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Whatever the age of cattle, if managed properly they put back most of the nutrients they consume.

R. P. 'Doc' Cooke, Blogger

November 30, 2019

2 Min Read
Medium-sized steers on pasture
Author like the higher price and pasture effects of keeping steers until they are big and heavy.Alan Newport

There are beef producers who likely need to sell calves but I recommend selling big yearlings.

There are also producers who like selling hay but I doubt you’ll find multi-generation success stories in the hay-selling business, which is true of most “mining” operations. You cannot remove a resource that is not easy or possible to replace for any length of time without being required to move.

Walt Davis in his book “How To Not Go Broke Ranching” lists what a big steer removes from the land. If he weighs 800 pounds these figures should be real close to what he consists of:

  • 672 pounds of water

  • 7.2 pounds of calcium

  • 4 pounds of phosphorus

  • 3.2 pounds of potassium

  • 1 pound of magnesium and trace minerals

  • 80 pounds of carbon

  • 48 pounds of hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen

Note that all but 15.5 pounds came from the air above our land. If we own and pay taxes on the land or rent it, I could argue that we get for free the air above it, the sunlight, and the water that falls from the sky. We buy high-magnesium lime, delivered and dumped, for $10 per ton and it contains a little zinc and a few other trace minerals.

Remember I don’t like selling 500-pound calves.

I like selling healthy yearlings that have been weaned and grazed for 120 or more days in a high-animal-density grazing program that includes at least one move every day onto fresh forage that has completely recovered for 10 or more weeks.

Think about it: The health concerns are few and the market is normally at climax between late July and mid-September. Charley Chambers up in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, told me the other day that he had contracted a couple of loads of steers to weigh 800 pounds back in late May for a mid-August delivery. He locked them in at $1.51 per pound or $1,200.00. In other words an 800-pound steer will clear a cow in 20 months or so.

Most importantly the yearlings only account for a couple of bucks of our land resource in the form of minerals and will likely have processed and delivered 5,700 pounds of forage dry matter into quality soil and plant food.

His mamma also processed and delivered close to 8,000 pounds of plant food while he was in the calf phase. Boom and bust grazing techniques result in the cattle processing, delivering and spreading the vast majority of plant and soil food.

I like selling big yearlings. (By the way so did Mississippi grazier Gordon Hazard, and he had a proven track record of profitability.)

About the Author(s)

R. P. 'Doc' Cooke


R. P. "Doc" Cooke, DVM, is a mostly retired veterinarian from Sparta, Tennessee. Doc has been in the cattle business since the late 1970s and figures he's driven 800,000 miles, mostly at night, while practicing food animal medicine and surgery in five counties in the Upper Cumberland area of middle Tennessee. He says all those miles schooled him well in "man-made mistakes" and that his age and experiences have allowed him to be mentored by the area’s most fruitful and unfruitful "old timers." Doc believes these relationships provided him unfair advantages in thought and the opportunity to steal others’ ideas and tweak them to fit his operations. Today most of his veterinary work is telephone consultation with graziers in five or six states. He also writes and hosts ranching schools. He is a big believer in having fun while ranching but is serious about business and other producers’ questions. Doc’s operation, 499 Cattle Company, now has an annual stocking rate of about 500 pounds beef per acre of pasture and he grazes 12 months each year with no hay or farm equipment and less than two pounds of daily supplement. You can reach him by cell phone at (931) 256-0928 or at [email protected].

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