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ADDING VALUE: A preconditioning program adds additional costs, but the more you get at sale time can easily pay for it.

What’s the value of value added?

Northeast Beef Comments: More money per head goes a long way in covering vaccination costs.

Editor’s note: This is the first of what will be a new bimonthly column on beef production and trends in the Northeast by Mike Baker, a senior Extension associate in the Cornell Department of Animal Science. He has over 30 years of experience working with beef producers and operates a small commercial beef herd in New York state with his wife, Debby. 

 The annual CattleFax Cow-Calf Survey showed that nearly 50% of high-return farms vaccinated their calves two times before sale.

They reported receiving $170 per head more than nonvaccinated calves. Granted, there are many things that can lead to a difference in value besides vaccination, but still the difference is substantial.

So, what about New York and the Northeast? Does our data agree with national trends? While the number of feeders sold is small in comparison, we do find the same market factors coming into play. I’ll cite two examples:

On Sept. 14, 2019, the Empire Livestock Bath Board Sale auction was held to provide a market for stocker cattle. The yearling cattle were vaccinated using a common protocol; graded using USDA Feeder Calf Standards; and sorted into sale lots by gender, weight and feeder calf grade. Weights were estimated at the time of grading.

The cattle remained on the farm but were auctioned off during a regularly scheduled feeder calf sale. After the auction, the cattle were picked up by the buyer at an agreed upon time and weighed on certified scales. A price slide was applied to cattle that weighed more than the field estimate. Sellers had the option of refusing the bid.

There were five lots of steers with a range in numbers from one to seven head, weighing between 639 and 800 pounds. Heifers were divided into six lots with a weight range between 691 pounds and 878 pounds.

Small numbers per lot demonstrates the variation of cattle from our smaller farms, and this is a deterrent to many buyers.

Data is shown in the table below. In full transparency, not all of the data is reported as several lots didn’t not reach the seller’s minimum and some of the cattle that sold were underpriced. However, the load that sold shows the value of larger loads of similar cattle that have been well-vaccinated.

Table shows value of New York and Oklahoma City cattle

The value of the 72 cattle from one farm in the board sale was $1.24 a pound, or $857 a head.

For comparison, I pulled data from the Oklahoma Weekly Cattle Auction during the same week. These cattle are near major feeding areas attracting many buyers with low freight costs to the feed yard.

The 1,077 cattle were sold in seven lots. They weighed 640 pounds and brought $1.34 a pound. On a per-head basis, this was essentially the same as the Bath Board sale.

The data below is from an auction held at Finger Lakes Livestock Exchange on Dec 7, 2019. These were reputation cattle that had documented vaccination protocol, were weaned at least 30 days and known sires reported by our livestock reporters as “value added.” The table compares prices of 500- to 599-pound ML1 steers.

Difference in value added cattle compared to those without documented value

Now, there is some cost to vaccination in labor and supplies, as well as additional feed costs, but $132 per head would go a long way in covering those costs.

For more information on preconditioning procedures, contact your herd veterinarian or local Extension educator. A list of recommendations can be found on the New York Beef Producers website

Baker is a senior Extension associate in the Cornell Department of Animal Science.

TAGS: Beef Livestock
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