- Creating value in your calves
Jim Lerwick with Lerwick Bros., a cattle and grain operation at Pine Bluffs, WY, says there are several areas where producers can enhance the value of their calf crop:
“We believe the bull and purchased semen expenditure is a poor place to cut costs, and we try to buy the top 10% of a supplier's presentation.”
“Our records indicate that Charolais sires on Angus and Black Baldy cows return $70-$100 more in the life cycle of the calf than straight-bred cows, about half prior to weaning and half after.”
“We keep a complete individual history, use a veterinarian-supervised herd health program and precondition prior to weaning.”
“Cow records are computerized, and cows are indexed with birth, weaning and, when available, feedlot performance data. Individual weights are recorded at birth, preconditioning and sometimes at weaning, as well as at mid-finish and slaughter, depending on where they are finished. Information is shared with those interested or impacted.”
- Government agencies
Cattle producers often find themselves working with various government agencies, says Eric Peterson, Wyoming Cooperative Extension education specialist in Pinedale. Thoughtful management of those relationships can yield positive results.
There are four things that must be understood for that relationship to be positive for all involved:
Everybody likes success.
If you want the relationship to be durable, it must service the interests of both parties — a win/win proposition.
Focus on interests rather than positions. This is the difference between building partnerships and propagating an environment of competition, suspicion and distrust.
Win/win relationships must be fair. The balance between satisfying interests and resources invested must be reasonable for both sides.
- Gene markers and EPDs
Using gene markers as a selection tool is a fairly new development. And with just a few genes on the market, interpreting genotyping results already is fairly complicated, says University of Missouri-Columbia's Bob Weaber.
The challenge, particularly as more markers come on the market, is to turn those genotypes into useful information. “One way this may happen is with the inclusion of the genotype data into the computation of EPDs. The augmentation of EPDs with DNA marker data will reduce data overload and continue to focus selection decisions on measures of net merit.” The advantage of that, he says, is the markers will allow for improved accuracy of prediction of the EPD at an earlier age.
- Byproduct economics
“All feed should be priced on a dry-matter basis (zero moisture in feed), but this is more critical in feeds that carry considerable moisture,” says Ivan Rush, University of Nebraska beef specialist. “For example, if a byproduct feed that contains 50% moisture is priced at $45/ton, the price for a ton of dry matter (DM) would be $90. Let's assume the next load of feed contains 60% moisture and is still priced at $45/ton. The cost per ton of DM in this load would be $112.50, or a 20% increase on a DM basis. If the feed was priced on a DM basis, the second load with 60% moisture should be priced at $36/ton.”
- Body condition score
A cow's body condition score (BCS) at calving and at the beginning of the breeding season is often considered the single most important factor in the amount of time it takes the cow to begin cycling, says Julie Walker, South Dakota State University. A BCS of 5 at calving seems to be the critical level affecting subsequent reproductive performance in mature beef cows, and two-year-old heifers need to be at a BCS 6 at calving for a high probability of pregnancy during the following breeding season. The key to maintaining BCS for optimum reproductive performance is evaluating cows early.
- Later calving
Paul Redd with Redd Ranches at Paradox, CO changed to a June calving season with his commercial cows to get his operation more in synch with Mother Nature. The move lowered costs because they used less supplements and put fewer miles on a pickup and trailer. It also reduced stress on the cows and cowboys, and gave them more options of what and when to sell their commercial calves.
However, getting cows bred on mature grass can lead to 1-2% fewer cows pregnant, Redd says. “Even though we experienced lower pregnancy rates in the first two years of June-July calving, our total number of calves weaned per cow bred increased 2-3% due to better calf survival.”
- Ultrasounding commercial heifers
While the art of selecting replacement heifers hasn't necessarily changed, some of the targets have, says University of Wyoming's Steve Paisley. If operations are retaining fewer heifers, then selection pressure needs to increase to help find the truly outstanding animals.
That makes ultrasounding commercial heifers a viable idea. “To improve longevity, heifers still need to be structurally correct, moderate in frame, etc.” he says. “Other considerations are equally important temperament, mothering ability and udder conformation.”
But using gene marker technology to improve your herd is largely focused on the sires. “Ultrasound may be an important selection tool to consider for heifers, helping us to ‘look inside’ the animal and evaluate the carcass merit potential of these replacement females,” he says.
- Corn price and profitability
Cattle feeders can expect continued high corn prices, says University of Nebraska's Terry Klopfenstein. His research suggests that, at high corn prices, a yearling production system is more profitable than calf-feds.
Using $4.50/bu. corn price and $115.97/cwt. for yearlings, and $112.55 for calf-feds, steer cost was $112.56 higher for calf-feds, he says. Interest was $25.48 greater for yearlings due to increased length of ownership. Feed cost was $76.88/head higher for calf-feds because they were on feed longer, and cost of gain was $3.36/cwt. less for yearlings. While total cost of production was $26.71 greater for yearlings compared with calf-feds, breakevens were $3.51/cwt. less for yearlings and profit was $47.41 more for yearlings.
- Early weaning
Early weaning is an outstanding tool for managing BCS in young cows, says Trey Patterson, assistant manager at the Padlock Ranch at Ranchester, WY. “Our system is to winter as many cows on native range as possible, and we can better accomplish this if the cattle are not too thin.”
With cows calving in May and June, they're concerned about first-calf heifers getting too thin and not rebreeding. “We usually wean calves off first-calf heifers at 120-135 days (mid-September to early October). We usually see an improvement in BCS by doing this,” he adds.
- Don't forget crossbreeding
“The crossbred cow is documented to last 1.6 years longer and be more productive over her lifetime,” says Willie Altenburg of Altenburg Super Baldy Ranch, Fort Collins, CO.
“Her advantage is due to the fact that crossbreeding can affect lowly heritable traits, such as reproduction, more than the highly heritable traits. For example, crossbreeding can improve maternal traits more in one cross than selecting for EPDs for fertility for five generations,” he says.
For summaries of all the presentations at the 2007 Range Beef Cow Symposium, log on to www.rangebeefcow.com  and click on “Newsroom.”