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Cow-Calf Corner • The Newsletter, February 14, 2022

Monday, February 14, 2022

Cattle Cycle Scenario 1: More and Worse Drought

Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist


The list of factors that will shape cattle markets in 2022 is lengthy and leads to multiple scenarios for cattle and beef industry outcomes for the coming year.  The recently released USDA Cattle report confirms the cattle inventory situation at the beginning of the year and provides some indications of what the cattle industry would like to do in the coming year…or at least what might be possible in the coming year.  Beyond cattle inventories, current drought measurements and data on hay stocks indicate the general forage situation in various regions and high costs for feed and other inputs must be balanced against higher and rising cattle prices. 


Drought will be the principal determinant of the general cattle industry scenario in 2022.  The current Climate Prediction Center drought outlook suggests that drought may persist in regions of the west and northern plains that have been in drought (with some improvement in the Pacific Northwest), and where drought has recently developed in southern plains and perhaps expand even further into the central plains region.  Drought has impacted some regions since 2020. Widespread drought in 2022 could result in much more pronounced cow herd liquidation and relocation than previously and the scenario will be all about what we have to do.  There will be little flexibility in regions that were in drought in 2020 and 2021.  For example, December 1 hay stocks in the four-state region of Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota were down 40.2 percent year over year.  By April or May this predominantly spring-born calving region could be faced with significant additional liquidation of cows or cow-calf pairs this year on top of the 8.0 percent herd liquidation in this region since 2020.  This region represents 15.1 percent of the national beef cow herd.  The four-state region of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah has suffered in drought conditions since 2020 and has seen an 11.6 percent beef cow herd liquidation in the past two years.  Persistent drought will result in additional liquidation this year.  This region represents 5.3 percent of the total beef cow herd.


Drought has expanded sharply in Texas and Oklahoma over the winter; a region that has seen just 1.1 percent herd liquidation since 2020.  Much of that was general cyclical liquidation rather than drought induced. December 1 hay stocks in these two states were up 18.7 percent year over year.  The southern plains regions should emerge from winter with a bit more flexibility and, with more fall calving, might not face critical herd liquidation and destocking decisions as quickly as some other regions.  Nevertheless, cow culling could accelerate sharply in the region by mid-summer.  These two states represent 21.9 percent of the total beef cow herd.  


The central plains region including Kansas and Nebraska has been marginally impacted by drought the past two years with the beef cow herd in these two states down 3.3 percent since 2020.  The December 1 hay stocks in the region were up 4.9 percent year over year.  Should drought develop significantly in the central plains, additional significant cow herd liquidation would follow by summer.  These two states represent 10.8 percent of the beef cow herd.


Drought in all of the above regions could impact over 53 percent of the total beef cow herd… roughly 16 million cows. Significant drought in 2022 will have more noticeable impacts on cow markets, will change the timing of feeder cattle and ultimately feedlot production, and will have more implications for the industry in subsequent years.  There is potential for the drought to push cattle inventories significantly lower than planned and set up a market reaction similar to 2014-2015 in the next couple of years. 



Bull to Female Ratios – Preparing for Breeding Season

Mark Z. Johnson, Oklahoma State University Extension Beef Cattle Breeding Specialist


Breeding season is approaching and bull turnout is only six weeks away for herds that plan to start calving next January.  We are fortunate in Oklahoma to have a large number of outstanding registered seedstock breeders who are, and will be, marketing bulls in volume in our state.  The opportunity to invest in genetics to improve the profit potential of your operation leads to several questions and requires planning.


The first goal of breeding season is to get cows bred early in breeding season resulting in more calves born earlier in calving season, shorter breeding/calving seasons, older calves at weaning and ultimately, more pay weight at weaning due to calf age. The typical beef calf gains about 2 lbs./day up until weaning, accordingly a calf born one heat cycle (21 days) earlier will wean off about 40 lbs. heavier.  How do we get this accomplished?  By having an adequate amount of bulls to get cows serviced.  The following shows a conservative expectation of the number of cows we should expect bulls to cover in a defined breeding season.


12 - 15 month old bulls = 10 – 12 females

15 - 18 month old bulls = 12 – 18 females

18 - 24 month old females = 18 – 25 females

24 mo. & older = 25 – 35 females

2 – 6 year old bulls = 25 – 35 females


Rule of Thumb: One female per month of age at turnout (after passing yearling Breeding Soundness Exam)


For example: If I have 60 heifers to breed and plan to turn out 15 month old bulls, I will need four bulls. 


What is the typical life expectancy of a breeding bull?  Typically up to the age of 6 is “prime of life” for breeding bulls.  This isn’t to say that all bulls will break down at this age, but is more likely to happen after age six.  Often when an older bull goes bad, it isn’t discovered until after breeding season when we are doing pregnancy checks.


Social Behavior of Bulls

When you invest in bulls this spring, it is a good idea to pen bulls of similar ages and size together for several weeks prior to start of breeding season to allow for social ranking of bulls.  This time together allows bulls to establish a “pecking order” so they will be ready to focus on their job at turnout.  



Methane Production in Grazing Beef Systems

Paul Beck, Oklahoma State University Extension Beef Cattle Specialist


The environmental impact of the beef industry has received increased attention from the public because of perceptions of its effects on climate change. The International Panel on Climate Change estimated that 23% of global greenhouse gas emissions were from agriculture, forestry, and “other land uses”. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and Ag, Forestry and “Other” land uses produce about 44% of the methane, with 46% of that coming from ruminant animals.


In the United States, agriculture contributes 9% of the total greenhouse gas emissions with transportation, industry, and electrical sectors producing 79% of total greenhouse gasses. Of the 9% of greenhouse gas emissions attributed to agriculture, 60% is attributed to animal agriculture (5.4% of total emissions) and 60% of that is methane from all ruminant animal agriculture (3.2% of total US emissions).


Life-cycle assessments of the US Beef Industry indicate that the cow-calf and stocker segments of the industry produce 70 to 80% of the greenhouse gas emissions from the beef sector. This is because 1) cattle consuming a high forage diet have increased methane emissions and 2) brood cows live on pastures continuously and have a single offspring per year. 


Globally, 75% of greenhouse gasses from ruminants are produced in developing countries, producing over 2-times the greenhouse gas per pound of carcass than in developed countries. This is driven by low feed digestibility, low slaughter weights, higher age at slaughter, and poor animal husbandry practices. Emission rates per pound of product in developed countries (primarily Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand) are low due to improved grazing management, higher pasture quality and digestibility, and more intensive feeding practices.  


Even though livestock’s greenhouse gas emissions are relatively minor in the U. S., methane emissions can be reduced by improving forage quality such as increasing use of cool-season forages and legumes and using rotational grazing management. Reducing methane emissions by acting directly on the grazing animal and not the forage base is problematic partially due to the difficulty in estimating intake of grazing animals (level of intake is a major driver of enteric CH4 production), the infrequency of supplementation, and the variable level of individual animal supplement intake. Common strategies to reduce methane production are supplementation to increase animal performance and providing supplements that directly alter ruminal fiber digestion or methane producing ruminal bacteria. 


Methane mitigation strategies in grazing environments are limited, but producer decisions that improve the nutritional status of animals, the quality of the forage base, and supplementation of methane mitigation compounds can reduce methane production. Thus, management, husbandry, and technologies that increase productivity and efficiency of beef production systems can also reduce the environmental footprint of beef.

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