Grab cattle market by the horns

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Improvements now will yield returns now…and later.

If you raise cattle, whether dairy or beef, at some point you’ve probably heard about ‘The Cattle Cycle.’ For decades, producers have looked to the cattle cycle to judge when the best time is to buy, sell, and rebuild. And for as long as most can remember, the cycle has run like clockwork.

The 10-year cycle begins with high prices, which encourages producers to sell, sell, sell. Then, because of a surplus of cattle in the market, prices drop and cause producers to keep the cow that may have found her way to the trailer the year before. Eventually, after several years of reduced herd liquidation, prices climb back up and the cycle starts over again.

So what now?

Because of the volatility of the cattle market, it’s hard to say exactly how long we will enjoy these record prices, or when to expect prices to drop, so for the time being, we need to take advantage of the opportunity. Holstein bull calves are bringing anywhere from $425 to $525 per head and good quality cull cows are raking in around $115/hundredweight, so how do we improve our chances to grasp that next big sale?

Back to basics

Well, it starts with square one. You have to have a live calf to be able to sell it, so simple management is extremely important. Things like getting the calf proper amounts of colostrum in a timely manner, vaccinations, and keeping the calves warm and dry all play into the health and success of the calf. All these practices will help you in the long run, because a buyer will pay a higher premium for a calf that doesn’t look like it needs a week in a hospital pen.

This same concept goes for any replacement heifer or cow that goes to the sale barn. In this market, buyers can afford to be a bit picky, so any effort to improve your cattle will pay off on sale day.

Focus on genetics

This market also gives producers a chance to improve their herd genetics. Never before have we seen prices like these for cull cows, so why not cull some of those cows that aren’t as productive as the rest of the herd, have udder problems, or have feet and leg issues. Replace them with younger females that have promising futures ahead of them and dependable genetics behind them.

Another upside to revamping the genetics in your herd is the opportunity to increase uniformity. When it comes time to sell a group of heifers or calves, you will receive a much better paycheck from a group that is uniform in structure, growth, and productivity than a group that spans from one end of the spectrum to the other.

Overall, the current market situation makes for some great opportunities, so now is the time to take advantage of them. The improvements you make now will not only increase your sale-day profits today but will continue to improve your herd’s efficiency and productivity for years to come.

Although no one knows exactly how long these prices will last, it’s probably best that way, since looking a gift horse in the mouth never left anyone satisfied.

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Haley Drake is an assistant with Mahoning County's OSU Extension office and the Ohio Farm Business Analysis Program. A senior at Ohio State University, she is majoring in animal science with a minor in communications.

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