Adding value to a calf-crop pays


BROWNWOOD, Texas – Adding value to a calf crop involves a bit of but is well worth the expense and effort, according to Ronald Gill, Dallas-based Texas Cooperative Extension livestock specialist.

Husbandry practices common to large operators are often skipped by small operators, Gill said at a recent Central Texas Cow/Calf Clinic in Brownwood.

Where are the dollars? The result is dollars the producer should be getting, but isn’t. “Most of these practices pay dividends every time, regardless of the market,” said Gill.

“Castrating bull calves is the No. 1 way to increase a male calf’s market value,” he said. “Most Central Texas producers sell their calves at 450 pounds or less to avoid having to do anything with the animals.

Losing income. But they usually forfeit considerable income by doing so.

True, younger, lighter animals usually bring more per pound than older, heavier animals, but there’s just not enough pounds there to maximize the animal’s full market potential.

“These younger calves are also the most susceptible to getting sick. Castrate and dehorn those calves, even if you have to haul them to someone to have it done,” he said.

Do buyers care? “How much do buyers care whether or not they are castrated? Up to 450 pounds, they don’t care. At 500 pounds they start caring and at 600 pounds they care quite a bit due to the added stress castration puts on an older animal.

Dollar-wise, 500 pound un-castrated calves are usually docked $3-5 dollars per 100 pounds. At 600 pounds, the penalty is closer to $10-12 per 100 pounds.

Horns on an older calf usually cost the seller about $15 per head. It’s the cow/calf producer’s responsibility to castrate and dehorn his calves. Do it and pocket the money.”

Growth implants. Gill said bull calves gain faster than steers of the same class and size, but growth implants can change that ratio. Implants currently on the market cost $1-1.25 per head.

The added gain usually averages 20-30 pounds per head. Never implant bulls, he warns, or the adverse affect on an intact male may cost the producer money.

“Should you implant heifers you intend to keep?” Gill said. “There’s no incentive to implant replacement heifers.

Does implanting affect a heifer’s fertility?

Researchers say 90 percent of the time, there is no problem.

If you are undecided whether or not you are going to keep or sell the heifer, go ahead and implant her for the 20 pounds or so gain you’ll get.

In Texas. “Deworming nursing calves is nothing new, but few producers do it in this area. Timing is critical. May is the best time to deworm Texas calves because that’s when moist, warm conditions make the parasites active and calves have the most potential for growth,” he said.

“Deworming is as economical as implanting. Like implanting, it costs about a buck a head and stacks up as much as 20-25 pounds per head advantage over non-dewormed calves.

“Older cattle, cows and bulls benefit from an occasional worming, but across much of Texas, I’d allocate the dewormer to the calves and yearlings. They need it the most and will benefit from it the most.”

Fly control. Gill said fly control is important, but frustrating.

Misuse of pesticides has led to insects resistant to most products on the market.

Producers using ear-tags should put one tag in both ears of every animal and remove them when they are no longer working he said.

Tags should be rotated between an organophosphate tag and a type containing a pyrethroid to minimize resistance.

Cattle grub problems have increased in recent years, Gill said.

Treat with a pour-on or an injectable product in mid-summer. Producers doctoring cattle for parasites should buy products which don’t harm dung beetles, according to the specialist.

Research has found that the dung beetle contributes to pasture health and the reduction of parasites of cattle. Vaccinations are more of an insurance policy than anything else, Gill said.

What’s needed in your area? He recommends checking with a local veterinarian to find what’s needed in a given area.

“When a producer tells me, ‘Yeah, they’ve had all their shots,’ 90 percent of the time that means they’ve only been vaccinated against blackleg,” he said.

Branding. Branding is another important practice most small operators skip. Gill recommends only fire brands since other methods are too easily botched. “Use a small, well-vented iron on the corners of the cow,” he said.

“Brand on the lower shoulder or upper hip away from the prime leather areas. I don’t know many luxury car owners who would be happy sitting on a rafter-C brand or something similar every time they crawled into their car. Do the numbers,” said Gill.

“Most of these practices will make you money every time. None are new, but many producers continually neglect them. If you can’t do the husbandry yourself or don’t have the facilities, haul the calves to someone who can process them for you. Chances are, you’ll be happy you did come sale day.”


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