Considerations for retained ownership of calves after weaning

Aug 3, 2020

All of those genetics, all those pairings — the bulls, the cows, the heifers you keep every year — you're going to directly benefit from those choices and the dollars that you spent on them, because you are going to own them all the way until they go to the packing plant. Mark Robbins talks about several reasons why a producer might consider retained ownership after weaning.


Apple Podcast Subscribe Instructions >

Stitcher Subscribe Instructions >

Tom:    I'm Tom Martin, and I'm talking today with Mark Robbins, Nutritionist with CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements, about considerations for retained ownership of calves after weaning. Thanks for joining us, Mark.

Mark:  Glad to be here.

Tom:    So, Mark, what do we mean by “retained ownership”?

Mark:  We use this word a lot in the cow-calf industry, and what it kind of gets back to is, historically, a lot of cow-calf operators have weaned their calves at weaning time and maybe gone direct to an auction market and sold their calves. You know, that’s their paycheck for the year, basically. That was pretty typical on a lot of different operations historically, over the years. Now, maybe some of the operations would wean the calves for a month or two and then sell them, or maybe go to a backgrounding route, but they almost always got them sold, you know, within a year or less of when they’re born — and quite often, right off the cow as they were weaned. So, this retained ownership idea, what that really means is, rather than selling those calves, you — as the rancher, the farmer, the owner of those calves — you're going to retain ownership of those calves into the next phase, which would be either backgrounding or into a feedlot, in some cases, where you go with calf-fed, but you're going to retain that ownership and then, theoretically, benefit from that ownership all the way through the feedlot, until it's time to take them from the feedlot to the packer.

RELATED BLOG: Combating calf weaning stress

Tom:    Why would a cattle producer consider retained ownership?

Mark:  There could be several reasons. I think some of it is, you know, it may give you a chance to spread out your marketing risk. It gives you a (few) more options for marketing. But I think, primarily, with people buying better bulls, saving better heifers, (with) better genetics all the way around, if you sell those and the person that you sell those calves to doesn't really know you, doesn’t know your history, doesn't know the history of your genetics, doesn’t know how they perform in a feedlot, you may or may not get, really, what those calves are worth. And quite often, you know, usually, when we sell something, we don't always think we got all we should have gotten for that. So, one thing about retained ownership is, now, all of those genetics, all those pairings — the bulls, the cows, the heifers you keep every year — you're going to directly benefit from those choices and the dollars that you spent on them, because you are going to own them all the way until they go to the packing plant. And at the packing plant, you’ll likely sell on a grid or on a carcass basis. So, again, you’re going to get paid individually for each calf’s performance on a carcass basis.

Tom:    So, those are some pretty clear, obvious advantages of retained ownership. Are there any other advantages?

Mark:  You know, I think that's primarily it, but one other thing that I noticed in my days when I worked for South Dakota State University, we had a program a number of years ago where it was a retained ownership demonstration, and what it kind of revolves around is, you know, a lot of calves (are) born in South Dakota, you know — 1.6 million or so beef calves. And a lot of those calves were leaving the state, even though we had a lot of corn in eastern South Dakota. And the extension service started a program where you could put five head of calves into a retained ownership demonstration. And the idea was to show, “Hey, you know, you’re not putting your whole herd in here. We’re going to give you groups of five calves. You can see what kind of payback it is, if it makes sense. And we encourage you to feed your calves in the state.” And the idea was (that) you generate more revenue for the state that way. And one of the things that came out of that was (that) you would get carcass data back on those calves. And so, a lot of ranchers, what they started doing was, “I’m gonna put five calves from this bull in, I’m gonna put five calves from this bull and five calves from that bull. And now, I’m gonna see how each of those bulls actually perform on a carcass basis.” So, that’s additional information that you can generally get back from the packing plants if you retained ownership. Now, you actually see, you know, what traits I bought this bull for. Am I actually getting those in my calves, in my steer calves, say, at the packing plant, in the carcass?

            So, that’s probably another great advantage that you can get. You can get kind of a report card back on your calves.

Tom:    Okay. So, how do nutritional decisions for the cowherd play into this retained ownership option?

Mark:  Sure. So, you might not think that that really matters. By retained ownership or not, I’ll make that decision this fall, you know, what the market looks like, what kind of opportunities, you know, what I can get on my calves or not. But in reality, just like the genetics that you buy that you may be paying a premium for, if I take some pride in where you buy your bulls, and what kind of bulls you get, and what type of heifers you save out of your herd, or if you’re buying replacement heifers out in the market, you know, who you’re buying from, the nutrition program that your calves are on ahead of weaning can impact how well they go through the weaning process.

            So, I’ll give you two examples there. If you've got calves you're running on some forages and it gets to be kind of dry in your pasture, you know you have forages, basically, that are going to be short on trace minerals, maybe a little bit on vitamin A as well, later in the year. But generally, trace minerals can be short. We're usually looking at copper, zinc and selenium there, although other trace minerals can be short. And sometimes, you can have plenty of those (minerals in the forage), but you’ve usually got a forage that’s missing some of the others. And copper, zinc and selenium are very important in reproduction traits. They’re also very important in immune response. And that's what we want to be concerned with when we retain ownership, because while you may not now be running those calves through the sale barn, where there's a lot of stress and interaction with other calves there — I think with the COVID deal, you can see how we're trying to social-distance. You can’t really social-distance those calves running them through a sale barn.

