By Tracy Turner
Cattle producers looking for a new way to add value to their calf crops can try raising someone else's calves instead of their own, an Ohio State University Extension beef expert said.
Producers interested in maximizing income from their calf crop while controlling input costs can consider using their commercial cows as surrogate mothers to raise calves for other producers, said John Grimes, OSU Extension beef coordinator.
The process, which is called serving as a "cooperator herd," allows a herd of commercial cows to function as surrogate mothers for another herd whose owner wants to produce additional calves from a desirable female through embryo transfer, he said.
The concept can be profitable to all parties involved.
"It's one of the easiest ways for a commercial producer to get the best price for their calves at weaning," Grimes said. "You're basically renting someone else's cow and paying them to raise your calves for you.
"Seedstock and club calf producers are often willing to pay a premium for calves produced from their genetics and raised by another operation."
The concept works by using embryo transfer, which is the process of removing 7-day-old fertilized eggs from a superovulated donor and placing them into recipient cows that have excellent fertility rates.
The recipient cow should also be able to deliver calves easily, have adequate milk production and good mothering ability, Grimes said.
"The goal is to basically try to get more animals out of your best cows by taking embryos from your genetically superior animals and raising them in a recipient cow," he said. "Then, based on a pre-arranged agreement, the producer buys the calves back, which allows producers to generate more animals beyond their typical resources."
These cooperator herds receive a premium for their calves above the market price at weaning in either cents per pound or a flat per-head price, Grimes said, with some premiums typically ranging from $100 to $250 per weaned calf.
Producers can liken the concept to grain farmers renting crop ground.
"One producer is using the resources of a landlord to increase production," Grimes said. "It's not for everybody, but if you are willing, it's a good way to generate extra income out of your calf crop."
Although there are risks involved with this kind of arrangement, when carried out properly, the cooperator herd concept can benefit both the commercial cow-calf producer and the seedstock producer.
"Commercial producers can receive a large premium for a weaned calf with a nominal increase in input costs," he said. "The seedstock producer can produce more calves without investing in long-term resources such as additional land or cows."