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In 1962, the McDonnell family started Midland Bull Test with a small group of breeders. At the time, the idea of weighing and measuring cattle wasn’t looked upon favorably by everyone in the cattle industry, but the McDonnell family pushed forward, reaching 56 years of the test this year. 

“We started on a little place on the other side of Billings, Mont.,” says Leo McDonnell, Sr., who notes his family moved to Billings to give the children a chance to attend a larger school. “I couldn’t get out of town fast enough.” 

Starting the test

McDonnell’s father had a penchant for agriculture, working in a variety of facets of the industry, from feed sales to raising cattle and more.

“In the 50s and early 60s, I was pretty young, but they started looking at performance testing,” McDonnell explains. “We wanted to look at major genetic traits that were importance to ranchers economically, like birthweights, weaning weights, cow production, average daily gain and even some carcass traits.”

He continues, “It was pretty radical.”

McDonnell, along with Jack Cooper and Les Holden, both well-established, Hereford ranchers, Dale Davis, Sally Forbes and more were dedicated to improving the industry. 

“It wasn’t met very favorably,” McDonnell says. “Most people still liked to sell cattle on looks, and a lot of it was marketing.” 

While critics challenged the concept of bull testing, McDonnell adds, “My dad says that was what helped for their success – their critics. Of course, today, people who don’t performance test and record their data aren’t in the business, really.”

Evolving

Several decades later, McDonnell said he began to feel the wear of the bull business and the ag industry. 

“It was getting to a point where things were all about marketing,” McDonnell comments. “Genetics was second or third, and marketing was on top.” 

At that point, he also notes his grandchildren were getting older, and he told his wife he was interested in efficiency testing. 

“We started efficency testing because it adds huge value to the industry,” he says. “That put us back to the late 50s and early 60s again. We’re going to be outcasts again.”

For example, the poultry industry’s efficiency has allowed a 250 percent or more improvement, allowing efficiency gains.

On test

At Midland Bull Test, bulls from across the country are gathered in Columbus, Mont., where they are “tested” in a way that puts them on an even playing field. Additionally, the test attempts to mimic a roughage environment. 

Steve Williams, current owner of Midland Bull Test, says, “My primary role is to oversee the operation – feeding, doctoring, working in office, staying on top of health and performance, keeping in touch with consignors, following up with bull buyers and more.”

Traits like weight per day of age, average daily gain and numerous efficiency markers are compared. 

The test provides the opportunity for high efficiency bulls to rise to the top. 

On the range

Jim French, a customer of Midland, says, “I’ve had some of the best bulls that money can buy from Midland. It doesn’t happen very often. Maybe in a lifetime we hope to have a couple really good bulls.”

French explains they hope to continue to develop their cowherd through raising quality heifers, which comes from the best bulls.

“Midland really stands out,” he adds. 

Felton Angus Ranch agrees.

“Midland Bull Test is an asset for our ranch,” says Jim Felton. “They do one thing and one thing only – bulls. That’s it. Whether it’s for a commercial or registered outfit, there’s something at Midland Bull Test for everyone.”

Felton Angus notes that nearly 60 percent of their bull battery has come from Midland Bull Test. 

For ranchers

McDonnell says the primary role of a cow is to harvest the grass available on the ranch, but to do that most effectively, he says, “We’ve got to have the right genetics for the cow and the right genetics for the calf.”

“We also have to have the right genetics for the consumer if we want the industry to keep growing and be number one,” he adds. 

Integrity and honesty are of utmost important for Midland Bull Test.

McDonnell also says, “I think 90 percent of bulls are bought from people, not necessary genetics. They go to bull sales because they trust the people selling bulls.”

