Winter weather impacts cattle market
by Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist
A major winter storm this past week extended in a belt across the middle of the country from Denver east to the mid-Atlantic coast. Heavy snow hit parts of feedlot country across eastern Colorado, Kansas, southeastern Nebraska, southern Iowa and the eastern Corn Belt. Much of Nebraska and the northern Plains along with the Texas panhandle were spared the worst of the snow but rain has created wet, sloppy conditions in many places that will impact cattle performance in feedlots and in the country. Recent weather may delay fed cattle marketing enough to help support fed cattle prices or push prices higher. Whether or not weather impacts are widespread enough to noticeably impact overall market conditions, cattle producers in many areas face significant management headaches due to the weather.
Winter weather often impacts feedlot performance and efficiency. Feedlots typically post the lowest seasonal average daily gains (ADG) for cattle marketed in March to May which reflects cattle fed over the previous four to six months. This likely includes the negative impacts of winter weather on feedlot performance but also partly reflects the fact that feedlots place the highest proportion of lightweight cattle (which have lower ADG) in the fall and feed them through the winter. Feedlots also experience poorer feeding efficiency in the winter with the highest feed to gain ratios of the year posted for cattle marketed in February and March. This occurs despite the fact that lightweight cattle placed in the fall have lower feed to gain ratios relative to heavier feedlot placements. This again indicates the impact of winter weather on cattle feeding. Not surprisingly, feedlots post the highest animal morbidity and mortality rates for cattle fed through the winter.
In Oklahoma, wet, sloppy conditions are a major challenge, especially across the southern half of the state. Oklahoma cattle producers are reluctant to complain about moisture in a place that so often suffers from drought but exceptionally wet conditions this fall and winter have created significant headaches for cow-calf and stocker producers. The past six months is the wettest for the period on record for the statewide average and regionally is the wettest period for the south central region of the state and the second wettest for the southeast and west central regions. The southwest, central and north central regions have seen the fifth, sixth and seventh wettest periods, respectively, in the past six months.
Cold weather increases animal maintenance requirements and boosts feed needs. The Oklahoma Mesonet provides a cattle comfort advisor to help producers adjust cattle management in adverse weather conditions. The cattle comfort index is based on temperature, wind, relative humidity and solar radiation. As has often been the case recently, rain or wet conditions that produce a wet hair coat on cattle mean that the calculated cattle comfort advisor index must be adjusted even lower. In these conditions, cattle producers need to increase the quantity and often the quality of feed for cattle to avoid production losses or impacts on pregnant or lactating cows or for stockers.
Develop a calving season protocol
by Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension animal scientist
Before the spring calving season commences, now is the time to put together and post a protocol for family members and hired employees to follow when they find a cow or heifer starting in the process of calving. An issue facing the rancher at calving time, is the amount of time heifers or cows are allowed to be in labor before assistance is given. Older text books, fact sheets and magazine articles stated that “Stage II” of labor lasted from 2 to 4 hours. “Stage II” is defined as that portion of the birthing process from the first appearance of the water bag until the baby calf is delivered.
Research data from Oklahoma State University and the USDA experiment station at Miles City, Montana, clearly show that Stage II is much shorter, lasting approximately 60 minutes in first calf heifers, and 30 minutes in mature cows.
Table 1. Research Results of Length of Stage II of Parturition
|Source||No. of Animals||Length of Stage II|
|USDA (Doornbos, et al.1984. JAS:59:1)||24 mature cows||22.5 min.|
|USDA (Doornbos, et al.1984. JAS:59:1)||32 first calf heifers||54.1 min.|
|Oklahoma State Univ. (Putnam, et al. 1985. Therio:24:385)||32 first calf heifers||55.0 min.|
In these studies, heifers that were in stage II of labor much more than one hour or cows that were in stage II much more than 30 minutes definitely needed assistance. Research information also shows that calves from prolonged deliveries are weaker and more disease prone, even if born alive.
In addition, cows or heifers with prolonged deliveries return to heat later and are less likely to be bred for the next calf crop. Consequently, a good rule of thumb: “If the heifer is not making significant progress 1 hour after the water bag or feet appear, examine the heifer to see if you can provide assistance. Mature cows should be watched for only 30 minutes before a birth canal examine is conducted.” Make certain the cervix is completely dilated before pulling on the chains. If you cannot safely deliver the calf yourself at this time, call your local large animal veterinarian immediately.
Most ranches develop heifers fully, and use calving ease bulls to prevent calving difficulties. However, a few difficult births are going to occur each calving season. Using the concept of evening feeding to get more heifers calving in daylight, and giving assistance early will save a few more calves, and result in healthier more productive two-year cows to rebreed next year.