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Premium Heifer Program Sees Success
By Scott Lake, UW Livestock Extension Specialist   
    This past year, the Wyoming Business Council and the University of Wyoming teamed up to develop the Wyoming Premium Heifer Program (WPHP).  The program has drawn a lot of interest from producers looking for a good marketing opportunity for their bred heifers, as well as interested buyers from all over the West and Midwestern regions.  
    John Henn of the Wyoming Business Council advertised aggressively in trade shows throughout Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Wyoming and Kansas, as well as placed several ads in regional publications, both online and print editions. The sale is tentatively scheduled to sell almost 2,000 head of bred and replacement females between the November and January sales.
Wyoming premium heifers
    The objective of this program is to develop and market a source of quality replacement heifer calves and bred heifers that are produced and managed under a set of guidelines to meet the requirements of producers nationally.  Through the verification of procedures by documentation provided by participating producers, buyers across the country will be assured that the certified animals are managed, raised, and bred as outlined in the program.  The intention of the program is to provide an outlet for producers of all sizes to capitalize on market premiums.  
    The first sale was on Nov. 14, with nearly 400-bred heifers sold in a special internet video sale run through Torrington Livestock Auctions.  Results from the first sale were very positive.  
    The sale averaged $1,318 per head and ranged from $1,235 to $1,375.  The average of Wyoming bred heifers sold through other programs and auctions during the two-week time period around the WPHP sale was $1,295, with a range from $975 to $1,545.  
    Although this was the first sale for the program, a premium of $20 to 30 per head was realized, compared to other local markets.  Additionally, many of the cattle in other sales were not exclusively video sales. Therefore, additional transportation and commission fees were likely incurred.  Cattle from the WPHP were delivered as far away as Iowa, Oklahoma and South Dakota.  Thus, it appears the aggressive marketing strategy of the Wyoming Business Council had a positive affect.  It is our anticipation that as the program grows and gains a reputation and notoriety that the premium will continue to increase.  
State of the industry
    The beef cattle industry is experiencing the lowest cow numbers since the early 1950s.  The 2011 calf crop was the lowest since 1950 and 2012s calf crop was estimated to be 1.9 percent smaller.  Currently feeder cattle and calf supply outside feedlots is down two million head compared to two years ago.  
    The current calf and feeder numbers create an alternative market opportunity for cow-calf producers for replacement heifers and bred heifers.  With the limited feeder cattle supply over the next three to five years, several factors will increase the value of heifers.  
    The feeding segment of the industry will be competing for heifers as cow-calf producers rebuild or expand their herds from the southern plains to the north.  CattleFax projects the prices for bred cows will increase dramatically in 2013.  
    The opportunity and timing is ideal for cow-calf producers to take advantage of this premium market.  Adding value to replacement heifers and bred heifers through a structured management and marketing program can provide potential buyers a source of females of known production practices and genetics.
    If Mother Nature cooperates and the region gets moisture, the market for heifers next year could be tremendous.  Plan now for marketing opportunities, no matter which outlet you chose.  
    It is difficult to develop a program and guidelines that everyone can meet or agrees with.  However, we are continually trying to look at every guideline with in the program and make sure it fits with the best production practices for Wyoming producers.  The new guidelines for 2013 are posted at  
    For more information contact Scott Lake, Livestock Extension Specialist, University of Wyoming Department of Animal Science, at 307-766-3892 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or John Henn, Livestock and Meat Marketing Program Manager, Wyoming Business Council Agribusiness Division at 307-777-2847 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Ranch Profitability Focus Areas
By Dallas Mount, UW Livestock Extension Educator

    What items have the greatest impact on your ranch’s profitability? OK – let’s take the ones off the table that you have very little control over, like weather and national market trends. Now, can you try and put the major items that affect profitability in order from top to bottom on their relative impact on your operation?
    Next comes the question that may cause some discomfort. Where do you spend most of your management time? Do the items you spend most of your management time line up pretty well with the items that have the greatest impact on your profitability? If they don’t I’d suggest you are in the majority.
    Those of us who work in agriculture usually have the benefit of being our own boss, but with that comes the danger that we spend most of our time working on the things we enjoy, rather than the items that have the most impact on profitability.
