Stocker operators are well aware that current strong calf prices equate into a high level of front-end investment for their summer enterprises. Under these conditions, it may seem that the last thing anyone would want to do is spend more money. But when these cattle come off grass at the end of the season, the dollar figure that matters is net profit – not the volume of cash flow. Those management strategies that offer a positive payback relative to their cost continue to provide producers with opportunity to maximize their returns.

Implants are a safe, effective technology that typically offer a 10-to-1 return on investment. Research reviews consistently show that implanted stocker cattle will exhibit 10-20% greater gains, and utilize their feed 6-8% more efficiently. That means more pounds to sell, and less feed to get them there. Additionally, research done at Auburn University showed that implanted cattle experienced milder symptoms and quicker recovery when facing a disease challenge.

Despite all this, many stocker cattle are not implanted. In fact, of the operations included in the 2007 BEEF magazine stocker survey, about 1/5 did not utilize this management tool. A recent analysis in the Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics showed that increased operation size, and a higher level of operator education, were positively correlated with implant use. On the other hand, older producers, and those with a larger proportion of their income coming from other sources, were less likely to implant their stocker cattle. Potential justifications include:
Expected premium for calves qualifying for natural programs. Keep in mind that this only yields a net gain if the premium is worth more than the performance being given up.
Replacement heifers. Research results are mixed regarding the impact of implant use on future reproductive performance. If animals are identified early in life as future replacements, there is no advantage to implanting them. However, implanting once according to manufacturer’s directions should have minimal impact on later reproduction, and should be considered for heifers that could potentially become either breeding stock or feeders.
Inadequate nutrition. We generally expect a greater response to implanting when cattle are receiving higher quality diets, and historic recommendations often cited 1.5 lb ADG as the minimum needed to justify implant use. But in a research trial done at Kansas State University, ADG was increased 14-25% in cattle fed forages that were supporting gains of just 2/3 lb per day.
Expectation of later performance. It has been shown that feedlot implant response will not be reduced by use of implants in the growing phase.
Equipment/Labor limitations. It is critical that proper implanting techniques be used. If animals cannot be handled and constrained in a way that allows for correct placement, implant use may not be appropriate.

Feeding an ionophore is a proven method for improving stocker gains about 0.15 lb per day. The cost of these additives is typically well less than the value of the added weight.

Both internal and external parasites can significantly decrease performance and profitability in a stocker operation. Appropriate programs for addressing these pests often cost much less than the damage they prevent.

Horn flies are a particular problem in stocker cattle, increasing stress, reducing grazing time, and causing blood loss. Studies have shown that horn flies can reduce stocker gains by 14%. Control options include insecticidal ear tags, sprays, pour-ons, backrubbers, dust bags, and oral larvicides. While ear tags can be very effective, they need to be managed properly to avoid resistance problems. The contact products need to be evaluated in terms of labor requirements, animal stress, and the ability to repeat treatment as often as necessary.

Altosid-IGR® is an effective feed-through control option for horn flies. It can be provided to stocker cattle in free-choice supplements, minimizing application costs and animal stress. The active ingredient, Methoprene-S, is safe for animals, beneficial insects, humans, and the environment, and does not lead to resistance in the horn fly population.

Internal parasites also drain profits several ways: infected cattle have higher maintenance requirements, reduced appetite, and compromised immune systems. This impact is greatest in young animals, which have not had an opportunity to develop the partial immunity found in most adult cattle. A summary of 17 trials, done in 9 states, showed an average increase in stocker grazing gains of over 35 lb when animals were strategically dewormed.

Almost by definition, the focal point of a stocker operation is grass. And when we see that green growth, we’d like to think the pasture is supplying all the nutrition cattle need. But, in fact, we often have the ability to increase grazing gains with strategic supplementation.

In work done at Kansas State with intensive early stocking, two treatments compared performance when animals received loose salt or a balanced trace mineral and salt mix. Investing in the additional mineral showed a 200% return on that additional cost. In the same study, researchers showed that additional opportunity exists with protein supplementation. When calves received 1 lb per day of a 35% protein supplement from mid-June through July, average daily gains increased from 1.62 to 2.12 lb. Assuming that additional half-pound of gain is worth 50 cents, spending 30 cents per head per day on supplement would yield a net return of 20 cents, or an extra $9 profit on every animal in the group after just 45 days.

As the saying goes, calves never get over a bad start – or a good one. Nutrition is critical as newly received animals cope with the stresses of weaning, transport, vaccination, co-mingling, and disease exposure.

Using an appropriate supplement on arrival can help ensure that calves keep eating, their rumen keeps functioning, and they take in essential minerals. Molasses-based feeds can work well in this scenario, attracting animals with aroma and palatability, and delivering sugars, protein, and other key nutrients.

Source: Dr. Cathy Bandyk, QLF, Dodgeville, WI