Improving quality grades
Winter has definitely settled on the plains. I do not remember a stretch in early November with this much cold and this much wind. The snow in our area will force feeding our cows to begin setting us up for a long winter. My last article dealt with fetal programming and the formation of the calf’s muscle fibers during gestation. The next technique of adding value to your calves is improving quality grade.
When I was a student some forty plus years ago, we were taught that the longer we fed cattle the better the marbling. Then we were lucky to have see calves marketed at 18 months. Now we have shortened the cycle to one year. As we shortened the cycle we put pressure on breeders to produce animals with increased potential to marble, but we still believed it was the feedlots responsibility to make our cattle marble to full potential. Recent research highlights opportunities at the ranch which will improve quality grades at harvest.
We understand that all the muscle fibers are formed before the calf is born, but very few fat cells are formed before birth. The fat cells are formed from shortly before birth until the calf reaches about 250 days of age. This is probably why genetic potential for milk production and carcass traits are usually closely linked. A dam which is a good milker will better nourish her calf and allow the better formation of these fat cells. This indicates we have a window of opportunity around weaning time to improve quality grades.
Stress reduces quality grades. We all understand animals treated for sickness never grade as well as untreated pen-mates. Anything we can do to reduce stress at weaning will assure higher quality grades.
RANCH management’s protocols improve quality grades:
1. Creep feeding
Supplemental feeding preweaning ensures adequate nutrition as well as minimizing stress and weaning.
2. Preweaning vaccination
Prevents sickness and stress at weaning
Ensures adequate nutrient uptake
4. Growth implant
Have no affect on quality grade when used appropriately but increase gains.
5. Early castration
Steer should be castrated early to assure no hormone interference during the development stages of marbling.
6. Early weaning
Remove calves from cows as pasture conditions decline. This assures adequate nutrition of the calf during this critical period.
7. High energy diet
The fat cells develop for approximately the first 200 days of the calf’s life and then increase in size. This critical energy at weaning will allow these cells to develop completely.
8. Reduce stress
Make your weaning as uneventful as possible.
We have greatly improved the genetic potential of our cattle herd, but there is still unfilled demand for high grading carcasses. There are many things you can do at your ranch to improve the future finishing of your animals. Hopefully you can harvest some of the rewards for the prime and high choice animals. These extra dollars will allow you ranch to remain profitable in the future.