Wintering calves are going back to grass |

Wintering calves are going back to grass

I hope and trust everyone is enjoying and benefitting from the above average temperature this fall and early winter. Yes, we can use some moisture and will definitely need moisture in some form before next spring in order to initiate good spring growth. We still have plenty of time left for some timely moisture.

As cow herd numbers decrease and cost of finishing cattle increase on high grain diets many have looked at alternatives to growing cattle outside the feed yard in an effort to decrease the cost of production of finished cattle. Changes in the price of corn for finishing cattle and availability of by-products from distillers’ grain in some parts of the country may cause some to reconsider the rate of gain for cattle that are being wintered to go back to grass.

Utilizing yearlings gives cow-calf operators increased options and makes it easier to adjust to forage availability as the year progresses. This has certainly increased in importance as many have encountered drought in recent years.

Discussions will continue on the proper level of gain that calves should be programmed for when they are going back to grass. Historically, calves were wintered on winter standing range with very little supplement so gains were often less than half a pound per day. It was felt that even though winter gains were low the calves would compensate on summer pasture and be almost the same as yearlings that had been wintered at a faster rate. I had felt the level of compensation would be around 50 percent. In other words, if calves were 100 pounds when going to grass they would be 50 pounds heavier in the fall. Recent research at the UNL Department of Animal Science has challenged this thought in a recent article published in the 2013 Beef Report. They point out cheaper by-product feeds, allows for higher supplementation especially when the cattle are retained through finishing. In an article by Gillespie and others in the 2013 University of Nebraska Beef Report they summarized five trials where 500-525 pound feeder calves were supplemented to achieve around half-a-pound of gain per day versus around a pound-and-a-half per head per day. They then used current prices to evaluate a system where calves were either supplemented with two pounds or five pounds of dried distillers’ grains daily while grazing corn stalks. In their model they assumed that while the calves were grazing corn stalks and fed two pounds of supplement they would gain a half-pound per head per day while those supplemented with five pounds would gain 1.4 pounds daily. In the economic analysis where they started with 500 pound calves and wintered them at two different levels, then summered them on the same pasture and finished them in the feedlot the calves that were wintered at a low rate of gain lost $10 per head while those wintered at the higher rate of gain made $47 per head.

The major reason the faster winter gaining calves were more profitable is that they were heavier when harvested. This is in spite of the fact the winter supplementation was two and a-half times more expensive. Again, they assumed compensatory gain while on grass however the faster growing calves were still 82 pounds heavier going into the feedlot and were 85 pounds heavier when harvested. The faster gaining wintering calves gained one-fifth of a pound more in the feedlot however they were fed five days less. It is not clear why the calves that gained faster in the winter, gained faster in the feedlot after coming off summer grass. It is interesting to note that of the total cost from weaning to finish, the winter phase accounted equal for 12-18 percent (low winter gain versus high) while summer pasture was about equal and accounted for about 16-17 percent and the finishing phase was 71 percent (low winter gain) and 66 percent (the high winter gain) of the total cost. The bottom line is the faster winter gain got the calves to a heavier market weight when utilizing low-quality cheap feed as a winter feed base. This data should question if the three-tenths to one-half pound winter gain is the most economical with current economics, especially when considering the entire growing and finishing system. The entire article can be found on the website at:

Continue to enjoy this beautiful early winter as the forecasts says it will change – and maybe bring some moisture. Beef rib roast makes a beautiful and delicious Christmas dinner. I can find no reference in the Bible or anywhere else that says turkey should be served so join our family tradition where “BEEF IT’S WHAT FOR CHRISTMAS DINNER”. Want a new recipe? Search: rib roast.

Merry Christmas to all.