Competition has its own method of culling the herd. In the corporate world, many businesses that seem to be thriving, all of a sudden, are gobbled up by competitors. One improvement in efficiency, a cost saving procedure or, most importantly, a product that is viewed as better by the buying public often catapults a firm to the “head of its class”.
Many things have changed for the purebred breeder. Some have embraced change, believing Expected Progeny Difference profiles that read like a laundry list, ultrasound and DNA testing have made their job easier when it comes to producing livestock. Others tend to stay more in the middle of the road, reluctant to add these additional costs to help satisfy customers. It has often been said, “This is a marathon and not a sprint” and seedstock producers looking to maintain slim profit margins over higher costs of production are finding ways to differentiate their product.
Testing or vaccinating genetics to guarantee health, is the next option for breeders looking to garner customer attention. Step back and ask yourself “What makes my cattle different?” The answer to this question will distinguish the product, putting the operation in a class by itself.
State programs benefit producers
State agencies, private companies, and simply the way cattle have to be managed during the developmental stage to satisfy customer expectations are only three examples of what producers have the opportunity to consider when adding to a list of items that will make their product more user friendly.
Many states offer voluntary programs based on producer interest and need to help get the job done and improve the herd. In the state of Oklahoma, State Veterinarian Dr. Becky Brewer says the three programs that are available to producers are TB, Brucellosis and the most recent program for Johne's eradication.
“Johne's disease has always been there. When people think of this disease, it has always been associated with the dairy industry and many dairy states have taken a very proactive stance for prevention,” Brewer says. “It is a voluntary testing program. We have had this program in place for two and a half years and the response has been overwhelming so far.”
“Johne's testing in our state is still in its infancy. We have had reported cases of Johne's in beef herds, not dairy, in almost every county of the state,” says Johne's coordinator Dr. Mike Pruitt.
As with any new program, a segment of the industry must take the lead to launch the program into effective disease management. Purebred breeders have taken the lead to document testing programs within specific herds.
“We have 14 certified veterinarians in the field to help implement and evaluate the program,” Pruitt says. “The interest has come from the purebred producer selling seedstock who are looking to add value to their product or increase resale value for their customers.”
Johne's eradication does not happen overnight. It takes producers willing to follow protocol and work with certified veterinarians to advance in the program one level at a time.
“Each level becomes more advanced both in testing and management protocol. Right now we have several purebred programs that have reached Level 2,” Pruitt says. “To advance to the next level a producer must go through an annual retest, risk assessment and re-evaluate the herd management plan. The third party assessment (Johne's certified veterinarian confirmation) is necessary for producers to take advantage of cooperative dollars available for the program. We have some funding available to help veterinarians become certified and for producers who wish to enroll in the program.”
According to Pruitt, Johne's testing is segregated into Levels 1, 2, 3 and 4. Levels 1, 2 and 4 require a blood ELISA test for that portion of the requirement and a whole herd fecal test for Level 3.
Unlike some of the more cut and dried health programs, where a simple test identifies at risk animals, management plays a key role in Johne's management. Specific guidelines must be followed to ensure success.
“When dealing with Johne's disease, management and environment play a huge role in its prevention,” Brewer says. “For instance, producers shouldn't calve anywhere that could be contaminated with Johne's bacteria or where calves come in contact with fecal material. Don't use things like pooled colostrum in the management program. Bio security and facilities management will help prevent spread of disease. We have an advisory board and are involved in ongoing research to help producers better manage their herds.”
“Producers need to work with a certified vet to define their objective, do a risk assessment a target specific management,” Pruitt says. “Johne's testing will allow purebred breeders to pass along a status level associated with differentiating their product. It gives buyers confidence whether purchasing bulls or replacement heifers from status herds compared to unknown sources. ”
Getting started with these programs is often one of the most difficult tasks a producer faces. Several methods are available to producers wishing to get involved with this program.
“We work with the Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association, area and county cattlemen's associations and the Governor's conference,” Brewer says. “We urge producers to attend these presentations to keep abreast of what's going on in our state programs. Don't be afraid to give us a call.”
State programs of this magnitude come on a voluntary basis. The reason these programs come to the forefront is to better prepare cattlemen for the marketplace. Protecting that ability to produce a safe, affordable food supply is the goal of every state agency.
