Over the last decade the demand for locally raised meats have steadily increased and that demand has skyrocketed as of late, due to the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on animal agriculture and the meat packing sector. With the significant increase of demand in local product we have also seen an increase in the number of producers entering the world of direct marketing. Perhaps the toughest aspect of direct marketing is determining how to set a price. In this article I am going to address that very subject and answer the question: What should I charge for a freezer beef?
There are a couple of ways that we could go about calculating a price but at the end of the day we must know two things: 1) your breakeven price; 2) how much money (profit) you want to make.
To determine a breakeven price, one must know their cost of production. Below are potential factors that should be considered as production expenses on a per head basis.
Whole, Half, and Quarter Beef
Cost of Animal – If the animal was purchased, what did it cost? If home raised, what did it cost to keep a cow for a year?
+ Feed – Value or cost of feedstuffs and mineral that were either produced and purchased.
+ Veterinary – Any vaccinations, dewormer, other medications, veterinary bills.
+ Bedding and Supplies
+ Transport – Fuel, wear and tear on truck and trailer.
+ Advertising – Cost of acquiring a customer.
+ Value of Your Time – Value of time invested on average per head.
= Breakeven cost per head
Once you have calculated a breakeven cost add you desired profit per head and divide that total by the hanging carcass weight to determine a price per pound.
(Breakeven + Profit) / Carcass weight = price per pound.
Profit margin can be flat rate per head or a percentage of the cost of production. Determine a margin that suits your enterprise and your customer.
Often, the customer will want an idea of what the final price per pound is going to be before the animal is harvested in order to make purchasing and storage decisions. Carcass weight can be estimated prior to harvest by estimating dressing percentage. Dressing percentage = (Carcass Weight/Live Weight) *100.
For grain fed, non-dairy type, steers and heifers the average dressing percentage is around 62% and closer to 59% for a dairy steer. Dressing percentage can vary depending on gut fill, muscling, fatness and cleanliness of the hide.
Individual Beef Cuts
On one of our jaunts through the woods and parks in NE Ohio, my wife was thrilled to see glorious blooms of intense yellows created by Caltha palustris or Marsh Marigold (MM). The genus name “Caltha” is derived from the Latin meaning “yellow flower” and the specific epithet “palustris” means marsh-loving. Therefore, the Latin binomial for this plant literally means “yellow flower marsh-loving”!! This North American native plant thrives in bogs, ditches, swamps, forested swamps, wet meadows, marshes, and stream margins from as far east as Newfoundland to as far west as Alaska. MM then slips down into Nebraska and then over to Tennessee and North Carolina and that is as far down south that it is able to tolerate the intense summer heat.
MM flowers are a cheery yellow and a welcome signal that Springtime is just around the corner! In fact, MM is really NOT a marigold nor in the family, Asteraceae, the family to which marigolds belong, but it is a perennial in the Ranunculaceae or buttercup family. Looking closely at the flowers, you clearly see the shiny, yellow, buttercup-like resemblance. These plants may commonly be referred to as Caltha cowslip, cowslip, cowflock, or kingcup.
As an herbaceous perennial, MM prefers full sun to light shade and grows 1-2 feet tall and wide, with a naturally mounding growth habit. The planting site would of course have to be consistently moist or even wet. MM flowers are 1-2 inches in diameter, with 5-9 waxy, rich, golden yellow “petals”, which are really sepals, that appear in early Spring; specifically, they can bloom April to June depending on elevation, temperatures, and exposure to sunlight.
In fact, humans see MM sepals as yellow, but to insects, the outer half of the sepal is a mixture of yellow and the ultraviolet “bee’s purple”, while the inner most portion of the sepal is yellow. MM flowers have anywhere between 50 to over 100 stamens. The flowers offer an early source of pollen and nectar to insects, butterflies and hummingbirds, but they are most commonly pollinated by hoverflies (Syrphidae)! MM can be propagated by either using “fresh seeds” (planting mature seeds immediately harvested from existing plants) or by dividing mature plants.
The more exposed MM are to direct sunlight in their site, the more quickly the soils will warm up and plants will bloom; conversely, the less exposure and more hidden or cooler the site, the flowers take much longer to mature and emerge. While it is true that the best flowering will occur in full sun during the Spring, later in the season, especially during the heat of the summer, MM will do better if they have partial shade. If sited in full sun in warm summer climates, the plants can actually go dormant with summer heat and dry conditions and drop their leaves!
