per area. Rural System staff will continue site- and animal-specific studies, typically with data analyzed using automated multiple regression procedures. The best current shape is a linear (constantly flat) gain below the critical stocking rate and a linear decrease thereafter.
Forage Production on Forest Land
Southern pine forests and open mixed forests support many varieties of grasses and often yield enough forage to produce beef from grazing during portions of the timber rotation. However, sound, long-range planning and proper application of proven research results are needed. Planning can be divided into four steps:
Identifying Opportunities Forage yield is controlled by many factors. Grass production is greatest on the best soils in open-canopied forests or forests with many openings. As tree and shrub cover increases along with the accompanying needle and leaf accumulations, grass production decrease. Greatest yields can be expected from regeneration clear cuts, site-prepared or recently planted areas, and thinned pole or sawtimber stands. Additional increases can be expected when prescribed burning is carried out in suitable pine types.
For a quick estimate of forage available for cattle, take a walk over the tract to be considered for grazing and estimate the percentage of ground covered by grasses (both in openings and under trees and shrubs). If the average grass cover estimate is 25% or more, a good grazing opportunity may exist if sufficient acreage is involved (about 50 acres or more). Before proceeding with further measurements, the land manager or owner needs to consider these questions.
Determining Amount and Quality of Forage Available An important factor in forage yield is tree and cover density. Also, overhead shade frequently determines the relative abundance or scarcity of species of native grasses present. For example, as the tree canopy becomes denser in loblolly-shortleaf pine types, the bluestem grasses become scarce and uniola grasses are prevalent. Southern forest forage is usually deficient in amounts of nutrients needed for good animal growth. Milk producing cattle generally require a minimum of 7-8% crude protein, 0.18% phosphorus, and 0.24% calcium in their diet to maintain good health and reproductive capacity. It is obvious that without some supplemental feed, animals will lose weight and vigor.
Providing for Supplemental Feed Supplements must be provided for best weight gains and animal reproduction and to overcome deficiencies in native forage. Some ways of providing supplements are through improved pastures, cottonseed meal or cake, steamed liquid supplement, and protein blocks. Improved pasture supplementation may be furnished most efficiently on utility or other rights-of-way, permanent firebreaks, wildlife openings, or by widening of road shoulders. These areas must be maintained and fertilized annually for continued high production.
Coordinating Management Practices Forage production varies greatly with timber stand density and the presence or absence of dead pine needles, leaves, and other litter on the forest floor. Grazing systems have a large bearing on forage production and utilization limits. Season-long use with light cattle stocking can result in overgrazing on a particular site, whereas heavier use for shorter periods may be acceptable. Modification and proper timing of forest management activities can greatly enhance forage production and at the same time protect and improve the habitat of several wildlife species.
Tree Planting or Seeding Space tree seedlings at wide row intervals (7' X 12' X 14', or greater) for highest and longest lasting production of grasses combined with wood production. Light cattle stocking can usually be tolerated from the time of planting if sufficient forage is available; however, cattle should be removed in winter until the trees are tall enough (6-8') to withstand some browsing. Dairy cows, horses, sheep, goats or pigs will eat young pine trees in any season. Thereafter, stocking can be adjusted by measurement and observation of forage production and use. Where direct seeding is used, reduce seeding rates to obtain a fairly open stand. Row seeding gives best control of tree density. Pre-commercial thinning of closely spaced pines will usually be needed (with the possible exception of longleaf pine) early in the life of the stand to promote forage production. If fertilization is planned for timber production in newly established pine plantations, managers should carefully consider introducing improved, shade-tolerant grasses, such as bahia and fescue, to benefit fully from the fertilization. The best time for this is immediately following site preparation. Forest management and cattle grazing are often incompatible. For more information on forage production on forest land, consult your Alabama Forestry Commission advisor.
( References on Forest Forage Production
Management southern pine forests to produce forage for beef cattle - SE area, state and private forestry - USDA Forest Service, 1720 Peachtree Road NW, Atlanta, Georgia, 30309
Forest Grazing: A Guide for Service Foresters in the South, USDA Forest Service, 1720 Peachtree Road NW, Atlanta, Georgia, 30309.)
Integrated Pest Damage Management
See Chapter xxxx. Often gains may not be possible in production but losses can be reduced for net returns. Computer aids are essential to integrate preventive techniques and active control for the lowest tolerable losses for the lowest advisory and management costs. Insects, disease, trauma, general animal health and poisonous plants must all be balanced in a harsh and uncertain economic and ecologic environment.
