livestock

Beef cattle ranchers are getting wise to the science of genetics.

Thirty-eight calves, between two and four months old, moo and kick at the dirt floor in a steel barn in Brush, Colorado. One by one, a handler leads them from the pen to a narrow chute, where their legs are restrained and they’re lifted onto a hydraulic table.  

Amy Mayer / IPR file photo

Animal feed mixed from ingredients sourced around the world could be carrying more than the vitamins and nutrients livestock need. Seven different viruses that could cause widespread illness and big economic losses for meat producers in the United States can survive in certain imported feed products.

study published in March in the journal PLOS One looked at 11 viruses that are not yet in the U.S. but infect herds in other places, such as African swine fever and foot and mouth disease.

Amy Mayer / IPR

When a man places 40 dozen eggs on the conveyor in the check-out line at the grocery store, it begs the question: What’s he going to do with all of them?

This happened to Kim Becker in Ames, Iowa. The man’s answer left her so gobsmacked, she posted it on Facebook:

Swine Genetics International (SGI) is about 20 minutes from that store.

“That could have been me or it could have been a number of people here,” SGI Chief of Operations Michael Doran says about the supermarket run.

A new, widely debated federal mandate requires truckers to electronically track the number of hours they’re on the road — a rule that’s meant to make highways safer. But there’s a big difference between hauling a load of TVs and a load of cattle destined for meatpacking plants.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

After two major livestock diseases ravaged Iowa’s poultry and hog industries, state and federal officials are asking farmers to prepare for future outbreaks. They are particularly concerned about viruses not yet found in North America.

Three illnesses they’re most worried about, foot and mouth disease, classical swine fever and African swine fever, wouldn’t sicken humans but could shut-down meat exports, which Iowa producers depend on for much of their income.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture faces a lawsuit that argues the federal agency must bring back a proposed rule that defined abusive practices by meatpacking companies.

Farmers from Alabama and Nebraska and the Organization for Competitive Markets, a nonprofit that works on competition issues in agriculture, filed the suit Thursday in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Between the time a cut of steak or pound of hamburger goes from cattle farm to grocery shelf, it more than likely passes through one of three companies: Tyson Foods, Cargill or JBS.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the top four beef processors hold 85 percent of the market share, controlling the beef market to the point that some farmers believe the companies’ clout unfairly influences livestock prices.

Last month, the USDA withdrew a rule proposed in the final weeks of the Obama administration that would have made it easier for cattle producers to raise objections if they thought meatpackers weren’t giving them a fair price.

File: Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Large livestock farms likely will have to report high levels of two types of emissions as of Wednesday, despite the Environmental Protection Agency’s last-minute effort to further delay a federal rule it’s been trying to modify for years.

The EPA tried to exempt most farms, including concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFOs, from having to report emissions of two air pollutants — hydrogen sulfide or ammonia — that are considered hazardous.

The World Health Organization released recommendations this week to curb the use of antibiotics in livestock, saying it could help reduce the risk of drug-resistant infections in humans.

But the U.S. Department of Agriculture says some of the guidelines from the United Nations’ public health agency would place “unnecessary and unrealistic constraints” on farmers and veterinarians. It's a disagreement that could have an impact on farm exports.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

The U.S. Department of Agriculture won’t go forward with rules meant to make it easier for small livestock producers to report possible unfair treatment.

The agency’s decision on the proposal, which came at the tail end of the Obama administration, was announced Tuesday and met with mixed response.

During the Aug. 21 solar eclipse, spectators will turn their eyes upward to see the moon pass in front of the sun.

But many Midwest scientists will turn their eyes and cameras to the plants and animals here on the ground. And they're not sure what will happen.

Amy Mayer/IPR

 

On a cloudy summer day, Iowa farmer Wendy Johnson lifts the corner of a mobile chicken tractor, a lightweight plastic frame covered in wire mesh that has corralled her month-old meat chickens for a few days, and frees several dozen birds to peck the surrounding area at will. Soon, she’ll sell these chickens to customers at local markets in eastern Iowa.

Tim Mueller has raised corn and soybeans on 530 acres near the city of Columbus, Nebraska, for decades, but today he is planning to take a big gamble.

Amy Mayer/IPR

In a hog barn near Odebolt, veterinarian Paul Thomas's approach sends pigs scurrying. He watches for unusual behavior. As he walks the length of the barn, Thomas notices one of the two-month-old hogs nestled against the railing at the edge of its pen and reaches over to gently pet the pig's back. The pig shakes its head and drowsily gets up.

 

"He's just sleepy," Thomas says, and by the time he's spoken the words, the pig has trotted off to join its pen-mates.

 

Fred Knapp for Harveset Public Media

 

A proposal that would jumpstart the chicken business in Nebraska has some residents concerned about the potential impact on the environment and are trying to block or delay its construction.

Costco, the warehouse retailer and grocery chain, plans to build a giant $300 million chicken slaughterhouse on the south side of the town of Fremont in eastern Nebraska.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Americans may find more meat on their holiday tables this year, at cheaper prices.

