Browsing Posts tagged ranch

Rustling costs ranchers millions in poor economy

By JIM SUHR, AP Business Writer

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Even with cattle theft rampant in much of the nation’s midsection, Oklahoma rancher Ryan Payne wasn’t worried about anyone messing with his cows and calves. By his estimation, his pasture is so far off the beaten path “you need a helicopter to see it.”

Branding a cowThat changed last month when Payne, 37, checked on his livestock and found a ghoulish scene: Piles of entrails from two Black angus calves he says thieves gutted “like they were deer.” They made off with the meat and another 400-pound calf in a heist he estimated cost him $1,800.

“Gosh, times are tough, and maybe people are truly starving and just need the meat,” he said. “But it’s shocking. I can’t believe people can stoop that low.”

While the brazenness may be unusual, the theft isn’t. High beef prices have made cattle attractive as a quick score for people struggling in the sluggish economy, and other livestock are being taken too. Six thousand lambs were stolen from a feedlot in Texas, and nearly 1,000 hogs have been stolen in recent weeks from farms in Iowa and Minnesota. The thefts add up to millions of dollars in losses for U.S. ranches.

Authorities say today’s thieves are sophisticated compared to the horseback bandits of the rugged Old West. They pull up livestock trailers in the middle of the night and know how to coax the animals inside. Investigators suspect it’s then a quick trip across state lines to sell the animals at auction barns.

“It almost has to be someone who knows about the business, including just knowing where to take the cattle,” said Carmen Fenton, a spokeswoman for the 15,000-member Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, formed in the 1870s specifically to combat cattle rustlers. “It’s crazy to think we’re still in business.”

There’s no clearinghouse that tracks thefts nationally, but statistics among certain states are staggering. In Texas — the nation’s biggest cattle producer — and to a lesser extent Oklahoma, some 4,500 cattle have been reported missing or stolen this year, according to Fenton’s group. The association’s special rangers managed to recover or account for $4.8 million in stolen ranch property each of the previous two years, most of it steers, bulls, cows and calves.

Such thefts also are happening in places once spared. In southwestern Missouri’s Jasper County, not far from a regional stockyard, about 100 of the nearly 180 head of cattle stolen this year were snatched during a recent six-week stretch, sheriff’s Lt. Ron Thomas said.

Branding a cow“Occasionally one or two have gotten stolen (over the years), but not this many in such a short time. They’ve gotten us big time,” he said, figuring the stolen livestock have been whisked off to another state. “These guys are not your typical fly-by-night, let’s-steal-a-cow kinda people. They know exactly what they’re doing. They’re pretty slick, and they’re bold.”

Investigators have found clues to be elusive, partly because thieves often artfully conceal their crimes by replacing pasture fences they’ve cut to get to the animals, Thomas said. Ranchers unaccustomed to counting their cattle each day may not realize any are missing for a week or more, and by then, any tire tracks or other evidence — perhaps even DNA or fingerprints from a soda or beer can discarded by the bandit — may be gone.

The other problem is that while brands are widely used in the West, three states hard hit by livestock thefts — Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas — don’t require them. That’s hampered investigators’ efforts to match recovered cattle to owners or to relay to stockyards markings to watch for when strangers haul in livestock to be sold.

Without brands, “ranchers could tell me their missing cow is brown and white, but goodness gracious, go down the road and you’ll see thousands,” Thomas said.

While a voluntary national livestock identification system exists, few ranchers and farmers participate in it and those who do fear that the rustlers will simply cut off the ID tag in seconds.

“Unfortunately, cattle don’t have a serial number that goes with them or some type of permanent ID” short of branding, said Jim Fraley, an Illinois Farm Bureau livestock specialist. “Thieves look at it as an opportunity and can market the cattle under their name. It’s a fairly easy thing to do.” Hot iron branding is the only proven method of ID that is permanent. Hide brands can not be removed or changed like electronic pens or ear tags.

In Ohio and Pennsylvania a single cattle rustler stole over $400,000 cattle. He was wise in never acquiring a single animal with a hot iron brand. Those stolen with ear marks or tags were quickly removed, therefore leaving no ID for law enforcement to track. The lack of hide brands invites a new breed of cattle rustler.

Owners’ vigilance has paid off in some cases. A Colorado rancher who was hunting prairie dogs spotted one of his branded, missing cows on another man’s property. Deputies swooped in and found 36 cows and 31 calves worth $68,000 and belonging to nine different people.

An Alabama rancher reported a couple of his cattle missing, and then two more were stolen the next night, Chilton County Sheriff Kevin Davis said. Sheriff’s investigators installed cameras on the property but got nothing before pulling them days later.

Not long after, the farmer called because he spotted two men with a pickup truck and what turned out to be a stolen trailer on his land. Deputies arrested the men and found five of the six missing cows — half of them pregnant — at various locations. The sixth animal already had been slaughtered.

Davis credited luck and the rancher’s “heightened alert” for snaring the two suspects.

“The boldness is the thing — for them to come back three different times to the same pasture,” he said. “Obviously, they didn’t feel very threatened about being caught. But I’ve never given criminals credit for having high intelligence.”

And they’re not finicky. An Ohio woman has been charged with taking $110,000 worth of frozen bull semen — which can valuable to breeders in even small amounts — from a liquid-nitrogen tank at a Moorefield Township genetics company where she once worked.

Nor are all the thefts big. Someone recently made off with two horses — ages 16 and 7 — from a home near Hanover in northeastern Illinois’ Jo Daviess County.

Back in Oklahoma, Payne replaced old wire gates on his ranch near Chelsea, with “big, old heavy-duty steel ones,” hoping to safeguard his other cows.

“That’s about all I can do,” he said. “Like everyone says, it never happens to me. I guess that’s wrong.”

Rustling costs ranchers millions in poor economy

By JIM SUHR, AP Business Writer

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Even with cattle theft rampant in much of the nation’s midsection, Oklahoma rancher Ryan Payne wasn’t worried about anyone messing with his cows and calves. By his estimation, his pasture is so far off the beaten path “you need a helicopter to see it.”

Branding a cowThat changed last month when Payne, 37, checked on his livestock and found a ghoulish scene: Piles of entrails from two Black angus calves he says thieves gutted “like they were deer.” They made off with the meat and another 400-pound calf in a heist he estimated cost him $1,800.

