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News Roundup – for Jun. 13, 2011

IDENTITY

TRACEABILITY GETS A PASSING GRADE IN ALBERTA TRIAL

The final report on Alberta’s traceability trial at six auction markets basically shows the electronic identification (EID) tag readers installed by Integrated Traceability Solutions (ITS), can read functioning tags at “the speed of commerce.” The real challenge is making sure animals arrive at the markets with functioning EID tags.

From September 2009 through June 2010 the Alberta Agriculture study monitored how well 248,335 cattle were traced through VJV Foothills Livestock Auction, Southern Alberta Livestock Exchange, Perlich Bros. Auction Market, Provost Livestock Exchange, Stettler Auction Mart, and Sekura Auctions using three scanning systems. Four markets used high-flow systems with four scanning panels on either side of a five-foot alley. One market used dual panels in single alleys inside pre-sort barns plus a six-foot wand for pen reading. And one used 10-foot wands held from a catwalk over the unloading area in conjunction with a high-flow system.

Overall the read rates were over the acceptable minimum rate of 95 per cent — 97 with multiple panels on wide alleys, 98 for single-alley systems and nearly 99 per cent for wand readers — at acceptable speeds, with functioning tags.

The speed of commerce for this trial was set as the time a market normally needs to sell and deliver cattle up to the point they are scanned. In most cases, the distance cattle moved inside the market was increased slightly but not enough to affect the time spent unloading and receiving or the speed and length of the sales.

The tags were another matter. A little over 2,200 of the 15,171 lots (about 18 per cent of the cattle) had to be rehandled because of issues with the tags. Nearly 11,000 animals (4.3 per cent) had to be tagged. Roughly half of those were cows and bulls. Mostly the tags were missing but a small number were unregistered, didn’t work right or were improperly placed in the ear. Dual tags were another niggling problem that slowed down the work.

Tags were also an issue when it came to reporting the data to the Canadian Livestock Tracking System (CLTS) database in Calgary. Only 88 per cent of cattle run through the markets made it into the CLTS. Nearly 13,000 tags (4.4 per cent) scanned OK but were rejected by the CLTS computer, usually because the distributor had not properly allocated the tags to the producer.

About 46 per cent of the cattle with readable tags were age verified in the process. Almost 3,000 were incorrectly age verified.

The report also noted significant differences in the performance of different CCIA-accredited tags used in Alberta. Some consistently performed at an exceptionally high level, over 99 per cent, “while others were consistent underachievers.”

It total it took 8,549 staff hours to perform 328,634 scans at 307 sales. The overall read rate at the six markets was 93.97 per cent, but that improved to 96.95 per cent when animals with tag issues were removed. Lot sizes ranged from one to 595 head.

The study also estimated the cost of implementing movement reporting capability to all markets in Alberta. They looked at annual capital and operating costs if markets scanned cattle in and out, linking the information to a permit or uploading it directly to CLTS, and markets scanning cattle only as they arrive.

They also looked at the costs of markets owning and operating their own scanning systems versus markets owning the equipment but contracting the equipment vendor or a third party to operate it, as well as the equipment vendor owning and operating the system.

The market-owned/operated and the vendor-owned/operated were the least-cost models. Capital costs were higher and operating costs lower for the market-owned and -operated model than for the vendor-owned/ operated model. The operating costs over the five years, excluding tagging fees, worked out to $1.87 to $1.92 for the market-owned/operated model and $2.12 to $2.30 for the vendor-owned/ operated one.

The report didn’t include the cost of integrating the scanning system with business management software, which will ultimately be necessary if traceability is to become accepted as a normal part of doing business. Nor does it address who will pay for the service over the long term and how to avoid putting auction markets at a competitive disadvantage to other methods of selling cattle directly that won’t be part of the traceability network.

The report makes a number of recommendations to improve traceability operations.

To read the full Alberta Auction Market Pilot Project reports, visit www.agriculture.alberta.ca/traceability.

FORAGE

NEW HOLLAND REISSUES HAYMAKER’S HANDBOOK

New Holland has released a revised third edition of its HAYMAKER’S HANDBOOK. First published in 1966 the practical “how-to” guidebook has proved popular with farmers and ranchers.

