Beef Management Tips
Livestock Update, December 1996
Ike Eller, Animal and Poultry Sciences
As I write this column the second week in November, we have just experienced a bit of winter with some cold and snow. We have had a wonderful open fall with lots of grazing and folks have even been making hay into the first days of November. Very unusual. Now is the time to get ready for real wintertime that is just before us. Here are some thoughts:
PROFIT POINTS TO PONDER - There are far more than 10 management factors to ponder as we look toward trying to get more profit from beef cows during the coming year but here are 10 that come to my mind.
1. CULL COWS - As I look at the statistics and listen to producers talk, there is no question but what more cows are being culled this fall than we have seen since about 1985 or '86. This is certainly proper and expected and the only bad news is the price is pretty rotten. Nevertheless, this fall, as in any fall, all cows that are to calve in the winter or spring should undergo a thorough examination which should include pregnancy checking by a qualified veterinarian or technician and every cow should be looked at closely along with her age and record of production and the open, old, lame, bad uddered and poor producers should get a one-way ticket to slaughter. Market these cull cows in the best way possible to augment price. There are some special cull cow sales scheduled for December. Most years, cull cows bring more in very late December or after the first of the year. Work with your livestock market operator to get the best price possible.
2. REPLACE COWS - Once the old and unproductive and open cows are culled, the next item is to replace them with young, productive, bred cows or heifers. Most good quality bred cows and heifers are bringing from $400 to $700. Now is the time to make cow herds young by retaining the best heifers for replacement or purchasing replacements. Make sure bred heifers are bred to low birth weight calving ease bulls.
3. CUT FEED COST - Feed cost represents about 70% of the total maintenance cost on beef cows. Purchased feeds are very expensive at this time and tied to the unusually high feed grain market. Make maximum use of grazing, improve pastures, take soil tests and fertilize accordingly. Many permanent pastures will profit most from an application of phosphorus and potash. Make maximum use of stockpiled fescue and other stockpiled grass. Strip grazing these stockpiled materials will increase the utilization by 50% or so. As you look to next spring, think about how you can rotationally graze pastures to get more utilization of higher quality forage. Creep grazing of fall born calves on small grain is a definite winner. Saving on purchased feeds will be a major item this winter. Test forages for nutritive value and then make use of the forage analysis. Send those forage samples to one of the available laboratories. Supplement cow herds with protein or grain only where necessary. Use lowest cost practical alternative feedstuffs. There will be more broiler litter used this winter than we have ever seen before and properly so. If you can handle broiler litter, it is one of the better alternatives. Cottonseeds in some areas will be a cost cutter. Check with your feed dealer and look for alternatives that will do the job nutritionally but will save money per unit of energy or protein.
4. INCREASE WEANING WEIGHTS - In most years, heavier weight calves return more total dollars than lighter weight calves. A controlled breeding season and therefore a controlled calving season will usually boost average weaning weights. On mature cows, a controlled breeding season of 80 to 90 days is appropriate for most and for virgin heifers, 45 to 60 days. In the coming year, plan to market calves at as old ages as possible. Older calves simply weigh more so plan how this might be done as you look into 1997. Implant all nursing calves except those heifers that you know are to be kept for replacement. Implanting is one of the best profit makers in the industry. Deworm nursing calves in the coming calf crop. For fall born calves, deworm them at spring turnout time. For spring born calves, deworm them in mid-season, about July. Use growth performance tested bulls. Now is the time to add genetics for growth to most herds. Look at weaning weight and yearling weight EPDs. If you're keeping replacement heifers, pay attention to milk EPDs as you purchase bulls. Again, creep grazing of calves, either on small grain in winter for fall born calves or on planted annuals or aftermath hay fields for spring born calves during next summer is the route to go.
5. BACKGROUND CALVES AND SELL MORE WEIGHT - In almost every year, it is profitable to background and add weight to light weight calves because they are the ones that return the fewest dollars to the operation. Some producers will background all of their calves if they are set up well to do it, which will allow them to produce feedlot ready weights and return more income to the operation. In determining which calves should be backgrounded, if all are not to be backgrounded, decide to background the calves that are worth the least at weaning for whatever reason. If you are purchasing calves to background purchase the lighter weight but good quality calves in late fall and on through the winter and spring. In backgrounding programs, use maximum amount of pasture and forage and as with the cow herd, use alternative feeds that are lower cost than corn and soybean meal. For backgrounded calves that are to be sold to go into feedlots, make them gain at least 2 pounds per day. If they are going into a grazing program in the spring of `97, they will need to gain a pound a day during the winter.