“Gosh, times are tough, and maybe people are truly starving and just need the meat,” he said. “But it’s shocking. I can’t believe people can stoop that low.”

While the brazenness may be unusual, the theft isn’t. High beef prices have made cattle attractive as a quick score for people struggling in the sluggish economy, and other livestock are being taken too. Six thousand lambs were stolen from a feedlot in Texas, and nearly 1,000 hogs have been stolen in recent weeks from farms in Iowa and Minnesota. The thefts add up to millions of dollars in losses for U.S. ranches.

Authorities say today’s thieves are sophisticated compared to the horseback bandits of the rugged Old West. They pull up livestock trailers in the middle of the night and know how to coax the animals inside. Investigators suspect it’s then a quick trip across state lines to sell the animals at auction barns.

“It almost has to be someone who knows about the business, including just knowing where to take the cattle,” said Carmen Fenton, a spokeswoman for the 15,000-member Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, formed in the 1870s specifically to combat cattle rustlers. “It’s crazy to think we’re still in business.”

There’s no clearinghouse that tracks thefts nationally, but statistics among certain states are staggering. In Texas — the nation’s biggest cattle producer — and to a lesser extent Oklahoma, some 4,500 cattle have been reported missing or stolen this year, according to Fenton’s group. The association’s special rangers managed to recover or account for $4.8 million in stolen ranch property each of the previous two years, most of it steers, bulls, cows and calves.

Such thefts also are happening in places once spared. In southwestern Missouri’s Jasper County, not far from a regional stockyard, about 100 of the nearly 180 head of cattle stolen this year were snatched during a recent six-week stretch, sheriff’s Lt. Ron Thomas said.

Branding a cow“Occasionally one or two have gotten stolen (over the years), but not this many in such a short time. They’ve gotten us big time,” he said, figuring the stolen livestock have been whisked off to another state. “These guys are not your typical fly-by-night, let’s-steal-a-cow kinda people. They know exactly what they’re doing. They’re pretty slick, and they’re bold.”

Investigators have found clues to be elusive, partly because thieves often artfully conceal their crimes by replacing pasture fences they’ve cut to get to the animals, Thomas said. Ranchers unaccustomed to counting their cattle each day may not realize any are missing for a week or more, and by then, any tire tracks or other evidence — perhaps even DNA or fingerprints from a soda or beer can discarded by the bandit — may be gone.

The other problem is that while brands are widely used in the West, three states hard hit by livestock thefts — Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas — don’t require them. That’s hampered investigators’ efforts to match recovered cattle to owners or to relay to stockyards markings to watch for when strangers haul in livestock to be sold.

Without brands, “ranchers could tell me their missing cow is brown and white, but goodness gracious, go down the road and you’ll see thousands,” Thomas said.

While a voluntary national livestock identification system exists, few ranchers and farmers participate in it and those who do fear that the rustlers will simply cut off the ID tag in seconds.

“Unfortunately, cattle don’t have a serial number that goes with them or some type of permanent ID” short of branding, said Jim Fraley, an Illinois Farm Bureau livestock specialist. “Thieves look at it as an opportunity and can market the cattle under their name. It’s a fairly easy thing to do.” Hot iron branding is the only proven method of ID that is permanent. Hide brands can not be removed or changed like electronic pens or ear tags.

In Ohio and Pennsylvania a single cattle rustler stole over $400,000 cattle. He was wise in never acquiring a single animal with a hot iron brand. Those stolen with ear marks or tags were quickly removed, therefore leaving no ID for law enforcement to track. The lack of hide brands invites a new breed of cattle rustler.

Owners’ vigilance has paid off in some cases. A Colorado rancher who was hunting prairie dogs spotted one of his branded, missing cows on another man’s property. Deputies swooped in and found 36 cows and 31 calves worth $68,000 and belonging to nine different people.

An Alabama rancher reported a couple of his cattle missing, and then two more were stolen the next night, Chilton County Sheriff Kevin Davis said. Sheriff’s investigators installed cameras on the property but got nothing before pulling them days later.

Not long after, the farmer called because he spotted two men with a pickup truck and what turned out to be a stolen trailer on his land. Deputies arrested the men and found five of the six missing cows — half of them pregnant — at various locations. The sixth animal already had been slaughtered.

Davis credited luck and the rancher’s “heightened alert” for snaring the two suspects.

“The boldness is the thing — for them to come back three different times to the same pasture,” he said. “Obviously, they didn’t feel very threatened about being caught. But I’ve never given criminals credit for having high intelligence.”

And they’re not finicky. An Ohio woman has been charged with taking $110,000 worth of frozen bull semen — which can valuable to breeders in even small amounts — from a liquid-nitrogen tank at a Moorefield Township genetics company where she once worked.

Nor are all the thefts big. Someone recently made off with two horses — ages 16 and 7 — from a home near Hanover in northeastern Illinois’ Jo Daviess County.

Back in Oklahoma, Payne replaced old wire gates on his ranch near Chelsea, with “big, old heavy-duty steel ones,” hoping to safeguard his other cows.

“That’s about all I can do,” he said. “Like everyone says, it never happens to me. I guess that’s wrong.”

The U.S. National Animal Identification System (NAIS) & the U.S. Beef-Cattle Sector: A Post-Mortem Analysis of NAIS

