College of ACES
College News

Cattle feeding returns improving

Published November 6, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – Cattle feeding profitability has been on a roller coaster ride the last couple of years, according Purdue University Extension economist James Mintert. Estimated cattle feeding returns calculated each month by Iowa State Extension provide insight into the situation Corn Belt feeders face.

“According to the Iowa State data, which assumes that cattle are placed on feed each month with inputs purchased and fed cattle sold in the cash market without any risk management, cattle feeders suffered horrific losses in both 2015 and 2016,” Mintert says. “Losses continued throughout 2016 and still averaged a loss of $117 per head for a typical yearling feeding program, and a loss of $216 per head for a typical calf feeding program, during 2016’s October to December quarter.”

The situation changed dramatically in 2017.

“Relying again on the Iowa State estimates, during the first nine months of 2017, feeding returns for yearlings averaged +$198 per head and +$191 for calves,” Mintert adds. “The turnaround was even more dramatic when the monthly returns are examined, as monthly yearling returns actually reached +$415 and calf feeding returns climbed over $500 per head during May 2017.”

The return for feeding calves during May was a new record in the Iowa State data going back to 1981 and the yearling feeding return was the highest value since 2003. The increase in feeding returns during 2003 occurred primarily as a result of a surge in fed cattle prices during the brief time window when Canada was locked out of the export markets because of BSE in Canada and before the United States had its first BSE case.

“The increase in feeding returns in spring 2017 was the result of cattle feeders’ breakevens declining from $117 per cwt. at the beginning of the year to the upper $90s per cwt., for calf programs, and the low $100s per cwt., for yearling programs, by spring, combined with a strengthening fed cattle market,” Mintert says. “Sale prices for fed cattle climbed roughly $20 per cwt. from the beginning of 2017 to mid-spring, pushing the revenue per head up by approximately $250 per head.”

According to Mintert, although cattle feeding was profitable during most of 2017, Corn Belt feeding returns did turn negative in September 2017, relying on Iowa State’s calculations. Yearling returns in September were -$41 per head and calf feeding returns were -$26 per head.

The shift from profitability to negative returns begs the question, what lies ahead for cattle feeders?

“Answering that question requires a better understanding of what was behind the large losses in 2015 and 2016,” Mintert says.

He explains that the losses that occurred in 2015 and 2016 were mostly attributable to two factors: 1) cattle feeders bid up feeder cattle prices to record levels, which in turn, pushed the fed-cattle prices needed to breakeven up dramatically and 2) contrary to expectations, prices for fed cattle dropped sharply. The combination of high costs and weak fed-cattle prices proved devastating, leading to record losses for cattle feeders.

What’s happened so far in 2017?

Mintert says total costs per head have climbed since the peak in profitability last spring, but the increase to date has been modest. Total costs per head for a yearling program rose from $1,388 per head for cattle marketed during May to $1,420 per head for cattle marketed in September. The big shift occurred in the value of fed cattle marketed. The total sales value per head dropped from a peak of $1,815 to just $1,388 in September as the fed-cattle sales price decline from a monthly average near $140 last May to less than $107 in September.

“To date, it appears that cattle feeders have not repeated the mistakes of 2015 and 2016 with both calf and yearling values trading at more manageable price levels, helping to hold down feeders’ breakeven prices,” Mintert says. “The real key to profitability will be the direction that fed-cattle prices follow the rest of the fall and into early winter.”

Mintert says cash prices for slaughter cattle bottomed in early September, trading near $105 per cwt. in the Southern Plains. Prices have strengthened since then, climbing above $124 last week after trading near $118 a week earlier.

“The turnaround in fed cattle prices has pushed cattle feeding returns back into positive territory,” Mintert says. “Given the moderation in feeder cattle prices this year, unlike 2015 and 2016, prospects for cattle feeders to operate profitably the rest of the fall and early winter look good.”



Improving the Illinois dairy industry, one farm at a time

Published November 6, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – Like most farmers, Illinois dairy producers want to maximize efficiency and productivity to improve their bottom line. But many don’t have the time or objective perspective to audit their own operations for potential improvements. That’s why the University of Illinois Dairy Focus Team was formed.

