Calf Genetics & Management Still Matter

By Randy L. Stanko, Ph.D. | Texas A&M University-Kingsville


Randy L StankoThe national beef herd is the smallest it has been in most our lifetimes, and beef consumption and exports have supported the highest prices paid for all classes of cattle. In spite of these facts, beef calf buyers can still apply discounts to feeder calves even when calf supplies are declining. A recent Arkansas study (Gadberry and Troxel, 2013) evaluated the price received for feeder calves sold in 2000 (62,058 head), 2005 (43,286 head) and 2010 (32,550 head) based upon phenotype influence as associated with both genetics and management. Data were collected at 10 weekly sale barn locations across the state. During this 10-year period, the U.S. calf crop has declined approximately 293,000 head per year.


Steer and bull calves received the greatest premium in 2010 (8¢ and 1¢ per pound, respectively) and heifer calves the greatest discount in 2010 (-5.8¢ per pound). Surprisingly,
muscle score premiums and discounts were greatest in 2005, intermediate in 2010 and lowest in 2000. Heavy muscled calves (#1s) were always worth $7.00 to $8.00 more per hundredweight than lighter muscled calves (#2s). The percentage of large-framed calves moderated some (66 percent vs. 60 percent) from 2005 to 2010, but received the greatest premium in 2010 as compared to 2005 and 2000, although it was very small (less than 1¢ per pound). Black-hided calves continue to increase in the market, 69 percent more in 2010 vs. 2000, whereas red and red, whiteface calves have decreased over the 10-year period. Calves that were spotted and striped received the greatest discount (-$14.58 per hundredweight) in 2010 as compared to 2005 or 2000. The percentage of horned calves has declined over the last 10 years, but the greatest discount for horned calves was seen in 2010 and was approaching a nickel per pound. These results indicate that calf buyer discounts don’t decrease among genetically selectable calf phenotypic traits, even when calf supplies are lower.


The condition in which we send our calves to market also appears to be more important as calves in very thin condition were discounted the greatest in 2010 – nearly $9.00 per hundredweight. The discount received for full and tanked calves and the discount for fat calves remained similar between years 2005 and 2010. Calf buyers simply do not prefer calves in these conditions. This is mainly because these types of calves will shrink the most (up to 10 percent) during transport and processing as they make their way into the next segment of the beef industry. Whether they will be turned out on grass or wheat, or placed in a backgrounding facility, they all will shrink and calf buyers discounted these types of calves up to $17.87 per hundredweight in this study. The best information reported, in my opinion, was that greater than 95 percent of the calves evaluated were identified as healthy, and the discount received for sick or un-thrifty calves did not change over the 10-year period. Preconditioned calves received a greater premium in 2010 than 2005 – $6.84 vs. $4.68 per hundredweight, though to some this
may not be a sufficient premium to warrant preconditioning. One can rather quickly spend $34 per head when feeding, de-worming, vaccinating and babysitting a set of five-weight steer calves. One should always do some homework and work with the local auction market to determine if a preconditioning program will add value. Let the market know ahead of time so they can identify and solicit potential buyers prior to sale day. Preconditioning may not be a sound economic decision; this is especially true for those of us not able to sell in truck load lots. Additionally, the information in the Arkansas report is for comparison only. Results may vary according to your state and regional cattle markets. The bottom line is that good cattle, quality genetics and sound management, will sell for the most money in any market situation. Please pray for rain!