Monday, August 22, 2016

COW/CALF CORNER The Newsletter From the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service August 22, 2016

The Newsletter

From the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service
August 22, 2016

In this Issue:

Fall feeder cattle market prospects
Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist

Helping fall-calving cows and heifers during the calving process
Dr. Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Professor-Emeritus

Fall feeder cattle market prospects
Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist

Changes in feeder cattle prices recently have potential impacts for cow-calf and stocker producers this fall.  Through July and August, prices for heavy feeder cattle have increased relative to lighter weight feeder cattle.  Several factors appear to be impacting feeder cattle price relationships.

The August USDA Cattle on Feed report shows an August 1 on-feed inventory of 10.165 million head, 101.6 percent of last year.  July marketings were 99.3 percent of one year ago while placements were 101.6 percent of last year.  With two less business days this year compared to 2015, these numbers suggest a continued brisk pace of both placements and marketings.  The desire to increase feedlot turnover means that feedlots continue to demonstrate a preference for heavy feeder cattle.  Since placements began increasing in February, placements of feeders over 700 pounds have increased over 11 percent year over year while placements of cattle under 600 pounds are down nearly 6 percent compared to the same six months last year. 

All else being equal, feedlots would generally rather feed bigger, older feeder cattle.  Especially with continued heavy discounts on deferred live cattle futures, feedlots are less interested in buying lighter weight feeders and take the risk of owning them for a longer period of time.  This is true despite the fact that feedlot cost of gain is decreasing with abundant grain supplies and the prospects for record grain crops for the coming year.  Wheat prices and large supplies of relatively poor quality old crop wheat make wheat a ration alternative and the only reason it is not being used more is that corn is cheap and getting cheaper. 

Feedlots are constantly deciding whether to buy pounds by buying heavy feeder cattle or buying lighter weight feeders and putting the pounds on in the feedlot. Lower feedlot cost of gain means that feedlots can afford to pay more for lighter weight feeders.  However, a growing supply of feeder cattle means that feedlots don’t have to buy light weight placements as long as an ample supply of heavy feeder is available to meet their preferences.  This is a big part of the observed increase in heavy feeder cattle price relative to lightweight feeder cattle prices this summer.  For steers, this is revealed as smaller rollback in prices across weights ranging from about 500 to 750 pounds. The smaller rollback results in an increase in the value of gain for those middle weight ranges of feeder cattle.  In other words, the relatively smaller feedlot demand for lighter weight feeder cattle translates into a stocker/backgrounding signal to put that weight on in the country.  Generally good forage conditions means that, despite falling grain prices, it is more efficient to put extra weight on cattle in the country, especially in the face of growing cattle supplies.

Current feeder cattle prices suggest a strong stocker signal and also a potential retained ownership signal for cow-calf producers…at least through the stocker phase.  Retained ownership of stockers or retained calves into the feedlot may also have potential but is another matter and should be evaluated separately. Of course, producers must constantly monitor feeder cattle markets, not only price levels but price relationships by weight.  The current market indications can and will change at some point but there is little reason to expect significant change in current market signals for the foreseeable future.

Helping fall-calving cows and heifers during the calving process
Dr. Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Professor-Emeritus

Fall calving season is (or soon will be) upon the Oklahoma ranches that have fall and winter calving. An issue facing the rancher at calving-time, is the amount of time heifers or cows are allowed to be in labor before assistance is given. Traditional text books, fact sheets and magazine articles stated that “Stage II” of labor lasted from 2 to 4 hours. “Stage II” is defined as that portion of the birthing process from the first appearance of the water bag until the baby calf is delivered. Research data from Oklahoma State University and the USDA experiment station at Miles City, Montana clearly show that Stage II is much shorter, lasting approximately an hour in first calf heifers, and a half hour in mature cows.

Table 1. Research Results of Length of Stage II of Parturition
Location of Study
No. of Animals
Length of Stage II
USDA (Montana) *
24 mature cows
22.5 min.
USDA (Montana) *
32 first calf heifers
54.1 min
Oklahoma State Univ. **
32 first calf heifers
55.0 min
*Doornbos, et al. 1984. Journ. of Anim. Science: 59:1
**Putnam, et al. 1985. Therio: 24:385

In these studies, heifers that were in stage II of labor much more than one hour or cows that were in stage II much more than 30 minutes definitely needed assistance. Research information also shows that calves from prolonged deliveries are weaker and more disease prone, even if born alive. In addition, cows or heifers with prolonged deliveries return to heat later and are less likely to be bred for the next calf crop. Consequently a good rule of thumb: If the heifer is NOT making significant progress 1 hour after the water bag or feet appear, examine the heifer to see if you can provide assistance. Mature cows should be watched for only 30 minutes.  IF she is NOT making progress with each strain, then a rectal examine is conducted. If you cannot safely deliver the calf yourself at this time, call your local veterinarian immediately. Before applying chains and beginning to pull, make CERTAIN that the cervix is fully dilated.

Most ranches develop heifers fully, and use calving ease bulls to prevent calving difficulties. However, a few difficult births are going to occur each calving season. Using the concept of evening feeding to get more heifers calving in daylight, and giving assistance early will save a few more calves, and result in healthier more productive two-year-old cows to rebreed for next year. For more information on topics concerning assisting cows and heifers at calving time, download and read an Oklahoma State University circular E-1006 "Calving Time Management For Beef Cows and Heifers". This free publication can be downloaded from this website:

Oklahoma State University, in compliance with Title VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Executive Order 11246 as amended, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and other federal laws and regulations, does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, religion, disability, or status as a veteran in any of its policies, practices or procedures. This includes but is not limited to admissions, employment, financial aid, and educational services.  References within this publication to any specific commercial product, process, or service by trade name, trademark, service mark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not constitute or imply endorsement by Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service.

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