Jerry Bohn got right to the point, challenging 300 ranchers at the 63rd Annual Florida Beef Cattle Short Course last month in Gainesville, FL, to “strive for excellence.”
“Let’s build good calves. Let’s expect more out of our calves, and then let’s do something about it,” exhorted the manager of Pratt Feeders in Pratt, KS, which has finished cattle for 20 Florida ranches in the past year.
Those 20 represent a leading edge, but Bohn called out the rest.
“Do you know what you are feeding?” he asked. “With the current market, there is no better time to find out what your calves can do beyond the ranch.”
At stake are profit-driving premiums and the rising expectations of consumers.
Sharing several ways cattlemen can retrieve performance and carcass data to improve succeeding calf crops, Bohn went on to discuss what his company calls the “recipe” for preparing calves to go on feed.
“We need to implement programs that deliver high-quality cattle every time,” he said. “So the challenge that we have is to get them ready to do everything that they are capable of doing.”
They are capable of much, but achieving is not up to them. Owners and managers decide practices, grazing and feeding programs, animal health and risk management systems, Bohn said. Through the right decisions, ranchers can deliver quality beef to consumers and reap the rewards.
“If we’re going to make a better beef product, the whole system needs to know what we’re producing,” he said. “Then we need to make genetic, animal health and feeding changes that are necessary to make that happen.”
Gone is the “island mentality,” Bohn said. “The adversarial relationship between ranchers, feeders and processors has been replaced with coordination, cooperation and transparency.”
Why make a better beef product? Quality drives the beef market because pork and poultry keep building on price advantages.
“Beef’s high. Record high. That means the consumer has to pay a high price for our product,” the feeder said. “We have to ensure that the eating experience is good every time. We never want our customers to lower their expectations of beef. There is no way to spin a disappointment on the plate.”
But well before beef gets in the hands of the consumer, even before calves get to his company’s three feedyards that can hold 85,000 head, Bohn says it all starts with the rancher.
“What you do with your calves has a huge impact when they come to my place,” he stressed.
In fact, it starts before the calf, with the health and nutritional well-being of the cow, Bohn said. He cited a University of Nebraska study that found advantages all the way from herd fertility to calf performance and grade for cows supplemented in their third trimester.
“We have to get the factory going and we’ve got to get her prepared to raise a calf,” he said. “Then we transfer her performance and immunity to the calf.”
That effort should be followed by vaccinations and health management, especially targeting bovine respiratory disease (BRD), which costs the industry $750 million a year.
“Everything that we do, what you all do on the ranch, should be designed to minimize BRD,” he said. “Healthy cattle have better performance. Good health goes a long way.”
When it comes to genetics, Bohn said ranchers should set their sights on minimizing variation. He sees it even among calf crops that are genetically similar.
“So,” he said, “the goal is that we need to continue to find which ones to take off of the bottom end.”
An attendee who has some experience custom feeding his calves, George Kempfer of Kempfer Cattle Company, Saint Cloud, FL, agrees.
“That bottom 10%, if you can clean it up, it’s amazing what that can do,” he said. “You’ll see an increase in profitability.”
Pratt Feeders, longtime partner with the Certified Angus Beef ® (CAB®) brand, is one of the largest suppliers of quality cattle for the brand. The three-day Florida Beef Cattle Short Course was an opportunity for cattlemen to learn and share insight into the future of the industry.