As we approach the normal time to wean calves born in the spring of the year, it might be well to review some management practices that cost many cattlemen considerable dollars when they sell their feeder calves.
A good order buyer once told me that traders and others make more money out of producer mistakes than any other single thing. I believe it, but I can't understand it. Why would anyone who produces feeder calves or even stocker calves for all or a portion of their annual income be slap dash in getting those calves ready for sale. But the fact is, many are and it costs them a sizable percentage of their potential incomes.
How many cattlemen do you know who don't castrate their bull calves? There are more of them out there than you would think, and right now, on the market you're looking at a docking of from $8 to $10 per hundred when you sell a bull calf as opposed to a steer. If you get your pencil out, that's from $40 to $50 per head those guys are losing on a 500-pound calf, simply because they don't take the time or make the effort to cut him.
What happens, of course, is that some trader or order buyer buys that calf cheap, takes him home, castrates him, gives him time to heal up, and makes a $50 bill on him without breathing hard. If I worked all year, supporting that calf's mother, and raising that calf, investing time, money and labor in him, I'm darned if I'd want to see some guy with a knife and a dry lot make $50 off him when I could easily make it myself, especially considering the small amount I'm getting for calves on today's market.
I think the problem is, that some cattlemen are a little chicken-hearted when it comes to castrating calves. It's a bloody job that needs to be done right, and maybe some cattlemen don't really know how to do it. The truth is, it just isn't that hard nor is it that dangerous or painful to the calf.
It should be done when that bull calf is young. A good time is when you work your calves for the first time and give them their initial shots at about 60 to 75 days of age. You do work them and give them their initial vaccination for Blackleg (eight-way) at 60 to 75 days of age, don't you?
Right. So get some good, big, strong $5 per hour help to hold the calf or get a good calf table if you have enough cattle to justify it, and castrate those babies at the same time. They hardly know it happened, and the calf fries are better out of a young calf. If you don't know how, get your local vet to show you. There's really nothing to it, and you just made yourself a $50 bill for every head you cut.
The same thing holds true for dehorning. You send a bunch of feeder calves to town with antlers on them and you can just expect a docking of from $10 to $15 per head. Some trader or order buyer will buy those babies, take them home, remove the offending appendages, let them heal, and makes himself 10 bucks -your 10 bucks.
But, ugh, dehorning is hard, nasty and painful, and maybe you don't know exactly how to do that either. Well, just like castration, you do it while the calves are young, at the first working. At that time, the horn is just a button. Now, don't go get any of that dehorning paste. It's the coward's way out, doesn't work very well and can cause massive scarring if it gets rained on right away. Get a small set of calf dehorners. Most feed and supply stores handle them. They have two handles about 18 inches long and a set of blades that fit right over the button. Have the same big, strong, $5-per hour help hold the calf's head, fit the blades over the button, push down and open the handles up, digging out the button. It will bleed a little, so you may want to put some blood stopper and some antibiotic powder on it, and you made yourself a $10 bill. If you are unsure of yourself the first time, have your vet show you how.
So with just a little bit of extra effort you've netted out another $60 per head on those feeders you're getting ready to wean. And you did it when the calves were young and didn't set them back hardly at all.
So, now, you have all these really nice, dethroned 500 pound calves coming off, all fat as town dogs, right off the cow, and you haul then in to the local auction market. Boy are they pretty! Of course, they stand in the pen over night, bawling for their mothers that they just left, they walk the fence there at the market. They don't eat any hay and they don't drink any water.
They come through the sale early next day and bring a good price, right near the top of the market, say $68 per hundred, but when you get the ticket, you find their pay weights were all around 470 pounds instead of the 500 pounds you figured on, What happened?
Well, those big, fat, sappy calves just melted off about 30 pounds apiece standing there or walking the fence. That's what happens with fresh weaned calves. Thirty pounds? Yep. About six percent of their body weight is just gone. At $68 per hundred, each one of those puppies just lost you $20, right out of your pocket.
What can you do about that? Well, you can pre-condition those calves, yourself and save not only that $20, but make yourself some additional money to boot. If you choose to try this, the first thing you need to do is pre-wean those calves. That means you gather them about six weeks prior to weaning time and put them through the chute. You give then vaccinations again for Blackleg (eight-way), for IBR, BVD and Lepto if you have it in your country. Administer P13 in a nasalgen, and worm them, whether they need it or not. Then you turn them back out with their mothers for the last six weeks while they build up their immunities.
At weaning time, you move them into a dry lot or a trap with a trough where they can learn to eat on a high roughage growing ration and plenty of forge or hay. They'll bawl, walk the fence and loose weight for the first few days, but as they get past the stress of weaning, they will begin to gain it back. But this time, it won't be soft, baby fat, it will be muscle and growth which is harder and firmer.
At the end of 60 days, those calves will have gained all the weight they lost back and a bunch more, besides. They will be custom pre-conditioned and pre-medicated. They will know how to eat from a trough, and will basically be ready to go to a feedlot.
When you haul them to town, be sure and take a certified copy of their vaccination records, what you gave them and the date, and give this to the sale barn operator so he can announce it. This time when they are hauled to town, they will eat the hay put there for them and drink the water. Instead of a six percent shrink in pay-weight you may get by with as little as two. The cattle will be bigger and you'll net a premium for the fact they are pre-conditioned and more desirable to the customer.
To many of our readers, all of this is pretty elementary, but you'd be surprised how many cattlemen let some trader or order buyer make the profit that's available on their feeder calves, and do it every year. This article is for them.