cattle

Allison Herrera

When I visited Quapaw Nation's beef processing plant in 2018, it was less than a year old. The building was still pretty shiny and cattle and bison grazed on a vast field. They had a dozen or so employees and were in the process of getting one of the first Native Americans ⁠— a young Quapaw man ⁠— to be trained as a USDA meat inspector. Today, a lot has changed.

It turns out, cows may play an important role in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

SAB Biotherapeutics is in the business of making what are known as polyclonal antibodies. These are a collection of different antibodies that a body makes to ward off a specific invading organism.

The company has made polyclonal antibodies to treat influenza and MERS. Now it's making them with the aim of treating or even preventing COVID-19. To make them, SAB uses cows.

Glenn Carstens-Peters / Unsplash

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue recently announced that $545 million in aid has been approved for farmers who have been affected by COVID-19.

Chelsea Stanfield

A growing demand for more locally-sourced food options has been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on large meat processing hubs throughout the country. Oklahoma ranchers want to increase the state’s cattle processing and packing capacity to provide more local beef options for Oklahoma consumers. 

Chelsea Stanfield / KOSU

Due to market volatility and social distancing driven by COVID-19, ranchers are holding on to cattle longer than usual, which means less cattle are heading to market.

Auction yards around Oklahoma are already seeing effects, but Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist Derrell Peel says auctions are doing their best to continue amid the crisis.

 

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

If you ate a hamburger today, or a high-priced steak, chances are it came from an animal that was fed an antibiotic during the last few months of its life.

This is one of the most controversial uses of antibiotics in the entire food industry. There's growing pressure on the beef industry to stop doing this.

I wanted to know how hard that would be. My questions eventually led me to Phelps County Feeders, a cattle feedlot near Kearney, Neb.

The cows were silent on a recent July morning at Mill-King dairy farm in McGregor, Texas. They stood under shade trees, digesting their breakfast, while cicadas buzzed in the branches overhead.

"It's starting to warm up, so they're starting to get a little bit less ... frolicky," says Craig Miller, watching from the fence line.

His grandfather started this farm. Now he runs it, producing nonhomogenized milk from a mostly grass-fed herd. He says this cow behavior is exactly what he expects as the temperature rises.

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

They have always known that making the best steak starts long before consumers pick out the right cut, such as where an animal grazes or what it eats. The key is in the genetic makeup — or DNA — of the herd. And over the past year, those genetics have taken a historic leap thanks to new, predictive DNA technology.

This is playing out in rising auction prices for the best bulls as identified by genetic profiles or simply for their elite pedigree.

Derek Klingenberg is kind of a farmer celebrity.

His YouTube channel draws more than 70,000 subscribers for ag-themed pop-music parodies, trombone covers and, more recently, cow art made with satellites.

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