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Weak Beef Exports Raises Concerns

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


Beef exports in January were down 15.7 percent year over year.  Despite record beef exports in 2022, signs of a weakening beef trade picture were developing late in the year with beef exports down year over year in both November and December.  A strong U.S. dollar peaked in late 2022 and has decreased, but remains high, provided export headwinds that appear to be taking a toll.  


The biggest decrease in January exports was South Korea, down 36.8 percent year over year.  The dollar appreciation to the South Korean Won was particularly acute in late 2022 but has moderated somewhat since last October.  In 2022, beef exports to South Korea increased 3.2 percent to a new record level and giving South Korea a 22.8 percent share of total U.S. beef exports, remaining the number two export market, but just fractionally lower than Japan.  


Beef exports to China/Hong Kong were also down 24.2 percent year over year in January. Slower beef exports to China/HK were not an issue of exchange rates as much as the broader slowdown in the Chinese economy, perhaps aggravated by political tensions between China and the U.S.  China/HK was the number three beef export market in 2022 with a 20.1 percent share of total beef exports.  Beef exports to China/HK grew by 7.1 percent year over year in 2022, much slower than the previous two years but still the most growth among major U.S. beef export markets.


There was some good news in the January beef export data.  Despite exchange rate headwinds, January beef exports to Japan were up 6.9 percent year over year.  Beef exports to Japan decreased 1.9 percent annually in 2022.  Japan remains the largest export market for the U.S., with a 22.9 percent share of total beef exports in 2022.  


Beef exports to Mexico also increased, up 30.8 percent year over year in January.  This follows a 10.3 percent decrease year over year for the entire year in 2022. The Mexican Peso did not experience the same currency devaluation to the U.S. dollar as did the Asian currencies in 2022. Mexico was the number four U.S. beef export market in 2022 with an 8.0 percent share of total beef exports.  


January beef exports to the number five market Canada were about equal to one year ago, up just 0.4 percent year over year.  Canada represented a 7.7 percent share of total beef exports in 2022.  Beef exports to the number six beef export market, Taiwan, were down 34.0 percent year over year in January.  In 2022, beef exports to Taiwan were 5.7 percent of total U.S. beef exports.  The top six beef export markets accounted for 87.2 percent of beef exports in 2022.


Challenges for beef exports are likely to increase in 2023 as the headwinds due to the strong dollar will continue.  Additionally, anticipated decreases in beef production began in February and will decrease beef availability and keep wholesale beef prices strong.  Beef demand, including international demand, remains a significant concern going forward as declining beef production will pressure beef prices to push even higher than current levels.



Do You Have Ample Bull Power for Breeding Season?

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


For herds that plan to begin calving next January, breeding season begins in April.  With that in mind, it’s time to plan and manage bulls for breeding season.  This week we address bull to female ratios for breeding season.


The three major goals of any breeding season should be:

  1. Get cows settled as early in the breeding season as possible.
  2. Get cows bred to bulls with highest possible genetic value.
  3. Achieve both as economically as possible by getting cows bred to fewest possible bulls

A defined breeding season is important to permit meaningful record keeping, timely management and profit potential.  Maintaining a 60 to 75 day breeding and calving season can be one of the most important management tools for cow calf producers.  A uniform, heavier calf crop is an important reason to keep the breeding season short.  Getting cows bred earlier results in calves born earlier.  Missing an estrus cycle of a single cow is a significant monetary loss in calf weight gain the following year.  The extra 21 days until the next heat cycle translates into a younger calf at weaning that is 40 to 50 pounds lighter.  Spread over several cows the losses can grow quickly.  In addition, more efficient cow supplementation and effective herd health programs are a product of a short breeding season.  How do we get more cows settled earlier in the breeding season?  By having adequate bull power on hand to get cows pregnant.


How Many Bulls Do I Need? 

