We've all misread a few trends in life, some of which evolved into forces that drastically changed lives and entire industries.

Thirty years ago, who would have thought that the roughest, most mismanaged, cedar-infested grassland in the Flint Hills of Kansas would bring as much or more at auction than well-managed parcels? A lot of this market pressure results from the spillover of disposable income from urbanites looking for recreational ground, combined with some pretty reasonable interest rates.

And what about the increasing effect of energy costs on agricultural production? We used to just shake our heads at the cost of fuel, but now we're witnessing the effects of society's need for SUVs competing with our need to feed livestock (ethanol).

Why do I ramble about these things in a column on cattle health? It's because I see just as dramatic a change in store for how your cattle will be valued.

Health-based marketing

Programs linking cattle buyers and sellers on the basis of health are our future. More than just a way to add a few dollars per head, health status is about to tip over to a dominant factor in selling cattle to stockers, backgrounders, and feeders.

I'm talking about more than a preconditioning program or using the right vaccines in cattle. It's about producing cattle that can maintain health in the face of production pressure.

Just because your calves stayed healthy on the ranch during a preconditioning period, doesn't mean they can maintain that health during a more intense feeding period. Sure, we can mess things up in the feedlot with the wrong feed program, commingling, inadequate facilities and bad weather, but what about the cattle that still maintain their health in the face of such challenges?

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