Archive for the ‘Livestock’ Category

Comprehensive feed system maximizes hog production, and manages environmental effects

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Pig production is important in Minnesota. So are clean air, water and soil.

Shoreview, Minnesota-based Land O’Lakes Purina Feed has come up with a unique package of products it calls EcoCare® Feed, meant to comprehensively optimize the production of pork while helping to improve the environmental performance of pig farms, according to Mariela Lachmann, a swine nutrition specialist at the company. Among other issues, the feed offers nutrients and technologies that address concerns like air emissions, nitrogen and phosphorous content in manure.

“We want to put all the tools, all the best management practices into a single program, so that we are environmentally sustainable,” said Lachmann who noted that an important element of sustainability is farmer success [or profit potential].

Lachmann, who did her undergraduate and master training in animal nutrition in her native Venezuela, noted that the program required students to learn all about agronomy, so that they understood the crops that became the animals’ food. She went on to earn her Ph.D. at Oklahoma State University, and brought with her the sense of how all the elements of agriculture have to work in concert, in order to achieve success.

She said, “There’s a lot of research in this area. One focus is emissions. You can have a big impact on ammonia emissions, and you can cut dust emissions by manipulation of the diet. It’s a management plan that creates a full circle. With those things in place, we will have a better chance to encourage growth of the industry in Minnesota.”

With a gross income of $2.6 billion dollars, Minnesota hog producers ranked second only to Iowa in economic impact. Producers marketed 17,152,000 head last year, and they were second nationally in pounds marketed—more than 3.8 billion pounds (USDA-NASS, Minnesota field office). And this industry constitutes a major market for Minnesota produced crops, particularly corn and soybeans. Approximately 16 percent of corn produced in Minnesota went to animal production within the state (MDA).

Some of the elements of EcoCare® Feed include the use of phytase enzyme to make the phosphorous in grains and oil seeds more available to the pig digestive tract. With less inorganic phosphorous needed as a feed additive, less phosphorous passes through the animal and into the manure. Phosphorous can be a limiting nutrient when it comes to spreading manure—phosphorous runoff can create unwanted algae growth in lakes—so the proper balance of nutrients may help the pig producer optimize their profit potential from the sale of manure. Another element in EcoCare® Feed is the use of amino acids that helps reduce ammonia emission from manure, which can improve the air quality in the vicinity of the pig production facility.

By themselves these ingredients are in use throughout the industry, but the comprehensive design of the feed program, with an eye to environmental impact is a new marketing concept.

“I consider this an industry-leading approach and depending on the nutrition technology they are using, it is promising,” said Prof. Jerry Shurson, a swine nutrition expert at the University of Minnesota.

Land O’Lakes Purina Feed’s internal research showed reductions of ammonia volatilization of 18 percent in manure during a 45-day trial from EcoCare® fed pig compared to a control group fed with a conventional ration. Other studies at Oklahoma State University indicated a potential to drop ammonia emissions up to 40 percent over the entire finishing period (J. Anim. Sci. 2009. 87 (E-Suppl.):51). They estimate over time, EcoCare® Feed could be an important player to enhance air quality in commercial situations, through the use of crystalline amino acids and complementary manure technologies.

“Manure storage, manure nutrient concentration and air quality—all these things can be influenced by the nutrition program,” said Lachmann. “Through what you feed to the pigs, you can influence emissions, excretions, even viscosity. The key is that it has to be economical for producers. Not only do we need to avoid producing more waste, but we have to offer something that is going to work for the business of producers, to help producers be more environmentally responsible and better received in the community around them. We need to understand in today’s market that manure is not a waste—it is part of a ‘savings account’ for the pork producer. Since the producer plans to offer it for use with a crop producer’s fertilizer program, we can gear the diet to produce manure with the nutrients to match crop requirements.”

EcoCare® Feed has been on the market since 2006, and initial customer feedback lead them to believe that this environmentally friendly feeding program will lead an important market segment in a direction that helps industry respond to consumer and regulatory demands as they continue to develop.


Livestock feed is still corn’s biggest customer

(article by Holly Jessen for Ethanol Producers Magazine, “World of Corn report breaks down corn used for ethanol, DDGS”)

The National Corn Growers Association’s annual report reveals statistics about U.S. corn production, including the amount of corn used for ethanol production and the amount of distillers grains that goes back into the feed market.

The 2012 World of Corn shows 5 billion bushels of the current supply of corn is being used for ethanol, and 1.547 billion bushels of that re-enters the feed market. That includes distillers grains and corn gluten for domestic use and a smaller amount of DDGS for export.

Corn displaced by DDGS and corn gluten in domestic livestock rations has grown dramatically from 189 million bushels in 2002, according to figures from ProExporter Network, which was cited as the source in a World of Corn chart. In 2009 the number was 1.1 billion bushels and in 2010 it was 1.2 billion bushels.

