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OSU Extension - Fairfield County
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OSU Extension BEEF Team
BEEF Cattle questions may be directed to the OSU Extension BEEF Team through Stephen Boyles or Stan Smith, Editor
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Previous issues of the BEEF Cattle letter
Issue # 717
December 29, 2010
As the new decade begins, where are the priorities? - Stan Smith, PA, Fairfield County OSU Extension
It's not uncommon for any of us to take a few minutes and "reflect" this time of year. The crops are in, the majority of calving season is still ahead, and the best bowl games are yet to be played. Since the week between Christmas and New Years is typically a slow time in the office, I took a few minutes recently to look back at the "big"stories for the year in the beef cattle industry.
For the cattle owner, certainly increased feed costs would have to be one of the top stories. Ranking right next to it for many is likely the higher calf and fed cattle prices we are experiencing. After all, what could be more important to a cattleman than those primary factors which impact profitability.
Yet, when I went to the statistics software that keeps all the "hits" data from our beef.osu.edu website where this newsletter is housed, I found that the top 3 viewed weekly newsletters throughout 2010 all focused on one common theme . . . animal care and the public's concern for animal well being. I don't think it's coincidence that those most read newsletters included articles such as House Passes Revisions to Ohio's Animal Cruelty Laws, Ohio House Introduces Livestock Care Standards Legislation, and John Grimes' article Why Do We Have Fairs and Shows? describing how a significant opportunity afforded at livestock shows today was the ability to graphically display and describe to the public the extraordinary care that most livestock receives.
As we begin this new decade, as suggested by our readers' views, certainly the focus has shifted in this industry. We've gone from simply producing a high quality, efficient, affordable beef product for the consumer to now being in a position where it's become our responsibility to share that message with them at every opportunity.
Throughout 2011 the OSU Extension Beef Team will continue to offer opportunities which look closely at efficiently producing a high quality product, as well as how best to convey that message to the consuming public. I invite you to continue reading, visit our web based Ohio Beef Calendar regularly, and stay tuned!
Sustainability: More Questions than Answers - Nevil Speer, Professor, Animal Science, Western Kentucky University
The concept of sustainability has encompassed a flurry of activity in recent years. For example, our college campus, like many others, now has an Office of Sustainability. The department's mission is to "promote a culture of sustainability…integrating principles of ecological integrity and social equity into academics, practices, and partnerships." The concept possesses good intentions but, in my opinion, the stated objective remains somewhat squishy. Most notably, it avoids incorporating economic principles. And I'm left wondering about real application.
Ambiguity is one thing, misusing it is another. Unfortunately, "sustainability" is often utilized by advocates as proxy to promote a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. I'm all for freedom of choice but draw the line when activists misrepresent the facts. For instance, earlier this fall, a regular column entitled, "Sustainable Living" asked the question: "Omnivore, vegetarian or vegan? Which is more sustainable?" The column incorporated a litany of reasons (albeit urban legends) why the public should consume less meat. There's not room to address them all but let's stab at the more important ones.
Credibility of such arguments is undermined at the outset when the most fundamental fact is incorrect. The column cites that, "Americans don't often see the unappetizing effects of eating 260 pounds of meat per person, per year." A little perspective: USDA data reveals that last year's average annual per capital consumption of red meat and poultry in the United States runs closer to 180 pounds (boneless weight) - a whopping 30% less than the asserted benchmark.
Now let's turn our attention to more basic "sustainability" issues - resource utilization committed to meat production. The popular claim that beef production requires, "2,500 gallons of water fed to a cow to make one pound of beef. More than half our farmland and half our water consumption is currently devoted to the meat industry." That assertion overstates reality by a factor of almost six. Published scientific data estimate the real number to be closer to 450 gallons - never mind the principles of the hydrologic cycle.