Rhonda Skaggs

New Mexico State University United States of America

1. Introduction

The appearance of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in the United States in late 2003 resulted in severe economic impacts to the U.S. livestock sector. U.S. exports of beef and live cattle were immediately embargoed by importing countries as a result of BSE, and markets have not fully recovered eight years later. The trade status of the U.S. beef and cattle sectors was severely harmed when trading partners used BSE as justification for increased protectionism. The trade response to one BSE-infected cow and the desire to protect the U.S. livestock industry’s economic interests enhanced concerns about intentional and accidental disease outbreaks. The first BSE-infected cow identified in the United States and ongoing fears that a virulent disease (foot and mouth disease, in particular) could cost billions and destroy the U.S. livestock sector led many people to conclude that a nationwide individual animal identification system was necessary. As a result, the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) was set forth in early 2004 by a working group including both industry and government officials. The NAIS built on the National Animal Identification Plan initiated in 2002. The goal of the NAIS was nationwide 48-hour traceback of all livestock and poultry in the event of a disease emergency. The Animal Health Protection Act (AHPA) enacted with the 2002 Farm Bill set the legal stage for the federal government to be involved in the national animal identification effort. The 2002 AHPA includes language that indicates the federal government’s intention to expand regulation of livestock due to interstate commerce and related movements of pest or disease threats (O’Brien, 2006). The AHPA was interpreted as giving the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture the ability to prohibit all movement of livestock unless producers participated in the NAIS. The NAIS entailed three components: Premises registration, animal identification, and animal tracking. Premises registration was the assignation of a unique premises number to all facilities where animals are managed or held. Animal identification assigned a unique number to individual animals or lots in the case of animals that stay with the same group their entire lives. Animal tracking involved the collection of data for animal movements and the recording of those data in a central recordkeeping system which could be quickly and comprehensively accessed in the event of an animal health emergency. A 2005 USDA document indicated that the NAIS would begin as a voluntary program, but would become mandatory in 2009 (United States Department of Agriculture – Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service [USDA-APHIS], 2005). The USDA stated in a 2006 document that while the agency had the authority to make the system mandatory, it had chosen to make every component of NAIS voluntary at the federal level (USDA-APHIS, 2006a). In a 2008 report, the USDA designated cattle as the highest priority species with respect to NAIS implementation and presented revised timelines and benchmarks for NAIS progress by species (USDA-APHIS, 2008a). Implementation benchmarks for cattle were scaled down from previous NAIS documents, and the cattle implementation timeline was also extended. NAIS benchmarks were scaled back for other species, although not as much as for cattle. In June 2006 the USDA published a document intended to provide guidance for “noncommercial” livestock producers and their position within the NAIS. This guide attempted to alleviate small-scale livestock producers’ concerns about the system, stating that NAIS participation was voluntary and that the NAIS would “largely focus on commercial operations and animals” (USDA-APHIS, 2006b). Critics of NAIS quickly pointed out that many statements in the report were inconsistent with other NAIS documents regarding the government’s plan to extend NAIS coverage to all livestock and livestock movements within the United States. The federal government issued numerous grants and cost-shares to states and tribes as inducements for premises registration and spent more than $120 million in the process; however, at the end of 2009, only 36% of premises were registered nationwide (USDAAPHIS, 2010). Some states achieved higher levels of premises registration by tying it to other state-level licenses or programs. In September 2008, the USDA issued a memorandum which stated that premises registration would be mandatory for emergency disease management or for state or federal activities involving diseases regulated through the Code of Federal Regulations. Although this memorandum was cancelled in December 2008, the USDA maintained that the federal government has broad authority to assign premises identification numbers as part of their normal animal health program activities. Recent livestock disease outbreaks in some states thus have resulted in mandatory NAIS participation for affected producers. In June 2009, federal funding for NAIS in its current form was dropped from the fiscal 2010 spending bill by the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, with House leaders indicating that no future funds would be available for the program unless USDA developed and implemented a mandatory NAIS. The USDA conducted numerous NAIS “listening sessions” throughout the country in 2009 and received many more comments on NAIS at the Regulations.gov website. Since the inception of NAIS, the federal government has asserted that the future economic viability of the U.S. livestock industry rests on improved disease management through nationwide animal identification and traceability. However, over the last several years, many U.S. livestock producers raised concerns about the security and confidentiality of premises and animal data provided to the national system, increased liability on the part of producers as a result of traceback to the farm level, the costs of NAIS participation, and the overall feasibility of the system. Opponents of NAIS claimed it was unconstitutional, a violation of their property rights, inconsistent with religious beliefs, an invasion of their privacy, and a loss of freedom. They did not believe USDA’s assurances that NAIS information would not be subject to Freedom of Information Act requests or that use of the information would be restricted to animal health emergencies. The 2009 “listening sessions” were dominated by NAIS opponents, with a small minority of session participants speaking out in favor of the system. The comments posted at Regulations.gov were nearly unanimous against NAIS. In February 2010, the USDA announced that it was abandoning the NAIS (USDA-APHIS, 2010). The agency indicated that it was going to “revise prior animal identification policy and offer a new approach to achieving animal disease traceability” (USDA-APHIS, 2010). The new approach will apparently only apply to animals moving interstate, although the operational details of the approach have yet to be developed. The agency’s February 2010 Factsheet also stated that the new approach intends to “help overcome some of the mistrust caused by NAIS.” For almost a decade, proponents maintained that NAIS would protect producers’ animals, investments and neighbors, and that “as producers become increasingly aware of the benefits of the NAIS and the level of voluntary participation grows, there will only be less need to make the program mandatory” (USDA-APHIS, 2006a). The USDA stated that NAIS would help protect U.S. livestock and poultry from disease spread, maintain consumer confidence in the food supply, and retain access to domestic and foreign markets (USDAAPHIS, 2007). In 2010, the federal government was forced to admit that arguments in favor of NAIS had fallen flat with a large segment of U.S. livestock producers. The cattle industry was designated by the USDA as having the highest priority for full NAIS implementation; however, the cow-calf portion of the beef cattle sector was very resistant to NAIS (evidenced by continuously extended timelines and increasingly modest benchmarks for implementation). The economic, structural, and socio-cultural reasons for cow-calf producer resistance are the subject of the rest of this paper. If future livestock disease traceability efforts in the United States are to be successful (and disease catastrophes are to be avoided), it is absolutely essential that the context of cow-calf producer resistance to NAIS be fully understood. The objective of this paper is to describe the context and implications for the post-NAIS traceability framework.

