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What does 20 pounds worth of calf gain mean today versus 1996?

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 all fairness cattle have gotten larger over the years and the cost of Safe-Guard® has more than likely increased.  So, I adjusted the cow weight up to 1300 pounds and growing calves at 400 pounds.  I now estimate that the cost for treating these cattle today would be roughly $7.00 per head.  So let’s take a look at what weaned calves are bringing today.  Calves weighing 500 to 600 pounds can easily be valued at $1.75/lb.  This adds up to a $35 for 20 pounds of gain in today’s economic environment.  Even though the cost of deworming increased $2.45 the value of the 20 pounds of calf weight advantage went up from $13.00 in 1996 to $35.00 this fall. 

Another way of looking at this is the return on investment or ROI.  In 1996 for every $4.55 invested you received $8.45 in net calf returns after paying for the dewormer, for a ROI of 1.9:1.  Not too bad considering the dewormer was delivered in a free-choice block that did not require any additional time, labor, equipment and wear-and-tear on both people and cattle.  However, using this type of response today, an investment of $7.00 can net $28 in added calf weight for an ROI of 4:1 after dewormer costs have been paid.  The same practice of deworming.  The only major change is the economic and cattle market conditions now versus 17 years ago.

The bottom line is that it is nearly impossible to find situations, given the current market conditions, where adding value to calves doesn’t pay.   Whether it be in added weight or prevention in health risks due to stress at weaning.   Everyone knows that costs for producing weaned calves, stocker cattle or replacement heifers need to be evaluated based on their economic returns.  Rule-of-thumb guidelines that you once used with calves valued at 60 to 80 cents/lb may not be relevant when they are now valued at $1.50 to $2.00/lb.  Make sure you run the math and consider the risks in lost performance, sick calves or reductions in reproductive efficiency such as open or late bred cows.  All of these have a cost.  And the cost today can be substantial!  Don’t leave these profits out in the pasture.  Bring them home and share them with your family!