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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Beef Management Tips

Livestock Update, December 1998

John Hall and Bill McKinnon, Extension Animal Scientists, Virginia Tech

December Beef Management Calendar

Spring Calving Herds

Fall Calving Herds


Purchasing Bred Heifers a Good Opportunity for Small Herds

For herds with less than 50 cows, purchasing bred heifers may be a better option than raising your own. Tom Hogan, a nationally recognized management consultant, says this may be the case for herds of less than 100 cows or larger. Buying heifers already pregnant to calving ease bulls allows small producers to purchase terminal type bulls with high growth and carcass characteristic to use on the rest of the cowherd. This results in higher weaning weights and better performance if producers retain ownership of calves. Bulls can also be used for more years because they will not be breeding their daughters. Therefore, better bulls that may cost more can be afforded and used for more years. Purchased heifers may be of better genetic quality and consistency. Buying heifers also eliminates the additional management groups needed when heifers are home-raised.

Although there are many advantages to purchasing heifers, there are also some cautions. Producers that have an excellent breeding program or are purebred breeders may not want to purchase heifers. Purchased heifers should be from reliable breeders with information not only about service sires, but genetic information about the heifers as well. Breeders that have a good reputation for supplying quality heifers, but little information about the heifers' background are also a good place to purchase heifers. However, the genetic consistency of these heifers is unknown. Finally, heifers should be raised under conditions similar to those on your farm. For most producers, this means they are looking for heifers that are developed on a pasture-based or hay-based program.

Consider purchasing heifers directly from breeders or at some of the special bred heifer sales around the state. JBH

Feeder Cattle Marketing Ahead

As our industry finishes up another fall feeder cattle marketing season, it may be appropriate to look toward some of the changes in marketing ahead. What innovations can producers adopt to improve the price per pound for their calves?

Virginians have done the easy stuff. Our graded feeder cattle sales were a tremendous innovation 60 years ago. The graded sales continue to price many more cattle than those sold in the barn. Our graded sales have lost some of their sense of being special with the widespread elimination of presale vaccination requirements and the sale of calves and yearlings in the same pen all for the sake of convenience. In recent years there have been the development on buying stations operated by order buyers which again, have appealed to the producer who values convenience. The order buying stations tend to price cattle based off prices paid in the graded sales. In some areas we see fewer cattle sold through graded sales resulting in smaller pen sizes and lower prices. This situation coupled with the other issues listed above may have tended to limit prices with a particular region.

To garner higher prices in the future, producers will have to take a proactive approach to marketing. During the next ten years those cow/calf operators who unload their calves at a market or buying station and essentially ask the market, "What will you give me?" will be increasingly disappointed. The marketplace will continue to send an economic signal to sell weaned cattle instead of bawling calves. There will also be economic inducement for calves to have been administered a complete presale vaccination program. The market will also encourage the sale of truckload groups of similar calves fresh from the farm. For the majority of Virginia producers this will mean working with neighbors producing similar cattle.

Increasingly, cattle feeders linked to feeding for specific markets (upper 2/3 of Choice, or high cutability, high efficiency cattle as two examples) will seek out producers of calves with identified genetic backgrounds. These markets will demand more than just specific breed composition in their calves, but will want cattle sired by bulls with minimal EPD levels for growth and carcass composition.

The genetic demands of the future are a far sight different that some of the genetic packages we see in some market pens today. Looking at some feeder cattle it is difficult to figure what the breeder's plan was. In some cases it appears that breeders have fallen victim to effective breed propaganda without taking into account market acceptability. Additionally, some producers seem set on using breeds that the marketplace has signaled it does not want except at a substantial discount. Folks who continue to use pasture ornament breeds that have little utility in commercial beef industry can do so, but will suffer increasingly wider discounts.

Successful cow/calf operators of the future will make their marketing program an integral cog in their production scheme. Effective calf marketing will be much more than deciding which day to gather, haul and unload calves at some loading dock. Convenience comes at a cost. BRM

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