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Cow-Calf Corner • The Newsletter

Monday, February 7, 2022

Declining Feedlot Production in 2022

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


On January 1, 2022, the inventory of cattle in U.S. feedlots was 14.69 million head, up fractionally from 14.67 million head one year ago.  All other categories of the USDA Cattle report were down, confirming that the industry continues to liquidate cattle numbers from the 2019 cyclical peak.  The all cattle and calves inventory was 91.9 million head, down 2.0 percent year over year. The beef cow herd at 30.125 million head, was down 2.3 percent from one year ago and is down 4.9 percent in the three years since the 2019 peak.  The 2021 calf crop was 35.09 million head, down 1.2 percent year over year and down 3.4 percent from the 2018 peak calf crop for this cattle cycle.


How can feedlot inventories be above year ago levels if the calf crop has declined the past three years?  The usual flow of feeder cattle over time would suggest that feedlot inventories should have peaked in 2020.  Several factors explain this delay between calf production and feedlot production.  The pandemic in 2020 resulted in delayed feedlot placements that pushed peak feedlot inventories into 2021.  On a monthly basis, feedlot inventories peaked in February 2021.  A twelve-month moving average of feedlot inventories allows month to month comparisons without seasonality and shows that average feedlot inventories peaked in June 2021.  However, feedlot inventories have been very slow to decline since then and even moved slightly higher at the end of 2021.  The twelve-month moving average of feedlot inventories on January 1 was down a scant 0.49 percent from the June peak. How can this be, and can it continue?


Feedlots certainly have individual incentives to keep feedlots as full as possible. Utilization of pen space and feed mill capacity are important economic factors. Unexpectedly large placements in November and December of 2021 pushed monthly feedlot totals slightly higher coming into 2022.  Those placements largely consisted of lightweight feeder cattle because, increasingly, that is what is available.  Feedlots have been borrowing against the future to hold feedlot inventories as high as possible to this point; and the ability to do that will decrease in the next few months. The estimated supply of feeder cattle, calculated from January 1 inventories of steers over 500 lbs, other (non-replacement) heifers over 500 lbs., and calves under 500 pounds, with current feedlot inventories subtracted was at 25.54 million head, down 2.6 percent year over year.  


The recent lightweight feedlot placements will take longer to finish and will hold feedlot inventories for a while but there simply are not enough feeder cattle to maintain feedlot inventories for too many months.  The ratio of feedlot inventories to feeder cattle supplies is a measure of how intensively the feeder cattle supply is being used.  This ratio in percentage terms was 57.5 percent on January 1, a record level for this measure.  In other words, the number of cattle in feedlots was 57.5 percent of the supply feeder cattle available or, stated another way, there are only 1.74 head of feeder cattle available to replace the cattle currently in feedlots. This is the lowest supply of feeder cattle to feedlot inventories on record.  Baring significant drought-forced early placements or some other disruption in cattle markets, feedlot inventories should show a much more noticeable decline in 2022. 



Hardware Disease in Beef Cattle

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

Hardware disease is a common term for Bovine Traumatic Reticuloperitonitis.  It is usually caused by the ingestion of metallic objects like nails, screws or wire.  The piece of metal settles in the compartment of the stomach called the reticulum.  The weight of the object and the anatomy of the reticulum is a virtual guarantee the metal will remain in the reticulum. Contractions of the reticulum result in the metal irritating or penetrating the lining of the stomach.  If the stomach lining is penetrated the object potentially gains access to the heart.  This results in several possible scenarios which include local infection, leakage of fluid from the reticulum and the most severe, a puncture of the sac around the heart.  Accordingly, hardware disease can be mild, severe or fatal. 


Hardware disease can be difficult to conclusively diagnose and clinical signs will vary based on where the hardware has penetrated.  Symptoms include the animal standing with its head and neck extended, weight loss, pain, decreased appetite, arched back, reluctance to walk or eat and audible grunting when forced to move.  Producers should consult with their veterinarian if hardware disease is suspected.  Successful treatment of hardware disease can be achieved by use of antibiotics and administering a magnet into the fore-stomach using a balling gun. 


The best prevention of hardware disease is good management.  Keeping pastures and feeding areas clean by picking up wire, metal objects and debris is critical.  Placing magnets in feed mills and harvesting equipment is also beneficial.  Spending the extra time it takes to eliminate the potential of cattle ingesting sharp metallic objects greatly reduces the risk of cattle getting hardware disease.   



Feeding High-Magnesium Minerals to Cows Calving on Winter Pastures

Paul Beck, Oklahoma State University Extension Beef Cattle Specialist


There has not been much wheat pasture this winter after a slow start last fall and long winter drought in most of Oklahoma. Many pastures that usually have stockers grazing all winter had either not been stocked or have had the calves pulled already. Moisture from last week’s snow will give the wheat a boost and many of these fields could be used for spring calving cows to graze. Growing wheat this time of year is high in protein and highly digestible and will easily meet the requirements of a beef cow in early lactation.


A problem with wheat and other small grain pasture is the mineral content in comparison to the needs of the lactating cow. The following table shows the average mineral content from 5 experiments across Oklahoma and into Arkansas. There is considerable variation in the mineral composition of small grain forages, depending on management, growth conditions, and soil mineral content. This data shows that magnesium, copper and zinc are deficient in wheat forage; calcium and phosphorus are adequate while potassium is excessive.


Average mineral content of wheat forage from five experiments in Oklahoma and Arkansas compared with the mineral requirements of a 1100-pound early lactation beef cow.

Mineral, DM basis Average Content Consumed Required Status
Calcium, % 0.38 56.7 g 38.8 g Adequate
Phosphorus, % 0.25 38.5 g 21.3 g Adequate
Magnesium, % 0.16 24.7 g 31.5 g Deficient
Potassium, % 2.07 311.6 g 110.4 g Excessive
Copper, ppm 7.19 115 mg 158 mg Deficient
Zinc, ppm 22.14 351 mg 473 mg Deficient


The high potassium content of wheat forage is problematic because it interferes with magnesium absorption in the gastro-intestinal tract. Grass tetany in mature cows is caused by low blood magnesium levels that can result from either low magnesium intake or poor absorption. It is commonly a problem in nursing mature cows grazing small grain pastures in the spring due to magnesium excretion in the milk and reduced resorption of magnesium from the bone in mature cows compared with younger cows or growing calves.


Grass tetany is a condition associated with inadequate magnesium in the diet. Magnesium is a mineral that is necessary in nerve function and therefore muscle contraction. Cattle with grass tetany become excitable, develop muscle tremors, and have difficulty breathing and in the worst case, death. The most common method of preventing grass tetany is to supplement the herd with magnesium beginning at least 1 month prior to spring grazing.  Mineral supplements that contain 10 to 12% magnesium as magnesium oxide, called High Mag minerals in lay terms, are commonly used.  At 3 to 4 oz intake, such minerals will provide 40 to 50% of a cow’s daily magnesium requirement. Mineral supplement intake is often reduced when higher rates of magnesium are added due to the unpalatability of magnesium oxide.  Mineral mixtures will not effectively offset mineral deficiencies if desired amounts are not consumed, therefore intake must be monitored.



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