ENID, Okla. — A year after the COVID-19 pandemic sent the country into lockdown, area cattle producers still are being tried and tested, most recently with February’s sub-arctic storm in the middle of calving season and a yet-to-fully rebound market.
Dakota Davis, co-owner and manager of Enid Livestock Market and Caldwell Livestock Market, in Kansas, said he sees a light at the end of the tunnel for area cattle producers, but it’s been a tough year for many.
“We are substantially better than we have been. Producers are reaching a break-even point, and a few are making money,” Davis said. “Box beef is pretty high. It’s a strong price for box beef. Feed yard prices have been pretty steady but lower than it should be.”
He said producers are seeing a disparity between cattle costs and beef costs.
“The price of meat is pretty high,” he said. “The price of cattle themselves is not as high as it should be.”
Less than favorable weather along with setbacks caused by COVID-19 restrictions are taking a toll.
“It’s been a really, really wet spring,” Davis said. “It’s been tough due to the ice storm.”
Overhead increases due to the prolonged winter storm and dead loss from a week of freezing temperatures hit producers hard, he said.
“The winter storm came in the middle of calving season. It led to a really tough time,” Davis said. “Twenty-five percent dead loss in that ice storm would not be unheard of.”
He said the length of such struggles have led some producers to sell of their herds and move onto something else.
“I’ve seen a lot producers sell out. A lot of people that made it through that COVID and the storm and are taking the opportunity to get out,” he said. “There are a lot of land sales, equipment sales.
“We’re in a heck of a transition period here in the cattle industry.”
‘Outlook is positive’
The light Davis said he could see ahead comes from rising prices and anticipation of a strong summer market.
“I’d say the outlook is positive. People are excited for the summer and buying meat,” he said. “A long-wean steer is 900 a head, which is far better than it has been. Wheat pasture cattle producers are seeing 1,000 to 1,200 a head, which is 200 or 300 more than last year.
“The cattle industry, they don’t quit. They just keep working. I think there is a light coming.”
He said Enid Livestock Market has experienced “a massive amount of growth” in 2021.
When the pandemic struck in March 2020, he said the cattle yard sold 3,500 head of cattle. For March 2021, the number more than tripled to 11,150 head of cattle.
“We work for these local producers, and these local producers have really supported us, and we’ve really supported them,” Davis said. “It’s been a great deal.”
He said he wanted people to know how much work is done by producers and mentioned proposed policies in Colorado that would hinder animal producers.
According to The Colorado Sun, a proposed 2022 ballot initiative would change the state’s “code on animal cruelty, defining as ‘sex acts’ many common farm practices for assisting reproduction or checking an animal’s reproductive organs.
“The initiative would also require that cows, hogs and other livestock get to live at least 25% of their natural lives before heading to the slaughterhouse, which ranchers argue would devastate Colorado’s agriculture economy.”
Davis said producers are good stewards of the land and the animals under their care.
“These livestock producers in United States, and Oklahoma, are the premier caretakers of their animals and the resources we have,” he said, noting their efforts during February’s storm. “These cattle producers and farmers were outside spending 14 to 16 hours a day to keep their cattle alive.
“I think the biggest thing there is there is a very large group that is dwindling every day that don’t ask for anything but a market for their product and people to respect them, too.”
He said during the storm, many producers “worked to the point of pure exhaustion” just to save the lives of as many animals as possible.
“There’s a lot of resiliency,” Davis said. “People don’t realize when they go out to eat, go to the grocery store, what it takes to put that stuff there on their plate. There’s a large, hard-working team trying to keep that afloat.”