2. Overview of U.S. agriculture and the beef-cattle sector

The history of U.S. agriculture is dominated by a relentless march toward increased concentration. Ever fewer numbers of farms are producing an ever larger percentage of total agricultural output. Of the 2.2 million farms enumerated in the 2007 Census of Agriculture, 10% generate almost 85% of the value of all agricultural sales (United States Department of Agriculture – National Agricultural Statistics Service [USDA-NASS], 2009). The remaining 90% of farms are responsible for 15% of output value. U.S. agriculture wasn’t always this concentrated and much of the history of U.S. settlement and economic development is one of smallholders supporting their household through agricultural production, while generating a small marketable surplus. Technological changes occurring throughout the 19th and 20th centuries worked to increase productivity and drive down per unit production costs; new lands and resources were brought into production, and real prices for agricultural commodities plunged. As the relative purchasing power of raw agricultural commodities decreased, so did farm household incomes. Extreme structural upheaval occurred, many farms failed and millions of farm families exited agriculture. Their land was subsequently absorbed by survivor farms which grew larger. The remaining farms were successful as long as they managed to stay on the technology treadmill or otherwise survive decreasing real prices for their products. Consequently, many farm households now achieve acceptable income levels as a result of non-farm income sources. One-third of all U.S. farms have consistently negative net farm incomes and nearly 83% of total national farm household income in 2004 originated from off-farm sources (Hoppe et al., 2007). At first glance, it would seem that negative net farm incomes should prompt continued outmigration of people and resources from agriculture. But, it isn’t happening.

U.S. farm-level commodity production is very diverse although 98% of U.S. farms are family farms, organized as proprietorships, partnerships, or family corporations that do not have hired managers (Hoppe et al., 2007). U.S. family farms range from small limited resource operations, to the extremely large industrialized farms that account for the majority of farm-level production. The USDA estimated that in 2004 57% of U.S. farms were retirement or residential/lifestyle farms, and that these farms’ off-farm income as a share of total household income was 98% (Hoppe et al., 2007). According to the USDA, rural-residential farms account for only 7% of the value of production and include 35% of farm assets (including land). Small farms of all types, defined as having annual sales of less than $250,000, are 90% of farms, generate 25% of production value, and hold 68% of farm assets. Small farms, and especially retirement and residential/lifestyle farms, tend to specialize in the production of beef cattle, primarily cow-calf enterprises (Hoppe et al., 2007). There are several economic reasons for this specialization, including lower labor and management intensity (desirable to operators who are retired or who hold full-time non-farm jobs), relatively low cash costs of beef cattle production, and favorable tax treatment. Productivity gains in U.S. agriculture over the last century have been astounding. However, the beef cow-calf industry is a notable exception to the productivity increases which characterize agriculture overall. This is due to the biological limitations of bovine reproduction. The rate of reproduction in cattle continues to be stable and low, with one cow rarely producing more than one calf. Natural twin production continues to be an unusual occurrence in beef cattle herds, and often results in extra production costs and/or sterile female offspring. By comparison, the U.S. hog industry has been characterized by steady increases in piglets/litter and litters/sow/year. Genetic advances and the adoption of industrialized confinement production by the hog industry in the post-World War II era led to dramatic increases in productivity, decreases in real hog prices, and industry concentration. The lack of equivalent productivity gains in beef cattle production are reflected in the much less drastic decrease in the real purchasing power of the calf commodity over the last half century, and an unconcentrated cow-calf sector. The nature of the bovine digestive system also has contributed to relatively low productivity gains and limited adoption of capital and management intensive technologies in U.S. cow-calf production. Land-extensive calf production processes continue to be used in much of the cow-calf sector because the beef animal functions as a scavenger, using and transforming low value forages produced on marginal lands into a higher-valued product. Land-extensive production processes are generally not compatible with management intensive technologies, adoption of which is driven by the need and opportunity to increase returns per unit of capital and management input. Most of the advances in technology and increases in efficiency in the beef industry have occurred beyond the farm gate at the feeding and packing levels. The feedlot and meat packing sectors have dramatically increased in size and concentration to achieve economies of scale. The beef feeding sector is increasingly dominated by a small number of extremely large operations, while the four largest beef packers controlled 84% of the market in 2007 (Hendrickson and Heffernan, 2007).

The beef cow-calf sector is the foundation of the beef cattle industry. Cow-calf production is not concentrated, dispersed nationwide, and occurs in every state, with an estimated 33 million national beef cow inventory living on almost 765,000 farms and ranches (USDANASS, 2009). Cow-calf operations produce the calves (or the animal frames – including skeleton, internal organs, and hide) upon which the cattle feeding sector accumulates meat using higher energy feed resources (usually under confinement conditions). The USDA’s National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) divides cow-calf producers into three groups: Those who have cow-calf herds primarily for income objectives (14% of producers), those whose beef cow-calf operation is a supplemental source of family income (72%), and those who keep cattle for some reason other than for providing family income (e.g., pleasure) (14%) (USDA-APHIS, 2008b). Differences in management practices for calving, animal health, feeding, marketing, and record keeping for different types of cow-calf operations are statistically significant and strikingly obvious in the NAHMS survey results (USDA-APHIS, 1998). Management of non-primary income herds is consistently less intensive, and productivity indicators for the herds are less favorable. The technologies used in cow-calf production have not changed greatly over the last century, although some advances in cow-calf productivity have been made through selective breeding, use of veterinary pharmaceuticals, and improved forage management. Cow-calf production in the United States continues to be characterized by low entry costs, low cash production costs, low technology requirements, and low management intensity. Cow-calf operations also have lower exit probabilities than other farm enterprises because of their compatibility with off-farm work (Hoppe & Korb, 2006). The technological stability of the U.S. cow-calf industry is evidenced by the small change in the average size of a U.S. beef cow herd over the last ~30 years (it went from 40 in 1974 to 43 in 2007) (USDA-NASS, 2009). By comparison, the average size of a U.S. milk cow herd went from 26 in 1974 to 133 in 2007. Nationally, almost 80% of U.S. beef cow-calf operations have fewer than 50 cows with these farms accounting for 29% of the country’s beef cow herd. Most research exploring U.S. cow-calf producers’ motivations has been conducted in the West by investigators interested in rangeland management and public land policy issues. For example, the desire to have a rural lifestyle was found to inflate the value of farms and ranches in the West (Gosnell & Travis, 2005) while a relatively small percentage of ranchland value can be explained by livestock income in the Southwest (Torell et al., 2005). Gentner & Tanaka (2002) found that half of western public land ranchers earn less than 22% of their total income from ranching, that a ranch business “profit motivation” is a relatively low-ranked objective for all types of ranchers, and that public land ranchers are strongly motivated to be in ranching for tradition, family, and lifestyle reasons (i.e., consumptive objectives). Similarly, Cash (2002) noted that most U.S. beef cattle producers are not actually in the business of farming. The multiple roles of livestock in traditional societies have long been recognized by anthropologists, human ecologists, and other social scientists. In traditional societies, livestock are mobile stores of wealth and status. And even though the United States has a very advanced economy, cattle continue to be viewed as “banks-on-the-hoof” by cow-calf producers (Eastman et al., 2000), who say that when they “need the money” is a key factor in determining when they market their cattle (Lacy et al., 2003). For many cow-calf producers, cattle and the land used to produce them are investments, savings, and financial safe-havens. Cattle provide emergency funds, and are also a stable supply of high quality meat for family consumption. Similar to their counterparts in traditional societies, cattle are also a source of identity and a cultural touchstone for many U.S. cow-calf producers. Pope (1987) concluded that “romance, recreation, the achievement of a desired social status, or simply the maintenance of a family tradition” are the primary motives for many western

