The coronavirus has affected all commodities, and cattle prices are not immune from the effects, an LSU AgCenter economist said at the Acadiana beef cattle producers field day held at the LSU AgCenter Iberia Research Station on March 7.
“We may have a bit of a short-term lull in the market,” said Kurt Guidry.
The coronavirus has caused some disruption in normal trade and product movement that, along with large beef supplies, is likely causing the downturn. These types of market shocks or disruptions can cause temporary downturns in the market, much like a fire at a Kansas processing plant did last summer, Guidry said.
Other potential market shocks include the presence of avian influenza and African swine fever in China, which could force that country to increase imports to meet its growing protein demand and provide an added boost to U.S. beef exports, but market uncertainty also involves two other diseases — avian influenza and African swine fever — that are prevalent in China, he said.
But the overall long-term outlook for cattle is positive, especially for the last half of this year. “There is optimism for prices to be improving,” Guidry said.
Economists are projecting low grain prices, and new trade agreements should open markets for U.S. beef.
Guidry also said alternative marketing strategies such as video cattle sales and retained ownership through the feedlot can offer increased profits under the right market environments. Often, these alternative strategies require being able to market many animals at one time.
For smaller producers, this can be a limiting factor. But groups of small producers can pool their cattle to have enough for a sale, although the cattle must be of uniform size, he said.
AgCenter ruminant nutritionist Guillermo Scaglia said he tested the performance of ryegrass cultivars Marshall, Earlyploid, Prine and Nelson under continuous stocking, and Marshall and Prine were the top producers of grazing forage.
Cattle grazing Earlyploid had the lowest daily gain, he said, while cattle on the other three had about the same average daily gains.
A test of planting methods for annual ryegrass that included broadcasting seed, no-till into bermudagrass or conventional planting with disking and cultipacking. The test showed that no-till planting resulted in 95 grazing days compared to 61 days for conventional planting.
Cattle were moved out of the conventionally planted pasture after rain. The field with broadcast planting that had slow initial growth that delayed the grazing season, he said.
Scaglia also said cattle weight should be considered to determine proper stocking rate because a heavier calf — 550 pounds versus 450 pounds — consuming 2.5% bodyweight of dry matter eats 20% more.
Rotational grazing can allow producers to increase stocking rate, he said.
Protecting hay bales from the elements is crucial to maintaining their nutritional value. Higher moisture in a bale of hay usually translates into lower nutritive value, Scaglia said.
Hay temperature should be monitored, he said, and temperature of 70 to 100 degrees can be considered normal due to plant respiration and some fungi or bacteria activity.
Hay at 130 degrees should be monitored daily, he said, and hay stored indoors that reaches close to 150 degrees should be removed from the barn to prevent fire.
Hay should be provided to cattle in a cone feeder to reduce feeding waste.
Scaglia advised that moldy hay can cause respiratory problems in both cattle and humans, so it should be avoided.
AgCenter agents Stan Dutile, of Lafayette Parish, and Andrew Granger, of Vermilion Parish, demonstrated techniques for castration, ear-tagging and vaccinations for suckling calves.
Dutile said it’s best to castrate when calves are young, and his demonstration was made with calves about a week old. “The younger the calf, the less stress,” he said.
Castration using rubber bands can be effective, but buyers prefer knife-cut castration because it’s more likely that both testicles will be removed, he said.
Granger said it’s best to wait until calves are eating grass before giving them a dewormer.
Ranchers should consider using modified live vaccines because they are more effective and provide longer-lasting immunity, he said.
AgCenter weed scientist Ron Strahan showed results of a test using a new herbicide, Rezilon, expected to be on the market in August. He said the pre-emerge herbicide in bermudagrass hay meadows at 3 ounces per acre is effective at removing volunteer ryegrass, goosegrass and crabgrass. The herbicide has been highly effective in test plots at the Iberia Research Station.
Buttercup and butterweed can be controlled with 2,4-D at a pint per acre, he said.
AgCenter forage specialist Ed Twidwell said warm-season grasses should be fertilized in early or mid-April.
A recent survey showed only 20% of Southern cattle producers conduct soil testing to determine nutrient needs.
Twidwell reminded ranchers the AgCenter does soil testing for $10 a sample. The test will give producers an idea of deficiencies in sulphur, potash, phosphorous and nitrogen.
The tests also measure soil pH, which should be in the range of 5.8-6.5.
AgCenter entomologist Lane Foil said horn fly treatments should be rotated to reduce the chances of resistance.
Calves treated for horn flies can have a weaning weight 14 to 15 pounds higher. Fire ants and dung beetles also help with control.
Ear tags with pyrethroids are effective for about three weeks, Foil said. Pour-on treatments and sprays with organophosphates can also provide protection, but resistance is inevitable.
Stable flies have their peak activity February through April, and a company is currently developing a systemic treatment.
AgCenter feral swine specialist Glen Gentry said the use of sodium nitrite to kill feral hogs is showing promise, and testing could begin soon.
The fatal chemical is contained in a matrix of fish, and a feeding station is used to deliver the material when pigs are observed by remote cameras, he said.
After they eat the bait, “they basically lay down and go to sleep and don’t wake up,” Gentry said.
Traps can be used, but pigs should be removed as soon as they are caught to prevent them from excreting hormones that would alert other pigs to the danger.