May is beef month, and it started with a bang this week as the uptrending beef cattle market boosted bull calf and cull cow prices to new highs. No. 1 and 2 bull calves weighing over 85 pounds averaged $125 per 100 pounds liveweight for Thursday, April 29 through Thursday, May 6 at the bellwether eastern livestock auctions in Lancaster County, PA (New Holland and Vintage). In fact, the trend was sharply higher each day and trade was termed active with good demand. On Tuesday's graded sale, bull calves over 85 pounds brought an average of $155 per 100 lbs liveweight, and the top-end of the range was over $200.
To take advantage of these higher prices, however, be sure to keep your bull calves on the farm for at least 3 days and until the navel is dry. They should also receive colostrum. Weak, unstable, wet-naveled calves do not command the good market prices because they are a high mortality risk for buyers.
Market cull cows shared in the advance this week with White Cows averaging $64 per 100 lbs livewight; Breakers $61.50; Boners $58.60; and Lean cows $54.10. These prices are fully $6 to $8 above the average prices for the corresponding week a year ago.
In contrast to the rocking beef market, dairy replacement prices are being pressured below the already low prices of a year ago. Where cull cows are bringing $100 to $200 more per head, mature replacements are bringing $100 to $300 less per head!
Comparing auction prices on dairy replacements this week to the corresponding week a year ago: Fresh cows averaged $100 per head less at $1450; Bred heifers averaged $150 less at $1100; Springing heifers averaged $300 less at $1200; Open heifers 300-900 lb averaged $250 less at $700. Bred and Springing cows have been scarce at auction for the past four weeks compared with year ago offerings.
High beef prices are prompting dairy producers to pull the trigger and cull marginal cows from their herds as milk prices turned lower since March.
As Holstein cattle raised for beef are bringing premium prices as high as $90 per 100 lbs liveweight on May 5 and averaging $84.50 for the week, now may be a good time to consider raising Holsteins for beef.
In fact, with dairy replacement heifer prices under pressure, the beef market this year may be a good outlet for extra commercial grade heifers. The outlook for the beef industry is said to be positive for the next three years, according to cattle supplies and market fundamentals.
JBS-Packerland (formerly Mopac) in Souderton, Pa. (as well as plants in the Midwest, Arizona and California) has contracts available for calf-fed Holstein steers and heifers. They supply beef to Costco and prefer Holstein beef for its uniformity. They look for Holsteins that are started on high-energy diets beginning at around 350 pounds instead of those that are backgrounded on grass before the feedlot phase. This yields a beef product that meets the Choice quality grade criteria they are looking for with less trim-fat and better portion sizes of case-ready trimmed cuts boxed for retail.