MOUNT VERNON, Mo. – Rather than gripe about poor prices paid for their calves, beef producers should find the value of their calves by feeding them out. At the end of a feedout, the calves are sold to packers based on carcass value.

Beef producers learned how they could select five or more calves for a feedout trial during a beef tour at the annual University of Missouri Southwest Center field day, Sept. 11.

“Evaluate the calves you produce to see how they perform for the next guy down the value chain,” said Eldon Cole, MU Extension livestock specialist at Mount Vernon.

In the Missouri Steer Feedout, producers select a sample of at least five calves to retain ownership through the feedlot phase. The return at the end reflects what they are worth to meat processors.

“Be prepared,” Cole warned. “You may not like what you learn. You may discover why order buyers didn’t bid aggressively for your calves.”

The best way to improve a herd is to make changes based on data, Cole said. Carcass data from retained ownership can help producers make better breeding decisions.

Cole has helped more than 150 producers participating in feedouts since 1981. Producers have changed their breeding program, buying better bulls with better genetics.

Better genetics from a top sire does more than improve the steers going to the feedlot, Cole noted. Replacement heifers going back into the herd have better genetics. Over time, this improves the beef herd.

Also, feedout data gives producers information that they can use in marketing their cattle. “It can help you develop a reputation,” Cole said.

Cattle have changed during the time of the feedouts. Calves have gotten bigger.

Cole compared photos of a calf from the top pen in the 1981 feedout with a calf from the most profitable pen in 2009. The weaning weight of the most recent calf was bigger than the carcass weight of the calf from 1981.

The final weight in 1981 was 954 pounds. The final weight last time was 1,184 pounds.

Calf size has increased from frame 3 to frame 6. “That framier calf is about 6 inches taller,” Cole said. “Remember, you are paid on pounds of production. Think twice before you reduce the frame size of cows in your herd.”

Through the years, quality grade and yield grade have stayed about the same. Mostly, they grade USDA Low Choice. The back fat on both measured less than 0.4 inch at harvest.

“A good goal is 70-70-0,” Cole said. That is 70 percent grading Choice, 70 percent at yield grade one or two, with zero outs. The “outs” are calves that no one wants because they are too heavy, too light, or “dark cutters.” The top pen in the latest feedout scored 87-87-0.

There are other considerations, Cole said. “Feedlot buyers want healthy calves that never have to be treated. Keep your vaccinations current.”

Temperament of cattle counts as well. “An Iowa State University study showed that what they called ‘rowdy cattle’ could cost up to $60 a head more to feed out. Quiet cattle gain better,” Cole said.

“Regardless of what you think about it, age and source verification is worth money. Foreign buyers who want young cattle will pay premiums if they know the age of the calves.”

In recent feedouts, age and source verification has added $30 to $35 in value per head.

When selecting calves to go into the feedout, do not try to pick only your best calves, Cole said. “Pick a representative sample. Besides, you probably won’t identify the most valuable calves by just looking.”

Missouri producers participating in the Missouri feedout must enroll by Oct. 10 and deliver cattle to one of three locations on Nov. 3. The feedout program is held in cooperation with the Tri-County Steer Carcass Futurity Cooperative in southwestern Iowa. Signup sheets are available from Cole at Mount Vernon or other regional MU Extension livestock specialists.

The next MU beef field day will be Sept. 22 at Thompson Farm, west of Spickard, Mo., in north-central Missouri.

Source: Eldon Cole, University of Missouri Extension