The company says this latest edition combines the latest university research with practical farmer know-how and company expertise to help anyone from novices to experienced producers understand the latest techniques in quality forage production.

To order or read an excerpt from the handbook go to www.haymakershandbookl.com.

SEEDSTOCK

FED HEREFORD PROJECT EXTENDED TO 2011

The Canadian Hereford Association has extended its Fed Hereford Project into 2011.

The project runs in conjunction with Dr. Kee Jim of Feedlot Health Management Services and is designed to return actual carcass data to the producer and the Canadian Hereford Association for genetic evaluations.

G.K. Jim Farms purchases the Hereford feeder cattle based on a three-week Canfax average price and provides the carcass data. Interested parties may retain differing percentages of ownership under the program. To be eligible the cattle should be at least half Hereford with a registered sire or dam.

Carcass data from straightbred Herefords with two registered parents may be included in the EPD evaluation.

In 2009 producers submitted 1,100 head to the program and some 700 carcass records were returned. Some carcass data was lost in this early run due to computer conversion issues at Cargill in High River.

Of those that were reported 96.9 per cent of the steers and 98.4 per cent of the heifers graded AA or better; 89.4 per cent of steers were yield grade 2 or better and 58.5 per cent heifers yielded yield grade 3 or better.

The CHA office was still compiling the 2010 results as this issue went to press.

For details contact the CHA toll free at (888) 824-2329.

DISEASE

FOOT-AND-MOUTH STUDY — SMALLER CULLS MAY BE NEEDED

According to Reuters U.K. scientists have discovered that cattle with the foot-and-mouth virus are infectious for a very short time, hinting that the mass culling previously used to reduce the disease’s spread may be avoided in future.

The scientists in a paper published in the journal Science found that detecting the virus in a cow’s blood does not necessarily mean the animal is infectious when the sample is taken. Their research indicates a cow with FMD is only infectious for 1.7 days.

Their work at Britain’s Pirbright Laboratory indicates FMD could be diagnosed about 24 hours before an animal becomes infectious, raising the possibility that farmers might have time to cull infected animals before they transmit the virus.

Of course it could be some years before these findings are translated into new disease control methods capable of handling large-scale outbreaks. As a first step the researchers need to come up with a reliable tool for pre-clinical diagnosis of FMD on farms.

MARKETING

FEEDLOT CAPACITY SHRINKING

More of the strains from the shrinking size of Canada’s cattle herd were revealed in May by a Canfax report on feedlot finishing capacity in Western Canada.

The market-reporting arm of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association now lists 201 finishing feedlots in Alberta and Saskatchewan with over 1,000-head capacity, five per cent fewer than made the list in 2010.

Total bunk capacity in the two provinces shrank by 0.5 per cent to 1,689,080 head.

Canfax research analyst Brenna Grant says the drop is due to feedlots closing or shifting from finishing to back-grounding calves. All of the losses took place in Saskatchewan where finishing capacity dropped by 26 per cent or 43,100 head to 123,200. The finishing capacity in Alberta by comparison expanded by 36,230 head or 2.4 per cent to 1. 56 million head.

In 2008 the combined finishing capacity of the two provinces was just a bit under 1.75 million.

This year’s demographic survey was expanded to count the number of operators as well as the number of lots. In Alberta 172 operators are managing 185 lots, indicating some remaining lots have been leased out.

Writing in his weeklyCanadian Cattle Buyernewsletter George Morris Centre analyst, Kevin Grier went one step further and compared the current finishing capacity to western calf numbers which have been shrinking by an average of four per cent per year over the past four years.

Looking back 12 years he says the ratio of calves to feedlot capacity peaked at 2.3 to one in 2005. In 2011, it is at a 12-year low at 1.85 to one.

“The trend has to be of concern to feedlot operators and packers,” says Grier. “Feedlots tend to turn cattle about two times per year. If the western calf inventory numbers are reasonably accurate, it suggests that there are not enough cattle for the current feedlot capacities. At the very least, the data demonstrate that there is cause for concern in the next couple of years.

