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Rising Feed Prices Impact Cattle Markets

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


USDA-NASS released two reports last week that added more fuel to red-hot grain and oilseed markets.  The information about current and future corn markets has significant implications for cattle markets.  The quarterly stocks estimate for corn was lower than expected, indicating that strong domestic and export demand for corn is pushing corn inventories for the rest of the marketing year even tighter.  The Prospective Plantings report indicated a total corn acreage for the coming crop year up less than one percent and well below pre-report expectations.  Soybean acreage was likewise well below expectations.  Total planted acreage is estimated at 316.164 million acres, up about 6 million acres from 2020.  However, the trade was expecting more of last year’s 9 million acres of prevent plant to return to production in 2021.  Of course, upcoming weather conditions will impact exactly what crops get planted and the total acreage


Weekly average cash corn prices in southwest Kansas and the Texas Panhandle are currently reported at $5.85/bu. in Dodge City, $5.99/bu. in Garden City and $6.01/bu. in the Texas Triangle.   These prices are up 79-82 percent over the low in early August, 2020 across these locations.   Nearby corn futures for May are currently $5.59/bu. last week, with new crop December corn futures at $4.91/bu.


Current corn prices suggest that feedlot cost of gain in the southern plains will continue to push higher as feedgrain prices are fully reflected in feedlot rations.  The latest Kansas Focus on Feedlots reports February steer closeouts with a cost of gain (COG) of $88.61/cwt., up 16.9 percent from the recent low in October 2020.  Projected steer COG for current placements is $103/cwt. in the current Focus on Feedlots report.


Feedlots will respond to sharply higher COG in several ways, reflecting the flexibility of cattle to change production systems and take advantage of ruminant biology.  Feedlots are expected to generally favor higher placement weights in the coming months thereby encouraging the cattle industry to use less concentrate feed by growing cattle bigger with forage-based stocker and backgrounding programs.


Feedlots will also look for opportunities to adjust feedlot rations using cheaper substitute ingredients if possible.  Wheat may offer some potential in feedlot rations in the coming weeks and months.  Winter wheat prices in the southern plains have increased in the last eight months but relatively less than corn. Hard red winter wheat prices in Dodge City, for example, have increased about 41 percent since last August. Current cash wheat price is $5.37/bu. (compared to a corn price of $5.85.bu.).  At these prices wheat becomes more attractive in feedlot rations.  In general, a wheat price of 107 percent of corn price is equivalent on a price per pound basis (60 pounds of wheat per bushel versus 56 pounds in a bushel of corn). In some circumstances, wheat may have additional feed value compared to corn due to a higher protein content.  However, cattle rations typically do not need the additional protein so wheat value is based primarily on energy content.  Feedlots do not change rations quickly or for short periods of time but will adjust if market conditions suggest that an extended period of alternative feeds is likely.  With winter wheat harvest bringing new crop wheat supplies to the market in June, prior to new crop corn in the fall, wheat may be adopted in feedlot rations.

Selection for Maternal Performance

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


This week we discuss the EPDs to consider when selecting bulls that will be used as rotational sires.  A rotational sire is a bull from which daughters will be retained to develop as replacements in our cowherd.  A reproductively efficient cow is one that weans off a calf each year.  In order to accomplish this, she has to get bred, have a live calf, be nursing the live calf while simultaneously getting bred again.  Since beef gestation length is 283 days, that leaves 82 days after calving for a cow to breed back soon enough to repeat the process in a 365-day time span.  Beyond being reproductively efficient, cows need to wean off a high percentage of their mature weight each 12 months.  Cows with more genetic potential to give milk and reach larger mature size are capable of giving more nutrition and growth potential to calves, but each of these attributes also comes with an associated expense.  Larger cows that milk heavier require more to eat and accordingly drive up maintenance costs.  Cows that require more to eat are more challenged to rebreed quickly when forage resources are limited and thereby more challenged wean off a calf each 365 days.


Bottomline:  Selection for maternal performance based on the EPDs discussed below is a balancing act.  It isn’t always the biggest or smallest, the heaviest or lowest milking cow that is most cost effective.  Cattlemen should consider their production environment and select for the cowherd that best fits their unique production system.


EPDs to Consider When Selecting for Maternal Performance


Heifer Pregnancy (HP) – an EPD reported in percentage units, selection for higher numerical values increases the likelihood a bull’s daughters will get pregnant during their first breeding season.  A selection tool which can be used to improve fertility/reproductive efficiency in the cow herd.


Calving Ease Maternal (CEM) – an EPD reported in percentage units, selection for higher numerical values increases the likelihood a bull’s daughters will calve unassisted as first calf heifers.  Heifers that calve unassisted are more likely to breed back quicker and do a better job raising their first calf.


Maternal Milk (Milk) – expressed in pounds, a predictor of a sire’s genetic potential to transmit milk and mothering ability to his daughters as compared to daughters of other sires.   It is the portion a sire’s grand-progeny’s weaning weight that is attributable to the milk and mothering ability of that sire’s daughters.


Mature Weight (MW) – this EPD is expressed in pounds, a predictor of the difference in mature weight of daughters of a sire compared to the daughters of other sires.


Depending on your breed of interest there are some other EPDs which are reported which would fall under the category of maternal.  Cattle breeders are encouraged to refer to each breed’s respective Sire Summary for definitions of other maternal EPDs. 


To view Dr. Johnson’s discussion on Carcass EPDs are on Sunup TV Cow-Calf Corner from April 3, 2021.

