With cattle prices at or near historic levels, it seems to be a good time to be a cattle producer. According to an economist and beef researchers presenting at the Northwest Beef and Forage Day at the LSU AgCenter Red River Research Station, it is a good time, but producers need to plan and manage their cattle to maximize their investments.
“It is just as hard, for some even harder, to manage in the good times as it is the bad,” Ross Pruitt, an LSU AgCenter economist, said. “It’s OK to make purchases for your operation, but you may want to put a larger down payment to reduce the amount of risk you are taking on because these good times are not going to last forever.”
Pruitt said now would be a good time for producers who are interested in experimenting with different management strategies because high prices have reduced the margin of error. He suggested trying different pasture management techniques, attempting to improve the genetics of the herd or keeping cattle instead of selling them after they are weaned.
Pruitt also said producers should prepare for interest rates to start increasing as early as this fall based on comments by the Federal Reserve.
“If and when the rates are raised, it would certainly influence their borrowing costs,” he said.
With cattle prices high, producers may want to consider keeping their heifer calves.
“There are some advantages in keeping your heifers. It can make your herd younger and allow you to sell some of your older cows that may be less productive. It also would allow your herd to grow,” Pruitt said.
Ryon Walker, animal science researcher at the LSU AgCenter Hill Farm Research Station in Homer, said research has found that bigger cows can be a liability, especially in times when feed is scarce and costly.
“The bigger cows are obviously consuming more. It is costing producers more when they have to provide hay or supplements, and they are not producing any more in terms of production outputs or weaning weights,” Walker said.
When producers are in the market to buy replacement heifers, Walker said, cattle buyers should consider three traits – age, weight and breed.
Walker said heifers should reach puberty by 12-14 months in order to calve as a two-year-old. The target breeding weight should be 65 percent of the weight the cow is expected to be at full maturity. Breeds that have a more Braham-influence will take longer to reach maturity, he said.
Lee Faulk, assistant AgCenter extension agent in Claiborne Parish, said buyers and sellers of hay should know the weights of their hay bales.
“It pays to weigh your hay whether you are buying or selling. If you are buying hay you want to make sure you are getting what you pay for. And if you are selling, you want to make sure you are not short selling yourself,” he said.
Faulk also said size is not always a good indicator of weight because smaller bales are sometimes equal to or slightly heavier than larger bales.
Wink Alison, an AgCenter forage specialist, said producers should not only know the weight of the bale, but they should know other characteristics, such as nutritional value and moisture content.
“Knowing the nutrient quality of the hay can increase the efficiency of feeding that animal, especially over the winter when hay is fed to cattle. If the hay has the necessary nutrition, then producers don’t have the added costs of supplements,” Alison said.
Alison said it costs $15 for a hay sample test, but it is a good investment.
Hay should have a moisture content of 20 percent or less, he said. If moisture levels are higher, the hay will deteriorate more quickly and have more mold growth.
Buddy Pittman, an AgCenter forage researcher at the Hill Farm Research Station, said weeds are generally a problem in every pasture. “You may not see them, but they are almost always there.”
Pittman told producers controlling for the weeds in the field he was standing in would be too costly and too late. Weeds should be controlled as early in the hay season as possible.
Some operations could benefit by using a pasture management system that incorporated summer legumes, he said.
“First-calf heifers can benefit because this gives them a little bit extra nutrition late in the season when summer grasses have less quality,” Pittman said.
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist Jason Banta said a producer should have three goals when looking for a replacement heifer.
“She should be able to calve unassisted, raise a good calf and raise good calves for at least the next 10 years,” Banta said.
A replacement heifer should have a good disposition and not easily spooked, Banta said. Producers should not select the largest heifer or keep their biggest heifer because the difference may be related to the age of the animal. Size is not a good indicator of how productive that heifer may become, he said.
Source: Louisiana State University AgCenter