Freezer Beef Sales Explode During COVID-19 . . . Will Your Customers Be Ready to Buy Again?

Mike Estadt, OSU Extension Educator, Pickaway County

Do you know if your freezer beef customers are satisfied?

It is well documented that early in the coronavirus pandemic, major meat processing facilities across the United States became supply bottlenecks due to employee infections shutting down production.  In response to seeing less meat available in the retail case, or limits on the amount of proteins that a consumer could purchase, farm raised, direct marketed meat, especially beef, experienced high demand.

Today it is still unlikely that you can schedule the processing of a steer until the early part of 2021.  Due in part to limited space in coolers and limited workers skilled in meat processing, both custom and inspected processing facilities are struggling to meet the demand of producers wanting beef processed for direct sales to consumers.

Where is the beef supply currently and what can the consumer and local producer expect to see in the retail sector of the beef business?  Cattle coming to market are Continue reading

Thinking About Weaning and Preconditioning Calves to Add Value? Know the “Lingo”

– Dr. Michelle Arnold, UK Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory

Traditionally, many KY beef producers with winter/spring born feeder calves market through Special Graded Feeder Calf Sales held in the fall. At these sales, feeder cattle are graded according to the USDA Feeder Cattle Grading Standards, are weighed and sorted into groups (load lots of 48,000-50,000 lbs) and are then sold. Buyers take advantage of these sales to buy larger groups of feeder cattle with similar traits. Most of these calves are weaned “on the truck” on the way to the sale, unvaccinated, and the bull calves are still bulls. With this marketing strategy, producers who work to improve genetics or have an effective herd health program do not earn premiums for their extra effort because calves are sold based on the average weight and grade of the group.

Preconditioning of feeder cattle has been recognized by industry experts as a way for cow-calf operators to add value to their annual calf crops. Most preconditioning programs specify two rounds of viral and Clostridial vaccinations, a Mannheimia haemolytica toxoid, deworming, castration of bull calves and healed, heifers guaranteed not pregnant, and a minimum of 45 days weaned. Some require producers to use one pharmaceutical company’s products. In addition, weaned calves are usually expected to know how to eat from a feed bunk and drink from a fountain or tank. Buyers prefer weaned calves that have been properly fed and vaccinated compared to similar non-vaccinated and non-weaned calves, which can translate to price premiums of $10 to $15 per cwt depending on the market that day. However, to capture this added value, this information must be Continue reading

A conversation with OSU Extension Beef Field Specialist Garth Ruff

Last week OSU Extension Educator Clifton Martin had the opportunity to visit with Garth Ruff about Garth’s recent hiring as the OSU Extension Beef Specialist and current trends in the Beef Industry. During that conversation they covered trends in Ohio, the role of the OSU Extension Beef Specialist, opportunities for outreach, the status of Beef Quality Assurance, and key opportunities for producers to stay ahead of the curve.

Enjoy that conversation here:

The transcript of this recording may be found in Continue reading

Weaning – Improving Outcomes Through Decreasing Stress

– Katie VanValin, Assistant Extension Professor, University of Kentucky

The classic definition of stress according to Hans Selye is, “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change”. Dr. Selye was an endocrinologist by training and is largely regarded as the grandfather of the study of stress. By any definition though, I think it’s probably safe to say that 2020 has been a stressful year.

We saw cattle markets take a wild ride and grocery store shelves empty out of meat and toilet paper in response to COVID-19. That initial response to COVID-19 that saw bare shelves and low cattle prices is a great example of a stress response. Now here we are months later, and we’ve adapted to some of that initial stress. While things are certainly not normal, we know now that we will be able to go to the store and get the things we need, when we need them.

This scenario is not that different than how cattle respond and adapt to stress events. I would argue that the single most stressful period in a beef animals’ life is weaning. Up to this point that calf has relied on its dam for almost everything. Now its weaning time, and no matter what we do this is going to be a stressful period, we can’t control that. However, we can control how Continue reading

Transportation Shrink in Beef Cattle

Steve Boyles, OSU Beef Extension Specialist

A better understanding of factors affecting shrink should help buyers and sellers of cattle to arrive at a fair pencil shrink under specific marketing conditions.

Types of Shrink. There are two types of shrink.  One is excretory which is the loss of urine and feces.  When ambient temperatures are low (below freezing, urine and fecal output can comprise 30-35% of shrink.  When temperatures are hot, urine and fecal losses account for about 15-20% of shrink.  Much of this loss is replaced when cattle are again allowed to eat and drink.