  This article was compiled with information from Episode 136 of “Special Cowboy Moments.” Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Mitchell, Neb. – In combination with 28 land grant universities from Georgia to Washington, as well as six USDA agencies, the Livestock Marketing Information Center focuses on market analysis.
    Ag economist Jim Robb, who works with the center, was present at the 2011 Range Beef Cow Symposium in Mitchell, Neb. to give his organization’s opinion of the current beef herd inventory, its causes and effects and where it’s headed.
    “We recently went through the worst economic interaction since the Great Depression,” said Robb. “Things have changed in the consumer part of the picture, and since the recession economic growth in the U.S. has been very slow, and the consumer is spending less.”
    He said time will tell how the recent spending on Black Friday during Thanksgiving weekend will affect consumers.
    “They dipped into their savings more than they have in quite a while,” he noted. “Even though the recession’s over, per capita disposable income has not gone up – it’s actually gone down compared to a few years ago, so consumer don’t feel very good, and that’s part of the long-term economic environment in the United States.”
    When looking at livestock production, Robb said volatility in grain markets is a reality to learn to live with.
    “The cost of gain in the feedyard has changed dramatically, and we think permanently. We think the high cost of feedstuffs is with us to stay. The range in which prices will operate is much different than a few years ago,” he explained.
    Looking at the rest of the world, Robb mentioned the estimate that says there will be a third more people in the world by 2050, and most of that growth will be in India first, China next and the U.S. in third place.
    Robb noted how incomes are rising in the Asian economies.
    “To fulfill the needs of one-third more people, we’ll need to double animal-based protein, and not only is the population going up, but their incomes are, too, and they’ll demand more animal-based products,” he said. “It will take more of everything – more inputs, more fertilizer, more grain – and everything needs to be more efficient than we’ve ever done it before,” he said, adding, “It makes one very optimistic about the long-term animal-based protein from a world perspective.”
    Robb added that, although the United States doesn’t have the largest cowherd, it’s still the largest beef-producing country.
    “Brazil is a major competitor, but they export mostly manufactured beef items, so they don’t compete with our choice beef, and the country is growing and consuming more beef production at home, so the window of opportunity is pretty good for the U.S.,” he said.
    Robb noted that, worldwide, Canada is one of the only countries that is stabilizing its cowherd, although it is still much smaller than a few years ago.
    “Australia is also stabilizing, as they seem to be through their drought. Mexico’s cowherd is still declining severely, and the Argentine cowherd is shrinking because of policy and they continue to take pasture and put it into soybean and corn production,” he explained. “The Russian cowherd, which is dependent on dairy cows, is also shrinking.”
    Of the cattle cycle of years past, Robb said, “The ups and downs aren’t what they used to be, and the length is different, and the duration and amplitude is very hard to specify. This is not the industry it was a few years ago, and it’s not the cyclical industry it was 10, 20 or 30 years ago.”
    Robb said that, historically, cattle producers were able to make management decisions based on the cattle cycle.
    “The cattle cycle is still here, but it’s not the economic driver it was,” he said. “It’s time to bury the cattle cycle.”
    Robb reminded that the U.S. cattle herd is expected to be 30 million head on Jan. 1, 2012, and he said not to forget that a large portion of U.S. beef comes from the dairy industry, even quality beef.
    “Thirty percent of well-fed Holstein steers will grade prime,” he stated. “If you look at our prime beef production, overall about half comes from the dairy industry.”
    Of the market volatility, even from week to week, Robb said calf prices are back up to where they were earlier in 2011, and he mentioned an Oklahoma City auction where in a late-November sale five-weight steer calves brought $12 per hundredweight more than the sale the week before.
    Robb also mentioned that heavyweight yearling prices are setting highs, and he expects cull prices in 2012 to set new record highs.
    Robb said he has an “upside-down T” chart that illustrates the cattle inventory in the United States. It runs from Minnesota south through the Midwest down to the coast, with the bottom bar running from Arizona to Georgia. He said that “T” shape hits the declining portion of the U.S. cowherd, but he said all those areas are declining for different reasons.
    “Twenty-five percent of the nation’s beef cowherd is in extensive drought zones,” he said. “We don’t think some of those cow operations will come back into business. Some will turn into wildlife programs, and others into more intensively farmed ground.”
    To stabilize the cowherd, Robb said that the industry would have to add 300,000 head of replacements, and more than that to get it to grow.
    “Replacement heifers will go down 4.5 percent in 2012, so this is a dramatically shrinking cowherd,” he noted, adding that cow slaughter has been a contributor.
    “On Jan. 1, 2012, the U.S. beef cowherd and total cattle inventory will both be down two percent from the year before,” he stated. “There will be increases in places like Nebraska, but the whole puzzle is that the cowherd is declining.”
    He made the point that, even if producers start to hold back heifers in 2012, it will be 2015 before beef production will actually increase.
    “The drought has driven this, and in the West grassland doesn’t recover in one year from a drought,” he noted, predicting that, at some point, five- to six-weight heifer calves will start to sell at a premium compared to steer calves.
    He added that a subtlety of the business is hydraulic fracturing and the renewed oil and gas booms in the United States.
    “Producers in Texas and Oklahoma are making more money from oil and gas leases than they’ve made in their lifetime. If they’re getting oil money, how high will they push cattle prices?” he questioned. “There’s no constraint to their depth of cash, and they don’t have to go to the bank to borrow money.”
    Robb said he suspects that on Jan. 1, 2013 producers will make $170 to $190 per cow, including pasture costs, and he said he could be underestimating those amounts.
    “Forage is way more valuable than it ever has been, and the key will be to get more production from your acres,” he said. “If you’re going to add cows, you have to figure out how to do it on your existing acreage. This is an opportunity to make money in this business like we haven’t seen in a long time.”
    Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The American Angus Association (AAA) now recognizes Developmental Duplication (DD) as a genetic condition. This simple recessive trait causes the majority of the calves exhibiting DD to be born with additional limbs. 