“Disease programs, whether at the state or federal level, are put in place because we want the producer to receive the most benefit from their livestock. An added advantage from these practices protects the producer and tells the world, “I am more credible,” Brewer says. “The discerning consumer is a lot newer than our disease. The reason we help fund these voluntary programs is to protect a 9.4 billion dollar industry in Oklahoma.”
Obviously different states have different funding and programs available to their producers. This is just one example of a voluntary disease management program within the state of Oklahoma. For more information, go to www.oda.state.ok.us.
Third party warranty
Herd health and vaccination programs were brought to the forefront several years back when results from Texas A&M's “Ranch to Rail” program were published and sorted better managed cattle to the top. Since then, preconditioning programs have been readily accepted by commercial cattlemen and demanded by the feeding industry.
Recently, Boeringer Ingelheim Vetmedica Inc. (BIVI) decided to bring a new twist on herd health to the purebred sector. The Range Ready™ program provides seedstock producers a third party warranty on his product when he transfers it to the new owner.
“Range Ready is a risk management program outlined for seedstock bulls or replacement females. When the warranty is issued we accept the health risk of those diseases covered by BIVI vaccines,” says Wayne Cole, Senior Brand Manager, Boeringer Ingelheim Vetmedica Inc., St. Joseph, Missouri.
Where there is a need, usually a solution will become available. As Boeringer Ingelheim put into place the positives and negatives of this program it turned into a “win-win” situation.
“Producers have lots of opportunities to purchase a product. Range Ready offers a solution. It is a way for genetic suppliers to differentiate their product beyond genetics,” Cole says. “The Range Ready program moves BIVI into a partnership with seedstock producers by providing them with a transferable limited health warranty on qualified animals.”
According to Cole, the program is in its second year and is rapidly gaining momentum. To be eligible, seedstock producers must follow a written guideline, have their vaccination protocol verified by a veterinarian, go through BVD PI testing and provide the required documents.
“To be eligible for the warranty producers have to follow the prescribed vaccination program and go through BVD PI testing. We like to get producers started at branding with the vaccination schedule and have the last vaccinations given 30 to 60 days prior to sale. These cattle will qualify for transferable six month limited health warranty,” Cole says. “The warranty covers any treatment caused by the antigens covered in the vaccination program and if the animal happens to die, new owners can claim replacement value of up to $3,500. The risk is transferred from the seedstock producer to BIVI if they have used our vaccines and followed protocol.”
Purebred producers are used to the costs involved with vaccination programs. This expense protects the time and dollars invested in the genetic package that will be marketed to the customer base.
“There is really no extra cost to producers who are already involved in some form of vaccination program. It boils down to the cost of our vaccine, compared to another product, and we add the transferable warranty no additional cost,” Cole says. “Our vaccination program is based on the principle not to overdo, but to do what's necessary to get a good immune response. We have basically taken the idea of the pre-conditioned calf to the seedstock world.”
Documentation has become a big fancy word when it comes to additional paperwork. Adding health information to traditional pieces of information like pedigree and performance just raises the bar when compared to the competition.
“You can have the best management practices in the world. If you don't document them they aren't worth as much to that potential customer. Documentation is becoming a big part of the seedstock business,” Cole says. “Animals, to qualify for the Range Ready program, have to be individually identified with some form of permanent ID that will stay with them their entire productive life. If we get a call from your customer, that ID must be in the system. The program requires recording the trade name, serial number and expiration date of the vaccine is something producers aren't used to doing.”
In multiple trait selection we often look to remove the bad genetics from the population first. Seedstock producers implementing tests for diseases such as BVD PI are definitely taking a proactive stance on improving the health of the contemporary group.
“A lot of seedstock producers have started implementing voluntary tests, especially BVD PI, because even though there is a low instance that it could occur, it carries a high price tag. This is really the only additional cost the producer incurs, but it eliminates unknowingly passing a PI into a customer's herd,” Cole says. “We encourage the producer test at first vaccination and remove any positives. By eliminating the constant exposure to BVD, because it's an immuno-suppressant, cattle will respond better to the other vaccines. BVD testing is a real benefit to what producers are trying to accomplish. Most first time participants see testing as a benefit and are glad to locate and remove positive animals.”
