Summer Calf Prep = Fall Pay Off

Prep time refers to the time it takes to do the background work to create a successful outcome. In teaching it would be called lesson planning. In sports it would be the hours of practice. Both scenarios are looking for the pay off, in a well understood lesson or in a winning game in the finals. In the world of calf sales, the payoff will be the price your calves will command in relation to the market this fall. However, this will also be dependant on the prep work you do between now and then!

So come fall your ideal would be for your calves to command a lot of attention, active bidding and top price in the sale, or whatever venue you market them through.
But in order for your buyer to pay top price, they will want a well built, even group of healthy calves that are all prepped (>castrated/ dehorned/vaccinated<), to come off the truck orderly, ready to hit the bunk and start gaining without incident and without getting sick.

You set the genetics last year for the well built and ready to gain part. However, you need to make sure your potential buyers are aware of that information, whether you get it printed in the catalogue or send it out via mail or email, or on posters. If you have gain and feed efficiency information on last year's calves or the bull - promote it.

The even group is something you can work on long term by genetics and a tight calving season. In the short term, for this year's market look at your calves and decide: can they all go on the same day? Are there a few outliers that should stay home for the freezer trade or background over the winter? How many sorts will you need? Can they be evened up by implanting some or all? Where does creep feeding fit into this? How about weaning for a month or 6 weeks prior to sale?

The castrated (preferably cut) and dehorned part goes without saying. If you want top dollars they are a must! If they were done early, don't forget to check prior to sale for any misses or late horn buds.

Vaccinations fall into two areas

  1. The cow herd. If your herd is on a Modified Live (ML) Vaccination program prior to these calves being conceived, then that needs to be noted and advertised. If not, then you need to be talking with your Veterinarian about implementing it as prep work for the future calf crops.
  2. The calves. The second part of vaccination is making sure the calves themselves are vaccinated according to label directions. Make sure this is done with lots of time prior to sale, so they have time to develop a good immunity.

Ensuring that the calves come off the truck in an orderly manner and head right up to the feed bunk means doing some prep work in how the calves are handled, and possibly weaning prior to sale. If we are careful when we handle and process the calves, doing it gently, calmly and quietly, we can make the calves less frantic about going through a chute system. If fact, if they can be moved through a handling facility/chute without doing any painful procedures we can make them a more calm, orderly group for the feedlot. Even taking the time to walk quietly through the calves now and then prior to the sale or especially after weaning will also help to lower the calves' anxiety level around people.

If we bunk adjust the calves with their mothers, or better yet also wean the calves then they won't go off feed in the marketing process, unlike bawling calves. The calf that doesn't eat short changes its immune system just when it needs the extra energy to combat challenges. A side note, however, is that if you are planning on weaning make sure it is at least a month prior to sale date. This allows the calf to move through the stress of weaning in a familiar environment and then move on gain extra sale weight and look the part of "ready to go" calves. But that weaning can't be into a stuffy, dark, dirty barn. Fence line weaning and two-stage weaning with nose flaps have great potential for cow operations without a lot of facilities. Trials all the way back to Red Meat Program days have all shown that pre-weaning is the next most efficient step to reduce calf morbidity and mortality in the feedlot.

One of the final things you need to prep on will be which sale you think will do the best job marketing your calves. Shop around, then make a decision, put the date on the calendar and start to work backwards. Take the protocols required for your chosen sale and mark down when they need to be done. Talk to your Vet clinic early and make sure they have the products you need ordered and on the shelf well before the day you need them. Talk to your trucker. If you are age verifying - get the paper work done now! Same thing goes for information for the sale catalogue - do it now. Then ship it in to the sale barn or sale operators so they can advertise your calves.

However, the last part of prep work is you doing some advertising on your own. Find out where your calves went the last few years, and who the runner up bidders were. Take some pictures and email or send them to those former buyers/bidders. Let them know when and where your calves will be for sale again.

So forget about those lazy days of summer. You have some prep work ahead of you. However, a little prep work now and over the next couple of months will hopefully pay off in a big time in a "top of the sale" payday!

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