Leaving money on the table with calf sales?

Seventy-nine percent of the cow/calf farms in our country own less than 50 cows, yet this group of ranchers own 28.7 percent of all the beef cows.

Some of these producers consider themselves “hobby ranchers” because only five percent are looking toward this production to be their primary income, 78 percent of these producers are looking for a supplemental income source, and the other 17 percent report that they do it for other reasons.

Most of these “hobby ranchers” say that they don’t necessarily need the operation to make money, but just not lose money. I say it is a lot more fun to do this work if it pays a dividend.

Sixty percent of producers with less than 50 cows market their calves through a conventional auction and there are management practices that we can perform to make our calves more attractive to buyers sitting in that auction.

The first step we could take is narrowing down our calving season.

The 2007 APHIS report showed that 55 percent of beef farms had a year-round calving season. For smaller producers it would be all but impossible to market a group of calves that are of the same sex, color, and size in a year round calving system.

By pulling bulls throughout the year, a producer could narrow down their calving season and have the potential to sell larger groups of calves. Selling larger lots of calves will increase the price per head.

The next step would be to make sure to castrate the bull calves. Unless you plan on selling your male calves for bull prospects then you should be castrating them as early as possible.

The calf’s stress level is minimum if he is able to let momma nurse him back to health.

Historically steer calves have always brought more money than bull calves. Since January 2014 the average price advantage was $15.86 per hundred weight for a 500-550 pound steer versus bull calves.

That would calculate out to $79.31 per head difference.

It is true that a bull calf will gain more weight than a steer calf, but research has shown that an early castrated steer calf with a growth implant will gain as much as a bull calves prior to weaning and will perform much better post weaning.

Dehorning calves has shown to have a financial benefit of anywhere from $3.15 - $5.25 per hundred weight, which translates to $16.54 - $27.56 per 525 pound calf. This solution could be as easy as picking a polled bull.

Even a calf with small scurs will be discounted in an auction setting.

The biggest impact a small producer could have on their calf prices would be to wean and precondition their calves.

At every cattle auction, the seller would claim “these calves have all been vaccinated and weaned” without any verification. Therefore enrolling your calves in a wean/vaccination program will provide confirmation that your calves healthy and ready to grow.

Most of these programs make sure that the producer’s calves have been given two rounds of vaccinations, bulls have been castrated, any horns have been removed, and been weaned for at least 45 days. Research has shown that calves need at least 45 days to get over the stress of weaning and any illness that might come.

Doing all of this work on the ranch provides the potential of additional revenue back to the operation.

The Oklahoma Quality Beef Network is a wean/vac program offered through OSU Extension that provides unbiased, third-party verification of the vaccination records, wean date, and ensures healthy calves are being sold no matter how big or small the cow/calf operation is.

Year after year OQBN has shown a premium to those animals enrolled in the program. In 2018 OQBN calves averaged $12.89 per hundred weight over calves market with no preconditioning. This translates to almost $65 per head advantage because you are capturing the price advantage of dehorning, castrating, vaccinating, and weaning.

So quit leaving money on the table when it comes to marketing your calves. Do what is right for your calves and the beef industry by making your calves more attractive to those buyers who are looking to fill pot loads of calves.

If you have any questions about these management practices or OQBN please see your county’s OSU Extension office.

(Provided by Area Livestock Specialist Earl Ward)

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