Two major winter storms a week apart have cattle producers scrambling to care for animals and maintain production. Virtually all sectors of cattle and beef markets have been impacted by theses storms. In Oklahoma, new snowfall and cold temperature records have pushed producers and cattle well out their normal operating ranges. Winter weather also disrupts markets and it will take some time for ripple effects of the storms to work their way out of the system.
Spring calving cows are either calving now or will be shortly. These cows are vulnerable nutritionally and nutritional stress could cause weak calves and more death loss this spring and/or poor rebreeding that could affect the 2012 calf crop. It is important to provide adequate quantity and quality of feed for cows in order to avoid loss of condition that may not be apparent until after cows calve and begin lactating. Stocker cattle, for the most part, probably experienced poor performance and perhaps some weight loss for several days. It does not appear that there was any widespread death loss due to the storms. Many cattle on wheat had limited forage availability and have already moved to market or will be moving very soon. Several cattle auctions in Oklahoma were closed due to the storms but should be back open as usual this week.
Likewise, it does not appear that feedlots experienced major cattle losses due to the storms, at least in the Southern Plains, though cattle no doubt lost some weight. It will take some time for cattle to recover lost weight but it does not appear that the weather will result in major fed cattle market impacts. The amount of moisture in the two snow events was limited and concerns about muddy pens that often follow winter storms will be less than usual. The weather impacts will, however, temper some concerns about slaughter rates and beef production in the first quarter of the year. The weather impacts on markets may not be great but are, in any event, supportive to a supply driven market.
Boxed beef prices dropped this last week and may be an indication of demand resistance to higher prices. However, the storm disrupted both consumption and beef shipments so the true state of beef demand is not clear at this time. It will take several days to reestablish the normal movement of beef. It is not uncommon and unexpected to see boxed beef prices drop a bit after the strength of the last month. Demand will be better indicated by the presence or absence of follow-through buying as we move into the middle of March.
Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist