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 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Beef Management Tips

Livestock Update, June 1998

A.L. Eller, Jr., Extension Animal Scientist Emeritus, Virginia Tech

June is almost here as I write this column in mid-May and indeed this spring has been a complete turnaround from last year. Moisture has been abundant. Spring pastures are as good as we ever see them and the first cutting hay crop looks like a heavy one if we can get it put up in good shape. Feeder cattle prices are in a profitable level but are being hampered a bit by a sluggish fed cattle market. Here are some thoughts on events and management.

  1. 399 Bulls Sold At Test Stations Average $1701: For the 40th consecutive year, bulls have been tested and sold at central bull test stations operated by the Virginia Beef Cattle Improvement Association. In the 1997-98 test and sale year, 599 bulls were tested at three test stations located at Culpeper, Red House and Wytheville. 399 which sold represented the top two-thirds of all bulls tested. Prices in the 1997-98 sales averaged slightly higher than the sales held in 1997. In the 40th year at the Culpeper test, bulls were fed for the second year at Glenmary Farm at nearby Rapidan with good results. 250 bulls were tested of which 124 were seniors and 126 were juniors. At Red House in its 26th and final year 137 bulls were tested. At Wytheville in its 19th year, 212 bulls were tested of which 62 were seniors and 150 juniors. Senior bulls at all three test stations were born in the fall months September, October, November and December. Junior bulls were born in the months of January, February and March.

    Bulls of six breeds were tested at three central test stations including 446 Angus, 28 Polled Hereford, 25 Charolais, 66 Simmental, 31 Gelbvieh, 1 Limousin and 2 Salers. Across all bulls tested at the three test stations the 112, 119, or 140 day test average daily gain averaged 3.28 with an averaged adjusted yearling weight of 1120 pounds.

    There were 162 breeders who tested and sold bulls at the central test stations of which 116 were Angus, 11 Polled Hereford, 8 Charolais, 22 Simmental, 12 Gelbvieh, 1 Salers and 1 Limousin. 27 of these breeders were out-of-state from Tennessee, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Maryland.

    At the four auction sales held at the three test stations, the 399 bulls grossed $653,950 for an average price of $1701. 82 Culpeper seniors averaged $1814, 83 Culpeper juniors $1592, 93 Red House seniors $1787, and 141 Wytheville seniors and juniors $1642.

    Across the three test stations 303 Angus averaged $1725, 18 Polled Hereford $1301, 10 Charolais $1510, 45 Simmental $1598, 21 Gelbvieh $2029, and 2 Salers $1500.

    All bulls tested and sold were consigned by breeders who are members of the Virginia Beef Cattle Improvement Association which is a 43 year old beef cattle improvement program which was the first state BCIA to be organized in the United States.

  2. Plans Made For BCIA Test Stations For 1998-99: The Virginia Beef Cattle Improvement Association has plans made for testing some 550 bulls at the two central bull test stations at Culpeper and Wytheville. This year, again, the Culpeper test will be conducted at Glenmary Farm owned and operated by Tom Nixon and family at Rapidan, Virginia which is 10 miles south of Culpeper off Route 522. Two groups of bulls and a special custom test set of bulls will be tested at the Nixon farm. A maximum of 130 senior bulls calved September 1 to December 15, 1997 will be delivered to the Nixon farm on Tuesday, July 21. These bulls will go on test August 3 and 4, will complete the 112 day test on November 23 and 24 and the top two-thirds will be sold at the Culpeper Agricultural Enterprises on December 12. In addition to these senior bulls, a maximum of 70 bulls will be accepted for a special senior custom test at Glenmary Farm. Bulls for the custom test will be calved August 1 to October 31, 1997 and will be delivered July 21 and go on test August 3 and 4, complete the 84 day test on October 27. These bulls will be taken home by their owners or may be consigned to the Staunton or Blackstone BCIA All-Breed Performance Tested Bull Sales which are to be held at Blackstone on November 20 and Staunton on December 5. A maximum of 130 Culpeper junior bulls calved December 16, 1997 to March 31, 1998 will be delivered to the Nixon farm on Tuesday, November 9. They will be weighed on 119 test on November 23 and 25 and will come off test March 22 and 23. The top two-thirds will sell at the Culpeper Agricultural Enterprises on Friday, April 9.

    The Southwest bull test station at Wytheville owned by Danny Umberger will test two groups of bulls. A maximum of 80 senior bulls calved October 1 to December 31, 1997 and a maximum of 160 junior bulls calved January 1 to March 31, 1998 will be delivered to the test station on Tuesday, October 6. Both groups will go on test October 19 and 20. The senior bulls will finish 112 day test on February 8 and 9 and the juniors will finish 140 day test on March 8 and 9 and the top two-thirds of both groups will sell Saturday, March 27.