There are well-known programs to achieve optimum forage mixes based on feed components, costs, animal needs, and season. These should be used and then services provided. In some areas such service is provided for free by agencies. This is a subsidy by the public, now probably unnecessary because the techniques are widely available and the free service is competitive with a complex enterprise that would seek to provide such service. Hay and grain feed supplements are needed investments that provide energy and protein to allow the full resources of energy of the area to be utilized. Contractual relations with other farms or even land purchase may be needed to supply food for the animals. Fig. 2 shows a computer map of pasture areas, where, over time, pasture and hay grasses of specific types and cultural practices may be grown successfully…and cost effectively.
Associated with feed in pasture is the need for fence. The proposed total cattle system operates to (a) design optimum field sizes to achieve ease of handling animals; (b) designs, constructs, and sells fences, gates, chutes, cattle and shelters, and loading facilities; (c) design optimum rotation schedules for cattle among pastures and feeding; (d) operates a skillful, mechanized high-tensile wire and electric fence emplacement crew; (e) maintains fence surveillance; and (f) otherwise provides security. Fences are built and are a recognized cost of business. A Fence Group within Rural System benefits from such sales. Services of Q Works, The GIS Group, and the Safety and Security Group are required costs.
A feedlot operation is recommended because it uses critical space that needs careful location, provides employment, uses feed much of which that is produced elsewhere, and provides the central system for optimizing cattle flesh production to meet changing tastes, markets, costs, and prices.
|Only three sites were selected for optimum cattle feedlots from 69,000 acres The sites shown met the requirements such as distance away from population centers, higher elevations, near roads, distant from streams, flat areas, no endangered species, suitable soil, not urban, and out of major viewscapes.|
Site inspections allow easy choice among the three sites for there can be seen the things that will never be openly included in a data base (e.g., the Senator's house, a very large specimen tree, a proposed shopping center).
Increasing light intensity (114 to 207 lux) over steers from mid November to early March (16 weeks) will increase body weight of steers by 10 to 15 percent with no additional feed (Peters et al. 1978). The tradeoff between meat profits from lighting and its associated structures over time and no extra light can be easily made for local conditions. (The effect is similar to injecting cows with diethylstilbestrol, a practice now believed unhealthy to humans (Last 1980, Lunha 1979).) The staff evaluates such reports and determines the optimum lighting scheme. Ely and Allison (1976, 1976b, 1977, 1979) have developed a beef feedlot computer model in order to synthesize for the decision maker the rapidly changing feed prices, cattle prices, availability of food, and rising labor and operating costs. Of course these must be related to the size and composition of the herd to be fed, nutrition knowledge, and environmental conditions. "Maximum rate of gain" which has intuitive appeal as a feedlot objective will not likely produce most profits (any more than "sustained yield" assures forest profitability). Among other reasons, the cost of protein and energy in food and feed efficiency increase at a decreasing rate.
A program within the system being described would use standard linear programming (the process), require herd size and weight, lot capacity, days for feeding, feed prices, cattle prices, labor costs, labor requirements, interest rate, overhead costs, labor loss, veterinary cost, amount of local forage available (Nix 1975), and cattle weights. The results (output) are maximum profits from beef gain; which animals to buy; to feed; to sell; and a diet formulated for each of 5 weight groups. Few small farmers can afford such systems or the time to collect, process, and analyze the results of such studies. The probability of an individual guessing or roughly calculating the computer-optimized solution is very small. I my personal experience, even the best guesses are usually more than 5-10 percent off from the best solution. A gain of 5% in production or profit… even in the current system is the landowner's quest. Achieving greater than this amount seems highly likely with the available knowledge base, the present computer systems, and their "centered" use and distribution of results.
An operational program has been demonstrated in optimizing a beef and hog farm and is suggested as a service for feed companies to offer in order to attract business (Ely and Allison 1979).
A slaughter house is operated. This provides employment, uses available low-cost space e.g., on a reclaimed strip mine, and allows wastes to be collected and sold or cycled back to pastures. Modern humane methods are used.
Computer programs have been developed to maximize profits from how a carcass is butchered. Given prices of various cuts and labor costs, it may be more economical to grind most of the carcass than to process it into conventional cuts such as steaks, roasts, etc. These programs can be regularly run producing significant extra financial returns at little ecological costs.
