Historically, winter stocker programs offer a better chance of profitability than summer programs.

Winter Grazing Program (Growing Cost — $110/Head)

Fall/Spring 500-lb. Steer
Avg. Price
Oct.-Nov.
750-lb. Steer
Avg. Price
Feb.-March
Total
Revenue
Profit/Loss
Per Head
Breakeven
Per
cwt.
'95/'96 $66.01 $55.56 $416.66 $(23.36) $0.59
'96/'97 $64.81 $68.13 $510.94 $76.90 $0.58
'97/'98 $88.23 $74.67 $560.03 $8.86 $0.73
'98/'99 $76.87 $71.26 $534.45 $40.09 $0.66
'99/'00 $90.71 $84.04 $630.30 $66.75 $0.75
'00/'01 $104.12 $86.25 $646.88 $16.28 $0.84

Summer Grazing Program (Growing Cost — $100/Head)

500-lb. Steer
Avg. Price
Feb.-March
750-lb. Steer
Avg. Price
Sept.-Oct.
Total
Revenue
Profit/Loss
Per Head
Breakeven
Per
cwt.
'95 $83.87 $63.32 $474.90 $(44.45) $69.25
'96 $62.77 $60.88 $456.56 $42.74 $55.18
'97 $80.46 $76.57 $574.24 $71.93 $66.98
'98 $93.39 $66.44 $498.30 $(68.63) $75.59
'99 $87.71 $77.22 $579.15 $40.60 $71.81
'00 $105.45 $85.14 $638.55 $11.29 $83.64
'01 $110.13 $89.25 $669.38 $18.75 $86.75
Source: Cattle-Fax

These charts clearly show that winter stocker programs have provided the best stocker profits the past six years. In fact, that historically holds true over the past two decades.

Winter stocker programs offer the opportunity to buy calves in the fall when supplies are abundant and prices are low — then sell them in the spring in “up” markets when feeders are building supplies for summertime markets.

While High Plains winter wheat pasture is the foundation of winter grazing, California coastal grasses and Southern ryegrass pastures also play heavily in stocker programs. Whatever the source of forage, though, there are risks to winter grazing.

Most important is that the cattle must be bought and placed early enough to take advantage of the full grazing season.

“Once you hit the first of November, the clock is ticking,” says Dave Weaber, Denver, CO, Cattle-Fax research director. “The longer you own the inventory, the better your chances of making a profit.”

If stocker operators can put 250 lbs., on a calf for $.35/lb., they can usually cover their risk and compete with feedyard gains, he says.