Source and age verification and breeding decisions
It seems that mud is the topic of conversation in many parts of the country. When the groundhog saw his shadow I was kind of pleased to know we only had six more weeks of bad weather. I hope we are getting to the end soon but forecasts seem to be calling for more moisture presenting more challenges for those calving. The good news is all the moisture should start the grass this spring plus those that rely on snow melt for irrigation it appears the reserves look relatively good now.
As calves start to hit the ground it is a good time to think about how they will be marketed and how to sell the most value in both weight, which is king, but also in price per pound. One area that appears to be a lost opportunity for some is qualifying the calves for source and age. There is no doubt that unless your operation is in an alliance contract premiums may not be available when you decide to market your cattle so the cost of qualifying may not be recovered.
Often the most rewarding source and age premiums are for beef from cattle to be exported especially to Japan. Because of this uncertainty some do not go to the expense of getting their calves officially “qualified” for source and age even though they are probably collecting and recording all the information that is required. Source and age verified cattle have received for 0-$50 per head at slaughter with a range of $15-$45 not at all uncommon. Some will point out that when more cattle are qualified the premium will decrease as a larger supply will be available. There has also been some reluctance to see much of a premium for age and source calves, especially when sold in small groups as calves or yearlings.
In the event you do want to get your calves age and source verified, now is the time to start. Even though some programs do not require individual birth dates, just the birth date of the first calf in a group of calves, it is probably more advisable in most cases to keep individual birth dates. The most important part is to have a third party to verify the records which usually requires a charge. Some have a fixed one time charge with an annual charge while others have a per head or a combination of herd and head charge. The third party will verify the accuracy of the records. Many companies offer these services. Advice and experience can be gained from your neighbors extension beef specialists, veterinarians and industry reps. Industry cattle magazines such as Drovers annually publish a list of available programs with a few of the features of each program. (http://www.drovers.com/directories.asp?pgID=712)
Source and age verification should not be confused with the recent National Animal Identification System. Source and age is for marketing purposes while NAIS is for disease trace back. Also, electronic ear tags are not required by many companies that will conduct the third party verifications. Some companies do require electronic tags and they do offer some management and processing efficiency but certainly not a requirement if you want to source and age verify cattle.
For those that breed yearling heifers utilizing synchronization now is the time to start planning the synchrony program, especially if MGA is utilized. The MGA feeding needs to be initiated about 34 days before you intend to breed the heifers. That involves 14 days of feeding of MGA at 0.5 mg./hd./day and then giving the prostaglandin injection 19 days after MGA feeding is stopped. Some have preferred to use CIDRs especially when delivering MGA daily to the heifers is not feasible. The use of CIDRs can be initiated closer to the time of breeding than the MGA/prostaglandin program. CIDRs arguably appear to be about equal in success however is slightly more costly. There does appear to be an advantage of CIDRs in cows partly because the difficulty for some to uniformly deliver MGA to cows under range conditions. Iowa State University has developed an excellent spreadsheet to aid in planning a successful synchronization program and is for sale at their web sight (http://www.iowabeefcenter.org/content/software_software.html). Many beef specialist and semen sales representatives have the software and would be willing to assist in selecting and developing the details of the desired program.
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