Expected gross income is a primary criterion for decision making. Based on knowledge of markets, supply of products elsewhere, demand, advertising, and taxes, it may be more cost-effective, i.e., objective-achieving, to freeze, dry, or otherwise process or store meat and other cattle products than attempt to sell it fresh. In most cases, using low-value land, e.g., quarries and mines, for such processing and storage may be worth considering. In coal fields, low-yield natural gas wells may supply sufficient energy for such storage systems.
In other areas, low quality hardwood stands having suffered past fires and high grading may be harvested for biomass energy and forests brought back to sustained quality timber production. One for forest improvement is a market for the present wood (and future thinning) which is supplied by the storage system.
Marketing and Advertising
To raise beef in an area and ship it to another region for slaughter and processing is to ignore the potentials for advertising, packaging (e.g., a special microwave "cut"), and adding value locally. Substantial economies are achieved by conglomerate marketing services of Q Works (Chapter xxx) and "centering."
Products for special markets (e.g., hospitals), to meet certain needs (e.g., "tested free of pesticides"), with specified fat levels, and in combination with other products or ready-to cook or ready-to-eat (e.g., "jerky") need not be ignored. The beef of "the Rural System Cattle Group" might just become known around the world ... if this subsystem achieves some of its potential.
One product, bull semen, related to the cattle unit described above, is of importance. Using current technology, artificial insemination can reduce the costs and risks of carrying bulls on pasture and can provide the specific genetic material for animals designed to be optimum for the environment of the system.
As can be seen, there are many possible components of the cattle system. If each increases system profit merely 1 percent over conventional or average returns on beef, the system is likely to be highly profitable. The secondary consequences should not be overlooked. They might even be integrated into the objective function. They include:
1. Employing local people in a beneficial enterprise, allowing them to remain on family lands and to continue to "family farm" in the context of a sophisticated company.
2. Reducing regional unemployment.
3. Diversifying the enterprises of the region (now largely mining or mining related).
4. Improving pasture management and reducing erosion, thus improving water quality and lowering water treatment costs.
5. Providing ancillary optimization and other services, e.g., soil testing, storage, processing, programming, transportation, pest damage management.
6. Providing wildlife benefits. Kroll (1983) studied how a cattle system could be used to maintain grassed areas on surface mined areas for the benefit of wild turkeys which are much sought by naturalists and by hunters. Grazing can maintain the openings producing vegetation which supports abundant insects in season which are essential to young birds as they come off of nests typically located at the clearing and forest edge. In effect, the cows are managing the habitat for wild turkeys, the production of which is another system (See "The Wild Turkey Guild" in Giles 1987).
What of the future? Cunha (1979) saw larger, more sophisticated cattle units, closer confinement of animals, faster growing animals, decreased feed per unit of product, increased product output per animal, increased young per animal, improved product quality, decreased trim fat, and more use of by product feeds and crop residues. Surely land use will intensify as human populations increase.
Land taxes alone force some people into intense (and in some cases over-intensive or exploitative) use. Many lands once used for crops cannot economically produce them or their topsoil has been lost. Only pasture or forest is the appropriate use and the question will become more pointed: Are these uses profitable when all costs and risks are computed? Cunha (1979) noted that greater beef efficiencies can be achieved in land use, by food additives, and by how the feed itself is used.
He said that just because there will be less grain and oil seed meal protein, animal production need not be cut back. Instead, he suggested potentials for increases for exports. As in the past, there have been increases in the U.S. in meat consumption and changes in taste, i.e., there have been shifts in the proportions of meat types used.
Consumer response to knowledge about the positive relation of red meat to heart disease remains unanswered. The uncertainties are great, especially about world monetary policy and thus land mortgages and equipment purchases for beef cattle operations. The environment is such that individual enterprises must be highly effective or fail (as many have done in the same years and areas where others have made high profits). Another strategy is (1) to diversify land use creating lakes and forests on sub marginal pasture and (2) to diversify types of activities, i.e., an entirely non-beef related activity.
Herein, a system is proposed to maximize the returns at the end of the system, augment those with returns from surplus capacity, combine the cattle economy with others within Rural System, and benefit from inter-system energy exchanges at every step. It includes concepts of reducing costs by using decision aids, using wastes (reducing loss and gaining new products (e.g., nitrogenous waste products for fruit crops)), diversifying products within high-profit areas, and manipulating final sale price-by storage, processing, as well as packaging.