MM’s have waxy, glossy green, basal leaves that may be round, oval, heart or kidney shaped and by mid-summer they may mature in size to about 7 inches across. The leaves can have smooth margins or small scallops or teeth along the leaf margins. The basal leaves of MM’s have long petioles with a deep, narrow sinus or notch where the petiole attaches to the leaf blade. The upper leaves are alternate on thick, hollow stems with shorter petioles or no petioles at all and tend to be smaller than the basal leaves.
I found it fascinating that parts of MM are processed and used medicinally but handling the plant can cause skin irritation and blisters, and uncooked parts are toxic to humans. WHAT?! Now this is where plant research REALLY gets fascinating! All plants of the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae, contain the toxic glycoside protoanemonin, sometimes called anemonol or ranunculol! MM contains this yellow oil irritant, protoanemonin, throughout the entire plant, especially the older foliage and supporting plant parts. Protoanemonin can be broken down or destroyed by heat! Cattle and horses can be poisoned too by consuming raw or fresh MM, although dried plants, like those that may be found in hay, are no longer toxic to them! That is so WILD!! So, if you are outdoors and need to go on a buttercup binge, just look and enjoy these beautiful marshy, swamp loving plants but NO TOUCHY!!
Authors: Erik Draper
Grass utilization and prominence varies with region:
- Large fields of timothy for export in the Northwest
- Vast expanses of native grasses in the Great Plains
- Acres of bermudagrass in the South
- Mixed cool-season grass pastures in the Midwest
- Millions of acres of tall fescue through the mid-South
- Alfalfa-grass mixtures in the Northeast
- And the list goes on
Although different species of grasses have unique characteristics, as a group they are generally more tolerant of poor management and subpar soils than are many legumes. They often grow in spite of what we do rather than because of what we do.
Yes, grasses are more forgiving than legumes, but they also are very adept at telling us their preferred lifestyle and what it will take to get the most benefit from their use as a livestock feed. It’s best we listen to and observe our grasses.
Just a trim, please
I recall being on a commercial alfalfa hay operation a couple of years ago. The producer noted that he was getting more requests for a mix of alfalfa-grass hay, so he decided to put in some acres of an alfalfa-orchardgrass mix. Within a couple of years, he managed to kill all of the orchardgrass. This occurred because of his usual 2-inch or so cutting height that he used on his alfalfa fields. “I just didn’t know there was that big of a difference,” he said.
Grasses just don’t tolerate frequent, aggressive defoliation. It’s true for hayfields and pastures. They’ve been telling us this for decades, but it’s still probably the most common mistake being made in the countryside. Grasses need leaf area to initiate rapid regrowth . . . it’s just that simple. Leaving 3 inches of residual is good, 4 inches is better.
Stay ahead of the head
Lush, green, and growing: During this time of year, is there anything that looks better than a field of 8-inch tall grass?
Not only does it look good, but it also tastes good and makes milk and meat. Unfortunately, this doesn’t last forever. Fortunately, a grass plant tells us (no, screams at us) when the party is over. It shoots a seedhead.
Once the seedhead emerges, yield gains come to a grinding halt and bad things start to happen from a forage quality perspective. Further, grass quality doesn’t just gradually decline after seedhead emergence and development; it falls off the cliff.
All of us know, or should know, that the neutral detergent fiber (NDF) concentration of grasses is higher than legumes at similar points in maturity. In fact, it’s a lot higher. Mature grasses can approach 70% NDF, while mature legumes may be closer to 50% NDF. However, the percent of NDF that is digestible is much higher in grasses than legumes. That’s the grass advantage that needs to be capitalized on.
If we are to take advantage of grass forage quality, it has to be done at or before seedhead emergence, as fiber digestibility declines rapidly once reproductive mode kicks into gear. A high NDF concentration and low NDF digestibility is not a good combination. Effectively, feeding that combination to a cow equates to just making more manure. Grasses tell us when that’s going to happen. We should listen.
In the case of Kentucky 31 tall fescue, seedhead emergence takes on the added disadvantage of higher toxin levels in the inflorescence.
If you haven’t read about well-known pasture consultant Jim Gerrish’s approach to avoiding seedheads, check out his column in the April/May issue of Hay & Forage Grower.
Finally, many newer grass varieties are bred to head later than older, traditional ones. They’re well worth the investment.
