Ranch families are privy to one of life's most important lessons: a job worth doing is worth doing right. Years in the feedlot business have uncovered a few ranch protocols worth doing, based on background differences between exceptional and average cattle at our (7,500-head) feedlot near Chappell, NE.

  1. Prepare for feedlot profitability even before the calf is born, by supplementing cows with protein late in gestation. Research indicates it doesn't increase birth weights, but steers end up with a 30-lb. carcass-weight advantage over other steers at harvest.

    The positive effects are more widespread with heifers, which studies show tend to weigh more at weaning and all the way into their first calving season. Moreover, first-calf heifers from supplemented herds had higher pregnancy rates, 93% compared to 80% for heifers born from non-supplemented cows. Protein-supplemented heifers also had fewer dystocia problems (69% unassisted births vs. 38% in other heifers).

  2. The importance of calf health can't be overstated, and it begins with “best practices” at calving. Ensure colostrum intake, make an effort to prevent calf scours and record the identity and sex for future reference.

    Maintain a vaccination program in your cowherd so that at branding (or 2-3 months of age) calves can get their first modified-live antiviral and clostridial vaccines. At 4-6 weeks prior to weaning, booster those and vaccinate against pasteurella. At weaning, give calves a final modified-live booster and deworm them.

  3. Wean early, at 150 days or younger, and get them on a starch diet. Calves from one customer who switched to this plan last year had better feed conversion throughout the finishing period than a previous, conventionally weaned calf crop.

    Getting more starch in them didn't make the 2008 calves “fleshy,” either. Final yield grades were slightly better than for the conventionally weaned 2006 calves. The quality grade really made the case, with 95.6% Choice and 45.7% Certified Angus Beef® (CAB®) brand for the 2008 calves, vs. 68.5% Choice and 28.6% CAB.

    Tally the dollars. You can save the cost of grazing the calf (0.4 animal units) at $30/pair/month times two months for $24, to say nothing of the value of increasing cow Body Condition Score by up to 2 points. Some estimates suggest it's worth $112/head at today's feed prices.

    The calves will go on feed earlier and come off earlier, finishing a month ahead of conventional weaning, without sacrificing carcass weight. That avoids the typical $2/cwt. price drop from mid-April to mid-May, too. Among cattle fed at Chappell, early-weaned calves were 9.5 percentage points higher Choice, worth another $10.54 on a $14 Choice-Select spread, bringing total gross value as high as $170.28. There are unmeasured health advantages to early weaning as well, against an extra $90/head in feed, for a net profit still above $80/head.

  4. Another way to increase calves' marbling score and predictability on feed is to minimize implant use — no implants on the ranch and no more than two at the yard. Implant programs can be tailored to fit specific cattle and marketing objectives.

  5. Genetics rule. Although all these management protocols will add value, it's important to understand that genetics can greatly dictate the degree of success. For example, AI (artificially inseminated)-sired calves from three generations of AI-sired Angus cows gained ½ lb./day more than average calves at the yard. They converted at 5.4 vs. 5.8 lbs. feed/gain on average and scored 97% Choice with 56% CAB at harvest vs. 75% Choice and 24% CAB for other calves at Chappell Feedlot.

    The growth and efficiency are worth $47.11/head more than average. The greater percentage of Choice is worth another $21/head on a $12 Choice-Select spread, and still worth $17/head more with an $8 spread, while the added CAB share is a steady $11/head more. On a relatively high $20 Choice-Select spread, the total advantage for improved genetics adds up to $74.82/head.

    Keep in mind the industry averages are 55% Choice and 18% CAB, and the quality premium advantage would be far greater compared to those levels. Similar comparisons can be made between average cattle and those bred to include more ribeye, muscling and dressing percent. The plainest, commodity-type cattle are simply not good candidates for selling on the grid.

  6. Ultrasound scanning and sorting are excellent guides to grid marketing, as well as efficient feeding. Chappell Feedlot uses these tools to identify optimum end point, minimize discount carcasses, adjust days on feed to optimize profits, identify appropriate marketing program (grid vs. live) and improve feed efficiency.

    Information shared with ranch customers can show differences among individuals in their herds. These include which animals are most and least likely to grade Choice with a favorable yield grade, and which animals gain 3-4 times faster than others in the same calf crop. Fine-tuned selection on the ranch can ensure that future sets of calves are closer to uniform excellence.

Continue on Page 2

  1. Source and age verification go hand in hand with all these practices and ideas. Many feedlots look for such verification; it's relatively easy to begin on the ranch and it adds specific value to calves. In 2008, the premiums ranged from $15-$60/head just for this documentation.

    All these protocols will increase the odds of profitability in calves, and their effects can be combined for greatest impact. When high-quality genetics meet carefully planned and executed management on the ranch, cattle ranching is certainly worth doing for your family, ours and millions of consumers.

Tom Williams is owner/operator of Chappell Feedlot, Chappell, NE (www.chappellfeedlot.com). This article was provided by Certified Angus Beef® LLC.

Table 1. Carcass economics
97% Choice & 56% CAB® 75% Choice & 24% CAB®
CH/SE spread Choice premium $/head CAB® premium $/head Total $/head CH/SE spread Choice premium $/head CAB® premium $/head Total $/head
$8 $29.68 $19.04 $48.72 $8 $22.95 $8.16 $31.11
$12 $44.52 $19.04 $63.56 $12 $34.43 $8.16 $42.59
$15 $55.65 $19.04 $74.60 $15 $43.03 $8.16 $51.19
$20 $74.20 $19.04 $93.24 $20 $57.37 $8.16 $65.53
Industry averages are: 55% Choice and 18% CAB®
Source: Certified Angus Beef