June 6, 2016
Adding value to 2016 calves
by Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist
A variety of production and marketing practices are available to help cow-calf producers enhance calf values. Though these practices are not new, many are still adopted by only a small percentage of producers. The following summarizes several surveys and feeder cattle pricing studies.
Castration of bull calves is the most adopted among common cow-calf management practices. Nevertheless, surveys show that 27 percent of Oklahoma producers don’t use castration, a number that is similar to national estimates. Calves marketed as bulls typically receive a four to five percent price discount compared to steers. Polled cattle are preferred to horned cattle. Dehorning calves with horns avoids the two to three percent discount often applied to horned cattle. Dehorning and castration are best done early to minimize stress on cattle.
About 35 percent of Oklahoma cow-calf producers vaccinate calves prior to sale. Vaccinated calves usually receive a premium of one to two percent over unvaccinated calves. Vaccination programs typically include two rounds of Clostridial and respiratory vaccine. Weaning calves prior to sale adds 1.5 to 3 percent to calf value. Conversely, bawling calves are usually discounted at auctions. Roughly 40 percent of Oklahoma producers sell weaned calves. The costs of weaning calves are significant but weaned calves sell at heavier weights. The premium for weaning is the additional value for calves at the heavier weaned weight and are in addition to the added value of selling heavier calves.
Castration, dehorning, vaccination and weaning are key components of preconditioning programs. Completing a certified preconditioning program such as the Oklahoma Quality beef network (OQBN) or other VAC45 type programs further enhances calf value by providing third-party verification of the production claims. In the last several years, OQBN calves have sold at prices five to nine percent above non-preconditioned calves in addition to selling at heavier weights. For more information on the OQBN program and sales visit oqbn.okstate.edu.
While the majority of feeder cattle receive anabolic hormone implants during stocker and feedlot production, only about 26 percent of Oklahoma cow-calf producers implant calves prior to weaning. Implanted calves are heavier and add $15 to over $20 per head in value. Most non-implanted calves sold as “natural” do not receive market premiums unless they are explicitly part of a value-added natural beef program.
Managing calves prior to marketing can also impact sale value. Calves generally sell best in moderate flesh. Thinner fleshed light-weight cattle are readily accepted and perhaps preferred by stocker buyers while moderately fleshy heavier calves may be acceptable to feedlot buyers. Excessively fleshy cattle are always discounted. It is important to know the types of buyers and what has value to them at alternative sale venues. Feeder cattle sell at higher values in larger lots. Having just five head in a uniform lot increases price an average of nearly $5/cwt. compared to single head sales and 10 head lots bring an average of $7/cwt. more than singles. Truckload lots often bring $10/cwt. more than single head sales.
The practices listed above require more management and some additional cost but have the combined potential to increase calf value by $50 to over $100/head. Some of these practices are very low-hanging fruit that producers can capture with little or no effort or investment. In times of declining cow-calf margins, it is important for producers to evaluate opportunities to enhance calf value while simultaneously managing cost of production.
“Preg” check and cull replacement heifers early
by Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension animal scientist
Many Oklahoma ranchers choose to breed the replacement heifers about a month ahead of the mature cows in the herd. In addition, they like to use a shortened 45 to 60-day breeding season for the replacement heifers. The next logical step is to determine which of these heifers failed to conceive in their first breeding season. This is more important today than ever before.
As the bulls are being removed from the replacement heifers, this would be an ideal time to call and make arrangements with your local veterinarian to have those heifers evaluated for pregnancy in about 60 days. In two months, experienced palpaters should have no difficulty identifying which heifers are pregnant and which heifers are not pregnant (open). Those heifers that are determined to be “open” after this breeding season, should be strong candidates for culling. Culling these heifers immediately after pregnancy checking serves three very economically valuable purposes.
1. Identifying and culling open heifers early will remove sub-fertile females from the herd. Lifetime cow studies from Montana indicated that properly developed heifers that were exposed to fertile bulls, but DID NOT become pregnant were often sub-fertile compared to the heifers that did conceive. In fact, when the heifers that failed to breed in the first breeding season were followed throughout their lifetimes, they averaged a 55 percent yearly calf crop. Despite the fact that reproduction is not a highly heritable trait, it also makes sense to remove this genetic material from the herd so as to not proliferate females that are difficult to get bred.
2. Culling open heifers early will reduce summer forage and winter costs. If the rancher waits until next spring to find out which heifers do not calve, the pasture use and winter feed expense will still be lost and there will be no calf to eventually help pay the bills. This is money that can better be spent in properly feeding cows that are pregnant and will be producing a salable product the following fall.
3. Identifying the open heifers shortly after (60 days) the breeding season is over will allow for marketing the heifers while still young enough to go to a feedlot and be fed for the choice beef market. “B” maturity carcasses (those estimated to be 30 months of age or older) are very unlikely to be graded Choice and cannot be graded Select. As a result, the heifers that are close to two years of age will suffer a price discount. If we wait until next spring to identify which two year-olds did not get bred, then we will be culling a female that will be marketed at a noticeable discount compared to the price/pound that she would have brought this summer as a much younger animal.
Certainly the percentage of open heifers will vary from ranch to ranch. Do not be concerned, if after a good heifer development program and adequate breeding season, that you find that 10 percent of the heifers still are not bred. Resist the temptation to keep these open heifers and “roll them over” to a fall-calving herd. These are the very heifers that you want to identify early and remove from the herd. It just makes good economic business sense to identify and cull non-pregnant replacement heifers as soon as possible.
“Cow/calf Corner” is a weekly newsletter edited by Dr. Glenn Selk, Extension cattle specialist emeritus at Oklahoma State University with contributions from additional OSU Extension specialists.
June 6, 2016