Beef Cattle Browsing – September 2009

Beef Cattle Browsing

Editor: Dr. Stephen Hammack, Professor & Extension Beef Cattle Specialist Emeritus

September 2

This newsletter is published by Texas AgriLife Extension – Animal Science. Media, feel free to use this information as needed and cite Texas A&M University Beef Cattle Browsing Newsletter, Dr. Steve Hammack.

There is increasing interest in producing for the natural beef market. One of the biggest drawbacks is finding a market. The Noble Foundation has compiled a list of companies marketing natural beef. You can access that list at

Predicted financial returns for 2007 to 2016 were simulated using production data from the King Ranch and projected cattle prices by month within year from CattleFax. Three calving seasons were compared: spring (Feb 1 to Apr 15), fall (Sep 15 to Dec 1), and dual (both fall and spring). Results were as follows:

 Calf revenue  81  96  100
 Cull cow revenue  100  88  50
 Production cost  100  91  89
 Development cost  100  85  51
 Net income  58  100  97
 Herd investment cost  100  92  81
 Return on investment*  9.7%  18.1%  19.8%

# Highest season value = 100. Other season values in relation to highest.
* Return on investment in actual percent.

Spring calving had the lowest revenue from calf sales; revenue from cull sales was highest but this was due to more replacements being required, resulting in highest cost of developing replacement females. Fall calving and dual calving were similar in calf revenues and production cost. In the dual calving system, open cows were rolled over once into the next season. Therefore, fewer replacements were needed, replacement cost was lower, and cull revenue was lower.

Spring calving had lowest net income, highest herd investment cost, and lowest return. Fall and dual were similar in net income, but dual had lower herd investment cost and therefore slightly higher return.

In this situation, spring calving was definitely the least desirable system. However, producers should consider their particular production and marketing conditions. And where applicable, especially where forage growing seasons are long, dual calving might be indicated. But it should be noted that dual calving does not mean the lack of a season, that is, year-round calving. (Univ. of Missouri, Texas A&M University, King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management, King Ranch; Prof. Anim. Sci. 25:74) 

USDA specifications for production of natural or organic beef do not allow use of technologies like growth hormones, antibiotics, etc. A survey was made of the scientific literature to determine the effects of such technologies on feedlot performance and health. Over 14,000 literature citations yielded 51 papers with data allowing reliable and relevant comparisons between conventional and non-conventional (natural/organic) systems. The following findings were reported:

  • mass antibiotic treatment upon arrival increased ADG by 0.24 lb
  • mass antibiotic treatment upon arrival had 29% subsequent sickness and 1.8% death loss compared to 55% and 3.8% for cattle not mass treated
  • feeding low-level antibiotic reduced liver abscesses from 30% to 8%
  • implanting heifers increased ADG by 0.18 but did not affect feed efficiency
  • implanting steers increased ADG by 0.55 lb and also improved feed efficiency
  • implanted steers had $77/hd lower cost of production than non-implants
  • implanted steers had $349/hd lower cost of production than organically raised.

The authors concluded that non-conventional producers must realize significant price premiums to maintain economic viability. (Kansas State University; J. Animal Sci. 87:3418)

Cattle with bad temperament present numerous problems for producers, not least of which is the danger of being run over in the sorting pen. Are bad cattle that way from birth? Chute exit velocity (basically how fast they escape) has been used to objectively evaluate temperament. A study compared velocity of purebred Brahmans evaluated at 21-24 days of age and again at weaning. The authors found that early measurement failed to predict temperament at weaning in 40% of calves and concluded that measurement of exit velocity should be done nearer weaning than birth. (Texas A&M Univ., Mississippi State Univ.; J. Animal Sci 87:3202)

Body weight throughout life tends to be positively correlated. Cattle heavier at weaning/ yearling tend to be heavier at birth. Using genetic selection, can the former be increased without increasing the latter? An experimental herd of Hereford cattle established in 1960 in Argentina was used for a selection experiment lasting from 1986 to 2006. Sires were selected over the first 8 years based on an index including birth weight and subsequent weight gain relative to birth weight. During the last 12 years of the study, selection used an index giving positive weighting to weaning weight and negative weighting to birth weight.

Over the 20 years both direct genetic and maternal genetic effects were positive for weaning weight. However, the direct genetic effect for birth weight was negative while the maternal genetic effect was positive. This resulted in no overall selection response for birth weight. The authors speculated that selecting for increased weaning weight relative to birth weight may have resulted in positive emphasis of maternal effects on both birth weight and preweaning gain but negative emphasis on direct effects on birth weight. In general, it was found that weaning weight can be increased without increasing birth weight. (Unidad Integrada Balcarce, Univ. of British Columbia; J. Animal Sci. 87:3089)

Beef from cattle receiving growth implants has about 50% higher estrogen than from non-implanted cattle. That’s a frightening number. But that 50% is based on the fact that levels of estrogen in 3 ounces of beef are 1.9 nanograms for implanted and 1.3 nanograms for non-implanted. Three ounces of potatoes has 225 ng, peas 340 ng, ice cream 520 ng, and cabbage 2025 ng. Meanwhile, an adult male human produces 136,000 ng a day. And there are other sources of estrogen.

A study was conducted of water samples from upstream and downstream of wastewater treatment plants on three rivers in eastern Nebraska. Estrogen levels were higher downstream. Evaluation of caged male fathead minnows in downstream sites revealed feminizing effects. Elevated dietary estrogen levels can be a concern, but only when those levels are high enough to genuinely affect human health. And all sources of these levels should be considered. (Univ. of Neb. Medical Ctr.-Omaha, Univ. of Neb.-Lincoln, Univ. of Neb.-Omaha; Jour. of Am. Water Resources Assoc. 45:14)

Scrotal circumference (SC) is part of a Breeding Soundness Evaluation. A minimum of 30 cm as a yearling is recommended. SC collected from 1982 to 2006 on 2514 bulls in the Tucumcari, NM Bull Test was adjusted to 240 and 365 days of age. The correlation of SC between the two ages was 0.70.Bulls with minimum 365-day SC of 30 cm averaged 26.9 cm at 240 days. Those with less than 30 cm at 365 days averaged 22.1 cm at 240 days. The authors suggested a minimum of 22 cm at 240 days. This minimum might be used to cull bulls at that age. However, only 4% of the bulls in this test failed to measure 30 cm at 365 days, so measurement for culling at weaning would probably not be worth the time and labor required. (New Mexico State Univ.; Prof. Anim Sci. 24:488)

A recent survey was conducted of 1005 people nationwide that are likely to vote. Based on this survey, 89 percent of Americans support new measures to avoid contaminated food, 83 percent want the federal government to be responsible for those measures, 58 percent are worried about bacterial contamination of food, and 64 percent think imported foods are often or sometimes unsafe. That last figure might cause some consumers to pay more attention to Country of Origin Labeling. We’ll see. (Meatingplace newsletter, 9/15/09)

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