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Maximizing Revenue with Calf Management

Maximizing Revenue with Calf Management

By Mark Mauldin

This is the fifth installment of my ramblings on revenues (a good title for the series, wish I’d have thought of it sooner). As we get farther into this discussion it becomes increasingly obvious that most, if not all, of these topics are interconnected. My comments today are quite pointless if they are not coupled with the thoughts I have previously shared on sire selection, and reproductive management. Today we’ll focus on practices relating to pre-weaning calf management – steps you can take to make an individual calf more valuable. Next week we’ll look at increasing the value of a calf crop via marketing strategies and post-weaning management.

At risk of sounding like a broken record, to increase the value of an individual calf you must increase weight (sell more pounds) and/or increase the value of each pound sold.

More Pounds

Genetics are really in the driver’s seat when it comes to a calf’s growth potential, but there are some steps that can be taken to help a calf maximize it’s potential.

One effective, but often underutilized, technique for increasing the weight of calves at weaning/marketing time is to implant them with a growth stimulant. Implants are small pellets placed under the skin of the calf’s ear. The implants slowly release a growth stimulating hormone resulting in improved rate of gain while the implant is functioning. Depending on the specific implanting strategy used, implanting nursing calves can result in an additional 15 to 30 lbs. of weaning weight. Think about it like this – 25lbs of additional gain at $1.50/lbs. = $26.50 in additional revenue generated by an implant that only costs a few dollars. Specific implant strategies are further discussed in some of the articles below. It also stands to reason that, management strategies resulting in heavier calves would be closely tied to nutrition. Calves that have access to creep feed or are allowed to creep graze high quality forage will benefit more from being implanted than will calves with limited nutrition.

Continuing to focus on nutrition, creep feeding has long been an option for increasing weaning weights. Providing more nutrition should equate to more pounds of calf to sell. Determining whether creep feeding is an economically sound practice can be challenging. The value of gain must exceed the cost of gain. With current feed prices, it is my opinion that it will be difficult to justify creep feeding a concentrate feed right now. That said, every situation is different. Cost of feed (fed, not at the distributor) and conversion rate must be considered, and remember when evaluating value of gain, as calves get heavier, the per pound value decreases. Contact me directly or your UF/IFAS Extension Office for assistance with analyzing the economic merit of feeding calves – there are a lot of moving parts.

Creep grazing is an alternative to conventional creep feeding, which may pencil out better right now given feed prices. For creep grazing to be a viable option there must be adequate space and a commitment to producing high-quality forages. Forages aren’t free, so again an economic analysis of the expected outcomes prior to starting the venture is time well spent.

More Valuable Pounds

In terms of increasing the value of each pound sold, many options for improvement in this area have already gone by the wayside by the time the calf is born. The calf’s genetics are largely responsible for the three main factors that are used to determine feeder calf value: 1) gender, males are more valuable than females, 2) thickness/muscle score, heavier muscled calves are more valuable because the yield more product, 3) frame size, as long as you stay away from small-framed animals this is not a huge factor. Additionally, breed type/color pattern can impact perceived value, but is also dictated by genetics.

Marketing strategies aside (we’ll look at that next week), there are relatively few things a cow/calf producer can do to improve the per pound value of individual calves, but there is one key step that can be taken. Sell steers, not bulls. Castration is simple (regardless of technique) and very inexpensive. On a per pound basis, steers are more valuable than bulls and they produce a more desirable end product. There are links to articles below that go into various techniques and timing of castration. Bottom line, if you are selling bull calves you are giving up easy money.

Steers are consistently more valuable than bulls of the same weight. Above is a comparison of three weight classes of #1, large frame bulls and steers. Prices courtesy of the Alabama Livestock Market News, July 16, 2021

Steers are consistently more valuable than bulls of the same weight. Above is a comparison of three weight classes of #1, large frame bulls and steers. Prices courtesy of the Alabama Livestock Market News, July 16, 2021

Horned calves tend to be discounted compared to their polled counterparts. Horned calves certainly could be avoided through sire selection, but if your breeding program does produce horned calves, they should be dehorned early in life, well prior to marketing to avoid the associated discount.

I did not address herd/calf health, which certainly can impact calf performance and value. That could be an entire article unto itself, but rather than add to this series I’ll just give you the take-home message now. You should have a good working relationship with a veterinarian; work with them to develop a herd health plan based on your specific situation. Healthy calves will make you way more money than sick or dead calves.

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