“The feedlot capacity and inventory numbers also demonstrate the importance of keeping cattle on the Prairies, as opposed to exported. In that regard, the feed spread on the Prairies is playing a huge, positive role over the past several months.”

In the last nine months, he says U.S. corn prices have been increasing at a compound monthly rate of nine per cent compared to three per cent on Alberta barley.

“While U.S. prices have soared, Alberta barely remains abundant and comparatively cheap. The western feed market is facing declining hog numbers, more wheat feeding and shorter cattle on feed numbers.

The net result is that Alberta cattle feeders have much greater buying leverage than U.S. cattle feeders.”

Trade data shows the feeder cattle aren’t going to the U.S. Exports are down 43 per cent compared to the first quarter of 2010.

At the same time placements in Alberta and Saskatchewan feedlots were down by three per cent on May 1, the fourth decline in as many months.

“The net result of the lower placements of course is pending lower marketings. Declining marketings are the last thing that numbers-starved packers need,” says Grier.

LAND

CANADA’S FARMLAND VALUES KEEP RISING: FCC

Farm Credit Canada says the average value of farmland across the country rose by more than five per cent in 2010, with values in Ontario, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island leading the way.

Given the variations in land prices and uses within regions FCC doesn’t try to provide average farmland values in dollars per acre, but instead tracks average changes in farmland values.

Canada-wide, the average value of farmland rose 2.1 per cent in the last six months of 2010, following an increase of 3.0 per cent in the first six months of the year.

Prince Edward Island recorded the highest average increase during the second half of 2010 at 3.2 per cent, following seven years of flat or decreasing values.

Saskatchewan farmland rose 2.7 per cent for an average increase of 0.5 per cent per month over the whole year. The increase came largely from sales in a couple of rural municipalities in the southern half of the province where a demand for good-quality land in lentil-producing areas pushed up the overall average. With last year’s spring flooding and unseeded acres, land values were relatively stable in the rest of the province. Purchasers from other countries were another contributing factor.

Stronger potato prices led to an average increase of 2.4 per cent in New Brunswick.

Farmland values in Ontario also rose 2.4 per cent in the second half of the year for a total average monthly increase of 0.6 per cent in 2010, the highest in Canada.

Alberta farmland values rose an average 1.5 per cent during the same time, following gains of 2.9 and 3.8 per cent in the two previous six-month periods.

“Activity was ‘generally stable’ in the province’s north as it recovered from the 2009 drought, and was steady along the Highway 2 corridor between Calgary and Edmonton,” FCC said.

Farmland values in Manitoba increased an average 1.3 per cent, following gains of 3.4 and 5.9 per cent in the two previous periods. Values rose an average 0.7 per cent per month during the past two years, the highest such monthly average across the country.

Manitoba’s Interlake and beef-producing areas saw “limited or no increase,” due mainly to wet spring and summer conditions. In Manitoba’s southeast, continued depopulation in the hog sector “could have affected land sales, but demand remained steady as dairy farmers sought more land for nutrient management purposes,” FCC said.

Quebec farmland values rose an average 0.9 per cent during the second half of 2010, following gains of 2.3 and 1.3 per cent in the two previous reporting periods, and remains the only province that hasn’t experienced a decrease in its average farmland values since FCC began reporting them.

British Columbia farmland values increased an average 0.4 per cent in the second half, after slipping 0.9 per cent during the first half of 2010 and flatlining in the second half of 2009. The Peace River region saw a more active market, but mainly in areas close to the communities of Dawson Creek and Fort St. John due to strength in the natural resource sector.

IDENTIFICATION

REPORT THOSE LOST TAGS

If your cattle are losing their approved RFID tags the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA) is asking that you let them know about it.

The simplest way to do that is to fill in a tag-related complaint form online. Just type in www.canadaid.ca

and click on the “About Us” section.

The form is designed to zero in on what causes these failures. Fences, bale twine and bale feeders are all known risks for snagging tags.

Tags put in with the wrong applicator or placed in the wrong spot in the ear are other common sources of failures. Paul Laronde, the CCIA’s tag and technology manager, says tags that are put in correctly don’t fall out if they don’t get snagged on anything. When there are problems, “it’s that sort of collision between cows, tags and the management of cattle.”

