Cattle Today

Cattle Today

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By: Dr. Stephen B. Blezinger

By the time you read this it will be the Year 2000. That is, assuming our computers have held together, that all the banks, electric companies, water suppliers and our total societal infra-structure has not broken down placing us in a state of total anarchy!! If that's the case, have a Happy New Year anyway. I re-member, as a kid, thinking about how old I would be when it be-came 2000. In retrospect, it doesn't seem nearly as old now as it did back then. I suppose the excitement and expectation of the new millennium comes from what we heard over the years of the way the world would be by now. Interestingly, while many of these expectations have been met or exceeded, many have not and it's somewhat comforting to know that it seems some things never really change. I saw the excitement in my children's eyes as they gathered around the tree on Christmas morning. I feel the same hope and warmth as I sit in the pew on Sundays hearing His word and praising His name. I sense the same optimism now as I talk to cattle producers across the country as we enjoy prosperous times for a change. Yes, many things have changed both in our industry and in life in general but for many of us, we'll probably look back 20, 30, 40 or more years from now and think of 2000 as the “good old days.” Anyway, the only thing constant is change so we probably just ought to en-joy the show while we hang onto those things that are dear to us all. So it is my hope that you have a super millennium (for those of you who are sticklers for chronological accuracy, I'll wish this to you next year!) and enjoy what comes.

Last issue we discussed one of the changes that we are in the midst of in our industry, that of the increased incidence and demand for preconditioned cattle. Over the next issue or two we'll look at some other trends that cattle producers need to recognize to be productive and profitable in the years to come.

The Nuts and Bolts of Preconditioning

In the last issue I said we would discuss setting up a relatively simple PC program. I'd ask that you refer back to the last issue since I'll make some references to some of that information from time to time.

We discussed some of the questions you needed to answer before undertaking such a process. One of the most important ones you need to evaluate at length is that of your market. Once you put cattle through this process where will you go with them? How will they be sold? As I mentioned last time, marketing through an auction sale will, more than likely, not generate the premium desired for your efforts. These cattle need to be sold to an individual or entity that will pay you for your time and labor in-puts. The first place to start is with local order buyers, people who make their living buying cattle for producers who will graze cattle or send them on to the feedlot. In many cases they are buying cattle for the feedlots directly. Many order buyers are individuals who operate independently. Others work for larger order buying organizations which may move thousands of cattle per week. Regardless of which way you go these folks are a good source of information and may, in fact be potential customers.

Next, talk to large cattle producers in your area who are known for buying larger numbers of cattle for grazing and feeding. They can benefit from cattle that have been managed in this way and are normally looking for a good source of cattle that will cause them little or no headaches.

The same concept is true for feedyards. Talking to feedyards directly will also help you deter-mine where opportunities may lie. You will need to get in contact either with the feedyard manager or the person in charge of cattle procurement. In your discussions with them, in many cases they will encourage you to feed your cattle on out to slaughter with them. Let me be the first to say that this is a good management practice that ranchers need to seriously consider. If you look at a lot of the historical data that exists, producers who raise their own calves and who retain ownership all the way through the feedyard have a much higher rate of yearly profitability than those who produce their calves and sell them through the auctions at weaning. A study that was done a year or so ago showed that in a given 10 year period, cow-calf producers who sold their calves at weaning were profitable about 3 years out of the 10 while those producers who retained owner-ship through the time of slaughter were profitable 7 to 8 years out of the 10. For those that employed some risk management, this number was even higher. All this goes to say that retaining owner-ship of your calves past weaning and even the preconditioning period will increase your opportunities for profit.

Back to the PC process. What I'm attempting to emphasize here is that before you stick the first needle into a calf or give them the first pound of feed, you need to have a marketing plan. In addition to having and idea of who you will sell to you also have to have an idea of what type of volume you will have. Larger groups of calves (70 to 80 head minimum) are more marketable in many cases because they can come closer to making up a truck-load. The number of calves will depend on the individual weight. A typical cattle truck will hold around 48,000 lbs. more or less. If your calves average 600 lbs. by the end of the PC period, it will take about 80 to make a truck load. If they average 700 lbs., 68 to 70 will fill a truck. Since the average producer in the United States is smaller than this what is the answer? Several options exist. First, don't sweat it. There are any number of potential buyers that are more than happy to take smaller lots of calves of this type. Here again, you simply have to identify and contact them. Second, make up the difference by buying a few calves of your own which are similar to the cat-tle you produce. In many cases you can get these cattle bought cheaper that what it costs you to get them to weaning (remember what we said about cow-calf producers who sell at weaning and the low incidence of profitability?). In some cases you can improve the marketability of the cattle you have by buying a few to mingle in that are in high demand. Third, partner with your neighbor. Work together to create larger numbers of calves which can be sold at a premium. This, of course, creates a new set of logistical challenges but nothing that can't be worked out. I'm a big believer in this concept and feel this could be a tremendous profit opportunity of cattlemen in the same area if they worked together and marketed their cattle cooperatively. More than anything it takes a little organization.

