Kansas State University teams up with BEEF magazine to offer stocker and backgrounding operations an array of new information and educational tools.
If you ever want to cause a pause in the conversation of cattle producers, just ask which of them is a stocker.
After all, stocker and backgrounding enterprises are more dynamic than tumbleweeds rolling across the Kansas prairie. Folks quickly enter and exit the business based on grain prices, forage availability, weather and a host of other variables.
Consequently, it's been tough to identify the players in such a swiftly changing market. No one has ever tried to serve this segment of the industry with educational and informational opportunities on a broad scale. In the modern age in which critical mass is king, this reality is especially amazing.
Consider that some estimates say as many as 80% of all calves born each year end up being a part of some sort of stocker enterprise. That may consist of a cow/calf producer adding weight to his calf crop, a starter yard straightening out and grouping cattle for resale, or the traditionally defined stockers that match a mountain of cattle to an ocean of grass.
But Kansas State University (KSU) is in the process of changing all of that. Starting Sept. 22, anyone in the world with Internet access can journey to a new Web site called Beef Stocker USA. At this unique site — www.beefstockerusa.org  — they'll find information, production calculators, market reports and a benchmarking system — all aimed specifically at stockers.
“We believe the stocker segment has been an unrecognized part of the industry that continues to contribute to the success of the industry,” says Dale Blasi, a KSU Extension beef specialist. “And, we believe it has been unrecognized because it is so tough to track who is involved.
“Whether cattle are going into the feedlot as weaned calves or as yearlings, something has happened to them in between,” explains Blasi. “That ‘something’ has given beef producers an opportunity to diversify, yet they have to hunt from place to place to find information and tools designed for them specifically.”
With that impetus, Blasi and Mark Spire, a beef veterinarian in KSU's Food Animal and Health Management Center, set about building a Web site. They wanted a place that would serve as a clearinghouse for stocker information from universities and private industry from across the country, as well as a launching pad for some innovative new tools.
As an example, Spire explains, KSU is developing a stocker performance database that all users can access at the Web site. Basically, it allows stocker operators and backgrounders to compare their performance, morbidity, mortality and load characteristics.
Plus, Spire says producers will be able to see updated market reports from 30 different auction markets across the nation. Between these prices and the benchmark information, producers will have real-time numbers to use in the price calculators that are included on the site.
And, this is just the beginning.
“Our goal down the road is to house a virtual university at the site that will include the efforts of stocker experts from universities and private industry from across the U.S. and Canada,” says Blasi.
As part of that service, he says KSU will offer stocker-specific courses to producers who can complete them at their own pace. In addition, they plan to Web cast educational events such as KSU's own annual Beef Stocker Conference.
Bottom line, Blasi says, “We want to level the playing field for stockers and backgrounders, whether they buy two loads or 50 loads a year.”
Incidentally, the launch date of Beef Stocker USA coincides with this year's Beef Stocker Conference Sept. 21-22 at KSU.
In order to leverage producer opportunity via the Web site, KSU also has partnered up with BEEF magazine to help develop content that will be carried on the Web site as well as in this special section of the magazine.
“We recognize the prominence of BEEF magazine to the industry,” says Blasi. “It boasts a monthly stocker segment readership of almost 60,000. For Beef Stocker USA to be relevant, we have to be able to reach producers through media they use and will continue to use along with the Internet.”
On the other side of that coin, Joe Roybal, BEEF editor, says, “Among other things, K-State is recognized for its expertise in the stocker and backgrounding industry. We're excited to join them in their innovative efforts to offer these producers more meaningful information and tools that can help them become more profitable.”