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October’s Animal Science: Today and Tomorrow

October 13, 2015

Dr. Tom Troxel                                                           Dr. Michael L. Looper


Cattle weights continue to increase at impressive rates.

The federally inspected steer dressed weight for the week of 8/15/15 was 900 pounds, according to USDA. This was 25 pounds heavier than a year ago, and well on track to set a new record in 2015 above the 906 pounds seen in October of 2014.

Looking back at steer dressed weights, on an annual average basis, weights increased by 0.5% per year since 1960 (they were 656 pounds in 1960). Using that percentage increase (0.5%) works through 2013, but does not capture the increased growth rate seen in 2014 and what is estimated for 2015. Looking back, 2014 experienced a 1% growth in steer dressed weights year-over-year, and 2015 is on track to be 2% higher than 2014’s.

Cattle dressed weights are a result of several moving parts in the industry. From the supply side, heavier weights result in more production out of fewer animals. Using 2015 year to date cattle slaughter numbers with 2014 (same time period) dressed weight levels, it can be calculated the increase in weights so far this year have added 2% more beef to market supplies, compared to last year if we had the same slaughter levels. Of course year-over-year, slaughter levels are down by 7% but beef production is only down by 4% thanks to increased dressed weights across all cattle categories.

Projecting this above average growth in cattle weights starts to raise questions regarding how much cattle herd inventory growth the U.S. really needs. Of course, that answer depends largely on foreign and domestic beef demand, but if these weights continue to increase at a faster pace, the industry may not restock back to the previous inventory peak levels. Additionally, as cattle supplies increase we could see more premium pricing for the restaurant targeted weight/size fed cattle.

Steer dressed weights are the result of several factors in the feeding industry specifically, the supply of cattle, price of corn, and price of feeder replacements. As has been the story since mid-2014, feedlots are feeding cattle longer instead of incurring relatively high feeder cattle replacement costs. This pencils out for feedlots due to cheaper corn costs compared to feeder cattle prices, especially compared to just a few years ago. As the feeder cattle prices erode, dynamics in the feeding sector will heavily depend of the relative prices of all other inputs.

Looking at the balance of 2015, winter weather has the ability to impact these cattle weights. Part of the reason we saw such a large increase in weights fourth quarter of 2014 was that most of the U.S. experienced a very mild winter. This may not be the case for 2015, and if winter weather is coupled with a faster turnover rate through the feedlot, steer dressed weights could move off their fast growth pace into a more normal and slower rate.

Looking ahead into 2016, it is expected that feedlots will start moving these cattle through at a faster rate. For 2016, an increase in dressed weights is still expected, but at the more normal pace of 0.2%-0.5% annually (Source: LMIC).

Cowherd expansion is here.

The beef cowherd is expected to be up for the second consecutive year on January 1, 2016, with an increase of 1.1 to 1.3 million head expected – totaling near 31 million beef cows. The 2015 calf crop is estimated at 34.3 million head. The estimated 400,000 head increase will be the largest since 1994. Beef cow slaughter is on pace to be down 350,000 head in 2015 – dropping to the smallest total since at least 1970.

Steer and heifer slaughter is on pace to be down more than 1 million head compared to 2014. Combined with smaller non-fed slaughter, beef production will be down 550 million pounds in 2015 – marking the fifth year in a row for declining production. Fed slaughter is expected to increase by 600,000 head in 2016 due to a larger calf crop and a larger available feeder cattle and calf supply. Larger production increases are expected in 2017 and 2018 (Source CattleFax).

Beef cattle price outlook.

  • Retail beef prices in 2016 should weaken slightly in the face of larger beef supplies averaging near $5.95/lb.
  • Feeder cattle supplies will remain tighter than last year throughout second half 2015 – supporting a yearly average price near the $157/cwt. As fed cattle supplies increase in 2016, leverage will shift to the packer and pressure fed cattle prices to around $146/cwt.
  • Feeder cattle prices should average $215/cwt in 2015 and $195/cwt in 2016.
  • Calf prices will average $267 for 2015 and $237/cwt for 2016.
  • The 2015 average Utility-grade cow prices is $109/cwt. Values will narrow around $10/cwt next year as non-fed beef production increases and U.S. beef imports pullback slightly – resulting in a weaker and more seasonal 90% lean trim market.
  • Bred female prices should finish this year steady to softer. In 2016, bred female prices should move lower as supplies increase and demand weakens (Source CattleFax).

For more information about cattle production, visit or or contact your county extension office.


Did you know?

October 12, 2015

Did you know?


Did you know Arkansas has 2095 youth currently enrolled in the 4-H  Horse Program? Within the state, there are dozens and dozens of 4-H Horse Clubs that offer youth a variety of activities that are centered around learning more about the horse. These include: horse judging, horse bowl, speaking competitions, hippology, as well as horsemanship opportunities. The best thing about these opportunities is that youth do not necessarily have to own a horse to participate.

Contact Mark Russell @ 501-671-2190 to learn more.

