Substantial variations in equity and income of cattle producers and feeders in highly leveraged operations have occurred during the early 1970s as the result of wide variations in prices of cattle and purchased feed. Moreover, severe losses in many commercial feedlots have resulted in greater forage inputs in beef production, with feeder cattle placed in feedlots at heavier weights and for shorter periods of time. The large price uncertainty, together with possible changes in the livestock production system, make cattle producers' search for effective methods of risk management more urgent.
The search is hampered, however, by a limited scope of choices in risk management. Forward price commitments in cattle production have received limited use at the producer level. Public programs of price support and supply management have never been available. Insurance choices are few, as are alternatives for diversifying use of grazing lands and other resources specialized to cattle production. Often, producers' primary methods of risk-bearing are reliance on financial reserves, including unused borrowing capacity, emergency loans provided by public programs and outside sources of income. However, effective opportunities for reduction of income variability may be offered by vertical integration expressed as retention of calf ownership through finishing stages either on pasture or by custom feeding in commercial feedlots.