    Breeders to be eligible to consign bulls to the Virginia BCIA central bull tests and sales must be members of the Virginia BCIA. All members will be mailed rules and regulations June 1. For breeders interested in testing and selling bulls at the BCIA central bull test stations, contact the Virginia BCIA, Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia 24061-0306, 540-231-9163.

  3. Fall Bull and Replacement Heifer Sales at Staunton and Blackstone Planned: Two All-Breed Performance Tested Bull and Commercial Replacement Heifer Sales are scheduled for late fall 1998. The 13th annual Virginia BCIA All-Breed Performance Tested Bull and Open Commercial Replacement Heifer Sale will be held at the Southside Livestock Market at Blackstone on Friday, November 20 at 6:30 PM. 60 service ready, performance tested bulls and 50 open, ready to breed commercial replacement heifers will sell. On Saturday, December 5 at 12:00 noon at Augusta Expoland in Staunton, Virginia, the Virginia BCIA All-Breed PT Bull and Bred Commercial Replacement Heifer Sale will be held. The sale will include 65 service ready, performance tested bulls and up to 150 bred spring calving replacement heifers. All bulls and heifers will be consigned by members of the Virginia Beef Cattle Improvement Association. Breeders may consign as many as 6 bulls for each sale. Bulls must be calved between September 1, 1996 and October 31, 1997. They may be purebred registered bulls of any breed and recorded half blood or higher bulls of breeds with open herd books. Bulls for these sales may be performance tested on breeder's farms or may be from a special Culpeper senior custom test which will be conducted at Glenmary Farm owned by Tom Nixon at Rapidan, Virginia in Orange County. Bulls in this special custom test must be calved from August 1 to October 31, 1997 and will be consigned through the BCIA office and delivered to the test station along with Culpeper senior bulls July 21.

    Consignments of bred or open heifers for Staunton or Blackstone respectively can range from a minimum of 3 head up to 25 head. The Sale Manager for the Staunton and Blackstone sales will be Jim Johnson of the Virginia Cattlemen’s Association, P.O. Box 9, Daleville, Virginia 24083, 540-992-1009. Bulls and heifers must be consigned prior to October 1, 1998. For additional information contact the Virginia Cattlemen's Association or Virginia BCIA, Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia 24061-0306, 540-231-9163.

  4. Forage Evaluation of Bulls: Twenty years ago and beyond there were many purebred breeders that planned on selling bulls at approximately two years of age. However, with the success of growing out and performance testing young bull calves through the yearling stage with rates of gain from 3 to 4 pounds per day, today the common practice is to sell yearling bulls that have been through a performance test after weaning of 112 to 140 days. Many questions have been asked as to whether young bulls making high rates of gain during the post-weaning gain test period, utilizing fairly high grain and high energy rations, are damaged. Many commercial producers who have purchased fat yearling bulls have been a bit unhappy because those same bulls tended to loss weight fairly rapidly in lots of cases and actually appeared to “melt” during their yearling breeding season. Such bulls, though, are apparently not materially damaged.

    There continues to be considerable interest in some quarters of forage testing bulls which would give an opportunity to utilize a less expensive feed source, grow bulls at a slower rate and perhaps add a bit of soundness and longevity to these bulls versus feeding them a hot ration while young.

    There have been continuing arguments that if bulls are grown on high forage diets at a slower rate of gain it may be difficult to get a true expression of genetic growth rate at those lower rates of gain. Breeders who have developed marketing programs for yearling bulls with higher rates of gain and higher yearling weights, like the system and wonder if there is as much profit in growing bulls at a slower rate and selling them at an older age. It appears that most commercial cow/calf producers will pay about as much for a yearling bull as they will for a bull 18 months to 2 years of age.

    In reviewing what is going on in some other states in the southern and southeastern portions of the country, where forage bull tests are fairly common, it appears that breeders and forage testing programs have been somewhat successful. There are central bull evaluation programs in South Carolina, North Carolina and Alabama. In most of these evaluation and grow-out programs bulls are brought into the evaluation facility when they are 7 to 10 months of age in the fall of the year and are kept in the evaluation group through the next spring or early summer monitoring rates of gain. From that point until the time the bulls are sold in late fall, they are kept growing on grazing programs supplemented to an extent with grain. The total non-sale costs in various places looks something like this: the Edisto station in South Carolina - $870, the West Alabama test - $687, Wiregrass Alabama test - $650 and the Warsaw, North Carolina - $616. Total costs including sale expense at Edisto was $999, West Alabama - $843, Wiregrass Alabama - $750 and Warsaw, North Carolina - $735.

