Let's not leave money on the table

Your cattle handling approach may be hurting your ability to maximize herd returns

Doug Ferguson

April 2, 2021

5 Min Read
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I can’t help but notice as I look around at some auctions the last two weeks that almost every day there are a few people with an arm in a sling or a brace or boot on a leg. I asked a few what happened to them and they confirmed my suspicion when they said a crazy cow got them while tagging her calf.

Since this is a marketing blog, I will come full circle to that. First there are two things we need to be honest with ourselves about. Most of us have traded in a 50 second quarter mile time for a few extra pounds and high blood pressure. We couldn’t outrun that cow on our best day with sneakers on and dry dirt. But here we have a few guys trying to do in the mud we’ve had in Southeast Nebraska/Northeast Kansas and the boots that go with it. That would start to stack the odds against the best freestyle bullfighter, which most of us are not.

The second thing we need to be clear about is our stockmanship. There is a way to approach that new pair in a way that will not get you hurt. It will take some time and patience. If you have neither you may need to reevaluate your priorities, or if you really need to tag that calf after all. I don’t have the space to go into detail, so I’ll make this really simple, if your cows don’t like how you approach them (high heads, pawing dirt) then change the way you approach.

Maybe you are smart, and feed your cows then sneak out and tag the calf. First off if you trick your cows, they’ll remember that. You know that one cow that runs to eat, then runs back to check her calf, then back to eat. You outsmarted her before, but she ain’t gonna let you fool her twice. She doesn’t trust you and she’s also signaling to the rest of the herd something may be up. She is stressed and she’ll stress the others. Second, don’t sneak. That is what predators do, and this will stress them.

What it comes down to is the cow’s mind isn’t right, and that is the handler's fault. Getting her mind right means she is calm and will trust the handler instead of trying to kill that person.

Cattle handling ties to marketing

Here’s where this ties in with marketing. Most people won’t accept responsibility for the situation they caused. That is mostly because they are not aware of better stockmanship handling and as a result they blame that crazy cow. This crazy dangerous cow must go, so she and her calf are shipped to the sale barn.

The sale barn being situationally and socially aware split the pair so the crazy momma won’t have a chance to injure anyone else. I saw that happen several times this week and each time it cost the seller $400-$1,000. Not knowing how to handle these sensitive new mommas got costly. Ironically the cost for a stockmanship school falls right in the price range of the discount. If you can afford the discount and the doctor bills, you can afford the school. Speaking of schools, I have a marketing school that I am getting set up for August 31-September 2 in Beatrice NE. For more information email me at [email protected]

I have some friends who have been to both marketing and stockmanship schools. They will buy those crazy cows, take them home and work with them for a while. They get them settled down and they get along just fine. The cow raises some good calves and never causes any problems. These crazy mommas are good buys for my buddies.

Sticking with the female side a bit longer, in the markets first-calf heifer pairs were in strong demand. This week the market signaled that there is some big appreciation value in taking open replacements and carrying them all the way through calving. These young mommas had to be in good flesh to capture the big bucks. Remember fat is a pretty color on females. And those open replacements caught a 4-12 dollar premium this week.

It is hard for me to draw a conclusion about depreciation on females this week because the bred cows and pairs I saw sell were not of consistent quality, or type. Thin rough looking pairs took a big hit. If a person has good grazing management, it appeared to me there was some easy money to be made just by getting some grass pop on those cows.

Market update

I am going to disagree with the rest of the market commentary this week and call feeders mixed. The reason being is that in the sales I was at, and the market reports I looked at there were cattle under 500-pounds that were lower, with the rest being steady to mostly higher. In the plains markets this caused a change in the value of gain. Under 500 pounds the VOG remains high, well above the cost of gain. Over 500 pounds, the VOG falls off and is just flirting with COG. It's either slightly above, or slightly below.

Some VOG were higher, and some were lower compared to last week. Until the market can give us a clear signal that we can once again be a weight gain business, we must continue to focus on buying cattle we can add value to another way.

Southern markets remain undervalued once again. It's interesting to me that the VOG on flyweight cattle is not nearly as high as in the plains. Six weights brought more dollars per head than seven weights consistently this week down there. To put it another way the market would pay you to take weight home.

Unweaned cattle were 6-10 back and feeder bulls were 15-35 back.

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