The real benefit comes to the commercial cow/calf man trying to secure a breeding piece that will add value. Most are suffering from data overload, but a warranty against health problems during critical times is a black and white issue.
“The benefit is to the buyer who is trying to buy the best genetics the operation can afford. He doesn't want anything to happen to that animal when he gets it home. If he has a problem, it's not the seedstock producer's problem, it's BIVI's problem to make right,” Cole says. “If the last vaccination occurs at 10 months and bulls are marketed at 12 to 13 months, there is still three to four months of warranty to carry that animal through a very stressful transition period.”
Unlike DNA testing or EPDs this program is not a projection of future performance, but a hard and fast warranty producers can use to protect their investment. Seedstock producers, looking to provide added service to their customers, are enrolling in programs such as this.
“Producers are promoting BVD PI negative as a selling point. Range Ready provides this with an added bonus of the warranty. This is another piece of information along the data trail,” Cole says. “If BIVI is going to accept health risk, we need assurance that the animal started out healthy.”
Cole points to the web site for producer forms and area representative contacts, www. RangeReady. com.
Regional market demands specific herd health
Many producers have accepted the fact herd health, just like environments, is a regional or area thing. Different parts of the country provide unique challenges to cattlemen as they prepare livestock for market.
Purebred breeders in the state of California have their own set of detractors when it comes to bull development. Bull tests and all breed formats are typical ways for seedstock producers to market the end product. These programs are useful until breeders outgrow them from a marketing standpoint.
“The BVD PI test came from one of the feedlots that develop a lot of seedstock bulls because there were concerns about the health of the cattle. At the Cal Poly Bull Test, we did the same to prevent outbreaks of disease,” says Mike Hall, Beef Cattle Specialist, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Breeder acceptance of this policy has been widespread. Cattlemen have unanimously accepted extra costs associated with providing a herd friendly bull to their customers.
“They had heard a lot about BVD from a respiratory standpoint and made sure they were prepared,” Hall says. “It doesn't cost a lot to guarantee the product, ( $2.50 to $3 per head). Margins are so slim this separated the astute producer from the next guy. Breeders pretty much forced the issue with BVD testing because everyone wanted a marketing edge.”
The BVD test has pretty much become the norm for seedstock producers statewide, but some form of gain test will usually point to suspects without testing.
“Even though we test all the bulls here at Cal Poly, it would be very hard for a bull that is positive for BVD to make the sale anyway. Some form of performance test will usually eliminate these bulls because they can't perform,” Hall says. “Eliminating these constant shedders of the virus from the population is good, because BVD is a huge cost to the beef industry.”
Anaplasmosis is another problem for certain areas of the state. On most bull sale advertisements, bulls will be guaranteed Anaplas vaccinated. According to Hall, this is a little tougher problem for breeders than just a straight BVD test. Because the problem affects so many areas, anaplas vaccination is a definite selling point.
“There are only two Anaplas vaccines, a modified live from UC Davis and a killed vaccine from Louisiana State. Many producers choose the killed variety because you can vaccinate any age animal and it doesn't affect the fertility of bulls following vaccination. The best way develop immunity is to vaccinate yearling bulls,” Hall says. “Buyers will not buy a bull unless he's vaccinated. There's a very good likelihood bulls will end up in these affected areas.”
Regional health problems will continue to plague the beef industry and they are nothing new. Investing in a new herd bull is like buying a new truck, sometimes the warranty makes a big difference in purchase decisions.
“Buying bulls is an investment,” Hall says. “Buyers want that bull to make it through the first breeding season. More importantly, realize the value, not just in purchase price, those genetics will add to future generations.”
The beef industry is constantly adding pressure to its constituents to follow the value-added path to success. It seems these programs matter most when the cattle cycle has run its course and cattlemen need justification they are truly buying the better product. Even though drought and other conditions have slowed that cycle, positioning the herd to maintain profit margins, in a growing cost market, will be a key topic of discussion.
The market will demand herd health mandates. Breeders will cuss the added paperwork and discuss the benefits it brings in the long run. The relationship between buyer and seller will be based on genetics and management guarantees that include herd health.