It’s the age-old question in the cattle business – How can I get the most out of my calf crop? Cattle producers have two main sources of income; calf crops and cull cows. There are many ways to take advantage of market fluctuations, trends, and market location opportunities, but what are the real keys to marketing advantage? Not sure there’s one clear answer, other than find what fits your operation best.
My family owns a local cattle auction, so obviously I’m a little biased for local auctions versus regional, national, or video auctions. We’re trying our best to be competitive and progressive in our market while helping local producers to get the most for their year of hard work. We’ve added video marketing to expand our buying audience, and are continuously working with producers to find ways to improve their return. A few things to consider about the average Arkansas cattle farmer: He is a 58-year-old male with 30 head of cattle, a year-round calving season, and weans his calves on the truck. Cattle production is not his primary income and for many, any bull will do.
Our efforts include visiting area cattlemen’s association meetings and discussing options with farmers and ranchers. My dad will usually pay for a good meal of beef at the meeting and in return have a chance to share a few tips and give a plug for our family’s auction. Last month I had the opportunity to join my dad in a visit with cattlemen in Eastern Arkansas. Like I told em, most have been in the cattle business longer than I have been alive. I may have nothing new to share, but maybe can bring up a few points to consider in cattle management that will earn producers a dollar or two when it comes time to market the calf crop.
To make a long story short, the calf crop will bring more return to the farmer if he/she invests in a quality bull that compliments the cowherd, creates a more narrow calving season, and castrates male calves at an early age. But there’s much more to the plan than this.
- Groups of uniform calves will bring a premium over singles.
- Black, black white-face, and yellow calves will bring a premium over reds, white-nose Charolais, spotted, dairy, and Brahman influenced cattle.
- Fill, horns, illness, and fleshy body condition are subject to discounts
- Steers will gain a 6-8 $/cwt premium over bulls – this premium increases with weight
- Muscle score and frame size also impact discounts
Premiums and discounts depend heavily on the readiness for the calf to enter a stocker or feeder program. Thin, castrated (males), weaned, and vaccinated cattle will start on feed or grazing programs much quicker than fleshy, non-weaned, non-castrated (males) calves, so the buyer will be willing to pay more for these cattle. And these buyers are looking for quality genetics, cattle that will perform well in the future. Guess it all boils down to supply and demand.
The guys over at the University of Arkansas Extension have done a great job at looking into the details of cattle marketing premiums and discounts over the last decade. Check out these papers for more detailed information.