Skip to main content

Cow-Calf Corner • The Newsletter

Monday, November 29, 2021

Cattle Markets Back on Offense

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


As 2021 winds to a close, cattle markets seem to finally be able to move out from under the specter of the pandemic impacts that began 18 months ago.  Indeed, the constant turmoil of a series of Black Swan events have kept the industry on the defensive for over two years.  The recent breakout of fed cattle markets after struggling under the weight of beef packer capacity constraints clears the way for cattle markets to move forward with the optimism that has been building in the industry in recent months.   


There continues to be, of course, many challenges facing the cattle industry in 2022.  COVID impacts are ongoing with much uncertainty; and U.S. and global economies will continue struggling with pandemic ripple effects for many months.  Higher input prices will impact cattle operations and test better profitability prospects in the coming year.  Continuing drought is an ongoing threat and may impact the industry and many producers in affected regions.  It is uncertain whether or how and where drought will affect the cattle industry in 2022.  La Niña conditions have redeveloped this winter which may result in some relief in parts of northern regions while southwestern regions, that did see some improvement in 2021, could see redeveloping drought conditions.  In drought regions, producers will continue to be on defense.


Despite these challenges, many producers may be able to spend more time looking forward in the coming year.  Producers can evaluate and plan their individual objectives and goals while the industry figures out what the trajectory is for the next couple of years at least.  The beef cow herd has been declining since 2019 and declined even faster in 2021.  It will decline again in 2022 and likely in 2023.  However, strong domestic beef demand bolstered by even stronger demand and potential in international markets suggests that cyclical expansion could resume in the not-to-distant future.  Exactly what the future path will be remains to be determined but producers should consider strategic and tactical plans for industry outcomes.


Winter is a good time to consider both animal and forage production and management plans for the coming year.  Once calf marketing is complete and herd culling decisions are implemented, a relative down-time is ideal for a bit of review of the past year and planning for next year with a series of questions.  What are the conditions of pastures and rangeland going into the next growing season; should grazing plans or stocking rates be adjusted?  Were production and reproductive rates and weaning weights as expected?  What is the current body condition of the cows?  What is the herd health status?  Are upcoming herd nutritional needs evaluated and matched with feed and supplement resources?  Planning now can help manage costs and production next year.  Take time to consider these and other questions before the new year.


The industry has waited many months for a bit of relative stability.  Are you ready to be on offense rather than defense?  There will no doubt be adversity and producers must be prepared for risks and negative outcomes, but you also need to be ready to grab the opportunities that will come.  The cattle industry can look forward to 2022.  



Selection for Improved Cow Efficiency 

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


Reproductive performance in the cowherd is low in heritability, meaning it is largely influenced by environment, particularly nutrition.  Mature Weight (MW) is moderate in heritability (35%) meaning response to selection pressure to downsize cows can be accomplished more effectively. Most beef cattle registries calculate MW EPDs.    


Among the benefits of modern genetic prediction in beef cattle is being able to compare the genetic values of our herd bulls (or AI sires) across time and geography.  If we weighed cows this fall and realized our mature cow weights are getting out of hand.  We should take a look at the MW EPDs of the bull (or bulls) that sired them.   The registration paper on our herd bulls permits us to look at EPDs of our current (or past) bull battery and use it as a means to guide change in the future.


Excessive MW is typically the result of selection pressure being applied to increase weaning and yearling weights while ignoring the MW EPD value.  Because of the positive genetic correlation between weights at all ages it is an unintended, but natural consequence that MW will increase over time when no selection pressure is applied to this trait.  If we want less MW in our cow herd, this can be done by selecting bulls with lower MW EPDs in the future.  


A review of genetic trends in beef breeds is informative.  Over the past 30 years we see birth weight EPDs have stayed constant (or in some breeds have actually went down), while WW and YW have went up. The point: in spite of those genetic correlations mentioned above, we have improved calving ease, while raising WW and YW over time.  The same can be accomplished by including MW among the traits we select for in our breeding program.  Bottomline: we don’t need to sacrifice WW or YW in order to keep MW in check.  It is possible to identify sires that can improve the traits we want while decreasing MW.


The consequence over time, less mature size results in lower nutritional requirements of our cowherd.  As this happens we see improved cowherd performance.  The same amount of forage for the same number of cows with less mature weight will result in improved Pregnancy Percentages, Percent Calf Crop Weaned and Pounds Weaned per Exposed Female.



Improving Hay Feeding Efficiency

David Lalman, Oklahoma State University Extension Beef Cattle Specialist


Most agricultural economists argue that finding ways to minimize the amount of hay fed in a cow-calf enterprise is one of the keys to profitability. In contrast, over the last 50 years, hay production has steadily increased, while the beef cow inventory has remained relatively constant. During the same period, the dairy cow and horse inventories have declined substantially. For perspective, hay production per beef cow in Oklahoma has increased from about ¾ of a ton in the mid 70’s to about 2.25 tons per beef cow more recently (Fig. 1). Thus, making efficient use of harvested hay continues to represent “low-hanging fruit” in both seedstock and commercial cattle operations. 


Non-Alfalfa Hay Production

Figure 1. Oklahoma hay production and cattle inventory (National Ag Statistics Service, USDA)


Feeding strategies for large round bales can be separated into use of a hay feeder and rolling bales out. A major advantage to rolling bales out is improved distribution of hay waste and manure over the pasture, which should lead to improved soil fertility. Hoof action is also distributed over a larger feeding area, and this could lead to less soil compaction and (or) less sod/plant damage compared to concentrated feeding areas associated with hay feeders. The disadvantage to relying on unrolling hay is the need to feed every day if standing forage availability is limited. Hay waste is basically a function of the amount of hay provided per animal each day. The more restricted the amount of hay fed, the lower the waste and visa versa. In other words, if two or more days’ worth of hay must be fed at a time, expect hay waste to exceed 25% of the original bale weight. Granted, the term “waste” may be considered a matter of perspective, because the “wasted” hay does provide soil nutrients and organic matter to the system.


Hay waste when feeding is a large cost to most of our cow-calf production systems in Oklahoma. Next week’s article will cover hay feeder designs to reduced hay feeding waste.


See Paul Beck talk about rotating hay feeding areas on a Sunup TV program aired on January 12, 2019. Rotating hay locations for cattle (1/12/19) - YouTube


Dave Lalman discusses how to get the most out of your hay on SunUp TV from October 22, 2018. Getting the most out of your hay (10/20/18) - YouTube

Back To Top