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Beef prices down, cattlemen look to cut costs

Veterinarian Jacques Fuselier talks to attendees of a beef cattle and forage field day about body condition scoring on April 29 at the LSU AgCenter Bob R JonesIdlewild Research Station in Clinton La
<p><em>Veterinarian Jacques Fuselier talks to attendees of a beef cattle and forage field day about body condition scoring on April 29 at the LSU AgCenter Bob R. Jones-Idlewild Research Station in Clinton, La.</em></p>

Cattle supplies are beginning to rebound from the lowest levels in half a century, and demand for beef is increasing — but producers may not feel the benefits if cattle prices do not improve before the end of 2016.

Speaking at an April 29 field day at the LSU AgCenter Bob R. Jones-Idlewild Research Station in Clinton, La. — the first held there in several years — AgCenter economist Kurt Guidry said the U.S. cattle supply has grown by about 3 percent this year. More cattle are being sent to feedlots, meaning both wholesale and retail prices are likely to go down further as the market attempts to move increased supplies.

Retail prices for fresh beef overall have decreased by 18 cents per pound since October, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Demand for meat is growing, but beef is facing greater competition from other meats, like pork and chicken, Guidry said.

“2016 will see a large increase in total red meat and poultry production,” he said. “It has to be sold. If we continue to see a reduction in those retail and wholesale meat prices, that is going to be reflected back through the marketing channel, and ultimately, it impacts what you get.”

Guidry said he’s somewhat concerned that cattle prices haven’t improved in the first half of 2016 as some had hoped.

“Unfortunately, the market has been unable to provide any real sustained price strengthening to this point in 2016,” Guidry said. “The longer we go without seeing an improvement in cattle prices, I think the less we’re going to see an improvement toward the end of 2016.”

With signs pointing to lower fed cattle prices over the last half of 2016, feedlots are taking heavier cattle in what appears to be an effort to move cattle in and through the feedlot quickly before any significant downturn in prices materializes, he said.


Meanwhile, producers are looking for ways to cut costs. One issue that has come up recently — as it did when calf prices were low between 2007 and 2009 — is how much cow size matters, said Ryon Walker, a cattle researcher at the AgCenter Hill Farm Research Station in Homer, La.

Average weights of mature cows have increased by about 300 pounds in the past 30 years, Walker said. And heavier cows eat more, which drives up producers’ costs.

“Feedlots were putting pressure on faster-gaining, heavier calves” to satisfy growing demand for closely trimmed retail cuts of beef, he said.

Smaller cows are still capable of producing bigger calves, Walker said. If producers are concerned about size, they need to tag calves at birth, know which cows they belong to and weigh them regularly.

“You can’t measure what you don’t collect,” Walker said.


Veterinarian Jacques Fuselier told producers they should evaluate herds using the body condition scoring system — a scale of 1 to 9, where 1 is an emaciated cow and 9 is extremely fat — at calving, before breeding and in the middle of gestation. A score of 5 to 6 is ideal in most scenarios.

“You know when they’re at that level of nutrition, everything is working very efficiently,” Fuselier said. Cows that are too fat or too skinny are inefficient, and their reproductive performance is compromised.

Taking photos at least once a year can also help keep track of a herd’s condition, Fuselier said.

Kurt Guidry can be reached at 225-578-4567 or

Ryon Walker can be reached at 318-927-2578 or

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