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Meat Markets Hotter than Summer So Far

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


Protein markets are red hot.  With the economy opening up and growing rapidly, meat markets of all types are enjoying strong demand.  In numerous cases, wholesale prices for specific meat products are at record levels, exceeding the levels provoked by the pandemic disruptions one year ago; and unlike last year, lack of supply is not the issue. Year to date production of beef, pork and broilers is higher, not only compared to last year but also higher than 2019 levels.


Broiler breast meat price has been at record levels in May, fueled no doubt by the chicken sandwich wars in quick service restaurants (QSR).   Chicken leg and leg quarter prices have risen sharply since the beginning of the year.  It is likely that export demand is helping to drive these markets.  Chicken wing prices did not drop after the “Super Bowl Bump” but have continued to increase to record levels, passing the $3/lb. mark for the first time in the last month.


Wholesale pork carcass cutout prices have risen steadily all year, pushing past the levels of the pandemic spike last year to the highest values since 2014.  Pork tenderloin prices have increased since the beginning of 2021 but have remained below the pandemic levels of one year for several weeks.  Wholesale ham prices increased from the first of the year until late April and have retreated slightly in the past month.  Hams are a popular export item and pork exports jumped sharply in March.  Pork belly prices peaked recently in April at the highest levels since 2017.  Pork spare rib prices reached record levels recently, pushing above $3/lb. for the first time.  Spare ribs are often exported but the recent strength in spare rib prices may also be related to a rebound in BBQ restaurants.  Pork cold storage holdings were drawn down sharply one year ago and remains at very low levels.  In part, this is likely due to the surge in pork exports to China that began in 2019 and resulted in China being the largest pork export market in 2020.


The boxed beef cutout price has pushed higher since the beginning of the year.  Middle meats have led the way with wholesale beef tenderloin and ribeye prices setting new records in the most recent data with tenderloin over $17/lb. and ribeye over $13/lb. Tenderloin is almost exclusively a restaurant item while ribeye is popular in restaurants, at retail grocery and for export.  Strip loins are very popular at retail grocery and prices have also increased sharply this year but failed to exceed the pandemic levels from last year.  Brisket prices have increased dramatically since January, averaging over $7/lb. in May; another indication that BBQ is back.  Chuck and round products are higher, though less so than the middle meats.  End meat demand is driven by retail grocery use for value cuts and for ground beef, as well as export demand.  The price of 50 percent trimmings is higher compared to January but has dropped back from recent peak prices in mid-April.  The supply of fatty trimmings is relatively large due to increased slaughter of heavy fed cattle.  The price of 90 percent lean trimmings remains strong with high demand for lean to match supplies of 50s. Trimming are mostly used for food service ground beef.

Reproductive Tract Scoring in Replacement Heifers

Dr. Daniel Stein, Oklahoma State University Extension Reproduction Physiologist


Reproductive Tract Scoring (RTS) is a subjective measurement which involves the rectal palpation of the heifer reproductive tract (uterine horns and ovarian structures) and the subsequent assignment of a reproductive tract score, ranging from 1 to 5 (1 = immature; 5 = presence of a corpus luteum), to assist the producer in making replacement heifer decisions.  Since age at puberty is difficult to measure directly, RTS can estimate pubertal status, and if performed before the onset of the breeding season, can be a predictor of heifer reproductive performance allowing for heifers with a poor breeding potential to be removed from the breeding group before any further costs are incurred. The RTS system has been shown to a repeatable measure between and within practitioners and to be moderately heritable (0.32 + 0.17).


A RTS of 1 is refers to a prepubertal heifer, a RTS of 2 or 3 is refers to a peripubertal heifer (transitional stage), and a RTS of 4 or 5 is refers to a pubertal (cycling) heifer.  The reproductive performance of heifers with an RTS of 1 or 2 is less than that of heifers with an RTS of 3 or greater.  Heifers with a RTS of 1 or 2 are less likely to be cycling at the beginning of the breeding season and therefore are less likely to become pregnant or if they do become pregnant, do so later in the breeding season suggesting that heifers with a RTS of 1 should possibly be eliminated from the breeding group.  It is worth mentioning, that some heifers do not exactly fit a particular RTS score and it is up to the producer and/or practitioner to decide on which of the measures are to be given the most emphasis.


RTS should be done about 1 month or less prior to breeding if the score is to be used as a culling tool as an indicator of a heifer's ability to conceive early during the first breeding season.  If RTS is to be used as a selection tool to place pressure on age at puberty, the best time to evaluate the heifers is when approximately 50% of the heifers are thought to be cycling based on age, weight, and occasional observations for estrus.


Another possible application of the RTS system is to assess the nutritional program being utilized by the producer.  If RTS is taken within a sufficient time before the start of the breeding season (approximately 30 to 60 days); based on the results of the tract scores, the producer can adjust the ration to help the heifers reach developmental goals prior to the beginning of the breeding season or the beginning of the breeding season can be adjusted.


The uterine and ovarian dimensions for each of the reproductive tract scores are described in Table 1.  The reproductive tract score is based on the degree of uterine horn development and ovarian status (size of dominant follicle and presence or absence of a CL).


Table 1. Description of uterine and ovarian measurements for different Reproductive Tract Scores (RTS).

Reproductive Tract Score Uterine Horns (diameter, mm) Ovarian Length (mm) Ovarian Height (mm) Ovarian Width (mm) Ovarian Structures
1 Immature, < 20mm, no tone 15 10 8 No palpable Follicles
2 20-25 mm, no tone 18 12 10 8 mm Follicles
3 20-25 mm, slight tone 22 15 10 8-10 mm Follicles
4 30 mm, good tone 30 16 12 > 10 mm Follicles, CL possible
5 > 30 mm >32 20 15 CL present

Heroes Among Us

Paul Beck, Oklahoma State University Extension Beef Cattle Specialist


Memorial Day is the benchmark for us to change out our wardrobe, put up the felt hat and get out the straw. Also, for many of my friends in southern Oklahoma it is time to get the combines out in the field to thresh the wheat fields we have been managing all winter. For others, it is the start of a busy hay season.


When I think of what Memorial Day really means, the commemoration of those that died in our Nation’s wars, I think of the many farmers and ranchers I know that did their part and the sacrifices they made. Many were very open about their service to the country, others never made much of it. It was shocking to find out the quiet unassuming cowboy that everyone said was an awesome roper when he was younger, was also a pilot that flew B-25 bombers in the southwest Pacific in World War II. Or the farmers that would come over from Kingfisher County and talk to dad about what they did with the 45th in Korea in 1950.


When I was a kid in the 1970’s, the older established cattlemen and farmers often turned out to be veterans of World War II or Korea while many of the younger more progressive producers were Vietnam veterans. I know time stands still for no one, but years later when I reflect on this it is now the Vietnam vets that are older and more secure in their operations and it is the newer generation sharing stories about serving in places like Afghanistan or Iraq.


Try to thank a veteran today, and remember heroes are among us even those that we may not recognize.

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