With weaning time fast approaching, the question becomes how to maximize income from the calves you have produced. Consider adding value to calves through pre- and postweaning management, as well as possible marketing alternatives.
Before weaning, calves can be put on high protein creep feed in order to take full advantage of growth and performance potential. Creep feeding traditionally provides supplemental high energy (concentrate) feed ad libitum. This method certainly produces the most gain, but not necessarily the best return. Calves prefer concentrate to forage; consequently, forage consumption decreases, and they simply eat more grain. Generally, the result equals having your calves on full feed instead of simply supplementing energy.
Limit feeding a high protein supplement (cottonseed or soybean meal, for example) offers a possible alternative. High protein creep increases forage digestibility and intake. As a result, increased gain comes from forage, not expensive concentrates. Adding 8 to 10 percent salt to the supplement should limit intake to about 1 pound per day, which is important because, when consumption exceeds this level, feed-to-gain efficiency decreases. Feed can also be put out every other day or every third day so consumption averages about 1 pound per head daily.
Preconditioning is one postweaning option that may help increase your profit. Most preconditioning periods span at least thirty days after weaning. During that time, cattle are vaccinated, dewormed, and trained to eat from bunks, which does require some extra expense. Research has shown that preconditioning can reduce feedlot morbidity by up to 6 percent, and the calves will be heavier before they enter the yard. Keep in mind that to actually gain an advantage from preconditioning, you may have to market your cattle differently. Retaining ownership through the feed yard or marketing your cattle by private treaty or via satellite is probably better than sending them through your local auction market.
In the beef business, every dollar counts. No doubt, cattlemen are well aware of it and have begun to explore new avenues to market their product. Nontraditional marketing alternatives aren't as easy as running your calves through the sale barn at weaning, but at some point they might mean the difference between staying in the cattle business and finding another line of work. Value-added strategies, direct marketing, cooperatives, niche markets, and special sales and video auctions compose prospective alternative markets.
Value-Added Strategies - Calves are traditionally marketed at weaning. Retaining ownership gives a producer the opportunity to add value beyond weaning. Not only does it allow you the chance to market on a value-based grid, but also you can receive information on the performance of your cattle both in the feedlot and on the rail, a valuable tool for selecting bulls and culling cows.
Direct Marketing - There is a definite opportunity for those cattlemen who can form a relationship with consumers who wish to be more involved with their food source. Direct marketing may require much more time and effort than some other methods; nonetheless, profits can be much higher.
Cooperatives - Marketing cooperatively with those who produce the same type of cattle allows small producers more pull in the market. Just as important, cooperatives may reduce expenses by allowing high-volume purchases and resource sharing.
Niche Markets - Organic, natural, and pasture-fed beef are just some of the specialty meats for which many consumers are willing to pay a premium. You should be aware that each of these categories has certain production criteria that must be met before the beef can be marketed under that heading.
These were just a few examples of alternative marketing options. Many breed associations offer special programs to help their members market cattle. Alternatives such as special sales or video auctions may better suit your operation.
When making decisions about managing and marketing, be honest about the genetic potential of your calves. Align your decision with the amount of time, effort, and financial resources you are willing to expend.
Tonya, an animal science major at Texas Tech University, spent the summer of 2000 at the Noble Research Institute as a livestock intern.