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Cattle Market Struggles Continue

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


Fed cattle markets rallied early in April but have stalled again and pulled back below $120/cwt. the last week of April.  Ample supplies of fed cattle continue to hang over the market as feedlots struggle to get more current.  Meanwhile boxed beef has pushed upward with Choice values at $296.50/cwt. the last Friday in April.  Select boxed beef was $283.05/cwt. at the end of the month. 


Beef packers have very large margins and appear to be trying to push kills in the face of limited capacity.  Saturday steer and heifer kills for the last two weeks of actual slaughter data were both above 55,000 head, very large Saturday numbers.  Saturday steer and heifer slaughter thus far in 2021 is up 58 percent over 2020 and up more than 92 percent over 2019 levels.  The most recent data shows steer carcass weights at 898 pounds, up from 889 pounds this same week one year ago and 857 pounds in 2019.  Heifer carcass weights were 837 pounds in the most recent data compared to 823 pounds last year and 799 pounds in the same week in 2019.


Feed grain prices continue to push sharply higher.  The nearby May corn futures ended April at $7.40/bushel with the July contract at $6.73/bushel and the December contract price at $5.64/bushel.  Feeder cattle are being squeezed between a stagnant fed market and rising feed prices.  The pressure is weighing on feeder cattle markets with both cash feeder cattle prices and feeder futures moving lower in April.  Oklahoma combined auction prices for 450-500 lb., Medium/Large No. 1 steers dropped from $185.66/cwt. in early April to $168.88/cwt. last week.  Feeder cattle prices also dropped with 750-800 pound steer prices at $133.65/cwt. last week, down from $142.98/cwt. three weeks ago.


The drought situation becomes more critical each day with increasing drought eating into the growing season and diminishing pasture and hay production potential in drought areas.  The Drought Severity and Coverage Index (DSCI) currently is at 180 for the U.S. and has never been this high in April or May in any year.   National average prices for alfalfa and other hay are up year over year.  March prices for alfalfa were $181/ton compared to $172/ton last year.  Other hay prices in March were $142/ton versus $134/ton one year ago.  There are indications that beef cow liquidation is accelerating.  March monthly beef cow slaughter was up 10.2 percent year over year. Recently weekly beef cow slaughter data in April is increasing but is difficult to interpret compared to pandemic disrupted levels one year ago.


Overall cattle market conditions are still expected to improve year over year in the second half of the year.  However, current challenges are somewhat more severe and taking longer to clear than earlier expected.  Market conditions are very dynamic now and the next few weeks may determine the tone of markets for the remainder of the year.


Dr. Derrell Peel’s analysis of drought impacts on the cattle markets on Sunup TV.

Follow BQA Principles When Working Cows and Calves

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


Following BQA guidelines is a commitment to consumers by producers for a quality product. It also ensures the safety, health, and welfare of both the processing team and cattle. A little planning can ensure that processing day runs smoothly and follows BQA Guidelines. The first step is to consult with your veterinarian for herd specific recommendations. The next step involves planning for administration and team training.


When planning for vaccinations, consider that vaccines should not be saved from one processing day to another as the possibility of contamination is high. Additionally, modified-live vaccines are no longer viable after about an hour following mixing. Plan to routinely use a permanent marker to write mixing time on the bottle. Purchase medications from reliable distributors as close to processing day as feasible. If products are on hand, make a note to review expiration dates.


Select syringes that align with treatment amounts. If using a multi-dose syringe, calibration and treatment volume verification ensures accurate administration. Syringes can also be color coded with tape to make sure cross contamination of products does not occur. Spare parts for all equipment should be on-hand processing day and disposable backups too.


Select smallest size needle based on cattle size and medication choice. BQA requires all injections to be given ahead of the slope of the shoulder unless otherwise directed. When planning ahead, remember needles should be changed with damage, contamination, and biosecurity in mind. When refilling syringes, a new needle should always be used. 


Finally, it’s time to prepare the team. Experienced individuals on the processing team may simply need an update. Individuals new to the team may need more extensive training and coaching. BQA training of all personnel involved in handling and processing cattle is recommended.


Most cows and calves are likely to be handled individually. BQA guidance recommends the following records be maintained for individuals:

  • Individual animal identification
  • Date treated
  • Product administered and manufacturer’s lot/serial number
  • Dosage
  • Route and location of administration
  • Earliest date animal will have cleared withdrawal period
  • Name of individual administering each treatment


An easy method to document product information, especially in adverse weather, is to take a cell phone pictures of the boxes or bottles including expiration date and serial number. Each picture will be time and date stamped and the information can later be transferred to electronic records or even paper.

Trichomoniasis Prevention: Improving Herd Health Increases Return on Investment

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


Often, by the time a cattle producer recognizes they have a “trich” problem, significant economic loss has already occurred. The first signs of an issue are often discovered during pregnancy checking when there is an increased and unexpected number of short bred or open females. The most effective way to prevent this loss and shore up herd health is to implement biosecurity measures to prevent disease introduction.


Trichomoniasis is a reproductive disease caused by a protozoan called Tritrichomonas foetus. Bulls are asymptomatic carriers of the disease, but play the major role in trichomoniasis transmission. Older bulls are more at risk of having the disease than younger bulls. Unfortunately, positive bulls must be removed from the herd and either castrated or sent to slaughter as there is no treatment for the disease.


Infection in cows and heifers results in infertility and abortions, typically within the first four months of pregnancy. Although females can maintain long term infection, most clear the infection in four to five months. However, any protection acquired following exposure is very short-lived, and females are susceptible to reinfection again the following year. 


A vaccination does exist for the disease, but does not prevent infection. In infected herds, the vaccine may reduce the number of abortions and length of infection in females.


The first step in prevention is to conduct annual trichomoniasis tests as part of a breeding soundness exam. When considering new bulls, ensure that bulls have either never been exposed to females or have a negative test conducted within the past 60 days. Replacement females should also come from negative herds.


Along with standard biosecurity practices, another way to improve herd health is through the use of a defined breeding season and adequate fencing.


In Oklahoma, testing is available from the Oklahoma Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory in Stillwater. ODAFF approved veterinarians may submit samples, and the test is performed each weekday. Test turnaround time is usually one to three days on individual or pooled samples. OADDL offers pooling of samples and UPS shipping options to help reduce the cost to producers. For more information visit Oklahoma Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory | College of Veterinary Medicine | Oklahoma State University.

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