Give me a side of nitrogen
I won’t get into specifics here, but all grasses need adequate amounts of nitrogen for optimum yields and forage quality. Specific amounts and timing will vary with region and species, so check your local extension recommendations. There are both good times and bad times to make nitrogen applications, depending on utilization.
Grasses aren’t particular where their nitrogen comes from; it could be legumes, manure, or commercial fertilizer, but it has to be available. If nitrogen is lacking, once again, grasses will tell us. Their growth will be slow, and their appearance will be chlorotic (yellow). Few crop inputs offer a greater economic payback than nitrogen on grass where adequate soil moisture is available.
In addition to higher yields and healthier plants, nitrogen also boosts grass crude protein percentage in many cases.
If you’re currently not doing so, observe and listen to your grasses. Like your dog, they behave better with good treatment.
The Ohio Agronomy Guide states that most cool-season perennial forages should be planted by the first of May. While some of you reading this article were able to plant forages by now, many of us (myself included) once again were not able to meet that deadline due to wet weather. So how hard and fast is the May 1 deadline, especially in a cold spring like we have experienced? Don’t we have a little more time to plant forages? I hate to say this, but the answer is neither simple nor clear cut.
The planting deadlines in the Ohio Agronomy Guide are based on data and years of experience of what is best management practice. The risk of stand establishment problems increases as we move further and further past the published deadlines. Tell me it will not turn hot and dry in early to mid-June and that weeds won’t emerge and grow like gangbusters with all the moisture we’ve had, then I’ll tell you that forage plantings can still be successful. Unfortunately, the law of averages increases against forage establishment success the later into May that we plant.
Having said all that, I will still try to plant my experiments up until May 11-15 in central Ohio. For each of us, it is a matter of balancing the risk versus the cost and competing tasks at hand. The rainfall outlook for May is normal to above normal with summer going from wet to drier. Temperatures in May will average near normal, but summer temperatures are projected to be above normal. The warmer summer and projected trend towards drier conditions is concerning for young forage seedlings trying to become established in June and July. Late established seedlings will be at risk of being exposed to moisture and heat stress before they have a strong root system established.
A firm seedbed and good seed placement are essential when seeding late, as this will help moisture move through the soil to the germinating seeds resulting in fast emergence and better early growth. Summer annual weeds will now be emerging with the forage seedlings and we know that weeds are very competitive and destructive when they emerge at the same time as new forage seedlings. In pure alfalfa stands, we have herbicide options that can help against both broadleaf and grassy weeds, in forage grass stands we have only broadleaf herbicide options, and in grass-legume mixtures we have virtually no effective herbicide options during establishment. You might want to seed a pure stand now to provide more herbicide options, and then interseed the secondary species into the stand in August.
Consider your options and management carefully before planting perennial cool-season forages the next two weeks. I’ve had success and failures in the past with late plantings – but the law of averages is starting to work against us now. The latest I have planted alfalfa was in a small experiment on June 2 in central Ohio. In that case I planted Roundup Ready alfalfa, and we received adequate rainfall through June. The stand established well, and we were able to control weeds effectively with Roundup. But the stand really did not produce much yield that seeding year. I think we had one small cutting the entire growing season. It was as if the alfalfa was just growing the root system so the above ground growth remained short all summer. The following year it produced excellent yields though.
An alternative to consider now is to plant a short-season annual forage crop that can be harvested in late June and July, followed by planting the cool-season perennial forage stand in early to mid-August when the law of averages will once again be more in favor of forage seedling establishment. This is what many of us had to do last year.
If you do plant in the next two weeks and the resulting stand ends up with thin spots, it will be important to work hard at keeping the thin areas from going to weed seed production this summer. You can interseed those areas with a no-till drill beginning in early August. This is true even for alfalfa seedings made this spring. Autotoxicity to alfalfa seedlings is not a big concern until the existing alfalfa plants are a year old. It is also possible to interseed alfalfa now into a thin stand of alfalfa that was planted last summer, and this spring is your last opportunity to do it; however, the discussion above about late plantings still applies to such interseedings.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led farmers to some excruciating decisions to cut their losses, including euthanizing animals.
“They’re cringing,” said Lyda Garcia, an assistant professor of meat science with The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES). “It really hurts to have to do that.”
