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The Year 2000

Posted Apr. 1, 2000

The year 2000. What does it mean? Is it the end of an era, the beginning of a new time, or just another year? To me it is all of these, but perhaps most of all it creates an atmosphere for reflection. I came to Oklahoma and the Noble Research Institute twenty-five years ago as a skinny young kid with a full head of hair. A lot has changed, but I can remember several things vividly. One thing I feel certain of - change is here to stay.

The beef industry has changed tremendously in twenty-five years. Cow numbers peaked or were near their peak in 1975. Since that time, they have had an average annual decline of about 1 percent and a total decline of about 26 percent, but beef production (pounds on the market) has remained about the same. How has this happened? Is calf-crop percentage up this much? No, but several things that increase output per cow have occurred.

1) Slaughter weights are up.
Last week the average slaughter weight for the federally inspected (FI) slaughter was 1,230 pounds. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figure was about 1,030 pounds; however, the United States Department of Agriculture didn't start reporting FI slaughter until 1977. About ten years ago, many cattlemen scoffed at the "show ring" and said it had lost touch with reality because 1,250-pound steers were too big. Today, 1,250-pound steers are average in the commercial cattle industry and big steers are sought after by many. Has the whole industry lost touch with reality? I am not implying that bigger is better, but toda

2) Nonfed cattle and calf slaughter have drastically declined.
Veal is less common and the term "baby beef" is rarely used. Certainly when we shift from 500- to 800-pound slaughter calves to 1,050- to 1,350-pound slaughter cattle, we have added pounds to the per cow output.

3) Feeding technologies have advanced.
In 1975, diethylstilbesterol (DES) was the most common implant and we didn't have ionophores. Now we have superior implants that give improved cattle performance. Feed efficiencies have been enhanced because of ionophores, improved feeding techniques, and better grain varieties and processing techniques. These changes lower cattle break-evens and contribute to heavier slaughter weights.

4) Cattle genetics have changed.
British breeds and British-Zebu crosses dominated the scene in 1975. With the exception of Charolais, the "exotic" breeds were just being introduced. Exotic crosses are the bill of fare today. Many British and Zebu "purebreds" have even been influenced by the exotics. Cattle genetics and looks have definitely changed and today we have cattle with greater growth potential, larger mature sizes, and more associated performance.

What does all this mean?
The cattle industry has changed. In 1975 an average pen of feedlot steers had less than a 3 pound average daily gain (ADG). Today, many pens have ADGs of over 4 pounds. In 1975 most fed cattle were marketed live and beef was sold in the carcass form. Today cash sales account for less than half of the fed cattle sold, and boxed beef is the standard.

What will happen in the next twenty-five years?
I don't have a crystal ball, but I feel certain that change will continue. Will cow numbers continue to decline? Will beef production continue to hold? Will carcasses be graded? Will boxed beef be replaced by "ready-to-eat" products? I don't know, but I know changes will continue. I also know that those who can adapt to change and can produce at a profit will prosper. Remember, we are in the food business, not the cattle or beef business. Our customers are those who eat food. We better produce what they demand or somebody else will!

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