What makes a premium calf? There are six steps to placing premium calves that excel on the market: superior genetics, sound management, preconditioning, tag identification and certification, plus a good marketing strategy. The order of the steps is not as important as doing the steps.
The first point is superior genetics. Calves are a product of a producer's genetic program. The days have long passed when producers simply eyeball and guess what the genetic package is. The appropriate mix of growth and carcass genes that are achieved through proven sires is critical. A calf only will be what its genes allow it to be.
In the current world, fast-growing calves that have the genes to grade Choice and offer the feedlot some flexibility in marketing a very lean, heavy carcass would be very desirable.
The second point is sound management. As a buyer who is about to write a check for $900 calves, there is an expectation that these calves have been under the care of a good manager. It's not in the bold print; it's the fine print that acknowledges the presence of a good manager. A manager is someone who conducts business in a professional manner, pays attention to detail, has a broad grasp of the industry, has positive people skills, guides those who are supervised, and knows how to document and sell a program.
The third point is to have the calves preconditioned. Preconditioned calves are products of a complete health management program designed to minimize risk as the calves leave the home ranch to travel through the marketing channels and arrive at a backgrounder or feedlot. These calves must be accustomed to water troughs, feed bunks and timely vaccinations using recommended vaccines, treated for applicable parasites and fully processed (castration and dehorning).
The fourth point is tag identification. Calves need to be identified by a tag or a similar form of identification to allow for the proper acknowledgment of who that calf is. Not all calves are the same, and all calves do not measure up to standards. Those that do must be identified or, once unloaded into a pen of similar-colored calves, they all become average.
The fifth point is very much tied to the fourth point. Cattle that are seeking a premium must be certified and acknowledged as to who they are. The challenge is not a simple one. As the market gets more technical, the challenge becomes even greater. However, the difficulty does not remove the need to certify who the calf is. Call it the difference between generic versus name- brand marketing.