Cattle on short pasture

The combination of scorching summer heat and drought-like conditions generally translates into short pasture and more cattle movement.

Dry conditions in parts of the country likely have some producers looking to cull cows due to lack of pasture, says Dan Morgan with VBI Co. in Corning, Iowa.

Lack of moisture in most of western Iowa has resulted in shorter pastures, although Morgan says that region has managed to hold the cattle market together. It’s an entirely different case in the Southwest and other dry regions of the country.

“A lot of pasture is fading fast, and there are good, young cows that are being culled because they are out of pasture,” he says, adding the weather outlook for the next two weeks calls for hot temperatures with little moisture.

Second-cutting hay is underway, and Morgan says volume is down, which may require cattle producers to provide some type of supplemental feed.

USDA’s recent WASDE (World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates) report suggests a decent carryover of grain. Morgan says this indicates production costs should be lower, making it less expensive to have to supplement corn or other feedstuffs.

He says good news for both the cattle and hog markets could come from increased meat exports. Tariffs have cut into meat exports, and trading during the COVID-19 pandemic has further complicated the issue, Morgan says.

This comes at a time when pork and beef production is growing. Morgan says hog carcass weights are running three pounds higher than a year ago, representing a 1.4% increase in pork production.

Beef carcass weights are 28 pounds higher than a year ago, resulting in a 3.5% increase in beef production. Hog and cattle weights increased as producers waited for packing plants to open after closures due to outbreaks of COVID-19 in many facilities.

Hog prices continue to be low. Morgan says large numbers of hogs are heading to the packing plant.

“We continue to watch this market fail and look at tremendous losses for the hog producers,” he says, adding he believes prices should eventually move higher.

Morgan says with the number of cows being culled, cattle numbers could be down in 2021.

He says it might be a good time to buy some price protection.

“If you have a chance to do some hedging, I would certainly look into it,” Morgan says. “We’re in a market that we really can’t control.”

Jeff DeYoung is livestock editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.