Trade, specifically exports, have been one of the major ag issues through 2019 and now moving into 2020. As our maneuvering with China continues, ripples will continue to rock the ag boat in 2020. Lurking in the shadows behind these issues are the actual commodities, the proportion of that commodity we trade, and who we trade that commodity with. Having a working knowledge of these issues will help us evaluate the actual impact of the trade news we receive.


Major Export Locations: Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Canada, Hong Kong Proportion Exported: 13% Discussion: Domestic demand is still in the driver’s seat for beef. However, that doesn’t mean that trade isn’t important. This provides a great option for some of the cuts that may have a greater value in different parts of the world. This supports carcass prices. Additionally, as protein consumption increases in other countries, adding US beef to the discussion is a great way to grow demand. Mainland China offers tremendous opportunity for US beef, and we are seeing exports grow for beef there. Still, there is work to do in fostering this relationship.


Major Export Locations: Mexico, Japan, Columbia, South Korea Proportion Exported: 21%

Discussion: Similar to beef production, domestic demand takes up most of our corn production. Regarding the balance that is exported, Mexico and Japan are major destinations for US produced corn. As a result, trade agreements with these countries are valuable and have been in the forefront with the more recent United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and the US-Japan Trade Agreement from the fall.



Major Export Locations: China, EU-28, Mexico, Egypt Proportion Exported: 50%

Discussion: Soybeans have been the significant discussion point around the trade discussions and disputes with China. With about half of all production being exported, this commodity is highly dependent on exports. Additionally, China is on the receiving end of most of that production. It’s easy to see why having a strong trade relationship with China specifically is vital for the soybean market. The impact of African Swine Fever (ASF) on the swine/pork markets is evident but its carryover into the soybean market is mixed from analyst reports. Compensation from trade related losses came in the form of the Market Facilitation Program (MFP) in 2019. The necessity or support for another round of MFP payments in 2020 is an unknown at this point.


Major Export Locations: Japan, Mexico, Philippines, South Korea

Proportion Exported: 46%

Discussion: Wheat is in a difficult situation. The other commodities discussed here can list the US as the major producer in the world, with wheat that is not the case. Add to this that almost half is exported, and several issues need to fall in line to get strong wheat prices. There has been a reduction in wheat acres in OK. That gap is being filled by other commodities. Altogether, exports have been important but are becoming more important by the day. Specialization leads to increases in efficiency and production. Our production systems have advanced greatly over time. Thus, marketing outlets beyond our own domestic markets are vital to maintaining prices and growing demand. The development trade agreements will continue to help us access new markets and preserve relationships of our major trade partners.


Calf vigor

The initial overall physical strength and good health of a newborn, referred to as calf vigor, is very important to the future health of a calf. In order for a calf to thrive, it must accomplish several things within hours immediately after being born. The calf must be able to sit up (sternal recumbency), stand, locate the teats and nurse. Any delay in nursing will have a major impact on the calf’s future since the immunoglobulins that are present in a cow’s colostrum are best absorbed in the first 4 hours of life. Immunoglobulins are what protect a calf from disease causing agents, and the absorption of immunoglobulins rapidly declines 12 hours after birth. Calves that are vigorous at birth have a much better outlook on a healthy future than those that are less vigorous and are not able to stand and nurse soon after birth.

Assessing a calf’s vigor and recognizing when to intervene and help a calf is something all producers need to be able to do. In human medicine newborn babies undergo an APGAR test following birth. APGAR stands for appearance, pulse, grimace, activity, and respiration. The test is given 1 and 5 minutes after birth. The purpose of the test is to assess how well the baby tolerated the birthing process and how well the baby is doing outside the mother’s womb. An APGAR test for calves similar to the one in human medicine would give cattle producers a clue when to intervene in a newborn calf’s live. Unfortunately, most attempts to develop such a test for calves have not been successful; however, there are several studies that provide some practical advice on when to intervene with a newborn calf.

In two studies Dr. Homerosky and associates in Canada found two good predictors of calf vigor. Consuming colostrum within the first four hours following birth was dependent on calving ease and suckle reflex. Most producers have the ability to assess both components. First, was the calf born in a timely manner and required no assistance. Calves that require assistance are more likely to have acidosis. Acidosis is associated with failure of immunoglobulin absorption, sickness and death in calves. Dr. Homerosky found a correlation between acidosis and the inability of a calf to withdrawal its tongue after being pinched. A producer can check a calf for acidosis by pinching the calf’s tongue. If a calf cannot withdraw their tongue after being pinched, it is likely acidotic and is a good candidate for early colostrum intervention.

The second predictor producers can check for is does the calf have a strong suckle reflex. Suckle reflex can be determined by inserting two fingers in the mouth and rubbing the roof of the calf’s mouth. A calf that has strong jaw tone with a rhythmic suckle would be determined to have a strong suckle reflex. The opposite of this would be considered a weak suckle reflex and may indicate the need for intervention.

 In another study Dr. Murray found that calves that did not sit up (sternal recumbency) within 15 minutes of birth had reduced absorption of immunoglobulins. Also, calves born to cows that had difficulty birthing took longer to stand. These would be clues that the calf will require more care and colostrum intervention to increase the chance of survival.

Most producers are capable of assessing calf vigor based on the above parameters. Any calf born to a cow that has difficulty birthing and or a calf that has problems with the above tests would be a candidate for early intervention. The best treatment for these calves is to give the calf 2 to 3 liters of colostrum from the mother within the first 4 hours of life. Any delay in getting colostrum into the calf will only increase the chance of the calf having problems in life. This does require more work from the producer but should pay off with more pounds of beef at weaning. 

If producers would like more information about calf vigor, they should contact their local veterinarian or local Oklahoma State University County Extension Educator.

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