Beginning last year, the NCGA has revised the way it presents data on the amount of corn going into ethanol to reflect the amount that leaves the plant as coproducts and re-enters the feed market. Because the USDA does not account for distillers grains and corn gluten feed, it overstates the amount of corn used for ethanol and understates the amount used as livestock feed, NCGA said last year. After the Governors’ Biofuels Coalition requested USDA report corn usage for ethanol more accurately, the agency did add a footnote to its supply and demand estimates report last spring. 

Taking the DDGS production numbers into account, ethanol accounted for 27.3 percent of corn usage in 2011, according to the World of Corn report. The largest usage of corn remained feed and residual, at 36.3 percent. The 5 billion bushels of corn that went into ethanol production is down somewhat from the 5.021 billion bushels for the same use in 2010. Corn exports, on the other hand, dropped from 1.835 billion bushels in 2010 to 1.65 billion bushels in 2011.

Our Take:
Yes, this is a hungry world–it’s hungry for both food and fuel, and luckily, corn can fully supply the demand for both.

When the feed component of ethanol production–distillers grains–is properly accounted for, more than two-thirds of corn crop feeds animals while just over a quarter of the crop disappears in fuel production.

Minnesota’s 21 ethanol plants produce more than a billion gallons of fuel. That requires about 350 million bushels of corn as raw feedstock, but also returns more than a hundred million bushels of distillers grains for use in dairies and cattle herds, and increasingly for poultry and swine across the upper Midwest.

This production of energy and feed by our ethanol industry pumps an estimated $6 billion in economic activity into our state every year, and is a key element to maintaining the affordability of both food and fuel prices. Yes they are rising, but they would be headed up a lot faster without all the ethanol and distillers grains produced in Minnesota.

Livestock industry’s top “tweaker,” critiques today’s throwaway culture and advocates “hands-on problem solving.”

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

The recent passing of Silicon Valley titan Steve Jobs (CEO of Apple Corporation) brought many assessments of the particular talents that made him a great technology innovator. His biographer Walter Isaacson and New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell offered the notion that Jobs was one of the great “tweakers”—an innovator whose prowess lay not in wholesale technological change, but in the refinement of existing technologies to make them far more useful.

Temple Grandin, the premier “tweaker” of modern animal agriculture, spoke November 16 to an industry group in a packed ballroom at the Minneapolis Convention Center. It was the annual meeting of Minnesota Agri-Growth Council, a trade group that brings together Minnesota’s Fortune 500 food processing companies, agribusiness and finance concerns and farmer groups. These industries employ one-in-five Minnesotans and generate a huge portion of the state’s economic activity.

Her diagnosis, not of livestock production, but of the culture of early 21st century America: Many people would rather dispense with whole industries instead of fixing problems.

This comes from decades of the development of today’s current, and wrongheaded notion of the proper field for activism, she said. Many people believe the only way to improve life is through tort lawyering.  At times hands-on problem solving offers more immediate and superior solutions, Grandin said.

Sitting together with Minnesota Public Radio interviewer Kerry Miller, Grandin conducted a conversation on her life, work and the current state of animal agriculture.  She wore her trademark black and turquoise western-style shirt.

Grandin has become famous for her pragmatic redesigns of cattle slaughterhouses that simultaneously make the facilities far more humane. As common sense would indicate, reducing fear and anxiety in the animals through very specific improvements in both the physical plant and methods of handling the cattle, result in both greater efficiency and less distress to the animals.

Grandin has risen to prominence in this field not in spite of, but because she is “differently abled” in modern parlance. Her condition as a high functioning autistic person allows her to process information differently from most people, and to gather and communicate unique insights about animal behavior and needs.

Among the changes she has brought to cattle slaughter: elimination of reflective surfaces and lighting problems (sometimes shadows, sometimes bright lights) at key points in slaughter facilities that frighten cattle; the elimination of slippery flooring. Just as important, Grandin has developed pragmatic diagnostic tools that help assess whether a slaughterhouse is functioning properly. For instance, the very concrete measurement that if more than three animals in a hundred are mooing constantly—a sign of alarm—the facility is not working right.

Looking ahead to changes that could offer still more improvements, Grandin suggested that slaughter plants not only offer educational tours, but actually livestream video of what they are doing over the Internet, in order to short-circuit erroneous claims made by animal rights advocacy groups.

“By the way, calling them harvest facilities is BS!” said the no-nonsense Grandin. “Call ‘em what they are—slaughtering plants.”   

She repeated to this audience her philosophical notion that without our use of cattle, these millions of animals would never have been bred and born.

Therefore, a humane animal agriculture is an undeniable good from the viewpoint of the animals themselves—a viewpoint into which Grandin’s autism allows her to have unique insights. She thinks far more visually than the average person, and so is able to look at cattle feedlots and register patterns in the motion of the cattle that indicate reactions to the physical set up and the methods of human handlers.

Her fame increased astronomically when a biopic film starring Claire Danes told Grandin’s compelling story. Rather than institutionalization—the fate of many autistic people growing up the 50s and 60s—her mother arranged for early one-on-one intervention and consistently advocated for educational alternatives that allowed Grandin to pursue her dreams and become a doctor of animal husbandry.

