Tough weather shows market challenges

Big snowstorm, and early calving, can reveal opportunities for your herd

Doug Ferguson

January 29, 2021

4 Min Read
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The main topic of discussions this week is how much snow we all got. The storm forced auctions held early in the week here to be cancelled, and the runs were a little on the thin side later in the week.

Last week I mentioned it appears calving was already off to a rough start based on the number of open wet bag cows I saw. I am sure there will be even more now. These are probably good cows that lost their calf and it was no fault of their own.

Along with discussing snow fall totals there is an earful of stories about baby calves being brought into the laundry room. I have not heard a good reason for calving this time of year, and the people that do are not convinced by reasons why it’s a bad idea even after a week like this. So, I am going to put it a different way this time.

Female markets are discounting late calving cows. If you have cows that are close up, you can sell them and replace them with cows that will calve in May for a difference of $200-$500 dollars per head. You’ll still have the same number of cows, but now you will also have cash and calve in much easier conditions. No calves in the laundry room.

This week I read that its costing around $900 to keep a cow. The prices paid for calves under 600 pounds don’t cover that. So why do all this work calving in snow drifts? Why not trade out of that bad situation and grab some cash?

Here’s another thing to consider. What will happen to those cows that lost a calf? Will she be culled or kept? An open replacement heifer weighing 650 pounds costs more than a cull cow does in NE right now. Either way there will be production lag due to the timing of calving.

The premiums being paid for open replacement heifers was 7-10 dollars this week. This has been going on now for several weeks, so at this point I’ll call it a trend. I am not sure if this is a signal of herd building or rebuilding as the case may be now. Thing is it is something that cow calf producers have to contend with now. When I compare the price of the open heifers to bred heifers this week there is little to no appreciation value to be captured either.

Bred females held a solid $100 per year of age depreciation. The biggest difference in price was her expected due date. Pairs brought slightly more than breds this week

Cow health and marketing

After the first storm was over, I had a pen of seven-day weaned calves that looked like they were waiting for the reaper to take their ghost. I could tell they had not laid down for 24 hours and didn’t have much interest in eating, drinking or even moving. I got in the pen and started pushing the snow, exposing the dirt.

The calves started following the tractor, and eventually started to buck and spar. This lead to them getting a drink. I went and pushed snow in other pens and when I came back by that first pen their bunk was slicked. I often refer to stockmanship as taking the stress off cattle. By pushing the snow back that is what I did. It communicated to them that I care and they responded by doing the three things cattle need, exercise, drinking and eating.

This simple thing had a huge impact on those calves. I am a believer it is not weather that makes cattle sick, its people. Sometimes it's because of what we do that stresses them and makes them sick. More often than not it's what we fail to do that makes them sick.

Here’s why I bring up stockmanship in a marketing blog, it’s a little easier to make money if we keep them healthy. It's much easier to make money if we keep them alive. That goes for feeder cattle and baby calves.

Feeder markets were mostly mixed as some weights were up, and some were lower this week. This really influenced the value of gain. VOG really got squeezed hard this week, and with rising feed costs it's difficult to find highly profitable trades. There are a few small margin trades that are possible. There were possible leapfrog trades this week as well, where we could buy 100 pounds for less dollars per head.

Three to four weight cattle and seven to eight weights had the highest VOG this week. Feeder bulls were 20 back and fleshy cattle took a 10 dollar hit.

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