Addressing Beef Management and Industry Issues

Jack Van Laar, Decatur County extension education director


With over 23,000 head, Decatur County ranks near the top for Iowa beef cow numbers. Beef cow-calf production and grazing utilization of forages from steep and highly erodable soils, which comprise a large portion of the county land base, represents the major livestock and economic enterprise in the county. This industry, like the rest of agriculture, is very dynamic and producers and industry leaders are in continual need of information and updating on a number of production, management, and marketing issues, which directly affect the profitability of this enterprise..


Decatur County Extension, working in concert with Extension field and campus specialists and the ISU Iowa Beef Center, cooperates and partners with county producers and producer groups (primarily the county Cattlemen‚s Association), other agencies, such as Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and others to provide a variety of programming to address the on-going and emerging issues and educational needs of this industry. Examples include: Hosting a site for the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) videoconference; hosting a meeting site for a Fescue Management seminar; assisting with the Midcrest Area Cattle Evaluation (MACEP) feedlot performance program conducted at a local feedlot and hosting a summary meeting and dinner; cooperating with NRCS in providing pasture walks for producers to see managed grazing and water delivery systems on neighbors‚ farms which are examples of practices eligible for conservation program funding (an outgrowth of a Grass Roots of Grazing conference held a couple of years ago), and individual consultation with producers regarding herd management, nutrition, forage testing, grazing, and feedlot/manure management problems.


Approximately 100 producers, including several from outside Decatur County took part in one or more of the meetings or programs held this year. In addition, over a dozen received individual assistance from the county office or area livestock field specialists. Producers recognize ISU Extension and the Iowa Beef Center as credible and important resources for the beef industry and continue to utilize them well. Producers consistently report (formally and informally) a high degree of appreciation for the program offerings, as well as an increased understanding of industry issues and knowledge base to make critical management decisions.
Some examples:
BSE Satellite Conference-This response to the discovery of the first case of this disease in the U.S. was delivered within two weeks of that announcement and reached a nationwide audience. At the local site, participant reactions echoed those of other producers and industry leaders across the country-ISU Extension responded in a timely and straightforward manner to greatly improve everyone‚s understanding and provide a balanced and thorough perspective of this major national issue.

MACEP Cattle Evaluation-Participating producers in this feedlot performance program continue to gain valuable information about their calves for herd management and selection decisions and experience first hand the option of retained ownership and value-added marketing of their calf crop. This year, the 22 producers involved saw an average value added per head of $82.94 for steers and $112.21 for heifers in the program (over sale as feeder calves). Of 123 steers, 109 benefited from the retained ownership, with 45 adding over $100. Of 50 heifers, 49 showed positive benefit with 30 adding more than $100. One producer with several head in the test, however, felt the feedback information for herd management and selection decisions far outweighed the value-added economics. "Every cow-calf producer in the area should be taking advantage of programs like this," he said.

Managing Fescue Pastures-Decatur County played host to one of several sites in the area for this program, which featured ISU Extension field and campus specialists, and a noted researcher from the University of Kentucky. Fescue is found in most area pastures. It is a very productive, resilient and durable grass species, but its harboring of the endophyte fungus and potential toxicosis problems with grazing livestock raises concerns with producers. Actual fescue plants which were in the early heading stage were dug up near the meeting site and displayed to help the 40 producers in attendance better identify the plant. Steps to manage the grass and grazing to minimize toxicity problems were reviewed as well as latest research on supplementation, nutrition and non-toxic endophyte varieties were presented. Updated written materials were provided for participants and Extension workers, which have been used with several clients requesting information on fescue since the meeting. Producers had a lot of questions and discussion was excellent throughout the program. Many expressed appreciation for the program and indicated they had a better understanding of fescue forage and how to better manage it in their pastures.


Page last updated: July 8, 2006
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