Producers learn about markets, grazing at open house at Gudmundsen Sandhills Research Facility in Whitman, Nebraska |

Producers learn about markets, grazing at open house at Gudmundsen Sandhills Research Facility in Whitman, Nebraska

John Maddux, Chip Ramsay and Nancy Peterson talk about yearlings can fitting into a grazing program.
Photo by Teresa Clark |

Beef is still relatively expensive at the retail level, but an agricultural economist for the Livestock Marketing Information Center said prices might drop in coming months.

At the 17th Annual Open House at the Gudmundsen Sandhills Research Facility in Whitman, Neb., Jessica Sampson told producers beef prices take longer to drop at the retail level than cattle prices. Sampson attributed this to grocers’ hesitation to drastically drop prices on a regular basis.

“I think the retail price of beef will be coming down as we increase our supply,” she said. “Beef is still going to be relatively expensive, compared to pork and chicken.”

The per capita consumption of beef is at about 57 pounds a person, and Sampson said consumers are still spending their money to buy beef.

Exports amount to about 10 percent of the beef produced in the U.S.

“When the value of the U.S. dollar increased, it made our product more expensive,” Sampson said. “So other countries haven’t purchased as much beef from us. In the remainder of 2016, we expect exports to increase as the value of our dollar comes down. We think beef exports may actually be up about 5 percent this year.”

Japan has been a good customer for U.S. beef this year, and South Korea is growing, she said, but Mexico is still struggling with the exchange rate.

With corn at the $3 level, Sampson said beef prices are projected to follow normal seasonal trends this year. In the southern Plains, historically normal prices are staying steady, but producers might see a slight increase in the fourth quarter.

In Nebraska, 500-600 pound calves are selling between $1.80-$1.85, and the southern Plains market for 700-800 pound steers is estimated at $1.60.

“We don’t expect the meltdown in the fourth quarter like last year,” Sampson said. “Feedlots are very current on marketing right now.”

Mary Drewnowski, beef systems specialist with the University of Nebraska, discussed yearling management systems. She said there is some value in putting larger calves in the feedlot and backgrounding or overwintering lighter calves. Drewnowski said the key is the price of winter-feed. Producers can use corn residue with supplementation, winter range and harvested hay or silage to background calves. However, with pasture rates at an estimated $65 a month, producers can find it hard to make money backgrounding calves if it costs a $1 a head a day to winter them on grass, she said.

If producers are grazing calves on winter range or corn residue, Drewnowski said supplementation is necessary to get good gains. Some research conducted at the University of Nebraska showed feeding 3.75 pounds of corn per day as increasing gain to .31 pounds per day, while a corn and urea supplement fed at four pounds per day provided a gain of 0.53 pounds per day, and distillers grain fed at three pounds a day. That provided a gain of 1.32 pounds a day.

“In the control group, the calves that were not fed a supplement didn’t gain at all,” Drewnowski said.

Drewnowski said distillers seems to be a better supplement for calves than corn or corn and urea based on gain.

“Most of the time, distillers will be the most economical supplement for calves, even with shipping costs,” she said.

A producer panel of John Maddux, Nancy Peterson and Chip Ramsay discussed yearlings in their ranching operations. Maddux told producers Nebraska has a great resource in corn residue. Along with the infrastructure of ethanol and all its byproducts, Maddux said the combination makes a great feeding system for developing yearlings.

Peterson said they grow annual forages on their ranch, which could be used for yearlings.

“Annual forages are really at the mercy of the growing season,” Peterson said. “Last year, we had an abundant amount of annual forages, and this year we didn’t because our area is starting to see some drought. If you are using annual forages and thinking about taking in some yearlings, I would encourage you to make sure the contract has a clause addressing drought, growing conditions and cattle removal.”

On the Rex Ranch, Ramsay said calving season is in May and June, and calves are weaned anytime between October and January when they are 400-500 pounds. These calves are developed by grazing native hills and meadows, and supplemented with distillers grains based on the amount of cake and meadow hay they receive.

“The advantage of a yearling enterprise is it allows us to develop replacement heifers economically, prepare steer calves for the feedyard, and provide limited drought flexibility,” he said.

Matt Stockton, UNL ag economist, discussed a research project looking at the effect of cow size on heifer development. The optimal time to breed a heifer is at 65 percent of mature body weight, Stockton tells producers.

Stockton showed producers a formula he uses that might be more accurate in determining mature weight. This formula takes into account size of dam, and birth weight of the heifer, which is a great predictor of mature size, Stockton said.

“What you feed the heifer also matters,” he said. “It will impact what weight she will mature at. Younger, larger heifers require more nutrition to breed. Cattle are not equal. Size makes a difference in when they mature.”

Dave Boxler, entomologist with the UNL, told producers fly numbers will be peaking in late August to early September. He polled the audience on how well their fly control is working. Horn fly populations can feed up to 30 or more times a day, and both the male and female take a blood meal, he said. Economists say that fly problems amount to $1 billion annually in cattle production losses. In Nebraska, it can amount to a loss of 10-20 pounds in weaning weights. Boxler said the economic injury level is 200 flies per animal.

Producers can use dust bags, oilers and rubs, animal sprays, IGRs and feed-throughs, pour-ons, a mist blower sprayer and eartags to manage flies. Some methods work better than others, Boxler said.

Other speakers during the field day were Karla Jenkins, Jerry Volesky and Rick Funston all discussing ongoing research projects at the University. Representatives from the university, Gov. Pete Ricketts, and Rep. Adrian Smith were also in attendance and gave short presentations. ❖

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