“The less grass you have and the more you have to feed and move cattle around, the tougher it makes it,” says John West of West Farm at Centerville, TN.

That’s one reason he’s always willing to rethink management practices and technology in his cow-calf and stocker operation.

John, his son Ben, and his brother Jeffrey buy calves locally to blend with those they raise, mostly aiming for the June-August market. They market calves in load-lots at around 800 lbs. via a video board sale established years ago by the Lower Middle Tennessee Cattle Association. West Farm typically retains ownership through the feedyard on a couple of sets of calves each year.

“Anything you can do keeping these calves eating and drinking will go a long way toward getting them straightened out,” John explains. That’s one reason he started mass-treating the highest risk calves on arrival.

Once the cattle are straight, he exploits every opportunity to add cost-effective gain. Stocker calves here are backgrounded on native fescue-clover pastures, soy hulls and a high-fat liquid supplement. He can access distillers grains, but high sulfur levels in the soil prevent their use.

“We’ve implanted cattle for a long time, too,” John says. “You figure the cost is a little over $1 and the return is about 20 to 1. It’s the easiest thing you can do to make $20 on a calf.”

Even with something that foolproof, though, John points out there are still ways to increase efficiency. When studies came out about implant-site abscesses robbing implant effectiveness, the Wests started disinfecting needles. “Eventually, Component® with Tylan® came out. We knew that had to help clean up the implant site, so we switched to it three or four years ago,” he says.

There are just too many challenges to forego proven management and technology, especially when there continues to be so much stocker opportunity.

“The feedlot just isn’t a good place to bring a fat, bawling, 300-lb. calf, and producers, especially in the East, have consistently proven they’re not going to wean a calf,” West says. “Someone has to take the calves, get them straightened out and ready for the feedlot.”