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Cattle Slaughter and Carcass Weights in 2021

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


Daily slaughter data through July 17, the first 170 days of the year, has a total cattle slaughter of 17.94 million head, compared to 17.07 million head in 2020 and 17.87 million head for the year-to-date in 2019.  Yearling (steer + heifer) slaughter makes up 78.5 percent of total cattle slaughter at 14.09 million head thus far in 2021.


Average weekly yearling slaughter the first 28 weeks of 2021 is 501,392 head, fractionally higher than for same period in 2019.  However, Monday-Friday (M-F) slaughter thus far in 2021 has averaged 2.7 percent lower than 2019 and is covered by a 31.0 percent increase in Saturday slaughter of steers and heifers.  The 2021 average Saturday yearling slaughter total is 50,430 head compared to 38,492 head in 2019.  Saturday slaughter accounts for 10.4 percent of total yearling slaughter in 2021 compared to 7.6 percent of slaughter for the same period in 2019.


The daily M-F yearling slaughter has averaged 91,471 head in 2021, ranging from a Monday average of 90,110 head to a Thursday average of 92,699 head.  The challenges for packers to maintain consistent slaughter levels is apparent.  Single day maximum slaughter totals range from 95,580 head (Wednesday, July 7) to the single biggest slaughter day this year at 97,282 head (Tuesday, February 23). On average, daily yearling slaughter was at 95 percent of the daily maximum.  The sum of daily maximums for Monday - Friday suggest that it is possible to slaughter 561,607 head in a week but the weekly maximum thus far in 2021 is 537,447 (week ending May 22), indicating the challenge of maintaining slaughter across a full week.   The labor challenges for packers are particularly acute on Mondays, which have the lowest daily average slaughter level in 2021 and are much more variable.  Monday slaughter totals are 8 times more variable than Thursdays, which has the smallest standard deviation of daily slaughter. Thus, Monday slaughter averages 90,110 with a daily range from 57,928 to 95,727 head while Thursday averages 92,699 head ranging from 85,600 to 96,907 head.  It should be noted that the Monday low of 57,928 head occurred during the massive winter storm in mid-February when numerous plant operations were disrupted.


Steer carcass weights in the latest data are 888 pounds, down 11 pounds year over year.  This follows the sharp increase in carcass weights in 2020.  Current steer carcass weights are 23 pounds heavier than this date in 2019.  Current heifer carcass weights are 813 pounds, down 16 pounds from 829 pounds last year but up 22 pounds from the same date in 2019.


Cattle carcass weights will rise seasonally in the remainder of the year but are expected to remain lower year over year.  Lower steer and heifer carcass weights likely reflects several influences including feedlots becoming more current in marketings, higher feed prices and perhaps a return to longer term carcass weight trends.  Beef production for the remainder of 2021 is predicted to be four to five percent lower year over year as a result of lower slaughter totals and lighter carcass weights.


See Dr. Derrell Peel’s Sunup TV segment on the July Cattle on Feed Report. Livestock Marketing (7/31/21) - YouTube

Genetics in the Genomics Era - Improving the Accuracy of Selection

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


This week’s article is intended for registered, seedstock breeders in the purebred sector of cow-calf production.  As we approach the time of year that spring calving operations will be weaning, selection decisions will be made regarding how many heifers should be developed as replacements, for marketing or culled.  Likewise, which bulls should be developed as potential herd sires to use or sell.  These decisions impact marketing success, how we will utilize feed resources and the accuracy of these selection decisions dramatically impacts how much long-term genetic improvement we will make.  With this in mind, using available DNA testing technology can cost effectively accelerate reaching our breeding goals.


What can we learn from DNA testing?

By working with your breed association to order the tests, submitting DNA samples and obtaining the lab results, current DNA testing technology can: 1)  verify parentage, 2) determine genotypes for simply inherited, qualitative traits, and 3) identify genes having an additive genetic effect on the variation of quantitative, polygenic traits which result in higher accuracy, Genomically Enhanced Expected Progeny Differences (GE-EPDs).  This information is typically available within a few weeks of when DNA samples are submitted yielding genetic information that would otherwise take generations of calf crops to obtain.


Determining genotypes for qualitative, simply inherited traits, when dominant/recessive gene action is occurring at a locus, can identify homozygous or “carrier” genotypes of animals with the same phenotype.  For example, the horned/polled phenotype where the polled allele is dominant to the horned allele means that polled cattle can be either homozygous polled or heterozygous polled.  If our breeding objectives include producing polled calves, parents with the homozygous polled genotype will sire/produce nothing but polled calves.  Traits like coat color and most of the identified genetic defects are also simply inherited.


