By Donald Stotts
Knock, knock. Who is there? Oklahoma’s stocker cattle industry. You mean that group industry analysts always knew had a significant positive effect on the state economy but could not list just how much as there was little by way of verifiable data? Yes.
“We’ve now got the data, initial results are becoming available and they appear to be more complex than many assumed,” said Derrell Peel, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension livestock marketing specialist.
Earlier in 2017, OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, in conjunction with USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service and National Agricultural Statistics Service conducted a comprehensive survey of Oklahoma cattle producers.
“The primary objective of the survey was to identify stocker producers and how the stocker industry in Oklahoma operates,” Peel said. “USDA-NASS conducted the survey on our behalf. Completed surveys from nearly 1,500 anonymous producers have been returned to OSU.”
State producers were asked to identify all cattle production activities in their operations. The list included several cow-calf activities such as selling at weaning, retaining calves as stockers and retaining calves through the feedlot; as well as stocker-backgrounding production activities such as retaining stockers through the feedlot. Producers were asked to identify production activities they use routinely as well as occasionally, the latter defined as at least once in the last five years.
Although nearly half – 49.1 percent – of producers indicated only one cattle production activity, the average across all producers was two. Specifically, 24.7 percent of producers indicated just two production activities. Another 26.1 percent of producers reported three or more cattle production activities, which includes 15.1 percent reporting four or more production activities.
“Most producers surveyed perform cow-calf production activities, which came in at 91.1 percent,” Peel said. “Relatively few producers, 5.1 percent, indicated they performed only stocker-backgrounding production activities, though another 19.4 percent of producers indicated stocker production in addition to cow-calf production. This does not include the 37.9 percent of cow-calf producers retaining raised calves as stockers.”
When separate stocker-backgrounding activities along with retained calves from cow-calf production are included, a total of 45.3 percent of Oklahoma cattle producers are involved in some form of stocker production.
Peel said many Oklahoma cow-calf producers appear to not consider themselves to be stocker producers as well.
“Survey participants were asked to choose one of the production activities they felt best describes their operation,” he said. “Of those producers who chose a category, 58.4 percent labeled themselves ‘cow-calf, sell calves at weaning.’”
However, of those who picked that label, only 53.2 percent indicated that selling weaned calves was their sole routine cattle production activity.
“This means many Oklahoma cattle producers who label themselves as cow-calf producers who sell at weaning are also involved, at least occasionally, in other types of cattle production,” Peel said.
In short, even with insights provide by the new data, the stocker industry is difficult to define, understand or even identify. A variety of cattle producers are involved in stocker production including specialized stocker producers, stocker production in conjunction with cow-calf and retained stockers from cow-calf operations.
“We are excited about the possibilities this data will open up for us to understand and provide help and insight for Oklahoma cattle producers,” said Kellie Raper, OSU Cooperative Extension livestock economist. “We’re very grateful to producers who took the time to provide information on a sector of the cattle industry that is not well understood.”
Raper and Peel added the stocker sector plays a critical role in providing flexibility to enhance beef industry competitiveness, including adjusting production in response to feed and forage market changes, enhancing the quality of feeder cattle by adding weight and age to stocker cattle, and regulating the flow of cattle from cow-calf production to the feedlots.
“In essence, the stocker cattle sector – which occurs year round in Oklahoma on a wide variety of pasture types – acts in part as an essential shock absorber for the beef industry,” Raper said. “Before this first-of-its-kind survey, little data existed to fully understand and analyze the varied activities and actions that make up the stocker sector.”
The new survey will provide insight into stocker production and management practices, including timing and duration of stocker production, health management, forage use, purchasing and marketing of stocker cattle, timing and distance of shipping and biosecurity practices.
Peel and Raper said OSU livestock economists, specialists and researchers will be sharing more details as analysis continues on the broad array of survey information.
Oklahoma is the nation’s fifth-leading producer of cattle and calves, according to USDA-NASS statistics. The five-year average of cash receipts for Oklahoma’s cattle inventory is $3.7 billion annually.
The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service is one of two state agencies administered by DASNR, and one of the three equal parts in OSU’s state and federally mandated teaching, research and Extension land-grant mission.