    In each of these more southern locations, winter forages are much superior to what we have available in Virginia. This means that in Virginia most of the grazing that our breeders could take advantage of is from spring to fall during the warm summer months.

    It would appear that to make maximum use of forages, bulls considered for forage test probably should be born March 1 to May 31 or even later. These bulls could be weaned and if within a central evaluation facility come in about December 15. They could be weighed on test two weeks later on December 29 and either be fed to gain 3.25 pounds per day or 2.25 pounds per day for say 119 days to come off that portion of the test on April 27. Bulls fed at the higher level would come off test weighing 1080 and at the lower level 960. At the higher level, the average 365 day weights would be in the range of 1050 to 1060 and at the 2.25 level of gain, about 940. At that point bulls under either regime would go to good pasture and would be supplemented as necessary with grain to make every daily gains of 2 pounds per day until October 12 at which time the bulls that were wintered at the higher level in winter would weigh 1415 pounds and the bulls at the lower level 1295 pounds. If these bulls were to be sold at an auction sale a month later, say November 13, the bulls wintered at the higher level would have a sale weight at 19 months of 1463 pounds and bulls fed at the lower level would have a sale weight of 1345 pounds. This is indeed a nice age to offer these bulls for sale but we now must take a look at the costs.

    For bulls wintered at the higher level, we would use a winter feed cost of $238 and bulls at the lower level $180. The summer gain with appropriate supplementation of some grain and minerals would cost $299 for both groups. Let’s pencil in $12 for medical costs and $147 for labor and yardage at the rate of 50 cents per head per day while on the winter period and 40 cents per head per day during the pasture portion. Total test costs for the two groups of bulls would be $696 for the bulls fed at the higher level and $638 for the bulls fed at the lower level.

    For bulls that might be sold at auction let's assume a $1600 average and a 10% of gross for sale costs which would add $160 cost to each bull. Grand total costs for bulls tested and sold at the higher level would be $856 and for the lower level $798.

    All this doesn't look too bad, but we must remember that there will be some percentage of these bulls that will be culled after the winter period and there will no doubt be 5% to 10% of these bulls that will sustain injuries, will die, will fail to pass a reproductive exam or perhaps have some other problem.

    The above costs are simply estimates based on other folks experience and what should happen. Some producers feeding their own bulls will get the job done more economically and others probably at a greater cost. There is no question that bulls that are sold at 18 to 22 months of age are more desirable for most commercial producers. If we had a cooperator who was willing to take a large group of bulls from purebred breeders and probably grow them out and head them for a service-age bull sale, we could perhaps have a number of these late spring born bulls tested with the use of grazing forages and have these bulls made available. It is doable.

  5. Reimplant Steer Calves and Yearlings: July 4 is just about the right date for reimplanting steer calves and grazing yearling steers and heifers that are headed for the feedlot. With margins being tight and profits moderate, take advantage of the extra gain that can be gotten from mid-summer implanting. If calves or yearlings have not been implanted, the first implant given in mid-summer can produce very profitable results. If an implant material such as Ralgro was used for the first implant, cattle definitely need to be reimplanted the second time. Nursing calves can be implanted with Ralgro, Synovex, C Component, E-C, or Compudose. Yearling cattle can be implanted with Ralgro, Revolor G, Synovex H for heifers or Synovex S for steers, Component EH for heifers or Component ES for steers.

  6. Deworm Nursing Calves and Yearlings: At the same time reimplanting is done in early July is about the right time to deworm spring born nursing calves. This is particularly true if they are nursing young first calf cows or if such cows are in the pasture with the main herd. There is no need in most instances to deworm mature momma cows in mid-summer. For grazing stocker cattle that were dewormed once at turnout, a second deworming in mid-summer, usually in early July, will produce more gain and more pounds to sell. For those grazing yearlings, whether they are stockers or replacement heifers which may be difficult to catch in grazing boundaries with limited facilities, the use of dewormer blocks or mineral mixes containing dewormer may be effectively used. Be sure to follow directions if you plan to use one of these deworming materials.

  7. Creep-Graze Calves: Creep-grazing is the practice of allowing suckling calves to graze the highest quality forage available while restricting cows to pastures that are lower in quality or less abundant. Research and practical experience has demonstrated the value of this practice particularly in mid to late summer and generally has shown an increase of 25 to 50 pounds in calf weaning weight where creep grazing is used. Creep grazing produces the most difference if the quality of the pasture available to the cow herd is lower which is the case in many pastures including those of predominantly fescue in mid-summer. Creep holes for calves should be generally 18 inches wide and 40 inches high. Creep grazing calves on aftermath meadows offers the best opportunity for cow/calf producers, however, some utilize pearl millet or some other summer annual quite well. Consider creep grazing if it fits your operation and the need exists. Those added pounds could help the profit picture.

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