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Cow-Calf Corner - The Newsletter, October 11, 2021

Record beef exports in 2021

Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist

In the latest livestock trade data, August beef exports were up 21.3 percent year over year with year-to-date total beef exports also up 21.0 percent from 2020.  Beef exports in the month of August were an all-time record for any month.  Beef exports continue to be fueled mostly by the strong growth in the China/HK market, up 160.5 percent year over year in August.  Monthly exports for August were also higher year over year to Japan, up 10.4 percent and Mexico, up 49.1 percent over last year’s sharp drop.  August beef exports were down to South Korea, 9.0 percent; Canada, down 6.4 percent and Taiwan, down 12.7 percent.

The previous record for annual beef exports was in 2018.  However, 2021 beef exports are up 9.1 over 2018 for the January – August period and are forecasted to finish this year 8.0 – 9.0 percent above the 2018 level.  Changes in the composition of beef exports since 2018 show how U.S. beef export markets are developing.  Japan remains the largest export market for U.S. beef but is declining in total and as a share of total beef exports.  For the first eight months of 2021, beef exports to Japan are down 7.5 from 2018 and the share of total beef exports to Japan have dropped from 28.9 percent in 2018 to 24.5 percent this year.  South Korea continues to be the second largest beef export market with exports growing by 23.9 percent since 2018.  South Korea’s share of total beef exports in the January to August period has increased from 20.6 percent in 2018 to 23.4 percent in 2021.  South Korea is closing on and may surpass Japan in the next few months as the largest U.S. beef export market.  In four of the eight months so far this year (January, February, April and May), monthly beef exports to South Korea have exceeded exports to Japan.

However, China/HK is the most rapidly growing beef export market and could surpass both Japan and South Korea in not too many months.  Beef exports to China/HK are up 163.4 percent year over year and have more than doubled, increasing by 114.1 percent since 2018 in the January – August period.  In fact, monthly beef exports to China/HK in August were larger than South Korea and were second only to exports to Japan for the month.  China/HK, increased from 9.6 percent of total exports in 2018 to 18.8 percent of the total for the year to date through August and has increased from the fifth largest beef export market in 2018 to the third largest market in 2021. Beef exports to Taiwan are down 1.6 percent year over year but have increased by 7.2 percent since 2018 in the year-to-date values.  However, Taiwan as a percent of total exports has not changed much and currently represents 5.7 percent of total beef exports.

While the Asian markets have grown, beef exports to Canada and Mexico have declined in total and as a share of the total.  Beef exports to Canada decreased by 10.0 percent from 2018 to 2021 for the first eight months of the year.  Canada decreased from a share of 9.7 percent to 8.0 percent of total beef exports between 2018 and 2021.  Beef exports to Mexico for the first eight months of the year decreased by 28.7 percent between 2018 and 2021.  Mexico’s share of total beef exports decreased from 14.1 percent to 9.2 percent from 2018 to 2021 for the year-to-date period.  Beef exports to Mexico dropped sharply in 2020 due to the pandemic and is recovering somewhat in 2021 with year-to-date beef exports up 20.8 percent year over year.



Selection and Management of Replacement Heifers Based on Cowherd Data Collected at Weaning

Mark Z. Johnson, Oklahoma State University Extension Beef Cattle Breeding Specialist

Over the past several weeks we have discussed how the data collected at weaning can help to cost effectively manage the cow herd.  At a time of continued high grain prices, Oklahoma cattle producers also suffer from a lack of rainfall which is jeopardizing the potential of cool season grass pastures.   This week we take a look at the selection and development of replacement heifers.

In order to maximize profit potential it is important to have heifers calving at two years of age.  The time period required for replacement heifers to pay for their development and maintenance is referred to as the payback period.  On average, six calves are necessary for the female to pay for her development and maintenance expenses. That is, a 7-year-old female weaning her sixth calf at the breakeven point.  If the female misses producing a calf one year. The payback period extends to 9 calves.  Research shows heifers becoming pregnant early in their first breeding season, (specifically the first 21 days) remain in the herd longer and produce more total calf weaning weight over their lifetime in production.

How do we select and manage replacement heifers so that they are having fertile heats and ready to conceive by 14-15 months of age? Genetics, photoperiod, level of nutrition and growth rate all influence when beef heifers will reach puberty; that being said, heifers that have reached 65% of their mature weight by this age should have reached puberty and be ready to breed.  Obviously age should be taken into account, (along with other selection criterion), when selecting replacements, with older heifers having an advantage.  Heifers calves born earlier in the calving season, are produced by cows that conceived earlier in the breeding season.

After heifers are selected, how do we arrive at the target weight they need to gain from weaning until their first breeding season? First we need an accurate estimate of the average mature cow weight.  By using the weights taken at weaning time on the 4 to 7-year old cows and adjusting to a Body Condition Score of 5 (Chapter 20 Beef Cattle Manual) we can calculate average mature weight of the cowherd.  For example:

Average Weight of Mature Cowherd = 1300 lb.

