Part of the issue is that the country's beef supply is tight right now, with U.S. producers having the smallest cow herds nationwide since the 1950s, Grimes said. That's due in part to drought in the Southwest and higher-than-average export sales.

With 1.27 million head of cattle, of which about 25 percent are dairy cows, Ohio ranks 16th nationwide in beef operations, according to the Ohio Beef Council. The state's beef industry is valued at $1.3 billion and produces nearly 500 million pounds of beef each year.

"Looking from the outside in, sale prices are very good, which is very much a function of supply and demand," Grimes said. "We have fewer cows, export sales have been record-high, and domestic demand has been solid."

As a result, producers are trying to get as many live calves out of cows now as they can, he said. This has led producers to place more emphasis on fertility, calving ease and watching feed costs.

Grimes works on beef cattle research, including beef reproduction, new synchronization systems, artificial insemination, alternative forages, and ways to supplement production shortcomings for the year.

"One way producers are trimming feed costs is by trying to do as much with grazing as we can to minimize the use of harvested forages," he said. "Anytime you let the cow do the harvesting, it's more economical.

"The equipment costs associated with hay production can result in higher-priced forages for a small producer."

Demand for corn has also increased significantly, as 2011 was the first year the amount of corn used for ethanol production equaled the amount used for feed production, Grimes said.

"That is an interesting dynamic which helped to drive up prices for feedstuffs," he said.

An issue that has recently hurt beef prices is the publicity surrounding lean finely textured beef, also known as "pink slime."

While Grimes said the process used to produce LFTB has been used for years to safely remove fat from beef trimmings, the publicity has resulted in prices for 50 percent lean trimmings plummeting to nearly half the value seen in early March. The issue also has contributed to a decline in fed cattle prices.

(With concerns about consumers turning away from beef because of price, studies have shown preferences are changing. For that story, see http://southeastfarmpress.com/livestock/consumer-beef-preferences-are-changing).