Beef Cattle Tips-September

October 8, 2015

It’s October!!! Beef Cattle Tips is a monthly newsletter designed to remind you of timely production practices that could benefit your operation.  In this month’s issue,observe cattle closely for signs of Anaplasmosis. Extreme caution should be taken when approaching these cattle due to their tendency for aggression. Also, stress must be kept to a minimum when trying to administer treatment to prevent collapse and sudden death. Early detection is essential.

Forage / Grazing Tips:

  • Take soil samples
  • Strip graze warm-season stockpiled forages
  • Plant winter annual and clovers in warm-season grass sod
  • Defer grazing of stockpiled cool-season grasses until late November or early December.
  • Plant clover in short-grazed fescue early October

Signup Today to receive the next Beef Cattle Tips E-Newsletter in November 2015, by Clicking Here

Body Condition Scores: Essential for Efficient Cow Herd Performance

October 5, 2015

Body Condition Scores: Essential for Efficient Cow Herd Performance

Bryan Kutz

56Body condition scoring (BCS) is the numerical scale that ranks cattle on a (1-9) scoring system relative to subcutaneous fat cover.  Body condition scoring allows you evaluate nutritional level in your cowherd so that you can coordinate feed resources with animals that need supplementation or restrict intake in those animals that need less feed. The most optimum score that cattle producers should target ranges from 5-7.

Assessing body condition scores is essential in maximizing cow herd efficiency.  Stage of gestation, stress at calving, ample lactation, reproductive performance and age of cow are key factors that can effect cow herd efficiency and ultimately affect profitable production.  Body condition scoring to ensure that fat reserves are favorable is an evaluation tool that is easy to learn and can be utilized by farmers and ranchers to assist in management decisions.57The processes of fetal development, delivering a calf, milk production and repair of the reproductive tract are all stresses that require large quantities of energy to enable cows to rebreed within 60-85 days.   Plus, the environmental stressors these cattle endure just further emphasizes the need for energy from excess fat reserves in the cow.58

It is much easier to increase condition in cows before rather than after they calve.  If possible, separate cows that score below a 4 and either make a management decision to cull or provide additional supplementation.  The benefit of ample body condition far outweighs the cost of added nutrition or the opportunity cost in lost productive days in the long run.  Cows need to be at a condition where extra energy reserves can be used to help overcome the stress at calving and aid in reproductive performance.  Feeding cows to gain condition after calving leads only to improve milk production and has little effect on increasing body condition.

Description of body condition scores:

Condition BCS Description
Thin 1 Severely emaciated. All ribs and bone structure easily visible and physically weak
2 Emaciated, similar to 1 above but not weakened. Little visible muscle tissue
3 Very thin, no fat on ribs or brisket, and some muscle still visible.  Backbone easily visible.
Borderline 4 Thin, with ribs easily visible but shoulders and hindquarters still showing fair muscling. Backbone visible
Optimum 5 Moderate to thin.  Last two or three ribs can be seen.  Little evidence of fate in brisket, over ribs or around tailhead
6 Good smooth appearance throughout.  Some fat deposition in brisket and over tailhead.  Ribs covered and back appears rounded.
7 Very good flesh, brisket full, tailhead shows pockets of fat, and back appears square due to fat.  Ribs very smooth.
Fat 8 Obese, back very square, brisket distended, heavy fat pockets around tailhead, and cow has square appearance due to excessive fat.  Neck thick and short.
9 Rarely seen.  Very obese.  Description of 8 taken to greater extremes.  Heavy deposition of udder fat.

The idea of Body Condition Scoring (BCS) is to obtain a simple and reliable measure of the level of fat reserves that will be helpful as the cow progresses through gestation, parturition and rebreeding.  When used correctly, this information can help producers make management decisions such as culling or decisions about different feed regimens and how to utilize available forage resources.  These decisions all play a big role in making your cow herd efficient and profitable.




Did you know?

September 28, 2015

Did you Know?


Fall is planting time, and setting up drills in the correct way ensures proper planting depth and seedling emergence. Click Here to see the factsheet on calibrating drills.

2015 Arkansas Forage & Grassland Council Fall Forage Conferance

September 25, 2015

AFGC flier 2015

Beef Cattle Tips-September

September 23, 2015

dct sept 15

It’s September!!! Beef Cattle Tips is a monthly newsletter designed to remind you of timely production practices that could benefit your operation.  In this month’s issue, walk through your cattle working facilities and take note of repairs and maintenance before fall weaning. Test all weak spots.  These are supposed to be “working” facilities not “work-out” facilities. Facilities should be maintained for your safety and well as safety for your cattle.

Start making plans for weaning calves. Retained ownership can often increase gross income, but to be profitable, cost of feed cannot be too excessive. Hay and supplement based programs are more costly than pasture and supplement programs, so good fall pasture management is important.

Signup Today to receive the next Beef Cattle Tips E-Newsletter in October 2015, by Clicking Here


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