With meat processing plants partially or fully closed or backed up with orders, some Ohio farmers who raise pigs and chickens for slaughter are reluctantly turning to reducing their flocks or herds.
It’s not a decision they want to make, nor a decision they ever expected to make.
This is happening amid other hurdles. Commodity prices continue to sink, and just last year, many Midwest farmers could not plant corn or soybeans because of unprecedented rainfall. For some farmers, knowing options to stay financially sound is as important as knowing how to get help for anxiety and emotional slumps.
“The way we explain it is that taking care of yourself, including your mental health, is like changing the oil on your tractor,” said Sarah Noggle, an educator with CFAES’ Ohio State University Extension outreach arm in Paulding County. “If you don’t do it routinely, things become unbalanced.”
And there are many reasons for imbalances now.
In the meat industry, COVID-19 has led to a logjam. Though livestock raised on the farm is ready for market, many meat processors are unable to accept it—at least not at the same pace they had been before the coronavirus arrived in the United States. The pandemic has led to a lot of sickness and time off work at processing plants, and though the nation’s major plants are opening up, shifts are limited.
Ohio has about 400 smaller meat and poultry processing plants, but most have a backlog of orders, some of which are typically funneled to the nation’s largest plants out of state, Garcia said. About 25% of Ohio’s pigs are processed out of state, and trying to find an Ohio meat processor to take them is challenging.
Farmers in Ohio have been forced to euthanize some pigs and chickens primarily because the animals can’t be held on the farm long after they reach market weight without declining seriously in value or losing value entirely, Garcia said.
“The farmers are really upset because this is what they devote their lives to,” Garcia said. “It’s happening frequently enough that many of us are gathering resources for farmers on mental health. This is serious.”
Keeping pigs and chickens on a farm for longer times means they’ll weigh more when they’re sold. But sometimes a processor won’t buy an animal if it’s too large, or the processor will pay the farmer a lot less for the animal because the additional fat could mean it sells for less.
Typically, cattle can be kept a bit longer on the farm after they reach market size and still be OK for sale. But if a cattle producer has to seek out a smaller processor instead of a major one, they often earn less for that meat, Garcia said.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about losing money,” she said.
Most often, farmers with hogs and chickens are eliminating the youngest or unborn in their flocks or herds, rather than the fully grown animals that they’ve already invested in.
Farmers can’t easily donate their livestock to a food bank because it has to be taken to a meat processor, and the processors are backed up with orders for the next six months to a year, Garcia said.
“The farmers have plenty of animals, but nowhere to take them.”
Lambs are just one of the many agricultural commodities that have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. There is never a good time for a pandemic to strike, but COVID-19 hit the sheep industry at the traditional best market price. Spring lambs are a family favorite for traditional Easter meals (April 12), Orthodox Easter (April 23), the Muslin feasts of Ramadan (April 23 to May 23), some Jewish sects for Passover (April 8-16), and the secular May 10 Mother’s Day celebration.
America’s biggest market for fresh lamb is in the area from Baltimore to Boston. Major East Coast packers relay on the close location of Ohio producers (Ohio has the 5th most producers in the US) to provide a steady source of fresh lamb. The “white tablecloth restaurants” and the other segments of the food service industry account for greater than 50% of the United State’s lamb consumption. As demand builds back to pre-pandemic levels, Ohio lambs will continue to be a large part of the East coast supply chain.
Ohio Sheep Facts:
- Lamb price from United Producers in Mt. Vernon, Ohio collection point (weekly – low and high prices are recorded, and the average number is used for these calculations). The dollar price represented is lost value in market decline from March 13 to April 10 sales. The gross revenue for each lamb has dropped 25% from the lamb market value in early March.
- Finished lambs (131 lbs.) – (0.47 cwt X 131) = $61.50
- Roaster lambs (60 lbs.) – (0.45 cwt X 60) = $27
- Hair lambs (80 lbs.) – (0.30 cwt X 80) = $24
- Aged sheep (average of 150 lbs.) – (0.30 cwt X 150) = $45
- Producer questions have generally been directed to the decision to sell Easter lambs at this time or add additional weight and sell them later in the fall. Each case will need to be evaluated on an individual basis and will depend on resources and financial stability.
- Club lamb and breeding stock producers are selling their sheep privately or through online sales. Quality animals are being sold at expected values.
- Ohio lamb feeders have been able to move their contracted lambs, but non-contracted market lambs are not able to be sold.