Selling Light Calves vs. Leaving Them on the Cow?

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Stocker Steve

Well-known member
May 2, 2005
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Central Minnesota
I am pretty new to the cow/calf side. I started buying a few at a time last November. Now I have 38 pairs and two freezers full of hamburger. A couple first calvers show some rib, the shorthorn cross cows are fat, and the rest are just right. They are bred to start calving on May 10th.

The traditional fall run here is mid October to mid November. We had some rain this summer, the yearlings are long gone, and I am gong to try swath grazing on one field, so I think I can graze well into December while providing a little alfalfa/grass hay supplement.

Is there any reason a person should not just leave the calves onto the cows into December for cheap gain?
First of all ~ welcome to cow/calf! How much fun is this!! :nod:

How old will your calves be in December? I am assuming they will be past the traditional 7 months? I am thinking there is really not much more gain to be had on the calves through nursing at that point. The cows milk production has dramatically decreased by that time, and she needs what she can get to carry her through these wicked winters :frowns: in good enough shape for those new babies to hit the ground running in May. Quite a few bred cattle come out of winter looking pretty pulled down ~ it is the nature of the beast. Good for you that you have a chance to send them healthy into the winter and enough to keep them in good shape through winter. Take the babies off. :nod:
Steve: I guess it depends what you want to do with those calves. The last three years we never bothered weaning at all! Just left them on the cows right through the winter.
We intended to sell these calves as yearlings off grass the next fall. It sounds kind of crude but it worked out fairly well. I figured I wanted a lean and mean calf to hit the grass running....and that is what I got! Basically the cows weaned the calves about January other than some younger cows who fed their calves right up until they calved again(had to remove the big calfs). Most just kicked the calf off. No sick calves. No corrals to clean out. No packing feed to weaned calves.
The cows were fed 22 lbs. of fairly decent hay a day and all the good straw they wanted. We added a half ration of hay(11 lbs) for the calf. May/June calves probably averaged around 650 lbs. on May 1 when they went out on banked grass. Sold late august/september at an average 920 lbs(steers) 875 lbs (heifers...not including replacements taken out).
Hay was 3 cents a pound so total hay per day was 99 cents. Started feeding Dec. 14 ended April 30 so cost to winter cow and calf was 137 days X .99 = $136 plus straw, which I have a hard time pricing as I bale my own but would expect to be another 25 cents a day maybe so add on another $35 for a grand total of $171 for cow and calf.
We never had problems with breeding back. They pretty well all hit the 70 day breeding season starting on July 20th.
I don't know if was the best way but it sure was easy. The cow herd is mostly Herford/Angus with a bit of Simmental thrown in. Probably average about 1350 lbs.
We used to calve in Jan/Feb aiming for a 700 lb. calf by November. I got lazy and decided I'd had enough barn calving in 40 below weather about 7 years ago. Got sick of messing with weaned calves after about three years so tried the above system. Sometimes being lazy really works!
Money wise does it work? I think it does but you won't get rich doing it! I figure that May/June calf probably weighs about 600 lbs by Dec. on the cow? He's probably worth about $1.05/lb or $630? By spring he's only gained 50 lbs on this system and its cost you about $70 to put it on so now you have $700 in him. Add about another $60 for pasture and you are at $760. He should sell for over a $1 as a yearling in September or in the ballpark of $900? Of course that doesn't factor in all the incidentals like interest, fence, salt and minerals etc.? I think you can usually make a small profit with this system.
Thanks for your input. I like to calve on grass and I like to buy low - - so this year I ended up with a lot of rwf and bwf calving in June/July/August.
I have a few early calves that I think I will sell this fall since they will be too big for grass next year. I also have two late calvers that I think I will sell as pairs since the calves will be too small to winter well.
I could drylot the rest of the calves till spring grass but that would be very costly.
I am tempted to leave the calves on the cows and cull a couple that are not efficient enough...

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