Seeing the beef production system first-hand fosters understanding and advocacy, and the process begins within our own community. To facilitate that experience, Drovers/CattleNetwork periodically hosts Beef Systems Tours as a service to our advertisers. Our goal is to help the people who market products to farmers, ranchers and veterinarians experience multiple aspects and segments of U.S. beef production, so they can develop accurate and effective messages for their customers and the general public.
During the week of May 5, we held our 2014 Drovers Beef Systems Tour in northern Colorado, travelling out of Fort Collins to visit cow-calf, seedstock, feedyard, farming, research, livestock market and beef-packing operations in the foothills and on the High Plains. Our guests represented companies marketing animal-health and nutrition products, agricultural equipment and agricultural finance. The tour provide them with a diverse look at beef production in the region, along with roadside views of other agricultural enterprises including various crops, dairy and lamb production.
In addition to the expertise and industry passion the participants found at each stop, many made note of the outstanding transparency and access our hosts provided. At every stop, even at the JBS-Five Rivers feedyard and the JBS beef-packing plant, we were allowed to see any part of the operation we desired.
Following are a few highlights from the first two stops on the tour. Subsequent articles will cover our visits to Colorado State University, Leachman Cattle of Colorado, Centennial Livestock Auction, Knievel Farms, JBS-Five Rivers Cattle Feeding, JBS beef packing and New Belgium Brewing.
Rabbit Creek Angus, Livermore, Colo.
Our first stop was at Rabbit Creek Angus ranch in the Rocky Mountain foothills outside of Livermore. Owner George Seidel, PhD, and ranch manager Richard Borgmann provided background on the ranch, which raises registered Angus and a commercial Angus-based cow herd. Seidel, in addition to ranching, is a university distinguished professor of bovine reproductive physiology at Colorado State University. In keeping with his interest in bovine reproduction, he regularly conducts trials within his own herd, testing synchronization protocols and other breeding technologies. The week we visited, his crew, with assistance from CSU students, had inseminated over 250 cows in two days.
Seidel also described an innovative production system he has begun to test, which he calls the “no-cow beef program.” This system centers on the use of sexed semen to breed heifers to produce heifer calves. Seidel is one of the scientists who developed the technology for sorting bovine semen, and this is interested in new applications. In the no-cow system, the goal is for every heifer to replace herself with a heifer calf. The calves are weaned early, at about 3 months of age, and the dams ship to a feedyard for finishing. These “heiferettes” have good value as feeder cattle as they will finish at less than 30 months of age and grade well. In this system, Seidel says, everything on the ranch is growing, in contrast with a typical cow-calf system in which cows spend most of their years running up feed costs to maintain body condition. The no-cow system eliminates those feed costs for maintenance. Seidel theorizes the system will produce the same amount of beef per female as a traditional system, but with 30 percent lower energy inputs, 30 percent less waste and 30 percent less methane emissions. He currently is testing the system in his herd. In 2013 he bred 57 Angus-based heifers to Hereford AI and natural sires. After weaning their calves this summer he will market the dams for feeding. He acknowledges there are some costs to the system along with the savings in maintenance. AI produces about a 65 percent conception rate and clean-up bulls will be used for natural service. Also, sexed semen has about 90 percent accuracy, so some steer calves are produced. Some calves will die and some heifers won’t conceive. So, an operation using this system would need to purchase some heifers to maintain stable herd numbers.