“Knowing a farm’s potential causes of inefficiency and efficiency is key to improving its performance,” says Ines Rivelli-Bixquert, a doctoral researcher in the Department of Animal Sciences at U of I, and leader of the Dairy Focus Team. She recently published findings from the project in The Professional Animal Scientist.

Rivelli-Bixquert worked with assistant professor Felipe (Phil) Cardoso and a team of graduate and undergraduate students in the department to develop a protocol to evaluate dairy operations in Illinois. In the summer of 2014, the team visited 20 farms across the state.

Upon arrival, the group would fan out, evaluating and sampling every aspect of the dairy, while Cardoso sat down with the farmer to complete a lengthy questionnaire and get copies of the farmer’s data.

Specifically, the team evaluated nutrition, by taking samples of corn silage, total mixed rations, and manure; reproduction, by examining farmers’ data on yearly pregnancy rate, first conception rate, and services per conception; and young stock, by measuring aspects of calf housing.

Back at the lab, the researchers analyzed farm samples and data from farmers to obtain an overall view of the dairy industry in Illinois. Specifically, data from farms in northern and southern Illinois were compared to pinpoint geographic patterns.

“There were definitely management differences between south and north,” Rivelli-Bixquert says. “Some of these differences were leading southern farms to be more proficient when ensiling corn, meaning that they could have reduced losses and lower costs. On the other hand, northern farms had more proficient feeding management strategies for calves and better reproductive efficiency than southern farms.”

Cardoso explains the differences might simply come down to climate variations in the two regions. “The other difference is that in the north, the proximity to Wisconsin, a huge dairy state, makes the transference of information easier,” he says. “As Extension personnel, we should be talking more about reproduction in the south, and perhaps encouraging those producers to visit farms in the north to learn how to obtain good reproductive results.”

Perhaps more importantly, results from individual farms were shared with each producer, along with specific recommendations for potential improvements. 

Rivelli-Bixquert says some of the farmers weren’t aware of problems before the team showed up. “Sometimes they thought they needed help with nutrition, but they really needed to focus on some aspect of reproduction. The process helped them to understand their farms,” she says.

Cardoso and the team also used the data to develop a research-based newsletter and online tools for farmers, available at He says using farm-collected data and using it to improve efficiency for other farmers is the modern version of extension.

Rivelli-Bixquert adds, “I believe that if we do science, it is because there is someone out there who needs it, but it is not always easy to translate it to the general public. And extension is the best tool we have to bring scientific knowledge to the farmers.”  

The article, “Nutrition, reproduction, and young stock performance on dairy farms throughout Illinois: A Dairy Focus Team approach,” is published in The Professional Animal Scientist. Authors include Rivelli-Bixquert, Sarah Morrison, Katherine Haerr, Sandra Rodriguez-Zas, and Cardoso. The work was supported by the Illinois Milk Producers’ Association and USDA NIFA (NC-2042).

A longer article on this project is available in the Fall 2017 issue of ACES@Illinois, at


CANCELED - Turner Hall Celebration

All Day Event

#askACES - The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful: Birds in Urban Areas

12:00 PM - 1:00 PM
Twitter - Use #askACES to ask your questions!

Many people enjoy watching and feeding birds, however in some cases birds can become a pest and in rare cases pose a threat to human health and safety. Many bird species are also becoming more common in urban areas which could contribute more conflicts between birds and humans. Conversely, with more birds coming into towns and cities it provides people the opportunity to landscape their yards to maximize them for birds. Join us for a Twitter chat on Nov. 16 from noon to 1 p.m. CT with ACES experts from the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences. Mike Ward, associate professor, and Jeff Brawn, professor and head, will answer your questions about Canada geese, hunting season, and their research findings on the topic.


Revalorizing Extension: Evidence and Practice

All Day Event
University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

Click here for event webpage.

