Cattle producers are constantly looking for new ways to add value to their calf crop and top the market. In order for this to take place, the needs of your customers, backgrounders and feeders must be met. These customers are becoming more particular about the cattle they purchase due to the extra capital needed in todayâ€™s cattle market and tight margins due to high feed costs. It is important to understand the aspects that affect backgrounder and feedlot profit. Cost of gain (i.e. performance) and health are the two major factors affecting the feederâ€™s bottom line. The following are sections of production that can be focused on at the producer level to increase the chances for feeder profitability and yours:
Nutrition. The nutrition program starts with the cow. Research has shown that calves that do not receive adequate nutrition in utero are more likely to have health issues throughout their lives. Cows must also have adequate nutrition and health in order to produce quality colostrum, which is one of the essential building blocks of a healthy feeder calf. Test your forages and other feedstuffs to ensure the nutritional value and formulate your system to fit with the needs of the cow.
A good mineral program plays a vital role in herd health and immunity, especially in calves. The mineral program needs to be matched with the deficiencies of the soil and subsequent forages to ensure the herd is receiving the proper nutrients in order to grow and thrive. Soil samples can be taken and supplement distributors in your area can develop a custom mineral program for your particular ranch or pasture. Take time to visit with your local distributor because most mineral companies offer mineral packages that are developed to cater to specific areas of the country. Calves that have a good mineral program behind them have stronger immune responses, which is essential when they are put under the stress of hauling, handling and environmental changes that come with moving to a feedyard or backgrounding operation.
Vaccinations and Herd Health. A vaccination program goes hand-in-hand with a good nutritional program. If calves have a high-quality nutrition program, they will have a stronger immune response to a vaccine and will have more substantial immunity. Most vaccination protocols preferred by feedlots include a 7-way clostridial vaccination at 2-3 months of age along with a modified-live virus (MLV) vaccine that covers the viruses commonly associated with the bovine respiratory disease (BRD) complex. The viruses included in most MLV-BRD vaccines are: infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR), bovine viral diarrhea (BVD), parainfluenza-3 virus (PI3), and bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV). It is also important to remember to give the booster shots as directed by the label.
A consistent de-worming program is also needed for both cows and calves to ensure calves are free of parasites. Cows tend to shed worm eggs and larvae without showing many clinical signs of infestation and calves are more susceptible to these parasites as they learn to graze and have weaker immune responses.
Value-Added Programs. One area of the industry that has seen a great deal of growth in recent years is the variety of value-added programs cattle can be marketed to. These programs yield opportunity for increased value and profit all the way up the production chain.
The basic programs available to beef producers are non-hormone treated cattle (NHTC), natural, age and source verified and Global Animal Partnership approved are some of the main programs used by producers today.
NHTC must be verified by a third party USDA process verified program (PVP), such as IMI Global or Tri-Merit, and are eligible for export to the European Union. These cattle cannot receive any growth promotants such as hormone implants or ionophores.
There are two types of natural cattle, affidavit and verified natural. Currently, most packers only require a producer affidavit stating the cattle have not received any growth promotants or antibiotics to certify a group of cattle as natural. Verified natural cattle have their natural status and records certified by a PVP with the added benefit those cattle can move into an NHTC program if they should happen to need antibiotics in the feeding stage.
Age and source verification has been made popular with the expansion of exports, especially to Japan. The Japanese have had a 20-month or younger age requirement on all imports since 2003. However, this might be shifting if Japan moves to the more common 30-month or younger requirement that is more in line with the rest of the world. This also requires a PVP or USDA Quality System Assessment (QSA) program to verify age and source records.
Weaning and Preconditioning. Both weaning and preconditioning are of vital importance to feeders due to their significant affect on feedlot health. Cattle weaned at home experience less stress and are less likely to have health problems at the buyerâ€™s operation. The weaning and preconditioning process depends on your individual operations resources and facilities. Ideally calves should be weaned for 30 or more days, and fed an adequate ration to have body condition scores of 4-6 (on a 1-9 scale) to reach their maximum gain potential in a feedyard.
Superior Genetics. Cattle from proven and known bloodlines hold extra value for feeders due to the predictability of gains and overall increased performance that add profit. The number of days on feed directly affects the profitability of a feed yard. Cattle that can convert feed more efficiently with a higher rate of gain are simply more valuable and profitable, therefore feeders are willing to pay more for them. This is one of the reasons most feeders prefer to purchase hybrid cattle that are naturally more feed efficient and have faster rates of gain.
When choosing bulls, try to get the most performance and carcass merit for your dollar, and look for bulls that are of similar bloodlines to improve the uniformity of your calf crop. Though these bulls may cost more to purchase, they will more than pay for themselves in added pounds and extra value for your calf crop.
As you look at these recommendations remember that no matter how you market your feeder cattle (sale barn, privately or video auction), those cattle are linked by feeders directly to you and their performance this year can dramatically affect the price you receive for years to come. So take a look at the initiatives you can take in your operation to help your cattle reach their maximum genetic potential, yielding maximum profit for both your operation and for whomever owns them next.