Asked about further needed changes for animal agriculture, Grandin told the group there is no excuse for “downers” – animals that arrive at slaughter sites too weak to stand and walk on their own so that they literally fall down. Improper treatment, inattention to proper breeding or a combination of both is to blame. Sow gestation pens must go, she said, criticizing the practice that doesn’t allow the pig enough room to turn around for most of her life.

“Two thirds of people can’t take the idea of gestation pens,” she said.

Grandin represents the need for a critical and pragmatic approach, but one that does not for an instant suggest that the solution is ending animal agriculture. Looking at both producers and consumers she noted that people seem to want “the thing without the management required to (properly) make it.”

She said there are companies doing it right out there, including McDonald’s, which was among the first to employ her slaughter house animal handling methods and physical plant designs. Both Cargill and Swifts now use video auditing to assure that facilities hew to a humane and efficient practice.

“(Industry method) problems develop slowly, and ‘bad’ becomes ‘normal.’ You have to give me a fit animal. That I can handle,” said Grandin. “They (cattle) live a pretty good life. Other (domesticated) animals still have a ways to go.”

Action Alert: Corn Growers don’t let Hormel get away with its anti-farmer campaign

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Corn growers across the United States hold Hormel CEO Jeff Ettinger, chairman of the American Meat Institute, personally responsible for a direct attack on the livelihood of corn producers through its deceptive anti-ethanol campaign.

“The fact that this attack comes from an agribusiness based in Minnesota really hurts,” said DeVonna Zeug. “The laundry list of lies in AMI-sponsored ‘Follow The Science Web Site’ – that corn ethanol is bad for the environment, bad for engines, drives up food prices—all these assertions fly in the face of facts we hope are obvious to everyone. We are asking farmers, and everyone concerned about America’s future, to contact Mr. Ettinger and ask him to retract his lies.”

To see the blatant lies for yourself, go to

The contact information for Ettinger at Hormel is:

Jeffrey M. Ettinger

Chairman of the Board, President and Chief Executive Officer

Hormel Foods Corporation

One Hormel Place

Austin, MN  55912

(507) 437-5611

And let your local newspaper know how you feel about Hormel’s betrayal of farmers.

Millions of road miles on E10 over more than a decade disprove the notion that ethanol additive is bad for conventional gasoline engines. A growing body of tests forming the evidence presented in the case of the E15 and the required use of E20 in Minnesota as of 2013 shows there are no engine performance, materials compatility or emissions problems—and as one would expect from a fuel that contains less gasoline, these higher ethanol blends reduce air pollution.

If ethanol were driving the price of its main ingredient corn, then the continued growth of ethanol production should mean continuing elevated corn prices. But this is not the case. And though corn has dropped dramatically, food prices charged by Hormel and its colleagues remain sky-high, and Hormel’s profits are up in the sky with them.

Most experts tie the increase in commodity corn prices in 2007 to the speculative bubble that started in commodity oil and spread to metals and farm products—once the bubble burst, the price per bushel for corn fell to levels near to the price before the speculative frenzy. We have yet to see a retreat of food prices.

“We join NCGA in urging everyone to act today,” said Zeug. “Our friends in Congress need to know about the strong support for the Renewable Fuels Reinvestment Act, which would extend current ethanol incentives for the next five years. We also want Washington to know about the continued support of most Americans for ethanol as the EPA approaches its decision on a waiver for E15.”

To take part in the NCGA action alert in support of the Renewable Fuels Reinvestment Act, go to

Afraid of E. coli? Then cook your food properly

NCGA busts a dozen myths spread by the documentary Food, Inc

If you are hoping to become more informed about where your food comes from, and how to make healthy choices about your consumption of food, when you get to Oscar-nominated film Food, Inc, you will have to keep looking. The film feeds an audience disconnected from real agriculture a bunch of myths and shadowy tales of conspiracy that feed people’s worst fears, but shed no light on how agriculture and America’s food supply really operates.

Just one example of where the film gets it wrong is its take on human sickness from E. coli bacteria contamination. Food, Inc blames “factory farming” and the feeding of grain to cattle as sources for major increases in food-borne illness.

On the other hand, this is what the Organic Trade Association (OTA) has to say about E.coli:

“Statistics from CDC (U.S. Center for Disease Control) show that a vast majority of food-borne disease is associated with cross-contamination and handling later in the distribution chain and in the home. According to the CDC, most illness from E. coli O157:H7 has been associated with eating undercooked, contaminated ground beef.  In recent years, E. coli O157:H7 has been identified in outbreaks of foodborne illness linked to fresh produce.”

Later in the distribution chain, that is, after the farm and after the slaughterhouse, is the frontline of controlling the healthfulness of meat, fruits and vegetables. OTA has to admit that organic foods are neither less nor more likely to harbor foodborne disease because one of the most well publicized outbreaks of E. coli infection came from organic spinach grown in California—at least one person died and hundreds were sickened. Another well-publicized example was a church supper.

To find out more of what Food, Inc., gets wrong, or misleads its audience go to