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Spring Management Can Increase Fall Calf Values

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Cattle prices are high and are projected to remain high throughout 2012 despite seasonal volatility. In the fourth week of March, October 2012 Chicago Mercantile Exchange feeder cattle contracts traded at $157.50/cwt. This is a $17.80/cwt increase over similar contracts traded one year ago. While external factors may alter cattle prices this fall, your cattle management practices also influence price. Do not overlook value-added management processing opportunities that can be implemented this spring to help ensure the highest price possible for your calves this fall.

An animal's physical characteristics influence price. Animal weight, gender, hide color (breed influence), frame size, muscle score, fill, condition, health and the presence of horns influence the price buyers are willing to pay for calves. Specifically, bull calves receive a lower price ($/cwt) compared to steer calves, and calves with horns are discounted compared to polled or dehorned animals.1,2 Weaning and vaccination claims are also known to influence price.2

Of the physical characteristics previously listed, you immediately impact six: animal weight, gender, fill, condition, health and the presence of horns. Castrating bull calves, dehorning animals and providing vaccinations are three value-added management practices that can be completed this spring to increase fall calf values. Castration and dehorning are also commonly thought to be less stressful on the animal when completed at an earlier age (e.g., during spring processing). Additionally, providing the first round of vaccinations at spring processing allows you greater flexibility in the timing of revaccinations and marketing during the fall. The second round of vaccinations may be given just prior to or at weaning. Cattlemen can then market calves at weaning or sometime after as "vaccinated calves."

Although proven valuable, recent research suggests adoption rates of value-added management practices remain low among Oklahoma cattlemen.3 Of those practices adopted, the four most common include castrating bull calves, dehorning, deworming and getting calves accustomed to feed bunks.

Research found cattlemen are more likely to implement a greater number of value-added management practices as producer experience and program participation increase. The Beef Quality Assurance program (www.bqa.org) is an excellent resource for cattlemen to learn proper beef cattle management practices.

Some physical characteristics that influence price are predetermined by selection. The hide color, frame size and muscle score of your current calves (and likely next year's calves) are already determined by the genetics of your cows and bulls. Improving physical characteristics of calves through selection takes time; however, it can be done through careful planning when restocking. For example, purchasing females with similar genetics and a shorter calving season can increase fall calf values as calves sold in larger, more uniform lots have been shown to receive a premium compared to calves sold individually.1,2

Spring is an excellent time of year to begin implementing value-added management practices. Castrating bull calves, dehorning animals and providing vaccinations are three proven practices that can add value to calves this year, but the practices should preferably be completed prior to fly season. I encourage each cattleman to objectively evaluate their management practices, consider costs and implement value-added management practices that will increase the marketability of calves and the profitability of the cattle operation. If you have questions about castrating bull calves, dehorning animals, providing vaccinations or the selection of future cow or bull replacements, please contact a Noble Research Institute livestock consultant.


1Avent, R.K., C.E. Ward and D.L. Lalman. "Market Valuation of Preconditioning Feeder Calves." Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics, 36,1(April 2004): 173-183.
2Bulut, H. and J.D. Lawrence. "The Value of Third-Party Certification of Preconditioning Claims at Iowa Feeder Cattle Auctions." Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics, 39,3(December 2007):625-640.
3Williams, B.R., et.al. "Demographic Factors Affecting the Adoption of Multiple Value-Added Practices by Oklahoma Cow-Calf Producers." Selected Paper Prepared for Presentation at the Southern Agricultural Economics Association Annual Meeting, Birmingham, Ala., Feb. 4-7, 2012.