Efficiency and quality are two important words in the beef industry. Both were covered during the Feeding Quality Forums, Nov. 13 in Garden City, Kansas, and Nov. 15 in South Sioux City, Neb.
Robert Strong, editor of Feedlot magazine, kicked off the programs by stressing the importance of continually building on the beef industry's body of knowledge.
“In the future, we will use more information and technology, which will make life more interesting, predictable and profitable for all of us in the cattle industry,” he said.
Feedlot co-sponsored the meetings with Pfizer Animal Health, Land O'Lakes Purina Feeds LLC, and Certified Angus Beef LLC (CAB). Topics fit what were on cattle feeders' minds.
“One of your biggest challenges going forward is buying grain,” Dan Basse, president of AgResource Company, told attendees. “Everyone wants to blame ethanol, but that's only a small part of the equation.”
He shared changes in global demand for ag products that are shaping today's market and will affect future grain and beef prices. One factor is people in other countries with increasing disposable incomes.
“As you make more money, you spend more on higher quality food,” he said.
In order to satisfy demand at home and abroad, the industry needs to produce more high-quality beef. Mark McCully, CAB supply development director, focused on how to balance efficiency and quality.
Genetic selection is the first step, and he noted breed and genetics within breeds greatly affect marbling.
“The good news it that marbling has no correlation to feed efficiency,” McCully said, and it is positively related to post-weaning gain. “While selecting for growth, we've been indirectly selecting for feed efficiency in our animals,” he said.
DNA testing is a promising tool for cattle feeders, according to Cargill's Ben Brophy. The beef genomics commercialization manager said Cargill uses the technology to predict what cattle work best on which grids. It can also be used to fine-tune management and implanting strategies to fit specific groups of cattle.
The beef industry can't afford to wait until the finishing phase to consider carcass merit. Ron Scott, director of beef research for the Purina Mills LLC subsidiary, said early nutrition affects the final beef product.
“Cattle that are on a more constant plane of nutrition have higher quality grades,” he said.
What those calves eat and how it is processed are important, too. Studies show higher glucose diets, like corn, create more marbling than primarily forage diets. But when it comes to grain processing, more is not always better.
South Dakota State University's Robbi Pritchard noted research where cattle on feed for 140 days or more had higher efficiencies with whole corn versus cracked corn. However, short-fed cattle—those on feed for 120 days or less—benefit from rolled corn. Matching the type of cattle up with grain processing method could make a big difference, he said.
“Can anybody give me a good reason why everybody that doesn't own a steam flaker rolls their corn? This is just one of the things you can think about,” he said.
A couple more are bunk management and proper feed mixing, critical factors in dry matter intake and efficiency, and both greatly affected by the use of feed additives. Gary Sides, cattle nutritionist for Pfizer, discussed these additives by name and discussed the impact each of them has on performance and carcass traits.
Since there is no point in managing feedbunks and ignoring risk, Tom Brink, Five Rivers Cattle Feeding, shared some company strategies. Risk management is the quest for profit in the feedlot business, but it entails more than packer bids.
The senior vice president told the audience to start with reasonable breakevens. Then, they should think about return on investment, and make sure ranch customers understand what kind of cattle best fit the feedlot and packing sectors.
Brink reminded feeders that their ultimate job is to provide highly desired food products for consumers. Performance-enhancing technologies that hurt beef quality may be readily adopted, because those who don't use them become less competitive, he said.
“However, there is another side to some of the newly available technologies to consider. If beef demand declines as a result of lower beef quality, then the industry could actually be worse off,” he warned. “The demand loss could be greater than the productivity benefit of using the new technology.”
Online copies of the event presentations can be found at http://www.cabpartners.com/events/past_events/index.php.