Mineral Balance for the Breeding Herd

David Lalman, Oklahoma State University Beef Extension Specialist


All grazing cattle will benefit from a mineral supplementation program. The challenge is figuring out what they are getting from the forage base, what they need, and how best to deliver a supplement product that fills the gaps to meet their needs, but doesn’t create problems (often unseen and unkown) by delivering too much of something.  The challenge is that “what they are getting” and “what they need” are constantly changing throughout the year. Forage mineral composition varys by soil type, forage species and maturity, current growing conditions, fertilization history, grazing management and so on.  Then a beef cow’s requirements for minerals fluctuate with the stages of production. Everything is a moving target. It’s a little like trying to figure out if the fish scale reads 93 vs 94 lb while new baby’s momma is doing a great job convincing you that she is not bluffing. Mineral nutrition is not that exciting although perhaps similar in the sense that calf birth weight records, even if not perfect every time, have proven to be a powerful source of information over the years.


A great tool to evaluate the mineral program is to conduct one or multiple mineral balance exercises. Especially early on in this process, producers should consider engaging their Extension Educator, veterinarian or a feed industry expert to assist or advise. A mineral balance excercise involves developing a simple, consistent record keeping system to track critical pieces of information; forage mineral composition during that time of year and your cow herds’ average or “normal” mineral consumption pattern during that same time of year. Mineral balance excercises could be conducted as few times as once during the grazing season and once for the winter feeding period, or they can be completed on a quarterly or even a monthly basis. Several commercial nutrition companies provide services to conduct these balance excercises and follow up by recommending or manufacturing mineral formulations customized to your operation’s needs. You can find a handy phone app to track mineral consumption.


  Diet Concentration Daily Amount Status
  As Fed DM Required DM Required  
Diet DM 100% - - - - -
TDN 70% 70% - 23.8 lb TDN:CP 5.00
ME, Mcal/lb 1.12 1.12 - 38.2 Mcal - -
NEm, Mcal/lb 0.71 0.71 - 24.4 Mcal - -
NEg, Mcal/lb 0.44 0.44 - 15.2 Mcal - -
NDF 68% 68% - 4.8 lb - -
peNDF 61% 61% 7 - 20 min 20.8 lb 7.0 pH ADEQUATE
Crude Protein 13.9% 13.9% - 4.76 lb 3.30 lb ADEQUATE
Fat 3.2% 3.2% - 1.09 lb - ADEQUATE
Calcium 0.39% 0.39% 0.28% 60.2 g 43.8 g ADEQUATE
Phosphorus 0.23 % 0.23 % 0.18% 35.0 g 28.2 g ADEQUATE
Sodium 0.06% 0.06% 0.10% 9.36% 15.53 g DEFICIENT
Potassium 1.60% 1.60% 0.60% 248.0 g 108.7 g EXCESSIVE
Magnesium 0.27% 0.27% 0.15% 42.6 g 31.1 g ADEQUATE
Sulfur 0.15% 0.15% 0.15% 23.3 g 23.3 g ADEQUATE
Cobalt ppm 0.18 0.18  .15 ppm 2.8 mg 2.3 mg ADEQUATE
Copper ppm 14.40 14.4 10 ppm 224 mg 155 mg ADEQUATE
Iron ppm, mg 199.69 199.7 50 ppm 3101 mg 776 mg EXCESSIVE
Manganese mg 74.88 74.9 40 ppm 1163 mg 621 mg ADEQUATE
Selenium ppm 0.26 0.26 .1 ppm 4.0 mg 1.6 mg EXCESSIVE
Zing ppm 45.65 45.7 30 ppm 709 mg 466 mg ADEQUATE


Most commercial livestock nutrition laboratories provide forage mineral composition analytical services for a reasonable fee. For example, our lab here at OSU charges $12 per sample to get macro and micro minerals. One might get started by simply sampling and testing harvested hay or silage each year and developing a spreadsheet where you can easily access and summarize those records over time. A more ambitious approach might be to collect “hand-plucked” samples from one or more pastures each month. The idea of the hand-plucking method is to select only plants and parts of plants that you believe to represent what your cattle are currently grazing.


The OSU Cowculator nutrition evaluation program is a great tool to simplify a mineral balance exercise. The feed library allows one to enter their own forage nutritive values and mineral supplement products/formulations. The “Balance” page provides guidance to estimate daily forage consumption and then a place to input the amount of mineral the cows are expected to consume. From there, a table is provided showing you the difference between “what they are getting” and “what they need”.


As an example, the figure shows the nutritive balance table for 1,200 pound lactating beef cows grazing lush spring tallgrass prairie forage and consuming 3.3 ounces per day of a commercial mineral supplement. You can quickly view the status incidators in the right column to determine where major gaps or excesses exist. In this examle, these cows are projected to be about 7 grams per day short of sodium. Since salt contains 40% sodium, this suggests that these cows could use an additional 15 grams of salt or about 0.5 ounce per day. There are several excesses identified in this example. Most mineral balance excercises in Oklahoma are going to reveal excessive potassium and excessive iron due to high forage concentration of both minerals. The other revelation in this balance exercise the the considerable excess of selenium.  Thus, the conclusion of this exercise is that a) this mineral supplement is a good complement to this forage source for this time of year and b) one could blend about 10 to 15% salt with the mineral to better match the sodium requirement with intake and c) the selenium concentration in the commercial product could be reduced by about 50% if that were an option. It most definitely points out that there is no need to purchase mineral product containing a greater concentration of selenium.


Consider collecting forage mineral composition data and mineral supplement consumption data several years in a row to see the variation (or maybe the consistency) of those patterns over time. Finally, use that valuable information to conduct mineral balance exercises for the different seasons. This should lead to you having confidence that your cattle are getting what they need when they need it and potentially to cost savings.

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