Can be answered with another question: How many cows should I expect my bull to cover?  Depending on the age of your bull or bulls, and assuming bulls have passed a Breeding Soundness Examination (BSE), the general rule of thumb is to place about as many cows/heifers with a young bull as his age in months.  For example, a bull that is 12 months old should be able to cover about 12 cows in his first breeding season.  An 18 month old bull should be able to settle 18 or 19 cows.  While a two-year-old bull could be expected to cover up to 25 cows.  Mature bulls normally should be expected to cover 25 to 35 cows per season.  Remember there is normal “prime of life “ for breeding bull.  They need be sound, fit, and athletic to cover terrain and settle cows.  Bulls past the age of six are more likely to breakdown. 


It is beneficial that bulls to be combined in multi-sire pastures are penned together for at least a few weeks prior to turnout to allow time for a pecking order to be established.  This also leaves enough time to secure replacements if injury occurs prior to turnout.  Injuries occurring during breeding season can spell economic disaster if bulls aren’t getting cows bred.  


Breeding Soundness Exams, Body Condition and Herd Health

It is suggested to have all bulls undergo a Breeding Soundness Exam (BSE) prior to turnout.  A BSE includes a semen test as well as a physical exam of the entire reproductive tract, eyes, feet and legs, and teeth (if an older bull).  Manage Body Condition Scores (BCS) on bulls similar to what is done with cows.  Optimum BCS for bulls being turned out at beginning of breeding season is a six.  Now is the time to manage herd heath, deworming and nutrition to have bulls fit and ready at turn out. 



Bovine Leukemia Virus

Barry Whitworth, DVM, OSU Extension Specialist, Department of Animal and Food Sciences


Prevalence of Bovine Leukemia Virus (BLV) appears to be changing in the United States. A recent study of cattle in eastern Kansas found that 42 out of 44 herds had at least one cow test positive for BLV. The same study found 55% of the cattle tested were positive for BLV. This is in contrast to the 1997 National Animal Health Monitoring System report in which BLV was found in 38.7% of the beef cattle operations and 11.5% of all cows tested were positive for BLV.  


BLV is a retrovirus capable of causing cancer in cattle. The disease that is caused by the virus may be referred to as Enzootic Bovine Leukosis (EBL), malignant lymphoma, or lymphosarcoma. Most cattle infected with the virus remain asymptomatic or show no clinical signs of the disease. However, BLV is responsible for production losses due to increase veterinary cost, reproduction inefficiency, decrease milk production, deaths, and carcass condemnation at slaughter.


Cattle become infected with the virus when blood or body fluids is transferred between animals. Lymphocytes, a particular white blood cell, are the specific cells that are infected with the virus. Many different routes of transmission of BLV have been proposed, but more research is needed to fully understand BLV transmission. 


Cattle that are infected with BLV have three possible outcomes. The most common outcome is the animal appears normal. Another 30% of the cattle will have an elevated lymphocyte count that is referred to as persistent lymphocytosis (PL). The last outcome is cancer; however, less than 5% of the cattle with BLV will ever develop lymphosarcoma.


Common symptoms of lymphosarcoma include appetite and weight loss, fever, eye problems, digestive problems, problems walking, hind limb paralysis, and enlarged lymph nodes. Most cattle are three years old or older before tumors develop. 


Currently no treatments exist for cattle that are infected with BLV. Eradicating the disease requires testing and culling infected cattle until no positive cases are found for 2 years. This may not be economically feasible in a highly infected herd. A less intense approach being studied is to eliminate cows with high viral loads. It is thought that these cattle may be super shedders. 


BLV will continue to be a problem in the United States until a vaccine is developed or there is an economic incentive to eradicate the disease. Until that time, producers should follow proper biosecurity to do all they can to prevent the spread of the virus.


Barry Whitworth, Senior Extension Specialist, explains the benefits of testing bulls for BLV.



Huser, S. M., et al. (2022). Cross-sectional study to describe bovine leukemia virus herd and within-herd ELISA prevalence and bovine leukemia virus proviral load of convenience-sampled Kansas beef cow-calf herds. American journal of veterinary research, 1–7. Advance online publication.

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