According to Jonathan Beever, professor of animal science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the duplication is typically of the front legs and originates in the neck and shoulder region. 

With the exception of mortality and calving difficulty, calves with DD often thrive. The extra limbs can be surgically removed. 

High frequency

“The allele frequency among U.S. sires is moderately high, at approximately three percent. This corresponds to the carrier frequency of approximately six percent,” Beever says in his analysis of sires. 

“The study also showed that no homozygous individuals are present in the population,” he continues. “Of course, one would not expect a calf born with five or six legs to become an AI sire. However given the moderate allele frequency, the rarity of affected calves, particularly as reported in the U.S., is somewhat puzzling.”

“Additionally, given the use of specific U.S. sires, now known to be carriers, the frequency of reported calves is also unexpectedly low,” Beever explains. “Thus, we believe these data indicate that calves presenting with polymelia, or additional limbs, at birth are rare events that survive embryonic death.”

Management

The newly adopted policy from the AAA Board of Directors states that producers are not mandated to test potential DD carriers as a precondition of continued or perspective registration. 

A letter released by the Board to producers states that they will assume members will make strategic use of DNA testing in dealing with this genetic condition and follow sound breeding decisions. 

“There are alternatives to mandatory testing, and over the past five years, our members have shown a willingness to embrace them,” the letter from the Board says. “These include a better understanding and acceptance of the ability to manage around a known genetic condition by avoidance of breeding carrier to carrier and by the use of voluntary, strategic DNA testing. Equally important, our commercial breeders also understand and embrace these management principals.”

Angus sires are currently being tested to determine if they are carriers of the allele.  An updated list of sires and their test results can be found at angus.org/Pub/DD/DD_Update08122013.pdf.

Voluntary testing

Angus Genetics, Inc. and GeneSeek have developed a test for DD using DNA samples. The sample types include dried blood, hair, semen, blood tube and tissue samples.

The preferred method requires a blood sample to be drawn out of the ear of the animal and allowed to coagulate on the card prior to mailing. 

Hair samples are required for testing twins. The sample should include a minimum of 20 hairs from the tail switch that have the root bulb attached. Samples must have the root bulb to be a viable sample. Clipped samples will not yield genetic results. 

Additional sample methods include a semen sample and blood tubes.

Thawed semen straws should be taped between cardboard pieces or placed a tube to avoid crushing the sample. Samples should be sent at room temperature.

Blood tube samples filled with six to nine milliliters of blood will also yield genetic results. However, an additional sample fee will be charged with this method. The samples should be shipped overnight with a cold pack in an insulated container. 

Tissue samples can be used to determine if a deceased animal was a carrier. Producers should contact the testing company to obtain instructions for testing. 

Kelsey Tramp is the assistant editor at the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

The odds of developing a heifer and still having her in the herd in four years is about 60 percent. The cost of keeping and developing those young cows is tremendous when there is such a large drop-off in pregnancy rates. 

However, with careful nutritional management, ranchers may be able to improve their odds, according to a beef cattle nutritionist with the University of Nebraska. 

Nutrition management

Travis Mulliniks explains to producers that focusing on nutritional management during two key periods can improve the chances of heifers cycling and becoming pregnant. 

