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Conference focuses on beef cattle health

Dr. Hollie Schramm

Dr. Hollie Schramm, clinical instructor of production management medicine, gives a presentation on rumen anatomy at the Virginia Tech Beef Cattle Health Conference.

Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine teamed up to host a record-setting beef cattle conference in 2015.

The Virginia Tech Beef Cattle Health Conference attracted more than 300 participants — double that of 2014’s attendance. It offered a daylong series of lectures, presentations, and workshops designed to give beef cattle producers more strategies to improve the health of
their herds.

Dr. John Currin, clinical associate professor of production management medicine in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, was one of a half dozen veterinary college faculty members who taught producers about a wide range of beef cattle health issues. Currin’s presentation addressed the affordability of calves and feed.

Other presentations covered current issues with cattle poisons, the cost to create a pregnancy, stretching hay, water-related cattle disease, and current health issues. In addition, Jon Vest, a Virginia Cooperative Extension agent in Floyd County, and Terry Slusher, a beef cattle producer in Floyd, spoke about making improvements to handling facilities.

The afternoon featured rotating 30-minute labs at Virginia Tech’s Alphin-Stuart Livestock Arena that covered rumen anatomy, the cost of feed, warming a cold calf, and body condition scoring. The presenters were faculty members and veterinary residents on the college’s production management medicine team.

According to Currin, the conference also gave veterinary students an opportunity to gain hands-on experience with beef cattle health. Approximately 30 veterinary students attended the conference, while 14 fourth-year students, in their clinical training year, assisted with the afternoon labs.

“Conferences like these are a great opportunity for us to share the knowledge of Virginia Tech with producers so they can continue to thrive,” said Currin.

For producers, the conference met the requirements for recertification with the Virginia Beef Quality Assurance program, which has certified about half of Virginia’s cattle and added millions to the value of Virginia’s certified farms.

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Adding value pays off for Virginia cattle producers

Cows in a field.

“Having the ability to add value to Virginia’s beef cattle operations is critical to the sustainability of Virginia agriculture and rural communities,” said Scott Greiner, Virginia Cooperative Extension beef cattle specialist.

With more than 1.4 million head of cattle across the commonwealth, Virginia’s beef cattle industry is big business.

But while the cattle market has been favorable over the past few years, producers understand the need to continually improve their operations to stay competitive.

The Virginia Quality Assured certified feeder cattle program provides producers with the means to add value to their cattle, enabling them to receive premium prices for
their calves.

Virginia Cooperative Extension partnered with the Virginia Cattlemen’s Association to develop and administer the program, which encourages the use of research-based health and best management practices for feeder cattle. Participants are eligible to market feeder cattle through the Virginia Quality Assured initiative.

The program, which started in 1997, has marketed more than 125,000 head of feeder cattle, resulting in $6.4 million in value-added income for Virginia’s beef cattle producers.

“Having the ability to add value to Virginia’s beef cattle operations is critical to the sustainability of Virginia agriculture and rural communities,” said Scott Greiner, Virginia Cooperative Extension beef cattle specialist.

The initiative would not prosper without the coordinated efforts of all parties involved.

“Part of what makes this program so successful in our area is the collaboration among Extension agents, the Virginia Cattlemen’s Association, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Abingdon Feeder Cattle Association, Tri-State Livestock Market, and the producers,” said Scott Jessee, agriculture and natural resources Extension agent in Russell County. “We all have a role to play.”

Throughout the year, Jessee and his fellow Extension agents and specialists provide producers with valuable health, management, genetic, and marketing information. This education is offered through a variety of methods, including field days, on-farm visits, group meetings and workshops, demonstrations, and distance learning. Extension agents also serve as third-party verifiers to ensure that producers have followed the required vaccination and management protocols.

The eligible animals are evaluated and described by VDACS livestock marketing representatives. The cattle are then grouped by similar traits and offered for sale in truckload lots at scheduled intervals on the Virginia Cattlemen’s Association Tel-O-Auction. The livestock market provides the facility and equipment to sort, weigh, and load out cattle.

Philip Bundy, a Russell County cattle producer and president of the Abingdon Feeder Cattle Association, has been marketing cattle through the program since it started in Southwest Virginia 11 years ago.

“We’ve built a reputation of providing high-quality, weaned feeder calves,” said Bundy. “Our cattle are highly sought after, and we are now outselling western cattle.”

The program has taken off in the past couple of years. In 2014, producers in Southwest Virginia more than doubled the number of cattle marketed through the program in 2013.

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