March 15, 2021
Cattle Markets Looking for Spring
By Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist
March is a typically bi-polar weather time with indications of spring mixed with lingering winter blasts. This past week included a big winter storm and heavy snow from the Colorado Rockies across the Front Range and east from the northern plains into the upper Midwest. Meanwhile, tornadoes erupted in the Texas Panhandle and heavy rain in the Mississippi river drainage is raising spring flooding concerns. The drought continues but some parts of the west and southwest have received some moisture recently. Depending on location, cattle producers are currently dealing with a wide range of weather conditions.
February data confirms the disruptions of the severe winter storm last month on cattle and beef markets. Steer and heifer slaughter dropped 7.1% year over year in the middle two weeks of February before bouncing back. Steer carcass weights dropped sharply in February, declining by 20 pounds from 919 pounds to 899 pounds in the last two weeks of the month. The last week of February marks the first time in 71 weeks (since October 2019) that weekly steer carcass weights were lower than the previous year. Heifer carcass weights dropped from 850 to 834 pounds in the same period. As we move into the period where carcass weights one year ago were elevated due to pandemic delays in fed slaughter, carcass weights are likely to be below year-ago levels for much of the remainder of the year. Beef production dropped 6.1% year over year in the middle two weeks of February but bounced back to a 5.8% year-over-year increase the last week of the month. Beef production in the first 8 full weeks of 2021 was up 2.3% year over year.
In Oklahoma, first hollow stem in wheat pastures means that cattle must be removed for those wheat producers planning to harvest a wheat crop. After cattle auction volume dropped 74% in the last two weeks of February, total volume the first half of March has been 82% higher year-over-year, including an impressive weekly total of 49,148 head last week. Feeder prices have remained steady despite the large auction volume in March. With cool-season forages beginning to green up, grazing demand for stockers is strong, supported by a hefty premium of fall Feeder cattle futures to nearby contract levels. Summer stocker prospects look quite attractive at this point.
Fed cattle markets have failed to put together a spring rally thus far with cash prices holding mostly steady for the past five weeks close to $114/cwt. Optimism continues going forward with June Live cattle futures holding an unusual premium to April contract levels. June Live cattle futures are currently priced at about $120/cwt. After the fed cattle market works through ample cattle supplies in the first half of the year, beef production is expected to decrease year over year in the second half of the year. Live cattle futures for the fall suggest higher fed cattle prices in the last half of the year.
Selection for Calving Ease
By Mark Z. Johnson, Oklahoma State University Extension beef cattle breeding specialist
With bull turnout and breeding season in mind, we continue to discuss considerations about the bulls we’ll be turning out. Specifically, selection for calving ease. If we intend to breed a set of heifers this spring, calving ease becomes an economically important trait in our next calf crop. Dystocia (calving difficulty, typically caused by a large or awkwardly positioned fetus) is far more likely to occur in first calf heifers and typically not a significant issue in mature beef cows. With no dystocia, calf death loss within 24 hours of birth is less than 5% but this percentage can increase by as much as two to four times if calving assistance is required. Heifers that calve unassisted do a better job of raising that calf, have shorter rebreeding intervals and calf earlier the following year. Obviously, we would like to avoid calving difficulty and if we have identified it as a priority, several selection tools are available.
First, sire selection is critical. Over time, 90% of genetic change is a result of sire selection because bulls sire more calves in a breeding season than a cow will produce in her lifetime. Effective sire selection should be based on EPDs resulting from genetic prediction. Selection based on EPDs is 7 – 9 times more effective than selection based on weights or within herd ratios alone. EPDs are more effective because they are calculated based on individual weights, within herd ratios, pedigree relationship and the performance of all relatives, as well as DNA.
So when calving ease is important consider the following EPDs:
Calving Ease Direct (CED), is expressed as a difference in percentage of unassisted births, with a higher value indicating greater calving ease in first-calf heifers. It predicts the average difference in ease with which a sire’s calves will be born when he is bred to first-calf heifers.
- Bull A has CED of 5
- Bull B has a CED of 16
If we mate both bulls to a set of virgin replacement heifers, we are 11% less likely to pull a calf sired by bull B
Birth Weight EPD (BW), expressed in pounds, is a predictor of a sire’s ability to transmit birth weight to his progeny compared to that of other sires.
- Bull C has a Birth Weight EPD of -0.7
- Bull D has a Birth Weight EPD of 3.3
Calves sired by bull C will weigh 4 lbs. less at birth, on average
If you will be keeping replacement heifers sired by bulls you’ll be turning out this year, consider:
Calving Ease Maternal (CEM), is expressed as a difference in percentage of unassisted births with a higher value indicating greater calving ease in first-calf daughters. It predicts the average ease with which a sire’s daughters will calve as first-calf heifers when compared to daughters of other sires. Because it is a trait expressed when the bull’s daughters are having their first calves it is a “next generation” maternal predictor.
- Bull E has a CEM of 8
- Bull F has a CEM of 13
If we are calving out the daughters of both bulls which are mated to the same sire, we are 5% less likely to pull a calf from one of bull F’s daughters
Bottom line: Selection of genetically superior sires is the fastest approach to herd improvement and profitability. Genetic improvement is cumulative and permanent. Investing in improved genetics now will pay dividends for generations to come.
To view Dr. Johnson’s segment on Sunup TV Cow-Calf Corner from March 13, 2021, on using EPDs for bull selection to improve your herd: Cow-Calf Corner – EPDs 3/13/21 — SUNUP TV (okstate.edu)
Considerations for Newborn Calf Health
By Dr. Rosslyn Biggs, OSU College of Veterinary Medicine Extension beef veterinarian
Close monitoring of newborn calves is critical as they have a more limited ability to compensate for stress, illness and changes in their environment. Following delivery, the goal is to see the calf up and nursing as soon as possible. Calves should continue to be watched carefully throughout the early weeks of their life.
All calves should be watched for signs of pain or illness especially failure to nurse, difficulty breathing, diarrhea and dehydration. Calves that resulted from a difficult or assisted calving are particularly at risk, and in many instances may benefit from pain management therapies. Intervention to correct problems should occur quickly as newborns can rapidly decline.
Delays in a calf receiving colostrum have both short and long-term impact on health. Colostrum delivery within the first four hours of life is critical. Every effort should be made to milk the cow as it is always best for colostrum to be obtained from the calf’s dam. Other colostrum options may include frozen from another cow on the operation or commercially prepared replacers if the cow cannot be milked.
Both cold and hot weather may impact a calf’s ability to thermoregulate. Calves born in extreme cold quickly utilize all body fat reserves, putting them at risk. Exposure to wind can exacerbate cold temperatures. Summer time heat can also impact a calf as they have limited to no mechanism to cool themselves. Always assess body temperature if a calf appears stressed in any way. Inexpensive digital thermometers should be included in all calf kits.
Calves should also be monitored in the first weeks for diarrhea especially those cases caused by viruses. Diarrhea can quickly dehydrate a calf leading to metabolic imbalances that can be life threatening. Additionally, fluid therapy to correct dehydration should be carefully selected and delivered to correct metabolic issues while still maintaining nutrition.
Working with your veterinarian to develop protocols before calving season can reduce stress and lead to more successful outcomes. Your veterinarian can guide and train you and your team on how and when to call for assistance.
Here is a classic Sunup TV segment by Dr. Glenn Selk on calf diarrhea from March 2020: http://sunup.okstate.edu/category/ccc/2020/032120-ccc