What is in this article?:
- Increased Forage Value Could Offer Vets More Stocker Opportunity
- Challenging Current Management Practices
- Research Pays Multiple Dividends
- Learning the Stocker Business
Grass is worth too much to waste on a second-rate animal. As the value of forage increases, so does the need for a herd health professional in stocker operations.
Challenging Current Management Practices
When the Gallerys and Dr. Sweiger first met, getting ahead and using data to identify opportunity was the last thing on anyone’s mind. The Gallerys were stranded amid the worst health wreck they could remember. They believed a particular vaccine failed and was causing the problem. With its own technical services veterinarian out of pocket, the pharmaceutical company in question asked Dr. Sweiger to go investigate.
That was 14 years ago, and that’s when the challenging started.
“We were doing a lot of things Shaun didn’t agree with,” Gallery remembers. “He explained why he didn’t agree and it made a lot of sense to us.”
For one thing, like lots of other stocker operators, the Gallerys would treat cattle, then if they didn’t see improvement the next day, they’d treat them again, and the next day, and so on.
Dr. Sweiger encouraged them to adopt a treatment moratorium and give the cattle a chance to respond to the product. He also helped them conclude that three times was the maximum number of treatments they would administer.
“He broke us of medication overload,” Gallery says. “Hands-off for a certain period of time after treatment was the biggest eye-opener, to realize they weren’t going to die if we didn’t give them another shot that day.”
Keep in mind, the Gallerys were already generational veterans at the time, considered by many to be the best of the best.
As the relationship developed, Dr. Sweiger also helped the Gallerys understand the potential of testing new purchases for persistent infection of Bovine Viral Diarrhea Virus (PI-BVDV).
By testing and weeding out the PI calves, they figured they cut mortality in half, sliced treatment cost by 40 percent and increased average daily gain by 0.25-0.75 pounds.
Since then, Dr. Sweiger established Cattle Stats, LLC. Part of that business is offering PI testing and pregnancy testing to client operations.
“One of my objectives is that if I can’t make a client money, then there’s no reason for them to bring me in,” Dr. Sweiger says.
As it turned out, Dr. Sweiger brought another benefit to the Gallerys which neither saw clearly except in retrospect.
“When you get in a wreck like we were in—50 days of beating your head against the wall—everyone’s fuse gets short,” Gallery says. “Shaun provided common ground where we were all willing to listen. We could get behind one plan, one mission. That helps in a family environment.”
Subsequently, this common ground continues to serve as a platform for asking and answering all kinds of questions, be it concerning specific products and protocols or entire business enterprises.
To the latter, Gallery explains, “Now, we’re breeding cattle instead of feeding them for our secondary line of business.”
Used to be, the Gallerys would buy calves, background and grow them in their stocker enterprise and then feed them out in a commercial feedlot alone or in partnership.
Though grass gains and stocker production remain the heart of their program, instead of feeding cattle, they buy steers and replacement quality heifers. As the heifers grow and are sorted, some are sifted to a stocker group while others are shifted to a dedicated ranch for heifer development and breeding. Ultimately, the replacements will be sold via Superior Livestock Video Auction or through special bred heifer sales at Joplin Regional Stockyards in Missouri.
Incidentally, one of the sorts comes after heifers have been provided for use in a cutting horse futurity—one more way to add value to the calves.
Dr. Sweiger buys some of those heifers, too.
“I trust him more than the average order buyer to buy replacement quality. I don’t worry about it a lot when Shaun’s buying them because he’ll be with them all the way through breeding and marketing,” Gallery says. “If he buys some that don’t fit, we’ll point it out to him.” That last bit is said in the tone reserved for a brother, as in, “We won’t let him forget.”
“I let Shaun pick most of the bulls, too,” Gallery says. “That’s just another piece of the puzzle where we can use his expertise.”
It helps both of them in this case that most of the bulls come from Sweiger Farms at Weatherby, MO, owned and managed by Shaun’s dad and uncle.
“Grass is still our ticket, but we do those other things to help diversify the overall program so we don’t have all of our eggs in one basket,” Gallery explains. At various times, the Gallerys have been in the cow business, too.
Then, there are the research trials.