What you do on the ranch sets the stage for value at the feedlot and all the way to the consumer.
Tom Williams, owner-manager at Chappell Feedlot, has a history of working with ranchers to create profit for both retained ownership and purchased cattle since the early 1990s. Drawing on those years of experience at his western Nebraska feedlot, Williams highlights seven ranch management practices with proven impact on the end result.
1- Profit preparation starts early. “Management of the pregnant cow has lasting impacts on her calf through the feedlot and ultimately on end-product merit,” says Williams, who recommends supplementing cows with protein late in gestation.
Many animal scientists have looked into fetal programming to see what effect cowherd nutrition has on the subsequent calves. Rick Funston, of the University of Nebraska, recently authored a review of the data and found steer progeny from supplemented cows had up to 38 pounds (lb.) heavier weaning weights, 14 lb. to 40 lb. heavier carcass weights and increased marbling. The progeny in the supplemented treatment had up to 14 percentage points higher Choice grading than their contemporaries in the control herd.
Adequate cowherd protein consumption improves replacement heifers, too. Those born to supplemented cows reach puberty earlier, have higher pregnancy rates and then go on to have a greater percentage of their own calves born early in the season.
2- The importance of calf health cannot be overstated. It begins with “best practices” at calving. “Quality and quantity of colostrum intake during the first few hours after birth have a tremendous influence on long term calf health,” says Williams. Ensuring calves have a chance to suck shortly after they are born is key, along with scours prevention.
“This is important beyond the obvious impact of keeping the calves healthy at the ranch but has further impact on feedlot performance and carcass traits,” Williams says.
Lung adhesions indicate sickness at some point in an animal’s lifetime. A 9-year analysis of more than 62,000 calves in Iowa’s Tri-County Steer Carcass Futurity (TCSCF) found the presence of lung adhesions was negatively correlated with carcass quality, performance and profit.
Cattle that were never visibly sick and had no adhesions were heavier at harvest (1,185 lb. compared to1,138 lb. for those treated cattle with lung adhesions) and took fewer days to get there (165 vs. 179).