March 16, 2020
Beef supply chains impacted by COVID-19
By Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist
The cattle and beef industry, along with the rest of the U.S. and global economy, is in uncharted waters with the coronavirus pandemic. There are many unknowns about the timing, severity and aftermath of the disease. For the beef industry, there are longer term questions about overall impact on domestic and international beef demand, with questions about a U.S. and global recession looming large. In the short run, the actions needed to manage the epidemiology of COVID-19 is having significant impacts on beef supply chains.
The multitude of beef products that are produced by the beef industry are marketed through three broadly aggregated market channels: Retail grocery; food service; and exports. These different market channels involve different mixes of products and each utilizes different supply chains. Retail grocery and food service represent the bulk of domestic beef demand. USDA data shows that food at home (which roughly matches retail grocery) represents about 46 percent of total food expenditures in the U.S. Food away from home represents about 54 percent of total food expenditures. Food away from home (roughly food service), includes what is sometimes referred to as the HRI (hotels, restaurants, institutions) sector.
The immediate response to COVID-19 is to limit travel, gatherings and public activities. Reduced travel, fewer restaurant visits and school closures all impact the HRI sector. This implies a dramatic shift of food from the food service (HRI) sector into retail grocery sales. This represents huge demands on grocery store sales and the logistics of supplying retail stores. For beef, there is immediate demand for more processing, packaging and shipping of beef for retail sale and less processing and shipping of meat through food service distribution channels.
As noted, grocery stores and restaurants typically sell somewhat different beef products in different proportions. Many retail grocery businesses do not have in-store butchers (though there are exceptions), which limits grocery store flexibility to change product offerings. Retail grocery sales are planned many weeks in advance, not only for advertising schedules, but to ensure logistics of product supply. There will be a variety of impacts on markets for specific beef products. For example, increased demand for ground beef has resulted in local shortages of product at grocery stores, while reduced restaurant demand may result in weaker middle meat sales. We can expect significant disruptions and stress on beef supply chains given the consumption changes associated with requirements to control COVID-19.
A significant threat exists for bigger disruptions to beef supply chains if labor for beef packing, processing, and shipping are directly impacted by COVID-19. The packing plant closure last year provides a recent vivid example of the vulnerability of the beef packing and processing sector and the potential market impacts that would result if COVID-19 causes labor shortages. It will take more time before the longer term ramifications of COVID-19 on overall beef demand are known.
Reducing the risk of a calf scours outbreak
By Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension animal scientist
(Adapted from “Neonatal Calf Diarrhea Complex” by John Kirkpatrick, DVM)
The ongoing human health issue (COVID-19) serves as a reminder to cattle ranchers about the importance of sound, common sense biosecurity measures that can aid in reducing the risk of a disease outbreak in the new 2020 calf crop.
Neonatal calf diarrhea, commonly called calf scours, is one of the most costly disease entities in the beef cattle business. Fall-calving herds have the help of the hot late summer/early fall sunshine to reduce the buildup and spread of the pathogens that cause calf diarrhea. However, in the spring, wetter, colder weather and muddier pastures often create environments that are favorable for calf diarrhea pathogens. Whether you have spring or fall-calving cows (or both) there are some key management procedures that will reduce the likelihood of a scours outbreak in your calves. These procedures are meant to decrease the pathogen exposure to the newborn calf.
1) Calve in clean and dry areas.
2) Calve heifers earlier than the cow herd.
3) Avoid congregating and creating muddy, pathogen infested areas in calving pastures
a) If possible, avoid loose hay feeding in calving pastures.
b) If hay is fed, use bale rings or hay feeders and move feeders frequently.
c) Move pairs to larger pastures promptly. Larger herds may want to study and employ the Sandhills Calving System.
4) Use biosecurity and biocontainment measures for all herd additions:
a) Isolate, quarantine, and perform appropriate tests on all herd additions.
b) Introduce pregnant herd additions at least 30 days prior to the start of calving season. This will allow time for exposure to new pathogens, antibody development and secretion of antibodies into the colostrum.
c) Do not add calves to the herd until the youngest calf in the herd is over 30 days of age. Buying a calf at a livestock auction or from a dairy for a cow that has lost a calf can introduce diseases that your herd may not have immunity against.
5) Isolation and treatment:
a) Remove sick calves from the herd immediately. One sick calf can produce overwhelming pathogen exposure by shedding as many as 100 million bacteria or viruses per milliliter of feces (500 million bacteria and or viruses per teaspoon of feces).
b) Visit with your local large animal veterinarian to determine best treatment options for the pathogens affecting your calves.
c) Treating the sick calves should occur after handling the well calves. Clean and disinfect all equipment. Clothing, boots, gloves, etc. worn while treating sick calves should not be worn when handling well calves.
The concepts of quarantine of new arrivals, isolation and treatment of infected individuals, and cleanliness are important on the ranch, as well as in human health.