Drought-induced early weaning is shrinking the fall calf supply and propping up prices, while drought-induced cow culling seems to have slowed herd expansion. Foreign markets are opening and strong domestic beef demand continues, too. The combination prompted “Market Advisor” columnist Harlan Hughes to revise his short- and long-run planning prices on page 10.

Functional traits are important when selecting beef cattle for a long, productive life on the cow operation. In “Her Working Clothes,” on page 22, BEEF Senior Editor Clint Peck details what two experts regard as most important in building a female that will be a trusted and dependable, longtime performer in your cow herd.

When it comes to weighing the economics of good stock dogs vs. hiring cowboys, the data seems to favor canines, reports Alan Newport in “Stock Dogs Vs. Cowboys” on page 27. Good stock dogs can't tell jokes around the campfire, run for parts, jump start a pickup, or build and mend fence, but their dependability and cost efficiency are significant factors on the plus side of the ledger, he writes.

The latest federal reports indicate cropland values in the U.S. are easing in some regions but pastureland values continue to surge, writes farmland market expert Mike Fritz. In fact, USDA statisticians recently revised their 2005 estimate of a 9.5% increase in 2004 pasture values to 29% to an average $820/acre price, and another 22% to $1,000/acre last year. Read “Still On A Tear” on page 32.

BEEF magazine kicks off a new and unique industry award this month, the National Stocker Award. Designed to honor the nation's top practitioners of the art of stockering cattle, the award carries a $10,000 cash prize. Wes Ishmael provides the details on all three finalists for this coveted annual award in a special eight-page section that's attached to page 39 of this issue.

Mainstream beef producers traditionally have viewed natural and organic beef as relatives no one wants to claim, writes Doug Perkins in “Serving The Underserved?” on page 50. But these former “outsiders” could be doing the industry a big favor by broadening beef's appeal, and bringing in big numbers of underserved consumers willing to pay more for beef qualities they consider important.