The second type is loss is tissue loss.  It is the loss of fluid from the cells.  Tissue shrinkage occurs after holding cattle off feed and water. It also occurs when cattle are subjected to stresses such as hauling. It becomes more important than excretory shrink the longer the shipping time. Since it is actual loss of tissue weight, it is harder to Continue reading

Adding Value to Cull Cows

Stephen Boyles, OSU Extension Beef Specialist

Approximately 10 to 20 percent of the returns to a cow-calf operation are from selling cull cows in the fall. There are four factors that need to be considered to obtain profit from feeding cull cows. First, the cows have to be thin but healthy. Second, the buy/sell margin should be positive. Third, cost of gain should be relatively cheap. The odds of a profit are increased whenever these three conditions are present. The final requirement needed involves financial solvency. Only producers that can absorb financial risk should feed cull cows for short time periods.

Factor 1: Cows Should Be Thin But Healthy

Cows often lose up to 20 percent of their weight during periods of under-nutrition. Cows culled during a drought may have even greater weight losses. Thin cows offer an opportunity to add weight rapidly through compensatory gain. Healthy, thin cows gain weight faster than normal condition cows. Compensatory gain from thin cows should result in the highest conversion rate and gain, thus reducing the cost of gain.

Some thin cull cows are young and still growing. Most have weaned a calf and are thin due to the demands of lactation. However, some thin cows may not be able to return to slaughter cow composition for several reasons. Cows that have lung damage may appear thin and unthrifty. Cows with heavy Continue reading

When to market culls?

Lyda Garcia and Steve Boyles, Ohio State University Department of Animal Sciences

Cows with a BCS of 5 to 7 are the most valuable. This BCS 6 cow exhibits a smooth appearance with some fat on back and tail.

The marketing time depends on factors of health, body condition, season, and cost of retention and feeding.  Cattle that have immediate health issues should be marketed immediately.  Health problems can lead to more muscle loss or damage.  The body condition is an important aspect to consider because live value is usually based on condition.  Those cattle with a BCS of 5 to 7 are the most valuable.  Those cattle above BCS of 7 should be marketed if prices are good.  Those with a BCS lower than 5 are good candidates for further feeding.  Seasonal price patterns are present because of supply and demand.  The prices are usually lowest in the fall between September and December when the supply is high.  Most cull cows are sold at fall weaning when forages are less available.  Prices are generally highest in the spring between February and April when supply is lower.  Prices usually slowly drop off throughout the summer months and into the fall.

Cull cows sold immediately after calves are weaned may not eat much because they are stressed over losing their calves. Ideally, cull cows should Continue reading

Improper Handling Negatively Impacts Carcass Quality

It’s estimated that 35 million dollars in damage occurs annually from bruising in U.S. beef animals. During the first session of the 2020 Ohio Beef Cattle Nutrition and Management School hosted by the Ohio State University Extension Beef Team, Dr. Steve Boyles, Ohio State University Beef Specialist, discussed how the improper management and handling of fed cattle during sorting and transport can negatively impact the quality of the end product. This is Dr. Boyles’ presentation as he described how the beef cattle industry can go about reducing the estimated 35 million dollars in damage that occurs annually from bruising in beef animals.

Dark Cutters Result from Pre-Harvest Stress

Dark cutters at harvest are the result of pre-harvest stress and the elevated pH in the muscle caused by that stress. In this excerpt from his presentation at the 2020 Ohio Beef Cattle Nutrition and Management School, Dr. Steve Boyles goes into detail about specific causes, and how dark cutters might be prevented.

Backgrounding rates of gain effect carcass characteristics

Steve Boyles, OSU Extension Beef Specialist

People are currently investigating methods to control rate of gain. Anna R. Taylor  and Robbi H. Pritchard, South Dakota State University, Brookings, SD; and Kelly W. Bruns , University of Nebraska-Linclon, West Central Research & Extension Center, North Platte, NE, looked at backgrounding rate of gain on carcass characteristics.  Steer calves weighing an average of 690 pounds were backgrounded until they weighed an average of 880 pounds. The 3 rates of gain were compared.  Calves were fed a corn silage based diet and the targeted average daily gain (ADG) was achieved by limiting feed intake.  At the end of each backgrounding treatment, calves were fed the same finishing ration and harvested at a common backfat thickness.

Calves with a lower backgrounding rate of gain were fed for more days to reach the common backfat thickness. Calves had increased ADG during the finishing period when the backgrounding ADG was lower.  Hot carcass weights were also heavier when backgrounding ADG was lower.  However, the researchers commented that marbling appears to be best when calves are not grown to slow or too fast and this data set identified Continue reading