May 25, 2020
COVID-19 provokes turbulence in feedlots
By Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist
Special Notice: The details of the USDA Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) became available last week. Cattle producers are eligible for direct payments for cattle sales between Jan. 15 and April 15 and for maximum cattle inventories between April 16 and May 14. Signup begins May 26, 2020. Contact your local Farm Service Agency (FSA) office. More information is available at https://www.farmers.gov/cfap.
The latest USDA Cattle on Feed report shows the dramatic impacts of COVID-19 on fed cattle markets. The May 1 feedlot inventory was 11.2 million head, down 5.1% year over year. April marketings were down 24.3% from last year, a decrease of 433,000 head year over year. Decreased marketings reflect the severe disruptions in cattle slaughter in April and continuing into May. This follows a 13.1% year-over-year increase in March feedlot marketings. The average year over year change over March and April together was a 6.4% decrease in marketings. The slowdown in April marketings and resulting backlog of fed cattle in feedlots would have been more severe without the strong March marketings that pulled some cattle ahead. The backlog of fed cattle continued to build in May.
April placements were down a sharp 22% year over year and follow a 23 percent placements drop in March. Combined March and April placements were down 867,000 head from last year. This suggests that a significant drop in expected feedlot marketings starting mostly in September and into October. Of course, the delayed placements from March and April will show up starting in May and will be heavier but the delay will help feedlots have a chance to get current. The feedlot industry will spend much of the summer working through the backlog of fed cattle but the hole from March and April feedlot placements should provide a marketing window to catch up by this fall, if not before.
Packing plant disruptions due to COVID-19 began in early April with a 19.3% year over year decrease in steer and heifer the week ending April 11. Year over year slaughter totals decreased for four weeks culminating in a 41.2% year over year decrease in steer and heifer slaughter the week ending May 2. The beef packing industry appears to have made significant progress in restoring capacity the past three weeks with estimated total cattle slaughter this past week down 14.2% from year ago levels.
Weaning fall-born calves (remember to plan for water needs)
By Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension animal scientist
Many cow-calf operations with fall-born calves will wean the calves in mid to late June. Weaning during very hot summer weather is stressful enough to the calves. Therefore, any management strategy that can reduce stress to the calves should be utilized. Fenceline weaning is such a strategy that should be applied.
California researchers weaned calves with only a fence (Fenceline) separating them from their dams. These were compared to calves weaned totally separate (Separate) from dams. Calf behaviors were monitored for five days following weaning.
Fenceline calves and cows spent approximately 60% and 40% of their time, respectively, within 10 feet of the fence during the first two days. During the first three days, Fenceline calves bawled and walked less, and ate and rested more, but these differences disappeared by the fourth day. All calves were managed together starting seven days after weaning. After two weeks, Fenceline calves had gained 23 pounds more than Separate calves. This difference persisted since, after 10 weeks, Fenceline calves had gained 110 pounds (1.57 lb/day), compared to 84 pounds (1.20 lb/day) for Separate calves.
There was no report of any differences in sickness, but calves that eat more during the first days after weaning should stay healthier. A follow-up study demonstrated similar advantages of fenceline contact when calves were weaned under drylot conditions and their dams had access to pasture. To wean and background, even for short periods, fenceline weaning should be considered. (Source: Price and co-workers. Abstracts 2002 Western Section of American Society of Animal Science.)
Management ideas concerning fenceline weaning are available from Michigan State University. Their fact sheet “Fence-line Weaning- A Marketing Tool for Your Calves (E2929) also includes suggestions for fence designs for fenceline weaning.
During the hot summer days, having adequate water available for the cattle is a MUST. Experienced ranchers that utilize fenceline weaning have found that having plenty of water in the region where the cattle are congregated can be a challenge. Plan ahead before you begin the weaning process to be certain that sufficient water can be supplied to both sides of the fence.