GE-EPDs increase the accuracy of selection for traits influenced by the thousands of genes.  This would include traits like calving ease, weaning and yearling weights, carcass traits and maternal performance.


Breeders should contact their breed association for information and proper procedures for submitting DNA samples.  DNA samples can be submitted in the form of blood (in purple topped tube or on a DNA card), tissue samples from an ear notch, hair follicles collected from the switch (from cattle weaning age or older) and straws of semen.  Additional information on DNA sample collection is available on the OSU Beef Extension You Tube Channel or OSU Fact Sheet ANSI-3174.


Prices for DNA testing have come down dramatically over the past several years.  Information on available tests and prices available through your breed association should be taken into account in considering the return on investment.  Identifying genetically superior animals early in life not only can increase the effectiveness of selection in your program, it also provides more reliable estimates of genetic potential to customers purchasing registered, pedigreed seedstock.

Benefits of Rotational Grazing

Paul Beck, Oklahoma State University Extension Beef Cattle Nutrition Specialist


There is a quote in the 1922 USDA Yearbook of Agriculture I like to refer to…”The cheapest of all feed is pasture because it furnishes a balanced ration at a low cost and the cow does her own harvesting…but, in comparatively few cases is the fullest possible use made of pasture.” There is currently a lot of interest in improved grazing management, this is nothing new as the quote above indicates, and has certainly been the case for the last 30 years that I have been involved in grazing management.


Rotational provides plants within pastures rest from repeated defoliation by grazers by separating the entire pasture unit into several paddocks. Paddocks are grazed in turn and livestock are moved on to the next paddock and grazing is prohibited on the most recent paddock until the next grazing event in the cycle. These systems can be as simple with weekly rotations or complex with daily rotations. My preference is to have at least 4 paddocks with 7 day grazing event and 21-day rest for each grazing cycle, to get many of the benefits from rotational grazing; but I have worked with producers that have 30 paddocks and rotate large herds of over 200 cows daily.


Cattle grazing a single pasture at a moderate stocking rate have the advantage of being able to select their diet from every plant from the entire grazing area. This can lead to improved performance, because diet quality, protein, and digestible energy can be maximized by the grazing animal since there are few limits to their diet selection. When we split pastures into multiple paddocks we limit access to preferred areas, plant species, or plants; which will limit intake, selectivity, and performance… That is until the most desired plants in continuously grazed pastures are over utilized and die out of the stand. Recent research was conducted looking at the impact of grazing management (continuous vs rotational grazing) on stand counts of alfalfa interseeded into bermudagrass, and after 3 years alfalfa was 25% of the stand in rotationally grazed pastures but only 10% in continuous pastures.


It is often said that continuous grazing can lead to pastures that are overgrazed, yet underutilized. Continuous grazing leads to poor utilization of forage, fertilization and land resources, estimated utilization of forage in continuous grazing is 25 5o 35%. Rotational grazing increases grazing efficiency to 65% in well managed controlled grazing rotations. This is why it is often said that stocking rates can be doubled with rotational grazing. Another grazing experiment looked at continuous or rotational grazing of spring calving cows on bermudagrass pastures. Continuous grazed pastures were stocked at a moderate stocking rate, while rotationally grazed pastures were stocked at either a moderate or at double the moderate stocking rate. Pregnancy rates were not impacted by grazing management or the increased stocking rate, but cows lost more weight and body condition with high stocking rates in rotational grazing. Calf weaning weights were greatest with continuous grazing and were reduced by 20 pounds in moderately stocked rotationally grazed pastures. Doubling the stocking rate with rotational grazing reduced weaning weights by 38 pounds comparted to continuous grazing, but increased total weaning weight per acre by 185%. Additionally, hay requirements were reduced by 60 to 80% with rotational grazing.


There are costs associated with rotational grazing such as fencing, development of water resources, and possibility of reduced animal performance, but there are also many advantages. Increased forage utilization but with improved retention of desired forage species, potential increased total productivity of the ranch, reduced drought risk among many others. But, one producer told me his favorite benefit of rotational grazing is that when he goes to check cattle, he only has to look on 1/8th of the place and most of the time the cattle come find him to put them on fresh grass.


Dr Beck discusses continuous vs rotational grazing during a Rancher’s Thursday Lunchtime Series from June 26, 2020. OSU Extension: Continuous vs. High Intensity Rotational Grazing - YouTube

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