About 60 days before calving, producers need to supply the right nutrients in the right amount because it impacts fetal growth, Mulliniks reports. 

The second critical period is 50 to 100 days after calving when the heifers are starting to approach the breeding season. 

“It is important to make sure the nutrition program is up to par because it influences the pregnancy rate of the cows,” he says.

Role of forages

Forage base is the first priority for the cow/calf producer. 

“Limiting intake during critical times can cause a decrease in production, especially if it is before the breeding season,” Mulliniks says. “Many times, there will be a drop in pregnancy rates that can be attributed to the quantity of forage fed-not the quality.” 

Limiting intake is not something Mulliniks recommends unless the cattle are in a dry lot, where their feed intake is monitored. 

Requirements

Another important factor is determining the cow’s requirements based on its physiological stage – whether she is dry, pregnant or lactating – age, climatic stressors and activity. 

“Cows that are in large pastures and have to walk a long way will have different nutritional requirements,” he says.

Cows will prioritize their nutritional needs with body maintenance coming first, followed by reproduction, lactation and storage. 

“The first limiting factor is energy, followed by protein, vitamins and minerals,” Mulliniks says. 

Critical times

Mulliniks encourages producers to feed supplements during critical times. 

“If there is a supplement that will change animal performance in the future, we want to feed it as long as marginal revenue outweighs marginal cost,” he explains. 

If pregnancy rates are already 92 to 94 percent, ranchers may not get much benefit from feeding a supplement to get a 95 percent pregnancy rate, he adds.

With reproduction being the main factor limiting production efficiency in a beef cow herd, optimizing reproduction with nutritional management is five times more important than other traits like milk production and calf growth. 

Research 

A University of Nebraska study showed the oldest heifers cycled earlier, and of those heifers, 81 percent calved within the first 21 days of the calving season. Mulliniks says those heifers that calve earlier have a big advantage in improving their longevity in the herd and may be more profitable. 

Chances of earlier conception can be achieved by turning heifers and young cows into a fresh, ungrazed pasture right before breeding. If the pasture has been dormant, it will allow the cattle to graze selectively, which can increase their diet quality 200 percent or the equivalent of two pounds per day of crude protein supplement. 

This “flushing” concept only improves digestibility to 75 percent for about two weeks. It will then drop down to 60 to 65 percent for the next few weeks, Mulliniks adds.

Sub-irrigated meadow regrowth can also be utilized as a grazing strategy to flush heifers at a critical point in their reproduction. 

“Use it to increase their nutritional value,” he says.

Range versus feedlot

Mulliniks shares a study where pregnancy rates were 10 percent higher in heifers developed on low-input range versus in a feedlot. 

During this study, 68 percent of the heifers range-raised were still in the herd at five years old, compared to 42 percent of the feedlot-raised heifers. 

“That is a lot of difference in retention based on how we managed heifers for 100 days,” Mulliniks says. “It shows us that how we handle heifers sets them up to how they will perform as first- and second-calf heifers.” 

“Heifers developed in a low-input grazing setting may be advantageous in maintaining a positive energy balance or be adaptable to a negative energy balance through the breeding season in many range settings,” he continues. 

Glucose

Mulliniks explains the ruminal fermentation of native range microbial crude protein is inadequate for the nutritional requirements in growing cows. 

The imbalance of the acetate to propionate ratio limits the available glucose for the cow and can make her a Type II diabetic at certain times in her reproductive cycle. Cows don’t have the glucose spike after eating that humans do, because 90 to 95 percent of the glucose from fermentation will be utilized by the rumen microbes, he says. 

For the cow to utilize acetate, it has to have glucose, he says.

To combat the problem, Mulliniks recommends, during times of high stress, feeding the cows supplements high in bypass protein and high in undegradable protein. 

“It has a massive benefit in helping the cow get through highly stressful times, and a big benefit in future responses. Pregnancy rates can increase by feeding rumen undegradable protein, or bypass protein, versus feeding a rumen degradable protein source,” he adds.

Feeding strategy

With most cows gestating 280 days, they need to be ready to rebreed 80 to 85 days post-partum. 

“The majority of young cows will be hard pressed to recover and start cycling by day 80. We need to focus on how to get these cows to cycle early to maintain the calving interval,” he says.

