July 27, 2020
Industry snapshot: USDA cattle inventory and cattle on feed reports
By Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist
Last Friday USDA released the July Cattle on Feed report. Feedlot placements in June were 1.8 million head, 102.1% of last year. June marketings were 1.97 million head, up 1.3% year over year. Both placements and marketings were close to pre-report expectations and no major market reaction is expected.
The July 1 on-feed inventory was 11.44 million head, very close to year ago levels. The report also provided quarterly information about steer and heifer inventories in feedlots on July 1. Steers were fractionally higher than last year while heifers on feed were down 1.5% year over year.
The industry is looking for a couple of pieces of information from this report. The first is an indication of the current status of feedlots relative to the backlog of fed cattle that developed in April and May. The calculated estimates of cattle on feed over 120 days is still very large compared to last year but the difference has decreased by some 160,000 head since May. It appears that the backlog is decreasing but a sizable number of cattle remain to be cleaned up before feedlots will be current. In the January – April period, feedlot placements were down just over million head year over year
The cattle on feed report may also indicate some regional drought impacts. June placements were large year over year in both Texas and Colorado and both states showed an increase in placements under 700 pounds.In fact, the 8.8% year over year increase in placements under 700 pounds in the report is entirely accounted for by increased lightweight placements in Texas and Colorado.
USDA also released the July Cattle report providing a mid-year indication of cattle inventories and the 2020 calf crop. The report does not show any dramatic changes in the overall trajectory of the cattle industry at this point in the year. Interpretation of the numbers is a bit challenging because the continuing backlog of fed cattle must be accounted for in the numbers.
The overall cattle and calves inventory was fractionally up from last year but likely would have been down slightly in the absence of the feedlot backlog. Both the beef cow and calf crop numbers were down less than one percent year over year. Beef replacement heifers was even with year-earlier totals. The beef cow inventory is 32.05 million head and beef replacement heifers total 4.4 million head. The 2020 calf crop is estimated at 35.8 million head. Using the various feeder inventory estimates, the calculated feeder cattle supply is 37.4 million head, up 0.8% year over year.
This report was anticipated, in part, to see if it provided any indications that the industry is liquidating in the aftermath of the turmoil and market shocks of recent months. The slow decrease in beef cow numbers is consistent with the January pace and, combined with stable replacement heifer numbers does not indicate any accelerated liquidation at this point. The second half of the year may tell the tale as cow-calf producers react to fall calf market conditions. Overall, it appears that cattle numbers continue a slow tightening of inventories going forward.
The positive associative effect of high protein supplements
By Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension animal scientist
Oklahoma has substantial standing forage in many, if not most, pastures as we go into late summer. As the day length shortens, plants become more mature and lower in protein content. However, the protein requirements for growth, milk production, and body weight maintenance of beef cattle do not decrease as the “dog days of summer” arrive.
The micro-organisms in the rumen of beef cows and replacement heifers require readily available protein to multiply and exist in large enough quantities to digest the cellulose in low quality roughages. Protein supplementation of low-quality, low protein forages results in a positive associative effect. This occurs as supplemental protein available to the “bugs” in the rumen allows them to grow, multiply, and digest the forage more completely and more rapidly. Therefore, the cow gets more out of the hay she consumes, she digests it more quickly and is ready to eat more hay in a shorter period of time. Data from Oklahoma State University illustrates this (Table 1, McCollum and Galyean, 1985, J. Anim. Sci).
The prairie hay used in this study was less than 5% crude protein. When the ration was supplemented with 1.75 lbs of cottonseed meal, retention time of the forage was reduced 32% which resulted in an increase in feed intake of 27%. Because hay intake was increased, the animal has a better chance of meeting both the protein and energy requirement without supplementing other feeds.
Table 1. Effect of Cottonseed Meal Supplementation on Ruminal Retention Time and Intake of Low-Quality Prairie Hay
Daily Supplement of Cottonseed Meal
|Rumen Retention Time, Hr||74.9||56.5||-32%|
|Voluntary Daily Hay Intake, % of body wt.||1.69||2.15||+27%|
Because retention time was decreased, one should expect the protein supplementation in this situation also increased digestibility of the hay. This was shown clearly in another OSU trial that indicated that low quality roughage had an increase in estimated digestibility from 38% to 48% when the cattle were supplemented with 1.5 pounds of soybean meal daily.
As producers prepare their late summer, fall, and winter feed strategies, they can see the importance of providing enough protein in the diet of the cows to feed the “bugs” in the rumen. If the forage is low in protein (less than 8% crude protein), a small amount of supplemental protein such as cottonseed meal, soybean meal, or one of the higher protein by-product feeds, could increase the amount and digestibility of the forage being fed. This strategy requires that ample forage is available to take advantage of the positive associative effect.
As the table above illustrates, properly-supplemented cows or replacement heifers will voluntarily consume about 27% more forage if they were provided adequate protein. As long as enough forage is available, this is a positive effect of a small amount of protein supplement. Cows that are already in excellent body condition in late summer will not benefit from the additional expense, however, young thin cows would be candidates for protein supplementation in late summer and fall. The increase in body condition can be achieved with minimal expense, especially if the spring-born calves are weaned in early fall.