Nov. 16, 2020
The current state of beef demand
By Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist
By many measures, beef demand has remained remarkably strong since the pandemic started in March. The first half of the year was characterized by unparalleled disruptions in both beef supply and demand. By the end of June, cattle slaughter was mostly recovered; and has been thus far in the second half of the year. Since July, steer and heifer slaughter has averaged 0.5% above year ago levels. Total fed beef production from steers and heifers is up 3.7% year over year from July to the end of October.
Beef demand, however, continues to be challenged with restricted food service. Restaurants have recovered somewhat from the initial lockdown with more emphasis on takeout and delivery. Retail grocery demand remains robust and numerous adjustments have helped to shift some food service supply chains to support retail grocery supply chains. There are indications that retail grocery demand is being boosted again by consumers stocking up in the face of increased uncertainty. The shift from summer beef demand to winter raises additional concerns. Food service is typically more emphasized in winter months, which may be an additional challenge. The pandemic is resurging and additional restrictions on food service are a growing risk.
The current state of beef demand is a bit tricky to assess. Choice boxed beef prices have increased sharply the past two weeks after falling from Labor Day through the end of October. However, Choice boxed beef prices the past two weeks have averaged 9.2% below one year ago, with the rib primal down 4.4% year over year, the loin primal down 10.2%, the chuck primal down 8.4 and the round primal down 6.6% year over year.
Specific wholesale cuts provide additional insight. Ribeyes are a key market this time of year with strong demand for Christmas and New Year’s holiday. So far, Ribeyes are following close to a typical seasonal increase with current Ribeye prices close to year ago levels and up more than 9% the last two weeks. Other food service dependent beef products are less encouraging. Beef tenderloins are currently averaging 25.6 below year ago levels and down 1.5% in the last two weeks. Sirloin Top Butt is up 6.0% the last two weeks but is down 18.4% year over year. Other beef products heavily dependent on food service demand include brisket, down 13.9% from one year ago and the Petite Tender, down 20.7% year over year. Strip Loin, more frequently used in retail grocery, is up 7.8% year over year.
Most chuck and round products are down in the five to ten percent range compared to last year, with few exceptions (chuck Top Blade is up 13.0 percent and Eye of Round is up 5.7% year over year). However, several chuck and round products are up double-digit percentages in the past two weeks. Chucks (2-piece) are up 7.0% the past two weeks and up 13.7% year over year, which may indicate more demand for grinding for retail grocery ground beef. In contrast, 50% trimmings are down 55.7% and 90% trimming are down 15.8% year over year, although both are up the past two weeks. 50s and 90s are more commonly used for food service ground beef.
Beef demand has fared reasonably well thus far in 2020 but faces numerous challenges this winter. Loss of outdoor dining in cold weather will further aggravate restaurant challenges. Food service demand is likely to be additionally affected with worsening public health challenges. Macroeconomic concerns will grow as consumers go forward with less unemployment support. Ample supplies of beef, pork and poultry increase market price pressure, though disruptions in supply are a threat as well. It looks to be a very challenging winter.
Back to the basics: Revisiting body condition scoring
By Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension animal scientist
When a football team has an open date during the season, you will often hear the coach say that they are going to spend the first part of the practice time reviewing the fundamentals. Occasionally in the cow/calf business, it is important to revisit the basics. One of the basics that we often utilize is body condition scoring. Better understanding of the relationships between body condition scores and rebreeding efficiency of beef cattle has added a powerful management tool to the cattleman’s arsenal.
Condition scoring permits the cattleman to evaluate the nutritional program each time the herd is seen. By evaluating cow condition at strategic times of the year, it is possible to coordinate use of the forage resource with nutritional needs of the cow herd so that supplemental feed and hay needs are reduced to a minimum.
Body condition scores (BCS) are numbers used to suggest the relative fatness or body composition of the cow. For BCS to be most helpful, producers need to calibrate the system under their own conditions with their own cattle. A nine-grade system is commonly used by researchers in the United States. When using the BCS, producers should keep the program simple.
A thin cow (BCS 1,2,or 3) looks very sharp, angular, and skinny, while a fat cow (BCS 7, 8, or 9) looks smooth and boxy with bone structure hidden from sight or feel. A very high percentage of commercial beef cows in Oklahoma will fall into the scoring range of 4, 5, and 6. The key areas to examine the beef cow for body condition score are illustrated in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Key areas to examine for body condition scoring
Specifically look to see how many ribs (from the last half of the rib cage) are evident to visual appraisal. If more than two ribs are easily discernible, then expect the cow to score lower than five. Also look closely at the spinous processes (vertebrae along the edge of the loin in front of the hook bones). If the outline of the vertebrae is visually apparent, expect the cow to receive a body condition score of four or lower.
On the picture below, one can readily observe the vertebrae that are lying just beneath the hide and in front of the hook bone. This cow will be a body condition score 4. Note that the smooth short summer haircoat makes it easier to discern the individual vertebrae.
Body condition score cow showing easily observable location of transverse processes and outline of last 3 ribs on rib cage.
Below are photos of cows in the body condition scores of 4, 5, and 6.
Body Condition Score 4. The cow appears thin, with ribs easily visible and the backbone showing. The spinous processes (along the edge of the loin) are still very sharp and barely visible individually. Muscle tissue is not depleted through the shoulders and hindquarters.
Body Condition Score 5. The cow may be described as moderate to thin. The last two ribs can be seen and little evidence of fat is present in the brisket, over the ribs, or around the tail head. The spinous processes are now smooth and no longer individually identifiable.
Body Condition Score 6. The cow exhibits a good smooth appearance throughout. Some fat deposition is present in the brisket and over the tail head. The back appears rounded and fat can be palpated over the ribs and pin bones.
Why is body condition important? One of the major constraints in the improvement of reproductive performance of beef cows is the duration of the post-calving anestrous period. The anestrous period is the number of days between the date of the cow delivering a calf and the date when she returns to heat cycles to have an opportunity to once again become pregnant.
Body condition at calving time determines to a great extent the length of the anestrous period and therefore the likelihood that the cow becomes pregnant in timely fashion for the next calf crop. If the cow is in a lower body condition score at calving she will have fewer, if any, opportunities to conceive in a 60-day breeding season. Body condition change after calving can have an impact on the return to heat cycles, but usually cannot compensate for low body condition at calving.
In addition, improving body condition after calving is difficult and expensive to accomplish with a cow in early lactation.
More information about body condition scoring can be found in the Oklahoma State University Fact Sheet ANSI-3283 Body Condition Scoring of Beef Cows.