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Integrity Beef Alliance: Using Best Management Practices to Improve Profit

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The Integrity Beef Alliance is a value-added calf program that utilizes high-quality bull genetics coupled with best cow-calf management practices to produce a quality value-added commercial calf. The Alliance, in its 16th year of existence, has received much attention for the premiums calves have received through the years. However, premiums are just a small part of the membership benefits. Alliance protocols are based upon industry-recognized best management practices designed to help deliver a highly desirable calf to the next segment of the industry. The program also assists producers in keeping financial and production records that help them identify strengths and weakness on their operations.

Integrity Beef requires bulls to be in the top 20 percent of the breed for weaning and yearling weight expected progeny differences (EPDs). Alliance members have reported large increases in calf weaning weights, many more than 75 pounds with similar-aged calves, after making the switch to the quality bulls required by the Alliance. This information aligns with data collected by Noble Research Institute consultants. According to data from the latest USDA National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS), the average weaning weight for steers and heifers across the country was 529 pounds. The average weaning weight for Integrity Beef Alliance cattle from 2009 through 2015 was 593 pounds, excluding 2011 when many of the producers weaned their calves early due to drought (Figure 1). This is a weaning weight increase of 64 pounds compared to the NAHMS data. For a 50-head herd, this would be a total weaning weight increase of 3,200 pounds annually.

Figure 1.

Furthermore, the quality of genetics bred into the calf ensures it can take advantage of an aggressive preconditioning feeding program with lean gain. The graph illustrates that the calves consistently perform on average more than 2.3 pounds per day gain. Noble Research Institute agricultural economists and livestock consultants work together to optimize the cost of gain and monitor the value of gain to ensure the feeding program remains profitable annually. Couple this gain with a 60-day weaning program and the calves typically gain an additional 138 pounds by sale date. In addition to the higher sale weight, which averages about 710 pounds (excluding the drought year 2011), the 60-day preconditioning program moves the marketing date to a better time of year. Rather than marketing calves when large drafts of cattle historically move to market in the fall, Alliance cattle are able to sell later when less cattle are offered for sale and there is a strong demand for value-added cattle.

Finally, the Alliance implements an excellent vaccination protocol that starts with the cow to ensure immunity is given to the calf in utero and at birth through quality colostrum. The cows are required to receive an annual vaccination for viral respiratory complex and blackleg. The calves must receive two rounds of a modified live viral vaccination for the viral respiratory complex, two rounds of a blackleg vaccine, one round of a shipping fever vaccination and be dewormed.

Couple the genetics and increased sale weight with a feeding program that monitors and ensures the value of gain exceeds cost of gain with a quality vaccination program, and the end result is a value-added program that not only is profitable for Alliance members but also delivers the type of calf the next segment of the industry finds desirable and in demand. This equates to a program that should keep its members profitable, especially when markets are soft and margins are thin. For more information, email integritybeef@noble.org or contact me at 580-224-6434.

Robert Wells, Ph.D., PAS joined the Noble Research Institute as a livestock consultant in 2005. He also serves as the Executive Director for the Integrity Beef Alliance, LLC. His areas of emphasis are forage-based beef cattle production and cow/calf nutrition, herd health programs, improving herd genetics, beef quality assurance, and value-added calf marketing programs. Wells grew up on a South Texas diversified farm and attained his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois. You can follow him on LinkedIn.