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Considerations for retained ownership post-weaning

We often hear about the pros and cons of retaining ownership of your calves post-weaning. I googled it and got 1.5 million hits, so it is definitely a popular subject. Much of the debate revolves around the following:

  1. Spreading out your marketing risk or creating more marketing options.
  2. Getting paid more for the better genetics that you purchase.
  3. Getting carcass data back to help you make better genetic pairings and selections.

Basically, we are talking about getting more income out of the value you are adding to every calf you raise and sell.

There are also, however, disadvantages to retained ownership:

  1. Income from that calf crop will be delayed.
  2. You may have increased your financing costs as a result.
  3. If your cattle do not perform well, it may have made more sense to sell them at an auction.

Obviously, retaining ownership may make more sense — and dollars — in some years than in others. There are lots of variables to consider here. I’m not trying to solely promote retained ownership; that is your decision. However, if you do choose to retain ownership, I would like to discuss one way in which you can set yourself up for a better chance of success.

Another reason to implement a summer mineral program

If you are calving in the spring, we can generally offer a number of reasons to use a mineral in the summertime, many of which revolve around getting better breed-up on your cows and heifers and better calf performance prior to weaning. This topic has been discussed in various other blogs.

If you are now going to retain ownership of your calves into the feedlot or a backgrounding operation, you have another avenue for payback on a summer mineral program: the performance of your calves post-weaning. Calves weaned out of herds that have been on a summer mineral program will perform better in the feedlot. They will have stronger immune and digestive systems that will set them up for better growth potential.

Veterinarians will tell you that calves must have an adequate trace mineral status for respiratory disease treatments and vaccines to perform properly. While everyone’s pasture is different, many of our summer forages will likely be deficient in copper, selenium and/or zinc. Some forages will be deficient in other trace minerals as well. While it is true that some forages may have adequate levels of trace minerals, it is rare to have a summer forage that does not need some trace mineral supplementation. It is also possible that phosphorus, a macro mineral, may be limited in your late-summer forages.

The double whammy

Calves that are trace mineral-deficient at weaning — as a result of being on trace mineral deficient-pastures and/or being fed by mothers with their own poor trace mineral status — must deal with two issues. First, they are more susceptible to diseases during periods of stress, and secondly, as previously mentioned, they do not respond well to disease treatments and vaccines. 

It has long been understood that, as trace mineral status declines from an adequate level, immunity is the first performance trait to suffer.

When “your” calf gets to a feedlot, the last thing you want is for it to get sick. Even if they do not die, calves that get sick with shipping fever and recover will not perform as well as calves that do not get sick. If you have to re-treat that calf a second time, its performance will get even worse. Estimates of the difference in the profitability of healthy and sick calves range as high has $80 per head (as per the NMSU Ranch to Rail Program). When a calf gets sick, its feed intake, feed efficiency and average daily gain will not come back to what you would get with a healthy calf. The table below illustrates that the feed intake on sick calves does not come back, even through 56 days in the feedlot.

One last point: If you choose a CRYSTALYX® product for your summer mineral program, we know that the calves will consume the mineral as well — they like the taste!

To sum it all up, providing a summer mineral program to your cow herd can also be considered good insurance for your calves, who will likely be well-prepared for weaning and the stresses that go with it when entering the feedlot. If you still own those calves, you will reap those rewards. If you do not own those calves anymore, it is always possible that the feedlot operator or the new owner of your calves will remember how they performed, and you may get a premium next fall. If you are not getting a premium for providing optimum nutrition to your calves pre-weaning, this is another reason to consider retained ownership. 

You should also consider using CRYSTALYX® Blueprint® Battalion® or Brigade® in the weaning pens, as they will also positively impact health and performance post-weaning. Much has been written on those two products in previous blogs, so I will not explore it here.

CRYSTALYX Brand Supplements are an excellent way to provide consistent, controlled intake of protein, minerals and vitamins that are only found in minimal amounts in your summer forages. CRYSTALYX self-fed supplements are available to your herd 24/7, helping minimize your investment in time, labor and equipment.