Source: Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Agency | March 4, 2019
Update on the cattle cycle: what’s next?
by Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist
The Jan. 1, 2019, inventory of all cattle and calves in the U.S. grew to 94.76 million, head, up 0.5 percent from one year ago. This puts the number of cattle in the country just slightly higher than 2009 levels after dropping to a low of 88.53 million head in 2014, with an increase of 6.23 million head in the last five years.
The inventory of beef cows on Jan. 1 was 31.77 million head, up 1.0 percent year over year. The 2018 beef cow inventory was revised down to 31.47 million head, meaning that beef cow herd growth in 2017 was 0.8 percent. The beef cow herd on Jan. 1, 2019, is nearly equal to the 2009 level of 31.79 million head and has increased by 2.68 million head from the 2014 low of 29.09 million head. The dairy cow herd was 9.35 million head on Jan. 1, 2019, down 0.8 percent year over year. Beef and dairy cows combined for a total cow herd of 41.12 million, up 0.5 percent from last year. The 2018 calf crop was 36.40 million head, up 1.8 percent from 2017.
The inventory of beef replacement heifers was 5.93 million head, down 3.0 percent from the previous year. Beef replacement heifers as a percent of the beef cow herd on Jan. 1, 2019, was 18.7 percent. This ratio is down from 19.4 percent one year ago as heifer retention moves closer to levels consistent with zero herd growth. A record heifer retention level occurred in 2016 with beef replacement heifers at 21.0 percent of the beef cow herd. Over the past 30 years this ratio has averaged 17.8 percent. Dairy replacement heifers were down 1.4 percent to 4.70 million head on Jan. 1, 2019.
On Jan. 1, 2019, the number of cattle on feed in the U.S. was 14.37 million head, up 1.6 percent year over year. The inventories of steers (over 500 pounds); other heifers (over 500 pounds); and calves (under 500 pounds), adjusted for the cattle on feed inventory, results in the estimated feeder cattle supply outside of feedlots. For Jan. 1, 2019, this estimate was 26.38 million head, up 1.0 percent year over year.
This latest data provides several indications for the coming year. The larger 2018 calf crop and resulting increase in estimated feeder supplies mean that feedlot production will remain higher in 2019 leading to increased beef production again in 2019. The slightly larger 2019 cow herd implies than the 2019 calf crop will be as large or slightly larger year over year and will maintain feeder supplies through 2020.
It appears that herd expansion is nearly over although the level of beef replacement heifers is large enough to support a minimal level of additional herd expansion in 2019. While cyclical expansion may be mostly complete, there is no indication of herd liquidation at this time. Average cattle prices are expected to continue at current levels and seem likely to hold cattle numbers steady in 2019. Future market conditions, good or bad, could prompt additional expansion or liquidation in 2020 and beyond. Producers should continue to monitor domestic and international market conditions to see what new cattle market direction emerges in the coming months.
Early spring nutritional challenges of spring-calving cows
by Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension Animal Scientist
Late winter and early spring is the most challenging time of the year for the nutrition of the spring-calving beef cows. Unless cool season grasses are available, 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 trial (Wettemann, et al. , 1987 “Journal of Animal Science”, Suppl. 1:63) 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. However, after calving and before the breeding season began, one group was allowed to lose almost one full condition score. 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). 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. Examples of a body condition score 5 cow, followed by a body condition score 6 cow are shown below:
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!