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Beef and Cattle Trade Rebounds From the Pandemic

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


U.S. beef exports have bounced back from the pandemic disruptions last year.  Total beef exports for the January – June period in 2021 are up 21.5 percent over the first six months of 2020.  This includes a 46.2 percent year over year increase for the month of June over the low point last year.  Compared to 2019, year to date beef exports are up 12.1 percent this year.  Total beef imports for the first six months of 2021 are down 3.7 percent year over year and down slightly by 0.8 percent over the same period in 2019.


Japan remains the largest export market for U.S. beef with a 24.6 percent share of year-to-date U.S. beef exports.  South Korea is closing fast on Japan with a 24.1 percent share of beef exports for the first six months of 2021.  The China/Hong Kong market continues to be the fastest growing beef export market with June exports up 159.3 percent year over year and beef exports for the January – June period up 167 percent over 2019 and 2020 China/Hong Kong is the third largest beef export market with a 17.9 percent share of total beef exports.  So far in 2021, Mexico accounts for 9.5 percent of exports; Canada 8.1 percent and Taiwan, 5.5 percent.


Canada is the largest source of beef imports accounting for 28.2 percent of total beef imports for the January – June period.  Mexico accounts for 20.4 percent of year-to-date imports, with New Zealand at a 17.7 percent share; Australia, an 11.9 percent share and Brazil an 8.8 percent share of total beef imports.


Total cattle imports so far in 2021 are down 19.1 percent year over year and down 20.2 percent compared to 2019.  Total feeder cattle imports from Mexico and Canada of the year are down 18.3 percent for the first six months compared to last year (down 21.7 percent compared to 2019).  Slaughter cattle imports from Canada are down 21.6 percent year over year for the year to date and down 15.7 percent compared to the first six months of 2019.


Total cattle exports to Canada and Mexico are up 111.7 percent year over year and up 129.1 percent from 2019.  For the year to date, cattle exports to Canada equal 78.4 percent of cattle imports from Canada meaning that net imports of cattle from Canada so far in 2021 are 59,340 head.  Cattle exports to Mexico are up 385.3 percent thus far in 2021 (up 143.9 percent compared to 2019) and represent 4.7 percent of total cattle imports from Mexico.

Bull Management After the Breeding Season

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


In most spring calving herds, the breeding season begins in the spring or early summer. Maintaining a 60- to 90-day breeding season can be one of the most important management tools for cow-calf producers. A uniform, heavier, and more valuable calf crop is the reason that it’s time for spring calving herds to pull your bulls off cows, if you haven’t already.  After breeding season bulls become a necessary evil or unwanted guest.  As producers we would like to forget about them for the balance of the year. Fortunately, bulls do not require intense management during this period, thus, some planning will ensure they are ready to go when needed.


The goals for this period are simple:

  • Keep feed costs at a practical minimum
  • Keep the bulls in moderate condition
  • Minimize the chance of injuries
  • Continue growth of young bulls
  • Make sure bulls are fertile and fit for the next breeding season turn out


To accomplish these goals producers should sort and appraise the bulls following the breeding season. Mature herd sires, in good condition, should be grouped together on pasture. The second group should include young bulls that still have a requirement for growth and bulls that are thin or need special care. Finally, producers should identify and cull the bulls that are old, crippled, inferior breeders, or have poor genetics. All bulls should have access to a vitamin and mineral mix, similar to what is been given to the cow herd at that time. The mature bulls in good condition need access to around 2% of their body weight in dry forage per day to maintain. Whereas the yearlings and thin bulls should have access to higher-quality pasture, hay, or silage to increase body condition. If you have the space and available feed, the thin conditioned cull bulls may take advantage of some compensatory weight gain.


As well, bulls should be de-wormed and vaccinated on the same herd health program as the cow herd.  If a bull’s fertility is in question, it is a  good idea to have Breeding Soundness Exams conducted after pulling bulls.  This can be informative relative to management decisions and save the expense of prepping an infertile bull for an upcoming breeding season.  When possible, hot wire traps are recommended for maintenance of bulls in the off season.


Just remember, it is not a sign of poor management or bad genetics if a bull loses body condition during the breeding season. The good bulls should be working hard! However, if they cannot gain body condition while they are not working and grazing moderate to high-quality forage, their female progeny may not be able to either.

Making Your Ranch Drought Proof

Paul Beck, Oklahoma State University Extension Beef Cattle Nutrition Specialist


Drought is a possibility in all climates and environments. When I was in Arkansas the driest year on record for my location was right at 30 inches of rain in 2012. This would seem to be a pretty good year in central and western Oklahoma, but was tragic when considering this was a 40 to 50% reduction from average. When everything is stocked for 55 inches of rain, 30 inches in a year seems to be an insurmountable obstacle.


Flexible stocking is a drought-prep strategy used for hundreds of years, that seems to have gone out of favor over the last few decades. If 25 to 30% of the ranch is dedicated to retained or purchased stocker calves or retaining high quality heifers for resale each year, profitability of the ranch can be improved during the good years by adding value to the calves; but when drought conditions occur these calves are easily sold. This allows the cowherd to be spread over more acres and will keep drastic culling and herd liquidation from being forced on you.


Grazing management is always a good idea, one of the benefits of rotational grazing is to give the most preferred plants in a pasture rest and recovery from grazing. As preferred plants are repeatedly grazed root growth can be negatively impacted, top-growth is a reflection of root-growth so with repeated grazing roots get shallower. This decreases the forage plant’s ability to reach water and reduces competitiveness with deeper rooted weed species. Also, there is reduced surface residue which decreases water infiltration and increases soil surface temperature. Overgrazed pastures are at more risk during a drought and in severely overgrazed pastures drought conditions may be caused as much by poor grazing management as the weather conditions.


In introduced forage species like bermudagrass, tall fescue or old-world bluestems, fertilization improves water used efficiency. This is shown in an experiment with stocker calves grazing bermudagrass pastures that were unfertilized or fertilized at 50 pounds of actual N/ acre (150 pounds of ammonium nitrate/acre) or 100 pounds of actual N/acre (300 pounds of ammonium nitrate/acre). During the “normal” rainfall years from 2009 to 2011 (Figure 1) each pound of fertilizer applied to pastures increased steer gains per acre by 1.5 pounds (at 50 pounds of actual N) and 1.25 pounds at the 100 pounds of N per acre rate. But during the severe drought year of 2012, steer gains were increased by 2.4 pounds/acre for each pound of N applied at the 50 unit of N rate and were increased by 1.7 pounds/acre at the 100 unit of N rate. The unfertilized pastures were affected more by the drought stress than fertilization in this case. Drought conditions decreased steer gains per acre by 75% in unfertilized pastures, 42% in pastures fertilized with 50 units of N, and only 34% in pasture fertilized with 100 units of N.


Increased steer gain per acre per unit of added nitrogen (50 or 100 pounds of actual N/ acre) during normal rainfall years (2009 to 2011 and during the drought year of 2012.

Figure 1. Increased steer gain per acre per unit of added nitrogen (50 or 100 pounds of actual N/ acre) during normal rainfall years (2009 to 2011 and during the drought year of 2012.


Forage management for drought proofing your ranch depends on managing competition, grazing time, and rest. Stocking rates should be maintained at low to moderate grazing intensity, this leaves surface residue to increase water infiltration when it rains. Using managed rotational grazing can improve root health by providing rest for grazed plant, improving root health and speeding recovery from both grazing and drought. Weed control helps reduce competition for fertilizer and water resources from weeds and is beneficial for recovery by desired species. It is not something that can be done when things go south. These measures need to be in place and implemented before conditions deteriorate.

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