Cow-calf producers can capture premium calf prices by marketing uniform truckload lots. Ranchers with smaller herds are increasingly forming marketing coops to gain the ability to offer uniform calves in truckload quantities. Regardless of the operation size, calf uniformity is sought in breed, size, color, and conformation. Even with good genetics, a few calves will be born each year that are smaller than the rest, the wrong color, have conformation defects or just look different. How are you going to market these calves that don’t fit the rest of the herd?
Other cattle that require special marketing attention are culls and sick or injured cattle. How are you going to handle these animals.
Calves That Don’t Fit
“Classing cattle into uniform sale lots is not new; sale yards have done this for many years,” says Ron Torell, Nevada Cooperative Extension. “Sorting calves at the ranch, prior to marketing, increases profitability without increasing costs. Many ranches sell all their calves as one group, which results in a variable and non-uniform lot.
“Five hundred pound or larger calves have different post-ranch feed and growth requirements than four hundred to five hundred weight calves,” continues Torell. “Four hundred pound and lighter calves also have different post ranch requirements than the heavier weight groups. Different buyers are going to be interested in different weight cattle and will purchase calves that fit their specific goals and feed resources. Sold separately, each weight group will demand a premium if marketed at the correct time of year with conditions specific to the buyers’ needs.”
Slipping misfits into a sorted group of cattle will result in a better price for the “junk” calves, but will lower the overall value for the total lot. This tactic will also erode the seller’s reputation among buyers. Sell non-uniform calves separately at the local livestock auction.
Cull Cows and Bulls
“Cull cows represent 10 to 20 percent of the gross revenue on a cow-calf operation in an average year,” says Dr. Ron Gill, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. “Informed marketing, rather than simply selling, can add income from cull cow and bull sales. When factors affecting value are understood, culls can be marketed to take advantage of seasonal trends and fluctuations in cow condition. Factors affecting value are sale weight, body condition, muscling, quality and blemishes, all of which can be managed at the ranch to add value to the culls. Cull cow value is based on percent lean meat yield and live weight.”
Cows are graded into four broad categories – Canner, Cutter, Utility and Commercial. Canners are thin, emaciated cows which have lost muscle mass due to poor nutrition or health. Cutters are thin to moderate in flesh. Little muscle mass has been lost but no excess condition is being carried. Cows grading Utility carry higher levels of condition. Utility is a fat cow grade and is further divided into Boning and Breaking classifications. Cow tenders, strips and top rounds are often taken from cows grading Boning Utility.
“Breaking Utility cows have sufficient marbling and muscling for the primal cuts, particularly those from the rib and loin,” says Gill. “Using Breaking Utility carcasses outside the ground meat trade greatly increases the value of these cows. Cows that will grade Breaking Utility are very difficult, if not impossible, to determine before processing. It is not practical to manage cows with the goal of producing Breaking Utility grade.”
To maximize value, consider adding weight to thin cull cattle before selling. This is particularly valuable when cows are a body condition score (BCS) of 3 or lower at culling. High quality forage efficiently replenishes cow muscle mass. Extremely old cows may not gain as efficient as younger cows. Target a BCS of 5 for light muscled cows and a BCS of 5 to 6 for heavier muscled cows.
Gill recommends culling old cows before they lose their teeth, decline in body condition and fail to breed. Besides having lower cull weight and value, such cows have probably weaned lighter calves than the younger cows for at least two years.
Sell cows before they become fat at a BCS of 8 or 9. Fat cows are discounted for low lean yield regardless of their potential to classify as Breaking Utility. Cull cow prices are normally lowest in October and November. If possible, consider marketing between February and September when fewer cattle are available for processing.
“Consider cull cows as a valuable asset and handle them as such,” says Gill. “Bruising is a major problem with cull cows. Most bruises are caused by rough handling and hauling from the time they are sorted at the ranch until they are processed at the packing plant.”
Sick and Injured Animals
“Never transport an animal that cannot stand and walk on their own,” says John Maas, DVM, MS, University of California, Davis. “Animals unable to stand should not be subject to further stress or transportation. Allow them treatment and/or time to recover. If that is not possible, arrange to have the animal humanely euthanized.”
Other types of cattle that fit in the ‘do not transport category’ include cattle that are emaciated, weak, dehydrated or exhausted. Additionally, cattle should not be transported if they appear to be dying, are suspected to have or have a confirmed nervous system disease, have a rectal temperature greater than 103 degrees Fahrenheit or cattle with uterine prolapse, hernia or open wounds.
“Some cattle, not in the best of health, can be humanely transported with special treatment or precautions,” says Maas. “These provisions include extra bedding, loading in the rear compartment, separation from other animals, penning with familiar animals and any other procedures that will make transportation less stressful and more comfortable. Some of the conditions that might qualify animals for this category include bloat, blindness in both eyes, penis injuries in bulls, rectal or vaginal prolapses, frostbite, amputee or class 1 lameness. Class 1 is cattle visibly lame but able to keep up with the group. Other cattle that fit this category include those that have given birth within the previous 48 hours or still recovering from surgery such as dehorning, castration or Caesarian section. Cattle with these types of problems should usually be transported to the nearest available processing establishment; however, call the processor to learn whether the animals will be accepted.”
Water belly steers and Class 2 lame cattle should be transported to a veterinarian for treatment and/or surgery. Class 2 lameness is when cattle are unable to keep up with the herd. Other cattle that are very sick can be transported directly to a diagnostic laboratory for humane euthanasia and post mortem exam.
There are marketing options for most cattle “that don’t fit.” Sorting these types of cattle from the herd and selling them separately provides an opportunity to sell the uniform calves for a premium.