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Beef farmers determined amid COVID-19

21 July 2020

Beef and dairy producers and stakeholders are go-to resources for understanding what’s happening in both the beef and dairy industries. But friends, clients, custom processors and colleagues are helping to provide perspective on what is happening in the real world outside of the four walls we’ve all been confined to these past months.

The news from the beef industry from around Minnesota is not as grim as you might expect. Farmers are no strangers to challenge. These days, they are pushing through with creative solutions for their unique operations. Minnesota determination is evident, with only a hint of uneasiness, but no outright fear or panic.

Custom processing and direct marketing

With demand for beef high and our current packer bottleneck, business has picked up for custom processors as many more people, in both the city and country, are buying beef directly from farmers. Custom processing is a vital part of local culture and economies. They provide an alternative marketing solution for farmers and a source for high-quality products for their communities.

Custom processing represents less than 1 percent of the total meat processing capacity in the Upper Midwest. While local, small processors are vital, their capacity is limited and it would be impossible for them to take up the plant closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Slow down supply

There is no alternative to the large packing industry that can handle the volume required for regular commercial demand for beef. Until the packing industry is at full capacity, the beef industry will need to adapt.

The main option right now is to slow down supply until the large packers are up and running. This means ration changes for feedlots and possible heavy use of available pasture to slow down the growth rate of cattle.

Feed efficiency is still the main cost for many operations, so producers should continue to use technologies like implants. Manipulate the ration to a higher roughage content with decreased calories to slow growth, rather than abandon enhancing technologies.


Feedlots that have implanted cattle should look to maintain the potency of the implant when re-implanting, rather than stepping up potency as they would in their normal schedule. This will allow producers to keep feed efficiency performance when reducing calorie intake. An increase in potency would not be a solid return on investment if reducing calorie intake.

Make sure to consult with your veterinarian and nutritionist before making changes.

Cow/calf producers

For cow/calf operations, consider keeping heifers you would normally send to the feedlot.

Feedlots also may be looking to sell heifers as replacements rather than feeding these animals. Be careful about buying these animals, as over-conditioning and implanting can affect reproductive performance. There may also be a higher percentage of freemartin animals (heifers twinned to bulls with undeveloped reproductive tracts).

Looking further down the road, this increased replacement heifer volume might mean a larger than normal supply of calves in the fall of 2021. This is likely to result in a larger number of cull cows entering the market in the fall of 2021 as well.

TheCattleSite News Desk


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