The View From Here | November 2013

As I write this, the hot topic continues to be the government shut down, slim down, melt down, whatever you want to call it. To be honest, other than not being able to check livestock prices on the USDA website, I haven’t noticed a thing. I’m not sure whether that makes me lucky, or oblivious, but on this topic my bet is on the latter.

My cattle-producing friends in western South Dakota, however, have not been so lucky. Livestock death tolls continue to climb as a result of the blizzard that blew through, dropping 48 inches of snow and registering 70 mph winds. The fact that the storm came so early in the year meant that most cattle were still on their summer range, and hadn’t yet been moved to their winter pastures which have more trees, wind breaks, etc.

The storm was part of a powerful weather system that also buried parts of Wyoming and Colorado with snow, and spun up tornadoes in Nebraska and Iowa.

There is no doubt in my mind the rugged nature and fighting spirit of ranchers in that region will prevail, but without a farm bill and in the midst of a government shut down, help from the federal government may be a while coming.

Truth be told, most folks I know involved in production agriculture would rather the government keep their noses out of their business in the first place. About the only time the government is welcome is when some cataclysmic event such as blizzard or drought hits a region hard.

You can bet on one thing. The farmers and ranchers in that area have already taken the bull by the horns and started the recovery/rebuilding process. I doubt many of them are sitting in their easy chairs waiting on some government agency to shovel the snow or feed the cows.

Another topic extremely important to cattle producers, which hasn’t gotten near as much publicity, is the continued Zilmax saga. The last piece of news I saw on that front was when the Chicago Mercantile Exchange announced it will no longer accept delivery of cattle fed the growth additive. The guideline was implemented October 7 beginning with October.

“We are letting the market know these Zilmax cattle no longer are merchantable in our view from a contract specification perspective, because they will not be accepted by a majority of our approved slaughterhouses,” said CME managing director of commodity research and product development, David Lehman.

The exchange based its decision on two major packers (Tyson Foods Inc. and Cargill Inc.) discontinuing the purchase of Zilmax-fed cattle, with the possibility that others may follow suit.

Terms of CME’s live cattle futures require that cattle received during the delivery process be “merchantable” (or healthy and not crippled or sick) and readily salable into normal commercial marketing channels.

I don’t think we have heard the last word on this topic, and my gut tells me this is just the tip of the iceberg regarding push back on the use of pharmaceuticals to increase performance, carcass characteristics, etc. All the more reason in my mind to keep the selection pressure on traits other breeds have to have a prescription
to achieve.

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