Submitted to: Professional Animal Scientist
Publication Type: Peer reviewed journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/27/2008
Publication Date: 8/1/2008
Citation: Kruse, R.E., Tess, M.W., Grings, E.E., Short, R.E., Heitschmidt, R.K., Phillips, W.A., Mayeux, H.S. 2008. Evaluation of Beef Cattle Operations Utilizing Different Seasons of Calving, Weaning Strategies, Post-weaning Management, and Retained Ownership. Professional Animal Scientist 24(4):319-327. Interpretive Summary: Timing of calving can affect the synchrony between the nutrient dynamics in forage and nutrient requirements of beef cows, producing large effects on inputs and outputs from a rangeland-based cow-calf production system. Feed cost is one of the most important variables that influence profit in a production system and has been reported at approximately 70% of the total cost of raising beef cows. Feed costs are highly related to weaning dates and calving earlier in the year may increase weaning weights. An optimal calving season balances outputs and inputs to maximize profit. Several management and marketing alternatives exist for weaned calves. Postweaning management/marketing decisions can greatly affect the ranks of alternative calving seasons. Because few large finishing or harvesting facilities are located in the Northern Great Plains, an important part of postweaning management and marketing for ranches in this region includes when and where to finish calves prior to harvest. The USDA-ARS conducted a large multi-regional experiment to evaluate the timing of calving in combination with several postweaning management/marketing scenarios. The objective of this study was to evaluate the economic performance of production/marketing systems studied in this project. Specifically, our objective was to evaluate late winter, early spring, and late spring calving in Montana in combination with backgrounding and finishing steer calves in Montana or Oklahoma. For producers in the Northern Great Plains with resources similar to those available in this study, late spring calving offers promise as a means to increase profit. The decision to retain ownership of steer calves past weaning should consider several variables, especially the value of calves at weaning, expected costs of gain, and expected market prices at the end of the feeding period. Transportation and feed costs are critical variables affecting the costs of gain in retained ownership enterprises.
Technical Abstract: Production data from a 3-yr study conducted at Fort Keogh Livestock and Range Research Laboratory near Miles City, MT were utilized to evaluate impacts of season of calving, weaning strategy, post-weaning management of replacement heifers, and retained ownership of steer calves on enterprise profitability. Calving seasons evaluated were late winter (LW; average = Feb 8), early spring (ES; average = Apr 5), or late spring (LS; average = May 31). Each calving season had two weaning times: 190 (LW190, ES190) or 240 (LW240, ES240) d for LW and ES, and 140 (LS140) or 190 (LS190) d for LS. Replacement heifers were either 1) fed a diet based on corn-silage and hay intended to produce a constant rate of gain, or 2) managed to maximize use of forage and produce a more segmented growth pattern. Backgrounding options included shipping steers to the Grazinglands Research Laboratory near El Reno, OK (OK1), or backgrounding in MT to a constant age (MT2) or weight (MT3). Steers from OK1 and MT2 were finished in OK in confinement (C) or via a self-feeder on pasture (P) and harvested in TX. Steers in MT3 were finished in MT in C and harvested in CO. Production systems were modeled by year to characterize each possible combination of factors. Economic performance of each system was based on actual animal performance, market prices, and variable input costs. Heifer development strategy did not significantly affect economic performance. When calves were sold at weaning gross margins (gross returns minus variable costs) per cow were greatest for LS190 (P < 0.05) and lowest for LW240. During backgrounding, costs of gain were similar among cow-calf systems, while gross margins per steer were greatest for LS140, but not different among backgrounding systems. During finishing, costs of gain were greatest for steers from MT2 due to transportation costs to OK, and gross margin per steer favored MT3. Gross margin for a ranch enterprise with a fixed land base did not differ among cow-calf systems if calves were sold at weaning, but was greatest for LS systems after backgrounding or finishing (P < 0.05). For producers in the Northern Great Plains with resources similar to those available in this study, late spring calving offers promise as a means to increase profit. The decision to retain ownership of steer calves past weaning should consider several variables, especially the value of calves at weaning, expected costs of gain, and expected market prices at the end of the feeding period.