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What do Feeders Want?

14 February 2012

Speaking at the NCBA Cattlemen's College, Tom Brink from JBS Five Rivers Cattle Feeding in the US told delegates what he was looking for when purchasing feeder cattle. Healthy, productive animals are a must, writes Charlotte Johnston, TheCattleSite editor.

Value of feeder cattle have reached record highs in 2011, which Mr Brink says has made a more value conscious supply chain.

Asking the audience, of mostly cow-calf producers, whether they would expand their cowherd in the next two years, 72 per cent of the audience said yes, that they would be expanding.

But what do cattle feeders really want from cattle that are brought into the yards?

Cattle with good performance potential

This includes high average daily gains, a low feed to gain ration and a desirable finish weight. Mr Brink said that 30 per cent of the cattle fed do not have the right performance needed today.

Despite huge improvements in the performance of cattle today, compared to 10 to 15 years ago, there is still some way to go, he said.

Economics of size and weight - Is bigger better?

The costs of cattle production are very high for everyone involved in the industry. For feeders, Mr Brinks says that costs have increased by $16 per head.

Asking is bigger better, Mr Brink looks at two yearling fed steers. One (A) finished at 1,225 pounds and the other (B) at 1,350 pounds. Which of these is more profitable, economical and which will create more value for the consumer, he asked.

Both cattle started the same in the feedlot, with similar starting weights, but B end up performing much better. Once moved he gained more weight and had a much better feed conversion ratio. Their health was the same but the performance was dramatically different, said Mr Brink. B's carcase was over 850 pounds, whereas A's carcase weight was 784 pounds. A finished at a liveweight of 1,225 pounds, with B finishing at 1,353 pounds.

Mr Brink says he looking for cattle B. A's performance, he said, is something he would expect to see from a heifer.

With only a 100 pound difference between their live weights, even with corn at $7, Mr Brink said that B has a $50 advantage. There is a benefit to finishing heavier cattle he said.

But what is the ideal finishing weight, he asks.

"Between 1350 to 1400 pounds is what I target," Mr Brink says. If corn prices are lower, then there is an even bigger advantage to finishing heavier cattle.

There is such a thing as an animal that is too heavy, he said. "Once we had a 1800 pound steer in the yard. When it got to this weight we just had to get it sent away, and we do not know how big it could have grown."

This is an issue with late maturing cattle, he said. "We need to find the right genetics that take steers to 1350-1400 pounds."

Does cow size affect steer performance?

Mr Brink highlighted that research from Texas A&M showed that bigger cows produce bigger steers. A rough rule of thumb will be that a mature cow weight is equal to the feedyard finish weight of her steer progeny.

He said that if, as a cow-calf producer, you are using lighter cows for certain reasons, then you must make sure that performance and frame is taken into account when selecting a bull.

Cattle health

Mr Brink said that the number one production problem on feedyards is health.

This is particularly a problem on yearling yards. The impact of health on performance and carcase quality is well documented, said Mr Brink, which makes it important to get it right.

"We have the technology and knowledge to improve cattle health, have them prepared to leave the farm or ranch in a healthy state - however implementation of this knowledge is lacking.

"Many cattle still need stronger immunity when they leave home," he said. "A health programme is critical."

Mike Murphy from Cattlefax said that the majority of feeders will pay a premium for cattle that have a vaccination programme in place. Therefore certification is very important.

Breed composition

Mr Brink believes that the ideal feeder animal consists of 50 to 75 per cent Angus, 25-50 per cent continental and 25 per cent or less other breeds.

The continental breed will bring in leaner, more muscular cattle and are often easier to handle, he said.

Using the best genetics available would improve a lot of cattle, said Mr Brink.

He said whatever breed is in use, cow-calf producers should ask themselves why they are using this breed and what does it bring to the table?

Having the correct breeding composition will improve uniformity.

Smaller groups of cattle are not as valuable, he said. "Larger groups always fetch more money, and feedyards will pay for convenience," Mr Brink told the audience.

Cow-calf producers should aim to create more valuable feeder cattle, he concluded. This can be done through getting the right breeding composition and genetics in place, ensuring animal health programmes are in place, minimising post weaning stress, producing uniform animals and implementing a value added programme.

February 2012

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