This section was begun with comments about scale of operation. For some people, the concept presented is too grandiose, for others too small. They see the potentials of well-distributed systems of this type, probably profit bound by transportation costs of all varieties--workers, feeds, to slaughter, to storage, to markets, etc. The so-called "transportation" model of linear programming (for which it was first developed in the early 1940's to provide optimum military equipment parts storage) can assist in locating centers. The components of a beef cattle system are real and now available but unassembled. There are no genuine conceptual breakthroughs needed, no hardware advances. Each component can be optimized and the consequences flow to the next unit. Feedback is provided by the systems management. Incentives are provided based on agreed-upon (a) annual production objectives for each system unit or component, and (b) salary increases based on a ratio of successful, agreed-upon within-unit changes in profit-sensitive factors e.g., (60 percent) and total system profits (e.g., 40 percent).
The system, even before implemented, may be useful for it may suggest a standard against which current practice may be compared. It may suggest an objective and stages through which people might evolve in a cooperative venture. It may suggest a strategy to be promoted by groups dependent upon stable supplies of beef. It may not produce any profit but if it achieved the secondary benefits--employment, regional stability, family farming, reduced erosion, improved streams, desirable land use for real estate beauty and value enhancement, and the needed interspace between other viable enterprises (e.g., recreation, tourism, forestry, mining) it may not be such a bad idea.
Addendum: Livestock have enormous environmental impacts. They produce about 18% of greenhouse gases, uses 30% of Earth's total surface including 1/3 of all arable terrain for feed crops. They yield 1/3 of the protein of human diets but consume 19 million tons more protein than they provide.
The USDA created the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) that proposes using RFID chip-based silicon chips and antennae for tracking animals (for disease and other purpose) such as cows and horses. In 2007 2,747 farms (out of 48,000 in Virginia) had been registered. Brett Malone of Qualtrax, a subsidiary of CCS, a company in Christiansburg, may be of assistance.
The United States Department of Agriculture announced Aug. 31, 2007 that Destron Fearing's LifeChip equine radio-frequency identification (RFID) injectable transponder is approved for use as part of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS).
"We are very proud that our LifeChip microchip is the first of its kind to receive NAIS approval," says Rae Powell, vice president of sales and marketing for Destron Fearing. "Not only does it fulfill all U.S. animal safety standards, but it is also compliant on a global platform with the International Organization of Standardization (ISO)."
LifeChip microchips offer an unalterable means of identifying horses and ponies of all ages, breeds, and sizes. Each LifeChip microchip--about the size of a grain of rice--contains a passive transponder programmed with a unique 15-digit number that can be read by any ISO-compliant reader.
Veterinarians subcutaneously administer the microchip approximately one inch below the base of the mane in the neck (area of the nuchal ligament) with the help of a specially designed, single-use syringe. Once administered, microchip numbers can be recorded in breed and discipline registries or kept in farm/ranch files for future reference. They are invaluable in providing proof of ownership in the event that a horse is lost or stolen. They also can be used to identify horses involved in breeding operations, competitive sports, and international and domestic travel.
Potential migration of the microchip was an issue that LifeChip has overcome in order to receive NAIS approval. Destron Fearing resolved this issue by capping each LifeChip microchip with a patented, biocompatible material called Bio-Bond that secures the microchip to the administration site within 24 hours of placement.
Another feature that is exclusive to LifeChip microchips is the inclusion of Bio-Thermo temperature sensing technology. This technology allows equine owners, breeders, trainers and veterinarians to quickly and safely check a horse's temperature at the site of administration.
Parties interested in ordering LifeChip microchips or obtaining additional information are encouraged to call Destron Fearing's Customer Service department at 800/328-0118 or e-mail CustomerService@destronfearing.com.
Currie,P.O. 1978. Cattle weight gain comparisons under season long and rotation grazing systems. Proceedings of the First International range congress. p. 430-437.
Flower, A. and S. Smith. 1981. Dynamics of large mammal populations. Wiley Interscience Publication, New York.
Frischknecht, N., P. Conrad, and P. E. Hansen. 1970. Improved folding utilization cages. J. Range Management. 23(3):215-216.
Harris, D. and I. H. Kochel. 1981. A decision making frame-work for population management. In Dynamics of large mammal populations.John Wiley, New York.
Hart, R. H. 1978. Stocking rate theory and its application to grazing on rangelands. p. 547-550. Proceedings of the first international rangeland congress.
Mitchell, J. E. 1983. Analysis of forage production for assessment and appraisals. USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, Fort Collins, Colorado 80526. Report Rm-98.
Starfie1d, A. M. and A. L. B1e1och. 1986. Building models for conservation and wildlife management. Macmillan Publishing Company, New York. 253p.
Perhaps you will share ideas with me about some of the topic(s) above .
Robert H. Giles, Jr.
September 14, 2006