Top 10 tips equal productive winter for stocker operators

Managing stocker cattle through the winter can be a tough job, so Ardmore, Okla.-based Noble Foundation livestock specialist Ryan Reuter has put together a “top ten” list of management tips to help stocker operators through the colder months.

  • Anticipate muddy or icy conditions — Cattle can do tremendous damage to muddy or frozen wheat/rye pasture by trampling it. Heavy mud can reduce average daily gain (ADG) by as much as one pound per day. Anticipate the weather and put cattle into a sacrifice area with hay for a few days.

    “To minimize bloat, make sure cattle are full before you turn them back out on small grain pasture,” Reuter said. “And remember that electric fence has one big downfall - heavy ice.”

  • Feed an ionophore — Ionophores, such as Rumensin or Bovatec, can increase ADG by one-tenth to two-tenths of a pound per day. They can be fed in supplements or in mineral.

    Evidence is mounting that Rumensin is probably more effective than other ionophores in promoting gain and reducing severity of bloat.

    “Don't let horses have access to any feed or mineral containing Rumensin,” Reuter said.

  • Manage shrink — Reducing stress on cattle is key to reducing shrink. Allow cattle to fill up on pasture first thing in the morning, and load them after they have grazed. Train cattle to be easy to catch by feeding them for a couple of weeks before marketing, and don't catch them until the trucks show up.

    “If your cattle are used to eating from a bunk, ensure that the cattle are fed at the sale barn, even if you have to feed them yourself,” Reuter said. “Check with the sale barn manager about their ability to feed.”

  • Evaluate marketing alternatives — Learn to evaluate all possible marketing alternatives well before the end of the grazing season.

    “These include local sale barns, large regional sale barns, video/internet sales or private treaty sales. Also, you can delay marketing by retaining ownership into the feedlot,” Reuter said.

  • Produce early pasture — “If you are certain you will graze out small grains, strive to produce forage as early in the fall as you can,” Reuter said. “This can extend the fall/winter grazing season and reduce the need for supplemental feed.”

  • Have a good health management program — “A health management program should be a written plan, designed by you and your veterinarian, for how you are going to care for your cattle,” Reuter said.

    It should include identification, a vaccination program, diagnosis procedures, treatment protocols and morbidity/mortality targets.

  • Have an alternative feed source — Being able to buy cattle when no one has pasture or being able to keep cattle gaining through tough pasture conditions can add tremendous flexibility to an operation.

    Being able to handle byproduct feeds such as soybean hulls or wheat midds can significantly reduce the cost of supplemental feed.

  • Establish a profit objective — “Before buying cattle, determine how much profit per head you would be happy with. Figure that into your budget,” Reuter said.

    Keep an eye on the cattle market, but more importantly, watch the futures and options markets. Evaluate forward contracts with feed yards or buyers. If, during the grazing season, the opportunity to capture that profit comes along, you had better pay attention because it might not be there again.

  • Use implants — “Growth-promoting implants are the single biggest ‘bang for the buck’ you get in stocker production,” Reuter said. A 75 cent implant can increase gain per head by 15 to 20 pounds. “If the value of those 20 pounds is $10, you get roughly 2,665 percent (annualized) return on your money. That sure beats owning Enron or WorldCom,” he added.

  • Know your cost of production — “You can't determine if and when you have made an acceptable profit if you don't know what it costs you to produce a feeder steer,” Reuter said.

Additionally, cost of production is critical for evaluating cattle purchases next year. Contact an agricultural economist for advice on how to gather this data.

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