What are some common mistakes made by cow/calf producers? Dr. Tom Troxel would rather describe them as missed opportunities.
“Mistakes sounds negative,” the associate director of the University of Arkansas Department of Animal Science told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor.
Among those missed opportunities is the failure to castrate bull calves.
“Some producers have the perception that if they don’t castrate their bull calves, they’ll have a higher weight at weaning time than steer calves,” Troxel said. “We just completed a trial at the University of Arkansas where we castrated bull calves at birth and we found out that at weaning time bull calves, and steer calves did not have any difference in weaning weights. Bulls are discounted compared to steers, so by not castrating the bull calves they’re taking a severe discount at selling time.”
He said producers who do castrate bull calves, but don’t implant them, are missing another opportunity. “Growth implants have been around for 50 to 60 years,” he said. “They’re very, very safe, and generally what we see is a return of $20 on that $1 investment. It increases gain by 5 to 6 percent, or about 20 pounds, so that would be a tremendous return on their investment in the marketplace today.”
The myth here is that buyers discount implanted cattle, but Troxel said a new study involving 2 million head of cattle indicates that is not the case.
On the reproductive side, Troxel said producers would benefit from a short, defined breeding season, rather than leaving their bulls in with the cows year round. A 75- to 90-day breeding season would let producers better organize their time and labor, match up the nutrient requirements of their cows to the quality of their grass, and better market their calves because they would be more uniform to sell in groups. Having all the calves at the same age would also make it easier to work them. And he recommended producers have their forage tested, so they know its nutrient value and can calculate the best, least-cost ration to balance the nutrients with the cows’ needs.
University of Missouri Regional Livestock Specialist Eldon Cole said producers need to better coordinate the quality of feed with the cattle receiving it.
“Many of them run their spring calving and fall calving cows together, maybe with some heifers that they’re just getting ready to breed,” Cole told OFN. “They cannot do a good job of matching the feed quality that they have with the nutrient needs of those various classes of cattle.”
He said producers aren’t managing forage well, and would be better off harvesting it at an earlier stage of maturity, when it has more nutritional value.
“You shouldn’t just look at how many bales you can wrap up,” Cole said.
He added that many small producers do not take advantage of improved genetics. To them, bulls are “just bulls,” and their owners know nothing about their background, their genetic makeup and whether they can pass on favorable traits like calving ease, good growth or carcass merit.
“Following right along with that is the failure for more people to artificially inseminate their cattle,” he said. “Right now it looks like we only have about 10 percent of our commercial cattle bred AI. We have heat synchronization programs now where we don’t have to watch them real closely several times a day; we can set them up for a timed artificial insemination, and where we realistically should get about 50 percent bred one time through the chute, maybe up into the 60s. We’d like to think we can get 65 percent or better when they are all timed AI.”
Why don’t producers do these things?
“They don’t go to enough Extension meetings,” Cole laughed. “They look at a cow herd, especially if they just have one bull and small acreage, and think, ‘If I make a little money on it, good, but I’m not out here striving to be the very best.’ I think they need a little more attitude adjustment and to look at this as, ‘Maybe I can make a little more money if I invest in this technology.’ But not everybody is going to buy into some of the technological things that are out there; some feel like they wouldn’t make them much more money and are a lot of trouble. They think it’s just an expense, but it can be an investment towards producing a better feeder calf or market animal.”