May 10, 2012 - Spring calving operations are common in Texas, and as simple as it may seem, there are several details that must be considered managing the operation. A plan of action, including marketing, how to handle calves and cows and the future of the herd are all important considerations.
"Some marketing goes into all of this," said Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation Livestock Consultant Bryan Nichols. "This is something that you need to have worked out quite a ways a head of time."
One of the first questions operators have to ask themselves before they start calving is: "How are we going to treat these calves when we get them? Are we going to keep them are we going to sell them directly? Are we going to do implanting?"
"Implants works, the definitely do, but does it fit into your market plan?" Nichols asked. "If you are selling natural calves, they cant have an implant. So, we have to know what our plan is. Know your marketing plan for how you want to deal with these calves in the future."
If an operator decides to keep calves, then preconditioning is often suggested if they have the means available. According to Nichols, the cost is worth the profit in most cases.
"Most of the time, it is going to return, and average return would be about $10 a hundredweight or something like that," he said. "If you can make $10 to $15 a hundredweight, you are doing pretty good."
Preconditioning requires time, money for feed and vaccinations, as well as facilities that will allow the calves to be weaned in a low-stress environment.
"We are going to wean those calves and then we are going to keep them for a period of at least 45 days to get them broke to a bunk, and get them used to being away from momma," Nichols said. "We are going to have to have them in front of long-stem hay -- that is what they have been used to. They need free-choice hay, good quality hay, fresh water and shade. Especially around these parts -- it gets hot -- they need shade. If they don't have the necessities, then they get stressed and they don't gain any weight."
Usually, an operator who is preconditioning calves is going to give them some supplemental feed. It is going to be pretty high quality, about 16 percent protein 70 percent TDN (total digestible nutrients).
"It is going to allow them to gain, hopefully about two pounds a day," Nichols explained.
Preconditioned calves are not going to shrink as much when the operator takes them to the sale barn like they most likely would when they are stripped off of the cow and taken directly to the sale.
"Plus people like these cattle because they don't get sick when they buy them," Nichols continued. "These stocker operators, they like cows that don't get sick, that is more money in their pockets when they don't get calves that need a whole lot of shots."
Regardless of preconditioning, one of the most important things about taking calves to sell is to have a good relationship with the sale barn personnel.
"If I have a local sale barn that I am going to be going to, then call the guy up talk to him," Nichols suggested. "Tell him what you have got, see when cattle are selling best, see what the markets are doing. When is the best time for me to bring my cattle? If I am stripping my calves right off of the cow, bring them in the morning as close to when they are selling as you can. These are things only you can know by talking to somebody."
It is also important to provide the sale barn with information about the cattle.
"If you have cattle that have been vaccinated, they have been preconditioned, they have a bunch of money put into them, if you take them to the sale barn and you don't tell them all this you are not going to see any benefit from it," Nichols said. "So you have got to communicate all this to them. If you have used bulls that are in the top 20 percent for EPDs for weaning weight tell them that because that is worth money."
Finally an operator should always watch their cattle sell.
"Watch your cattle sell, see who is bidding on them, see who the order buyers are that are bidding on them. Then you can kind of build a relationship with those guys too," Nichols suggested.
Watching cattle sell can also be vital because while the operator is only worried about their couple of head going through the pen, the sale barn personnel can sometimes have more than 1,000 head to run and mistakes can be made.
"Things can happen at sale barns that aren't easily explained," Nichols laughed. "I have taken cattle to the sale barn before dropped them off went in watched everything sell. All the small calves are going through, all the good cattle are going through but I never saw mine go through. So I had to say, 'did you forget about some cattle back there?' You don't want them to forget -- cows get lost back in the pen some times."
Before the calves have hit the ground, it is important to implement a marketing plan and know what the future of those calves will be. An operator needs to know who they are selling to -- natural producers, feedlots, stocker operations -- and then they need to decide how they are going to treat their calves, strip them and sell directly or precondition them. Finally, when it is all said and done, they need to be sure to communicate with the personnel in the sale barn to make sure that their cattle are represented properly and, of course, that they actually make it through the sale pen.