Considerations for Cash

The cattle market is certainly at record levels, and anyone with calves to market this fall will be looking forward to a good return on their calves. However, just because the returns are looking good is no reason to give up any extra value you can still generate between now and the calf sale! Gain will translate into more dollars returned.

Back to Basics

Are the calves castrated and dehorned? Not doing this will discount your calves 5-10 cents versus equivalent quality steers. If not done already, make sure the work is done at least a month - preferably 2 - ahead of sale. This is so all healing is complete and the calves have a chance to make back some of that compensatory gain from the weight loss due to stress. Research shows that some of the greatest pain in banded cattle comes 3-4 weeks following the castration. If you are processing the calves when they are older, talk to your Veterinarian about using pain medication at the time of surgery and pain control during healing. Again, new research is starting to show that all along the chain, if pain is controlled the cattle will eat more and thus gain more or ... less pain = more gain.

A Vaccination Program

What do your buyers and /or calf sales want or require. If they say 3 weeks prior to sale, then they mean 21 days prior to sale not "well 16 days is close..." Put yourself in the buyers' shoes of paying $800-$1000+ for a calf. You would want the calf vaccinated correctly and have a lot less chance of it getting sick or dying. Also, give the vaccinations when the calves are under as little stress as possible and are on a high plane of nutrition, so they will have every opportunity to mount a good immune response.

Creep Feeding Increases Gain

With calf prices predicted anywhere from $1.50/lb and up, then it makes sense that weight put on through creep feeding will have a positive return as long as the cost of gain is below the $1.50/lb. Remember you are trying to put on lbs of muscle not fat on the calf, and you are not trying to change the rumen over to a grain diet. The creep diets should be high in protein, not starch, and may be limit fed. For more information see OMAFRA Factsheet Creep Feeding Beef Calves Agdex # 420/50.

Any number of feedstuffs can be used. Distillers' grains are gaining in popularity - they have high protein content and are very palatable. Talk to your feed mill about products they might have available. If you are considering creep feeders you need to think about placement and behaviour to get the most consumption and gain out of your calves (Fig. 1). Creep grazing may be another option. For this, you set up a creep gate that allows the calves to graze ahead and skim off the best of the pasture, followed up by the full herd.

Figure 1. Calves at portable creep feeder. Photo of calves at portable creep feeder

Weaning On The Farm

It can be easy and profitable or you can ruin the calf. It doesn't mean you rip the calf away from the cow, shove it in a dark, airless barn and put it on a full feed of grain. That behaviour is what has given cow calf producers a bad rap re weaning. With either of the lower stress weaning methods (fenceline weaning or 2- step weaning, Figs. 2 and 3) the calves stay clean, healthy and gaining. As an added bonus pre-weaned calves don't get sick and need as much treatment as bawling calves, even vaccinated ones. So with a little planning for good pastures and calves started on creep feed prior to weaning, you will have an opportunity to make use of those good gain genetics you have been breeding into the calves. However, you need to allow at least 1 month from weaning to the sale date. If you are going to try and do it with less time - don't. It will cost you money.

Figure 2. Low stress fenceline weaning. Photo of cows and calves at fenceline

Figure 3. Low stress 2-starge weaning with nose flaps. Photo of calves wearing nose flaps


One of our oldest "new technologies" implanting, still works and still pays back. A conservative $10:1 payback might as well be in your pocket (double that if you believe the advertising). Unless you are selling calves into a "natural" market (in which case you should be asking for a premium) the first thing that will happen to your calf in the feedlot will be an implant. Thus you might as well have the extra gain for the last 100 days before the calf sale.

Trucking and Shrink

Experience does matter. Transportation work done by Dr. Karen Schwartzkopf-Genswein at Lethbridge indicated that experienced livestock truckers (6 years or more experience) had loads with less shrink than less experienced drivers. The experienced drivers also had fewer problems with compromised or lame cattle. However, it is your responsibility to have a loading ramp in good repair that makes loading easy, and facilities that allow for easy flow of calves onto the truck. Every hour of chasing calves around getting them loaded are simply more lbs lost through shrink. This is another place where the weaned calves shine. Once loaded and delivered to the facility they drink, eat hay if it is presented, then lie down and chew their cud, and not pace around bawling and continuing to shrink.

Acclimatize Your Calves For Sale

You know that at the sales barn they will be unloaded and moved through a number of alleys and pens by people on foot. Why not get your calves used to this before they get to the sales barn (Fig. 4). Nothing is as scary the 2nd or 3rd time through it. Use the chance when you are vaccinating or moving cattle to another pasture to confine them in the corrals or alleys and walk through them calmly. Add some noise if you can-the sales barn will be noisy. Let them out when they are quiet and then reward the cattle with grain or mineral and salt. The idea is for them to consider human interaction pleasant. Time spent this summer and fall may reward you with less shrink at the sale, which means more lbs to sell.

Figure 4. Acclimatize calves to people moving through them prior to sale. Photo of farmer walking in field with calves

To discuss or get more information on any of these suggestions contact members of OMAFRA's Beef Team through the Contact Centre at 1-877-424-1300.

So consider the things you can still change, for this fall's calf sales and cash returns!

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