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5 Trending headlines in the beef world

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Here’s a look at 5 headlines that you don’t want to miss this week.

Check out these five stories that are dominating the news this week.

Satellite-guided cows? 

  1. Could satellite-guided cows save the Kansas prairie and make ranchers more money?  Third-generation rancher Daniel Mushrush has 30-plus miles of barbed wire fence to tend to.

For Mushrush and his family, the fence-mending on their Flint Hills ranch never ends. It’s inescapable.

“Fencing is right up there with death and taxes,” Mushrush said.

But this year, his cattle sport new GPS collars intended to make traditional fences not quite obsolete, but less important. About the size of an iPhone and twice as thick, the collars offer a high-tech take on the kind of familiar invisible fences that homeowners install for dogs.

Mushrush joined a Nature Conservancy project that brings together ranchers, scientists and conservation experts in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico.

Their work is part of a flurry of recent studies into the tech world’s fledgling virtual fence industry.

Mushrush’s Red Angus cattle will help researchers learn whether the devices can save ranchers money and simultaneously help ailing bird populations, reduce water pollution and increase the resilience and diversity of grasslands.

Biologists from Kansas State University will help study the effects of a project that could prove a model bridge between conservationists and Flint Hills ranchers.

The agriculture and conservation fields often stand at odds, but they also share some common ground in their appreciation of the nation’s last significant stretches of unplowed tallgrass prairie.

“If I’m going to own Flint Hills grass, there’s a moral obligation to treat it like it’s sacred,” Mushrush said. “Because it is. There’s not very much left.”

Still, paying his bills comes first. Protecting wildlife, such as the disappearing greater prairie chicken, comes second.

How the GPS collars for cattle work

The Mushrush ranch is home to between 800 and a couple thousand cattle, depending on the time of year. The family owns or leases about 15,000 acres.

Seen on a map, the ranch is shaped something like Africa. Fencing, meanwhile, cuts across it in straight lines.

Those rigid lines are blind to the curvy contours that shape this land — flat-topped hills, rocky ledges and snake-like, meandering streams.

Yet when it comes to grazing, the contours matter. They effectively funnel cattle toward some areas and away from others.

And when the herd consistently opts, say, to lounge along a creek, the damage can add up. The cattle can chomp and stomp the same areas too much, tearing up the banks and filling the stream with nitrogen from their manure.

Mushrush decided to try the GPS collars. His barbed wire fences just aren’t where he needs them, making it hard to give vegetation the right balance of grazing and rest that produces more robust grasses.

When grasses suffer, it limits how many animals a ranch can support.

Mushrush can’t solve the problem by installing ever more physical fences, which can cost thousands of dollars per mile. Even with temporary fences, it’s tough. This landscape — including when any given swath of it would benefit from more or less grazing — is simply too nuanced.

Virtual fence aims to let ranchers block off any zone on their property by pulling up a map on an electronic tablet and using software to set the lines.

Adding a buffer zone along a winding creek — practically impossible, and prohibitively expensive with normal fences — becomes easy. So do other changes, such as redrawing paddocks or moving cattle to let grazed grasses grow.

The GPS collars don’t require ranchers to bury wires in the ground the way invisible fences for dogs frequently do.

If cattle walk toward the invisible line, the collars make noises. If they keep walking, those noises get louder. If they cross the line, the collars deliver a shock.

Most of the cattle take the hint. A few shrug off the discomfort and cross the barrier to munch on the proverbial greener grass.

But if most of the cattle stick to the rules, that could be enough to benefit ranchers, flora and fauna.

The virtual fencing project could help by effectively cording off areas for rest from prescribed burning and grazing, long enough to let a mat of dead grass called thatch accrue at ground level, interwoven among the live grass.

Like physical fences, virtual fences are expensive, too. The question is whether the benefits — both in terms of healthier grass and less time and money spent mending barbed wire or moving temporary fences — can pay off long-term for ranchers.

A team of business experts from Colorado State University will study Mushrush’s experience to help figure it out. Mushrush is optimistic.