This symposium will bring together researchers and practitioners to discuss and deliberate on:

  • How to highlight extension’s crucial role in international agricultural development
  • What works in agricultural/rural advisory services and why
  • How to effectively deliver extension services to smallholder farmers
  • What it takes to increase support for extension services
Topics of Interest:
  • Effective extension methods at the farmer, organizational, and country/system levels
  • Innovative approaches to sustainably reach women farmers and youth
  • Using ICTs to empower staff and reach
  • more farmers
  • The political economy of agricultural extension
  • Extension in post-conflict and post-disaster contexts
  • Partnerships to strengthen extension
  • Extension for improved nutrition, natural resource management, and sustainable agriculture

ACE Departmental Seminar - Mindy Mallory

12:00 PM - 1:00 PM
426-428 Mumford Hall

The Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economcis welcomes

Dr. Mindy Mallory
Associate Professor
Agricultural and Consumer Economics

"Reproducible Research Practices for Economists"

Friday, November 10, 2017
12:00-1:00 p.m.
426-428 Mumford Hall

Pizza will be served.

All are welcome to attend.

Co-parenting after the end of a violent marriage: What does the first year look like?

Published November 1, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – Intimate partner violence is not uncommon among divorcing couples. Whether a woman experienced intimate partner violence during marriage—and the kind of violence she experienced—has an impact on how well she and her former partner are able to co-parent after separation. 

Researchers at the University of Illinois wanted to find out how co-parenting varies during the first year after separation for mothers who have experienced different types of violence in their marriages. Would there be continued harassment and conflict for these mothers? Or would there be support for each other as co-parents?

“We know with intimate partner violence, when women leave those relationships, that initial period and through the first year can be particularly dangerous for women in some abusive relationships,” says Jennifer Hardesty, a professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at U of I. “That is also when custody decisions are being made. So the contact between the former partners and the extent of negative emotions might be highest during that first year. We wanted to see specifically what was going on during that time frame.”

Hardesty and her colleagues were interested in the specific type of violence the mothers had experienced in their marriages: coercive controlling violence or situational couple violence. They found that, while both types of violence are serious, women’s experiences in the year after separation varied based on the type of violence they had experienced in their marriages.

The two types are distinguished by the context in which the violent acts occur, Hardesty says. “Both include violent acts, but they are based upon the underlying pattern and motivation of the violence. Situational couple violence refers to situations where arguments escalate; maybe there’s an affair or an argument over money, or some type of incident in which a couple may not have good conflict or anger management skills. The argument escalates and one or both partners hit each other. But there’s no overall pattern of coercive control in those relationships.

“Coercive controlling violence, though, is when one partner has a constant campaign to control the other partner. Tactics we typically hear of such as isolation—keeping you from your friends and family or not letting you go to the doctor to seek help—or controlling the finances is part of a larger pattern of dominance and coercion,” she adds.   

In a recent paper, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, the researchers report that women who had experienced coercive controlling violence in their marriages continued to experience higher levels of harassment, conflict, and volatility from their former partners during the first year than women who experienced situational violence. Those who had experienced coercive controlling violence also saw the least co-parenting support and communication about child rearing.

During the study, 135 women who had a recent divorce filing were interviewed five times throughout the first year of separation. Interviewers asked the women questions pertaining to experiences with conflict, support, communication about child rearing, and harassment, including threatening behaviors, throughout the year.

Women who had experienced situational couple violence in marriage did continue to experience harassment and conflict, but not at the same level as women from controlling violent relationships. For couples with situational violence, there was also a more consistent level of co-parenting support, which may include the former partner being available to help with the kids, “backing you up” as a parent, and offering emotional support.

“From prior qualitative work on couples who had situational violence, it seemed like they were better able to figure out their issues after divorce. They both wanted to in order to be able to co-parent. Maybe that consistent level of support they have for each other as co-parents enables them to do that,” Hardesty says, also pointing out that it does not discount the fact that divorcing couples who had situational violence still experienced conflict and harassment more than couples who had no violence in their marriage.

Another aspect uncovered during the interviews was the unpredictability women from controlling violent relationships experienced during that first year, explains Brian Ogolsky, an associate professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at U of I and co-author of the study.

