SALEM, Ohio – Cattlemen braced themselves for plummeting markets and rock-bottom prices after the Dec. 23 announcement that mad cow disease was found in the United States.
To their benefit, the hamburger- and steak-eating public isn’t backing away from the table.
The scare seems to have renewed consumer interest in buying beef grown and processed locally.
Demand and a short supply has markets and packinghouses scrambling to keep up.
Short supply. According to Jim McConnell of McConnell’s Farm Market in Richmond, Ohio, demand is up and the floor seems to have dropped out on supply.
He reasons his customers are going after a safe food supply, leaving him searching for finished cattle.
McConnell made buying trips to area livestock auctions and called on local producers. Still, his small market stretches to fill sales roughly 30 percent above last year’s levels, he said.
“Either everyone sold [the cattle] this summer when prices were up, or they’re holding off until prices go back up,” McConnell said.
“I don’t blame the guys for holding them instead of taking a beating on it,” he said.
Empty feedlots. Jim Moore of Moore Farms in Canfield, Ohio, also feels the increased consumer demand.
Though the bulk of the farm’s sales usually comes in the fall, when most homeowners are stocking up for the winter, Moore said he’s recently had to turn buyers away.
The problem was he’d already sent all his finished cattle to slaughter. No other animals in the feedlot were ready.
His buyers know where their meat was raised, what the animals were fed – grain raised right on Moore’s farm – and are assured freshness and quality.
“I’ve got a couple of people who would rather get their meat here instead of at the grocery store,” Moore said.
“At the grocery stores you don’t necessarily know where it came from or how long it’s been vacuum sealed,” he said.
New markets. Consumers are using the mad cow scare as an opportunity to ask a farmer face-to-face questions about food safety.
“A lot of them ask if they should have concerns about mad cow. I didn’t know a whole lot about it [before Dec. 23] but I tell them what I know now,” Moore said.
McConnell, who admitted he hadn’t spoken with many customers directly, said consumption is alive and well.
Safe to eat. The good news both sellers know and share is that regulations keep American beef safe to eat.
“Cattle are safe and muscle is safe to eat. Spinal cord and brains are our real concerns,” said Steve Miric, an Ohio meat inspector.
Updated Ohio regulations say ‘specified risk materials’ – the head, skull, eyes, brain, vertebral column and spinal cord – in cattle over 30 months of age are unfit for human consumption.
That rule shouldn’t raise many red flags because most feedlot cattle headed for the dinner plate are much younger, around 12-18 months.
State regulations also exclude downer cattle of any age from the food supply.
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
Current cattle market: Is it a matter of supply or demand?
SALEM, Ohio – Sparse numbers of fat cattle on the market might be more of a driving factor than consumer demand in recent beef shortages, according to Barry Pidgeon, owner of the Damascus and Carrollton livestock auctions.
Cull cows and fats passing through the auctions since late December are down 30 percent over last year’s numbers.
Pidgeon has two theories about the shortages.
Too cold. First, many producers haven’t moved cattle in the past few weeks because of the intense cold spell.
“They’re afraid to get them stirred up too much and cause pneumonia, or scared to get the trailer stuck in the snow,” Pidgeon said.
Waiting on prices. Producers are also holding cows and hoping prices get back to the unbelievable highs seen before Dec. 23, Pidgeon said.
The sales watch as prices start to increase slowly. Boner cows are already back to their pre-mad cow disease levels, and values are slowly creeping up 6-8 cents each week for fats, he said.
“Buyers are still really hungry for meat right now,” Pidgeon said.
– Andrea Myers
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