Cattle U speakers focus on cattle marketing and industry outlook

High Plains Journal’s Cattle U virtual event, held Sept. 8 to 11, was a jam-packed four days of in depth discussions from all angles of the cattle industry, with special emphasis placed on markets before and after COVID-19. Derrell Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension economist, shared the cattle market outlook for fall and winter of 2020.

Although the first half of 2020 offered an extensive list of challenges and shocks to the industry, fortunately things in the beef industry are starting to settle down.

As far as drought, Peel said much of the western half of the United States in particular is experiencing various degrees of drought.

“We’re ending the summer with very limited forage resources,” Peel said. “The 2020 hay production estimates are down a little bit from previous years.”

Markets were all over the map once COVID-19 hit in March, but prices have recovered to a degree over the summer.

“Both the calf market and feeder calf markets right now are pretty close to where we were this time last year,” Peel said. “Now that’s not much to brag about since the latter half of last year, particularly from a calf market perspective, was pretty disappointing.”

The fed cattle market has been widely variable this year, with several ups and downs with productions slowdowns, but the industry has bounced back pretty nicely, the economist said. For the boxed beef markets, there were tremendous shocks in the second quarter with all the production disruptions, but it is running pretty close to normal levels now. The cull cow market has been relatively strong through the summer.

“If we back up and take a big picture view of where we are long term in cattle numbers and the cattle cycle, the July 1 inventory basically was unchanged for all cattle and calves from a year ago,” Peel said. “We have some potential to go up or down, and it’s really going to depend on factors as they play out from this point forward.”

Panel examines marketing strategies

The marketing panel consisted of Preston Smith, of Imperial Auction Market in Imperial, Nebraska, Joe Benham, of Winter Livestock in Dodge City, Kansas, and Jeff Slatten of Beaver Stockyards in Beaver, Oklahoma. The marketing specialists kicked off the panel discussion with a question entitled, to wean or not to wean?

“You’ve got to wean them, and everybody has to get away from September through November if they want to get the ultimate money for their calves,” Slatten explained. “It takes a little bit more work, but you’ve got to do more work if you want more money. You can’t just bring them to the barn and expect us to be magicians.”

Smith agreed, adding the longer a calf is weaned, the more value added to them. Next, the panel dove into vaccination protocols and preconditioning programs. Everyone on the panel established that preconditioning adds value to cattle and makes them more marketable.

“Preconditioned calves in my neck of the woods are valued at 15 bucks more per hundredweight for a calf receiving all their shot,” Smith said. “We recommend vaccinating your calves in the spring, before you sell them and then the person who buys them can booster the shots. It’s an easy process and there are more buyers that tend to buy pre-vaccinated calves versus non.”

Benham said nine times out of 10, sellers can guarantee themselves anywhere from $3 to $5 a hundredweight per shot they administer to a calf. However, not everyone takes advantage of value-adding steps.

“A lot of producers come to our sale barn once a year and they watch their calves sell, but they can’t quite understand why their calves bring $1.20, and their neighbor’s calves bring $1.45,” Benham said. “It’s hard to explain to them that their neighbor put in the time, gave the shots and he weaned them for 45 to 60 days. That is something we really need cattlemen to understand in this industry.”

Marketing at special sales was also a topic of discussion with the panelists all agreeing these specialized sales are an invaluable resource to sell animals for more profit. Benham said these targeted sales bring in an abundance of buyers looking for a specific type of animal and they allow sellers capitalize on their hard work.

“Special sales draw people,” Smith said. “We recommend our customers sell in a custom sale, but cap our sales so each producer is treated right. We cap it at 3,000 head so all the calves have a chance at getting marketed the right way.”

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Lacey Newlin can be reached at 620-227-1871 or [email protected].