Impacts of Winter Weather on Cattle Markets

February 21, 2010 06:00 PM

By Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension kivestock marketing specialist

Unusually cold and wet weather has been widespread and prolonged this year. This has resulted in many management challenges and is causing a variety of market impacts in the short run and likely will have longer run impacts as well. 

Cold, sloppy feedlot conditions have delayed animal finishing and reduced carcass weights. Some of the lost performance will never be recovered and animals will require extra days on feed to finish at acceptable grades. This has helped push up fed cattle prices to $90/cwt. last week as packers scrambled to find sufficient quantities of finished cattle. Unfortunately most of the higher fed prices will only partially offset the increased feedlot cost of production due to reduced performance, lower feed efficiency and increased sickness and death loss.

Reduced total beef production, mostly due to lighter carcass weights, has helped push boxed beef prices higher this week but the effects of bad weather on demand will show up in the coming days and weeks. Roughly one-third of the U.S. population was severely impacted by snow and cold in recent days, no doubt resulting in reduced beef sales with restaurant sales especially impacted when travel is curtailed.

Most Oklahoma cow-calf producers have had a long winter of fighting mud to bust ice and haul hay. Cows have been wet and cold for weeks and have lost body condition despite increased hay feeding.  Many herds are just beginning to calve and cows will likely lose more body condition rapidly once they begin lactation.  Some producers are short of hay and face potentially another six to eight weeks of feeding before any spring forage will be available.  Producers needing more and better quality feed to get through the winter should evaluate all possible feed sources to design the most economical feeding programs to prevent excessive loss of cow body condition. Hay may not necessarily be the best answer.

The rigors of the winter are likely to result in poor or delayed conception rates for spring calving cows. The potential silver lining in this winter weather is that we have excellent moisture conditions to grow forage once spring arrives. Cows that finish the winter in poorer than usual body condition may recover quickly with abundant high quality spring forage. However, this may result in cows breeding somewhat later than normal and producers may want to consider possible adjustments in the breeding season.

Stocker cattle have also been affected by the harsh winter. The impacts depend more on the particular location.  In some regions stocker cattle have been subject to the same wet, sloppy conditions with stalled out wheat pasture and have not gained well. Many were placed on pasture later than usual and thus are lighter than expected at this time.  Farther west in Oklahoma and in the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles, it has been cold but drier and cattle have gained well, albeit with significantly increased hay feeding.

The end of February marks the time when wheat pasture producers must begin monitoring wheat for signs of First Hollow Stem (FHS) and the termination of winter grazing. Wheat is widely variable in stage of development this year due to scattered planting dates and that, combined with cold weather may make FHS more variable and slightly delayed. However, excellent moisture and a few warm days will do a lot to catch the wheat up to normal dates for FHS. Stocker cattle will begin moving off of wheat pasture very soon and most will likely move by the first week of March. Cattle grazing out wheat will have excellent forage conditions as soon the weather warms a bit and the wheat begins growing rapidly.

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