“A lot of times in this business, it isn’t about the money you can make, but the money you can save,” says Gary Fritsch of Fritsch Cattle Co., Willow Springs, TX.
That starts with how Gary and his sons – Brad, Ryan and Todd – procure cattle for their backgrounding operation.
Fritsch and his sons cover 25-30 auction sales each week, within 200 miles. “A lot of the time we’re trying to buy our profit on the front end,” Ryan says. “We buy the holes in the market.” That means bringing in high-risk flyweight calves weighing 200 lbs., feeders that press the scales to 900 lbs., and everything in between.
“The cattle usually only stick around here 30-45 days,” Ryan explains. “We get the sickness knocked out of them, and then we’ll send them to the feedlot.”
Gary says they retain ownership through finishing because straightening out cattle effectively is so time-intensive and costly. They’d give away too much of the opportunity they’ve created otherwise.
“The cattle we get haven’t been taken care of very well,” Ryan says. “In our area, people don’t vaccinate, they don’t castrate – we buy about 80% bull calves. When we get them, we treat each one like a jewel, as individuals rather than groups. Every calf is put on the best feed, water and vaccination program we can provide.”
Incidentally, this crew is a stickler on water. Gary reckons it’s the cheapest input besides being one of the most important. They clean water troughs every week.
Cattle here graze oat and ryegrass pasture in the fall; Coastal and common bermudagrass in the spring and summer. Cattle receive free-choice feed, too – corn and byproducts such as rice bran and cottonseed hulls.
Much of what the Fritsches do from the time calves arrive until they leave is geared toward decreasing cattle stress and increasing cattle comfort.
For instance, this part of the world is lousy with horn flies, considered to be the most costly fly problem. A stack of studies peg losses due to these blood-suckers at 10-25 lbs./head for stockers – easily 0.1-0.2 lbs. of reduced average daily gain. Never mind the pinkeye they help spread or the castration wounds they help infect.
Ryan equates it to how you’d feel unprotected amid a swarm of mosquitoes. “It’s the same with these cattle and flies. When flies are around their eyes or nose, and a calf is constantly switching its tail and kicking, that keeps them away from feed. You want that calf gaining weight and putting money in your pocket every day you own him.”
That’s one reason the Fritsch crew switched from fly tags to a quick-kill pour-on that represents the newest pyrethroid compound (StandGuard®). “The flies disappear as soon as you put it on them,” Ryan says.
Plus, Gary and his sons like the cost-effectiveness of a low-dose application, especially considering the relatively short period of time each set of cattle resides here. “When you’re running volume, 2¢, 3¢, 5¢ makes a big difference,” Gary says.
It’s all part of focusing as much on potential loss as potential gain. “I can live with the slow $20 profit, but I can’t live with the fast $200 loss,” Gary says.