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Drug-free cattle gain popularity

ABERDEEN, S.D. (AP)--Farmers and ranchers who want to raise cattle that are free of any growth-enhancing drugs have a tool to help them determine whether they can make a profit on those animals.

The South Dakota State University Cooperative Extension Service has created a natural cattle spreadsheet.

Natural cattle are not given antibiotics that help them put on weight faster.

"There's a huge trend from a consumer standpoint to demand the natural product," said Tyler Melroe, an Extension educator in Marshall County who helped create the spreadsheet.

The spreadsheet is already filled in with estimated or default data from an SDSU test, although the numbers can be changed and individualized by ag producers. Some of the traits it looks at are the weight of feeder calves, the cost per 100 pounds, the average daily gain and the cost of rations. Those and other inputs are listed on the spreadsheet.

If farmers and ranchers are going to raise natural cattle, it's important they figure out whether they can make a profit on them, Melroe said.

The diet cost of natural cattle is more expensive than for conventional feeder cattle, Melroe said. That's why cattle producers have to make sure they can contract for a premium price. The good news, he said, is that cattle buyers are often willing to pay a premium because demand is high.

For a short time in spring, natural cattle were bringing a premium of $20 per 100 pounds, Melroe. But, he said, other times, the market has had too many natural cattle.

Melroe said that it's recommended that if cattle get sick, they not be a part of a natural program. Sick beef cattle that are given antibiotics to better heal are not considered natural cattle, he said.

It's not known how many natural cattle are raised in South Dakota, but nationwide the total is a little higher than 1 percent, Melroe said.

Date: 11/29/06

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