Exposure to parasiticides or UV rays also deteriorates plastic. Whatever the cause, Laronde says lost tags is the single biggest complaint he gets from producers. It’s his job to check them out and find solutions.

One way he does that is by conducting various audits on the six CCIA-approved tags to ensure the manufacturers are continuing to meet the CCIA standards and that their tags are still up to the task.

If you fill in one of those forms Laronde may call and ask you to send in samples of the problem tags. A tag broken in a certain way usually indicates if it was snagged and broken on twine or fencing. When it’s clear that the plastic has deteriorated, that’s the fault of the tag and Laronde brings those tags to the attention of the manufacturer.

All RFID tags are tested against CCIA standards before they are approved. The standard was revised in 2006 and is again being reviewed to keep pace with changes in tag design. The plastic in tags today is exposed to accelerated aging through UV and chemical exposure. That wasn’t done previously.

During an annual audit Laronde buys approved tags and taggers at retail outlets and tests the electronics, physical strength and readability of the tags in a laboratory setting. The manufacturer pays for the test.

As part of the audit he picks up retired tags from the packers and runs them through the scanner to make sure they still work.

Last year Laronde found one brand where the cap wore off prematurely because the pin was too long which meant the stud could be pulled out and the tag reapplied to another animal. He’s since identified that problem to the manufacturer so they can find a solution and remain on the CCIA’s approved list of suppliers.

CCIA also has a tag retention trial underway on community pastures in Saskatchewan. Calves were brought in from Ontario and Western Canada and tagged by a professional crew on the pastures. The steers will be monitored for two years and breeding animals for five years or however long they remain on the pasture.

The CCIA is also encouraging the manufacturers to look at RFID tag designs other than the standard round button. As a result, a couple of new tags are being tested that Laronde says look like they might offer some answers to the retention issue. “We’re working to make the situation better,” he said. Although progress is not going to happen overnight, what is clear is that producers want tags that stay in, period. Laronde noted that being offered replacement tags doesn’t really sit well with producers because the time and effort involved in retagging an animal is viewed as a drain on production.

GRAZING

THE OPEN RANGE GOES VIRTUAL

Our world of electronic conveniences has now reached the cow pasture. In the not-so-distant future, landscapes may be dotted only with virtual fences and cattle will be herded with global positioning system (GPS) technology. Of course, as with most electronics, how long the battery will last is still an issue. In this case, the amount of battery power a bovine can carry on the collar around its neck limits the use of technology.

The May issue of Rangeland Ecology &Management brings this future closer through a study that employed GPS and automated animal control (AAC) systems as an alternative to physical fences. The study tested a discontinuous use of AAC — the devices were activated only 25 per cent of the time — to reduce power consumption.

The goal of this project was to modify grazing behaviours of cattle. Livestock and rangeland management includes ensuring a stocking rate that the land can support, protecting areas from overgrazing, and targeting grazing to reduce fuel that can create wildfires. This is usually accomplished with physical fencing.

This study, conducted in Queensland, Australia, tested the effectiveness of virtual fencing on four groups of Brahman steers. Each steer was fitted with a collar containing a GPS receiver, a sensory stimulus device that created a buzzing sound, and another stimulus device that produced a one-second electrical pulse.

Each group of cattle was placed in a paddock that featured a supplemental feeder at one end. At first, the animals were given unlimited access to the entire enclosure. Then a restricted zone around the desirable food source was delimited and discontinuous AAC — a five-minute burst of stimuli followed by a random zero-to-30-minute interval of no stimuli — was applied to control the cattle’s behaviour. It was expected that through negative reinforcement the animals would progressively learn to avoid the area.

Overall, the study showed a 97 per cent reduction in the use of the restricted zone by the cattle. This finding provides evidence that discontinuous use of AAC is sufficient to effectively modify the grazing behaviour of cattle. The success of this method of reinforcement will help to overcome energy supply limitations and make AAC applications for cattle a commercially viable option.

The full text of the article is available online at http://www.srmjournals.org/doi/full/10.2111/ REM-D-10-00087.1.

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