 

2. We all know the July 4 barbeque is going to cost more this year. But how much more? Try 17 percent more.

Prepare to pay more if you’re hosting the 4th of July cookout this year. The cost of a typical holiday cookout menu jumped 17% higher than last year, according to a new survey from the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Expect to pay around $7 per person for the favorite Independence Day cookout menu, including cheeseburgers, pork chops, chicken breasts, homemade potato salad, strawberries and ice cream. The average cost of a summer cookout for 10 people is $69.68, a result of ongoing supply chain disruptions, inflation and the war in Ukraine.

Prepare to pay more if you’re hosting the 4th of July cookout this year. The cost of a typical holiday cookout menu jumped 17% higher than last year, according to a new survey from the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Expect to pay around $7 per person for the favorite Independence Day cookout menu, including cheeseburgers, pork chops, chicken breasts, homemade potato salad, strawberries and ice cream. The average cost of a summer cookout for 10 people is $69.68, a result of ongoing supply chain disruptions, inflation and the war in Ukraine.

This weekend, Americans will consume around 190 million pounds of beef and pork and 750 million pounds of chicken, with much of it prepared on the backyard barbeque, according to USDA.

The AFBF survey shows the largest year-to-year price increase for ground beef. The retail price for two pounds of ground beef currently averages $11.12, up 36% from last year. Several other foods in the survey, including chicken breasts, pork chops, homemade potato salad, fresh-squeezed lemonade, pork and beans, hamburger buns and cookies, also increased in price.

One bright spot for consumers is the average retail price for strawberries, which declined by 86 cents compared to a year ago. Sliced cheese and potato chips also dropped in price, 48 cents and 22 cents, respectively. Better weather conditions in some fruit-growing regions and greater retailer pricing flexibility for processed products are the likely drivers behind the modest price declines for these items. 

 

3. Nebraskan company donates 67,600 pounds of beef to Ukraine

When Henry Davis, CEO of Greater Omaha Packing, saw photos of war-torn Ukraine, he mobilized the company to action. Now, 27,600 pounds of ground beef have arrived on Ukrainian soil in two separate shipments, and an additional shipment of 40,000 pounds is set to arrive in July.

Greater Omaha Packing employees embraced the logistical feat of delivering beef to a war-torn country. The first shipment of several arrived April 27, 2022, via air freight delivery, and the second arrived in Ukraine June 13, 2022. One additional shipment will occur in July, providing a total of 67,600 pounds of beef - enough beef to feed more than 270,000 people.

"At Greater Omaha Packing, we live in a country where freedom and opportunity enable us to produce the finest beef and for our employees to provide for their families," Davis said. "It is a natural extension of our company's mission to help Ukrainians fight for those same opportunities in their own country."

Greater Omaha Packing has engaged partners in each step of the supply chain, from ensuring the meat was marked as humanitarian aid to recommending preservation practices to keep beef safe amidst unreliable refrigeration. For many Ukrainians, this may be their first time eating meat in months.

"It was a privilege to put our familiarity with the supply chain to good use while delivering beef to Ukraine," said Mike Drury, Greater Omaha Packing president. "Greater Omaha Packing has customers in 70 countries around the world, and our employees mobilized those networks to accomplish this logistical feat."

 

4. Feeding insects to cattle could make meat and milk production more sustainable

Livestock producers in the U.S. and other exporting countries are looking for ways to increase their output while also being sensitive to the environmental impacts of agricultural production. One important leverage point is finding ingredients for animal feed that can substitute for grains, freeing more farmland to grow crops for human consumption.

Cattle are natural upcyclers: Their specialized digestive systems allow them to convert low-quality sources of nutrients that humans cannot digest, such as grass and hay, into high-quality protein foods like meat and milk that meet human nutritional requirements. But when the protein content of grass and hay becomes too low, typically in winter, producers feed their animals an additional protein source – often soybean meal. This strategy helps cattle grow, but it also drives up the cost of meat and leaves less farmland to grow crops for human consumption.

Growing grains also has environmental impacts: For example, large-scale soybean production is a driver of deforestation in the Amazon.

An insect farming industry is emerging rapidly across the globe. Producers are growing insects for animal feed because of their nutritional profile and ability to grow quickly. Data also suggests that feeding insects to livestock has a smaller environmental footprint than conventional feed crops such as soybean meal.

