Lack of forage and increased input costs for beef producers continue as we move ahead in 2013. However, there are several tools that producers can use to increase efficiency of cattle planned for market and in doing so increase margins. All it takes is a little prior planning for cattle that may be hitting the ground as we speak or calves that producers may be thinking about weaning this spring.
Information and documentation on a cow herd always adds value. Keeping records allows producers to make informed culling, marketing, nutrition and planned mating decisions, after all a quality calf is what adds the most value when it comes to marketing. Good records also allow producers to document the types management practices that they have implemented, and records can be easily passed from one segment of the beef industry to the next making a more integrated system, adding value at every step.
Improved record keeping and collecting calf birth dates and weights often times leads a defined calving season. This may include a spring or fall calving herd or possibly both and typically be 90 days or less in length. Defining a calving season for your cow herd adds value to calves in several ways: a shortened calving season allows reproductively efficient cows to be easily identified and cows that do not settle with a calf within the time allowed can be palpated as open and culled. A defined caving season means producers can better target calving during a time of the year where high quality forage is more readily available and are able to meet a cow’s increased nutritional requirement during early lactation without increasing supplementation.
Also, a more uniform calf crop is realized, management of calves for the producers is easier and we often see 2-7$/cwt premium for those uniform calves as they are sold at market. Along with uniformity, increased lot size adds value at auction. Cattle sold in lots of 6 head or more can bring 10-16$/cwt more than smaller lots (Stuts et al. 2012). Larger sale lots can be achieved not only through a calving season but also through alliances, whether that is locally with a neighbor or participating in a specific alliance program that requirements have been met.
Improving feed efficiency at any time, especially during a drought can help increase profit for any producer. A lesson can be taken away from feedlots; who 99% of, use implants and ionophores to improve margins. The use of such technologies would be warranted in a traditional marketing program if a natural or organic program has not been established and is not planned by a producer. Approved implants can be used on suckling calves and can increase average daily gain (ADG) by .12 lbs/d but may be more effective during the stocker phase as calves are weaned and retained for a period of time. Increases in ADG have been documented at 8-20% on calves post weaning. This can easily be a $10 return for every $1 invested in implants. Similarly, ionophores are a cost effective way to increase feed efficiency in cattle. Fed at 100-200 mg/head/day, it can increase gain by 0.15-0.2 lbs/day with a cost of about $0.02 a day and act as a coccidiostat and bloat preventer in grazing cattle on high quality forage.