Nov. 30, 2020
By Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist
The feedlot industry displays amazing dynamics over the course of a typical year… and of course, 2020 has been anything but a typical year. The Nov. 1 cattle on feed inventory was 11.97 million head of cattle, up 1.3% from one year ago. Exactly what to expect in fed cattle markets in the coming months depends on numerous factors including: the demographics of the feedlot population (both size and gender), feed costs, the time of the year, weather conditions and regional impacts.
Feedlot placements the past five to six months account for the current inventory and consisted of 22% feeders under 600 pounds; nearly 18% feeder cattle from 600-700 pounds; 22% feeders from 700-800 pounds; 23% feeders weighing 800-900 pounds; and 15% feeder cattle over 900 pounds. The latest quarterly inventory report showed that feedlot inventories currently include 62.4% steers and 37.6% heifers. This compares to one year ago when feedlots inventories included 60.8% steers and 39.2% heifers. Feedlot placement weight is related to finished weight of fed cattle. However, the relationship is not one to one. For both steers and heifers in the typical range of placement weights, a one pound increase in placement weight results in 0.5 pounds of additional finished weight.
The Kansas Focus on Feedlots data shows that feedlot average daily gains (ADG) have been higher year over year every month this year. Steer ADG has averaged 3.53 pounds the past six months and heifer ADG has averaged 3.11 pounds. A study of southern plains feedlots reports the lowest ADG for closeouts in April/May and the highest for closeouts in December/January.* The April/May closeouts include higher proportions of lightweight placements the previous fall. ADG for steer placements weighing 550-600 pounds is 3.47 pounds compared to 3.86 for steers weighing 750-800 pounds.
Kansas feedlots also reported better feed efficiency in 2020 compared to one year ago. Like ADG, feed efficiency reflects size and gender of cattle on feed, weather conditions, and feed quality. While ADG is positively related to placement weight, feed efficiency is inversely related to placement weight. Steers placed weighing 550-600 pounds have an average feed:gain ratio (dry matter) of 5.7 compared to 750-800 pound steers with a feed:gain ratio of 5.97.
It appears that general animal health has been better in 2020 as well. Kansas feedlots reported lower death loss in the first nine months of the year for both steers and heifers compared to last year. For steers, average death loss through September has averaged 1.67%. In a multi-year study, average feedlot death loss for 550-600 pound steers is significantly higher at 3.07% compared to 1.68% for steers weighing 750-800 pounds.
Feedlots will manage and balance these and many other factors as they deal with coming winter weather, rising feed costs, the mix of steers and heifers and the availability of feeder cattle of various sizes.
*Detailed feedlot parameters are from:
Stehle, Anna, Derrell S. Peel and John Michael Riley. “A Profile of Cattle Feeding: Beyond the Averages” Western Economic Forum, December 2018, Volume 16, Issue 2:62-77.
Prepare now for next spring’s calving season
By Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension animal scientist
As a young boy growing up in Central Nebraska, we had a spring calving cow herd. The “calving shed” that was available to us was one side of a large red barn. This barn was built in the early part of the 20th century and had stalls on one side that were meant to stall draft horses. Because we used the stalls only during March and April for the “calving shed”, the other ten months of the year they became a storage facility. Fencing materials, five-gallon drums of grease for farming machinery, sacks of grass seed, and mineral blocks were just some of the items that were stored in the stalls. Invariably, the calving season would begin before the gestation table suggested that it should. One of us would find a two-year-old that was in the midst of labor, and the calving shed was still full of supplies.
Someone once said “that Success occurs when Opportunity meets with Preparation.” Planning and preparing ahead for next spring’s calving season can help increase the chances of success. There are several key preparation steps that would be good to conduct in December to ensure success in February, March, and April. Before calving season starts do a walk-through of pens, chutes, and calving stalls. Make sure that all are clean, dry, strong, safe, and functioning correctly. Check the gates and the squeeze panels to make certain that they are ready for use. Do you still have the extra farm supplies stored in the calving shed or stalls? Now would be a good time make certain that these items are placed in another facility or at least out of the way. This is a lot easier to do on a sunny December afternoon than on a cold dark night when you need to have the calving area ready in a short time.
If calf diarrhea has been a significant issue in your herd in the past, now is a good time to visit with your large animal veterinarian. Ask about a scours vaccine given to the cows before calving, and about other management strategies that help reduce the pathogen exposure to baby calves when they are most vulnerable.
More information about management of cows and heifers at calving time can be found by downloading and reading the Oklahoma State University Circular E-1006 Calving Time Management for Beef Cows and Heifers.