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Sustainability ensures agriculture's future

(Journal stock photo.)

Sustainability in agriculture is an important factor for future generations to be able to continue producing food, fiber and fuel for the world.

During the 25th International Animal Health and Nutrition Symposium sponsored by Alltech, agriculture enthusiasts from around the world learned how sustainability is the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet the needs of the world.


beef production

Texas Tech University professor Michael Galyean said for beef producers to be sustainable in the future, they must look at four key components--economic profitability, environmental issues, animal welfare and consumer perceptions.

"In order for beef producers to be sustainable, they must look at the big picture," he said.

Sustainable grazing systems will encourage proper stocking rates on pastures, good grass management, proper land use and the discussion of carbon credits.

"To become more sustainable, producers need to push for more rotational and intensive systems, adding supplemental nutritional strategies, controlled grazing methods, good breed selection and improved animal health and reproduction," Galyean added.

He suggested for producers to look at their feeding systems and know what to use for efficiency solutions, which may include a change in practices from the norm. Adding an ethanol co-product or a steam-flaked product could make a difference on the economic bottom line.

He also stressed for livestock producers to tell their story and make the general public understand how they raise their animals, their commitment to the environment and being sustainable for the future.

Breeding cattle

for the future

Technology is a solution for a growing country and Mike Engler, with Texas-based Cactus Feeders, thinks it is a solution for changes in the beef industry, also.

Cactus Feeders has seven feedyards in Texas and three in Kansas with an average size of 50,000 head. Because of their vast size, efficiency is a must.

"Two major management drivers for us are carcass weight and backfat," he said. "Those are managed by days on feed and growth technology."

The use of leptin genotyping is a new technology they are using in order to sort cattle and manage them during feeding. The leptin gene is associated with fat deposition.

Since fed cattle are often priced on a grid that considers both yield and quality grades, fat deposition is an important factor in the value and profitability of fed cattle. Therefore, if those who are feeding cattle can sort individuals based on their leptin genotype, Engler hopes it will lead to better management and more profitability.

Genomics in the feedlot

Looking at mutations in genes that are affecting animal production has led to using the genetic tool to make improvements in cattle in the feedlot.

"We have to focus on managing animals and learn about what genes they have," said Leah Marquess, of Canadian-based Quantum Genetics. "We want to improve efficiency of feedlot management based on the cattle's genomics.

"By managing weight and fat, producers will have a lower cost of gain, which will lead to a higher profit."

Marquess said producers need to adopt new technology in order to get the most out of production.


reproductive efficiency

With higher input costs, University of Kentucky professor Les Anderson said beef producers are learning how to maintain productivity.

"The theory has been to create a smaller, more efficient cow using general selection, when the key needs to be to match cow size and nutrient requirements to the nutrient environment," he said.

Anderson pointed out that it pays to supplement cows in drought time because reduced income is higher than the cost of feed.

"At an 82 percent pregnancy rate, the supplementation is break-even. If your pregnancy rate is significantly decreased because you didn't supplement, then producers understand the solution a little better," he said.

Replacement heifers should be selected by being the ones born in the first 30 days of calving and bred in the first 30 days of breeding. By using that criteria, reproductive performance will improve dramatically.

Proper nutrition

Proper nutrition can make or break an animal during its lifetime. Certain minerals such as selenium are important for antioxidant protection and performance, according to Paul Davis, beef nutritionist with Tennessee Farmers Cooperative.

Deficiencies in selenium can cause retained placentas, infertility, white muscle disease, abortion, and premature, weak or dead calves. Selenium toxicity leads to hair loss, weight loss, and apathy.

Conditions known as buckling and flying scapula or shoulder lameness are observed in selenium-deficient feeder calves. These conditions can cause a serious reduction in the profit margin for a beef cattle operation.

Ensuring proper selenium supplementation, which may be needed in some cases, can be supplemented to the cows and passed to the calves through milk.

Cattle with proper selenium in their diets will perform better, which Davis pointed out would affect the bottom line.



Economic sustainability is an important factor for beef producers to follow, which University of Kentucky professor Eric Vanzant said is reflected through knowing your animal's nutritional requirements.

"Following proper nutritional requirements for beef animals is a good starting point that will affect most points of production," he said.

As the available nutrition has altered throughout the years, so has how the nutrition is utilized by the animal. Meeting those requirements helps producers stay more profitable and thus be sustainable for the future.

"The three pillars of sustainability are environmental stewardship, social responsibility and economic viability. If producers look at these three pillars and analyze what it takes to make it work, sustainability happens," concluded Vanzant.

Jennifer Bremer can be reached by phone at 515-833-2120 or by e-mail at jbremer@hpj.com.

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