Beef Cattle Browsing – June 2012

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.

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




An analysis was conducted to determine economics of: 1) retaining heifers, 2) purchasing bred heifers, 3) purchasing bred cows, or 4) keeping open cows. Prices assumed were those prevailing in the fall/winter of 2010-11. A range of cull cow values and open cow percentages was included in the analysis. In all cases, keeping heifers had the highest 5-year discounted cash flow value. Purchasing bred cows ranked next except when cull cow value was low and percentage of open cows was high; under those conditions, keeping open cows ranked second. However, at 25% or less open cows there was little difference among those three options. Purchasing heifers always ranked last, and generally by a large margin, except when cull cow value was high and percentage of open cows was also high in which case this option ranked third. The authors noted that a different set of prices could result in different results, but automatically culling of open cows is not always the most profitable approach. As with many questions in the cow/calf business, there is often no one best answer. (Univ. of Nebraska; 2012 Beef Cattle Report p. 35)

Many years of research have shown that one growth implant in a suckling calf will average increasing weaning weight by about 20 pounds without adversely affecting postweaning performance. The cost of calf implants has remained relatively stable for a good many years at $1.00-$1.50 per treatment. When calves brought $0.50/cwt that meant a return of about $7-10 to 1. Today, with calves bringing $1.50 to $2.00 (depending on weight and quality) the return is somewhere between 20:1 and 40:1. Few if any management tools will equal that return, but it’s estimated that no more than 20% of cow-calf producers implant.

A total of 236 steer calves (PC) from three ranches were weaned, dewormed, vaccinated for BRD (and re-vaccinated two weeks post-weaning), and tested for persistent infection of bovine viral diarrhea (PI-BVD). After being preconditioned on the ranch of origin for at least six weeks, calves were shipped to a stocker receiving operation. Blood samples were taken and the calves (avg = 552 lb) were placed in pens either with (PI) or without (CON) a pen mate that was known to be positive for PI-BVD.

A total of 292 steer and bull calves (AM) were purchased from auction markets, transported to the same stocker unit as above within 36 hours of purchase, arrived averaging 539 lb, processed as PC calves had been at weaning (with castration of any bulls), and assigned to a treatment group as above. Pens were situated such that CON calves did not have fenceline or water contact with PI groups.

All groups were then fed a 15.3% CP supplement (at 4 lb/hd/day initially, increased to 6 lb when the initial rate was being consumed) and free-choice 13.1% CP bermudagrass hay for 42 days. PC calves gained 2.6 lb/day compared to 1.9 for AM. AM calves suffered 70% sickness and required $20.52/hd antibiotic cost compared to 7% and $2.48 for PC. There was no significant difference within either PC or AM due to PI-BVD exposure.

The authors noted that performance beyond 42 days to finishing was not evaluated and also that cost of testing for PI-BVD may not be economically justified in single-source preconditioned calves but may be justified in commingled, high-risk calves. EDITOR’S NOTE: Uncontrolled differences in genetics and background of PC and AM calves in this study could possibly have influenced results, especially weight gain. (J. Animal Sci. 90:1972; Univ. of Arkansas, Iowa St. Univ., USDA-ARS in Ames, Ia.)

Many cows in the subtropical region of the U. S. have some heat tolerant genetics, usually from Brahman or Brahman-derivative breeds. Most of the steers and heifers not retained for breeding are finished in large feedyards located in more temperate regions, i. e., from the Texas Panhandle and northward.

In this study, purebreds and all possible reciprocal crosses were produced in central Florida using Angus (AN), Brahman (BR), and Romosinuano (RO), a tropically-adapted non-Bos indicus breed originating in Venezuela. Steer calves (n = 473) born over three consecutive years were weaned in September, backgrounded for at least three weeks, and shipped to central Oklahoma, a distance of 1255 miles. After a four-week preconditioning period, steers were turned out on wheat pasture from November to May, placed on full feed, and slaughtered after feeding for either 95, 125, or 155 days.

Tropically-adapted steers had higher weaning weights and background gain, as did crossbreds compared to purebreds and crosses among BR-RO compared to AN crosses. Loss of weight during shipping was 9% (48 lb), and crossbred steers lost 7 lb more than straightbreds. During preconditioning, shipping loss was recovered plus an additional 18 lb was gained; AN gained more and BR-RO crosses less.

