My View From The Country

The ‘Good Old Days’ Of Beef Production Are Gone

Nobody can afford not to utilize proven technologies; they make you competitive.

I love the good old days as much as anyone. In fact, I think life has never been so good, and I was never so knowledgeable, as when I was a senior in high school. I was the master of my universe.

This week, I took part in a conversation where it was argued that we would all be a lot better off without all this technology that pervades our life, and beef production, today. If we hadn’t improved genetics, the argument goes, we would need a lot more cattle today. And the same could be said for implants, or a host of other technologies.

There is truth to that. Occasionally, the consumer may reject certain technologies or even pay enough of a premium for producers to justify not using it. However, the free-market system is amazingly efficient; the reason we produce corn-fed beef is that the most prosperous consumers in the world prefer it to grass-fed beef.

The U.S. is the world’s low-cost producer of high-quality, corn-fed beef. We wouldn’t be competitive if grass-fed beef was to become the dominant category.

Let’s look at growth implants. Most cattle in the U.S. are implanted because cattlemen earn a return of around 15-20 to 1 on their investment. Others elect to not implant cattle because they receive enough of a premium not to use the technology. In the end, however, all these discussions are kind of moot. Nobody can afford not to utilize proven technologies; they make you competitive.


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The marketplace/consumer is the final arbiter, and to ignore them is to do so at your own peril. The difficult thing with the whole technology discussion is that we tend to forget the laws of marketing. Dominant technologies always create niches. Some purebred breeders are quite successful selling cattle that are below average for the economically relevant traits of beef production; they take advantage of a niche created by the dominant technology. However, the majority of seedstock producers will utilize genetic improvement tools.

The same can be said with every technology. The success of a niche market is dependent upon the success of the dominant market. It can’t be applied universally. Most importantly, the discussions are almost always moot, because once a technology is developed and accepted by a majority of consumers, unless producers target a small niche market, they’re almost forced to adopt them.

Once out of the tube, you can’t put the toothpaste back in. I may actually believe the world was a better place without cell phones, but I also can’t imagine living without one, at least until something better comes along to replace them.


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Discuss this Blog Entry 7

PETA people hater (not verified)
on Jun 14, 2013

I find it remarkable that some people say we as producers should ignore market signals, cost efficiency methods, modern marketing, simply for no better reason than these items are outside their comfort zone. They wish that they could control each aspect of all things related to production, marketing, even animal welfare.
In other words, we would be relegated to the pace of life they envision, they feel they control, and they believe they would be comfortable.

Chuck Huseman (not verified)
on Jun 14, 2013

Yesterday's "good old days" are over. Tomorrows good old days are now.

Janet (not verified)
on Jun 14, 2013

Why do you assume that those of us that do things a bit different would not be utilizing the knowledge and technology of today's research? We are grass fed beef and have a great customer following. My customers do not want grain fed so I am supplying a product to a market. I have never said grain fed is bad, but we can be different.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 14, 2013

Peta, seems like people who think differently than your put you outside your comfort zone. Here is a good case for changing to a profitable ranching operation

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 18, 2013

The "improved genetics" referred to is simply genetically larger (heavier) cattle. Larger cattle require more forage/feed per head. Just because we have fewer but larger cows does not mean greater efficiency. Pounds of beef per cow is a measure of production, not efficiency. We are producing more pounds per cow today because cattle are genetically larger, we feed practically everything not used for breeding, and implants, etc. are widely used in finishing.

Jim McGrann (not verified)
on Jun 19, 2013

You never see the full cost of these niche alternatives. Economics wins in the end!

on Jun 19, 2013

Economics and market demand is exactly why I've gotten out of implants and moved to more traditional genetics in my beef - and have made my farm far more profitable. The local market pays a substantial premium for grass fed beef raised naturally. And feeding them year-round on grass is cheaper than corn on our land.

I've found that the "genetically-improved" conventional Angus is far more "touchy" and harder to manage - and so crossbred a more milder disposition Galloway into our cows. Docile beef mean more pounds on. Smaller frame size means more meat produced per acre.

So much for "improvements". The market rules.

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What's My View From The Country?

As a fulltime rancher, opinion contributor Troy Marshall brings a unique perspective on how consumer and political trends affect livestock production.


Troy Marshall

Troy Marshall is a multi-generational rancher who grew up in Wheatland, WY, and obtained an Equine Science/Animal Science degree from Colorado State University where he competed on both the livestock...

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