    I’m not suggesting that we ignore all the things that are not on our top five list or that we completely abandon the items of ranching that we enjoy. I am suggesting that, if you recognize your ranch business is not giving an important area the management emphasis it deserves, you should develop a plan to address this. Perhaps there is someone else on your ranch team that is waiting in the wings for an opportunity to have meaningful input into the management of the ranch? Maybe this is an opportunity to involve this person?
    In my experience assisting ranchers in conducting cost of production analysis over the past several years, I believe there are several areas that for most cow/calf producers should be in their list of top five areas.
    1. Fed feed – Most people agree that feed accounts for 60 percent of the annual costs of maintaining a cow. In my experience, the more of the feed is made up of fed feed rather than grazed feed, the larger your total feed bill will be. I would challenge you spend a substantial amount of management time trying to reduce your fed feed bill.
    2. Replacement cost or cow depreciation costs – These can be hidden costs, since most ranchers don’t write a check for cow depreciation or purchase outside replacements, but even if you raise your own replacements, they make up a major expense. Most ranches can spend $150 per cow per year on this item very easily. Investigating ways to lower this expense by either increasing the value of cull animals or decreasing the cost of developing replacements can be time well spent.
    3. Rangeland productivity and harvest efficiency – By improved grazing management, both of productivity and harvest efficiency of rangelands can be improved, and with the current value of forage, this can reap huge financial rewards. Sure, fences and stock water developments cost money, but they can often be paying investments.
    4. Other land business ventures – This varies greatly from one ranch to another, but it is not uncommon for a ranch to generate more income annually from non-ag uses of the land business. How are you doing about marketing and managing these income generators?
    5. Whole ranch enterprise analysis – This means taking the time to look at the long-run profitability of each major enterprise on your ranch, and perhaps making decisions to eliminate those enterprises that frequently lose money. A whole ranch enterprise analysis can seem like a daunting task the first few times you do it, but there are plenty of resources to help you accomplish this. One online guide is available at
    Hopefully my list will challenge you to make your own list. Perhaps your items are quite a bit different from mine.
    If my crystal ball is correct, this year and the next few years are going to present some very challenging times to manage the cost side of a ranch business. When you include all the cash and non-cash costs of running a cow, I’m having a very difficult time finding much profit in this business, even with the relatively high calf prices we have been experiencing. I think aggressive business management will be necessary to make these operations profitable in the next few years.
    I hope you have a great holiday season and look forward to seeing many of you at the meetings next month.
    Dallas Mount is the University of Wyoming Livestock Extension Educator and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
The Cold Advisory for Newborn Livestock
John Griffith, Warning Coordination Meteorologist, NWS

    Nationally, approximately 95,000 calves die each year due to cold stress resulting in an estimated $38 million loss to producers. In discussions between ranchers and the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Glasgow, Mont. there was considerable interest from local ranchers in the possibility of a NWS product specific to the effect of cold weather on newborn livestock. One rancher stated, “Calves are our saleable product, so no calves, no sales, no income.”
    During the critical weeks of calving, generally mid-January to mid-April in the high plains, ranchers heavily depend upon advanced warning of extreme cold in order to move livestock to more sheltered areas and minimize mortality rates of newborn calves, specifically those less than 24-hours old because these calves are least able to regulate their body temperature. Improvement in the advanced warning of potentially hazardous conditions will enable producers to more effectively implement life-saving measures to minimize losses.
    The research that went into this Cold Advisory for Newborn Livestock (CANL) system was developed with a partnership between NWS Glasgow and the University of Miami. As the study evolved, it was shown this CANL system would work for all newborn livestock and was expanded from calves to include all newborn livestock. It also works for all areas of the country because newborn livestock are not acclimated prior to being born.  The purpose of this product is to provide users with a decision support tool that could help reduce newborn livestock losses due to hazardous weather.
    The CANL is presented using graphics that show the risk of cold exposure to newborn livestock. The risk is related to wind chill temperature, precipitation and humidity.  The bio-thermal responses of newborn livestock are not acclimated to the environment they are born into, and until they are dried off and warmed up, there is increased risk for them to succumb to weather.
