Watch drought cycle before buying replacement cattle

MILANO – Even though parts of Texas have received beneficial rainfall, experts urge cattle producers to be cautious when thinking about restocking herds.

Dr. Larry Redmon, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service state forage specialist, told beef producers at the recent Central Texas Cow-Calf Clinic in Milano that 71 percent of the state is abnormally dry.

“We are in pretty good shape here in the Brazos Valley, but if you look at the data, about half of the state is in some type of drought conditions,” Redmon said. “This cycle started in 1995. These cycles last 22 to 25 years and we may not be out of this dry cycle until 2020. If you do the math, we’ve still got some potential for dry weather. You might want to be cautious about restocking or buying a bunch of cattle.”

Just like the dipstick to check the oil in an automobile, a soil test checks to see what nutrients are present and which are needed to grow forages. He advised producers to have a soil test taken on their pasture, especially with the price of fertilizer.

“We can’t do anything about the price of fertilizer, but we can do something about how efficiently we use those nutrients,” Redmon said. “Spend the $10 to get a soil test.”

Redmon said if you don’t fertilize Bermuda grass, it takes almost 20 inches of water to produce a ton of grass, but if you properly fertilize you can cut that amount of water almost in half.

To protect the grass, Redmon said you must control the weeds and allow sunlight to be captured by the green photosynthetic leaf tissue. For weed control, producers have options such as mechanical control or using herbicides. Mechanical shredding can cost as much as $15.24 per acre, while spraying herbicide is $11.57 per acre using a 30-foot boom sprayer.

Redmon also advised monitoring winter pastures, urging producers not to let winter grasses create a canopy above warm season grasses.  As nighttime temperatures approach 60 degrees, plan on having all winter pasture removed by either grazing or harvesting as hay.

Meanwhile, Dr. Davey Griffin, AgriLife Extension meat specialist and professor in the department of animal science at Texas A&M University, gave a virtual video tour of a packing facility. He said as a result of declines in beef cattle numbers, Texas packing plants have “tightened up” on the amount of meat processed, cutting back production schedules.

Producers viewed a load of finished cattle arriving at the facility and the many steps to process the carcass into the numerous cuts that make their way to consumers.

All carcasses are inspected throughout the process by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service, Griffin said. Though the processing aspect still requires many laborers on the floor, it has become a more mechanized system since there is such high volume to maintain profitability.  After laborers on the floor finishing processing the carcass, the various sub-primal cuts are vacuum packed and boxed – a process virtually automated in the larger plants.

Dr. Davey Griffin, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service meat specialist and professor in the department of animal science at Texas A&M, provided a video virtual tour of a beef packing facility at the Central Texas Cow-Calf Clinic in Milano recently. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Blair Fannin)

In the video, the boxes of meat cuts went through an automated machine that stacked them onto a pallet, where they were shrink-wrapped and staged for truck delivery to retail outlets.

“Literally, no carcasses leave plants today,” Griffin said. “They go in a box. Demand is so high for most of the product, they’ve found a home for most of that product either in our domestic market or in the numerous export markets that favor the uniformity and flavor of U.S. beef.”

Griffin said packers are looking to get as much value out of cuts as possible; putting meat through a grinder is the least desired option.



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