Who is the stocker cattle industry?

By : Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist

 
Earlier in 2017, Oklahoma State University, in conjunction with USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), 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.  USDA-NASS conducted the survey on behalf of OSU.  Completed surveys from nearly 1500 anonymous producers have been returned to OSU extension and research specialists.  With survey data now recorded, initial results are becoming available.
 
Producers were asked to identify all cattle production activities in their operations.  The list included several cow-calf activities (selling at weaning, retaining calves as stockers and retaining calves through the feedlot); and stocker/backgrounding production, including retaining stockers through the feedlot, as well as other production activities.  Producers were asked to identify production activities that they use routinely as well as occasionally (at least once in the last five years).  
 
Results indicate that Oklahoma cattle production is relatively complex.  Although nearly half (49.1 percent) of producers indicated only one cattle production activity, the average across all producers was two production activities.  Specifically, 24.7 percent of producers indicated just two production activities. Another 26.1 percent of producers reported three or more cattle production activities, including 15.1 percent reporting four or more production activities. Responses include routine practices as well as those identified as occasionally used by producers. Most producers surveyed have cow-calf production activities (91.1 percent).  Relatively few producers (5.1 percent) indicated only stocker/backgrounding production 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 producers are involved in some form of stocker production.  
 
Many cow-calf producers do not consider themselves stocker producers as well.  Survey participants were asked to choose one of the production activities that they felt best describes their operation.  Of those producers who chose a label, 58.4 percent labeled themselves “Cow-calf, Sell calves at weaning”.  However, of those who picked that label, just 53.2 percent indicated that selling weaned calves was their sole routine cattle production activity.  This means that many producers who consider themselves primarily as cow-calf producers (selling at weaning) are involved, at least occasionally, in other types of cattle production as well.
 
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. The stocker industry plays a varied and flexible but critically important role in the cattle industry.  This 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.  Stay tuned as more detail emerges from the broad array of survey information.