Skip to main content


Open Main MenuClose Main Menu

Less Heifers in Feedlots…Finally

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


The January Cattle on Feed report from USDA-NASS showed the fourth consecutive month of declining feedlot inventories starting in October.  The January 1 on-feed total for feedlots with capacity of 1,000 head or more was down 2.9 percent year over year.  The January 1 feedlot total of 11.682 million head was larger than the December 2022 total by a scant 9,000 head but still below the November total of 11.696 million head.  It looks increasingly like the early November seasonal peak will hold.  If so, the November total was 4.1 below the previous seasonal peak in February 2022 and suggests sharply tighter feedlot numbers going forward.


December marketings were down 6.1 percent year over year, close to pre-report expectations. The marketings number is in line with December fed (steer + heifer) slaughter, which was down 5.9 percent year over year. Feedlots appear to still be current though the lower December marketings may reflect delayed shipments due to the December winter storm.


December placements were down 8.0 percent year over year, also as expected. Monthly feedlot placements were down year over year in nine of the twelve months of 2022. Total placements the last six months from July – December, which accounts for almost all cattle in the feedlots currently, is down 3.1 percent from last year.


The latest report also included the quarterly breakdown of steers and heifers in feedlots.  The steer total on January 1 was down 4.5 percent year over year.  Steers in feedlots have decreased on a year over year basis for 6 of the last 7 quarters going back to July 2021.  The feedlot heifer inventory on January 1 was down by 0.5 percent year over year.  This is a small decrease but significant as it is the first year over year quarterly decrease in feedlot heifer inventories since July 2021.  Large heifer numbers in feedlots supported the 4.8 percent year over year increase in heifer slaughter in 2022 and was the largest heifer slaughter total since 2004.  The decrease in feedlot heifers does not, at this point, reflect heifer retention but simply a lack of heifers due to large heifer slaughter the past two years.


The Cattle report to be released on January 31 will include a feedlot total for all feedlots.  The total U.S. feedlot inventory for January 1 averages 122.9 percent of the monthly January 1 total and accounts for feedlots smaller than 1,000 head capacity. This suggests that the January 1 U.S. feedlot inventory is expected to be 14.4 million head, down 2.3 percent from 2022. 



A Good Start for Baby Calves

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

What should happen at the beginning of life for a baby calf to get off to a good start? This week we review the sequence of several steps that need to happen.  Some of these we never witness and take for granted when we find a new-born up and nursing.  But along the way, if we are watching it take place, this is what we should see:


  1. The calf begins to breathe.  This one is obviously critical.  Typically as a calf comes out of the birth canal and the umbilical cord is severed, their first reaction is to inhale.  Sometimes, a difficult birth, less calf vigor, amniotic fluid in the nostrils or throat, or part of the amniotic sac covering the nose prevents it from happening.  If you are observing the process after delivery, you need to help a calf that is not breathing immediately.  First, clear the airway. Use your fingers (or small tube with a bulb on the end) to remove fluids from the back of the mouth and remove anything covering the nostrils. Then, insert a piece of straw into the nostril as a probe to try to stimulate a sneeze reflex.  This reflex will cause the calf to blow out fluids from the airway and inhale.  It should only take a few seconds.  Avoid hanging calves over a fence rail or picking up calves by their rear legs.  This is a common mistake.  The maneuver only makes it more difficult for the calf to breath by putting the weight of internal organs against the diaphragm and lungs which need to move to bring air in.
  2. Cleaning and Drying the calf.  This is the beginning of the maternal bond during which the cow will lick the calf dry and use her muzzle to stimulate the calf to stand up.  Calving this time of year, when calves are leaving the cozy environment of the mothers womb at a temperature of 101-102 degrees F and hitting the grounds at temperatures 60 – 100 degrees colder, make this very important to the calf’s survival.  An attentive cow may save her calf’s life simply by cleaning it immediately after birth.  The cleaning action accomplishes two things: it removes the fluid soaking the calf and stimulates muscle contractions and circulation in the calf.  Both prevent excess loss of body heat from the calf which can be conserved to help it stand and begin the process of finding a teat to nurse.  Manually drying and warming may be necessary for a weak new-born or in extremely cold winter weather.
  3. Nursing.  Standing and nursing are extremely critical so that a calf ingests an adequate amount of colostrum in the first few hours of life to acquire passive immunity as well as energy and other nutrients to maintain body heat.  In order to have the best chance of survival, a calf needs adequate colostrum within two hours of being born.  A calf begins to lose its ability to absorb antibodies from colostrum within six hours following birth and nearly all by 24 hours after birth.  Any time you assist the birth of a calf, you should consider giving colostrum with an esophageal tube feeder to the calf before leaving the new pair on their own.  First calf heifers with less experience than cows may require a higher level of management and assistance in order to allow steps 2 and 3 to take place.  A squeeze chute or head catch will be handy if you find yourself in the situation of assisting with the nursing process.
  4. The Maternal Bond.  After steps 2 and 3 are complete the majority of the bonding process is established, but will continue to strengthen over the next several days.  During the first few hours post-calving the cow or heifer identifies her own calf and the calf learns who its mother is.  If all is proceeding normally a little privacy is best.  Too much interference by humans or other animals can be a distraction and delay the process.  


