Market trends, management strategies highlight cattle field day

Olivia McClure  |  5/4/2016 1:00:57 PM

(05/03/16) CLINTON, La. – Cattle supplies are beginning to rebound from the lowest levels in half a century, and demand for beef is increasing – but producers may not feel the benefits if cattle prices do not improve before the end of 2016.

Speaking at an April 29 field day at the LSU AgCenter Bob R. Jones-Idlewild Research Station in Clinton – the first held there in several years – AgCenter economist Kurt Guidry said the U.S. cattle supply has grown by about 3 percent this year. More cattle are being sent to feedlots, meaning both wholesale and retail prices are likely to go down further as the market attempts to move increased supplies.

Retail prices for fresh beef overall have decreased by 18 cents per pound since October, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Demand for meat is growing, but beef is facing greater competition from other meats, like pork and chicken, Guidry said.

“2016 will see a large increase in total red meat and poultry production,” he said. “It has to be sold. If we continue to see a reduction in those retail and wholesale meat prices, that is going to be reflected back through the marketing channel, and ultimately, it impacts what you get.”

Guidry said he’s somewhat concerned that cattle prices haven’t improved in the first half of 2016 as some had hoped.

“Unfortunately, the market has been unable to provide any real sustained price strengthening to this point in 2016,” Guidry said. “The longer we go without seeing an improvement in cattle prices, I think the less we’re going to see an improvement toward the end of 2016.”

With signs pointing to lower fed cattle prices over the last half of 2016, feedlots are taking heavier cattle in what appears to be an effort to move cattle in and through the feedlot quickly before any significant downturn in prices materializes, he said.

Meanwhile, producers are looking for ways to cut costs. One issue that has come up recently – as it did when calf prices were low between 2007 and 2009 – is how much cow size matters, said Ryon Walker, a cattle researcher at the AgCenter Hill Farm Research Station in Homer.

Average weights of mature cows have increased by about 300 pounds in the past 30 years, Walker said. And heavier cows eat more, which drives up producers’ costs.

“Feedlots were putting pressure on faster gaining, heavier calves” to satisfy growing demand for closely trimmed retail cuts of beef, he said.

Smaller cows are still capable of producing bigger calves, Walker said. If producers are concerned about size, they need to tag calves at birth, know which cows they belong to and weigh them regularly.

“You can’t measure what you don’t collect,” Walker said.

Veterinarian Jacques Fuselier told producers they should evaluate herds using the body condition scoring system – a scale of 1 to 9, where 1 is an emaciated cow and 9 is extremely fat – at calving, before breeding and in the middle of gestation. A score of 5 to 6 is ideal in most scenarios.

“You know when they’re at that level of nutrition, everything is working very efficiently,” Fuselier said. Cows that are too fat or too skinny are inefficient, and their reproductive performance is compromised.

Taking photos at least once a year can also help keep track of a herd’s condition, Fuselier said.

Field day attendees also heard about ways to better manage pastures, including the use of cover crops, which can benefit soil health and extend the grazing season. They can be planted in mixtures with other crops like ryegrass, wheat and oats, said AgCenter forage specialist Ed Twidwell.

Cover crops like hairy vetch, Austrian winter peas, radishes and turnips can be planted in early to mid-September. Clovers can be planted in October and may provide grazing until early summer.

“You can extend ryegrass grazing way past May and probably into June,” Twidwell said. “When you sit down and calculate everything out, if you can get more grazing from your winter forages rather than having to feed a lot of hay during the winter and spring, it may be cost-effective.”

Although clover seed is generally more expensive than early-season cover crops, it has the added benefit of improving nitrogen in the soil, Twidwell said.

AgCenter weed scientist Ron Strahan talked about common weed problems in pastures, including smutgrass, which tends to crop up in grazing areas with compacted soil. Smutgrass has deep roots and is drought-tolerant but can be controlled with the herbicide Velpar.

Dogfennel, a perennial broadleaf weed often found along fencerows and a heavy seed producer, is one of the top 5 weeds in pastures today, Strahan said. A spring application of 2,4-D is effective if the weed is less than 6 inches tall. Grazon P+D or GrazonNext should be used when dogfennel matures.

Buttercup, another common pasture weed, can also be treated with 2,4-D. Lantana is becoming more of a problem, Strahan said, and can be removed with Grazon P+D.

Broadcast applications of Grazon P+D also work on Chinese tallow trees that are 3 to 4 feet tall. Larger trees should be killed with the “hack and squirt” herbicide application method, with Tordon RTU applied at each cut, Strahan said.

There is not yet a good herbicide option for broomsedge, which is often found in areas with low fertility, but clipping the weed seems to help control it, he said.

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Veterinarian Jacques Fuselier talks to attendees of a beef cattle and forage field day about body condition scoring on April 29 at the LSU AgCenter Bob R. Jones-Idlewild Research Station in Clinton. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter

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LSU AgCenter forage specialist Ed Twidwell, left, and weed scientist Ron Strahan show field day attendees broomsedge on April 29 at the AgCenter Bob R. Jones-Idlewild Research Station in Clinton. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter

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