What about grain utilization? The column contends that, "We eat most of our grain in the form of meat, 90 percent actually, which translates into 2000 pounds of grain a year." USDA projections (December, 2010 WASDE) put annual feed grain usage at 139.9 million metric tons. That represents less than 40% of total use (357.6 mmt). Meanwhile, sustainability activists conveniently overlook ethanol; it now represents approximately 36% of corn use in the United States (not to mention ethanol's water utilization). Moreover, livestock actually facilitate ethanol's sustainability through utilization of the industry's by-products.
Topping it off, though, was the column's citation from Frances Moore Lappe's book, Diet for a Small Planet: "Imagine sitting down to an eight-ounce steak dinner, then imagine the room filled with 45 to 50 people with empty bowls in front of them. For the 'feed cost' of your steak, each of their bowls could be filled with a full cup of cooked cereal grains." So what's needed is real action. There's no mandate to feed grain to livestock. Anti-meat activists are free to transfer their concern about world hunger into market activity; nothing stops them from purchasing and transporting food grains. And let's not overlook the fact that ruminants represent an important source of protein for a hungry planet by utilizing forage resources that would otherwise be unusable by the human population.
So what about sustainability and ensuing connotations for agriculture? That issue was addressed in a recent paper (Int'l Journal of Agricultural Sustainability) surrounding the top 100 questions of importance to the future of global agriculture (Int'l Journal of Agricultural Sustainability). The authors state that, "Vital work needs to be done to establish more precisely what 'sustainable food' represents, and to identify best practice standards across a wide range of activities throughout the [food supply chain]." In other words, sustainability invokes more questions than answers.
Therefore, the default position that sustainability and animal agriculture are mutually exclusive is wrongheaded - it assumes to know all the answers. Wholesale, disingenuous denigration isn't helpful; it merely serves to protect personal, ideological vestment in a movement and fails to advance meaningful solutions.
Five Cattle Market Factors to Watch in 2011 - Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist
Cattle prices across the board are expected to post year over year increases in 2011. Cattle prices are approaching record levels in several markets at the end of 2010 and will likely take cattle prices into uncharted waters in the coming year. Any number of external factors could impact cattle markets in the coming year but the following market factors are expected to have the biggest impact on market prices.
* Beef Demand: Projected decreases in beef production in 2011 will pressure wholesale and retail beef prices higher. The ability to pass on the impacts of reduced beef supplies will depend on continued recovery in beef demand. Recessionary weakness continues to limit middle meat demand though signs of recovery are evident at the end of 2010. Increased competing meat supplies, mostly increased poultry production, may temper retail beef prices somewhat.
* Herd Expansion. . . or Not? Limited cattle numbers are expected to result in reduced cattle slaughter in 2011. The magnitude of feeder supply squeezing will depend on the extent of heifer retention in the coming year. Though not yet confirmed by data, there are indications at the end of 2010 of limited heifer retention. The question of herd rebuilding will determine just how tight cattle supplies are in 2011 and also the timetable for potential increases in beef production in coming years.
* 2011 Crop Conditions: A 2010 corn crop that fell just short of record levels was enough to push corn prices sharply higher. Projected crop year ending stocks are at levels that make the feed grain markets extremely sensitive to anticipated grain supplies. Crop markets will likely be especially focused on evolving crop conditions that will have a large impact on overall feed grain price levels as well as increased volatility from the pre-planting period through harvest. Crop prices and volatility will continue to have a big impact on livestock industries in general and in cattle, especially on the feedlot sector.
* International Trade: Strong beef exports provided critical support for cattle markets in 2010. Beef exports are expected to increase again in 2011, albeit at a more modest rate of gain. Global demand for beef is expected to continue growing though country specific economic conditions and currency exchange rates will have a large impact on specific trade flows. Beef exports and imports both help the beef industry to improve domestic beef demand by changing the mix of products to better meet the preferences of U.S. beef consumers and increase total value to the industry.
