Eye doctor-turned-rancher brings science background to his second career
Siskiyou County rancher Jack Cowley, 91, joyfully recalled the special Christmas gift that delighted his seven children in the 1960s. Cowley, then a practicing eye doctor in Sacramento, and his late wife Barbara surprised the children with a white quarterhorse, which they named Silver.
“That's how it all started!” exclaimed Cowley, reflecting on the gift horse that would eventually lead to a 40-year collaboration with University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Silver was the impetus for his family's involvement with the 4-H Youth Development Program, a part of UC ANR. Cowley also would later transition to a second career in cattle ranching, and collaborate with UC Cooperative Extension on research projects ranging from weed control to cow genetics.
“Jack has been an extremely committed supporter ofUCCE,” said GraceWoodmansee, who became the UCCE livestock and natural resourcesadvisor forSiskiyou County in 2021. “He has worked withUCCE extensively and contributed a lot of time and resources to supporting local andstatewide projects.”
Lately Cowley and his son David have been working with Woodmansee and Gabriele Maier, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, on a cow deworming study.
Not only has Cowley allowed UCCE scientists to study his cattle over the years, he has been willing to personally share information with scientists and cattle producers across the country and internationally.
“It is important to foster exchange and linkages, said Dan Drake, UCCE farm advisor emeritus in Siskiyou County, who collaborated with Cowley for 30 years. “He went to so many meetings, especially with the early and uncharted areas of cattle genetics. Jack was on a first-name basis with the leaders from other states and the relationships were important in both directions. Frankly, I think many of those folks were jealous of the great cooperator we had in California.”
Breeding for better beef
After retiring from his Sacramento ophthalmology practice in the 1990s, Cowley settled in Montague in Siskiyou County, 246 miles north of the closest UC campus. There he met then-UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor Steve Orloff and Drake. Orloff advised him on alfalfa production and pasture management while Drake offered counsel on animal health records, organizing breeding, animal nutrition and water issues.
Drake explained to ranchers that by selectively breeding cows based on genetics, they could improve the production and quality of beef so that it's healthier for humans.
“My medical background helped me understand animal genetics,” Cowley said. “We can modify the genetics to improve the quality of the beef to make it more heart-healthy.”
In 2009, Drake introduced Cowley to UC Cooperative Extension specialist Alison Van Eenennaam, who studies animal genetics at UC Davis.
“I was looking to set up a research trial where we would follow cattle from the ranch all the way through to the Harris Ranch processing plant in the Central Valley,” said Van Eenennaam, who worked with Cowley on a three-year project.
Using DNA samples from Cowley's cattle, they evaluated the data they received from processor Harris Ranch of the beef characteristics – such as tenderness -- to compare the different breeds.
“I really thought I knew what I was doing and my cattle graded terribly,” Cowley said.
Since beginning the genetics project, his beef quality steadily improved.
“We're now up to where all of our animals are graded anywhere from 20% to 40% Prime and the rest Choice,” said Cowley, adding that he stopped striving for higher grades because the buyer said there was a limited market for the more expensive meat.
Cowley takes pride in knowing breeding practices developed from the research he and UC Cooperative Extension conducted have been adopted globally by dairy producers and beef producers.
“The type of research we were doing there has eventually evolved to now we have these genomic tests that you can use that genetically predict the performance of animals,” Van Eenennaam said. “Nowadays people just take an ear tag and send it in and get their genetic prediction.”
Van Eenennaam credits Cowley for allowing research on his large herd. “Jack was very patient with things that take a long time. When researchers come onto your ranch, that could slow you down.”
She added, “Genetic improvement, of course, is a huge component of sustainability because the more efficient cattle are, the less feed they consume and the less time they take to finish, which ultimately lessens their environmental footprint.”
Growing up in Utah
Looking back, Cowley marvels that he has been fortunate to do what he wanted to do in life.
“I was interested in ranching when I was probably seven or eight years of age,” said Cowley, who delivered the local Deseret Newspaper on horseback as a boy. “I grew up in Utah, you know, a little town in Utah called Holladay. It was not a ranching community.”
After serving four years in the Air Force during the Korean War, he returned to Utah to find the cute girl he met in first grade had graduated from college and was still single. He married Barbara in 1956. When he was accepted at George Washington University medical school, they drove with their three-week-old baby from Utah to Washington, D.C. He got a job in the Senate office building as an elevator operator working from 5 to 11 p.m., which enabled him to study, meet influential people and finish medical school without debt.
