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Winter weather impacts cattle markets

By Derrell Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension

A major winter storm this past week extended in a belt across the middle of the country from Denver east to the mid-Atlantic coast. Heavy snow hit parts of feedlot country across eastern Colorado, Kansas, southeastern Nebraska, southern Iowa and the eastern Corn Belt. Much of Nebraska and the northern Plains along with the Texas panhandle were spared the worst of the snow but rain has created wet, sloppy conditions in many places that will impact cattle performance in feedlots and in the country. Recent weather may delay fed cattle marketing enough to help support fed cattle prices or push prices higher. Whether or not weather impacts are widespread enough to noticeably impact overall market conditions, cattle producers in many areas face significant management headaches due to the weather.

Winter weather often impacts feedlot performance and efficiency. Feedlots typically post the lowest seasonal average daily gains (ADG) for cattle marketed in March to May, which reflects cattle fed over the previous four to six months. This likely includes the negative impacts of winter weather on feedlot performance but also partly reflects the fact that feedlots place the highest proportion of lightweight cattle (which have lower ADG) in the fall and feed them through the winter. Feedlots also experience poorer feeding efficiency in the winter with the highest feed to gain ratios of the year posted for cattle marketed in February and March. This occurs despite the fact that lightweight cattle placed in the fall have lower feed to gain ratios relative to heavier feedlot placements. This again indicates the impact of winter weather on cattle feeding. Not surprisingly, feedlots post the highest animal morbidity and mortality rates for cattle fed through the winter.

In Oklahoma, wet, sloppy conditions are a major challenge, especially across the southern half of the state. Oklahoma cattle producers are reluctant to complain about moisture in a place that so often suffers from drought but exceptionally wet conditions this fall and winter have created significant headaches for cow-calf and stocker producers. The past six months is the wettest for the period on record for the statewide average and regionally is the wettest period for the south central region of the state and the second wettest for the southeast and west central regions. The southwest, central and north central regions have seen the fifth, sixth and seventh wettest periods, respectively, in the past six months.

Cold weather increases animal maintenance requirements and boosts feed needs. The Oklahoma Mesonet provides a cattle comfort advisor to help producers adjust cattle management in adverse weather conditions. The cattle comfort index is based on temperature, wind, relative humidity and solar radiation. As has often been the case recently, rain or wet conditions that produce a wet hair coat on cattle mean that the calculated cattle comfort advisor index must be adjusted even lower. In these conditions, cattle producers need to increase the quantity and often the quality of feed for cattle to avoid production losses or impacts on pregnant or lactating cows or for stockers.

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