Recently, 20 top animal science students from around the world attended the International Livestock Symposium at Colorado State Univ. Half of the students came from major agricultural colleges in the US and the other half came from Canada, Africa, Brazil, Central America and other countries. The students participated in a two-day program. On the first day, they toured the JBS beef plant in Greeley, the Five Rivers Feedlot and visited Aurora Dairy’s rotary milking parlor. On the second day, they heard lectures on the international meat trade, new genetic technologies and consumer issues. At the end of the symposium, the students were asked to tell the other attendees the parts of the program they found most important and informative.

Twelve out of 20 students told the audience that the tours were one of the most important parts of the conference. The importance of the tours was split evenly among the US and international students. One student from a major feedlot state really liked the large feedlot tour. Even though this student came from a cattle-feeding state, the Five Rivers facility had many features that were totally new to her. The reports from these students clearly demonstrated the importance of showing students major agricultural operations. Students need to see new things to get them interested in agricultural careers.

Trading places

The second most interesting subject according to the students was learning about international trade. Five out of 20 said the two presentations on trade were very important. Some of the statistics surprised them. Randy Blach from Cattlefax provided a summary of import and export markets from around the world. China and Mexico are the world’s two largest importers of pork. The US and Brazil produce 70 percent of the world’s soy. In the US, 30 percent of its soy is exported to China. Export markets are really important for the US. Variety meats such as livers are worth much more when they are exported. People in other countries eat things that we do not eat in the US. Liver is worth three to four times more per pound in other countries, for example.

Lee Leachman, from Leachman Cattle, discussed genetic tools that contribute to increasing productivity. Feed conversion is a highly inheritable trait. When an animal has good feed conversion, much less feed is required to produce a pound of weight gain. The best beef cattle have 4-to-1 feed conversion and the worst are 10-to-1. Leachman warned that we need to be careful and keep adding new traits to the databases that are used to select the most productive livestock. He stated the “faster you go (genetic improvement), the more certainty of accidents.” Consequences need to be measured. I have observed some of the consequences. One of the major problems is that over selection for meat may be associated with lameness and poor lower leg conformation. In many of the new selection indexes, lameness and feet and leg structure has been added to the algorithm used to select breeding stock.

Missed opportunities

My three graduate students attended the conference. Their first comment was that the speakers talked about increased productivity and profit, but there was no mention of animal welfare. They stated that this was a significant omission.

Another thing that I discussed with my students is that a panel on trade issues failed to explain old versus new trade issues. There are old squabbles that have persisted for over a decade and new trade issues due to recent tariffs. It is important to understand the differences. Bans on growth promotants and BSE restrictions have been around for decades. Students need to understand the difference between continuing old trade restrictions and fluctuations in the markets caused by more recent events. My students did not know the differences and I had to explain it to them. The 20 visiting students had their eyes opened.