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Things farmers should consider before weaning their calves

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Although it is only August, it is time for cattle farmers to be making plans for weaning this year’s calf crop. Record high calf prices, will cause many calves to be marketed without being weaned or preconditioned. It is still a good idea, however, for farmers to consider keeping their calves for a period of time after weaning to give the some extra growth. Feed costs are the first area to consider and this year may offer some savings for some operations that have access to corn. Dr. Jeff Lehmkuhler, extension beef specialist at UK has provided some ideas on the potential for keeping calves past weaning or back-grounding purchased calves.
Cash corn bids have been in the range of $3.40-$3.85 which calculates to about $120-$140 per ton. Soybean hulls around the state were about $150 per ton, dried distillers grain about $155 and corn gluten feed about $140-$160. These prices may not match those quoted when calling the local feed mill or dealer, but give a relative basis to make an evaluation. According to Dr. Lehmkuhler, at prices in these ranges corn is a viable energy source in relation to the other co-product feedstuffs.
Feeding corn to calves on forages takes some precautions. Feeding starch-based energy supplements to cattle consuming a forage-based diet has been shown to lower rumen pH and have a detrimental impact of forage digestion. This reduced forage digestibility can lead to lower intakes and decrease overall energy available to the animal. In past years many farmers fed soyhulls or soyhulls and corn gluten to calves on pasture. Recent research from Iowa and Oklahoma showed increased growth rates for steers fed corn in a mixture of soyhulls and corn gluten when compared to rations utilizing only these by-products.
The level of corn supplementation reported to have no impact on fiber digestibility is 0.25 percent of body weight. However, others have shown that levels up to 0.7 percent had minimal impacts when corn was offered and 0.8 percent when barley was the source of supplemental energy. A 600 lb. steer could receive 1.5 to 4 pounds of corn daily and have minimal impacts on fiber digestibility while increasing growth rate. Often forages require additional supplemental protein in addition to energy as provided by corn. In these cases farmers can feed mixes containing distillers grains, corn gluten or soybean meal to maximize performance and profitability from the forage program.
The other aspect of keeping or purchasing calves to background is the outlook for prices. Cost of gain should be low this winter at current prices, but a decrease in cattle prices could take away any profit potential. There are ways to manage price risk to make certain a change in market prices does not turn what looks like a profit into a money losing proposition. Many farmers will sell calves as soon as they are weaned out of fear that the market may change, but often times this leaves money on the table because if most farmers take this approach, near term prices will fall. Professional backgrounders who use risk management will benefit the most from the rush to sell quickly.
If you have sufficient hay, haylage, silage or pasture this winter, Dr. Lehmkuhler says preconditioning and back-grounding can be profitable. For assistance in evaluating the economics as well as managing the risk, please call the extension office.
The Marion County Farmers Market has expanded its hours and will now be open on Mondays from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. A wide variety of summer produce is now available, as well as canned items, baked goods and crafts. The market is located in Downtown Lebanon on Martin Luther King Boulevard. In addition to the new Monday hours the market will still be open on Wednesday’s and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The farmers at the Market thank all of the shoppers who have made the market a success this year. Thank you for supporting our local farmers!
The Applied Master Cattleman Course has filled and letters have been sent to farmers accepted into the program. We were able to enroll all who applied. The first session will be Aug. 26 at the Nelson County Extension Office. The second meeting will be the following week, Sept. 2 at the Marion County Extension Office. Both meetings will start at 6 p.m.
The next edition of the Container Gardening Classes will be held Thursday, Sept. 4, at 5:30 p.m. at the Marion County Extension Office.
The next Beekeepers Meeting will be, Wednesday, Sept. 10, at 6:30 p.m. at the Marion County Extension Office.
UK will hold its fourth “Beef Bash” on Thursday, Sept. 25, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Central Time at the Research Farm in Princeton. This field day is held every other year and is a good opportunity for cattle people to catch up on the latest information for profitable beef production. Lunch is provided. If you would like additional information call the extension office.
Educational programs of Kentucky Cooperative Extension serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.