Current Progressive Cattle digital edition

Learn from feeder calf buyers

Robert Fears for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 October 2018
Vaccinateing calves

Cow-calf producers can easily become complacent with their type of cattle and management style. Complacency, however, sometimes prevents the capture of premium prices for feeder calves.

Regardless of the number of calves sold at a time, it is always beneficial to visit feedyards and with order buyers to learn the type of calves they like to buy.

“Individual producers can control some of the price variation at auctions and other market outlets by following sound market and management practices. It is very important to market the types of calves buyers demand,” says Jason Cleere, Ph.D., with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. “Successful producers develop management and marketing strategies that will ensure premiums for their calf crop.”


“Health is our number one buying criteria,” says Kyle Williams, general manager of Lubbock Feeders. “We want healthy calves because sick calves don’t produce weight gains that make us money. Producers need to administer vaccines such as seven-way pasteurella and five-way respiratory disease vaccines to their calves at least two to six weeks prior to shipping.

We give animals these shots when they arrive at the feedyard, but that is usually too late to prevent sickness.”

Data from Texas A&M University’s Ranch to Rail program show that sick cattle, in addition to being more of a mortality risk, also have higher medical costs, reduced feed efficiency, reduced carcass quality and lower net returns than cattle that remained healthy during the feeding period. Thus, discounts for sick or high-risk cattle can be severe.

“We look for healthy as well as quality calves,” states Dale Moore, owner and general manager of Cattleman’s Choice Feedyard in Gage, Oklahoma. “It is important calves are given their shots, and we prefer that they have been weaned for 35 to 40 days prior to shipment. If cattle are going to get sick, they will do so within this period. Otherwise, deliver them to us right off the cow and we will take the necessary steps to keep them healthy.”

Jim Schwertner, who manages the livestock portion of his family’s Capitol Land and Livestock Co., says it is possible to alter management practices so top dollar is obtained for cattle through traditional marketing processes.

Capitol Land and Livestock Co. is one of the largest livestock dealers in the U.S. with 25 full-time buyers covering Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. Purchased cattle are shipped daily to the company’s central facilities in Schwertner, Texas. Upon arrival, they are promptly sorted and resold in uniform truckload lots to feedlots and backgrounders. Cattle are shipped from the facilities within a 24-hour period after arrival.

“In our business, you quickly learn which management practices return sales premiums,” says Schwertner. “For instance, steer calves usually bring a nickel more per pound than bull calves. If a veterinarian issues a written certification that calves have been weaned properly, those animals will sell for an additional 7 to 10 dollars per hundredweight.

Pens of calves of similar age and size sell for more money

The certification requires a weaning period of 45 days and vaccinations at 2 to 4 months of age for IBR, PI-3, BVD, BRSV, pasteurella and seven clostridial diseases including blackleg. A wormer treatment is also required. Calves that are age verified bring an additional 5 cents per pound.”

Docility, acclimation and nutrition

“Calves that have been handled with low-stress techniques are preferred,” Williams says. “When a bunch of wild cattle are unloaded, we know they won’t finish well. Wild cattle are also more prone to get sick than those handled under low stress.”

“One of the primary objectives of our breeding program is docility,” says Daniel Boone, general manager of the San Pedro Ranch near Carrizo Springs, Texas.

“We have learned that gentle cattle gain better and often sell for a higher price than wild cattle, so we cull flighty, nervous animals. It is not uncommon to obtain a 40- to 60-dollar premium on a docile animal sold through traditional marketing channels. Our employees are trained to use low-stress cattle handling techniques not only to avoid weight loss, but to also prevent bruising. Our working facilities are designed to create a smooth flow of cattle without causing them stress.”

“Cattle acclimated to the area in which they are fed produce the good weight gains,” says James (Jay) Gray Jr., general manager of Graham Land and Cattle Co. near Gonzales, Texas. “I prefer cattle that are one-quarter to three-eighth parts Brahman for their heat tolerance and external parasite resistance. I also want cattle that will grade Choice.”

Williams feels that a good nutrition program plays a large role in healthy calf production. Graze your cattle on high-quality pastures, and give supplement concentrate to calves after weaning. Feeding supplement trains young cattle to eat from a trough and prepares them for the feedyard. Free-choice mineral and abundant, clean, fresh water are also necessary in the development of healthy calves.

“Keep records of your production practices and share them with buyers,” states Williams. “You may not receive extra premiums, but we strive to buy calves repeatedly from producers who practice good husbandry. It is our desire to build solid business relationships with suppliers whose calves perform well on feed. Lubbock Feeders will always pay competitive prices.”

Type and quality

“Producers have favorite cattle breeds and colors,” says Cleere. “When the product is beef calves for feedyards, however, we need to design our breeding program to produce what customers are buying. Although prices received for cattle based on breed, breed combinations or type are not always warranted, buyers normally pay the premiums for their desired animals. This is regardless of whether their choices make sense to the producer.”

“We want calves that will grade upper Choice, and we will seek producers who can deliver that type of animal,” Moore says. “Cow-calf producers should buy bulls with the ability to sire good-quality calves. Cull female animals with poor conformation that deliver calves with low-grade carcasses. Several of our suppliers were delivering average-type calves until they learned that higher- quality animals obtain higher prices. They initiated herd improvement programs, and after four or five years, they began receiving an average 100-dollar-per-head premiums.”

“Suppliers who deliver calves that show good feed efficiency and weight gain have an opportunity to become one of our preferred suppliers,” Moore continues. “We gladly provide performance data to suppliers when it is requested, hoping it is used to evaluate herd genetics and production practices.”

Market your calves for better prices by getting to know your customers. It is important to build good relationships and deliver the product they want.  end mark

PHOTO 1: Vaccinate calves for pasteurella and respiratory diseases at two to six weeks prior to shipment.

PHOTO 2: Pens of calves of similar age and size sell for more money than odd lots. Photos by Robert Fears.

Robert Fears is a freelance writer based in Georgetown, Texas. Email Robert Fears