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Stockers add value to extra spring grass

Cool-season grasses can give more growth in spring than a beef herd can eat. That surplus can be baled, but often results in poor-quality hay. Or, surplus forage can be grazed with purchased stocker calves to add more mouths per acre.

Key Points

• Calves can upgrade the value of surplus grass on farms.

• Chute-side treatments of cattle enhance gains.

• Low-cost cures stop parasite and fly problems.


Historically, Missouri buyers put together the one- and two-calf lots from a sale barn into a group. Those calves were upgraded by dehorning, castrating and turning out on grass.

Value can be gained by upgrading calves. But, that requires buying time with genetic improvement. Missourians’ biggest opportunity is to upgrade the value of the forage that would be lost if not eaten. Poor grass can be turned into high-quality beef protein.

In winter meetings, Justin Sexten, University of Missouri Extension beef nutritionist, offered tips on getting calves on the road to higher value by grazing that “poor forage.”

“Any pasture system stocked for year-round carrying capacity will have too much grass starting in late April until the end of June.” In wet years, as the past two years showed, even more forage is available.

A good stocker program takes some planning, Sexten warns. It’s a management-intensive job.

The first step is buying right. The old timers learned that overpaying for calves doomed profitability. Graziers who concentrate on management can increase the odds for profits.

Chute-side treatment on arrival gets calves started on the right track. Practices include parasite treatment, growth implants and feeding ionophores. Fly control can be added later in the season. Adding ear implants can increase gain on quality spring forage. An Iowa State University analysis showed they average a 12.1% increase. Implants take little work and are reliable. While implants add cost, they offer quick returns. Added gains run an extra tenth of a pound per head, per day.

“Conservatively, a pound of gain will be worth a dollar. The cost of an implant is $1.25,” Sexten says. “Gains are limited only by the genetic potential of the cattle and the quality potential of the forage.”

Implant tips

Implanting can’t be a slapdash procedure. Care is more important than speed, although a good job can be done quickly. Correct placement in the ear is crucial. It is injected under the skin on the middle third of the ear, looking at the ear horizontally or vertically.

Cleanliness counts. Punching through a dirt-caked ear can introduce fecal matter under the skin. Clean the ear and insert correctly.

“An implant placed incorrectly, or that becomes encased in an abscess, might as well be shot on the ground,” Sexten says. “Injected wrong, it won’t work.”

There are several types of implants available; each does different jobs for different-age calves. For small calves (and none should be injected before 60 days of age), the mildest and least expensive implant should be used. “My strategy would be to use increasing strength of implants as calves grow older,” Sexten advises.”

At the meetings, questions about implanting heifers to be used for replacements always comes up. Limit implants to those heifers born in the last half of the calving season, Sexton says. “You want to save replacements only from early calves. The late calves go to the feedlot.”

Beef boosters

Feeding ionophores in a mineral mix adds a chore of making sure calves have the additive before them, consistently. But ionophores help microbes in the rumen digest forages. That boosts feed efficiency and allows more protein to bypass to the intestines.

In addition to growth, ionophores add bloat protection and enhance resistance to subclinical coccidiosis. That’s important in a wet spring, especially with younger calves. A bag of ionophores may seem expensive, but only milligrams a day are needed.

For calves from unknown sources, parasite control can help, Sexten says. “The treatments are low-cost and the benefits are so big, they give good return.” However, homegrown calves on clean pastures might need no treatment at all.

Fly control is another easy decision — when there are flies. Two tags in the ears can keep flies off the face. That control can help prevent pinkeye, which is a very complex disease.

“Last year, when I treated 50% of my calves for pinkeye, I wish I’d used fly tags,” Sexten says.

Often the disadvantage of tags is applying them too early, ahead of fly season. Tagging won’t add value on calves in late April, when flies are scarce. The threshold is 200 flies per calf. Other fly control can be used as well. Producers with “tame” cattle moving from one paddock to another can use spot-spraying as needed from a four-wheeler.

For all products, Sexten adds the needed warning: Select the right product, and read and follow label directions.

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STOCK UP: Stocker cattle grazing excess spring forage can enhance producer profits in Missouri.

This article published in the April, 2010 edition of MISSOURI RURALIST.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.