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North American Cattle Trade Evolves

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


Cattle trade between the U.S., Mexico and Canada is part of the increasingly integrated North American beef and cattle market.  Cattle exports and imports among the three countries consists mostly of feeder and slaughter cattle, along with small numbers of dairy cattle and breeding animals.


Over the five years from 2016-2020, an average of 1.23 million head of cattle have been imported from Mexico. These imports consist of 99.8 percent feeder cattle.  Feeder cattle imports from Mexico have included an average of 82 percent steers and 18 percent heifers.  Most imports of Mexican feeder cattle weigh between 440 and 700 pounds (61 percent), with 38 percent weighing less than 440 pounds and just one percent weighing over 700 pounds.  Imports of Mexican cattle for the January – May period of 2021 totaled 537.6 thousand head, down 11.7 percent year over year.


Over the past five years, an average of 27 thousand head of cattle have been exported to Mexico annually.  These exports consist of 60 percent feeder cattle and 40 percent dairy and breeding animals.  Cattle exports to Mexico have increased recently, with 2020 exports of 32.5 thousand head, up 46 percent year over year.  Most of the increase is feeder cattle exports, which represented 65 percent of exports last year.  For January to May period this year, cattle exports to Mexico total over 23.4 thousand head, up 400 percent year over year.


Cattle imports from Canada are a mix of slaughter steers and heifers, slaughter cows and bulls, feeder cattle, and small numbers of dairy and breeding cattle.  Total cattle imports from Canada have averaged 686.8 thousand head over the 2016-2020 period.  This includes 73 percent slaughter cattle (45 percent slaughter steers and heifers, 28 percent slaughter cows and bulls), 25 percent feeder cattle and 1.7 percent dairy and breeding cattle. On average, feeder cattle imports from Canada consist of 28 percent steers and 72 percent heifers with most animals over 700 pounds (66 percent), 28 percent weighing 440 to 700 pounds, and about 6 percent under 440 pounds.  In 2021, cattle imports from Canada for the January to May period have totaled 242.7 thousand head, down 22.5 percent year over year, with slaughter cattle imports down 15.6 percent and feeder cattle imports down 46.7 percent from last year.  Total cattle imports from Mexico and Canada are down 15.4 percent for the year to date in 2021.


Cattle exports to Canada have increased sharply since 2016, with a five-year average of 184.9 thousand head per year and averaging 272.4 thousand head per year in 2019 and 2020.   The recent increase in cattle exports to Canada is mostly feeder cattle resulting in a 98.5 percent share of total exports in 2020 with exports of dairy and breeding cattle accounting for 1.5 percent of the total.  In 2020, cattle exports to Canada were 40 percent of cattle imports resulting in net cattle imports of 402.8 thousand head.


From 2016-2020, feeder cattle imports have averaged 1.4 million head per year, 3.9 percent of the U.S. annual calf crop.  Adjusted for feeder cattle exports, net feeder cattle imports represented an average of 3.3 percent of the annual domestic calf crop the past five years. Slaughter cows and bull imports have averaged 189 thousand head per year, 2.9 percent of total annual cow and bull slaughter from 2016-2020.  Slaughter steer and heifer imports have averaged 311 thousand head per year from 2016-2020 and represent 1.2 percent of annual steer and heifer slaughter.

Creep Feeding

David Lalman, Oklahoma State University Extension Cow-Calf Specialist


Occasionally the question of whether creep feeding is a cost-effective practice comes up. The simple answer for commercial cow/calf operations is “not in most circumstances”. This is particularly true for spring calving operations. Calf weaning weights can be increased anywhere from about 20 to 80 pounds. However, in most cases, the value of added weight gain will not cover the added feed, labor and equipment costs unless feed is exceptionally inexpensive and (or) when value of added weight gain is exceptionally high.


For example, in a summary of 31 experiments where calves had unlimited access to creep feed, average increased calf weaning weight was 58 pounds. Average creep feed conversion was nine pounds of additional feed to one pound of added calf weight gain. Assuming bagged creep feed could be purchased for $275 per ton or $0.1375 per pound, the feed cost per pound of added weight gain is about $1.24.  In a recent Oklahoma Department of Agriculture Market News report, value of added gain between 527-pound steers and 575-pound steers was about $0.86. If the creep feed could be purchased in bulk for about $240 per ton, the feed cost per pound of added weight gain decreases to $1.08.


In a recent Nebraska study, spring-born calves were fed creep for 105 days prior to weaning. In this study, labor, equipment, transportation and depreciation costs for the creep feeding enterprise were estimated at $28.38 per calf, or about $0.27 per head per day.


