From the farm: Southwest Pa. sale features preconditioned beef calves

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SALEM, Ohio – John Sargent knows both sides of the coin when it comes to buying and selling beef calves.
He operated a beef stocker operation for 20 years, buying calves and reluctantly weaning them on the truck ride home. And, for the past five years, he’s operated a cow-calf operation and is selling calves.
If nothing else over the past 25 years, Sargent says he’s come to appreciate preconditioned calves, the young cattle who hit the feedlot running and let him worry less about death loss.
Organized. Sargent, a sixth-generation farmer from Scenery Hill, Pa., partnered with fellow cattleman Bill Iams last year to start an exclusive preconditioned calf sale in southwestern Pennsylvania.
This year, the duo takes a second turn Sept. 30 at 7:30 p.m. at the Eighty Four Livestock Auction.
What to expect. Last year’s sale drew 130 head, and this year Sargent is expecting roughly 180 young calves.
The cattle all come from about 12 Beef Quality Assurance certified producers in Washington and Greene counties, Sargent said.
That certification means the producers are specially trained, both in the classroom and chute-side, on keeping records, giving injections and managing the herd.
Preconditioned. And, because the calves are preconditioned, buyers can expect the animals to perform well in the feedlot from day one, Sargent said.
The process includes a round of vaccinations before weaning, a booster shot two to three weeks later, and roughly 40 days of bunk-training.
“The fact that they’re weaned and bunk-trained to grain, hay and water makes them travel much better than if they were looking for their mothers,” Sargent said.
The cattlemen work together in the process, ordering vaccines and feed together to take advantage of price discounts but also to provide a consistent product.
Sargent said the Angus and Angus-cross calves have been conditioned, not fattened, and are ready to grow for buyers.
Identified. The Pennsylvania Beef Council and state department of agriculture partnered earlier this year to bring radio frequency identification tags (RFID) to cattlemen across the state.
The calves sold at the Eighty Four sale will be tagged to comply with the upcoming national animal identification plan, according to Michelle Kowalewski, director of industry relations of the beef council.
Kowalewski will also be at the Eighty Four sale to scan the tags and work with cattlemen on establishing premise identification numbers.
The numbers, which Kowalewski describes as a 15-digit Social Security number for cattle, will eventually help cattlemen and the federal government trace animals in the event of disease outbreak.
But they’re also helpful to the producer, who can get carcass data feedback to help in breeding and genetics programs at the farm level.
Kowalewski said there are plans to install the RFID readers at a handful of auction barns in Pennsylvania, and there are also plans to bring the readers to packinghouses in the state.
Quality. “We wanted to show the public that we produce a quality product, and can trace it back to the farm,” Sargent said of the sale.
“And of course we want a quality price for our quality product,” he said.
Sargent said in last year’s sale, seedstockers realized premiums of about $10 per hundredweight on the preconditioned calves.
It’s too late to consign other calves to the sale, but for more information on how you can get involved next year, or for details of the sale, contact John Sargent at 724-267-4387.
The Eighty Four sale barn is on Route 136. For directions, call 724-222-9965.
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

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