Cattle supply imbalance hits home

Cyndi’s Two Cents

Cattle supply imbalance hits home


A few weeks ago we noticed one of our calves was a bit lethargic.  She did not have scours, but manure was what we call “loose” which we attributed to the new grass she had been consuming.  There were no obvious breathing problems, but we wanted to get ahead of any possible complications, so brought the cow and calf in to one of the pens in the barn where we could keep an eye on her.  Her bowels “tightened up” but she remained lethargic so we had the veterinarian come by to examine her.  As it turned out, she had a slight temperature and using a stethoscope Doc could hear her breathing was labored so he treated her.  She was back to normal in no time and after a couple of days separated from the herd for observation, the cow and calf were back grazing the hillsides with the herd.

The vet bill was $63.70.

We do not have a lot of cattle.  We have a small herd of Simmental cows.  We artificially inseminate.  We sell privately a few bulls, a few heifers (the ones that we do not keep as replacement females in our own herd), a few steers for 4-H and FFA projects and we have a few steers we keep on the farm for private label branded beef we sell to restaurants and individual customers. The rest go to a sale barn. 

My husband looks over the herd at least once a day and when I am not away for work, I am right there with him. We do not scrimp on salt or mineral. We raise and bale quality forage and if it is a bad year and the hay does not have enough digestible nutrients and protein, we supplement accordingly.  Serious consideration is given when balancing feed rations. We focus on being good stewards of the land, air and water on our farm. We maintain good fences and keep our pastures as clean as possible. 

Back to that calf: she is doing well.  It’s a joy and a relief to see her running and playing and kicking up her heels with the other calves. We did the right thing. We take seriously our commitment to humane treatment of livestock.  But the hard truth is there was absolutely no economic benefit in treating that calf.  

Ours is no get-rich-quick cattle operation, nor is it a hobby. If we are going to continue to “do it right” on our farm every day, we will continue to operate at a loss.  

Our story is the story of many other men and women with cow herds across the heartland.

Here’s something to chew on: Four corporations control more than 80 percent of the beef processing market in this country.  Consumers are paying more for beef and cattlemen and cattlewomen are receiving less and less for the cattle they sell. Packer margins (the gross margins that represent the difference between the value of the wholesale meat products and by-products sold by packers, less the cost of the animals) nearly tripled between January 2 and May 8 of this year.

The imbalance in the cattle supply chain is not only troubling but devastating for many family farms.