“People aren’t getting into the cattle business because they think you can’t make a living at it. That’s not true,” says Doug Rogers, who owns and operates D&H Cattle Co., LLC, Collins, MS.
In fact, Rogers – a West Point and MBA grad – chose the stocker business because of its potential economic returns.
“I don’t compare my business to other stocker operations. I compare it to other industries in terms of rate of return and profitability,” Rogers explains. “We shoot for a 20% return on investment. Sometimes it’s higher, sometimes lower.”
Rogers modestly cites luck as much as skill, but he’s made money the last 12 years (ever since he started) and at least $50/head the past 10 years.
Rogers basically buys three-weight heifers year-round to straighten out. Key advantages to the operation are the availability and price of these lightweights, and typically plentiful and affordable ryegrass. This part of central Mississippi averages 65 in. of rainfall, and cheap fertilizer in the form of poultry litter, provide plenty of groceries worth the money.
Risk or opportunity?
Most folks consider flyweight, put-together calves among the riskiest cattle-business investments. Rogers sees them as a strategic business hedge.
“I buy light, small cattle, which is in itself a hedge against the market. I have more opportunity to choose when to market,” Rogers explains. “I buy the mismanaged cattle, those born the wrong time of year, sired by the wrong bull, born on the wrong place.”
Besides, Rogers says there are as many health problems with 400- and 500-lb. cattle as with lighter calves, meaning he’s gambling fewer dollars on the same level of risk.
Rogers runs only heifers because they “give him more options.” Their shelf life is longer than steers, for one thing. He’ll sort off a jag of the heifers that will work as replacement heifers and market them at an added premium to the stocker profit he already has in them. He also provides heifer calves to area cutting-horse competitions.
Rogers has a different view on risk and health management than some, too. Unlike those who shy from using modified-live vaccines for lighter calves when they’re under the most stress, he prefers them.
“If I’m going to lose a calf, I want to lose her the first two weeks of ownership rather than the last two weeks,” Rogers says. It’s also the period of time when calves are watched the closest anyway.
For perspective, Rogers receives 100-200 head/week. Calves rest 24 hours, then are evaluated, turned out to small grass traps and given access to hay, water and grass.
Cattle are wormed, branded, tagged and vaccinated. Over the next two weeks, calves will rotate through a series of traps on their way to more weaning and booster vaccinations. They then go out to pasture.
Growing to expand
Rogers has grown his stocker business substantially the past few years to its current level of about 6,000 head, primarily to generate the added income to purchase more property. His aim was to add predictability to his business over the long haul. As in other parts of the world, he explains leases are tougher and more costly to come by these days.
The potential to increase beef production per acre with the same number of acres also drew Rogers to the stocker business. He can turn inventory at least twice/year. “There’s lots of opportunity to turn money faster in this business,” he says.
Rogers grew up in the family’s seedstock and cow-calf operations. By high school, he was learning his way through identifying and doctoring stocker cattle running on some new ground his folks purchased. By the time he graduated from college and had to choose between cattle and some tempting corporate offers, his stocker knowledge was broad and deep enough that he saw the promise of the stocker business as just that, a profitable business opportunity.
“I just do what works for me,” Rogers says. “The name of the game is making money. If I can make $1, I move on and hope my customer can make $2... If I make it or break it, it’s all on me.”