Remember the nutritional requirements of the cow or heifer will increase dramatically once she begins lactation.  The general rule of thumb is at least 25% more.  The dry cow in the last trimester of pregnancy meeting her nutritional requirements on 24 pounds of forage dry matter per day will need 30 - 31 pounds of the same forage dry matter per day post calving.  This is even more critical if you are calving out cows and heifers that are thinner than a body condition score five.  Cows in a body conditional of 5 – 6 are better prepared to produce adequate quantity and quality of milk and colostrum needed to get a calf off to a good start.   



Raising The Orphan Calf

Rosslyn Biggs, Oklahoma State University State Extension Beef Veterinarian


Raising an orphaned beef calf can be time consuming and may require additional expense. Additionally, calves may not be thriving at the time they are orphaned so managing health and nutrition can present challenges. Below are considerations when creating a plan. 



Age has significant influence on the nutritional considerations for an orphaned calf. High quality colostrum should be fed to calves that lose their dams at less than 24 hours of age. Producers should not wait to administer colostrum if there is evidence the calf has not nursed. 


Beyond the first day of life, calves need 10-12% of their body weight in milk per day. A good rule of thumb is that one gallon of milk equals eight pounds. Feeding multiple times per day from a bottle or bucket are both options, however, nursing from a bottle closely mimics the nursing of the udder. 


The quality of a milk replacer is critical, and the calf should be consistently fed with the same product. Milk replacers should, at a minimum, be at least 15% fat and 22% protein. Milk should be at 101-105 degrees F when fed. 


Within the first week after birth, offer a calf starter ration of pellets or other creep feed along with high quality hay. Once the calf is beginning to consume ½ to 2 pounds of dry feed daily, slow bottle weaning can be initiated. Unlike in dairy calves, best results are seen if a beef calf is fed milk for several months. At eight weeks of age, the calf’s weight should have double since birth. 


Fresh water should be always available. Water buckets, bottles, and feed pans should be regularly cleaned and sanitized. 



Calves, especially newborns, do not have the ability to easily maintain their core temperatures. Environmental conditions such as wind and outside temperatures below 50 degrees F may lead to cold stress. Especially during the winter, calves may need to be taken indoors for rewarming and fluids if their temperature drops below 99 degrees F. 


Bedding can also help maintain calf temperature. Deep bedding such as straw should be available and regularly refreshed. Housing should be well ventilated areas, clean, and dry. 



Fever, decreased appetite, coughing, and diarrhea can all be clinical signs of concern. Producers should work with their veterinarians in advance to develop treatment plans and have medications on hand for commonly seen conditions.

Back To Top