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Above average?

In some ways, my cowherd is average. In other ways, it is above and in still others, below. Those things are true of each cow in my herd, too. That’s all part of what “average” means. 

Usually this involves numbers like weaning weights, pregnancy percentages or carcass values of progeny. Add them up and divide by the number of cows. Just that easily, you can compare each cow to the herd average. In turn, you can compare your herd to averages from a cooperative or from government statistics.

That helps illustrate where they are above average as a group and where they need the most work, if any of the below-average numbers strike you as a need to improve. Of course, it’s great to note a below-average death loss as something to push even lower, but opinions vary greatly on the ideal cow weight.

Mature cow size also varies by region and as one northern report recently stated, the average says little without context. Cows that weigh 1,300 pounds (lb.) may be great if they wean calves heavier than the national average of about 575 lb., that go on to gain faster than three pounds per day and grade better than 70 percent Choice.  

But if they fall short in any of those areas, you have work to do on genetics and management. Heck, even if they are slightly above those numbers, the market says you have work to do on the way to filling demand for outstanding cattle.

Uniformity is a big concern all along the chain. Imagine the discounts, or remember them from last fall, if your calves have little in common and must be sold individually or in very small groups. Cows that average 1,300 pounds may have herd mates from 1,100 to 1,500 pounds. That’s about as wide as most producers want for a range, so they can produce somewhat uniform calves.

Think about the problems encountered from feedlot to packer and beef marketer when beef cuts are variable in size. 

Beyond weight, the range in value comes down to calves’ ability to gain and grade. Taking both of those into account, a decade of data from one Kansas feedyard found an average difference in value of about $700 from top to bottom among pen mates fed together, based on 2012 prices. Obviously that number has grown.

Records can help you find the cows that produce the lowest value calves over several years, and those can be replaced by heifers from cows that produced the highest value calves so that everyone in the beef supply chain wins. 

Rather than judge any cow by what happens in one year, look at her historical average and see if any one calf is significantly above or below average, and if her calves are getting better over time. Sorting by sire groups can help isolate genetic effects, so you can see if the bull or dam deserves blame or credit.

Computer programs can convert records into a comparison index to track over time and compare to other cows. At a more complex level, computer programs provide the expected progeny differences (EPDs) at breed associations that help you select bulls that are above average in the traits your herd needs most.

Whether choosing bulls or evaluating your cows, remember that average is never a target, just a reference point. 

Much is at stake in the cattle business today, as a Kansas report recently noted a cost of $1,150 to keep a beef cow for a year. Some herds go back to a collection of $100 bucket-calf heifers in the 1990s, but much has changed in the economy to where the average value of a cow exceeds $1,500 in most markets.

And when calves cost $1,500 per head with targeted end-values above $2,000, the entire system clamors for above average performance and grade. 

At the other end of the beef supply chain, when beef costs five dollars or $10 per pound, every consumer demands above average satisfaction. We have all the tools and incentive we need to get it done.

Next time in Black Ink® Miranda Reiman will talk about sharing. Questions? Call 330-465-0820 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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Members Find Strength in Wyoming Wool Growers Association

This has been a year of transition for the Wyoming Wool Growers Association (WWGA). WWGA has undergone some significant changes but is clearly emerging as a stronger and more effective membership association. The focus this year has been to strengthen our grassroots membership through a concerted and determined outreach effort.  

Key to this is timely and relevant information. 

The sheep industry faces some substantial hurdles that quite literally threaten the future of sheep ranching in Wyoming, and making certain that our members are aware of these problems and the myriad complex issues that surround them helps us be more responsive and allows our members to feel confident that WWGA is functioning appropriately as their collective voice. 

Member organization  

Often I am asked, “What is the Wyoming Wool Growers? What do you do?”  

My first response is always to reiterate that we are a member organization, which means we were created to ensure that the interests of Wyoming sheep producers are represented and voiced when it comes to issues that impact the industry. 

WWGA is more than 100 years old. Understandably, such long-standing organizations can sometimes lose clear sight of the original purpose in forming a membership association, especially among younger producers who may not immediately see the need for such an association.  

For WWGA, this year has been about bringing that purpose back to the forefront of our mission and to strengthen the Association though improved membership services. We have focused on creating opportunities for our members to interact among themselves and with Association staff, so they may provide important direction and input on industry issues and Association matters. 

Town hall meetings have served as an excellent tool in this regard. We hosted six such meetings throughout the state.  

This year, we will also host our first midyear producers meeting. Scheduled for July 30-31 in Casper, the meeting will allow WWGA members to gather together in one place to discuss issues of importance to them and their organization.  

In November, we will gather together again with our counterparts from Utah and Idaho for our annual Tri-State Woolgrowers Convention. The larger annual meeting provides an opportunity for Wyoming woolgrowers to hear from other wool producers in the region and to share experiences on the issues they face.    

Improving membership benefits 

We continually work to identify services that will give members the sense that belonging to the WWGA is worthwhile.  

