Alternative for Beef Calves During Crop Harvest Season

October - December 2002

Perry Beedle III , Pottawattamie county extension education director


Each year beef cow/calf producers in the county are faced with the decision of when to wean their calves. While research data indicates that weaning early has the advantages of allowing the calf to express his genetic potential to the fullest degree and conserves body condition on the mother cow, there is still the dilemma of taking care of newly weaned calves during the busy harvest season. In most cases, the beef cowherd has a lower priority for attention than corn and beans that are ready to harvest. As a result, many producers leave the calves with the cows until the majority of the grain harvest is complete. At best, calves hold their own during this six to eight week period and cows usually drop by at least one body condition score.


One of the major goals of the Board of Directors of the Tri County Steer Carcass Futurity (TCSCF) is to provide new opportunities to assist cow/calf producers in their efforts to realize maximum returns from their beef enterprise. The idea of backgrounding a group of unweaned calves was presented to the board for their consideration. Discussion included what type of ration would be used, how long the backgrounding period would be and which TCSCF feedlots would be interested in feeding the calves. The board decided that the mechanics of this proposal were realistic and that it fit within the perameters of the futurity program. Information on the new program was sent to cow/calf producers in the area asking interested producers to enter unweaned calves to be delivered in early October and backgrounded until the end of November. At that time the producer could decide if he wanted to retain ownership of the calves and feed them out or offer the calves for sale as feeders.


Five producers responded to the invitation letter and delivered 121 head of unweaned steer and heifer calves to the new backgrounding program on October 17. The calves were fed a diet consisting of corn, wet corn gluten and hay that was 65% concentrate. Their average delivery weight was 476 pounds. The calves were weighed on November 28 after the 42-day feeding period. The overall average daily gain (ADG) on the pen was 3.38. This was higher than our projected ADG of 2.87. The feed to gain ratio was impressive at 4.70. This made the feed cost of gain come out at $23.87/cwt. We did experience more pulls for individual health treatments than we expected. 35% of the calves were pulled. Seventy individual treatments were given to the 42 head at an average treatment cost of $14.62 per head. With this higher number of health pulls and the short feeding period the total cost of gain for the pen was $51.95/cwt. Four of the five producers decided to retain their calves and finish them to market. One producer took his heifer calves home and later entered them in a heifer development program. All of the producers involved in this program were satisfied with the results. Having the calves weaned made a difference in the condition of their cows and left the cows in better shape for calving in the spring of 2002. Knowing that their calves were being fed and cared for and able to express their genetic potential and not having to worry about their daily care was a big plus for the producers during harvest. The results of the program also give us some data that we can share with other producers who have questions about what their calves might do under similar conditions. The futurity board is offering the program again this year and according to producer comments we will have additional participation in the program in the coming year.


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