July 31, 2017
Recent beef industry “news”: ground beef and beef packing capacity
by Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist
A couple of media articles caught my eye recently. he first was an article on Yahoo entitled “Why you should think twice before getting ground beef from the supermarket.” The article reveals, apparently to the surprise of the author, that ground beef is often made from the meat of multiple animals and not just from a single animal. And apparently this is a major source of food safety concern for the author, though it’s not clear why.
The fact is that ground beef is typically made from the trimmings of fed cattle combined with lean trimmings from cull cows to achieve the desired level of lean to fat in the product. Ground beef has been made this way for many years. It is also true that ground beef is inherently more risky compared to whole muscle cuts because of the increased surface area that results from grinding and the mixing of the product which increase the risk of contamination. This is true whether the ground beef is made with meat from a single animal or multiple animals. There are a variety of reasons why consumers might desire to raise or buy a single animal as the source of their beef… mostly for steak quality and consistency. I myself keep a half of beef in my freezer. However, a preference for single animal source of beef is not a legitimate reason to cast doubt on ground beef quality and safety in retail and food service markets.
I wonder if the author also realizes that not all the lettuce in a bagged salad nor the green beans in a can are from the same plant or field or farm; not all the milk in a jug comes from the same cow; and not all the buffalo wings in a bucket came from the same chicken. To suggest that ground beef made from the meat of multiple animals is an inherent food safety threat is at least an admission of general ignorance of food systems and at most a scaremongering disservice to consumers and the industry.
A second recent agricultural media article included the following statement: “Yet, a big part of last fall’s (price) collapse was simply that we had insufficient packing capacity to handle the increase in the nation’s cattle herd.” No source or data was provided to support the statement. The average daily federally inspected slaughter level in 2016 was 95,913 head with a maximum daily level of 117,978 head on Nov. 10, 2016. That was the only day in 2016 with slaughter above 117,000 head. This compares to five years earlier in 2012 when the average daily slaughter was 103,580 head and there were 225 days with slaughter above 117,000 head, including 205 days with slaughter exceeding 120,000 head.
Beef packing capacity declined from 2012 to 2016, including the closure of a major fed cattle plant in 2013 and some smaller plant closures in recent years. Published estimates of slaughter capacity suggest that capacity utilization (average daily slaughter as a percent of slaughter capacity) increased from 79 percent in 2012 to 83 percent in 2016 for the top 20 beef packing plants. However, there is no indication that capacity constraints contributed to 2016 fed cattle market conditions. So far in 2017, daily slaughter has exceeded 117,000 head 36 times with three times in excess of 120,000 head. Despite this, fed cattle prices have recovered to unexpected levels since the fall of 2016. Slaughter capacity could become a factor at some point with continued herd growth, but it is unlikely to be a significant issue for the foreseeable future.
Growing bred replacement heifers
by Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension Animal Scientist
Bred replacement heifers that will calve in late January and February need to continue to grow and maintain body condition. Ideally, two year old heifers should be in a body condition score 6 at the time that their first calf is born. See example of a two-year-old in body condition score 6 below.
This allows them the best opportunity to provide adequate colostrum to the baby, repair the reproductive tract, return to heat cycles, rebreed on time for next year, and continue normal body growth. From now until calving time, the heifers will need to be gaining 1 to 1 1/2 pounds per head per day, assuming that they are in good body condition coming out of summer.
Heifers will need supplemental protein, if the major source of forage in the diet is bermudagrass or native pasture or grass hay. If the forage source is adequate in quantity and average in quality (6 – 9 percent crude protein), heifers will need about 2 pounds of a high protein (38 – 44 percent CP) supplement each day. This will probably need to be increased with higher quality hay (such as alfalfa) or additional energy feed (20 percent range cubes) as winter weather adds additional nutrient requirements. Soybean hulls or wheat mids may also be used to insure adequate energy intake of pregnant heifers.
Wheat pasture (if adequate rainfall produces growth) can be used as a supplement for pregnant replacement heifers. Using wheat pasture judiciously makes sense for pregnant heifers for two reasons. Pregnant heifers consuming full feed of wheat pasture will gain at about 3 pounds per head per day. If they are on the wheat too long the heifers can become very fat and may cause dystocia (calving difficulty). Also, the wheat pasture can be used for gain of stocker cattle or weaned replacement heifers more efficiently. If wheat pasture is used for bred heifers, use it as a protein supplement by allowing the heifers access to the wheat pasture on at least alternate days. Some producers report that 1 day on wheat pasture and two days on native or bermuda will work better. This encourages the heifers to go rustle in the warm season pasture for the second day, rather than just stand by the gate waiting to be turned back in to the wheat. Whatever method is used to grow the pregnant replacement heifers, plan to have them in good body condition by calving so that they will grow into fully-developed productive cows.
Cow-Calf Corner is a weekly newsletter from the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Agency.
July 31, 2017