One of the common topics of discussion, regardless of what segment of the beef industry you operate in has been winter and the collective impacts of a winter that was wetter and colder than most of us in Kansas and to some extent the Central United States are accustomed to. Although, green is slowly replacing the brown in the pastures, the effects of this winter in the cattle industry may be felt for longer than many of us would like. The combination of wet and cold conditions increases energy expenditures and maintenance energy requirements of the animal.

In the feeding sector cattle performance, most notably feed conversion (pounds of feed: pounds of gain) increases. In the March Focus on Feedlot report, (February closeouts) the average steer feed conversion was 7.08 pounds feed: pounds gain. In February 2018, the average steer feed conversion was 6.15, pounds feed: pounds gain. Thus, 0.93 more pounds of feed (15 percent) were required to produce a pound of live weight gain in steers marketed in February 2019 versus 2018. More feed ultimately results in higher cost of gains and lower profit potential. Overall steer death loss was similar at 1.68 percent in February 2019 and 1.97 in 2018. Feed conversion will likely remain high for next two to three months and death losses could foreseeably trend upward as cattle placed on feed during the coldest months may have experienced greater health risk and cold stress early in the feeding period.

In the cow/calf sector, winter conditions have resulted in cows that may be lacking condition or replacement heifers that are lighter than they would normally be under normal conditions. Body condition and plane of nutrition drives reproductive performance, which is one, if not the, most important determinant of productivity/profitability on a cow-calf operation. It takes longer for thin cows to begin cycling, which means that thin cows are at greater risk of being open and if cows do begin cycling they will be bred toward the end of the 2019 breeding season and subsequently calve later in 2020. Later calving typically results in younger, lighter calves at weaning, which ultimately results in less pounds of sale weight and dollars being generated by those cows in fall 2020.

A large part of managing cattle is responding to weather conditions be it a cold, wet winter or drought.

Cattle feeders may adjust market endpoints and cow-calf producers may consider adjusting breeding seasons, early weaning, or other ways to add additional market value to calves. The good news is the days and nights are getting warmer, and every day brings us closer to summer.

Justin Waggoner is a beef systems specialist at Kansas State University. For more information, contact him at jwaggon@ksu.edu.