That may be bad news for the cows, but it will be a relief for feedlot managers, Makens said.

“Cattle having to spend more time in feed yards due to supply chain disruptions can lead to a considerable financial burden,” she said, “due to increased feed and maintenance costs, decreased returns, and increased labor to care for the animals.”

This is a good sign for consumers, too. Beef never experienced widespread shortages; although the rate of slaughter dipped during the height of the pandemic, the amount of beef in cold storage (awaiting distribution to grocers and restaurants) took only small hit, and exports stayed steady, according to UDSA data. Prices did spike in May, but have now come back down to pre-pandemic levels.

Still, the meat industry isn’t in the clear yet. Plants may be moving more beef, but workers around the country are still concerned that virus testing and safety protocols aren’t up to par. A second wave of outbreaks at plants would send feedlots back to capacity again.

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