“I actually got to meet Khrushchev,” he said, recalling his encounter with the Soviet leader..
After finishing his ophthalmology residency at UCLA, Cowley established his practice in Sacramento and later taught a few classes at UC Davis Medical School.
Becoming a cattleman
One Saturday afternoon, after Silver the horse joined the family, Cowley and his oldest daughter, Kathryn, were driving in Placerville and saw a ranch for sale. He bought the 90 acres. For two summers, Barbara and the children lived at the ranch and Cowley joined them on weekends.
“Of course, I had to have a few cows to play with,” he said with a chuckle. “Basically, I thought I could make some money off of 50 cows.”
As his herd grew, he moved it to Corning, 50 miles south of Redding, and finally to the site in Montague that could accommodate several hundred head of cattle. “That's when I really became interested in animal genetics,” Cowley said. “That was back when we had slide rules to do our calculations. It was pretty crude, but it was a start.”
In 1990, Cowley was honored as the California Beef Cattle Improvement Association's Seedstock Producer of the year and, in 2007, was named Siskiyou County's Cattleman of the Year. He has served as president of the Siskiyou County Cattlemen's Association, on the Cattlemen's Beef Board, as well as on committees for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
“Jack spent countless hours traveling to the Midwest and other beef research institutions to share knowledge, learn more and plan for needed information,” said Drake, emeritus UCCE livestock advisor. This made for better Extension work, better research and recognition of UC Cooperative Extension work nationwide.”
In 2011, when Van Eenennaam and Drake presented their research at an international genomics conference, he joined them in Australia to learn from other researchers. They also visited Australian producers to learn their practices.
“We really rely on cooperators like Jack to enable our research to have translation to farmers and ranchers,” Van Eenennaam said.
In recent years, Cowley has handed the ranch reins over to his children David, Brian, Brent and Kathryn, who live in Siskiyou County.
David, who retired from a nearly 40-year career as a software engineer, plans to continue working with UC Cooperative Extension advisors and specialists.
“Any time you have questions, you can call and they're more than happy to help you,” he said./h3>/h3>
Among California's agricultural commodities, cattle rank fifth in revenue. The University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources' Agricultural Issues Center has released a new study showing the cost and returns of a beef cattle operation.
“Ranchers can use UC beef-cattle cost studies to guide their production decisions, estimate their own potential revenue, prepare budgets and evaluate production loans,” said Rebecca Ozeran, UC Cooperative Extension livestock and natural resources advisor for Fresno and Madera counties.
The study estimates costs and returns of a representative owner-operated beef cattle operation located on rangeland in the Central San Joaquin Valley and foothills of Madera and Fresno counties. The study describes a 200-head cow-calf operation and includes pasture costs on the basis of the rental per animal unit month.
The analysis is based upon a hypothetical cow-calf operation, where the cattle producer both owns and leases rangeland. The “typical” ranch in the Central San Joaquin Valley is an owner-operated cow-calf operation, often relying on multiple private leases. The operations described represent production practices and materials considered typical of a well-managed ranch in the region.
Input and reviews were provided by ranch operators, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisors and other agricultural associates. The study describes in detail the assumptions used to identify current costs for the cow-calf herd, material inputs, cash and non-cash overhead. The cost calculations in this study are based on economic principles that include all cash costs and overhead costs. The study also includes a “ranging analysis” to show potential net returns over a range of market prices. Other tables show the average costs and revenues, the distribution of monthly costs and revenues over the year, and the annual equipment, investment and business overhead costs.
“In addition to producing meat, cattle play an important role in California's landscape and environment by grazing on vegetation that could fuel wildfire,” Ozeran said. “Ranching therefore has ecological and social impact on rural and fire-prone communities. If we can help ranchers remain economically viable, then we help support local stewardship of productive natural landscapes and contribute to fire resiliency and food security.”
The new study, “Sample Costs for Beef Cattle, Cow-Calf Production - 200 Head Operation, Central San Joaquin Valley - 2019” is authored by Ozeran, Donald Stewart, staff research associate of the University of California Agricultural Issues Center; and Daniel A. Sumner, director of UC Agricultural Issues Center.
This study and other sample cost of production studies for many commodities are available for free download at http://coststudies.ucdavis.edu. The program is supported by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, including both Agricultural Issues Center and UC Cooperative Extension, and the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.
