SAN SABA — Central Texas cattle ranchers and others lucky enough to get good rains lately are holding the cards on wheat grazing this season, according to a Texas Agricultural Extension Service expert speaking here.
Dr. Ronald Gill, Dallas-based Extension livestock specialist, shared his views on stocker cattle opportunities before a group of producers at the recent Central Texas Stocker/Cow-Calf Conference at San Saba’s Jordan Cattle Auction. The event was sponsored by the Extension Service, the Texas Beef Council, Jordan Cattle Auction, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers’ Association., HI Pro Animal Health, Bayer Animal Health, and Evergreen Feeds.
“I’m jealous,” said Gill. “We’ve got a world of weaned calves ready to go and not enough moisture in my country to even think of wheat planting. Many of these animals are bringing bargain basement prices.”
Gill told the growers blessed with adequate moisture that they and others would do well to consider retaining ownership of their weaned calves this fall. But, he also offered two ideas he felt might yield higher profits.
“You may want to sell yours and buy thinner, weaned animals from drought areas or take in cattle owned by others coming from these same areas.
“Thin, but otherwise healthy weaned calves, preferably from a known source, will start gaining immediately without the setback and health problems calves straight off the cow typically experience. And, they’re usually a better buy from the dollar standpoint for the producers putting them on wheat pasture.”
In his talk, Gill dispelled some long-standing beliefs concerning the effects of weaning calves. He drew his information from extensive studies conducted by Texas A&M University. He said the studies showed that it often takes up to 30 days for a set of weaned cattle to regain the weight lost through stress when taken from the cow.
“Knowing this, keep in mind then that it takes about a month for calves to regain their weaning weight. That’s time and money lost,” he said.
The studies also showed that cattle weaned for 14-30 days have more trouble than short-weaned calves; those weaned for only 7 days or less. Ideally, the best buy are calves properly weaned and backgrounded for at least 45 days.
According to Gill, buyers purchasing properly weaned cattle can also skip much of the medical expense typically associated with stocker cattle.
“By properly weaned,” Gill added, “I mean calves weaned for at least 45 days and managed under an adequate nutrition program from conception to shipment.”
“Through monitoring calves consigned to the Texas A&M Ranch to Rail program we had seen a difference in health and performance relative to vaccinations given at the ranch. We conducted a couple of studies over the past two years in an attempt to determine which vaccination program would provide for the best post-weaning health and performance of calves.
“Our studies did not show an advantage to any vaccination program on performance or health of the calves during backgrounding or when they were sent to the feedlot. The key to the success of backgrounding and post-weaning performance continues to look toward the length of time weaned prior to shipment and overall cow herd nutrition. The critical length of time for a successful backgrounding program still appears to be 45 days.”
“Our studies have never shown an economical gain from re-treating for internal parasites midway through the grazing period, if calves were dewormed prior to going on clean wheat pasture in the fall. There may be some gain improvement, but the difference is not shown to be economical,” said the specialist.
Gill said this year’s cheap corn prices, especially that with aflatoxin problems, offers an added profit opportunity for those with wheat grazing prospects.
“Corn is cheap, especially that which has tested ‘hot’ for aflatoxin. This hot corn can be safely fed at the rate of two to three pounds per head per day to 400 pound and heavier stocker cattle on wheat provided that the aflatoxin contamination of the corn doesn’t exceed 400 parts per billion. The toxicity is diluted by the wheat pasture. The recommendation on feeding affected grains to stocker cattle is to not exceed 100 parts per billion of aflatoxin in the total diet.”
Gill said the corn-wheat combination makes for very efficient gains if initial inputs are low. The partial grain diet also helps guard against bloat.
“I know it’s usually hard to buy properly weaned calves right, but this looks like the year to do it. This may be the year to really cash in on wheat cattle — provided they’re bought now and it keeps raining.”