U.S. cattle producers. Identity objectives are financially feasible, compatible with other lifestyle and household objectives, and are encouraged by the nation’s tax system. Lifestyle goals, particularly the desire to live in the country, were the most highly ranked strategic ranch goals among small-acreage livestock producers interviewed by Rowan (1994). Technological advances, structural adjustment in response to technology, economies of size, and the wringing out of cultural identity objectives have not occurred at the cow-calf producer level as they occurred throughout much of U.S. agriculture in the 20th century. As a result, household-level cow-calf production has maintained more of its traditional economic, social, and cultural character than any other geographically dispersed agricultural commodity sector in the United States today.

3. The NAIS pushback

The trend of fewer numbers of ever-larger beef feeding and packing operations throughout the United States has led many cow-calf producers to be concerned about the structure of the overall beef industry, the negative effects of downstream concentration, and their belief that they are at the losing end of the structural change. Many believe that prices received by cow-calf producers are depressed as a result of non-competitive market behavior by feeders and packers. Domestic cow-calf producers feel threatened by the market impacts of imported feeder cattle from Mexico and imported fed cattle from Canada. Live cattle imports are viewed favorably by a majority of feeders and packers, who generally welcome the flow of the animals into the U.S. market. Many in the cow-calf sector vigorously promoted country of origin labeling (COOL) for U.S. beef. COOL was opposed by feeders and packers as a result of their integration with the rest of the North American as well as the global cattle-beef markets. The schism between the cow-calf sector and the feeding and packing sectors led to the creation of a new industry lobbying group, the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA). R-CALF consistently appeals to cow-calf industry fears about trade liberalization and global market integration, property rights erosion, loss of freedoms, and invasions of privacy. R-CALF was opposed to the NAIS. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) represents cow-calf producers, as well as feeders and packers. In the view of R-CALF, the NCBA and the United States Department of Agriculture do not represent the interests of “independent cattlemen.” The NCBA publishes Beef Magazine, was very supportive of the NAIS, and was a key player in the effort to establish a centralized, NCBA-affiliated, privately held database for animal tracking information. In 2005 Beef Magazine reported that 76% of survey respondents said a national system of individual animal ID and traceback was needed for health monitoring purposes, and 63% indicated such a system should be mandatory. According to the magazine, 83% of cattle producers who responded to their survey individually identify their cattle and 12% use electronic ID tags. These results are very different from USDA NAHMS 2007-08 survey results, which found that 53% of U.S. cow-calf producers use no form of individual calf identification and less than 1% of producers use electronic ID technology (USDA-APHIS, 2009a). In 2006, the Cattle Industry Work Group (established by the USDA to develop NAIS guidelines and standards for the cattle industry) declared electronic ID technology (specifically, radio frequency identification (RFID)) as the technology to be used to individually identify cattle under NAIS (USDA-APHIS, 2006c). Although originally conceived as a means to deal with animal health emergencies (zoonotic and otherwise), NAIS proponents and technology vendors consistently emphasized the valuable management benefits to producers from individual animal identification and performance record keeping (particularly in their RFID and electronic forms). NAIS proponents and technology vendors have assumed that management intensification and the tools to accomplish it are desired by producers. However, cow-calf production is an intrinsically low-management intensity activity. It is a land-extensive activity and one where it is often not desirable, necessary, or feasible for producers to increase management intensity or capital investments. NAIS proponents touted individual animal identification’s role in maintaining international market access and cattle and meat trade flows. This justification has not been well received by cow-calf producers who believe international trade is a threat to their industry. In their opinion, shutting off beef exports would be a small price to pay for shutting off the live cattle imports with which they directly compete. For the cow-calf sector, NAIS became an attempt to impose a technology mandate and modernization on an industry where cow reproductive limitations, producer household and personal objectives, and cattle’s efficient use of low-value forage have limited and will continue to limit technology adoption and modernization. Much of cow-calf producer opposition to NAIS was founded on fears that they would pay for the NAIS while the feeding and packing sectors would benefit from animal tracking and performance information derived from the electronic data. Cow-calf producers’ fears about the costs of NAIS were confirmed in a 2009 USDA benefit-cost analysis of the system (USDA-APHIS, 2009b, 2009c). The analysis concluded that beef cow-calf operations would incur 79% of the total annual beef cattle industry cost of a fully implemented NAIS. Given existing economies of size, the cost of an individual cow-calf animal ID system with full traceability ranged from a low of $2.48 per head for the largest operations to a high of $7.17 per head for the smallest operations. These data supported NAIS opponents’ long-running contention that NAIS would benefit large agribusiness at the expense of the smallest farming and ranching operations in the country.