* Forage Conditions: Beef industry responses to the twin forces of limited cattle numbers and high feed grain prices depend on forage use. There are continued strong incentives for increased cow-calf production and for forage based stocker production. The quantity and quality of forage will have a big impact on both the level of production and the timing of feeder cattle flows in the coming year. Currently, the La Nina weather pattern is producing dry conditions across much of the Southern Plains and Southeast regions that may impact winter grazing systems. Should dry conditions continue to develop and extend into the growing season, the impact on cow-calf production and summer grazing programs could be very significant. Widespread drought in major cattle regions could offset producer intentions with respect to possible herd rebuilding.
Forage Focus: Grazing Bites, December 2010 - Victor Shelton, NRCS Grazing Specialist
It is nice to have received some needed rain. You know it has been dry when it rains two or more inches and there is no or very little runoff on the pasture and I noted no water at all in a dry dam behind my house which normally would be half full after such rain. I was also intrigued by the fact that the ground was actually nice and firm and not soft and muddy - the ground soaked it all up like a sponge and that is a good thing - that is where we needed it.
Stockpiled pasture, if you have any, is holding its own very well so far this fall and maintaining quality. Even though it should be dormant now, I would still recommend not to over graze it too much for three main reasons; it is cover that will slow runoff of water this winter which will help improve reserves, it will help protect the sod early in the spring, and it will provide some dry material to go along with the watery spring growth in the spring which will help balance out the grazing livestock's rumen.
If you are feeding hay already you are not alone. Where possible consider feeding hay in areas needing some extra fertility or organic matter as long as the ground is suitable for doing so. Feed a bale or two in an area and then move to another area . . . this is even more ideal if you are feeding small bales where there will be little waste or have the ability to unroll large round bales. This enables you to feed across the top of the area, adding some extra organic matter, probably some seed, while the livestock fertilize it at the same time. The area might look a little rough for a little while, but will soon rebound better than before, especially with a little additional rest. The real trick is to not leave so much uneaten material behind that it hampers the forages that you want to grow next season.
A little competition is always good when feeding hay. Putting too much out thinking that that should keep you from having to feed them for several days or a week is really wishful thinking. The bigger the buffet, the more you will pick through it, picking out the cherries first and leaving the broccoli to the last or more likely throwing it off to the side and laying on it and spoiling it. Though a little bit more of a pain, the more often you put out hay and create some competition for it, usually the less the waste.
It disappoints me to see cow numbers continuing to drop this fall. Cattle prices have been good, almost too good and too many are taking this as an opportunity to either cull hard or sell out. Probably one of the main reasons for selling out is because there are a lot of "older" producers that look at this as a good time to retire. It is too bad that there is not enough younger generation interested in picking up where Dad or Granddad left off. Allan Nation says we will soon be at 1950's cattle numbers. He also predicts that we will have a half million deficit of stocker calves come spring this year. If you have calves on hand, this could mean really good prices, because there certainly will not be enough to meet the demand. If you are buying calves, you will have to be very careful of any inputs. I'd hang on to good stock, use the good prices to improve the overall herd quality by culling the ones that really need culling. Good cows could become golden. If you raise stockers, you for sure will want to hang on to those productive cows because you will most likely be able to raise them a lot cheaper than you can buy them.
With commodity prices also high right now, the ability to make a profit feeding cattle in a feedlot is a lot trickier. Grass or forage finishing animals is going to be the most economical way to finish animals. It is not as easy and just turning them out on some grass and saying "eat and get fat". . . it takes a little more management and thought than that. There are going to be some great opportunities in the near future for producers to learn more about pasture management and more precisely how to successfully finish beef and other grazing livestock on forages and produce a good, tender, tasty product. I would highly recommend that you take advantage of such situations.
Keep on grazing.
Visit the OSU Beef Team calendar of meetings and upcoming events
BEEF Cattle is a weekly publication of Ohio State University Extension in Fairfield County and the OSU Beef Team. Contributors include members of the Beef Team and other beef cattle specialists and economists from across the U.S.
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