For more information, contact Stewart at (530) 752-4651 or email@example.com. To discuss this study with a local UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor, contact your county UC Cooperative Extension office https://ucanr.edu/About/Locations or contact Rebecca Ozeran at (559) 241-6564 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A new study on the costs and returns of a beef cattle operation has been released by the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources' Agricultural Issues Center. The estimated costs can help ranchers and land management agencies on California's Central Coast make business decisions.
“This cost study can be a valuable tool for someone who is thinking about going into the cattle business because it will help them think through the various categories of costs, and aid in developing a budget and business plan,” said Devii Rao, University of California Cooperative Extension livestock and natural resources advisor for San Benito, Monterey and Santa Cruz counties.
Based on the typical costs of a 300-head cow-calf operation, the study estimates costs of an owner-operated beef cattle operation located on leased rangeland in the Central Coast region of California. The cost calculations in this study are based on economic principles that include all cash costs and uses the rental cost per animal unit month (AUM) as a cost of pasture.
“The study can also be used by a seasoned rancher,” said Rao, a co-author of the study. The first cost table has an empty column titled, “Your Costs.” This is probably one of the most useful pages for the experienced rancher. Producers can use this column to enter their own costs and compare them to the costs in the study. It will help them think about where they can make changes in their operation to reduce costs.”
The analysis is based upon a hypothetical cow-calf operation, where the cattle producer leases all rangeland. The “typical” ranch in the Central Coast is an owner-operated cow-calf operation using multiple private and public leases. The practices described represent production practices and materials considered typical of a well-managed ranch in the region.
Input and reviews for this study were provided by ranch operators, UC ANR Cooperative Extension farm advisors and other agricultural associates. A narrative describes the assumptions used to identify current costs for the cow-calf herd, material inputs, cash and non-cash overhead. A ranging analysis table shows profits over a range of average market prices. Other tables show the costs and revenue for production, monthly summary of costs and revenue, and the annual equipment, investment and business overhead costs.
“This study will also be of value to land management agencies that lease their lands for cattle grazing,” she said. “Many agency staff are not familiar with the different aspects of cow/calf operations. For land management agency staff, the most useful portion of the study is likely to be the Operations Calendar, which summarizes the timeline for breeding, branding, vaccinating, calving, shipping, etc.”
“Sample Costs for Beef Cattle – Central Coast Region – 2018” can be downloaded for free from the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics website at https://coststudies.ucdavis.edu. Sample cost of production studies for many other commodities are also available at the website.
For additional information or an explanation of the calculations used in the studies, contact Donald Stewart at the Agricultural Issues Center at (530) 752-4651 or email@example.com.
For information about beef cattle production in the Central Coast region, contact Rao at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To help ranchers make business decisions, new cost studies for beef cattle production have been released by UC ANR Agricultural Issues Center and UC Cooperative Extension.
Sample costs and returns for beef cattle production in the northern Sacramento Valley are presented in these studies. The studies are titled “Sample Costs for Beef Cattle, Cow–Calf Production,” “Sample Costs for Beef Cattle, Yearling/Stocker Production” and “Sample Costs for Beef Cattle, Finished on Grass.”
"These studies are useful to new and experienced ranchers, lenders and other agribusiness companies, as well as government officials, researcher and students who want to know basics of ranch practices and the costs and returns that can be expected for a well-managed operation,” said Daniel Sumner, director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center. “The studies show ranges of net returns under alternative price scenarios to help indicate sensitivity of returns to cattle market conditions."
The analyses are based on a hypothetical well-managed ranching operation using practices common to the northern Sacramento Valley. The three studies are based on a herd of 300 cows and bred heifers, 60 yearling heifers and 15 bulls. An 11 percent cull rate is applied to the herd. An 89 percent calf crop with three percent mortality before weaning is assumed.
All rangeland and pasture is rented per animal unit month. Ranging analysis tables show net revenue over a range of prices. The costs, materials and operations shown in this study will not apply to all ranches. Ranchers, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisors, and other agricultural associates provided input and reviewed the methods and findings of the study.
Free copies of these studies and other sample cost of production studies for additional commodities are also available. To download the cost studies, visit the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics website at https://coststudies.ucdavis.edu.
The cost studies program is funded by the UC Agricultural Issues Center and UC Cooperative Extension, both of which are part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.
For more information or an explanation of the calculations used in the studies, contact Donald Stewart at the Agricultural Issues Center at (530) 752-4651 or email@example.com; Larry Forero, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor for Shasta and Trinity counties, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Jeff Stackhouse, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor for Humboldt and Del Norte counties, at email@example.com.
