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Cow-Calf Corner • The Newsletter

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Expectations for Upcoming USDA Cattle Reports

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


In addition to the monthly Cattle on Feed report on January 21, USDA will issue the annual Cattle report on January 31.  This report provides January 1 cattle inventories for a variety of cattle classes as well as the calf crop total for the previous year with a complete breakdown for all states.  The report may also include revisions to values reported previously, which can complicate interpretation of the report.  This report follows the July Cattle report which provides national numbers for the same inventory categories but is based on a smaller survey and does not include individual state values.  The July report provided the first estimate of the 2021 calf crop.


The report provides confirmation of what did happen last year and provides some information that helps to shape expectations for this year.  For example, there is little doubt that the beef cow herd is smaller compared to a year ago.  The general feeling among analysts seems to be that the herd likely decreased 1.5-2.0 percent in 2021, with some possibility that the decrease was over 2 percent.  The level of beef cow slaughter in 2021 was up 9.1 percent year over year leading to a culling rate of 11.44 percent for the year, the highest since 2011. In 2011, the beef cow herd decreased 2.04 percent.  However, the net change in the beef cow herd in 2021 depends also on what happened with beef replacement heifers.  


On January 1, 2021, the number of beef replacement heifers was 18.7 percent of the beef cow herd.  This level of replacement heifers indicates neither significant herd liquidation nor does it suggest aggressive expansion.  In the last two decades the beef replacement heifer percentage has varied from a low of 16.6 percent in 2011 (liquidation) to a high of 21.0 percent in 2016 (expansion) and has averaged 18.2 percent. Comparing once again to 2011, the inventory of replacement heifers in 2021 was well above the level that year.  The replacement heifer inventory consists of both bred heifers (coming first-calf heifers) and heifer calves in development for breeding.  The inventory of heifers calving was much higher in absolute terms last year compared to 2011.  This likely means that some of the additional cow culling in 2021 was offset by more bred heifers entering the herd.  The heifer calves portion of the replacement heifers from one year ago may well have been diverted to feeder markets but many of the sizable inventory of bred heifers likely entered the herd somewhere.  


All of this discussion is complicated by the drought conditions in 2021which impacted what producers had to do as opposed to what they would like to do.  The same may be true in 2022.  It’s hard to anticipate the number of replacement heifers in the upcoming report because continuing drought conditions is likely restricting what some producers are able to do.  It is also possible that some producers outside of drought areas are holding a few extra replacement heifers to speculate on rebuilding demand in 2022.  Of course, drought conditions going forward will determine if that is successful or not. The northern plains regions that have been and continue to be in severe drought are areas that normally hold a higher percentage of replacement heifers compared to the rest of the country.  They may not be able to do so going into 2022.  If heifer calves from one year ago were diverted to feeder markets, the inventory of bred heifers in the upcoming report may be lower.  The remainder of the replacement heifer inventory is heifer calves, which could be up if producers are trying to compensate for fewer bred heifers but, again, it’s not clear that the continuing drought conditions is allowing more replacement heifer calves to be held.  It seems likely that the inventory of beef replacement heifers will be significantly lower in this report.       



Time of Feeding Influences Time of Day When Cows Calve – Benefits of Night Feeding

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


Calving season is a critical time of year in cow-calf operations. Calving, especially during winter months, can be challenging.  If you are interested in simplifying calving season, this week’s topic addresses a simple change in management that can result in more cows calving during the day time.  Calving during daylight means calves are born during times of warmer temperatures, cows calving are easier to find and provide assistance if needed and accordingly, more calves saved and alive.  The simple management change that leads to more cows calving during daylight hours? Feeding cows at night.


There are several data sets collected over time that indicate feeding cows at dusk will increase the number of cows calving during the day time.  Bear in mind, feeding cows in the evening does not completely eliminate cows calving during the night but does result in a distinctly higher percentage of cows calving in daylight hours.  In one of the largest trials conducted, 1331 cows on 15 farms in Iowa were fed once daily at dusk, 85% of the calves in those herds were born from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm.  It is noteworthy that the change from morning to night feeding can be made as soon as a week before calving and result in the benefit of more calves born during the day. But keep in mind, night feeding for several weeks prior to calving season is even more effective in getting more calves born during the day time.  


References: UNL Beef


Dr. Glenn Selk explains how feeding cattle later in the day can help ensure calves will be born during the day on SUNUP TV.



2021 Oklahoma Quality Beef Network Certified Preconditioned Calf Sales 

Jeff Robe OQBN Coordinator, Kellie Curry Raper OSU Extension Livestock Economics Specialist


The Oklahoma Quality Beef Network (OQBN) wrapped up another year of VAC45 certified sales in late December.  OQBN scheduled 10 fall sales across 7 markets. A total of 2,674 head were enrolled in OQBN by 63 producers, with 1,633 marketed through OQBN sales. Preliminary average premiums were calculated from data collected by Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Economics Specialists that included 11,027 head marketed in 1,352 total lots: 228 OQBN and 1,124 non-OQBN.  Following below average premiums in 2020, preliminary numbers indicate producers likely saw a favorable increase in 2021 premiums for preconditioned calves over non-preconditioned as the approximated average premium received was $15/cwt.  


The largest proportion of calves marketed through OQBN sales were 4 to 6 weight calves accounting for 79% of OQBN calves.  Premiums received for 4-weight steers ranged from $16.92 to 37.01/cwt and from $0 to 22.55/cwt for heifers.  The largest proportion of OQBN calves were in the 5-weight class with premiums for steers ranging from $10.36 to 22.08/cwt and for heifers, $0 to 35.53/cwt.  The 6-weight calves represented the second largest proportion of OQBN calves marketed with premiums for steers ranging from $3.83 to 8.83/cwt and from $6.62 to 30.00/cwt for heifers.


Premiums appeared stronger when more OQBN calves or other program calves were present, likely drawing in a larger audience of buyers to compete for preconditioned calves and generating greater selling power. High heat and dry weather conditions in late summer and early fall contributed to fewer calves enrolled in the OQBN program as many producers were without available resources to begin preconditioning programs.  


Producers that were unable to meet required weaning dates to participate in the fall OQBN sales have a few upcoming opportunities to market their calves through an OQBN sales after the first of the year.  There will be an OQBN sale at OKC West Livestock Market on 01/25/2022 and McAlester Stockyards on 02/08/2022.  To participate, calves should have been weaned by or before 12/11/2021 (for OKC West) and 12/25/2021 (for McAlester).  For more information on enrolling calves in the OQBN program, please contact Jeff Robe at 405-744-4268 or


Watch producers talk about the benefits of preconditioning and the OQBN program on SUNUP TV.


Insight on marketing preconditioned calves from a recent Rancher’s Thursday Lunchtime Webinar

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