We have created a new weekly newsletter, the WWGA Weekly eUpdate, which is provided exclusively to WWGA members at the end of each week via email. For those not on email, we provide a monthly compilation of the weekly updates to ensure that all members are aware of the work being done by their Association. 

Each update contains timely and relevant information on WWGA activities, state and federal legislative and regulatory activities and other bits of news of interest to producers. 


However, reaching out to just our members is not enough. We must also reach out to those outside the industry who play key roles in the business of sheep production. 

WWGA has regularly provided input on important issues, from commenting on proposed federal regulatory changes, like the Proposed BLM/Forest Service Sage Grouse Nine Point plan, to weighing in on federal legislation, like the Grazing Improvement Act and the Water Rights Protection Act.  We work closely with our congressional leaders and our state entities to ensure that they are aware of our interests in the issues they are responsible for.  

Voice for the industry

Like all ranching, sheep producers, of course, face issues that affect their business, like soft markets or animal health issues, and weather-related difficulties, like drought. These are the risks of ranching. 

But today, our sheep industry faces even greater threats, like a labor shortage and a dysfunctional federal guest worker program, which has already forced one of Wyoming’s largest producers out of the sheep business, and the regional expansion of a misguided Forest Service decision on Bighorn Sheep that has already pushed three Idaho sheep producers out of the industry and one rancher completely out of business. 

WWGA proudly stands as a voice for Wyoming’s sheep producers in the effort to counter the chorus of anti-grazing and anti-livestock activists, which work to influence Congress and federal agencies, from the Interior Department to USDA to EPA, to support heavy-handed measures that will serve to eliminate the grazing rights of sheep producers and will diminish one of America’s premier food and fiber industries.  

Our voice is also strengthened through our relationship with the American Sheep Industry Association, the national organization for woolgrowers.

Promoting Wyoming wool

One of the initiatives we are most proud of is our American Rancher Collection™ – Wyoming Blanket Series.  

This project is designed to showcase Wyoming’s fine wool and the rich history of sheep ranching in the state. This wool blanket is made from the finest merino wool harvested from a sheep herd in Johnson County, was spun in an eco-friendly process by Mountain Meadow Wool Mill in Buffalo, and woven at the Faribault Mill in Minnesota, using virtually the same production methods in practice since 1865.  

The result is a durable, American made, premium wool blanket worthy of being passed on generation after generation.

Learning more

For more information about WWGA and its activities, visit website contains information about Wyoming’s sheep industry.  Our News and Events page reflects the issues we are currently working on and the positions that we have taken to date.  

In addition, we are also building our Market Place page to help our producers both small and large find or share services that can help them. We are also on Facebook as Wyoming Wool Growers and Twitter as @Wyowool.

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Optimism: A Farmer’s Stock-in-Trade

When we think of farmers, we don’t necessarily think of romantics, but don’t let their typical reserve in showing emotions fool you. A farmer’s heart skips a beat when he or she sees a newborn calf, the budding of fruit trees and the sun rising higher each day.

The future’s so bright.

Livestock producers face sunnier prospects than they have had in years. Cattle and hog prices are at record highs. Milk, poultry and egg prices also are good. The sector is poised to see a positive supply and demand balance.

On the crops side, USDA announced at the end of March that farmers intend to plant nearly 92 million acres of corn this year, even though prices have fallen. That is a drop from the last couple of years, but it would be the fifth-largest corn acreage since 1944. Soybean and cotton plantings are set to increase, and projected wheat plantings are down just one percent from last year.

There is reason to feel good about the prognosis for agriculture well beyond this year. The pace of innovation in farming and ranching is tremendous. The application of information technology promises ongoing productivity gains.

Approvals of biotech traits, such as new herbicide-resistant corn and soybeans, are moving forward. Agricultural companies have as many exciting products in the pipeline as ever.

People may not think of high-tech when they think of agriculture, but they should.

Youth isn’t always wasted on the young.

Each year, Farm Bureau surveys about 1,000 young farmers and ranchers from across the country. In March, we released the 22nd annual survey, which found that 91 percent of young people in agriculture are more optimistic about farming than they were five years ago. An equal percentage say they expect to be lifelong farmers.

Just as promising, 88 percent said they would like to see their children follow in their footsteps. That is reason for all of us to feel hopeful, because the nation will need new crops of farmers and ranchers to keep growing our food.

Of course, we all lean toward a feeling of optimism when we are young and “invincible.” The possibilities seem endless – the threats, easily conquered. However, farmers, even young ones, see things a little differently. They are optimistic, but they are also pragmatic. Even in the spring, they remain mindful of the challenges they face, such as the growing list of federal regulations that increase the cost and complexity of farming. Availability of labor, water and – especially for younger producers – land are also concerns.

Even so, farmers and ranchers of all ages and types are looking across the land as the weather warms and the days lengthen, and they are thinking that if the weather is right their yields just might set a new record. If prices are good, they might buy a few more acres or fix up the old barn.

It takes hope and courage to begin a new farming season in anticipation of a plentiful harvest and prices good enough to sustain the farm and the family for another year.

