It’s no secret that production costs are rising sharply for the cow-calf producer. You name it - feed, fertilizer, fuel, transportation, etc. - and it has gone up tremendously over the past year. But calf prices have remained stable if not down slightly. It is now more important than ever for producers, large or small, to find ways to add value to their calves and make their operation more profitable.

Some of you may be getting ready to work your spring born calves. Some of you may not do anything until you wean and load them on the trailer to take to the sale. And while you or an individual producer cannot influence the market prices, you can control some of the price variation at the auction and other market outlets by following sound management practices. Marketing the types of calves buyers demand could make the difference in a profit or loss.

Breeds

Beef cattle breeds and crosses have been, and always will be a topic of discussion as to which is the highest performing and have the highest demand on the market. We’ll leave that topic for another time and focus on what you can do as a producer to make your cattle more profitable.

Calving Season

The calving season and length of breeding season determine when to sell a weaned calf. In Texas we basically have two calving seasons, fall and spring. Calves born in the spring (January - March) generally cost less to produce and will be 25 to 50 pounds heavier than fall born calves (September - November). However, the disadvantage of a spring calving season is calves are usually sold during the fall when the market is lower.

Body Condition

An Oklahoma study found thin cattle received discounts of $9 - $10 per cwt when compared to cattle of average condition, and that fat cattle received discounts of $6 - $10 per cwt.

Breed & Color

Color (red, black, yellow etc.), which is influenced by breed, has very little effect on feeder prices. However, prices for spotted cattle are typically lower than those for solid color patterns. An Arkansas study indicated a $10 - per - cwt discount for spotted cattle.

Gender

 Even though we cannot control the gender of our calves without using high dollar sexed semen, we can castrate our bull calves to receive a higher price. Steers typically command the higher price, followed by bulls and then heifers. Heifers in the 400 to 500 pound range will be priced at $7 to $10 less per cwt than steers, while bulls will be discounted $3 to $6 per cwt when compared to steers.

Dehorning

 In the feedlot, horned cattle require more bulk space, can cause bruises that lower carcass value, and are a safety concern for people. Discounts for calves with horns are usually about $2 per cwt and can be avoided easily. Castration and dehorning should be done before 4 months of age to minimize stress and risk.

Growth Implants

 An implant costs about $1.00. Implanting suckling calves will increase daily weight gain by 0.10 to 0.14 pounds (Selk,1997) and weaning weight by 20 to 25 pounds. However, implanting heifers intended for replacements does not benefit production or profit, so it is not recommended.

Parasite Control

 Calves are more susceptible to internal and external parasites than adult cattle and managing these parasites can add additional pounds of weaning weight. Texas field trails indicate that de-worming nursing calves along with their dams in the spring can increase daily weight gain in calves by 0.1 to 0.2 pounds (Wikseetal, 1998). This increases weaning weights by 25 pounds for a cost of only $3.50 to de-worm each cow-calf pair.

Controlling external parasites also improves weaning weights. At an infestation rate of more than 250 flies per animal, controlling horn flies on cows and calves has added 15 to 20 pounds of weaning weight.

These are just a few of the practices you can follow to avoid discounts at the market. If you would like more information about proper management practices or would like to develop a management plan fit your operation, contact your County Extension Office at 254/897-2809 or j-blanek@tamu.edu.