            But even if you’re not doing that, there’s still a lot of stress. You are going to be sending them to another yard or somewhere, likely, where there may be some other animals there already that they’re going to intermingle with. But even if it’s in your own operation, there’s still stress of weaning. And those calves who are under stress are a little more susceptible to disease and such. Well, when you have calves that are short on trace mineral status, they’re also more susceptible to getting diseases, and they have also got another problem, (which) is that when you treat a sick calf for respiratory disease or you give them a vaccination to prevent against other shipping fever and diseases like that that are common in the feedlot, they’re in the weaning end of the deal, if they’re short on trace minerals, they don’t respond well to disease treatments and they don’t respond well to vaccines. Any veterinarian will tell you that. So, it's kind of a double whammy that we talk about there, is that they're more susceptible and then they don't respond very well to the treatment. And this is all because they'd likely been on pastures that are trace mineral-deficient. Their mothers are somewhat trace mineral-deficient. So, the milk is trace mineral-deficient and the forage is trace mineral-deficient.

            Now, you've got basically a trace mineral-deficient calf that’s going through the stresses of weaning and is going to get sick. And a calf that gets sick, you know, they never perform quite as well as calves that don’t get sick. So, the reason, if you’re considering retained ownership, why nutrition plays a role in that decision? If you are going to retain ownership, you want to have those calves in a good trace mineral status, and that’s almost going to have to mean that you're going to have to give them a supplement ahead of weaning to get them caught up if they haven't been on one all summer.

            So, nutrition does play a role in that decision. And just like with genetics, if you're doing it right, you can get paid for that decision of providing good nutrition. If you are a little bit delinquent on some of the nutrients that the calf feeds and you retained ownership, that may kind of come back to bite you, with calves that are getting sick more than they should once they're into the backgrounding or the feedlot.

Tom:    Well, Mark, I'm wondering if, in the meantime, there are other reasons to consider a summer mineral program.

Mark:  This was just kind of another reason for a summer mineral program, you’re right. The other reasons that we generally push people to consider a summer mineral program — especially spring calving herds — is that's when you're going to be breeding and you're getting ready for next year's calf crop. You just got the new calf at the cow’s side. You’re asking her to come back into heat and conceive on a timely basis. Generally, it’s got to be 83 days or less than she calved if she needs to conceive on a yearly basis and stay in a herd.

            So, a summer mineral program really helps with that. It makes sure that they do have those trace minerals necessary for good reproductive efficiency. Other things that we’ve noticed, you know, some work that we did with our Blueprint® line of products — and this isn't just a summer mineral program or not. This is changing your summer mineral program from an inorganic mineral to one that we call Blueprint that is all organic trace minerals. And we’ve had several different trials around the country with universities where we’ve seen about a 25-pound increase in weaning weight just by going with this Blueprint program that was all organic trace minerals. So, basically, a summer mineral program will help you with your weaning weights. Your calves are going to perform better, again, because they’re not trace mineral-deficient. All the systems of the body just work better if they’ve got the nutrients that they need. And that’s going to show up in weaning weights.

            And you know, there’s other things that you can look at in your summer mineral program. Lots of times, it’s fly control — we had a really good picture come in from a situation in North Dakota, where a customer of ours was using a fly control program and the cows were all spread out in the middle of the day grazing. And in the background, you could see cows that were all bunched up in the corner, you know, with the direction that the wind was coming from. They weren’t on a fly control program. So, they were bunched up and not out grazing. And it’s kind of interesting that they were right next to each other. So, that kind of has some relevance in the customers saying, “Well, I don’t want to use a fly control program because my neighbor is not.” Well, those horn flies, they stay very close to the animals. So, the fact that your neighbor is not on the program isn’t a reason for you not to consider fly control in your summer mineral, because you still can reap the benefits. And the picture was very telling in that situation.

Tom:    What specific CRYSTALYX products would you recommend for weaning and for summer mineral programs?

Mark:  For the summer programs, we’ve got a number of products. We’ve got some older products that we call Crystal-Phos® 4 and Crystal-Phos® 8; that’s a 4% phosphorus or an 8% phosphorus. We’ve got three minerals that have fly control. We’ve got a mineral that has Rabon® in it and that gets four flies — that gets the face fly, the horn fly, the stable fly, the house fly. We’ve got a newer product with ClariFly® in it. That’s a mineral that’s in our Blueprint line, and ClariFly actually gets those same four flies. And then the other product (that) is pretty popular is IGR or Altosid®. We have that both in a protein and mineral as well. And that product targets the horn fly.

            So, there’s three fly control products. There’s two older products in the Crystal-Phos line, and then we’ve got the Blueprint minerals as well. And there’s a 6% phosphorus Blueprint mineral, like I mentioned, the ClariFly. There’s one without. And they work very well, you know, for your choices. And we’re generally talking about a mineral product, obviously, and not so much with protein. Now, as you get into, you know, later July and into August, as the grass begins to mature, it’s kind of dormant. You might be in an area that’s having a little bit of drought. You could consider using a protein product in the summer in that situation.

            The second half of your question, when we go to the weaning pens — and we’ve had specific podcasts and blogs on this, too, as we’ve got an older product called Brigade® and a newer product called Blueprint® Battalion®  (and) they’re specifically designed to be put in the pen with lean calves to keep them going, to get their appetite back, to get them back on feed. Generally, we recommend feeding those for about 4 weeks. That gets you through the heat of any time when the calves are going to break with any shipping fever, but those two products are specific to that time period and work very well.

Tom:    That’s Mark Robbins, nutritionist with CRYSTALYX Brand Supplements. Thank you so much, Mark.

Mark:  You bet.