Mulliniks suggested finding ways to get them to gain body weight as soon as possible after calving. 

“The pregnancy rates in young cows are lower due to the inability to consume enough forage or energy,” he explains. “They can’t meet maintenance, lactation and growth requirements.”

By repatriating nutrients away from lactation toward growth and maintenance, young cows may cycle sooner. Adding a source of glucose to the diet can help, he says. Other options are ionophores like Bovatec or Rumensin. 

“They have the same influence of increasing rumenal propionate to produce glucose,” he adds.

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Boehringer  IngelheimVetmedica (BIVI) is launching a new Range Ready (RR) Quality Feeder Calf Health program, which is designed to help producers verify their use of a quality animal health program while aiding buyers in finding cattle that have been properly vaccinated and pre-conditioned.
“I spent 9 years in the field, and this was something I thought about a lot. When I entered the marketing side of BIVI we put a team in place and started building this program from the ground up. We launched it at the NCBA Annual Trade Show and Convention this January, and since then our reps have been working at the grassroots level to inform producers, vets, dealers and sale barn owners of this opportunity,” explains BIVI Brand Manager Monica Porter.
One key aspect of the program is its user-friendly design that keeps the producer in mind.
“Producers can go to RangeReady.com, and click on the Feeder Calf Program link on the right hand side. Once there, they can choose to enroll their herd, which consists of entering a name and address. From there they can leave, or continue and enter their animals by tag number,” explains Porter. “A lot of time and energy went into making this simple and easy to use. They can enter and leave the website, and add information, at their convenience. They don’t have to do everything at once.”
As of press time, animals had to be entered individually by tag number. But, beginning the second week in March, producers will be able to enter a range of tag numbers.
“They will be able to type in one starting number, then put in a hyphen, and follow with the ending number,” notes Porter. “After entering the tag numbers, there are a series of drop down boxes where they can select the BIVI products they have administered to their calves. They will be asked to select all the products they used, and will need the serial number off the vaccine bottle for verification, along with the vaccine’s expiration date and the date they worked their calves.”
After completing the list of vaccinations that calves have received , the producer can print off a certificate and pass that along when he sells his calves. Producers are also expected to have calves that are entered in the program to be weaned for 45 days and bunk-broke.
“We are also working with Western Livestock Video Auction, and are very excited about that opportunity. Our RR program will be in their catalogs, and they will likely be using the RR logo on lots that are enrolled in the program,” notes Porter.
She adds that the RR program is an umbrella, under which the feeder calf program is one component.
“We’re most excited about being the first company to offer the producer, vet and livestock dealer with a set of herd health management tools that can be used to help the entire herd from birth on. Under the RR umbrella there is also a Health Warranted Breeding Stock Program designed for seedstock producers.
“Most of these producers start out working their cattle without knowing their destiny. They may plan on keeping an animal in a group as a bull or replacement heifer, but not every animal will meet their selection criteria. At weaning they may make the decision to pull certain animals from the registered side and market them through a traditional marketing channel. If they have been using BIVI products from birth, at weaning those animals that are pulled off can go right into the RR Feeder Calf Program,” explains Porter.
“Those bulls and heifers that are kept can transition into the RR Health Warranted Breeding Stock Program, and they will have a limited health warranty that covers a disease caused by an antigen covered in the program. The limited health warranty lasts for six months after the last round of vaccinations, and is transferable,” says Porter.
As an example, she provides the scenario of vaccinating bulls a month prior to an operation’s annual production sale. On sale day the breeder can transfer that animal’s warranty to the buyer, and he will have it for the remaining five months.
“With the breeding stock program we also have a warranty on our Express FP, stating that if an animal gives birth to a permanently infected BVD animal, and she tests negative, we will reimburse the producer for market value of the calf,” notes Porter.
“From the program point of view, we offer something that starts at birth and goes all the way up. Pyramid 5 + Presponse SQ, and Alpha 7, a producer can cover all the major antigens with only two syringes, and that really increases convenience.
“We are most proud of our program for the people. We want for each operation to be able to pass their farm or ranch on to the next generation. If they give us the chance to partner on the animal health side, we are happy to be a small contributor to the  operation’s continued success. This RR program is designed to support everything an operation has been working on for generations, and become a partner in their health management goals,” says Porter.
Heather Hamilton is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..