Beef Cattle Browsing – August 2020

Temperament and Breed Type Affects Feeding and Carcass Value
Previous research has shown that cattle with more excitable temperaments have reduced and less efficient gains and leaner carcasses. Bos indicus cattle are generally known to be more excitable than Bos taurus cattle, possibly due to heightened levels of stress hormones. This study was conducted to evaluate the effects of temperament and breed type on feedyard growth and efficiency and carcass merit and value in heifers.

A total of 411 Angus, Braford, Brangus and Simbrah heifers weighing an average of 634 lbs. was sourced from a single ranch and fed on a high grain diet at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research Center in McGregor, TX. Feed intake data was collected for 70 d using a GrowSafe System. Temperament was measured on arrival and at the beginning and end of the feed intake trial using exit velocity measures.

Results indicated that there were no significant differences among the four breeds for exit velocity. Previous studies have indicated significant differences between Bos taurus and Bos indicus breeds but those studies had cattle from multiple locations while these came from a single source. Heifers with calm temperaments had significantly greater ADG than excitable ones. Calmer heifers consumed more feed but also had greater Gain:Feed indicating that additional feed consumed went to growth.

Feeding behavior results for calm and excitable heifers showed more and longer feed bunk visits for calm heifers with longer and larger meals taken. The Bos indicus heifers tended to have more bunk visits of shorter duration with a faster eating rate.

There were no significant interactions for temperament and breed for carcass traits or value. Calm heifers had greater ultrasound fat thickness and higher percent intramuscular fat (marbling). Calm heifers also had heavier carcass weights, higher fat thickness, greater ribeye areas, and numerically higher (less desirable, but only slightly) yield grades and were more tender and had higher carcass grid value.

(C. A. Olsen et. al., 2019 Journal of Animal Science Vol. 97, pp. 1828-1839)

Management and Economic Considerations for Challenging Markets and Adverse Weather
Dr. Jason Smith and Dr. Jason Banta, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Beef Specialists in Amarillo and Overton, TX, recently published an Extension bulletin titled “Management and Economic Considerations for Beef Cow-Calf Producers During Challenging Markets or Adverse Weather Conditions”. Driven in part by the uniqueness of Covid-19 impacts on the industry and dry weather, the paper focuses on four “Keys to Success”:

  1. Recognizing that sound grazing strategies and forage management practices are vital for operational success.
  2. Critical evaluation of feeding and supplemental strategies to ensure they are cost effective and consistent with good stewardship and production goals.
  3. Critical evaluation and prioritization of input costs (and risk of input reductions) based on their potential return to investment.
  4. Creating and keeping good records to accurately evaluate the operation and make informed decisions.

Areas that Smith and Banta emphasize to pay close attention to included annual cow costs and input changes that may affect productivity and income per acre and proper stocking rates to reduce supplemental feeding and maintain cow BCS to promote reproduction and calf growth

They also encourage producers to consider specific management and marketing practices that can minimize input costs or decrease market volatility risk:

  1. Strategic culling – Cull animals not essential to the operation including open females, cows with poor teats or bags, older or “smooth mouthed” cows, cows with poor temperaments, cows having “poor doing” calves, cows calving outside the calving season, and bulls that breed less than their allotted share of cows.
  2. Market focused management practices – Stay up to date on the market situation and seasonality for different kinds and classes; market cattle in smaller groups to minimize the impact of a down market; don’t over condition calves; use excess forages not needed by the cowherd to hold weaned calves to delay marketing (if necessary); consider retaining heifers in a down market (lower investment), and manage calves to enhance their marketability (castration, weaning and preconditioning).
  3. Preventative herd health program – Continue to use a good herd health program (developed with your veterinarian) including both vaccinations and internal and external parasite control and a biosecurity program delaying the exposure of your herd to new animals for at least 14-28 days.
  4. Nutrition and supplementation – Base supplementation decisions on protein and energy requirements and feedstuff nutrient values, forage quality should be used to determine hay purchase and feeding practices (feed the highest quality hay to the animals with the greatest requirement), and base mineral and vitamin supplementation on forage mineral content and product value.
  5. Finally, focus on value of gain when making nutritional management decisions for growing cattle, creep feeding may not result in a positive return on investment and might cause a discount at marketing if claves are over conditioned.

Smith and Banta conclude with other areas that warrant consideration during these uncertain periods including evaluating loan interest rates in refinancing and reducing debt; prioritize and continue maintenance and upkeep of equipment and infrastructure; carefully consider options in purchasing or selling equipment; and lastly to utilize weed and brush control to areas that will have the greatest impact on forage production at the least cost.

This article and all of the links it refers to can be found at

(Smith and Banta, 2020)

Early Pregnancy Detection Using Pregnancy Associated Glycoproteins
Pregnancy detection is critical for reproductive management and efficiency in beef herds. It is estimated that pregnancy losses cost the beef industry $600 million annually, yet a recent USDA survey reports only 20% of producers use pregnancy detection. Early detection can determine pregnancy status, identify open females as candidates for rebreeding and shorten calving intervals. Pregnancy associated glycoproteins (PAG) are secreted into the maternal bloodstream by the placenta shortly after implantation of the fertilized ovum and are detectable as early as day 24 of gestation (compared to 27-28 days for transrectal ultrasound).

