Keeping up with the grain cart

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While corn growers employ technology including GPS-guided machinery, genetically modified hybrid seed and precision application of crop-protection products, veterinarian Jerry Stokka asks whether beef producers are keeping up.

Stokka, a technical services veterinarian with Pfizer Animal Health, discussed vaccination, and other technologies that enhance efficiency in beef production, at last week’s Range Beef Cow Symposium in Mitchell, Nebraska. He led off the discussion with his analogy comparing corn and beef production, noting that all of agriculture must become more efficient to feed the world’s rapidly growing population.

Corn growers today, he says, begin with the latest hybrid seed, tailored to their production systems and costing upwards of $300 per bag. The equivalent technology for beef producers lies in selecting the best genetics, using EPDs and other tools to build a herd that performs well on the ranch, at the feedyard and on the rail.

Corn growers apply fertilizers to their fields based on soil analysis and crop needs. Beef producers can use modern growth-enhancement technologies such as implants, with products selected based on cattle type and production goals.

Corn growers benefit from judicious use of herbicides and insecticides, targeted to control specific pests with the right timing and correct application rates. Beef producers for their part, have access to animal-health technologies including parasite-control products and antimicrobials. Just as in crop protection, use of these products needs to be limited to the right timing and dose, for the right reasons.

Finally, Stokka says, crop producers invest in crop insurance to minimize their risk. For beef producers, vaccines serve as insurance against the risk of costly disease outbreaks.

Stokka reminds producers though, that simply vaccinating cattle does not guarantee immunity or health. Immunization requires an effective vaccine and an “immuneocompetent” animal – one able to mount an immune response. Management factors throughout an animal’s life influence its ability to respond to vaccines, including:

  1. A genetic base that enhances transfer of colostral immunity and reduces stress.
  2. Calving and handling livestock during times of decreased environmental stress.
  3. Meeting nutritional demands of the cow during pregnancy and for the calf during periods of higher stress.
  4. Handling all livestock with a practical knowledge of low-stress handling techniques.
  5. Reducing exposure to pathogens from outside sources, or biosecurity.

To ensure the vaccine itself is effective, Stokka reminds producers of these points:

  1. High temperatures and freezing temperatures will reduce the effectiveness of a vaccine.
  2. Direct sunlight will inactivate reconstituted modified-live virus.
  3. Mixing of adjuvanted and reconstituted vaccines is critical to putting the proper antigens into solution such that the proper mix is delivered to the animal. Avoid violent shaking or mixing as some constituents could be damaged.

For a basic vaccination program, Stokka recommends the following, noting that producers should consult with their veterinarians, as additional vaccines can be beneficial depending on production environment and herd history.

Replacement heifers

  • Modified-live IBR and BVDV pre-weaning, weaning, pre-breeding.
  • Killed 5-way lepto bacterin pre-breeding, following a priming dose given earlier.
  • Vibrio might or might not be included.

Mature cows

  • Annual modified-live IBR, BVDV along with lepto pre-breeding.
  • Vibrio might or might not be included.
  • When vaccinating pregnant cows, remember to follow label recommendations to the letter.

Young and mature bulls

  • Follow protocols for heifers and cows.


  • At branding or turnout, IBR, BVDV, BRSV, PI3 (MLV) 7-way Clostridial, optional Mannheimia hemolytica.
  • At pre-weaning, IBR, BVDV, BRSV, PI3 (MLV) 7-way Clostridial, Mannheimia hemolytica .
  • At weaning, IBR, BVDV, BRSV, PI3 (MLV), Mannheimia hemolytica .

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John Barlow    
central Texas  |  December, 05, 2011 at 10:21 PM

I hear the term "organic" a lot and I understand with vegetables it means no chemicals. But when applied to beef what does this really mean?

Dr. Steve Blezinger    
Sulphur Springs, TX  |  December, 06, 2011 at 08:36 AM

As it applies to beef production, the term "organic" dictates the system through which the beef product is produced. It's essentially a process verification system but as defined by the USDA requires that any component of the production system does not use non-organic (certified by an organic certification agency). Ultimately this means that the pastures the cattle are produced on have not had chemicals or commercial fertilizers applied for a period prior to and during the time of production. It requires that the production of the animals themselves eliminate use of products such as implants, antibiotics, etc. The list of "do nots" and "cannot use" is pretty extensive. The net result is the production of beef product that has not been exposed to any artificial component that might possibly have a negative connotation in the human food chain. To say the least it is a challenging program to put into place.

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