With the current beef-price cycle expected to trend lower as the cycle plays out, controlling heifer-replacement costs over the next 3-4 years is a critical step in ranch financial stability, writes “Market Advisor” columnist Harlan Hughes. In “Heifer economics,” on page 10, the North Dakota State University emeritus professor provides his analysis.

Mining every vestige of profitability is an ongoing quest in the cattle business. It can be done by garnering more dollars for the product you're marketing, or by trimming the expense of developing that product. In “Take off the blinders,” on page 16, Kansas DVM Dave Sjeklocha provides some eye-opening thoughts on the unintended consequences of well-intentioned efficiency moves.

Thirty years ago, a U.S. Senate nutrition report started an avalanche that threatened to bury the meat industry. Be prepared, experts say, because we may be in for a tsunami of 1970s proportions in the diet and health arena. Walt Barnhart provides some background and insight on the looming challenge, in “Diet Policy Déjà vu, on page 18.

The hamburger is unquestionably America's favorite sandwich. With today's fast-paced lifestyles, developing precooked burgers with the flavor and look of “fresh off the grill” offers tremendous growth potential. In “And They're Off…,” on page 22, former BEEF Senior Associate Editor Diana Barto details what a handful of innovative firms are doing to make this a reality.

High feed prices are driving a shift away from calf-feds to traditional feeder-weight animals, and even heavier, writes Larry Stalcup. In “Keeping 'Em Home,” on page 28, he provides some price-protection strategies for calf growers who want to graze their stockers longer and protect them from the vagaries of today's corn-confounded market.

In March 2006, ranchers in the Texas Panhandle watched one of the state's worst wildfires torch a total of 726,000 acres, kill 2,000 cattle, and claim the lives of 11 people, including one firefighter. In “Fire & Ice,” on page 46, Senior Editor Burt Rutherford visits with survivors and chronicles the challenges of the past year and the ongoing recovery.