by Chris Reinhardt, feedlot specialist
The world wants your product. And they want more of it. And they’re paying more for it than ever before. So your market signal is to produce more of it for them. But how?
The shortage of beef relative to domestic and international demand has created a sort of vacuum for beef, which has led to greater demand for feeder cattle, resulting in increased price for replacement heifers and for herd bulls. But it’s commonly believed in the feedlot world that the cheapest feeder animal you can purchase is the one already standing in the feedlot—in the form of a 1,200 or 1,300 lb fed animal.
Carcass weights for 2015 are running 10-20 lbs greater than in 2014, and 2014 ran 10-20 lbs greater vs. the previous 5-year average. Feedlots are, and have been for quite some time, feeding animals to heavier end weights.
The substantial increase in final live weight of feedlot animals can be attributed to a number of factors such as genetics and technology, but much of the increase over the past decade has come from simply feeding cattle longer. Based on K-State Research and Extension data, cattle are fed for 2-3 weeks longer than they were 15 years ago (figure 1).
Figure 1. Days on feed for steers fed in Kansas feedlots marketed in December from the Focus on Feedlots report (http://www.asi.k-state.edu/about/newsletters/focus-on-feedlots/monthly-reports.html).
If cattle are gaining 3.00 lbs or more late in the feeding period, and assuming 80% of late-term live weight gain is carcass gain: 21 days × 3.00 lbs × 80% = 50 lbs Hot Carcass Weight
USDA data indicate carcass weights have increased approximately 68 lbs over this same time frame, indicating that the combination of additional days on feed, genetics, and technology changes have all probably played a role.
Although increases in mature cow size have slowed in recent years, carcass weights of the offspring of those cows has continued to climb. Although we cannot, for a variety of reasons, increase the mature size of cattle through genetics, we have certainly found very effective means to continue to produce more beef in spite of limited feeder cattle supplies.