“There was much less predictability for women in controlling violent relationships,” he says. “These women might experience high levels of conflict and harassment, which may improve and appear better but then worsen once again. There’s this up and down that creates a context of fear and unpredictability.

“They never know what’s coming. This variability is such an important piece, and we did see that the women with controlling violent relationships had much higher levels of variability.”

When Hardesty first began studying intimate partner violence, she observed that divorce education programs were not always giving attention to violence. “Previous work suggested there were some differences based on types of violence, but there wasn’t anything on a larger scale that followed people to see how those differences played out. That’s what eventually led to this project.”

And because these different types of violence play out differently in co-parent relationships, different types of interventions are needed.

“Many people would say those divorcing couples shouldn’t co-parent, that it’s not safe for the mom and, in many cases where there is coercive controlling violence, I would agree with that. But the reality is, though, they are co-parenting and in many cases the mom wants to have the dad involved – they just want the violence and harassment to stop,” Hardesty explains. “As long as they are co-parenting when there’s been a history of violence, we need to understand how to minimize the risks to women and children and support positive outcomes long term. We have pretty good evidence that moms have ongoing health issues and stress related to co-parenting with partners that were abusive to them, but as far as the exact child outcomes and how they relate to some of these different patterns after separation, we need more research on that.”

Educating the court system, including attorneys, judges and custody evaluators, as well as health care providers about the effects that violence and these specific types of violence have on women and a separated couple’s ability to co-parent is important for making assessments in divorce situations, she adds.

The paper, “Coparenting relationship trajectories: Marital violence linked to change and variability after separation,” is published in the Journal of Family Psychology. Co-authors include Jennifer L. Hardesty, Brian G. Ogolsky, Marcela Raffaelli, Angela Whittaker, Kimberly A. Crossman, Megan L. Haselschwerdt, Elissa Thomann Mitchell, and Lyndal Khaw.

The research was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (R21HD061559A), the Department of Human Development and Family Studies and Office of Research in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois, and Hatch Grant 793-348 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.


Roundtable Discussion on Experiences in Sierra Leone - Research & Education

2:00 PM - 3:30 PM
Morgan Caterpillar Room, ACES Library

Join us for a roundtable discussion on current issues at the nexus of food security, health, and conflict in the context of development in Sierra Leone. Three professionals from diverse fields will offer their perspectives and experiences on response and resiliency in Sierra Leone.

Sponsored by AgReach and the Office of International Programs.

The panel includes:

Dr. Alpha Kepifri Lakoh is the Deputy Vice Chancellor and Assoc. Professor at Njala University where he has served in various capacities since 1979; this includes his time as Head of the Dept. of Extension and Rural Sociology, Dean of the School of Agriculture, and Director of the National Agricultural Training Center. He also has experience as Director General of the Sierra Leone Agricultural Research Institute (SLARI), where he also serves as Chairman of the Council. He holds a Ph.D. from Cornell University in Extension Ed. and International Agricultural Development. He also holds a Masters of Philosophy in Extension and Rural Sociology from University of Ife, Nigeria.

Dr. Paul Richards was formerly Professor of Anthropology at University College London and is currently Emeritus Professor of Technology and Agrarian Development at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, and advisor to the Directorate of Research and Planning at Njala University, central Sierra Leone. He has worked on issues of food security, armed conflict, and health in West Africa since 1968. His recent books include Ebola: how a people's science helped end an epidemic (Zed Books, 2016) (left) and (with Perri 6) a work of social theory inspired by Africanist ethnography, Mary Douglas: understanding social thought and conflict (Berghahn, 2017).

Ms. Esther Mokuwa holds a Master's degree in engineering management from the University of Greenwich in UK, and worked for some years as field coordinator for international research projects in agrarian development and rural health systems, based at Njala university. She collected first-hand data on rural community responses to Ebola control in the recent epidemic (2014-15) on behalf of the international Ebola Response Anthropology Platform, and has authored or co-authored several papers on rural conflict and community responses to Ebola. Her PhD thesis on rural clash of institutions is nearing completion.