DENVER - The coming year could be good for cattle producers, but there are a lot of "ifs" attached to that forecast.
With the nation's cow herd at the lowest it's been in the past 50 years or so, there is some optimism for 2010 among cattle producers at the National Western Stock Show. But it is cautious optimism at best.
"I'm one of those glass half-full kind of guys, but I truly believe we can see some exceedingly excellent times in the beef industry this year," Kevin Ochsner of Kersey said. But, he quickly added, a lot of that depends on how quickly the world economy rebounds.
The Ochsner family, Kevin and Julie and their three children, Caitlyn, 12, Ashlyn 9 and Collin, 6, took four animals to the National Western last week. They have a herd of about 130 purebred Limousin and Lim-Flex cattle east of Kersey. They also operate Ochsner Tenderlean Beef, offering meat by the whole, half and quarter, which is processed either at Steving Meat Co. of Kersey or through Innovative Foods of Evans. Lim-Flex cattle are a crossbred, one-half Limousin and one-half Angus.
"That meat comes from the cattle we don't keep as breeding stock," he said. And, he added, the cattle they own, market and exhibit at shows are all home grown. A heifer Caitlyn exhibited at the National Western this year traced its lineage back to a heifer he exhibited at the National Western in 1977.
The family operation was started by Ken and Roberta Ochsner in 1971 and they were at the stock show to watch their son and grandchildren.
Ochsner, who also is host of Cattlemen to Cattlemen on RFD-TV, a National Cattlemen's Beef Association program, said it depends on which economist is talking, but most of them also are optimistic about the coming year.
"Most of them are saying the economy rebounding is likely to happen, but globally, we also have to do something about trade," he said. Taiwan, for instance, keeps changing its mind almost on a daily basis on whether it will allow certain U.S. produced beef into that country.
Down in the stockyards, Sidwell Herefords was getting ready to show six yearling bulls, something that operation, which was founded in 1908, has been doing for more years that Harold Sidwell cared to remember. He too, said prices should get better because of the drop in the cattle numbers nationwide.
Sidwell Herefords, which includes Harold and Marlene and their son, Bryan and his wife, Linda, keep 100 head of registered Herefords on a ranch near Carr, in northern Weld County, and another 200 head of commercial cows on a ranch northeast of Torrington, Wyo. They bring all the cows to the Carr ranch for calving, which will start around the second week of February. Once calved, they will take the commercial cows and their calves back to the grass on the Wyoming ranch. With rising costs of fuel, that becomes an expensive proposition every year.
It was a tough 2009 fall season on the Wyoming ranch, Sidwell said.
"We got a couple of blizzards up there early on and it was five days before we could get feed to the cows and calves. They couldn't even break through the snow to get to the grass," he said. As a result, when they sold the calves later in the fall, they averaged about 80 pounds lighter than average.
"That cost us a lot of money," Sidwell said.
Bill Angell of La Salle is the livestock manager at the National Western and he said the attitude of most cattle producers this year seemed to be that of "guarded optimism."
He said the number of entries were up in several areas, which was a good sign, and the early sales indicated optimism as well.
"The sales we've had so far have been strong, well attended and prices have been good," he said.
Ochsner probably summed the situation the best.
"I think we've hit the bottom of the valley and it's only a mile to start up the other side. I'm just hoping it's not three miles," he said.