Researchers in the Texas A&M Animal Science Department and the University of Tennessee evaluated the potential to utilize circulating concentrations of PAG at day 24 of gestation to accurately predict pregnancy status and embryonic mortality in Bos taurus cattle. The study included 677 postpartum (avg. 65 d) cows (494 multiparous and 127 primiparous) and 127 heifers of mostly Angus influence. Both sets of cattle were synchronized using the Co-Synch protocol and fixed time AI was conducted at 66 hours for the cows and at 54 hours for the heifers. Blood samples were collected at day 24 post insemination and pregnancy was determined 30 days post insemination via transrectal ultrasound.

Overall, AI pregnancy rate was 51.8% and did not differ between cows (51.6%) and heifers (52.7%). Females diagnosed as pregnant at day 30 had significantly higher levels of PAG at day 24 compared to nonpregnant females (1.69 vs. 0.30 ng/mL, resp.). Day 24 PAG levels were higher in pregnant heifers compared to nonpregnant heifers (3.29 vs. 0.74 ng/mL) and in pregnant cows compared to open cows (1.39 vs. 0.22 ng/mL). PAG levels of pregnant heifers were significantly higher than in pregnant cows but there was no difference in the levels of open heifers and cows nor were there differences in PAG levels between multiparous and primiparous cows.

The authors concluded that circulating day 24 PAG levels of 1.39 ng/mL was 95% accurate in diagnosing pregnancy and that the odds of a positive pregnancy diagnosis at day 30 increased by 150% (in cows) and 50% (in heifers) for every 1 ng/mL increase in PAG at day 24.

Females that maintained pregnancy through 100 days of gestation had higher day 24 PAG levels than those that underwent embryonic/fetal mortality before then (14.9% of heifers and 6.7% of the cows in this study) and PAG might be used as a marker to indicate the possibility of late embryonic mortality in breeding females.

*Editor’s note: PAGs are used in the BioPryn and IDEXX pregnancy tests.

(O. Filho, et. al. 2020 Theriogenology Vol. 154, pp. 84-91)

USDA Boxed Beef and Fed Cattle Investigation Report
USDA investigated the impact of two separate events (the Tyson Plant fire in August 2019 and the current COVID-19 pandemic) on the difference between prices for boxed beef and fed cattle, specifically to determine if any group regulated under the Packers and Stockyards Act manipulated prices, colluded, restricted competition, or participated in any unfair practices. The report summarizes the market conditions, fed cattle prices, boxed beef values, and Choice-Select spread before and after these two events. They did not examine any potential violations in this report.

Before the fire, the Tyson Plant harvested approximately 30,000 head per week or 5-6% of the weekly US fed cattle slaughter. Impacts of the Tyson Plant fire were:

  1. The early August fire coincided with typical season increases in boxed beef demand leading up to the Labor Day Holiday weekend.
  2. Futures prices for fed cattle decreased significantly after the fire followed by fed cattle prices.
  3. Beef processors increased their slaughter with the addition of Saturday shifts.
  4. There was a marked drop in negotiated cash sales after the fire.
  5. The closure of the plant appeared to affect the spread between boxed beef values and fed cattle prices causing a 143% increase compared to 2016-18 average.

The impact of COVID-19 has disrupted both the markets AND the processing and transportation systems. By the end of April 2020, 40% of the US beef processing capacity was idled due to the infection. Impacts of COVID-19 included

  1. Market reactions were characterized by sudden changes in demand as consumer significantly increased fresh beef purchases at the grocery store and food service demand declined as restaurants ceased onsite dining.
  2. Boxed beef values increased and fed cattle prices were volatile in March. Between mid-March and early April, the spread between box beef values and fed cattle prices doubled and was over 300% of the 2016-18 average.
  3. In April and May there were significant supply disruptions as beef plant workers contracted COVID-19, impacting packer demand which may have contributed to lower fed cattle prices.
  4. Also, in April, a surge in retail demand occurred when consumers reacted to the possibility of beef shortages in grocery stores which contributed to a sharp increase in beef prices. At the same time, packers purchased fewer cattle and plant slowdowns and closures increased. The spread between fed cattle prices and box beef values grew 323%.
  5. In May, as restaurants reopened, beef demand moved to a more normal mix of food service and retail grocery demand. The spread between fed cattle and boxed beef narrowed from $279/cwt in mid-May to $119/cwt in early June.

Other considerations were a lack of transparent price reporting and discovery, the need for risk management for small and medium size producers, the need for better opportunities for small processor and cooperatives to enter and remain in business, and the need for updating and amending the Packers and Stockyards Act.

BQA Tip for September
Dr. Jason Banta, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Beef Cattle Specialist, Overton

Meeting trace mineral requirements is important for cattle performance and health. However, exceeding trace mineral needs does not result in improved performance and depending on the amount of excess can lead to death or reductions in growth and reproduction. An increasing number of deaths associated with copper and other trace mineral toxicities are showing up. Too meet animal requirements and help avoid trace mineral excesses it is a good practice to only use a single well-formulated mineral supplement. Using multiple products (e.g. loose mineral supplements, mineral tubs, mineral blocks, etc.) at the same time is costly and can lead to excess.


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