May 9, 2016
More beef now; slower increase later
by Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock marketing specialist
Beef production for the year to date in 2016 is up 3.0 percent year over year. This increase is faster than expected as earlier expectations were for more of the annual increase in beef production to occur in the second half of the year. However, recent changes in beef production have implications for the timing and possibly for total beef production for 2016.
Weekly beef production increased sharply beginning in March; the result of a jump in cattle slaughter. In the last eight weeks, total cattle slaughter has risen 3.3 percent year over year, with steer slaughter up 8.5 percent and beef cow slaughter up 6.2 percent. Heifer slaughter was still down, 3.9 percent, along with dairy cow slaughter, down 4.1 percent from the same period last year. Feedlots have not only marketed at a good pace, but have actively pulled cattle forward. This has reduced days on feed in feedlots and reduced carcass weights dramatically. Steers carcass weights dropped by 26 pounds from an early March peak of 896 pounds to 870 pounds in the most recent data week. The latest steer carcass weights are only 4 pounds heavier than the same date one year ago. This is the smallest year over year increase in weekly carcass weights since July 2014. Heifer carcass weights are down 29 pounds from 836 pounds in early March to 807 pounds in the latest data.
The current decrease in carcass weights is consistent with typical seasonal declines but really represents a more fundamental change in feedlot behavior. From mid-2014 through late 2015 feedlots delayed marketings and pushed up carcass weights. From late 2015 feedlot through February, marketing rates increased to marginally improve feedlot currentness and pull carcass weights down slightly. However, it appears that only recently have feedlots marketed cattle fast enough to materially affect current beef production and set the stage for additional improvements later in the year.
Increased cattle slaughter in recent weeks has created a short term bulge in beef supplies that has weighed on boxed beef and fed cattle prices. This is a result of the transition to faster feedlot turnover rates. The payoff comes from the decrease in carcass weights that will temper beef production in the next few weeks.Cattle pulled ahead now will moderate seasonally large cattle slaughter through June and, combined with lower carcass weights, will hold total beef production to smaller year over year increases. There may be improvement in the second half of the year as well if relatively lower carcass weights continue into the fall. Increased feedlot placements, which began in February, will begin showing up in slaughter by late July but the pace of beef production increase in the third and fourth quarters of the year may be reduced if carcass weights continue with little or no year over year increase through the remainder of the year. This can happen if feedlots continue with a faster marketing pace. Hopefully, the painful lessons of the fall 2015 fed cattle market crash are not lost on both feedlots and packers this year.
Much of the recent speed up in feedlot turnover can be attributed to the current severe discount on live cattle futures for coming months. However, lower feeder cattle prices and continued low feedlot cost of gain should maintain feedlot incentives for timely fed cattle marketings going forward. Steer and heifer carcass weights in the next few weeks will be a good indicator of beef supply conditions in the second half of 2016.
Why are two-year olds such a challenge to get re-bred?
by Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension animal scientist
Two year old cows that calved this spring will present a challenge to producers to get them to rebreed and stay in synch with the rest of the cow herd. The issue at hand is the number of days between calving and the return to heat cycles when the cow has a chance to be rebred. There are several factors that influence the “post partum anestrus period” or the days between calving and the beginning of estrous cycles.
The following table from Missouri researchers illustrates the number of days between calving to the return to heat cycles depending on body condition at calving and body condition change after calving. The data was compiled using two-year old Angus first-calf heifers. Remember the cow must not only return to heat cycles but conceive by day 85 in order to have a calf on the same calendar date the next year.
Table 1. Predicted number of days from calving to first heat cycle as affected by body condition score at calving and body condition score change after calving in young beef cows. (Body condition score scale: 1 = emaciated; 9 = obese)
This data clearly points out that young cows that calve in thin body condition (BCS=3 or 4) will take a long time to return to heat cycles. Thin heifers cannot gain enough body condition after calving to return to heat cycles as quickly as cows that calve in moderate body condition (BCS = 5.5) and maintain or lose only a slight amount of condition. Pay particular attention to the heifers that calved in a body condition score of 4 and then were fed enough of a high energy diet to gain 1.5 condition scores by day 90. Compare them with heifers that calved in a body condition score of 5.5 but lost a half score and were 5.0 at 90 days. The heifers that calved in poor body condition and were fed well did not return to estrus as quickly (111 days vs. 102 days) as the heifers that were in good body condition and lost a small amount of body condition after calving. It is very difficult to add body condition on young lactating cows in most range situations.
Once again remember, cows must be rebred by 85 days after calving to calve again at the same time next year. Notice that none of the averages for two-year old cows that calved in thin body condition were recycling in time to maintain a 12 month calving interval. This illustrates why many ranches breed the yearling heifers 2 to 3 weeks ahead of the start of the breeding season for adult cows. It gives these heifers extra days to return to heat cycles and therefore breed at about the same time as the other cows in the herd. A hidden aspect of the nutritional challenges of two-year-old cows is noted when we remember that this is time when they transition from baby teeth to adult teeth.
Other factors that influence the length of the “post partum anestrus period” include difficult births and suckling intensity. Heifers that suffer a prolonged stage 2 of delivery will take a few days longer to return to heat cycles due to the length of labor during calving. In addition, strong suckling intensity may have a small impact on the length of time between calving a return to heat cycles. Research many years ago suggested that bull calves may nurse more vigorously than heifers and therefore result in a slight delay in the return to heat cycles. Certainly cows nursing twins will be affected by the increase in suckling activity.
Cow-Calf Corner is a weekly electronic newsletter by the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Agency.