Among thousands of edible insect species, one that’s attracting attention is the black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens). In their larval form, black soldier flies are 45% protein and 35% fat. They can be fed efficiently on wastes from many industries, such as pre-consumer food waste. The larvae can be raised on a large scale in factory-sized facilities and are shelf-stable after they are dried.

Most adults in the U.S. aren’t ready to put black soldier fly larvae on their plates but are much more willing to consume meat from livestock that are fed black soldier fly larvae. This has sparked research into using black soldier fly larvae as livestock feed.

Already approved for other livestock

Extensive research has shown that black soldier fly larvae can be fed to chickens, pigs and fish as a replacement for conventional protein feeds such as soybean meal and fish meal. The American Association of Feed Control Officials, whose members regulate the sale and distribution of animal feeds in the U.S., has approved the larvae as feed for poultry, pigs and certain fish.

So far, however, there has been scant research on feeding black soldier fly larvae to cattle. This is important for several reasons. First, more than 14 million cattle and calves are fed grain or feed in the U.S. Second, cattle’s specialized digestive system may allow them to utilize black soldier fly larvae as feed more efficiently than other livestock.

Promising results in cattle

Early in 2022, our laboratory published results from the first trial of feeding black soldier fly larvae to cattle. We used cattle that had been surgically fitted with small, porthole-like devices called cannulas, which allowed us to study and analyze the animals’ rumens – the portion of their stomach that is primarily responsible for converting fiber feeds, such as grass and hay, into energy that they can use.

Cannulation is widely used to study digestion in cattle, sheep and goats, including the amount of methane they burp, which contributes to climate change. The procedure is carried out by veterinary professionals following strict protocols to protect the animals’ well-being.

IEconomics also matter. How much will beef and dairy cattle producers pay for insect-based feed, and can the insects be raised at that price point? To begin answering these questions, we conducted an economic analysis of black soldier fly larvae for the U.S. cattle industry, also published early in 2022.

We found that the larvae would be priced slightly higher than current protein sources normally fed to cattle, including soybean meal. This higher price reflects the superior nutritional profile of black soldier fly larvae. However, it is not yet known if the insect farming industry can grow black soldier fly larvae at this price point, or if cattle producers would pay it.

The global market for edible insects is growing quickly, and advocates contend that using insects as ingredients can make human and animal food more sustainable. In my view, the cattle feeding industry is an ideal market, and I hope to see further research that engages both insect and cattle producers.

In our study, the cattle consumed a base diet of hay plus a protein supplement based on either black soldier fly larvae or conventional cattle industry protein feeds. We know that feeding cows a protein supplement along with grass or hay increases the amount of grass and hay they consume, so we hoped the insect-based supplement would have the same effect.

That was exactly what we observed: The insect-based protein supplement increased animals’ hay intake and digestion similarly to the conventional protein supplement. This indicates that black soldier fly larvae have potential as an alternative protein supplement for cattle.

 

5. Thieves make off with trailers full of beef in Grand Island

Three semi-tractors and three trailers filled with beef were taken by thieves in Grand Island on Thursday or Friday of last week.

As of Monday, the three trucks had been recovered, but at least one trailer was still missing. No arrests had been made, and a large amount of beef was gone.

All three tractors were taken from 1515 E. Fourth St. One of those trucks was attached to a trailer, which was also taken.

The two unattached tractors were taken to Midwest Express, where they were connected to trailers and taken away. Midwest Express is at 2110 E. Highway 30.

Two of the tractors are owned by Francisco Erives. The other tractor is owned by Ariel Monteagudo Armenteros.

One of the tractors, a 2016 Volvo, was recovered in Lancaster County on Sunday. The attached trailer initially contained more than $230,000 worth of beef from JBS. Most of that beef, if not all, had been removed, said Capt. Jim Duering of the Grand Island Police Department.

Before the thefts, the two trailers taken from Midwest Express were also filled with beef.

Of the two semi-tractors taken from 1515 E. Fourth St., one was valued at $70,000 and the other one at $50,000. Both had the keys left in them.

In addition to Grand Island police, the crimes are also being investigated by the Nebraska State Patrol.

Similar crimes have been committed the last several weeks in Omaha and in Colfax County, Duering said.

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