NOTE: Corrections were made on July 19, 2017, to “2017 Beef Cattle Yearling/Stocker Production in the Sacramento Valley” and “2017 Beef Cattle Finished on Grass in the Sacramento Valley” to show interest calculated for 6 months as stated in the narratives of both studies, instead of 12 months.
UC Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center hosts cattle for research to commercialize vaccine
After more than 60 years of working closely with University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources researchers to identify and learn how to manage a disease that causes the death of up to 90,000 calves annually, ranchers are optimistic that they are on the home stretch to getting a vaccine that will protect cattle.
Caused by tick-borne bacteria, the disease commonly known as foothill abortion is a leading cause of economic loss for California beef producers. To combat the disease, the California Cattlemen's Association is sponsoring UC vaccine trials, now in the second year, in commercial herds throughout California, Nevada and Oregon, which will facilitate commercial licensing of the product. At the same time, the UC researchers are continuing studies at the Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center to identify the best time to vaccinate and potential side effects of the vaccine on the animals' health.
Through a 30-year partnership with the cattle industry, UC Davis veterinary immunologist Jeffrey Stott has been leading the effort to identify the organism causing the devastating disease and has successfully developed a live vaccine to protect cows against the disease.
“The vaccine is huge for the industry,” said Tom Talbot, Bishop beef producer and livestock veterinarian. “I don't think we fully understand the magnitude of the economic loss suffered from aborted calves.”
While Talbot was attending the School of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis in the 1970s, his father purchased some cattle to breed in the mountains near Bakersfield. The following autumn, none of the calves from the Talbots' new heifers survived.
As an active member of the California Cattlemen's Association, Talbot has remained involved in the search for a cure.
While research trials demonstrated the vaccine was more than 95 percent effective in preventing the disease, UC researchers faced a major hurdle to making the vaccine commercially available to ranchers. USDA Center for Veterinary Biologics, which regulates animal vaccines, required detailed data on how the timing of vaccine delivery may impact embryo development following breeding.
“Gathering this information was not going to be easy, as it required applying careful experimental control on when animals were bred relative to when the vaccine was delivered and making frequent observations on a very large number of animals,” said Jeremy James, UC Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center director.
The beef cattle industry and UC researchers realized that UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' 5,721-acre Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center would provide an ideal outdoor laboratory for the critical research. The Pajaroellobacter abortibovis bacterium and pajaroello ticks that transmit the bacteria to cows naturally occur in the foothill pastures and the facility has a full-time, onsite staff to monitor the animals and collect the data.
“We're bringing together industry members and researchers in a research center framework in way that hasn't been done before for vaccine development,” said James.
The bacteria are endemic in California's coastal range and in the foothill regions of California, Southern Oregon and Northern Nevada.
Solano County-based Detar Livestock, which operates throughout California and part of Oregon, supplied 330 heifers for the experiment in 2014. Rancher Gabe Detar quickly recognized how this partnership might benefit industry across the state.
“They vaccinated half of them and there were zero abortions,” Detar said. “The cows without vaccinations had quite a few. It was a huge difference. The vaccine worked.”
This year Detar is contributing another 330 heifers. It takes 13 months to run an experiment because the vaccine has to be given to the heifer at least 60 days before she becomes pregnant, then it takes nine months until she gives birth to see if the calf survives.
In December, Stott and Myra Blanchard, a researcher with the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, will begin inoculating cattle with the live vaccine for the disease, also known as epizootic bovine abortion.
The success of this research effort to defeat the cattle disease hinges on trust between the ranchers, UC scientists and the staff at the UC Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center.
“The trust has to go in all directions,” James said. “The rancher has to trust that we'll take care of their animals because 300 cattle is a large investment. Likewise, the researchers have to trust the producers to supply the quantity and quality of animals they need to complete the work and for the staff at the Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center to manage the animals exactly as required under their research protocols.”
Ranchers hope the vaccine will become commercially available soon to provide relief from foothill abortion disease. Until then, only the cattle participating in the research can receive the experimental vaccine.
“The disease can kill upwards of 60 to 70 percent of fetuses in infected cattle, which can jeopardize a cattle producer's business,” said Stott.
Funding for the study has been provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the California Cattlemen's Association and a UC Proof of Concept Discovery Grant (grant ID no. 212263) from UC's Office of the President, with additional funding from the Russell L. Rustici Rangeland and Cattle Research Endowment and the UC School of Veterinary Medicine's Center for Food Animal Health.
For more information on how to manage cattle to prevent foothill abortion disease, visit http://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/pdf/8566.pdf.