March 27, 2017
In search of the elusive stocker industry
by Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist
The stocker sector is the most diverse and least understood part of the U.S. cattle industry. Stocker, or backgrounding, production provides vital production and marketing system values to the beef industry. Stocker production happens in a wide variety of different situations and environments in many regions of the country. This illustrates the critical role of the stocker sector in providing flexibility to enhance beef industry competitiveness including adjusting production in response to feed and forage market changes; enhancing the quality of feeder cattle by adding weight and age to stocker cattle; and regulating the flow of cattle from cow-calf production to the feedlots. The stocker sector is thus an essential shock absorber for the beef industry. Unfortunately, little data exists to fully understand and analyze the varied activities and actions that make up the stocker sector. A new survey in Oklahoma aims to begin filling that data void.
The 2016 U.S. calf crop was 35.1 million head and, while we know that a significant number of those calves will flow through some sort of post-weaning growing program, we do not actually have any measure of the size of the stocker industry or total stocker production annually. From cattle inventory reports on Jan. 1, we can calculate an estimate of the total supply of feeder cattle outside feedlots nationally and for each state. We can get a national estimate again on July 1 if USDA-NASS provides the mid- year cattle inventory report (this report has been omitted two of the last four years). Though the estimated feeder supply is the only measure available, it is not truly a measure of the stocker industry as it includes suckling calves as well as weaned stockers at any point in time. Moreover, stocker production usually involves programs that vary between 3 and 6 or more months in duration which means that an inventory snapshot once (or maybe twice) a year does not capture the flow of animals through stocker production systems. Additionally, we have only very coarse estimates of the movement of cattle around the country before and after stocker production.
Oklahoma is an important stocker production state. The Jan. 1 inventory confirms that there is a significant net inflow of stocker cattle into Oklahoma for winter grazing. Additionally, stocker production occurs year around in Oklahoma utilizing a wide variety of native and introduced pastures, though no data are available to measure the industry other than the January inventory report.
Oklahoma State University, in cooperation with USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), is conducting a first-of-its kind survey to gather information on stocker production in the state. Many Oklahoma stocker producers will be receiving the survey in the next few weeks, which will provide previously unavailable information on the procurement and assembly of stocker cattle; production and management practices and variability; and marketing practices of stocker producers. With the cooperation and support of producers, this survey will provide detailed information to help researchers understand the vital economic role of the stocker industry and provide insight into such things as the disease threats associated with cattle movement into and out of stocker production. We are very grateful to producers who give up some valuable time to complete the survey and provide this essential information.
Try to avoid body condition loss now
by Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension animal scientist
Cows in some Midwestern herds are calving (or already have calved) in marginal body condition. Unfortunately, this is a season where maintaining or gaining body condition on spring calving cows is really quite difficult. Warm season grasses have not yet begun to grow. Dormant grass (what little is left) is a low quality feed. Cows cannot, or will not, consume a large amount of standing dormant grass at this time year. If the only supplement being fed is a self-fed, self-limited protein source, the cows may become very deficient in energy. Remember the instructions that accompany these self-fed supplements. They are to be fed along with free choice access to adequate quality forages.
There is another factor that compounds the problem. A small amount of winter annual grasses may begin to grow in native pastures. These are the first tastes of green grass many cows have seen since last summer. The cows may try to forage these high moisture, low energy density grasses, in lieu of more energy dense hays or cubes. The sad result is the loss of body condition in early lactation beef cows just before the breeding season is about to begin.
Body condition at the time of calving is the most important factor affecting rebreeding performance of normally managed beef cows. Nonetheless, condition changes after calving will have more subtle effects on rebreeding especially in cows that are in marginal body condition. Body condition changes from the time the cow calves until she begins the breeding season can play a significant role in the rebreeding success story. This appears to be most important to those cows that calve in the marginal body condition score range of 4 or 5.
An Oklahoma State University trial illustrates the vulnerability of cows that calve in the body condition score of 5. Two groups of cows began the winter feeding period in similar body condition and calved in very similar body condition. Below is an example of a body condition score 5 cow.
However, after calving and before the breeding season began, one group was allowed to lose almost one full condition score. Below is an example of a cow in a body condition score 4.
The other group of cows was fed adequately to maintain the body condition that they had prior to calving. The difference in rebreeding rate was dramatic (73 percent vs 94 percent). (Wettemann, et al., 1987 Journ. Animal Sci., Suppl. 1:63).
Again, this illustrates that cows that calve in the body condition score of 5 are very vulnerable to weather and suckling intensity stresses and ranchers must use good nutritional strategies after calving to avoid disastrous rebreeding performance.
Cows should calve in moderate to good condition (scores of 5 or 6) to ensure good rebreeding efficiency. Ideally, cows should be maintaining condition during mid to late pregnancy and gaining during breeding. The goal of the management program should be to achieve these body conditions by making maximum use of the available forage resource.
Continue feeding a source of energy, such as moderate to good quality grass hay free choice and/or high energy cubes until the warm season grasses grow enough to provide both the energy and protein that the lactating cows need. Yes, the feed is high-priced. But the cost of losing 21 percent of next year’s calf crop is even greater!
Video clip of this topic: https://youtu.be/yayuCwka5yw
March 27, 2017