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Cow-Calf Corner • The Newsletter, March 28, 2022

Monday, March 28, 2022

Feedlots Packed Full…For Now

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


The latest USDA Cattle on Feed revealed a March 1 feedlot inventory of 12.163 million head, a record level for March for the data series back to 1996.  The feedlot total was 101.4 percent of one year ago.   The March feedlot total was down slightly from the February peak of 12.199 million head, which was a record for any month in the data series back to 1996.


February feedlot placements were 1.848 million head, up 9.3 percent year over year and the highest February placements since 2019.  Placements were at the upper end of the range of expectations and higher than the average trade guess.  Large 2022 placements compare to February 2021, which included a massive winter storm that reduced flows of cattle into and out of feedlots.  Nevertheless, placements this February were large and included both light and heavyweight feeder cattle.  Monthly placements weighing over 800 pounds were up 10.4 percent year over year while placements under 700 pounds were up 8.7 percent over last year. This follows several months of mostly lightweight placements. Strong February placements were aided by dry winter grazing conditions forcing cattle to market early and strong prices that encouraged feeder sales, some earlier than planned or anticipated.   


February feedlot marketings were 1.825 million head, up 4.9 percent year over year and the largest February marketings total since 2000.   Big February marketings are reflected in February fed (steer + heifer) slaughter up 4.6 percent year over year and monthly beef production up 6.9 percent year over year.  However, these comparisons are relative to the storm-disrupted totals from February 2021. 


Looking ahead, the bulge in February feedlot placements will likely be offset by sharply lower March placements.  Total feeder receipts from auctions, direct and internet sales for the first three weeks of March are down 17.0 percent year over year.  In Oklahoma, combined auction feeder cattle totals for March are down 19.0 percent compared to one year ago.  Feedlots will have plenty of cattle to market for another few months, but tighter placements are ahead and feedlot production will decline in the second half of the year.  If drought conditions persist, feedlots may perhaps continue to borrow against the future with early weaned calves available through the spring and summer before facing the full reality of tighter feeder cattle supplies.  On the other hand, if drought conditions abate, higher cattle prices might result in increased heifer retention by the end of the year, thereby squeezing feeder supplies even more and more quickly.



Spring 2022 Replacement Heifer Management Considerations

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


With much of Oklahoma in various degrees of drought over the past several months, winter  grazing has been generally poor for most of our state this year.  If you are selecting yearling heifers as replacements for the cowherd there are several things to keep in mind:


  • Typical “best management” goal for development of replacement heifers is to have them at 65% of their mature weight by 14-15 months of age.  Research indicates 90% or more of heifers reaching this goal will be cycling at the beginning of breeding season and on target to calve at two-years of age.


  • Research also indicates that if heifers are at 55% of their mature weight by 14-15 months of age, only half will be cycling.  If this is the situation you find yourself in right now and your planned breeding season is in the near future, adjust your rate of heifer retention up accordingly, pregnancy check heifers as soon as possible after pulling bulls and market the open heifers as yearlings this summer.


  • If your heifers are behind on weight right now and your breeding season is still 30 – 60 days away, there is still time to catch them up.  Previous research indicates heifers gaining approximately only a half-pound/day for the first 150 days post-weaning can be fed to gain 2.5 pounds/day for the 45-60 days immediately prior to breeding season to meet target weight and still have optimum breeding performance.  Recent rains have added to the possibility this could still be done on cool season grass pastures.  Regardless of how you plan to feed heifers to get them to target weight, an ionophore in your feeding program will be cost effective, typically adding an additional .1-.2 pound /day of gain.    


Fertility is very financially important in cow-calf operations.  For spring calving herds, now is the time to implement management practices to keep heifers on track to calve at two and primed to become productive cows.


Reference: Chapter 29, OSU Beef Cattle Manual, 8th edition



Bovine Respiratory Disease in Our Best Cattle during Finishing

Paul Beck, Oklahoma State University Department of Animal and Food Sciences


Bovine respiratory disease (BRD) is still a serious threat to the economics of beef production accounting for $800 to 900 million in losses from death loss, treatment cost, and reduced production. We have better antibiotics, vaccines, and management to help prevent and treat BRD than we did 25-years ago, even yet from 1999 to 2011 feedlot death loss increased 23% from 1.3% to 1.6% and BRD pull rates have not improved. At the same time, our genetics have gotten better with decreased birth weight, increased growth rate, increased feed efficiency, and increased carcass quality. There have been observations of increased BRD at later days on feed (after day 45 of finishing) for high-performing, genetically superior cattle, even those going through a preconditioning program. This is a problem because if death occurs there have been more resources invested in the animal during the feeding period than a calf with earlier pulls.


Data from a feedlot in Kansas were evaluated for the timing of BRD pulls in groups of both high-performing and high-risk calves on a lot level at the feedlot in Southwest Kansas. High-performing calves were categorized based on performance potential and carcass characteristics. High-risk calves were categorized based on administration of a mass-treatment antibiotic at arrival processing (which is usually based on risk-factors such as length of haul, state and salebarn of origin, shrink and bodyweight on arrival and other subjective indicators or stress). The high-risk group averaged 3.15 lb/day average daily gain during finishing with feed efficiency of 6.9 pounds of feed per pound of gain, compared to average daily gains of 3.4 lbs/day and feed efficiency of 6.6 pounds of feed per pound of gain for the high-performing category. The high-risk group had overall BRD morbidity and mortality of 15.1% and 4.8%, respectively, compared with morbidity and mortality of the high performing group of 12.8% and 2.5%, respectively. High-performing calves had BRD occurring later in the feeding period compared with high-risk calves with the percentage of BRD cases before 45 days on feed of 33.7 for high performing and 67.2% for high risk calves. Cattle that developed BRD had lower ADG through the first 30 days on feed compared with clinically healthy cattle.


The authors concluded that morbidity caused by BRD in high-performing cattle is greater than expected and desired. Timing of BRD morbidity occurs at later DOF in high-performing calves compared with high-risk calves. Incidence of BRD occurred at ≥45 DOF in all 3 feedlots evaluated. Additional research is needed to identify potential causes of BRD morbidity during the mid to late finishing period. The beef industry must work collaboratively to better understand the health issue and potential implications up and down the supply chain.

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