6. IMPROVE REPRODUCTIVE RATE - Reproductive rate is 8 or 10 times more important than growth rate. Percent calf crop should be optimized in every herd. Properly grow out replacement heifers so at breeding time at 13 to 15 months of age they will weigh at least two-thirds of their expected mature weight. Weaned heifer calves developed for replacements should gain 1.5 to 1.75 from weaning to breeding. Flesh condition is extremely important in a cow herd. Learn to condition score cows on a scale of 1 to 9 where 1 is really thin and 9 is very obese with 5 being average. Cows going into calving should score 5, 6 or 7. Bred cows or heifers that are condition score 4 or below need more groceries to bring their condition score up to average or above at calving. Using fertile bulls will improve the calf crop. Before breeding season, get a qualified veterinarian to go over your old herd bulls, check their testicles, their eyes, their internal organs and their semen. If they are not right, cull them and replace them with younger, fertile bulls. Use bulls with large testicles. Look at scrotal circumference as you purchase bulls. Yearling bulls should be 32 to 40 cm with preference for bulls 35 or better. Using larger scrotal circumference bulls selects for daughters that will reach puberty earlier. Culling poor reproducing cows and, of course, open cows is a must. Use low birth weight EPD bulls on virgin heifers to minimize calving difficulty. Remember that it has been proven that you can feed calving cows late in the day rather than in the morning and more of them will calve during daylight hours where you can watch them more closely. Remember to vaccinate cows and heifers when open on an annual basis for IBR, PI3, BVD, Lepto and Vibriosis. This is an excellent insurance policy.
7. INCREASE MARKET VALUE - On calves produced, this is a must. Staying out of discount territory should be the goal of every cow calf producer. I know it sounds redundant to say dehorn and castrate calves early in life, but there are still an awful lot of bull calves and calves with horns going to stockyards and taking a $25 to $50 per head hit. There is no excuse for this. Employ a good health program with calves that are going to market. Make sure you do at least the minimum if you're selling in an organized graded feeder calf sale. If you are selling in load lots, a complete vaccination program that is substantiatable will make calves worth more. Again, reduce the percentage of calves that will be discounted in price when marketed which would include small frame calves and Number 2 thickness calves. Eliminate from your herd breed types that get discounted, whatever they are. Don't sell light weight calves. Marketing feeder calves and yearlings cooperatively in graded sales, field telo-auction or board sales will generally add value. Plan ahead.
8. USE A PLANNED, PRACTICAL HEALTH PROGRAM - Again, vaccinate cows when open against IBR, PI3, BVD, BRSV, 5 Strains of Lepto and Vibriosis. Using vaccines with the respiratory diseases in modified live form usually does a better job and with less cost. Vaccinate calves at birth for Blackleg and Malignant Edema and inject them with Vitamin A, D, and E and Selenium. Vaccinate calves a month before weaning for the respiratory complex diseases and then at weaning time, no further vaccinations are required. If calves are not vaccinated pre-weaning, do so at weaning time. Parasite control is extremely important. Lice take, perhaps, the largest toll. Treat for lice around New Year's Day. Young, first calf cows should be dewormed, but in general, mature cows will not need deworming except in special situations. It is too late now to treat for grubs. Systemic grubicides must be used before November 1. Deworm suckling calves to add weight. For fall born calves, they should be dewormed at turnout time in the spring and for spring calves, they should be dewormed about July. For calves being backgrounded, they should be dewormed in late fall and in mid-winter. Then, of course, if they go to grass, they should be strategically dewormed as they go to grass in the spring.
9. BREEDING PROGRAM -Plan to produce straightbred or crossbred calves that have adequate growth and that will finish in the 1100 to 1300 pound bracket. Crossbreeding should be employed in every herd possible to take advantage of increased weight and reproduction through hybrid vigor. A crossbred cow is simply better than most straightbred cows. The market in our area is color conscious, preferring black hided cattle or crossbreds with a black cross. Carefully pick the breeds you are going to use in your program. In bull selection, use only performance tested bulls with sound and solid EPDs. Use EPDs heavily as you select bulls. Frame scores in bulls should be 5, 6 or 7, in most instances. Use quality bulls. Don't scrimp on quality by buying inferior bulls, even if the price is ridiculously cheap.
10. MANAGE FOR PROFIT - In most cow operations, a combination of cows and stocker cattle beats cows alone. Forages are better utilized, more total dollars are returned and cash flow is better. Cow records are extremely important. Make sure every cow is identified. Make sure her age is included in her record and then be sure her production record is kept. In other words, put her number on the bank note and make sure she pays interest and principal every year. Know costs of production in terms of cost per pound of calf produced. This kind of analysis will lead to prioritizing management practices that are profitable. Also, know returns. Be sure you identify things in the operation that are paying a profit and those that are losing money. Managing a cow/calf operation for profit definitely requires top utilization of forages.
172 BULLS SELL IN DECEMBER & JANUARY IN BCIA TEST STATIONS - 78 Culpeper senior bulls will be sold at the Culpeper Agricultural Enterprises at Culpeper, Virginia on Saturday, December 14 at 12:00 noon. These will include 68 Angus, 7 Polled Hereford, 1 Charolais, 2 Simmental and 1 Gelbvieh. 94 Red House senior bulls will sell Saturday, January 4 at 12:00 noon at the Red House Bull Evaluation Center at Red House, Virginia. Included will be 66 Angus, 7 Polled Hereford, 7 Charolais, 1 Simmental and 13 Gelbvieh. The bulls in these two sales will represent the top two-thirds of 118 bulls at Culpeper and 141 bulls at Red House. They will sell with complete performance records including EPDs. For information contact Virginia BCIA, Department of Animal & Poultry Sciences, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, 24061-0306. (540) 231- 9163. For catalogs, write or call Virginia Sale Services, Rt. 2, Box 446, Staunton, VA, 24401-9432. (540) 337-3001.