4. Conclusion

A few years ago, the author of this paper was forcefully told by a USDA official that anyone who wanted to “produce or market cattle in the United States” would have to comply with NAIS. This official clearly did not recognize what a critical wedge issue NAIS would become within the U.S. beef-cattle industry. He and the broad complex of government animal health personnel, large agribusiness interests (particularly feeders and packers), and established industry associations failed to appreciate the deep distrust many cattle producers have of them. The proponents of NAIS also seem to have been unaware or dismissive of the deeply ingrained socio-cultural aspects of cow–calf production and traditional small-scale lifestyle agriculture in the United States. Although this paper focuses on the cow-calf sector, many traditional small-scale producers of other species objected to the NAIS using arguments similar to those of cow-calf producers. Serious miscalculations by government officials about livestock producers and owners fed and strengthened grassroots-level resistance to increased animal health regulations. NAIS proponents in government and the private sector sent too many conflicting messages to NAIS skeptics. Official NAIS reports and documents that appeared on and disappeared from the USDA’s website following criticism added to confusion, suspicion, and hostility regarding NAIS. As a consequence, new disease management risks have been created and the ability of the nation to effectively deal with real animal health emergencies has been compromised. The level of suspicion created by NAIS among traditional livestock producers led to an environment where, should a disease such as FMD arise in the United States, many producers will not respond as they should in a true emergency. Rather, they will suspect that a false emergency is being used to expand government control of their activities. Efforts to implement livestock movement control, quarantine, condemnation, and depopulation will be hampered and defied by some producers. Under these circumstances, disease outbreaks could be catastrophic for the entire nation. The USDA appears to have recognized the suspicions and potential for civil disobedience within the livestock sector which resulted from the NAIS experience, as evidenced by official statement that the new animal disease traceability framework has trust issues to overcome (USDA-APHIS, 2010). However, memories of NAIS will negatively affect whatever form a federally-promoted traceability framework takes in the future. Cow-calf producers’ distrust of federal regulation and their suspicions about relationships between large agribusiness NAIS supporters and the federal government are unlikely to moderate under any new federal traceability program. NAIS became part of the paranoia smaller (and many larger) producers feel about industry structure and market power relationships within the U.S. beef-cattle sector. The USDA’s recent statements that the new traceability framework will apply only to animals moving interstate will not mollify many cow-calf producers, as the vast majority of beef calves produced in the United States cross state lines at some point in their lives (even if they are first sold “locally”). Specifically, the February 2010 statement from USDA-APHIS that small producers who sell animals “to local markets” will not be a part of the new disease traceability framework has yet to be operationally defined. Unfortunately, much federal and state credibility has been lost in the rush to mandate a culturally insensitive, high technology, management-beneficial, and trade-oriented animal identification program. NAIS represented an enormous leap in government involvement in the beef cow-calf sector. From the beginning of NAIS, government was under the impression that it was dealing with an “industry”; however, much of U.S. livestock production is deeply grounded in culture and lifestyle. Expanded regulation of culture and lifestyle choices was an uphill battle for NAIS, and will continue to be so in the future. USDA’s unsuccessful efforts to promote NAIS as a management tool and as a means for supporting trade carried little weight with the large percentage of non-management intensive, non-trade oriented cow-calf producers. These producers’ concerns about competition from U.S. imports of feeder and fed cattle aren’t going away simply because federal animal disease traceability efforts are being renamed. Successful animal disease management in the future will require significant rebuilding of trust between state and federal animal health officials and grassroots-level producers. This will require that animal health officials credibly demonstrate their independence from large-scale agribusiness and from identification technology vendors. Previous disease management and eradication programs (e.g., scrapie, brucellosis) haven’t required producer investments in electronic eartags and other equipment. Furthermore, a comprehensive, nationwide, 48-hour traceback objective probably is infeasible under any existing and future technology and management assumptions, regardless of what technology vendors say. The USDA-APHIS announcement that future federal animal disease traceability efforts will apply to animals moving interstate means that any new program is likely to have much in common with NAIS. A future federally-influenced traceability program will thus encounter resistance and disease management will be compromised because of the NAIS experience. The loss of federal credibility and increased mistrust of government which resulted from NAIS has made the United States beef industry vulnerable to trade barriers and protectionism. The U.S. beef industry needs international trade, and post-NAIS, also needs programs that assure the quality and safety of U.S. beef products to overseas buyers. The demise of NAIS and potential cow-calf producer resistance to future government-mandated traceability systems have created a vacuum that industry-driven quality assurance or process verification programs can fill. In the wake of NAIS, an industry-driven system that covers willing buyers and sellers and financially rewards specific attributes or processes will be more successful than government regulation at holding and growing international markets for U.S.-produced beef. Even though NAIS was not implemented, animal disease hazards haven’t disappeared. In their recent factsheet, the USDA indicated that post-NAIS animal disease management and traceability efforts will be led by the states and tribal nations (USDA-APHIS, 2010). NAIS-related damage control needs to be high on the agenda for state and tribal agencies responsible for animal disease management. Whatever reservoirs of trust grassroots livestock producers have for state- or tribal-level animal health agencies desperately need to be refilled before new or well-known pathogens emerge to threaten livestock or human health throughout the United States.

5. Acknowledgement

This research was supported by the New Mexico Agricultural Experiment Station, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico, USA.

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The Denver Post

As USDA turns to ear tags over brands, cattle ranchers fear end of tradition

Ordway rancher John Reid holds some of the irons he uses to brand livestock on his ranch, the Reid Cattle Co. The USDA is expected to release new interstate rules requiring individual cattle to be identified by a number stamped on an ear tag. (Aaron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post )

The future of the hot-iron brand, an icon of Western heritage, is at the center of a nearly decade-long battle over cattle identification and traceability.

“It’s the latest hot lightning rod,” said John Reid, an Ordway rancher who is past president of the Colorado Independent Cattle Growers Association.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is expected soon to release a draft of new regulations, which will remove the hot-iron brand from its list of official identification for cattle sold or shipped across state lines.

The new rules will require each animal to be identified by a number stamped on a removable ear tag.

States would still be able to use brands as official IDs within their boundaries.

Individual agreements between states can be reached to allow brands as official IDs for interstate movement — more complications.

Critics fear this is the beginning of the end for America’s centuries-old branding tradition.

“The federal government’s action sends a signal to the entire industry that the ear tag is a superior means of identification,” said Bill Bullard, chief executive of the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund.

Ranchers argue that ear tags can fall off or be stolen by thieves, so are not a good form of official ID.

State brand commissioner Rick Wahlert said nothing will change for the state’s cattle producers.

However, the new system is a critical element of participation in the interstate beef market, he said.

