The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, Inc.
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Integrity Beef: A Model for Cow-calf Producers

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The cattle industry has made many advances over the last few decades. Fewer cattle are producing more pounds of beef that is arguably of better quality. There are many reasons, including improved genetics, advances in pharmaceuticals, implementation of Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) practices, improved management practices and other factors. Challenges facing the cattle industry are the same as most agriculture sectors - costs of production are increasing more rapidly than the prices for the product, market uncertainty lies ahead and the weather is unpredictable. How can a cow-calf producer minimize risks while increasing the potential of positive margins for the enterprise?

To start, develop an operational program that complements your resources and goals, incorporates the industry's best management practices, establishes mechanisms to monitor and measure the critical production and economic variables, minimizes expenses and strategically markets the product. Each of these steps must be applied consistently and be repeatable. In short, manage the operation as a business, regardless of its size or scale. There are many successful business models in the cattle industry. Many producers, however, are reluctant to adopt one for various reasons: they may think that they are not large enough, implementation is not a priority, there's not enough available time, or there is uncertainty about what to do or how to do it. Granted, larger operations have more options, but adopting a specific program also brings benefits to smaller producers.

If you are a cattle producer and would like a simple cattle program that can be planned and scheduled on a calendar basis, want to utilize the most proven management practices in the industry, are willing to follow a designed production protocol, are willing to keep and use meaningful production and financial records, and desire to participate in a producer organization dedicated to best practices, then you should investigate the Integrity Beef program.

Integrity Beef is a terminal beef cattle program. It assists producers in the production and marketing of ranch-raised stocker/feeder cattle that are preconditioned and have superior growth potential. The Integrity Beef program is directed by participating producers with guidance from the Noble Foundation Agricultural Division. Progressive producers formed the Integrity Beef Alliance in 2009 after several years of the program's development. Producers and the Noble Foundation set out to distinguish Integrity Beef by requiring standards that are above and beyond most others. A program protocol was established through which participating producers uniformly administer, document and report all practices. The protocol is designed to simplify management decisions and increase the marketability of calves through the production of uniform and age- and source-verified cattle. Integrity Beef has advanced to the point to which producers' calves are now commingled and marketed in larger, uniform lots. Commingling was successfully implemented in the Decembers of 2008 and 2009 at sanctioned Integrity Beef calf sales. This marketing strategy works very well for small and medium producers who cannot market truckload lots of calves.

The Integrity Beef protocol is a set of standards for a spring calving cow-calf program and includes requirements that participants agree to as the basis for program inclusion. Following are the basics of the protocol.

Calves must:

  • be sired by Integrity Beef-accepted bulls (see bull requirements)
  • have permanent individual tag or brand identification
  • be age- and source-verified as Integrity Beef program calves through Micro Beef Technology
  • be from groups with recorded first and last birth dates of the calf crop (or individual birth dates recorded)
  • be castrated and dehorned
  • have individually recorded weaning weights
  • be preconditioned a minimum of 45 days
  • be trained to eat from a bunk and drink from a water trough
  • have two doses of clostridial (one in spring), one dose of anthelmintic and two doses of respiratory vaccine (MLV for IBR, BRSV, PI3, BVD Types 1 and 2) given at or around weaning
  • test negative for PI-BVD (persistently infected-bovine viral diarrhea) at year one.

 

Cows must:

  • have a breed composition of at least 50 percent British breeds (Angus, Red Angus or Hereford)
  • be no more than three-eighths Brahman influence with no Longhorn, Corriente or dairy breed influence
  • have permanent identification
  • be palpated annually for pregnancy
  • have annual vaccinations against respiratory disease, vibriosis and leptospirosis (prior to the breeding season)
  • have anthelmintic applied in the fall and spring
  • test negative for PI-BVD upon purchase or entry into the program, and calves from replacement females must also test PI-BVD negative.

 

Bulls must:

  • be Angus or Charolais with EPDs in the top 20 percent of their respective breed for weaning weight and yearling weight
  • have annual vaccinations against respiratory disease, vibriosis and leptospirosis (prior to the breeding season)
  • have anthelmintic applied in the fall and spring
  • have permanent identification
  • have a breeding soundness exam 30-90 days prior to the breeding season
  • have a 90-day breeding season maximum for a late winter/early spring calving season
  • test negative for PI-BVD upon purchase or entry into the program.
  • Additional requirements include:
  • participants to be active Noble Foundation cooperators
  • participating operations to have premise identification numbers
  • operational managers to have BQA certification
  • participants to annually provide preconditioning expenses to the Noble Foundation for summary reporting
  • participants to provide production, performance and economic data to the Noble Foundation for operational annual reports.

 

The primary costs associated with the Integrity Beef program are the age and source verification fees, the Alliance enrollment fee and the PI-BVD testing of new animals before they are added to the herd. Age and source verification carries a base fee of $4 per calf with audit fees not included. Integrity Beef Alliance enrollment is an annual $1 per calf fee to participate in the program. Fees are assessed and collected by the Alliance and are used as the membership designates for such things as promotions, field trips and research.

PI-BVD testing costs about $4 and is conducted by testing services such as Cattle Stats LLC and the Oklahoma Animal Disease and Diagnostic Laboratory at Oklahoma State University. The producer is responsible for contacting a service for PI-BVD testing and is responsible for associated expenses.

As participants in Integrity Beef, producers receive ongoing services from the Noble Foundation consultation program. This service includes assessments of land and livestock resources, and reports providing annual production and economic summaries of the operation. Members who maintain annual reporting requirements also receive annual summary statistics (individual production information remains confidential) from the overall program.

When Integrity Beef cattle have been marketed in large lot sizes, calves have demonstrated the ability to top the market within each class represented on any particular sale day. On Dec. 2, 2009, Integrity Beef producers marketed approximately 1,200 head of commingled calves for a $5.72 per hundredweight premium over all other cattle marketed that day. Similar premiums are consistently reported from participating producers who retained ownership to heavier weights and/or marketed their cattle independently.

The largest benefit from participation in the Integrity Beef program is the advancement of operational objectives through a proven cow-calf business model. The system can be confidently planned and administered backed by the knowledge that other producers are producing a more uniform and marketable product under the protocol. Additionally, the Noble Foundation continues to support this program through consultation and education. One Integrity Beef producer recently explained his reasons for participation, "The program has me doing all the right things because it is the right thing to do for the beef industry. Following Integrity Beef standards, I know what to do, when to do it and can now run my operation as a business."

The Integrity Beef program requires discipline, and it is not for everyone. If, however, you are ready to take your cow-calf operation to the next level, contact Hugh Aljoe, consultation program manager and acting executive director of the Integrity Beef Alliance at 580-223-5810 or speak to a Noble Foundation agricultural consultant for more information.

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