Beef Management Tips
Livestock Update, November 1996
Ike Eller, Animal and Poultry Sciences
1996 has been a most unusual season from start to present. Lots of snow last winter an extremely dry, cool April, abundant and even excess rainfall in most areas and storms which have taken their toll in many areas of Virginia. Fall is here and we are thankful to have a good feed supply stored for cattle in most areas. Now is the time to prepare for winter. Here are some thoughts:
1. 608 BULLS ON TEST -- This is the 39th consecutive year Virginia Beef Cattle Improvement Association and it's members have tested and sold bulls at central bull test stations in Virginia. By the time you read this, there will be 608 bulls on test at Culpeper, Red House and Wytheville with 405 of them being scheduled to sell in four auctions in early 1997. The top two- thirds in each test group will make up the sales. At Culpeper there are 118 senior bulls on test. The sale will be held Saturday, December 14 at the Culpeper Agricultural Enterprises. There are 130 junior bulls on test which will sell Friday, April 4. At Red House, only senior bulls are tested and there are 141 on test with the sale being scheduled for the first Saturday in January, January 4 at 12:00 noon. At the Southwest Virginia Test Station at Wytheville, 219 senior and junior bulls (61 seniors and 158 juniors) are on test. A combined sale of about 145 bulls will be held Saturday, March 22 at the test station at 12:00 noon. Information on bulls on test may be obtained from VA BCIA, Dept. Of Animal & Poultry Sciences, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, 24061-0306, 540/231-9163. Catalogs for sales may be requested from the sale manager, VA Sale Services, Rt. 2, Box 446, Staunton, Virginia, 24401-9432, 540/337-3001.
2. STAUNTON & BLACKSTONE BULL AND REPLACEMENT HEIFER SALES -- Two very important performance tested bull sales combined with commercial bred heifer sales are coming up in early December. The first of these will be held at Blackstone on Monday, December 2 at 6:30 pm. There will be 35 to 40 service age performance tested bulls and 50 to 75 spring calving bred or open heifers ready to breed for fall calving. The All Breed PT Bull and Commercial Bred Heifer Sale at Staunton will be held the following Saturday, December 7 at 12:00 noon at Augusta Expoland near Fishersville. The Staunton sale will be made up of 60 service age performance tested bulls and 100 spring calving bred commercial heifers. For additional information and catalogs contact sale manager Jim Johnson, Virginia Cattlemen's Association, P O Box 176, Daleville, VA, 24083. 540/992-1009.
3. PREG CHECK AND CULL COWS -- November is the time when commercial or purebred cow herds that are calving in winter and spring should be pregnancy and evaluated by a qualified veterinarian or technician. Cows that are open, old, lame or poor producers should be culled. Slaughter cow prices are at the lowest level we've seen in years and it is a tough pill to swallow to turn loose of cull cows in the $30 to $35 per hundredweight bracket. It's even tougher to keep an unproductive or open cow, pay the cost of wintering and then get no calf or a light weight calf or a poor quality calf which will be of lower value in the current cattle market picture. In almost all instances, it is best to cull open cows, replace them with bred heifers, either raised or purchased or bred cows. The slaughter cow market generally shows some additional strength after the first of the year and if feed is plentiful, it may be wise to add weight to cows and sell them during that time frame rather than marketing them in the fall when the market is saturated with cull cows. At the time cows are pregnancy checked is an excellent time to mouth cows if age is unknown and write down an exact or approximate age on each cow. When mouthing, remember that the incisors are important. A two-year old has 2 permanent incisors and a five year old has 8 permanent incisors getting 2 new ones each year going from 2 to 5 years of age. Old cows and those with badly worn teeth and broken mouths due to age should definitely be culled along with the unsound, bad uddered cows and those with other physical infirmities.
4. NOVEMBER IS DEWORMING TIME -- All young cattle whether raised or purchased should be dewormed around the November time frame. Many producers will also deworm cows at this time, though it looks as if deworming mature cows is not as necessary as deworming first calf calves and younger cattle. The bottom line, is put most of the money you plan to spend on deworming on young cattle. If young cattle are dewormed at this time and wintered in a dry lot, they will not need another deworming. If, however, they are wintered on pasture, and most are, they will probably need another deworming in January. The November deworming, in most instances, should utilize a product that will kill brown stomach worms in the inhibited stage. There are a number of good deworming products on the market that fit the bill including Ivomec, Synanthic, Valbizon or a double dose of SafeGuard.
5. FALL -- THE TIME TO CONDITION SCORE COWS -- Much has been said and written about cow size but the most important trait, reproduction, is closely tied to body condition, not body size. For cows that will calve in winter and early spring, November is an excellent time evaluate body condition. It is really an easy task to learn to condition score cows on a 1 to 9 scale where 1 is extremely thin emaciated, 5 is average condition and 9 is extremely obese. Cows, as they move toward calving should be in a condition score 5, 6 or even 7. If cows are condition score 4 or below, they should be sorted out and fed to gain some weight and increase condition prior to calving. Cows going into calving that are thin are the ones that will, in general, be difficult to get bred back on schedule. Now is the time to take your book and pencil and go to the pasture to do some condition scoring. It will only be a valuable exercise if you act upon what you find to increase condition on any cows that are thin.