    Research and discussion with the ranching community show the key elements they are worried about is wind chill, accumulating precipitation and the ability for the animal to dry off, or the presence sun versus clouds. The categories range from “none,” when there is no risk, to “extreme,” for rare and particularly dangerous situations.
    This will be the second year that the National Weather Service in Cheyenne will be providing this product.  At this time, the CANL is considered an experimental product by the NWS and not all offices provide this service.  In the winter of 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 it was used at five NWS offices across the High Plains. While reviewing the recent 2010 USDA livestock loss report, which is compiled every five years, the overwhelming losses of livestock due to weather, both heat and cold, came to light.
    Looking at the 2010 report, across the entire U.S., cattle and calf losses totaled 13 percent of all non-predator losses, or a total of 489,000 livestock at a value of $274.1 million.
    Cattle deaths generally occur in both heat and cold, but newborn livestock typically are born in the late winter and spring, bringing the threat of wind chill and precipitation that can kill them.
    Weather also indirectly leads to losses by exacerbating respiratory problems and calving problems. Respiratory problems made up 28 percent of those losses, or 1.1 million calves, for a total of $643 million dollars, and calving problems makes up another 13.1 percent of losses, totaling another $274.6 million dollars.
    The weather is the number one non-predatory loss of calves in Alabama, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming. In another six states, weather was listed as the second highest cause of non-predatory deaths.
    Looking at other livestock, the 2010 USDA data for sheep and lambs for the entire U.S. was also reviewed. The majority of non-predator losses, 21 percent, were due to weather, totaling, 81,333 sheep and lambs at a value of over $13 million.
    South Dakota led the nation in losses with 6,600 sheep and 19,000 lambs lost due to weather.  In addition to South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wyoming, were in the top 10 states for the number of lamb losses due to weather.
    The Cold Advisory for Newborn Livestock forecast is available at

Birdsfoot trefoil is a short-lived perennial forage legume. Its origin is the Mediterranean region. It has deep root system, fine stem and more leaves than alfalfa.
    Birdsfoot trefoil grows up to 30 inches tall if it is an erect type, or up to 12 inches or more if prostrate type. The leaves of the plant do not have any hairiness. The flower color is bright yellow. Seed pod color is brown to purple, and seed pods radiate from the stem, resembling a bird’s foot, hence the plant’s name.
    Under proper management, they have the ability to naturally reseed.
Planting Birdsfoot trefoil
    Birdsfoot trefoil does very well in humid, temperate regions but can also be grown in areas and valleys with dependable winter snow cover. It is adapted to wide range of soils and has good tolerance to acidity, alkalinity, low fertility, drought and poor drainage. It is primarily used for pasture and has good compatibility with grass mixtures.
    Birdsfoot trefoil is slow to establish. However, once it establishes, it produces a thick stand and gets thicker from year two and onwards.
    Seeds need to be planted in spring or late summer at the rate of four to eight pounds per acre. In case of mixture with grass, a lower rate of seeding, only three to six pounds per acre, should be used.
    Planting depth is also important. Planting too deep is not recommended.     Planting depths of 0.125 to 0.25 inches should be maintained.
    Seeds also need to be inoculated with appropriate bacterial inoculants for nitrogen fixation.
    Birdsfoot trefoil is not very shade tolerant, and competition with weeds and other plants needs to be controlled.
Use for livestock
    At early flowering, grazing may begin. It does not cause bloat, so frequent grazing can be done. However, a rest period is required, so grazing periods shouldn’t be too close.
    It is well suited for stockpiling because it maintains high quality forage after flowering.
    It may be cut for hay at early flowering stage, but leaf shatter may be an issue in field drying. Two to three cuts are possible, depending on the locations and weather conditions.
    It is not advisable to harvest four to six weeks before killing frost.
    Natural reseeding is important to maintain good stands and productivity. Birdsfoot trefoil needs to be allowed to produce some seeds each year.
    Fewer pests have been reported for birdsfoot trefoil compared to alfalfa. Crown and root rots may be a problem in some soils which may weaken or kill plants. Nematodes may also be a problem in sandy soils. Therefore, natural reseeding is required to maintain the stands.
    Anowar Islam is an assistant professor and the UW Extension Forage Agroecologist in the Department of Plant Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. He can be reached at 307-766-4151 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..