Going Antibiotic Free Can Be Done

July 30, 2015 02:25 PM

Beef producers can go antibiotic free and some consumers are willing to pay for it.

Feedlot owner and operator Dale Moore says 95 percent of the cattle he feeds go into a never, ever all-natural program where they haven’t received antibiotic treatment or been given a growth hormone. He shared his experience feeding cattle at Cattleman’s Choice Feedyard near Gage, Okla. since 2000, during Alltech’s Rebelation conference this past spring.

“The way our program works is everything that comes into the yard starts off as an all-natural animal,” Moore says.

Cattle that do become sick receive treatment and will enter a conventional market or a Non-Hormone Treated Cattle (NHTC) program.

Despite not using feed grade antibiotics Moore has been able to operate at death loss rate of 0.04% with virtually no re-pulls for sick cattle. He does note the use of hormones would be beneficial to adding weight to calves, but it doesn’t make up for the quality premiums the cattle have been commanding.

Out of Moore’s own cow herd 70 calves were harvested in mid-May with 28% going Prime, the remainder of the steers and heifers went Choice. Only 10.2% were Yield Grade 4. Those calves paid $343.49 per head in premiums over the cash market.

Of the cattle fed at the 7,500-head capacity lot, Moore says his own calves are just average compared to what his customers bring in. He attributes a lot of the success to having the perfect combination of quality cattle genetics and good people to work with.

“Fortunately, we’ve been blessed to have the right cattle and right customers to be able to do this pretty consistently,” Moore says.

Cattle from the feedyard that went to U.S. Premium Beef (USPB) in the 4th quarter of 2014 graded 52.66% Prime. While not all of Cattleman’s Choice calves go through USPB the results compare favorably with average USPB cattle grading 3.4 percent Prime during that same period. The top 25 percent of USPB cattle were paid $81 per head premium, while Cattleman’s Choice calves brought $160.27.

However, those great premiums don’t mean a lot when calves become ill. In 2005, every sick animal would cost Moore an additional $100 per head for treatment costs, loss of weight, added days on feed, etc. Now that same calf would cost $350 per head.

Using antibiotics isn’t an everyday occurrence at Cattleman’s Choice, but it is still a tool that is needed. With the current pushback going on the future for use of antibiotics in the beef industry looks unclear and Moore thinks it will not be good situation.

“I guess whenever they flip that switch and say “no more antibiotics,” I think it will be detrimental to the industry,” Moore adds. “But even worse I think it will be detrimental to the cattle because like a kid every once in a while they need to go to the hospital.”

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