In some frigid states, cows can’t come home

Articles
December 19, 2008

In some frigid states, cows can’t come home

A glass of cold milk might seem less refreshing after reading this story. A burger might seem less satisfying. Beef cattle are suffering hugely this fall/winter because of severe storms and cold fronts that came early to big ranching states like Montana, North Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska and Texas. The harsh weather scattered cattle across the open range, and separated them from their usual food sources—grasslands when it is warm and grain when it is cold. Unaccustomed to the cold bite, they shiver at night and need to consume more calories to maintain or gain weight. A harsh winter uses up feed supplies much faster. “When you consider that a very cold winter hasn’t occurred in many years, it explains why the market is paying attention to it,” said Gail Martell, senior agriculture analyst of Storm Exchange. One grim prospect: cattlemen might send beef cattle to their early slaughter to market them earlier. They would decide this if they believe the added expense of grain feed, and the difficulty of transporting feed and water to their dispersed herds (no easy task) would have little effect on cattle weight gain, and therefore wouldn’t be a worthwhile economic activity.

A glass of cold milk might seem less refreshing after reading this story. A burger might seem less satisfying.

Beef cattle are suffering hugely this fall/winter because of severe storms and cold fronts that came early to big ranching states like Montana, North Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska and Texas. The harsh weather scattered cattle across the open range, and separated them from their usual food sources—grasslands when it is warm and grain when it is cold.

Unaccustomed to the cold bite, they shiver at night and need to consume more calories to maintain or gain weight. A harsh winter uses up feed supplies much faster. “When you consider that a very cold winter hasn’t occurred in many years, it explains why the market is paying attention to it,” said Gail Martell, senior agriculture analyst of Storm Exchange.

One grim prospect: cattlemen might send beef cattle to their early slaughter to market them earlier. They would decide this if they believe the added expense of grain feed, and the difficulty of transporting feed and water to their dispersed herds (no easy task) would have little effect on cattle weight gain, and therefore wouldn’t be a worthwhile economic activity.

None of this affects dairy cattle, which live a relatively comfortable life indoors in the winter in states such as Minnesota and Wisconsin.

If a glut of cattle is brought to market this winter, beef prices would decline initially, “but down the line there would be a shortage with less beef reaching supermarkets,” she explained. “That would raise prices.”

Since the weather-induced stress of cattle might lead to unusual supply fluctuations that affect beef prices in the coming months, retailers might consider some options early, believes SupermarketGuru.com: Talk soon with beef suppliers to develop stabilization strategies that keep beef appealing and consumer demand high, and look to import sources to help fill in later when shortages might occur.