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Beef Management Tips

Livestock Update, October 1998

John Hall, Scott Greiner, and Bill McKinnon, Extension Beef and Marketing Specialists, Animal and Poultry Sciences, Virginia Tech

This month's Beef Management Tips is dedicated to Dr. Arthur L. (Ike) Eller who, after 20 years of writing this column, has handed the reins over to the new Extension beef specialists here at Virginia Tech. For years, you have enjoyed Ike's advice on "chuting cows" and cow-calf management, updates on the bull tests and BCIA, and general commentaries on the beef industry. At the same time, information like Beef Management Tips and Ike's active Extension program was paving the way for the Extension specialists that followed him. We hope you join us in thanking Ike for his service to the Virginia beef industry.

Thanks to previous Extension Beef Cattle Specialists - Ike Eller, Curtis Mast, and John Gerken, Virginia beef producers are, in many ways, ahead of their counterparts in other areas of the country which makes our job a little easier. Through Beef Management Tips, our other articles, Extension publications, and Extension programs, we hope to continue and expand the service provided by Virginia Cooperative Extension to Virginia's beef industry.

Cow-Calf Management Calendar - October

Spring Calving Herds

Fall Calving Herds

Understanding and Coping with the Market
The fed cattle market remains under pressure from an over supply of heavy cattle, weaker hide and offal prices, competition from other meats and a weakened bargaining position with packers due to ample beef supplies. The beef industry is on pace in 1998 to reach its second highest annual total for beef production ever, fueled largely by heavier slaughter weights. The weakness in foreign currencies has spelled dramatic declines in hide and offal values since most of these products are exported. The lower value of "fifth quarter" products is costing the industry roughly $2 per cwt. on finished cattle. These issues specific to the beef industry come in a year when total meat supplies are projected to be at an all time record high. The surge in total meat supplies is led by a projected 11% annual increase in pork supplies.

Slaughter weights have been historically heavy for most of 1998. Slaughter weights for 1998 have been averaging better than 20 pounds per head ahead of last year. Most of the cattle coming out of feed yards across the country all year have had red ink all over them, with some estimates of average losses of $90 to $95 per head. For much of the time, the futures market has carried a premium to cash, suggesting that better times were just around the corner. When the cash bid is $8 to $10 per cwt. below the breakeven price, it is easy for the cattle feeder to talk himself into holding cattle for another week, hoping for better prices. The decision to hold has been strongly influenced by cheap grain and lower costs of gain.

Feeder cattle producers cannot expect higher prices until profits return to the feeding sector. The current depressed psychology of the market may offer profit potential for folks willing to look down the road a few months. Cattle people need to remember that this year's calf crop is estimated to be the smallest since 1951. As profits return to the cattle feeding sector, feeders will begin placing a higher value on a limited supply of feeder cattle in 1999.

Dramatically lower feeder calf prices should encourage cow/calf producers to look at the option of backgrounding calves. Holding onto calves for at least a short period of time to get past the rush of October calf movement may pay producers for their feed and labor and then some. Backgrounders and stocker operators need to study the cheap price of this season's calves. Backgrounders can take some cheap calves and match them up with dirt cheap barley or corn, some forage and have feedlot ready cattle available to sell as the fed market rebounds. Stocker cattle folks need to consider stockpiling cattle this fall to avoid the spring grass fever that dealt losses to them in 1998. Short fall grazing, hay, and silage supplies can be stretched with cheap grains and by-product feeds. A pound of TDN (energy) will cost less coming from sub-$100/ton corn or $1-$1.25 per bushel barley than $60 per ton hay. BRM

Virginia BCIA Bull Test Update
The Virginia BCIA Central Bull Test Program is in full swing for the 1998-1999 season. Culpeper Senior Test bulls (born September 1 to December 15, 1997) were delivered to Glenmary Farm in Rapidan, VA on July 21 and started the 112-day test period on August 3. One hundred twenty eight bulls were consigned to the Culpeper Senior Test and the top two-thirds of the bulls will be sold on December 12. An open house and educational program is tentatively scheduled for Sunday afternoon, November 22 in conjunction with this test.

New for 1998 is the Culpeper Custom Senior Test. This test was designed to serve as a bull development option for breeders who planned to take bulls home for use after the test, or consign them to sales such as the VA BCIA All-Breed Performance Tested Bull Sales at Staunton and Blackstone. Additionally, there will not be a BCIA bull test or sale this season at the Red House facility. The implementation of the new custom test also provides breeders an additional option for bull development in the absence of the Red House test and sale. This custom test follows similar guidelines and coincides with the regular Culpeper Senior Test.

Both senior (bulls born October 1 to December 31, 1997) and junior (bulls born January 1 to March 31, 1998) bulls will be delivered to the Southwest Bull Test Station in Wytheville on October 6. Senior bulls will be evaluated on a 112-day test and junior bulls on a 140-day test. Eligible bulls will be sold at the station on Saturday, March 27, 1999. With the closing of the Red House station, more senior bulls will be tested at Wytheville than in past years (80 vs. 60 bulls).

Culpeper Junior bulls (born December 15, 1997 to March 31, 1998) will start a 140-day test on November 10. Entry deadline for consignments is October 19. These bulls will be offered for sale on Friday, April 9, 1999.

To be eligible for sale, bulls in all stations will be subjected to minimum performance, reproductive soundness, and body-type guidelines. Bulls will be evaluated for general type/conformation, structural soundness, and frame size at the conclusion of each test. Breeding soundness evaluations will be conducted on individual bulls. The top two-thirds of bulls in each test group will sell based on test gain and adjusted yearling weight.

Again this year, BCIA will have a strong set of bulls to offer for sale in the 1998-1999 season. The information gathered during the tests are of great benefit to producers seeking genetics to improve the performance of their herds. Questions related to the VA BCIA bull test program can be directed to Scott Greiner, BCIA Educational Advisor, phone (540)231-9163.

Virginia BCIA All-Breed Performance Tested Bull and Commercial Replacement Heifer Sales
Dates for this year's Virginia BCIA All-Breed Performance Tested Bull and Commercial Replacement Heifer Sales are set for November 20 at Blackstone and December 5 at Staunton. Bulls calved September 1, 1996 to October 31, 1997 that have been performance tested are eligible. This year, only open heifers (born March 1 to October 31, 1997) will be sold at Blackstone, and only bred heifers (born September 1, 1996, / to April 30, 1997) will be sold at Staunton. Deadline for consignments is October 1. If you are interested in consigning to these sales, please contact Scott Greiner. SPG

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