Conversion efficiency can range from 3 to 20 pounds of feed required per pound of added weight gain. High-quality, abundant forage results in very poor feed conversion because one high-quality feed (forage) is being replaced by another. Similarly, the greater the plane of maternal nutrition, the poorer the conversion of creep feed to calf gain. In our fall-calving experiments, efficiency of creep feed conversion to calf gain is quite good because native range forage quality is low and cows are in a maintenance to negative energy balance (losing weight). Our results have been around 4.5 to 5 pounds creep feed:gain when fall-calving cows are getting around 5 pounds of supplemental feed. However, the more supplement the cow is fed, the poorer the creep feed conversion. Situations that reduce calf nutrient availability improves the efficiency of creep; low milk production, low quality forage, overgrazed pastures and thus low forage availability, drought, fall-calving, etc. Of course, the opposite is true as well. In general, limiting creep intake improves creep feed conversion substantially. This is especially true with low-quality forage and protein-rich creep feeds limited to 2 to 3 pounds of intake per day.


Another consideration is the flesh condition of calves that are marketed at weaning. The longer calves are exposed to unlimited creep consumption and the lower the forage quality, the more they want to eat. If calves are fed free choice creep for 90 days or longer, there is a risk of over-conditioning leading to a market discount. On the positive side, if heavy creep-fed calves go straight to the feed yard for finishing, carcass weights and in most studies, marbling scores are improved.


Occasionally, I hear that creep feeding “takes the pressure off the cows”. I think the assumption is that calves consume less milk, and therefore, cows produce less milk and thus have more nutrients available for maternal tissue maintenance or even weight gain. This is simply not true. Most experiments that track cow weight change and calf milk intake show that calves consume all the milk available whether they are fed creep fed or not. Creep feeding simply does not change or improve cow weights or body condition.


Calves prefer milk first, palatable creep feed second, then forage. Consider that the intensity of creep feed and forage consumption is elastic and opposite. The lower the quality of the forage, the more creep feed and less forage calves want to consume and visa versa.


Not all beef cattle producers make this decision based on the economics at the time of weaning. For example, seedstock producers likely have entirely different objectives when it comes to creep feeding. Chief among those include marketing and expression of genetic potential for growth.


Creep feeding has been studied in the animal science field for many years and there is quite a lot of good data available. Hopefully, some of these fundamental concepts will be helpful the next time conditions warrant considering this practice.

Supplemental Feeding of Stockers Grazing Summer Grass

Paul Beck, Oklahoma State University Extension Beef Cattle Nutrition Specialist


Gains of growing cattle grazing summer pasture in Oklahoma often do not meet expectations. Reduced performance or ‘Summer Slump’ is associated with decreasing forage quality during the late summer. Oklahoma State University developed the Oklahoma Gold and Oklahoma SuperGold supplementation programs to offset the reductions in protein and digestibility of the late summer forages.


The Oklahoma Gold program is based on feeding 1 pound per day (or 2.3 pounds/calf three times a week) of a high protein (38 to 40% protein) supplement containing an ionophore and required minerals and vitamins from mid July to the end of summer grazing. This supplement has been proven to increase daily gains by 0.4 to 0.5 pounds per day with supplement conversions of 2 to 2.5 pounds of feed per pound of added gain. This program is designed to meet the protein deficiency that occurs during the late summer, which increases forage digestibility and forage intake.


The Oklahoma SuperGold program is based on feeding 2.5 pounds per day (5.8 pounds/calf three times per week) of a 25% protein supplement containing an ionophore and vitamins and minerals. This supplement provides needed protein and additional energy in situations where calves have higher energy requirements, more gains are needed, and feed is relatively cheap compared to the value of added gain. The SuperGold program will increase gain by about 0.7 pounds per day with supplement conversions of 3.5 pounds of supplement per pound of added gain.


Recently a new extrusion technology has been developed to make a stable cube from dried distiller’s grains (DDG) that is moderate in crude protein and high in energy and is an ideal supplement meeting the needs of cattle during the late summer. A series of research trials is being conducted on native rangelands in western Oklahoma and introduced pastures in higher rainfall areas in the east.


On the western Oklahoma rangelands supplements were fed only during the late summer at 2 to 2.5 lbs per day similar to the Oklahoma SuperGold supplementation program. Supplementation during the late summer increased gains by over 1 pound per day from 1.8 lb/day to 2.9 lb/day at Fort Supply in northwest Oklahoma.


Fertilized bermudagrass pastures (50 lb N/ac) are often higher in quality than we see with late summer native pastures, so responses to supplementation may not be the same. Steers grazing these pastures and supplemented at 2.5/day gained 0.55 lbs/day more than controls throughout the summer, requiring 4.5 pounds of supplement per pound of added gain. In this same research, steers offered a self-fed molasses-based tub did not have improved average daily gains compared to negative controls.


Supplementation programs are beneficial for stockers grazing summer pastures. The best supplementation program depends on the economic relationship between the value of the calf’s gain and the cost of the inputs (fuel, fertilizer, and supplements).

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