March 21, 2016
Cattle on feed and early spring
by Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist
The latest Cattle on Feed report pegs March 1 feedlot inventories at 10.77 million head, 101 percent of year ago levels. February marketings and placements were both up year over year partly because of an extra business day in February due to leap year. Marketings were 105 percent of last year with daily average feedlot marketings equal to year ago levels. Placements were 110 percent of year ago levels, within a wide range of pre-report expectations. The placement number is not as bearish as viewed by some. First, the extra day in February allows more placements during the month. Secondly, it was compared to a small 2015 value that was nearly five percent under the five year average. Nevertheless, it was up and was the first significant year over year increase in placements in two years. Larger feeder cattle supplies mean that more cattle will be coming to feedlots and increased year over year placements will likely be the expectation for many months to come.
Spring started officially last weekend but in numerous ways spring came early and has been evident since February. Despite a winter storm currently impacting the Northeast, unseasonably warm temperatures have predominated across much of the country recently. In Oklahoma, many trees and plants broke dormancy in February and wheat reached the first hollow stem stage two to three weeks early, prompting large movements of feeder cattle to market in February rather than the more typical early March pull-off date. These no doubt contributed to the large February feedlot placements and may partially offset some March placements.
March feeder auction totals in Oklahoma so far are also bigger than year ago levels but significantly less of a year over year increase compared to February. There are indications that a significant number of stocker cattle are still on wheat for grazeout due to low wheat prices. That decision may be reinforced and expanded by the hard freeze over the weekend in northern Oklahoma covering Saturday, Sunday and Monday mornings. Much of the region experienced 15 to more than 30 hours of below-freezing temps over the weekend. Though crop damage assessment will take several days, the likelihood of damage may prompt additional demand for stocker cattle to graze out wheat. Stocker cattle grazing out wheat will typically be marketed in May.
Other signs of an early spring have been evident in meat markets. Boxed beef increased impressively the past two weeks with strength in both middle meats and wholesale ground beef markets suggesting some early grilling demand. The Choice-Select spread bottomed seasonally in mid-February, about a month earlier than usual, and has widened back out to roughly $10/cwt., indicating strong demand for Choice beef. Beef retail prices increased seasonally in February according to the latest retail data, while retail prices for pork, turkey and broilers all decreased. Easter is early this year, on March 27, and may be impacting seasonal meat demand in March. Easter occurs in March only once every four or five years on average. The last time Easter occurred in March was 2013 but the next time will not be until 2024.
Make a record of twins (or other multiple births)
by Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension animal scientist
As producers finish this (or any) calving season, it is very important to record any multiple births that may have occurred. Estimates of the percentage of beef cattle births that produce twins vary. One estimate (Gilmore) puts the percentage at about 0.5 percent or 1 in every 200 births. Approximately one-half of the sets of twins should contain both a bull and a heifer calf. Make sure to write down these calf numbers of twin births while they are still nursing the cow. Be certain to not retain the heifer born twin to a bull as a replacement female.
Freemartinism is recognized as one of the most severe forms of sexual abnormality among cattle. This condition causes infertility in most of the female cattle born twin to a male. When a heifer twin shares the uterus with a bull fetus, they also share the placental membranes connecting the fetuses with the dam.
A joining of the placental membranes occurs at about the fortieth day of pregnancy, and thereafter, the fluids of the two fetuses are mixed. This causes exchange of blood and antigens carrying characteristics that are unique to each heifers and bulls. When these antigens mix, they affect each other in a way that causes each to develop with some characteristics of the other sex.
Although the male twin in this case is rarely affected by reduced fertility, in more than ninety percent of the cases, the female twin is completely infertile. Because of a transfer of hormones or a transfer of cells, the heifer’s reproductive tract is severely underdeveloped and sometimes even contains some elements of a bull’s reproductive tract. A freemartin is genetically female, but has many characteristics of a male. The ovaries of the freemartin do not develop correctly, and they remain very small.
Also, the ovaries of a freemartin do not produce the hormones necessary to induce the behavioral signs of heat. The external vulvar region can range from a very normal looking female to a female that appears to be male. Usually, the vulva is normal except that in some animals an enlarged clitoris and large tufts of vulvar hair exist. The cattleman can predict the reproductive value of this heifer calf at birth and save the feed and development costs if he is aware of the high probability of freemartinism. (Source: “The Causes and Effects of Freemartinism in Cattle” by Laurie Ann Lyon.)
To dissuade any worries about embryo transfer calves, it is important to remember that the mixing of the fluids between fetuses does not occur until about day 40 of the pregnancy. Fertilized embryos of superovulated donor cows will be removed and transferred in the first seven to eight days after insemination and no chance of freemartinism will occur in the normal embryo transfer process.
In some cases, there are few, if any, symptoms of freemartinism because the male twin may have been aborted at an earlier stage of gestation. Hidden freemartins are often difficult to identify if replacement heifers are purchased. Therefore. this is another good reason to cull any open (non-pregnant) replacement heifer soon after her first breeding season.
Another hidden cost of multiple births will be manifest in the mother of the calves. Cows that are nursing twin calves will require an estimated 13 percent more energy intake to maintain body condition. The additional suckling pressure on the cow will extend the post-calving anestrus period. Therefore, cows nursing twins will take longer to re-cycle to rebreed for next year’s calf crop. In some cases, producers may want to consider early weaning of the twin calves to allow the cow to re-cycle in time to stay with the other cows in the herd.
“Cow/calf Corner” is a weekly newsletter edited by Dr. Glenn Selk, Extension cattle specialist emeritus at Oklahoma State University with contributions from additional OSU Extension specialists.