On wheat, ranking of ADG was AN>AN crosses>BR-RO crosses or RO>BR. During finishing, ADG was similar among groups (AN crosses were slightly higher) except that BR was lower. (In both wheat-pasture and finishing phases, crosses out of BR dams gained less.) AN were lower in feed efficiency (gain:feed) and AN and AN-RO were numerically higher (less efficient) in Residual Feed Intake. As might be expected, highest heterosis for weaning, wheat-pasture, and finishing weight was found in AN-BR crosses, the most genetically diverse breeds in the study.

The authors concluded that performance was lower for tropically-adapted groups during winter-early spring on wheat but not during finishing in summer-early fall. EDITOR’S NOTE: This is reflected in the larger discounts commonly seen for tropically-adapted types for either grazing or finishing through winter in areas with large acreage of wheat and commercial feedyards. (J. Animal Sci. 90:1955; USDA-ARS in Brooksville, FL and El Reno, OK and Univ. of Florida)


  • Brazil has the largest commercial cattle herd and is the largest exporter of beef in the world. The majority of calving is in late winter to early spring.
  • The majority of cattle are Nellore, a Bos indicus breed. There is some increase in Bos taurus-Bos indicus crosses, similar to what is often seen in the subtropics of the US.
  • Most beef is produced from grazed cattle, which tend to gain weight during the rainy summer season and lose weight during the dry winter, so slaughter age for grazed cattle averages around 36 months in order to produce acceptable weight.
  • Feeding cattle for slaughter, mostly during the dry season, has increased over the last 10 years, partly for export markets and also to produce a minimum of 0.15 in fat cover for domestic markets.
  • Feeding averages only about 70 days. Rations tend to average higher roughage (20-25%) than in the US. Most feedyards are owned by packers.
  • To meet requirements for European markets, ionophores and other antibiotics are regulated; implants and beta-agonists are forbidden regardless of the intended market.
  • An outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2005 resulted in severely reduced cattle numbers but that reduction has since been recovered.
  • Increase in cattle numbers has come largely on cultivated pasture; as a result, concerns about deforestation have declined and methane emissions/unit of beef have decreased.
  • There is some increasing interest in organic production, mostly in areas where intensive systems are less feasible. (, Oct, 2011)

In a beef cow herd, some 60 to 65% of feed energy is required for body maintenance. Some breed association genetic evaluation programs now include EPD for cow nutritional maintenance requirements. A study was designed to compare meat quality from progeny of Red Angus sires with high and low EPD for maintenance, which is calculated by considering cow weight, body condition score, and milking potential. The analysis showed that EPD for maintenance was not related to tenderness of either strip loins or bottom rounds. The authors concluded that genetic selection for reduced nutritional requirements for body maintenance should have no effect on meat quality. (J. Animal Sci. 90:1617; Univ. of Idaho)

Power of Meat is an annual survey of meat retailing. The 2012 version indicates that the most important factor affecting purchasing in retail stores was in-store signs. Other factors with over 25% influence were meat coupons, ads in direct mail or newspapers, and markdowns due to imminent sell-by dates. Less important factors were nutrition information on packages, in-store sampling, recipes or cooking instruction on packages, and recipes on other printed sources.

The report also indicated that shoppers purchased 5.3% less product than last year but spent 2.5% more dollars for it. Volume purchasing, such as buying in bulk or buy-one-get-one-free, was less pronounced this year. The study indicated that consumers fry food less and bake or slow-cook more. More shoppers indicate their knowledge of cooking, nutrition, and meal planning is “just okay” as opposed to “great”. Convenience factors such as leak-proof packaging are preferred. Environmentally-friendly packaging is a positive influence only if there is no extra price involved. (American Meat Institute;

The 58th Annual Texas A&M Beef Cattle Short Course will be held August 6-8 in the newly renovated Memorial Student Center on the campus of Texas A&M University. All aspects of beef production will be covered. For program information and registration go to or call (979) 845-6931.

Comments are closed.