December 6, 2006 | By: Laura Skillman

The livestock industry has been the driving force behind a strong agricultural economy in the state, but prices in the coming year will level and input costs will rise, making the enterprises less profitable.

While the equine sector will remain strong, cattle and poultry will see less profitably. These three sectors comprised 61 percent of total cash farm receipts in 2006. Grain prices are expected to pick up the slack in 2007 ensuring a continued strong farm economy.

“We’ve seen very good feeder cattle prices in Kentucky for several years now and we’ve been enthused about those and wondering how long they were going to last and thinking about long-term expansion,” said Lee Meyer, an agricultural economist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. “But what we’ve seen was not the cattle cycle and the expansion of beef production that has caused things to change; it was corn.”

In the past few months, higher corn prices have had a detrimental effect on cattle prices. The impact of increased corn prices on cattle prices follows what Meyer calls the eight-to-one rule; for every $1 increase in corn prices, feeder cattle prices will drop by $8.

There is also some expectation of a little more beef production in the United States but not much more than last year. That should help slaughter cattle prices to remain steady while feeder cattle prices are expected to be 5 to 10 percent lower.

“But by historical standards, prices are still going to be pretty good,” Meyer said. “Efficient producers should be able to cover their costs, and the longer run, I think, is still looking pretty good.”

The poultry industry, an $850 million industry in Kentucky, will also be impacted by higher feed costs due to increased corn prices. Exports have been strong, and the industry has continued to build on export levels of 15 percent of broiler meat. In the next year, integrators are expected to reduce production and, as a result, prices are expected to increase slightly. Higher 
feed costs will increase production costs, tempering income potential. Energy costs, especially for natural gas used to heat broiler houses, have also had an impact on farmer expenses.

Hog production in Kentucky leveled out in 2004 after about a decade of declining production. In 2005 and likely 2006 as well, production has increased slightly. Prices in 2006 were good and exports are strong, a key factor in the strong prices. Prices in the coming year will be down about 3 percent overall, but Meyer said the important thing to consider is the breakeven cost of production. Corn is an important component of hog diets and with the higher prices for the commodity, the production costs will be higher, pulling the breakeven price up and impacting the producers’ profit potential.

Much of the increased price of corn is being driven by a high demand for the grain in ethanol production. Distillers’ dried grains (DDGs), a byproduct of ethanol production, will be utilized as a feed source by some sectors of the livestock industry.

Distiller’s grain can be used for a feed source for backgrounding calves to complement other feed stuffs and forages in Kentucky, Meyer said. The feedlots are trying to move more toward distiller’s grains in their rations to offset the higher corn prices. This will help offset some of the higher feed costs for cattle.

Distiller’s dried grains can be fed to poultry in limited amounts, replacing some of the corn and soybean meal typically found in poultry diets. However, corn will continue to be the predominant ingredient for energy in diets, said Austin Cantor, UK poultry nutrition specialist. The fermentation process primarily uses the starch in corn, leaving the protein and fiber behind in DDGs. Fiber at too high of a level in poultry diets can depress weight gain, he said. Also, poultry diets are computer formulated based on the cost of nutrients added, so DDGs may not be the most cost-effective nutrient source.

Distiller’s dried grains can be effectively used in swine diets. However, it is not a straight DDGS-for-corn substitution, said Richard Coffey, UK swine specialist. It primarily replaces corn, but it will also affect the amount of soybean meal and dicalcium phosphate and does not completely replace corn in the diet. To effectively utilize DDGS, the diets need to be reformulated. The traditional inclusion rates have been up to 5 percent in nursery diets, 10 percent in grower/finisher and lactation diets, and 20 percent in gestation diets. However, if the diet is formulated on a digestible amino acid basis, it is possible to go to higher inclusion rates.


Lee Meyer, 859-257-7272, ext. 228, Richard Coffey, 270-365-7541, ext. 244, Austin Cantor, 859-257-7531