New KLA resolution to ban poultry litter feeding promts talk of a possible boycott of Kansas feedyards.
A Kansas Livestock Association (KLA) resolution urging the discontinuation of feeding poultry litter to cattle has ruffled the feathers of Alabama producers, where an estimated 1 million tons of litter are produced annually by the state's broiler industry.
"I can't believe other cattle producers would do something to negatively affect our economics, especially when it's based on perception," says Stanton, AL, producer Jimmy Parnell. "If we start operating on perception we might as well all go out of business."
The KLA resolution was passed at the association's annual meeting in December. The group intends to take the resolution before the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) Convention in Denver next month.
Safety Isn't A Concern The KLA resolution acknowledges that the by-product is a safe cattle feed, but contends that consumers have a negative perception of the practice.
"This was a difficult decision for KLA members," says Todd Domer, KLA director of communications, "especially considering how well-grounded the organization's policy is in science and fact." However, Domer says members decided that negative publicity outweighed the benefits of feeding the by-product.
Parnell uses litter in his stocker operation as a supplement to grass and hay. "Broiler litter has a feed value of 20 percent protein and 50 percent TDN," he explains. "When it's mixed with other by-products, the ration costs $45 a ton. The equivalent would probably be $150 a ton. That triples our cost of gain."
He also believes consumers are more concerned about the use of growth implants, which are used industry-wide, than they are with the use of poultry litter.
Wendell Gibbs, a producer from Ranburne, AL, sees litter feeding as an effective method of recycling. "We started feeding litter after studying the science developed by the universities. They have been teaching and preaching its safety for years."
Gibbs mixes litter with corn hominy as a winter supplement for his 175-cow commercial herd. His wife Nan, who works with him on their operation, says, "I'm a housewife, consumer, mother and grandmother. I have no problem feeding my family beef raised on this farm. My family is the most important thing in the world to me and I wouldn't do anything to hurt them."
A Lack Of Understanding "The reason other people are concerned about feeding litter is because they don't understand it," says Henry Gray, a Eufaula, AL, cattleman. "Feeding litter has proven scientifically safe for 35 years."
For extra safety, Gray, as well as Parnell and Gibbs, deep stack the litter and cover it with plastic. Gray says that causes the litter to go through a heat and kills any pathogens. Gray uses a litter-hominy mix as a winter supplement for his 300-head cow herd.
"It's increased our conception rates tremendously," he reports. He also feeds it to his stocker cattle from weaning to 900 lbs., at which point he sends them to a Plains feedyard for finishing.
"Poultry litter gives us very cheap gains - 30 cents a pound," says Gray. "If it was discontinued, it would take us out of the stocker business."
The three producers are stung by the implied criticism of the KLA resolution. All say they adhere to strict Beef Quality Assurance guidelines. "We're doing everything in the world to improve the quality of beef," Gray says. He's stopped branding, gives all injections subcutaneously in the neck, and follows recommended drug withdrawal times before marketing. He adds, "We never send a sick animal to the stockyard. They either get well or die here."
Talk Of A Kansas Boycott The Alabama contingent hopes the issue dies quietly before it reaches the floor of the NCBA meeting in February.
"We hope common sense will prevail," says Billy Powell, executive vice president of the Alabama Cattlemen's Association. "NCBA has a history of working to prevent unnecessary federal regulations from encumbering the cattle business."
Parnell hopes producers outside the broiler belt will remember past favors. "They need to think about the times we've talked to our congressmen to lobby for their continued access to public grazing lands, for instance," he says.
Parnell funnels 5,000 stockers a year to Kansas feedyards, where he retains ownership until slaughter. "Feeding litter is an essential part of business for us. I've considered stopping feeding in Kansas if the proposed ban on litter feeding goes through," he says.