Farmer Focus: Beef optimism and thinking about 2021

We are starting to feel the end of summer and the change of seasons here in the Flint Hills. 

The shipping of stockers (weaned calves) is drawing to an end. The hundreds of thousands of steers that were sent out to graze lush pastures only in May are now moving on to their finishing phase. 

These “short season” or “double stocked” cattle are turned out at twice the stocking rate for half the time of a traditional lease. The grass will now rest until the hard freezes in late October.

These were very low-quality, high-risk cattle. But the quality of the early Flint Hills grass not only keeps them alive but also lets them gain a kilogram a day with virtually no management. Sometimes the best margins are in taking poor and making it average.

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I’m seeing something else I haven’t seen in a long time too… optimism. The prices on some calves going to town are what they were a year ago. From a flat price, it doesn’t say much. But from where prices were in early summer the markets are trending in the right direction and people are excited. 

A month ago, we had sold 100 of the 500 bred heifers we will have to deliver this October. One day the phone started ringing, and in a few short weeks we have sold the remaining heifers and have had to start turning away several people a day.

We tried to buy several hundred heifers to breed for 2021 and got blown away at auction.   

We have pulled the bulls from the spring cows, and that means in a month to 45 days we will have our spring calf crop weaned. We wean earlier than most, but by getting the calves off the cows as the grass quality falls we are able to put off supplemental feeding until Christmas. 

It also lets us manage the bulls a little more closely while putting the heifers through a fairly tough development process that weeds out the ones that can’t hack it here. It’s nice to be able to start thinking past 2020 and what the future may hold.