According to a USDA report, most of U. S. agricultural production has seen increased consolidation, that is, fewer and larger operations. What about beef cows? About 90% of U. S. agricultural land is evenly divided between cropland and pasture/rangeland. Beef cows are maintained primarily on pasture and range. Since 1987, of all pasture/rangeland that held by large operations (>10,000 acres) has declined from 51% to 44%. The average beef cow herd has 40 head, with the majority of herds below that number. Consequently, the mid-point herd size is considerably larger. Since 1987, the mid-point number has increased from 90 head to 110 head. Contrast that with increase by a factor of 11 in mid-point number of milk cow herds and 8 in layer flocks. So, some consolidation has occurred in beef cow herds, but at a relatively low rate compared to other animal production.

(USDA-ERS, 3/14/2018)



Optimum calving date depends on the relationship between a cow’s nutrient needs and available sources of nutrients, primarily obtained from forage. Nutrient needs are dictated largely by where a cow is in her production cycle. Nutrition from forage depends on how much is available and its quality. Quantity and quality are affected by such things as length of growing season, temperature, precipitation, weather extremes, type of forage, soil characteristics, and production factors for harvested forages. These variables differ across geographic regions.

Nutrient needs are highest from calving through peak milk production. Nutrient costs are lower when highest nutrient needs coincide with seasonal highs in forage quality. Conversely, lowest nutrient needs should coincide with periods of lowest forage quality. If nutrient needs are not matched with forage quantity and quality, supplemental feed costs will increase which must be offset with higher revenue from higher market value.

NOTE: In most of Texas, spring calving results in lower nutritional cost. But spring calves are weaned in the fall, when calf prices are usually lowest. Fall calving can result in higher prices for calves weaned in the spring, but nutritional costs are usually higher due to overwintering a cow and calf. Every producer should evaluate the relative benefits of costs and returns from different calving seasons. They are not the same for everybody.

(Prof. Anim. Sci. 32:145; Univ. of Nebraska, South Dakota St. Univ., USDA-ARS in Miles City, MT)



More and more safety-conscious consumers say they’re concerned about how food animals are raised and the product is produced and marketed. But what about what happens once a product is picked out of the retail case? A survey was conducted to study this question. Results indicated a 92% chance that meat could be temperature abused from choosing it out of the case to arrival at home. Consumers leave fresh beef products in their shopping cart for as long as 20 minutes while selecting other items. And another 60 minutes may elapse before reaching home, often because other errands are completed on the way. Depending on how much time is involved, going from case to home can adversely affect color, smell, and off-flavor of the product. Tenderness is not affected but, interestingly, juiciness is increased. Placing meat inside a cooler bag with ice can greatly reduce undesirable factors resulting from transport. The study concluded “a continued need for consumer outreach and research of handling behaviors for meat”.

(J. Anim. Sci.:96, Suppl. S1, p. 31; Auburn Univ.)



Cash costs to run a cow do not include depreciation or any financial return to management.  After decreasing $16 ($605 vs. $589) from 2015 to 2016, average annual cash costs across the U. S. for maintaining a beef cow increased $14, to $603. Costs are predicted to increase nationally in 2018 by $10-15. Costs increased most in the Northeast ($38) and Northern Plains/Corn Belt ($37) with the Southern Plains intermediate ($12) and the West and Southeast lowest ($3).

Even though costs increased in 2017, the average producer made a profit over cash costs of $245/cow, predicted to decline to $145 in 2018. In 2017, high-return producers made $355/cow and low-return $120. For 2018, the predictions are $250 for high-return and breakeven for low-return. Since 1980, average producers have made a profit over cash costs (ranging from a little over breakeven to over $550) in all but 9 of 38 years, including every year since 1997. High-return producers have made money in every year but 1983. Low-return lost money every year from 1980 through 1999 but since then have lost only in three years.

(By permission of CattleFax, )



Castration causes some degree of pain, especially in older bulls. Increasing numbers of people and groups have animal welfare concerns about castration. The two primary methods of castration are surgical and banding. Researchers compared those methods with injection of zinc. A group of 207crossbred beef bulls averaging 653 lb was obtained from regional auctions. After backgrounding, 180 bulls averaging 741 lb were either band castrated (BAND), injected with 100 mg of a zinc solution in the center of both testicles (INJ), or left as intact bulls (BULL). All  were then placed on a standard finishing program. Scrotal circumference, right-testicle thickness, and blood samples for serum testosterone analysis were obtained initially and every 28 days thereafter until the end of the 168-day feeding period.

ADG, feed efficiency, and final weight were significantly lower for BAND than for INJ and BULL which did not significantly differ from each other. After banding and being fed for 14 days, serum testosterone was undetectable in BAND. Testosterone was significantly higher in BULL than INJ at days 56 and 112 of the feeding period but was not different at other times nor by the end of feeding. At that point, scrotal circumference and testicle width tended to be higher for BULL over INJ. After slaughter, histopathological analyses indicated testicles of INJ were degenerated and reproductively nonviable and BULL were normal. So, zinc injection resulted in sterilization but not complete cessation of testicular function. The authors concluded “zinc injection resulted in outcomes more similar to BULL than BAND, implying minimal efficacy of INJ as a castration method in older bulls arriving to the feedlot”.

(J. Anim. Sci. 96:890; Univ. of Arkansas and West Texas A&M Univ.)



The Beef Improvement Federation is an organization involving research and extension, breed associations, industry representatives, and producers. BIF recently announced the publication of the 9th Revised Edition of their Guidelines for Uniform Beef Improvement Programs, available at .


May is generally the month of greatest forage production for most producers in the southern U. S. As such, it is tempting to increase cow-calf numbers to take advantage of any surplus forage. However, if ranches are stocked to utilize all the forage at peak production it means that the rest of the year the property is overstocked. When managing stocking rates keep forage production patterns in mind so that stocking is appropriate throughout the year. It is also worth considering stocking at 80% or some level below maximum capacity to allow for drought and any adverse weather conditions.

(From Jason Banta, Ph. D., , Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Beef Quality Assurance Coordinator)

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