An Intensive, Forage-based Stocker Cattle Demonstration
Stocker cattle grazing is a major enterprise in the Noble Research Institute's service area. However, the term "stocker" may be an over-generalization. We work with stocker producers who specialize in niche enterprises that run the gamut in cattle type and weight, length of ownership, intensity of management and forage system use.
Historically, the greatest potential value in stocker production is in receiving and managing a lightweight, high-risk animal for a relatively short period of time and then re-selling the animal to another stocker operator. Further, we have observed that forage-based systems offer some of the lowest costs for producing stockers. To explore this production system further, we implemented a demonstration from 2002 to 2005.
We used 42 acres of bermudagrass and 22 acres in a rye/crabgrass double crop for the demonstration. The bermudagrass was overseeded with rye and ryegrass, and all of the land was heavily fertilized (> 150 lb of actual nitrogen per acre). Our goal was to produce a nearly year-round supply of medium to high quality forage. We grazed the area in an intensive rotational grazing system (30 paddocks) in which the cattle were rotated on a daily basis. We used an industry standard receiving protocol (including metaphylactic Micotil); however, we received them directly onto the paddocks and offered minimal supplement. Our goal was to sell cattle at a weight and time of the year when they would be in high demand (e.g., selling 400-pound steers in November for wheat grazing). To plan our cattle purchases (Table 1), we backed up from our selling target and bought properly sized cattle to use the forage we expected to produce.
During this demonstration, our actual average daily gain (ADG) was only 1.15 lb/day, which was generally below our desired ADG (Table 2). Seventy-eight percent of the cattle we bought were bulls. We experienced a 30 percent morbidity rate and an average 5 percent mortality rate. The mortality in the fall was much greater than other seasons in both years. However, the value of gain (VOG) we achieved was 90 cents per pound. At the time this demonstration was conducted, a typical VOG for a traditional stocker enterprise was about 50 cents per pound. On average, each steer cost $52 in cash expenses (vet, pasture, interest, etc.). We produced $79,259 worth of gain in two years on 64 acres or $596 per acre per year.
Our limited data indicated that this system, while risky, could be quite profitable if managed correctly. We thought the results were interesting and worth sharing. Even in agriculture, producers should consider alternatives, find a niche and exploit their unique skills.