Meat, Meat, Meat, but none to eat

Ranchers struggle with meat prices

More and more grocery stores have started to limit meat products, and Wendys fast-food chain has stopped selling beef products at the same time ranchers and cattlemen can't get rid of their livestock fast enough.

"We've never seen a situation like this before," said Mike Domel, rancher specializing in Angus beef and owner of the Meridian Livestock Market. "Truthfully, right now in the cattle business, nobody know what cattle are worth."

A study commissioned by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) says that US beef industry may lose $15.6 billion due to the coronavirus pandemic closures of 20 meat processing plants around the country, including one in the Texas Panhandle.

President Donald Trump has issued executive orders to reopening several of those plants and said in April that he plans to help the beef and dairy industries by purchasing $15.4 million worth of products.

"We did have good prices, but it just tanked recently, said Virginia Anderson, who has worked cattle in Bosque County almost her entire life. There are a few places around Cranfills Gap that have sold off everything under 500 pounds because the future didnt look good on the cattle market. I've done that for a few people, now, and plan to sell more.

High numbers of selloffs of spring cattle and back up closure of meat processors combined with restaurant closers and interruptions in supply chains have driven meat markets roller-coasting.

"There are only handful of packers in the US where each one processes more than 5,000 cattle a day. It's a big disruption if you shut just one down," Domel said.

"People feeding out cattle can lose out real quick. When a plant shuts down, the select beef packers can raise the price for processing because there is a back up of cattle in pins that are have to go to market. If they don't, the cattleman starts to lose money in feed costs after the cow gets over a weight of 1,300-1,500 pounds.:"

If the cow isn't slaughtered in a certain time frame, the animal eats its own worth in cost of feed.

"Buyers have lost so much money in feeding cattle," Domel said. "Those who didn't buy into the futures market, basically a contract guaranteeing that their cattle will be worth so much when they go to mark, will have lost a ton of money."

Processing Meat

With big corporate processors shutting down, the local butchers are seeing a huge upswing in business.

"We're already booking November and December, people are already taking those spots," said Rubin Felan who is part owner of Meridian Frozen Foods and Locker with his son Jehramy.

Usually the Felan are booked about a month and a half in advance. With the wave of beef going to market, it's three to four months for a wait time to butcher beef, and add another month on top before your meat is processed and returned.

"Our fridge is full, I mean full, Felan said. "Usually we have room to move beef around and shift. I'm full to the brim with meat I've got to process."

Instead of the week and a half it may take a modern processing plant to butcher meat, it takes the local butchers longer because they do it the more traditional way.

"We process meat the old school way, it takes about two week to process it, Felan said.

"But it takes that long just for the enzymes to break down to a tender beef, which is what you want and is the object of processing beef this way."

Felan said buying a cow and feeding it out to butcher weight would get you the same invested return as you would get beef in the supermarket, but that could change.

"It's about the same price to buy a cow butcher and freeze it, you'll get the same value for you beef," Felan said. "In the future, not sure. It may get cheaper."

Some winners

Not all beef producer are seeing losses. As panic buying, fears of contaminated meat from processors and the increasing fear of animal-born viruses, like coronavirus, transmitting more and more into people is driving a demand for all-natural beef.

"This has actually turned out to be the positive side for us," said J.B. Cameron of Cameron Farms outside of Iredell. "People want to have awareness of where their food comes from."

Cameron say they key has been his all-natural approach that has also driven low maintenance and low cost for production of his Corriente cattle.

Corriente cattle originated in Spain and the Mediterranean areas of Europe; environment similar to that of central Texas. Corriente have a thick fur and don't need spray for flies keeping to the all-natural brand.

Cameron even uses plain tobacco to deworm the cattle.

Cameron's small operation also allows more individual attention to his cattle.

Two weeks for before the cow is due to slaughter, each gets a daily massage once.

"I know it seems weird, but the increased blood flow helps keep the meat tender," Cameron said

"And working with them everyday gets them really used to being handled. Which means they're less stressed when they go to the processor. which means less adrenaline which makes the meat better."

Cameron said that he knows prices are going down, but their prices for his grass-finished beef will be staying the same.

Domel said he thinks total future propects for beef don't look good.

"This morning we're trying to sell feeder cattle, no one knows what they're worth," said Domel

"My son and friend got 30 head and have fed and doctored them for the past year. For what they should've been worth to and what we're selling them for, they're going to lose about $1,000 a head. No one wants to go into business where they're going to lose $30,000 in profit."

This has been the third installment in a three-part series, Bosque County Publishing covered the local agricultural industries in the area and the disruption in the food chain supplies due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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