U.S. livestock production is in full swing. Beef and pork together set a new record recently -- commodity analysis firm Urner Barry reported an all-time high of 1.0618 billion pounds of beef and pork produced in U.S. slaughterhouses the week that ended November 19. Meanwhile, Midwest turkey producers have recovered from a massive 2015 avian flu outbreak.

Flickr / Alpha

Gov. Terry Branstad is slated for a trade mission Japan and China next month to promote Iowa beef and pork products. Representatives of both industries, who will travel with the governor, say the two Asian countries present significant economic opportunities.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

A new billboard with the message “Meat Kills, Go Vegan” will appear on Highway 17 in Wright County. The roadside message, which also lists health risks correlated with meat consumption, comes from an animal rights organization that aims to prevent the construction of a pork processing plant.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, PETA, wants to stop Prestage Farms from constructing a proposed plant, which the company says will create 900 fulltime jobs. The meat processor is considering Wright County, after a failed attempt to build a facility in Mason City. 

Amy Mayer/IPR

When I walked onto the floor of the JBS Marshalltown Pork Plant, I expected the sensory assault to hit my nose first. But turns out it was my ears that first felt the most severe impact. The processing line is noisy. It's also chilly, to protect the meat. That also prevents the sort of noxious smell I had anticipated. Instead of an animal stench, my nose mostly registered cleaning products and a raw meat smell as if I just opened a package of pork chops in my own kitchen.

IPR Photo by Amy Mayer

Consumer demand, public health concerns and new federal rules all are driving the pork industry away from routine use of certain antibiotics. Booths at the World Pork Expo, a three-day event underway this week at the State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, reflect the move away from antibiotics.

HarperCollins Publishers

In 2009, 21 men were rescued from the abandoned Atalissa schoolhouse they inhabited since 1974. 

Their lives consisted of working for next to nothing at a turkey plant nearby in West Liberty, living together in the schoolhouse, and taking trips to the Atalissa Mini Mart.

FREEFOODPHOTOS.COM

Agriculture commodity groups should not be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. That’s according to Sen. Chuck Grassley, who opposes House legislation that allows these groups to keep their documents and data private.

Commodity industries have checkoff programs that are tasked with research and promotion of their products, such as pork or eggs. Checkoffs are funded through mandatory fees from producers and are overseen by the USDA.             

Courtesy of Oxfam America

Thousands of chainmail-clad workers with knives and hooks keep a modern poultry plant running, churning out the millions of pounds of poultry we eat every year. The job is difficult and demanding, especially for line employees who make the same motion for hours, struggling to keep up with a fast-moving disassembly line. 

A new report from Oxfam America paints an even bleaker picture. 

Prestage Farms

City council members in Mason City this week turned down a proposed $240 million  pork processing plant after approving it twice on a 6-0 vote.The proposal by North Carolina-based Prestage Farms ended in a 3-3 tie. It needed four “yes” votes to pass.

One of the company's executives, Ron Prestage, says they will continue to seek an Iowa location. He says all four counties surrounding Cerro Gordo (where Mason City is located) have expressed an interest.

USDA/Flickr

An outbreak of a bird flu has hit southwestern Missouri. While less contagious than the strain of avian flu that devastated the Midwest chicken and turkey industry last spring, the infection is still potent enough to call for the destruction of birds.

On Wednesday, when the outbreak was confirmed by the Missouri Department of Agriculture, the commercial turkey farm in Jaspar County, near Joplin, was still quarantined. Some 39,000 birds were destroyed last week as a precaution.

Prestage Farms

Prestage Farms of North Carolina, doing business as Prestage Foods of Iowa promises to create hundreds of new jobs in North Central Iowa if their proposed 240 million dollar pork processing plant near Mason City wins local government approval.

Neighbors say the need for thousands of hogs will mean more factory farms. They fear the farms will produce odor and foul the air and water. Tom Willett of rural Mason City and others are asking the city council  to delay approval of the project for 90 days.

Pat Blank/IPR

As more people look to have control over how their food is grown, many are planting gardens for the first time. And some are even turning their backyards into chicken coops. It’s the time of year when hardware stores and agricultural supply companies share space among the lawnmowers and grass seed with live baby chickens.

Some venues offer informational seminars to help customers get started.  On a recent Thursday night at a Cedar Falls farm store, Cargill animal nutrition specialist Jodi Holmes said people came with a lot of questions.

Not everyone is pleased with the idea of a proposed $240 million pork processing plant near Mason City. North Carolina-based Prestage Farms said last month it expects to employ up to 2,000 people at its hog slaughtering facility, after it opens sometime in 2017.

But environmental watchdog group Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement says the need for thousands of hogs will mean more factory farms in North Central Iowa.

Group spokesperson Jess Mazour says the project will have long-term, irreversible consequences.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Iowa officials say a new pork processing plant coming to North Iowa will boost the state’s hog industry. Officials announcing a pork processing plant soon to be built near Interstate 35 in the Mason City-Clear Lake area were celebrating the anticipated two-thousand jobs this week.

But Iowa’s Pork Producers Association sees extra capacity.  It says the state’s existing 16-pork processing plants will be straining later this year to accommodate expected large marketings.

Iowa Ag Secretary Bill Northey also welcomes more capacity.

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