Negative reaction to the new rules, he said, “is really about change, and a fear of the government being in your business.”

Gerald Schreiber, a third-generation rancher in northeastern Colorado, already uses ear tags for identification within the herd but bristles at the new regulations.

“It sounds good on the surface, but anytime you get the Big Brother approach, I don’t trust it,” he said. “The brand has worked for 1000 years, I don’t know why they want to disregard it. In the West, branding is more than just a tradition; it’s our identity as ranches.”

First proposed in 2002, the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) was rolled out in 2004, but flatly rejected in USDA listening sessions by over 90% of the cattle producers.

Producers across the country are skeptical about the new program, which would require radio-frequency ear tags that would let cattle be tracked from slaughterhouse to birth.

Their concerns ranged from potential costs to confidentiality of information, including fears that animal-rights advocates would be able to gain information on ranchers through the use of the federal Freedom of Information Act.

“It got pretty ugly,” said Ordway rancher Reid.

From 2004 to 2009, the USDA spent $142 million on NAIS, according to a Congressional Research Service report to Congress. Because it was a voluntary program, less than 30 percent of cattle producers participated.

In February 2010, the USDA announced it was abandoning NAIS due to mass rejection by livestock producers. Now a new name and a new program has evolved called Animal Disease Traceability.

Loss of tradition

The draft of the proposed USDA rule was due in April but has been delayed. It is now expected to be released within weeks, followed by a 60- to 90-day period of public comment. It will take an additional 12 to 15 months before the final rule is released.

“Americans want two things,” Rohr said. “They want to know their food is safe, and they have an interest in knowing where their food comes from.”

Still, the plan to remove the hot-iron brand as an official method of ID across state lines has angered Westerners, who worry about a loss of tradition and the addition of more red tape to their businesses.

“The piece of the deal that is awfully hard for producers to understand is that most disease comes from meat processing plants more than individual cattle or cattle herds.” Reid said.

The brand is the oldest and more permanent form of herd identification, while ear tags, with their unique numbers, can easily fall off in brush and trucks where cattle frequent.

“So the question is,” said Reid, “do we need individual ID or is herd ID enough?”

Editor Comment:  Rumblings from US cattle producers over USDA removing branding, their time tested tool to prevent cattle rustling, has reached the businss ears at WALL STREET JOURNAL.  This article articulates the problem, yet straddles the fence of detail and fact.  First, the “inexpensive ear tag” mentioned costs from $7 to $26 per critter and in Australian tests over 32% are lost or destroyed within two years.  As the USDA promotes expensive electronic ear tag devices, no removable ear tag in history has held up in a court of law for livestock title — yet hot iron brands are permanent and conclusive.  Take a lesson from history, not a temporary attachment. USDA plastic-removable animal ID is “flawed thought” and WSJ knows it!

Video

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The Bledsoe family and other ranchers across the West are resisting new government rules stating that branding will no longer be recognized as an official form of identification for interstate commerce. WSJ’s Stephanie Simon reports from Hugo, Colo.

HUGO, Colo.—In the chill of a damp spring morning, rancher Wil Bledsoe pressed two red-hot branding irons to the flank of a bellowing young calf. The smell of burning hair filled the barn.

When Mr. Bledsoe lifted the irons, the calf jumped up, wobbled a moment, then scampered back to his herd, a frying-pan logo seared into his shaggy hide.

Branding day has unfolded this way for generations on ranches all across the West. But ranchers from Colorado to Oregon, from Montana to Texas, worry that the tradition is under threat. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced plans to rewrite its regulations so that hot-iron brands will no longer be recognized as an official form of identification for cattle sold or shipped across state lines.

Instead, the USDA wants every cow to have a unique numerical ID, stamped on an inexpensive ear tag, to make it easier to track animals from ranch to feedlot to slaughterhouse.

Branding Day at the Bledsoe Ranch

[SB10001424052702304066504576341754012316080]J.D. Schier watches cows walk into a different pen during a morning of branding on the Bledsoe ranch outside Hugo, Colo.

The proposed regulation won’t bar ranchers from branding their livestock. Individual states will be free to recognize brands as official ID if they so choose. And some ranchers who have tried the numerical IDs say they are no hassle and can actually be an asset, as they allow more detailed record-keeping on each individual cow or steer.

“It’s worked real well for us,” said Alex Johns, a resource director for the Seminole tribe of Florida, which has used bar-code ID tags for several years under a USDA pilot program. Mr. Johns said the tags helped the tribe sell their cattle at a premium price, as buyers had confidence the animals were tracked closely from birth and any health concerns noted and addressed. Keeping genetic records on heifers’ ID tags, he added, helped manage breeding programs to ensure birthing season brought healthy calves.

Nonetheless, ranchers across the West are up in arms.

The new rules, which the USDA will publish in draft form within weeks and which are scheduled to take effect in about a year, threaten “the United States cattle industry’s iconic, centuries-old, hot-iron brand,” a national coalition of cattle ranchers, known as R-Calf, wrote in a letter to the USDA. Rep. Dennis Rehberg, a Montana Republican and fifth-generation rancher, filed a similar protest.

Ranchers say they fear the withdrawal of federal support for branding might embolden animal-rights activists who call the practice barbaric. Some ranchers fear the new rules could even erode the legal standing of the brand as proof of ownership in cases of lost or stolen cattle.

The USDA says it never set out to undermine the traditional brand. Officials say the ID system will let them respond quickly if a diseased animal shows up in the meat production cycle, allowing them to track down other animals that a sick steer came into contact with.

Such track-backs have proved difficult for the USDA in the past. In 2003, 2005 and 2006, animals infected with mad-cow disease surfaced in the U.S. In each case, investigators had limited success identifying or locating livestock that might have been exposed to the sick cattle.

But branding advocates say none of the three animals was marked after birth with a registered brand from a U.S. ranch. One had been imported from Canada, one had no identification at all, and the third was traced to a Texas ranch that “kept very few herd records,” a USDA report on the case said.

Bill Bullard, chief executive officer of R-Calf, said tracing the animals would have been far easier had they been marked with an indelible brand, which, unlike an ear tag, cannot fall off or be cut out. Insisting that every one of the nation’s 93 million cattle has its own ID is “unnecessary, overly burdensome regulatory overreach,” he said.

