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Learn to use performance data: Calf-to-carcass can improve profits

The Louisiana calf-to-carcass program provides cattle producers an opportunity to learn how to use performance data to enhance profits from calves delivered to the feedlot or sold at weaning.

Cattle producers are optimistic about record-high beef prices — especially the ones marketing heavy beef currently selling for 93 cents to 95 cents per pound, according to Dave Foster of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

More than 430 preconditioned steers and heifers were recently delivered to Henry C. Hitch Feedlot in Guymon, Okla., as a result of this educational program. The calves were consigned by 23 beef cattle producers in Louisiana.

“Last year the cattle industry returned more than $256 million to the economy of the state,” said LSU AgCenter beef cattle specialist Bill Davis. “And the data from the preconditioning program helps producers ship healthier caves and thus increase profits.”

The calf-to-carcass program begins as producers suggest at least three calves each for the program. They have the option of preconditioning the calves on their farms or delivering them to one of the three preconditioning sites in the state.

Preconditioning is a process where calves are trained, conditioned and fed to enter the feedlot. The animals are electronically identified, weighed, vaccinated and treated for parasites.

In addition, professionals rate the frame score and estimate a price for each animal in the program during this early stage.

Following the initial preparation, calves are placed on bermudagrass pastures for 45 days with free choice hay, and they are fed a medicated ration.

“Preconditioning allows calves to become accustomed to people, taught to eat feed from a bunker and to drink water from a trough,” said Gary Wicke, LSU AgCenter agent in Cameron Parish.

The preconditioning sites include the LSU AgCenter's Idlewild Research Station at Clinton, La., the University of Louisiana at Monroe and McNeese State University at Lake Charles, La.

A truckload of preconditioned calves was shipped from each of the three sites in mid-October. Each truck transported about 50,000 pounds of beef to the feedlot.

Studies show calves that are properly preconditioned are healthier in the long term and return more profits when compared to unconditioned calves.

“Detailed production records are maintained on individual calves in the program,” Davis explained.

Production records contain valuable health information, performance data and carcass information on the cattle in the program. The information allows producers to evaluate the feedlot and carcass performance of their cattle.

The results of the studies can guide producers in evaluating their breeding programs, making adjustments in their breeding program and thus remaining competitive in the beef industry.

“The data from this program helped me to know the traits I needed in the calves before selecting replacement bulls,” said Ellroy Henry, a producer from Lake Charles. “Also, knowing the value of my calves helps me get better prices for the other calves on the farm.”

The calf-to-carcass program allows cow-calf producers to study what happens to calves after they are weaned and delivered to the feedlot. Producers receive data on herd health, trucking fees, calf shrinkage, feedlot performance, marketing alternatives and carcass quality.

The products used in the calf-to-carcass program were sponsored by Fort Dodge Animal Health, Nutrena Feeds, Pfizer, Elanco Animal Health and Milton Veterinary Supply.

“The knowledge gained by increasing the profit on the calves in the program has a multiplying effect in the industry,” said Davis, adding, “Producers are using the new marketing skills to get higher returns on other animals sold — thus adding value to production of cattle in the state.”

John Chaney writes for the LSU AgCenter. (318-473-6605 or [email protected]).

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