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August 26, 2013
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Baxter Black: On The Edge Of Common Sense 8-26-13

“The data is clear — Calves that arrive healthy and stay healthy at the feedlot make more money.”

This was printed in bold letters at the beginning of an article in one of our industry publications.

What! I read the headline again. What’s the catch? I turned it over and read it upside down. It must be a trick question? A play on words? A bad pun? There must be a deeper meaning to this bold statement.

Should it have said ... ”Calves who stay healthy, etc. have better eye sight, higher IQ’s, are tastier, are better at hopscotch, have a better chance of being featured in a vaccine ad?”

In all fairness to the scientist, or more probably the editor, they had a limited space and wanted to be succinct. And ... it did catch my eye immediately. I guess it is our duty as scientists, veterinarians, nutritionists and farmers to run experiments to prove the obvious. Without this option how would students find material for post-graduate thesis?

However, I can picture scenarios where the statement is obvious, but not always true. The sky is always lighter when the sun comes up. “Duh.” Then an eclipse rises up.

The data is clear — Frogs who do not have their feet tied up can leap farther than frogs that have their legs taped to their body.

The horse that finishes first wins the race. Really? How ’bout a disqualification for making faces at the crowd, making fun of another jockey’s colors, or changing horses at the final turn?

I spent many years in feedlots. Lots of things were predictable, like mud, BRD, mill fires, OSHA inspections, blizzards, bovine escapes, and pickups that smell like pour-on, fermented silage, rumen contents, antibiotics, paint cans, burnt oil, and manure. But timing is crucial. Say the owner of pen No. 304 arrives just after the front end loader scraping that very same pen dozed off, flattened 10-feet of concrete bunk, tore out the gate, stripped the cable, and ran over four head of napping 1,200 pound steers. If the manager had only bought the visiting owner one more round of Spicy V-8 juice over lunch, they would have been able to have the remaining healthy steers in No. 304 moved to another pen and explained later.

And what is obvious to one of us isn’t always obvious to everyone. Can you imagine this question in an Animal Science Class at University of Nebraska, Lincoln:

1. Do cattle that arrive healthy and stay healthy at the feedlot make more money than cattle that arrive sick and stay sick?

a) Yes

b) No

c) It all depends on the market

But sometimes the logic becomes crystal clear. I was at a cattlemen’s meeting and overheard a cattle feeder remark, “The calves that got sick and died right away, made more than those that lingered on and died eventually.” ❖


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