Average Weaning Weight of Selected Heifer Calves = 527 (Weaning Weights taken on October 1st)

Beginning of breeding Season planned for May 1st, corresponding to a calving season starting approximately February 8th.

212 Days from October 1st to May 1st.

Target Weight = 1300 lb. Mature Weight x .65 = 845 lb. by May 1st.

Gain Needed = 845 – 527 = 318 lb.

Average Daily Gain Needed from Weaning to Breeding Season = 345/212 = 1.5 lb./day


What is the best way to feed to reach that Target Weight? In a normal Oklahoma year, spring born heifers weaned in October are old enough to make good use of wheat pasture available by late November and gain 1.5 lb. per day (or better) to reach targeted weight.   This would typically be the most cost effective way to develop replacements. The way this year is shaping up, cool season grass pasture looks iffy.  The good news?, it is documented that heifers can be rough it and be grown very slowly through the winter months and fed harder for the couple of months going into breeding season in order to reach target weight by breeding season.  This is the development method referred to as SLOW-FAST in Chapter 29 of the newest edition of the OSU Beef Cattle Manual.  The SLOW-FAST feeding method for replacement heifers can also be a more cost effective means of reaching the target weight than feeding for a consistent daily gain over the entire feeding period.

Additional Management Advice for Developing Replacement Heifers

  • Don’t use growth implants.  While it may be tempting to get the improved gain, replacement heifers should not be implanted at weaning (or later) as it will decrease fertility and pregnancy rates.
  • Use ionophores (monensin or lasalocid) when possible, they are proven to cost effectively improve growth with no downside to fertility.
  • Target a Body Condition Score of 6 by the beginning of breeding season.  It’s not only important that heifers reach target weight but also important they don’t get overly fat as this can reduce fertility as well.



Beef Cattle Manual. Eight Edition. E-913. Oklahoma Cooperative Extension. Chapters 20 and 29.



Prospects of Wheat Pasture this Fall

Paul Beck, Oklahoma State University State Extension Beef Nutrition Specialist

After the driest September on record, last night we got what my dad would have called a “million-dollar rain”. For producers relying on winter pasture to grow purchased or retained calves this may be what was needed to give us the prospect of at least some wheat grazing, although probably a month later than normal and not as much fall forage production as what we normally would like. We are already 40 to 50 days delayed in planting our grazeout wheat acres and 30 days delayed in planting our dual-purpose wheat, which will limit our forage production potential this fall and winter.

Over the last few weeks as I was driving across Oklahoma, you could really tell who was planting wheat from long distances because of the dust clouds across the horizon. Many farmers were dusting in wheat as fast as they could ahead of this predicted rain. A week ago, areas of central Oklahoma got rainfall ranging from 0.3 inch to 3 or more inches. Producers that had planted ahead of this rain were able to get stands in most of these plantings. If it was not planted before this rain, planting was likely delayed until it was dry enough to get across the fields again. For the prospects of late fall or winter grazing, timing is critical and any delay can have large impacts on forage production.

Our goal should be to stock calves on wheat pasture during the fall and winter so that they have 5 pounds of forage dry matter per pound of calf bodyweight. So, for a 500-pound calf our goal is for him to have 2,500 pounds of forage dry matter available at turnout. This forage allowance will maximize steer weight gains during the fall and winter grazing period. Lower forage allowances are associated with lower performance, but even at 3 to 3.5 pounds of forage per pound of steer bodyweight we have seen gains of 2 pounds per day.

A good rule of thumb is wheat forage has about 200 pounds of dry matter per inch of height, so for 2 acres/steer stocking rate pastures should be 6 to 8 inches tall when we turnout. If pastures are only 4 to 5 inches tall at turnout, we would need 3 acres per steer to meet this goal, we should provide supplemental feed to stretch forage supplies, or we can live with lower calf performance.

So, what are our chances to get any pasture this fall and winter? Dr. Brett Carver conducted research several years ago indicating that wheat growth averaged 3.3 pounds per acre per growing degree day through the fall. A growing degree day is the accumulated heat units above a growth threshold temperature (42° F for wheat) and is calculated by the average daily temperature – 42 times the number of days. Wheat that was up before this latest rain, has the potential to reach 1,000 pounds of forage dry matter per acre by Thanksgiving, if we have our normal average daily temperatures for the rest of the month of October and through November. Wheat that was dusted in ahead of these storms will probably be delayed or have less forage production by a week or 10 days, depending on when it comes up and starts actively growing. Prospects for wheat acres that were not planted, and were relying on these storms to allow planting in ideal soil moisture conditions are completely at the mercy of when tractors will be able to roll across these fields.