Remember the economic basics in the midst of trade turbulence
by Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock marketing specialist
U.S. agricultural trade is being threatened by a storm of policy challenges and political rhetoric. As the political discussions continue, it’s important to not lose sight of the basic economic principles that are the foundation for all trade.
Trade between two economic agents adds value to both and is the basis for nearly all economic growth. These gains from trade are the result of specialization where market participants capitalize on their comparative advantage in some activity. Comparative advantage allows all parties in a market to produce at their lowest opportunity cost thereby using scarce resources most efficiently. For example, it might be possible for me to build my own computer in the absence of trading with the Dell Corporation. However, it is clearly more efficient for me to trade with Dell by buying my computer and using my time to do things I’m better at than building computers. Moreover, having the computer will enhance my productivity in other activities. This specialization that drives gains from trade applies to individuals, businesses, states and countries. Specialization has been a major force of economic growth since the days of hunting and gathering when hunters specialized in hunting and gatherers specialized in gathering.
International trade is fundamentally no different than any other trade in terms of the underlying economic forces. However, the complication of multiple governments and lots of politics often puts international trade under a different lens. One of the concerns is trade deficits that sometimes result from international trade. The term trade deficit is usually applied to the negative balance of goods that occurs when a country imports more products from another country than it exports to that country. To call this negative balance of trade a “deficit” is really a misnomer as it does not imply any unpaid obligation, in contrast to, say, a budget deficit. When a negative balance of trade occurs for goods there is a corresponding surplus of currency flowing out of the country. In other words, when the U.S. is a net importer of goods there is a simultaneous export of dollars in equal value.
Trade deficits are not necessarily inherently a bad thing. I have a trade deficit with Dell Corporation in that I buy computers from them and they buy nothing from me. As part of a larger economic picture, there is no inherent problem with the fact that I have trade deficits with most of the firms where I buy things. In another example, the state of Oklahoma has a trade deficit with California and Florida with respect to the majority of fruits and vegetables consumed in the state. Oklahoma does not have a comparative advantage in fruit and vegetable production and it would not be efficient to produce them all in the state. However, the state’s trade deficit regarding fruits and vegetables is part of a bigger economic picture and not a source of concern. In general, the same is true for country to country trade deficits… it is part of a larger picture involving the entire macro-economy of the country and the broader global trade picture. For example, goods sourced cheaper in another country free up resources and consumer dollars in the U.S. to support other businesses.
With all of that said, the politics of countries may include policies that distort markets and create artificial trade outcomes. This requires political discussions between countries to resolve. As we work through the escalating trade tensions that are currently roiling markets, it will be beneficial if all sides remember that trade adds value and is not a zero sum game.
Make a record of twins (or other multiple births)
By Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension animal scientist
Estimates of the percentage of beef cattle births that produce twins vary. One estimate (Gilmore (Herd Health, Hoard’s Dairyman, 1993) puts the percentage at about 0.5 percent or 1 in every 227 births. Approximately one-half of the sets of twins should contain both a bull and a heifer calf. Make sure to write down these calf numbers of twin births while they are still nursing the cow. Be certain to not retain the heifer born twin to a bull as a replacement female.
Freemartinism is recognized as one of the most severe forms of sexual abnormality among cattle. This condition causes infertility in most of the female cattle born twin to a male. When a heifer twin shares the uterus with a bull fetus, they also share the placental membranes connecting the fetuses with the dam.
A joining of the placental membranes occurs at about the fortieth day of pregnancy, and thereafter, the fluids of the two fetuses are mixed. This causes exchange of blood and antigens carrying characteristics that are unique to each heifers and bulls. When these antigens mix, they affect each other in a way that causes each to develop with some characteristics of the other sex.
Although the male twin in this case is rarely affected by reduced fertility, in over ninety percent of the cases, the female twin is completely infertile. Because of a transfer of hormones or a transfer of cells, the heifer’s reproductive tract is severely underdeveloped and sometimes even contains some elements of a bull’s reproductive tract. A freemartin is genetically female, but has many characteristics of a male. The ovaries of the freemartin do not develop correctly, and they remain very small. Also, the ovaries of a freemartin do not produce the hormones necessary to induce the behavioral signs of heat. The external vulvar region can range from a very normal looking female to a female that appears to be male. Usually, the vulva is normal except that in some animals an enlarged clitoris and large tufts of vulvar hair exist.
Freemartinism cannot be prevented; however, it can be diagnosed in a number of ways ranging from simple examination of the placental membranes to chromosomal evaluation. The cattleman can predict the reproductive value of this heifer calf at birth and save the feed and development costs if he is aware of the high probability of freemartinism. (Source: “The Causes and Effects of Freemartinism in Cattle” by Laurie Ann Lyon.)
In some cases, there are few, if any, symptoms of freemartinism because the male twin may have been aborted at an earlier stage of gestation. Hidden freemartins are often difficult to identify if replacement heifers are purchased. Therefore, this is another good reason to cull any open (non-pregnant) replacement heifer soon after her first breeding season.
Cows that are nursing twin calves will require an estimated 13 percent more energy intake to maintain body condition. The additional suckling pressure on the cow will extend the post-calving anestrus period. Therefore, cows nursing twins will take longer to re-cycle to rebreed for next year’s calf crop. In some cases, producers may want to consider early weaning of the twin calves to allow the cow to re-cycle in time to stay with the other cows in the herd.