The impact of stocker cattle performance on feed yard results

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For producers raising cattle to be sent to the feed yard, pounds of beef = money in the bank. After a calf is weaned and enters the stocker segment, the rancher then utilizes supplementation and grazing programs to optimize the stocker calf’s value before sending it down the line to the feed yard – the last stop before the calf is harvested into a safe and wholesome product to be distributed to consumers. And while pounds of beef are essential for feed yards, so are quality and cutability factors.

Bottom line, average daily gain (ADG) in the stocker segment of the beef industry is directly tied to profit, says Mississippi State University Extension Beef Specialist Dr. Brandi Karisch, however, question lies on what level of ADG during the stocker segment is optimal to maximize feed yard performance.

“There are several schools of thought about whether ADG during the stocker phase should be low or high. In attempting to summarize over 40 year of research in this area, a few common themes appear. Increasing ADG during the grazing or stockering period can lead to increased fat, but not impact ADG during the finishing phase, and show similar final carcass composition,” says Karisch.

According to her, other research found stocker calves with low ADG had better ADG during the finishing period, and stocker calves with high ADG had higher USDA quality grades and heavier carcass weights.

“The targeted gains during the stocker phase indeed seem to have a lasting impact during the finishing phase, however other factors such as cost of gain must be considered when determining the level of gains to target,” she says.

Stocker cattle that are supplemented have shown carryover benefits into the feed yard, including heavier carcass weights and quality grades, says Karisch, and also have added advantages of already being “bunk broke” when entering the yard.

Implant programs used on stocker cattle have also been shown to have carryover factors into the feed yard segment, with an increase in ADG from 12-21 percent. But this has not always come without downfall.

“Some studies have reported no effects on finishing or carcass performance, while some have shown decreases in marbling or tenderness,” says Karisch.

A study by the University of Arkansas put two groups of cattle on an aggressive implant regimen through the stocker to finish stages (four implants) and two groups through a delayed implant regimen ( one implant during finishing). Each regimen had a group of cattle with high and low genetic marbling potential.

“For both groups ADG was increased in the aggressively implanted cattle, but for the cattle with greater potential for marbling the aggressive implant strategy decreased marbling, but cattle still graded low choice,” she says. “The results tells us an implant strategy would better tailored to each group of cattle based on their genetic potential rather than an over reaching recommendation for all groups.”

Karisch encourages producers to “stop and think” about how their management decisions will impact the next producer in the beef industry segment, and ultimately, the consumer.

“Too often beef producers are only concerned with profitability and performance in their segment of the industry, and neglect to consider what the impact of certain management practices might be further down the production cycle,” concludes Karisch.  “As the industry evolves and changes, it becomes important to consider all aspects of the production cycle and their impact on the ultimate end product, beef.”

For Karisch’s full report and sources, click here.


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