6. BACKGROUND LATE CALVES -- If you have late born, lighter weight calves and have labor, facilities and feed, it would probably be advisable to consider backgrounding these calves. If you market light weight calves this fall, they probably will not return enough dollars to your operation, particularly if they are heifers. The 300 to 400 pound calves are definitely taking a licking price wise and in terms of total dollars per head compared to heavier calves. The difference in price per hundredweight between the lighter weights and the heavier weight calves is currently very small and if anything, the heavier weight calves are bringing more money per hundredweight. Therefore, if you can put weight on these lighter calves at a very economical cost, backgrounding looks like a good bet. Put a pencil to it, figure feed costs, expected gains and expected sale price before making the decision. Most light weight calves will make more money if they are backgrounded and sold in December, January or even March or April. If these light weight calves are going to grass next spring, they may need to be wintered to gain a pound or so per day. However, if they are going to be sold to go into the feedlots, they should gain 2 pounds per day or a minimum of 200 pounds during the wintering period. The key to an economical backgrounding program is to utilize feedstuffs that are fairly inexpensive. Just remember it will take good quality feed to put gain on these light weight calves. Utilize as much good quality standing or harvested forage as possible. Assess your feed supply and consider any purchased feed requirements carefully.
7. CARCASS TALK -- In the past 1 to 2 years there has been more talk about improving carcass merit in beef cattle than any other time in my 40 year working career. Problems pointed out by two national beef quality audits show that carcasses and beef itself lacks quality and consistency. These audits also point out that excess fat is a problem. Another point brought out is that degree of marbling which translates to quality grade is too low on the average. These studies show that the beef produced from 1 out of 5 carcasses does not give a pleasurable eating experience. Now cow/calf producers, what can you do, to over the next few years improve carcass merit and cure some of these problems? My answer is, use the best information available and temper it with a large measure of common sense. Feeder cattle produced in our area and, indeed, over most of the United States, need to carry at least half British blood. In other words, at least half of the genetic makeup must come from the breeds we call British breeds or English breeds which tend to fatten more readily and have carcasses with a higher degree of marbling. Up to half of the genetic package can and, in most instances, should be made up of breeds of the European-Continental group. These breeds excel in growth, muscling and carcass cutability. It has been said many times that a cow must match the environment provided on the farm or ranch and the bull used to breed her can add growth, muscling and perhaps, some leanness. What about carcass data that would allow for some selection on bulls? Breed associations and their breeders are working to collect progeny data through slaughter and the use of ultrasound. A few breed associations have carcass data on a large number of bulls. That would include EPDs for carcass weight, ribeye area, fat thickness and marbling. Bulls available for AI use that are superior in carcass traits should be used as long as they are balanced and have desirability in other production traits such as reproduction and growth. In buying bulls, it appears to be appropriate to buy frame 5 to 7 bulls with fleshing ability and apparent thickness. Sons and daughters should feeder grade M1, should finish at 1100 to 1300 pounds, two-thirds should quality grade US Choice and the other third Select, and yield grade 2 to 3.5.
8. NO "CHEAP" BULLS THIS YEAR -- When I consulted Webster's Dictionary, the word cheap was defined as `easily got, of little or no value, virtually worthless, held in little esteem, common or low in price or cost.' The same dictionary defined inexpensive as `not expensive, costing very little, low priced or cheap.' As a commercial cow/calf producer goes out to buy bulls to sire future calf crops in the market we're in, he needs to buy bulls as inexpensively as possible but not cheap. Bulls this season will be less expensive simply because of the place in the cattle cycle we find ourselves. Quality and performance should not be sacrificed in an attempt to hold down production cost. Cheap bulls are the lower performing, poor quality bulls that should be avoided. Cheap bulls may be those that are extremely small framed or extremely large framed. Neither are desirable. Cheap bulls may be those that lack muscle thickness and will produce too many grade 2 feeder calves. Cheap bulls are those that will sire slow growing progeny. Cheap bulls may be those that will cause inordinate calving difficulty. Cheap bulls may also sire progeny with poor fleshing ability and those which will possess too little marbling to get them into the choice grade. So, it is okay to buy "inexpensive" bulls, but it is not smart to buy "cheap" bulls. Purebred seedstock breeders today offer the best quality bulls I've seen in my lifetime. They also, for the most part, have the most information upon which to base a selection decision in my lifetime. Individual performance including birth weight, weaning weight, post weaning gain and yearling weight are all valuable but pale in their ability to define breeding value when compared with EPDs. EPDs allow the buyer to compare bulls within a breed. With the expectation of getting the desired product in the calves produced. Fall and early winter are bull buying months and remember it is always okay to buy "inexpensive" bulls but never "cheap" bulls.
9. CALVING MANAGEMENT IS CRITICAL -- A large percentage of the fall calving cows, both purebred and commercial, calve in the months of November and December. Although calves are worth less than they were a few years ago and worth less than they will be in the future, calving time is the time to protect income for 1997 by saving newborn calves. It is a good management ploy to go through cows and separate those nearest to calving every week or two where they can be watched closely. If possible, keep cows that have calved separate from those that are expected to calve. Be in a position to help with tough deliveries, particularly on first calf heifers. Calve cows out on good clean pasture and keep babies away from mud and filth. In the commercial situation, castrate bull calves when they are young and dehorn if needed, also when they are young. Tag them at birth for identification. Vaccinate against Blackleg and other Clostridial diseases. Be sure the newborn calf nurses. For calves that may become dehydrated, use an esophageal feeder to feed them clostrum milk or fluids with electrolytes.