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More Fun Than We Can Stand

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


Cattle markets are never dull but periods of relative calm and stability are sometimes interrupted by a few weeks of unusual daily and weekly dynamics that require constant attention.  The past two years, however, have been more like a James Bond movie with a relentless series of unusual and unprecedented events that have kept the industry in a constant state of turmoil.  Beginning with the Holcomb plant fire in August 2019, the industry moved into the early pandemic impacts by February 2020.  The worst of the direct pandemic impacts on cattle and beef markets occurred between March and June of last year but the residual and ripple effects are still very much impacting markets today and will for some time to come.  Deepening drought conditions across much of west added to the 2020 challenges and expanded into the plains, especially the northern plains, over the winter into this spring.  U.S. hay supplies were down significantly at the beginning of the hay market year in May and drought conditions are impacting pasture and hay production thus far in 2021.


The unprecedented February winter storm affected most of the central part of the country with record and extended cold much farther south than is typical.  Cattle producers faced enormous challenges to feed, water and most especially to save newborn calves during the storm.  Widespread regional power outages and energy disruptions had massive impacts on feedlot operations in some regions, and resulted in brief packing plant shutdowns and reduced production.  Corn prices began to increase last August and moved dramatically higher this spring.  The highest feed prices since 2013 are expected to impact feedlot cost of gain and feeder cattle markets in the coming year at least. Large supplies of feedlot cattle, carried over from last year, resulted in fed cattle numbers that have exceeded packing capacity thus far in 2021, challenging packers to push cattle slaughter to the limit this year with large Saturday kills attempting to compensate for general labor limitations that have plagued the industry in recent years. The cyber-attack on JBS over Memorial Day caused additional reductions in beef processing and fabrication and created much short-term uncertainty in cattle and beef markets.


All in all, there is little doubt that most in the cattle industry are ready for the action-adventure movie to end and enjoy a bit of relative calm.  Calmer times may be coming but we are not quite there yet.  It will take a few more weeks to work through current fed cattle supplies and get the packing industry below capacity constraints.  That will allow fed cattle markets to once again fully reflect market conditions.  The economy continues to open and domestic and international beef markets are very strong. Feed prices are expected to remain elevated and feeder cattle markets will continue to adjust to both feed market and fed cattle market conditions. Drought impacts remain uncertain and the short and long-term impacts on cattle markets are unknown.  If enough herd liquidation is forced by the drought, short-term cattle slaughter and beef production will be higher than expected and beef production prospects beyond 2021 will be reduced.


Black swan events are always possible and the threat of more unusual market events certainly remains.  However, with a little luck, cattle markets will settle back into more typical dynamics and we can get a break from the action-adventure roller coaster of the past two years.  We are nearly having more fun than we can stand.

Foot Rot in Cattle

Dr. Rosslyn Biggs, OSU College of Veterinary Medicine Extension Beef Veterinarian


Foot rot is an infectious disease of cattle, causing swelling and lameness in at least one foot. The associated lameness often leads to decreased appetite and overall performance. It is not uncommon for multiple animals in a herd to be affected.


Foot rot can occur in cattle of all ages, and cases are often seen in wet and humid conditions, but can also occur when it is hot and dry when cattle congregate together. Standing in pens or lots heavily contaminated with feces and urine softens the skin and provides high exposure to the causative bacteria. High temperatures and humidity will also cause the skin to chap and crack, leaving it susceptible to bacterial invasion.


Fusobacterium necrophorum is the bacterium most often isolated from infected feet. This organism is present on healthy skin, but it needs injury or wet skin to enter the deeper tissue. F. necrophorum appears to act cooperatively with other bacteria to cause disease. Moisture, nutrient deficiency, injury or disease can result in compromised skin or hoof wall integrity, increasing the likelihood of the bacteria invading the skin.


Diagnosis of foot rot is typically made following thorough cleaning and examination of the foot particularly the space between the digits following sudden lameness. Fever may also be noted. If treatment is delayed, deeper structures of the foot may become affected, leading to a chronic condition and decreased chance of recovery.


Once foot rot has been confirmed, treatment should be administered. Antibiotics and pain medications along with addressing housing and environmental conditions should be considered. A vaccine does exist, but producers should consult with their veterinarian to see if it is a good option. As with most infectious diseases, affected cattle should be isolated.


Notable improvement should be seen within three to four days following treatment. If the animal is not responding during this period of time, it should be evaluated by a veterinarian. “Super foot rot” has been seen in certain areas of the country. It is more aggressive and is not as responsive to standard treatment.


Additionally, there are multiple other conditions that cause cattle lameness. Producers should consult with their veterinarian on diagnostic and treatment options particularly for lameness that does not resolve in the time expected. Approximately 20 percent of all diagnosed lameness in cattle is actually foot rot.

Grazing Summer Cover Crops

Paul Beck, Oklahoma State University Extension Beef Cattle Specialist


When we think of warm season annual forage crops the summer annual grasses such as pearl millet and sorghum sudan quickly come to mind. Often warm season annual forages are thought of as an emergency source of hay for their ability to produce a lot of forage quickly during periods of dry weather when other forage sources are limited. However, they are much more versatile than just providing a quick hay or silage crop.


Recently, there has been lots of interest in using cover crops in cropping systems to provide agronomic benefits such as adding soil organic material, soil cover for wind and water erosion control, increasing soil microbial diversity, and weed suppression, among others. Now producers have found that the cover-crop benefits can be maintained when cover crops are grazed by livestock, providing some direct economic benefit along with the benefits to the cropping enterprise.


Thanks to emphasis placed on cover crops and soil health, the species considered for use as forage crops during the summer has broadened beyond the traditional sorghums and millets to include diverse mixtures of legumes, grasses, and broadleaf species. Cover crops can be as simple as a single species or more complex multiple species blends including 10 to 12 species, selected for their agronomic benefits with little regard for forage production attributes.


  • The species in these blends are included for their agronomic benefits, but many appear to be productive as forages and surprisingly palatable.
  • There is not a lot of information on the forage and grazing characteristics of many of the components of cover-crop blends.
  • The rule of thumb is to start grazing sorghums, sudangrass, and millet at around 30 inches in height and leave a residual height of 6 to 10 inches. This is also what I recommend for cover crop blends until we know better.
  • Prussic acid can be an issue with any of the sudangrass or sorghum species. It can build up any time the plant has undergone a period of stress. Common plant stresses that can induce buildup include drought, frost and herbicide application. It is generally best to avoid grazing 10 - 14 days after any stress period.
  • Another potential issue these forages is nitrate accumulation, which occurs when plants take up nitrogen during a period of little to no growth. This accumulation of nitrate is generally in the base of the stem of the plant.  If nitrate accumulation is suspected, testing is recommended.
  • Millets do not accumulate prussic acid but can accumulate nitrates.


Warm season annual grasses are productive and well adapted to the region.  They are also versatile in their use supplying emergency forage in dry weather conditions, a soil cover for fallow ground, quality grazing, and erosion control. As with any forage when grazed, stocking rate greatly influences both plant and animal performance. Warm season annual grasses fit well and have their place in forage systems, but profitability of this as a stand-alone enterprise require their season long use which may interfere with planting wheat for early fall pasture.


More details on grazing cover crops.

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