South Dakota Grassland Coalition

by Garnet Perman

May 2019

After two consecutive snowy springs, more producers may be motivated to move calving dates from March to May. One question about making that move is how does this affect marketing those later born calves? Here’s what a producer, a sale barn auctioneer and a feed lot manager had to say:

Dan Rasmussen Of Belvidere

With 33 Ranch shifted to late calving about 20 years ago. His advice is to have calves born on grass and design the rest of the ranch around it, making the most of the resources you have. For example, for their ranch, calving later meant changing genetics from a high milking cow to a more moderate milker. His advice echoes that of well known consultant Burke Teichert in the March 7, 2016 issue of Beef Magazine: “Profit per acre is far more important than profit per cow. Profit per cow can be so deceiving because of different size, milking ability, fertility, and survivability of the cows you have compared with what might be optimum or most profitable on your ranch.”

The 33 Ranch uses a multi venue marketing plan. All calves born on the ranch have the potential to enter the organic market. The one and two year old heifers stay in the organic grass fed market. “Marketing in the organic market is all about relationships,” said Rasmussen. The certified organic animals are usually sold one load at a time to partners in Idaho, California and Colorado from July to October. He can get carcass data back, but doesn’t always request it. While carcass data can be helpful, Rasmussen said, “Your biggest return comes from efficiently utilizing ranch resources.”

A decision regarding the steers is made at weaning time depending on the market. They generally go to the commodity market in October. Rasmussen sees the local sale barn as an important tool. Animals can be sold year round and relationships with order buyers and sale barn managers can be helpful. “The commodity market is a good back up plan and you have to have a back up plan!” he said. He also observed that anybody al-ready in the yearling business would have an easy transition to late calving. “You just have to accept that they will be lighter.”

Casey Perman with Mobridge Livestock

Utilizes later calving dates himself. In his experience the market for lighter calves headed for grass is generally steady for several weeks starting around March 1. On May 14, 1000 pound steers brought $1300 or $1.30 per pound while 650 pounders were $1100 or $1.70 per pound. Perman says the per pound price spread is typical although many factors can impact price on a given day. Does it really matter which 10 months of the year you own a calf? Lucas Sutherland, manager at Wulf Cattle in McLaughlin said, “Cattle are traded all 12 months of the year. When they’re born doesn’t really matter.” Wulf Cattle specializes in marketing cattle that qualify for several value added programs. They are able to pay the producer $5-10/hundredweight more than the regular market depending on the program. They purchase about 65% of their cattle directly from a ranch, which Sutherland noted lessens the stress on calves. The rest come from order buyers and a very few through the sale barn.

Auction sale barn, retained ownership (which offers a premium for management and provides carcass data), branded beef or value added programs (breed specific, company specific, and store brand), graded and pooled sales, tele-auction and video auction, private treaty are all viable options for late spring calves. Taking time to understand how different marketing options work and evaluating them based on your cost of production and available resources, such as labor, will help determine which is the most profitable for your situation.

The Grassland Coalition is offering a series of meetings about late spring calving. If you are considering changing calving dates or already calve later in the spring, something about the process can always be learned from the voices of experience. Dates and times are on the SD Grassland Coalition website.

Source: SDGC Newsletter

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