With credit, or apologies, to Alexander Pope: Hope springs eternal in the heart of the farmer and rancher.

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Wyoming Crop Improvement Association – Supporting Irrigated Agriculture and a Dry Bean Checkoff

The Wyoming Crop Improvement Association (WCIA) has several objectives listed in their bylaws, but they can be summed up by saying that the WCIA supports Wyoming irrigated agriculture. WCIA does that in many ways. 

In support of the youth of Wyoming, WCIA annually provides up to $3,000 in scholarships to the children of certified seed growers and donates to the Wyoming FFA Foundation. 

WCIA has supported research in both commercial crops and seed crop production. Very few seed crops grown in the state are major crops, so depending on the crop, there is little or no research on pesticides that can be used or agronomic practices. WCIA has provided financial support for research to fill that void, most recently on tall fescue forage and seed production and on dry bean weed control. 

Wyoming has a strong seed industry, and promotion of quality seed helps with not only the marketing of that seed but also educates seed purchasers about the advantages of using quality certified seed. WCIA and the University of Wyoming Seed Certification Service (WSCS) have promoted certified seed use via radio advertisements and personal presentations. They have also partnered with University of Wyoming Extension and supported an educational booth at events such as the Montana Ag Trade Exposition to inform people and promote quality seed. 

WCIA is also actively engaged in legislative activities in Wyoming through its legislative arm, the WCIA Legislative Fund. WCIA worked for several years to get legislative support to relocate the Wyoming State Seed Laboratory from Cheyenne to Powell, where most of the state’s seed industry is located. The benefits of having the lab’s exceptional facilities and staff located where the majority of the state’s seed is produced have exceeded all expectations. 

Finally, but no less importantly, the WCIA membership, which is dominated by Wyoming certified seed producers, acts in an advisory capacity to the University of Wyoming Seed Certification Service to help that program respond to seed industry needs.

WCIA is currently working with legislators, bean producers and bean receivers on the concept of a dry bean checkoff. 

Four years ago, WCIA funded a dry bean chemical incorporation study, as weed control in dry beans continues to be the main challenge for that crop. It proved difficult to get sufficient funding pulled together for a study that would need to be conducted for three years to generate meaningful data that could be published in scientific journals. Those fundraising efforts resulted in discussions last December regarding options to generate funds for future research. 

It was noted that there was a Wyoming dry bean checkoff at one point, and that Colorado, Nebraska and Idaho currently have dry bean checkoffs. Colorado, Nebraska and Idaho use checkoff funds for many things, including research, variety development and consumer promotion and education. 

As stated earlier, securing funding for research on crops  deemed“minor crops” is very difficult. While dry beans are a minor crop according to the USDA and EPA, they are in the top five cash crops in Wyoming. The state typically ranks in the top five states in the U.S. for pinto bean production and in the top eight states for all dry bean production, and the Wyoming Agricultural Statistics Service put the value of the 2012 Wyoming dry bean crop at $37.5 million. A Wyoming dry bean checkoff would support that important production opportunity and hopefully increase income.

After a fair amount of research and writing, we fast forward to April 23, 2014 and the Interim Ag Committee meeting in Worland. Mike Forman, Mike Moore and Keith Kennedy presented a draft bill for consideration by the committee. The draft outlined a system by which the producers and bean purchasers would pay a portion of the final settlement on beans into the fund. The producers would pay 0.34 percent and the purchasers would pay 0.17 percent, for a total of 0.51 percent. Additionally, producers would be able to receive a refund of checkoff dollars upon request. Purchasers could get a refund on beans for which a producer received a refund. 

The dry bean commission would consist of four producers and two handlers and would direct the use of funds. Members would initially be appointed by the Governor but would subsequently be elected by the growers and purchasers. This is key because it puts the people contributing to the fund in charge. 

This concept has worked in other states and is working for the Wyoming Wheat Commission. Thus it is a proven method of directing research dollars to current production problems and opportunities. Based on the last five year’s average production and market price, the checkoff would generate around $150,000 per year.

During the presentation to the Interim Ag Committee in April, support for a dry bean checkoff was questioned. Prior to developing the proposed legislation, direct communication with bean producers and receivers occurred, and there was no stated opposition, which encouraged efforts to date. It still was a valid question, as initial communications on the topic were opportunistic rather than scientific. 

In an effort to better determine support for the concept, WCIA has worked with bean contractors this spring to distribute a grower survey that will determine support for a checkoff. Growers are also encouraged to participate via the internet. The survey and additional information on the proposed checkoff can also be found at

Funding for research dollars at the federal, state and local level is very competitive, and the funding is often for areas with limited applicability to local problems. To put it another way, getting funding for dry bean agronomic research is hard. Research doesn’t happen without funding, so a dry bean checkoff would provide important funding, and with bean growers and buyers making the decisions on where that funding goes, the bean industry can become its own best friend. 

If there are questions about WCIA or the bean checkoff, producers can get answers by calling Mike Moore at 307-754-9815.

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