Branding, brought to the New World in the 1500s by Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez, is today common across states like New Mexico, Texas and Wyoming. The marks can be seen from a distance and help ranchers settle ownership disputes when cattle trample fences and mix with a neighbor’s herd. Many states keep a registry of brands, so there won’t be two ranchers using the same Lazy J or Triple Dot. State brand inspectors say the practice also deters rustling, as thieves can’t remove the identifying mark.

And on many ranches, branding day is a communal affair. “The cultural tradition can’t be overemphasized,” said Taylor Haynes, a fourth-generation rancher outside Cheyenne, Wyo.

On the Bledsoe ranch in Eastern Colorado, family members spent a morning castrating, vaccinating and branding calves in practiced motions that took just 60 to 90 seconds an animal.

“When government steps in, they like to make things more complex,” Mr. Bledsoe said. “Branding’s the simplest, most efficient way to do it. Why change?”

Write to Stephanie Simon at stephanie.simon@wsj.com

Use extreme caution in hiring
By Drovers news source  |  Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Animal Agriculture Alliance urges farm managers to be watchful for a number of individuals who have been found responsible for some of the latest undercover activist videos released to the media and public in the past year. The alliance recommends that all producers ensure high standards of animal welfare by following approved industry guidelines. Operators should also review their hiring practices, train employees on proper animal handling according to company policy, and hold all workers accountable for their actions.

The activist tactic of obtaining illicit employment at a farm or processing plant in order to acquire video intended to malign the reputation of farmers and ranchers is becoming increasingly common. While animal abuse in any shape or form is never condoned by the agriculture industry, activists use highly-edited images of violence and neglect to prey on the emotions of the public. It is hard to determine the authenticity of the images. Too often, the activists wait for weeks or even months before turning the video over to the proper authorities. By waiting for the most politically opportune time to ‘go public,’ they allow any alleged abuse to continue.

The following individuals have been connected to a number of recent undercover video campaigns.

“Jason Smith
It appears one individual is responsible for undercover videos taken at Quality Egg of New England, Bushway Packing Inc, Maine Contract Farms, Wiles Hog Farm, Hodgins Kennels, C.C. Baird, and at least one other dog breeding facility.  It is probable the same individual is responsible for undercover videos taken at Gemperle Farms, Norco Ranch, DeCoster Egg Farms, and Hy-Line’s Spencer Iowa hatchery.

According to credible sources, the person who worked undercover at these facilities was born in Houston, Texas, as Christopher Parrett.  Some of the other names given to employers include Jason Smith, John Knoldt, and Chris Paxton. When employed by Maine Contract Farms, the person claimed to be Jason Smith but used a social security card belonging to John Knoldt, originally Christopher Parrett.

The social security card of the individual who worked as Jason Smith identifies his social security number as ending in these last four digits: 0852. His driver’s license is from North Carolina (picture shown at right).

Smith also was found to have led an undercover investigation of a Minnesota dog breeder in 2009.

“Pete Romoland
The Alliance suspects that this same individual is also known as “Pete Romoland,” whose picture appeared in a TIME magazine article accompanying an interview with him on March 6, 2009 (shown below). However, the sunglasses shown in the photos make it difficult to confirm if they are indeed the same person.

In the TIME magazine article, “Pete” indicated that he had legally changed his name twice.  “Pete” also indicated that he is a vegan and specifically stated, “…I do not believe that under any circumstances we should raise animals for food.”

In the same interview, “Pete” stated that he operated as an unlicensed investigator and had contracted with the anti-modern farming group Humane Farming Association and the vegan animal rights group Mercy for Animals. He proudly boasted that video footage he was responsible for procuring had been featured in at least two HBO documentaries, including Death on a Factory Farm. In July 2007, video obtained by Smith (who went by Knoldt) was used in a trial against an Ohio hog farm. He said that he had used his real name and a false address when he was hired. Video was obtained using a buttonhole camera.

“James/Jimmy Carlson
Possibly the same, but without confirmation, another individual was hired by Country View Family Farms. The name provided was Jimmy Carlson, supposedly from Sag Harbor, NY. The individual was in his twenties and had his hair cropped short in a buzz cut. Sources confirmed that Carlson was also responsible for the January 2010 video taken at Willet Dairy in New York for Mercy for Animals.

In a National Public Radio interview that has since been taken offline, an individual took credit for conducting the Hy-Line undercover operation. He stated that he worked for Mercy for Animals. In the radio interview, this individual asked the reporter to call him “James.” He said that since he often had to use his real social security card with his picture ID, he couldn’t reveal his real name when giving interviews.

In all cases, the undercover videos were provided weeks or months after the individuals had left employment, and the videos were initially provided to either the media or the USDA — not directly to the businesses involved.

In most cases, employers realized — after the fact — who the former undercover employee had been. They also recognized — after the fact — many behaviors or actions demonstrated by the undercover employee that allowed them to have access to the animals and to produce videos — whether of real or staged animal mistreatment.

Some of the behaviors included:

  • Befriending or mingling with upper management – asking questions about operations including security matters or time schedules.
  • Volunteering for jobs before or after normal business hours.
  • Volunteering for jobs that are less desirable, but would provide them access to the animals, often before or after normal business hours.
  • Seeking employment in jobs below their skill or education level; demonstrating previous jobs or experiences out of character for the job they were seeking.
  • Seeking employment with no pay — so they can “learn more about the business before committing to that field” either with regard to their education or possibly before starting their own business.
  • Using an out-of-state driver’s license.

The alliance urges producers to use caution when hiring new employees. Operators should keep these photos on hand and follow the recommendations in the Alliance’s Farm & Facility Security Recommendations Report, which is available on the members section of the Alliance’s website. Operators must make certain that they hire people who are there for the right reasons- to help produce a safe and nutritious food supply.

The agriculture industry must be wary – activists have shown that they will work every angle in their quest to put all farmers, ranchers, and meat processors out of business. The first step for every farm operator is to ensure that top quality animal care is provided at all times. It is also critical that those in the industry take extra security precautions to prevent getting targeted by animal rights groups looking for video to aid in their fundraising efforts and political campaigns.

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