Vet’s Voice by Dr. Dave Barz: Cattle numbers on the rise
This was a strange weekend for everyone in South Dakota. Many of you got snow, most of us got rain and some of us got blown away. At least the moisture will be beneficial for most of us. The grass should get a jump start once the temperatures warm again. The next several weeks will be busy for most of us as many pairs will move to summer pasture.
It appears that herd expansion has begun. The January 1 cattle inventory was estimated at 89.8 million head. This is up 1.3 million head from a year ago. We have seen a decline since the last peak in 2007. The inventory in 2014 was the lowest since 1952. For the past few years we have expected to see an increase in cow inventory numbers, but a prolonged draught in the Southern plains and a moderate draught in the Northern Plains have delayed increases in cow numbers. The dairy cow numbers in the formula remain relatively constant. The cow slaughter in 2014 was 18 percent less than the previous year implying culling was minimal.
The southern plains are rapidly repopulating after the years of depopulating. This is critical because Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas maintain a large percentage of the cow population. We have seen an increase in the number of cows and heifers we are exporting to the southern states for feeding and breeding from our local livestock markets. We are unable to predict the future, but from the number we expect to produce, the cow calf man should expect $300-$400 per head.
As cow calf producers we must consider expansion as our short term ally, although over expansion may cause problems to the market in the future,
1. Cull deeply
The slaughter cow market is excellent and the demand for them is good. Any marginal animal or ones that doesn’t fit the templates of your herd should be sold. This is the time to decrease the age of your herd and increase productivity through thoughtful marketing. Examine your mature cow’s potential and make economic decisions for the future.
2. Retain more heifers
The reports from the Dept of Agriculture have driven the calf price down substantially. Now you can replace a mature cow with a heifer. Heifers can be used to stock pastures more heavily (1.5 heifers per cow). Many of the cows you are planning to market can be fed in the lot until late summer and then marketed at early weaning. Some producers will paddock heifers in the feedlot most of the grazing season. This allows easy use of artificial insemination and other management practices. These should help increase the number of pounds of calf you have to sell next fall.
Expansion has begun. We have sent many more heifers to be bred rather than fed. Consult with your veterinarian, nutritionalist or extension livestock specialist to form a plan for your herd during expansion. Careful planning now will assure future profits and herd improvements.