How Do Your Calves Measure Up? Back »

This article was written collaboratively by Julie Walker and Warren Rusche.


Weaning is fast approaching, and with that comes an evaluation of the calf crop. Some ranchers elect to sell calves at weaning which, for many, is the best decision, depending on feed and facility resources and the availability of labor and management. One disadvantage of that marketing method is that too often there is very little feedback as to the feedlot performance and carcass characteristics of the calf crop. As systems are put into place in the feedlot and packing sectors, it is becoming easier for the next customer in the chain (feedlots) to track and benchmark the prior history of a ranch’s calves. In that case the advantage goes to the party with the most information. The question becomes, can a cow/calf producer afford to know less about their calves than a buyer does?

To help South Dakota ranchers increase their understanding of the performance potential of their calf crop, the Calf Value Discovery (CVD) project was initiated. Former SDSU Extension Feedlot Specialist Dr. John Wagner started the Calf Value Discovery Program (Retained Ownership Program) several years ago and many producers have used this program to gain knowledge about their calf crop. Understanding how your cattle perform can provide you with more management options upon weaning with changing conditions.

Feed costs and weather conditions have influenced the profitability of calves enrolled in the Calf Value Discovery program. In table 1, you can see the averages for the pen performance (feedlot and carcass) for the last two years. The difference between the most and least profitable animals was $635.59 and $774.60 in years 2011/2012 and 2012/2013, respectively. Average daily gains and carcass characteristics were similar between the two years. Feed efficiencies and dressing percentages were better in 2011/2012 compared to the year before. That’s not surprising considering that weather conditions during the spring of 2013 were much less favorable than the in 2012.

Table 1. Overall performance and carcass characteristics of cattle enrolled in CVD.

Item
2011/2012 year
2012/2013 year
Days on Feed
201
201
Live Weight, lb
D 0
569
589
Final
1,245
1,249
ADG, lb/d
3.37
3.40
DMI, lb/d
20.2
22.1
F:G
6.01
6.51
HCW, lb
795
777
Dressing, %
63.8
62.2
12-th rib fat thickness, in.
0.46
0.37
Rib eye area, in2
13.0
13.0
Marbling Scorea
422
416
Yield Grade
2.50
2.64
Quality Grade Distribution
Number (Percent)
Number (Percent)
Prime
2 (0.8)
 
Choice
159 (66.3)
102 (56.0)
Select
76 (31.7)
72 (39.6)
No roll
3 (1.3)
5 (4.9)
Others
 
3 (1.6)

a Marbling Score: 300-399 = Slight, 400-499 = Small, 500-599 = Modest.

Producers from South Dakota and Minnesota consigned a total of 244 calves in 2011/2012 and 184 calves in 2012/2013. The number of animals consigned by producers ranged from 5 to 73 head. In-dates were November 8th and 9th, 2011 and October 23rd and 24th, 2012. Cattle were fed a finishing diet based on high moisture ground ear corn, modified wet distillers grains, and corn silage as a group in a single pen. Cattle were visually evaluated for degree of finish and sold in semi-load lots when deemed to have approximately 0.4 inches of backfat. Slaughter dates were May 11, June 1 and 15, 2012 (184, 205, and 219 days on feed, respectively) and May 3, June 17 and 29, 2013 (190, 204, and 217 days on feed, respectively). Animals were sold on a quality/yield grid at Tyson Fresh Meats, (Dakota City, NE). To estimate what factors were associated with feeding performance or profit and quality grade for calves that finished the CVD program, calves were divided into thirds based on profit. Profit equals carcass value minus beginning calf value and feedlot costs. Table 2 contains the data from 2011/2012 CVD and Table 3 has 2012/2013 information.

Table 2. Feedlot performance and carcass characteristics of steers enrolled in the 2011/2012 SD CVD program according to profit groups.

 
Profit Group
 
High
Middle
Low
In Weight, lb
597
573
536
Out Weight, lb
1318
1242
1175
HCW, lb
851
793
740
Dressing, %
64.6%
63.9%
63.0%
Weight Gained, lb
721
669
639
ADG, lb
3.62
3.36
3.14
% Choice or Higher
90.0%
67.5%
45.0%
% Higher 2/3 Choice
30.0%
12.5%
3.8%
% Prime
2.5%
0.0%
0.0%
% YG 1 & 2
56.2%
41.2%
40.0%
% YG 4 & 5
0.0%
2.5%
11.2%
Ave Rib Eye, in2
13.8
13.1
12.1
Ave Marbling Scorea
464
409
392
Ave Backfat, in
0.47
0.47
0.46
% Treated
6.3%
8.8%
26.2%
Treatment Cost, $/hd
2.48
2.80
11.1
Profit, $/hd
$133.56
$42.64
($48.29)
 
N=80
N=80
N=80

a Marbling Score: 300-399 = Slight, 400-499 = Small, 500-599 = Modest.

Table 3. Feedlot performance and carcass characteristics of steers enrolled in the 2012/2013 SD CVD program according to profit groups.

 
Profit Group
 
High
Middle
Low
In Weight, lb
617
549
532
Out Weight, lb
1303
1236
1208
HCW, lb
826
771
736
Dressing, %
63.4%
62.4%
61.0%
Weight Gained, lb
687
687
676
ADG, lb
3.61
3.36
3.22
% Choice or Higher
82.5%
65.5%
21.1%
% Higher 2/3 Choice
22.8%
8.6%
1.8%
% Prime
0.0%
0.0%
0.0%
% YG 1 & 2
63.2%
70.7%
61.4%
% YG 4 & 5
0.0%
3.4%
3.5%
Ave Rib Eye, in2
13.7
12.9
12.4
Ave Marbling Scorea
463
414
374
Ave Backfat, in
0.42
0.37
0.35
% Treated
12.2%
17.2%
12.3%
Treatment Cost, $/hd
2.88
3.68
4.51
Profit, $/hd
$95.68
($79.81)
($225.54)
 
N=57
N=58
N=57

a Marbling Score: 300-399 = Slight, 400-499 = Small, 500-599 = Modest.

Other than feed efficiency, the performance of the cattle was similar between the two years (Table 1). However, what are differences between profit groups? The high profit group had heavier out weights, heavier hot carcass weight, and more choice or higher carcasses. The cattle that made money gained faster and produced heavier carcasses that avoided discounts. You may be asking why the differences between years in profitability. The simple answer is higher feed costs; average total feedlot costs were $565.31 in 2011/2012 and $671.11 in 2012/2013.

No matter when you sell your calves, it’s important to understand how they perform post-weaning. It affects your bottomline. Cattle buyers bid according to how they believe the cattle will perform. The CVD program allows producers to enroll a minimum of 5 head into the program with an enrollment fee of $20/hd. You will be provided feedlot performance and carcass characteristic at harvest.


For more information about the program please contact either SDSU Extension Beef Specialist Julie Walker at 605.688.5458 or SDSU Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialist Warren Rusche at 605.882.5140.

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