This leads you to another question: Do you only want to develop a PC program for your own or possibly a limited number of additional calves or is this something you want to consider growing? If you wish to grow into a larger program, handling larger groups of calves you'll probably have to become intimate with your banker if you aren't already. In many cases a typical PC program requires certain expenditures up front and will take an additional 45 to 60 days before you see the fruits of your labor. Depending on your operation this may not be a problem at all or you may need some additional financing. Depending on your program and what bases resources you have, PC cost can range from $30 to $50 per head for a 45 day PC period. This includes medicines, feed, hay, labor, deathloss and interest. Medicine alone can make up $15 per head. Addition-ally, if you are required to invest in facilities, feeders or bunks, squeeze chutes, etc., these costs must be considered.

Once you have all these questions worked out you are close to getting ready to start your pro-gram. Much of how a program is designed depends on what type of facilities you have to start off with, how much time you have to put in to handle the processing and feeding. The following is a rough set of guidelines which can be used to structure a program of this nature.

1) Bring cattle into the PC area (lot, pasture, trap) and provide clean, fresh water and plenty of good quality hay. If you are feeding round bales you probably want a minimum of a bale per every 20 head.

2) Provide five to six pounds of a good quality PC feed. I normally recommend a feed which includes appropriate levels of chlortetracycline (antibiotic). They need at least one foot of bunk space per head. In many cases it works well to line the bottom of the bunks with hay and then spread the feed across the top. This gets them to eat through the feed trying to get to the hay. Feed them at least once per day to ensure feed is fresh. Remove any feed that becomes molded or sour immediately.

3) Pen or traps need to provide adequate room for movement but should not be too large. Typical dry-lot pen requirements are about 200 ft2 per head in low rainfall areas. In the southeastern U. S. this number should be at least doubled. More if the area is fairly flat and runoff is poor Exceptionally large traps allow fresh cattle to “get lost” and they may have difficulty finding hay and feed. I know this sounds ridiculous but trust me, you can never over-estimate how ignorant some cattle can be. Place feed bunks and waterers on the fence line so cattle will come across them while walking the fence. Most cattle will fence walk for a couple of days after weaning.

4) Wait about 24 hours after weaning to process. Typical PC requires the following processes:

a) Injection for Shipping Fever Complex (IBR, PI-3, BVD, BRSV, etc.) -- many veterinarians currently recommend the use of a modified-live vaccine. Revaccinate at two weeks. Follow all label directions; b) Injection for clostridial diseases -- 7 way vaccine is recommended. Revaccinate at two weeks. Follow all label directions; c) Vaccinate with a Vitamin A, D, E complex; d) Deworm with an injectable or oral dewormer; e) Treat for external parasites; f) Castrate bulls by banding or cutting. Can be done at the two week rework; g) identify by ear tagging or branding

5) Cattle should be checked daily and those showing symptoms of sickness should be pulled and placed in a separate pen. Several good quality antibiotics are available for treatment of sick cattle. Also, vaccinate with Vitamin B-12 (involved in energy metabolism) and give a sulfa bolus. Your veterinarian can recommend those products which are the most effective in your area. Also placing sick cattle in a smaller pen can help stimulate them to eat since they will not have to compete with as many other cattle for the hay or feed. Sick cattle tend to isolate them-selves from other animals and subsequently will not eat or drink as well as necessary.

6) Feeding programs can be designed in a multitude of forms. One of the simplest requires feeding hay along with a preconditioning feed at 1 to 1.5 percent of body weight. The exact formulation of the feed should depend on a test of your hay to determine nutrient content. A similar program can be used for cattle on pasture. Preconditioning feeds should meet the nutrient needs for the size and type of cattle you are feeding and provide an ionophore such as RumensinTM or BovatecTM to improve feed efficiency. These compounds are also labeled to provide some con-trol of coccidiosis.     

7) Once cattle have been on feed for a minimum of 45 days they are ready to be marketed as PC cattle. They have been adapted to a pen environment, know what feed bunks and waterers are, are familiar with eating from a bunk and have been processed for most of the diseases which can create problems for cattle at this time.

Per our discussion above, when the cattle have completed this process is NOT the time to start marketing these calves. This needs to be done before they ever enter the pens. This is probably the most important part of a successful program of this nature. Planning and marketing are, by and large, the two most over-looked facets in many management programs and the two that can have the greatest effect on profitability. Get these two components into your program and the rest of it becomes fairly simple. Preconditioning is a trend we will see a lot more of. Successful implementation requires that you do the right things at the right time and it can become a very productive part of your overall program.

Dr. Steve Blezinger is a nutritional and management consult-ant with an office in Sulphur Springs, Texas. He can be contacted at P. O. Box 563 Sulphur Springs, TX 75482, by phone at (903) 885-7992 or by e-mail at


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