For most producers it has been a long, cold winter and spring has been a bit stubborn about showing itself. I was recently traveling from Minnesota to southeastern Kansas about a month ago, and grasslands had not really started greening up at that time. This is pretty late for that part of the country and because of the cold temperatures, I would say those same delayed spring conditions are the norm with most of the US and Canada. We are now into late April and cows are stretching the fences as they look at greener pastures on the other side. Total pasture production can be negatively impacted if pastures are grazed too soon in the spring as carbohydrate reserves become severely reduced. Rather than storing carbohydrates from actively growing leaves, plant roots are called upon for energy to help support plant growth.
It’s no secret that Beef cow nutrient requirements start increasing prior to calving and continue up until the cow herd is bred. In spring calving herds many producers have matched these increasing nutrient needs with their calving season to take advantage of these actively growing pastures to help limit the amount of supplemental inputs needed. There has been a wide variety of conditions across the US this past winter with extremely dry conditions in the west and very cold temperatures in many other parts of the country. This is a strong reason for concern going into calving and supports the need to evaluate your nutrition program in order to ensure calf health and performance and timely rebreeding. Reports from the Extension Service in SW Missouri this winter have indicated reduced conception rates and even death losses in cows from the colder than normal weather conditions. Lingering cold temperatures could easily result in reduced cow body condition if energy adjustments were not made jeopardizing both calving and rebreeding. Shortcuts in the area of nutrition now can seriously affect your profitability given the current calf prices.
Early on as I entered into my Feed Industry career following a number of positions in the University Extension Service, I had the opportunity to participate in some Dealer focus group sessions. We were evaluating what they and their customers valued in non-confined Beef cattle supplement programs and primarily cow herd supplements. As we talked through what was available on the market, one concern that was mentioned has stuck with me over the years and is in regard to the packaging or containers used in free-choice or self-fed supplements.
As we are nearing the end of the 2013 calendar year, it is nice to reflect on how good the year has been to the Beef Cow-calf and Stocker industry. Weather conditions have started to return to more normal moisture patterns and are replenishing grazed forage supplies across the country with a few scattered exceptions. The other unfortunate weather event is the untimely early winter storm, Atlas that resulted in large cattle losses primarily in Western SD. Cattle producers and the Beef industry in general has responded quickly in establishing relief funds to help get those hardest hit, back up and going again.
Everyone loves calving in the Spring and watching newborn calves bouncing around the pastures. It provides a sense of new beginnings for that particular calf crop with great expectations of how they will perform over the summer grazing season. I would argue that weaning is as important, or even more critical as a period of new beginnings for the calf crop. Calves must now perform on their own without any assistance from their mother. From a cow-calf producers stand point with all that has been invested up to this point, you will want to make sure calves are able to transition to stockers, feeders, replacement heifers or young bulls without any set-backs in growth or compromised health status. After all, for most producers, pay day is just around the corner.
As I read last week’s CRYSTALYX® Blog by Jackie Nix, she was looking at the importance of deworming cattle. I took the liberty in looking up a collection of past research trials to see what has been found in terms of calf gain responses from deworming the herd, both cows and calves. I came across a study that summarized 6 trials in the Western US where they found an improvement of 10 to 30 pounds of calf weight gain at weaning for herds that had been dewormed with Safe-Guard® free-choice blocks versus those that did not. If you take an average of this range at 20 pounds back in 1996, calves were selling for around 65 cents/lb. This would give a gross return of $13.00 per head benefit. The cost of the Safe-Guard® dewormer was estimated at $4.55 for cow-calf pairs.
In many parts of the US pasture growth has begun to slow down while plants are maturing resulting in higher fiber and lower nutrient delivery to the cow herd. For spring calving herds this is when creep feeding becomes important for maintaining calf gains especially if forage availability and quality become limiting. With calf values as high as they are, it would be difficult for producers not to look at ways that focus on optimizing calf growth rates prior to weaning. But what about the cows? Most of the cow herd would be bred by now for herds calving in the spring. Cows are focusing on gaining weight/condition for the winter months, while nursing this year’s calf and providing a uterine environment that will lay the ground work for a healthy, growth calf in 2014.
We are just beginning the month of July and entering into that time of the year where temperatures begin to rise and there is often no end in sight. Your forages, particularly cool season pastures, have slowed down in production and the grassland starts to have a brown tinge to it compared to the lush dark green appearance just a few weeks ago. Rain has been anywhere from more than plentiful, to still absent in the far west. One thing that most all of the regions of the US have in common is the more persistently higher temperatures.
Last week I reviewed cost of production information that can help producers with benchmarking within their own operations. A representation of calf prices in relationship to feed costs and total direct expenses are shown below in Graph 1. Don’t forget to go to the following website if you would like to evaluate these benchmarks in more detail when comparing to your operation http://www.finbin.umn.edu/. This week I wanted to look at adding producer returns during the same time frame. In Graph 1, I added this information as returns over direct expense. It is interesting to note that these returns over direct expenses for the years 1993 and 2011 are within $12 of each other and would be well over $200 per head. Even though the price of feed and for that matter all direct costs, have increased dramatically, calf prices have more recently kept pace to provide similar returns over direct expenses.
One thing about writing a blog, you often think about what topics are on the minds of producers in the industry and then start looking for information to help shape our opinions and come to a conclusion about that particular topic. We are all aware of the recent increase in calf prices over the last decade and how that has impacted the beef industry (see graph). Weaned calves weighing 550 lbs were once in the $400 to $500 range in the 90’s and are now more like $800 or higher at the present time. A common question that often comes up when looking at the dramatic increase in calf value in recent years, is what has happened to the costs of production associated with raising weaned calves, especially when considering feed costs.