The Big Picture by J.T. Korkow: Save a calf program |

The Big Picture by J.T. Korkow: Save a calf program

If you are like me, after Sweetheart’s Day I look forward to warmer temperatures, green grass, and babies on the ground. You could safely say, springtime is probably the favorite season of the year for most livestock producers, with fall a close second. Something about new baby calves, lambs and foals being born refreshes us and gives us cause to celebrate a new production year.

As I browse through many of the livestock publications, I note the multiple number of bull sales scheduled, along with articles of heifer nutrition, market analysis, and weather outlooks. After reading some of the information on the latest farm bill programs, however, I was even more appreciative of being involved with mostly livestock operations rather than farming. Something about government involvement in your operation can dampen even the brightest of spirits in the springtime. So far, they have limited involvement in the livestock industry in comparison, and I hope it stays that way.

One subject I did not find an article written about, however, is the “save a calf” program. Some of you livestock producers probably haven’t heard of the program, or thought much about it, but this program will put more pounds of beef on the truck at market time than any growth hormone or distillers grain can influence. What I am talking about, is a simple program, when participated in, can return more dollars than anything else you can do throughout the production cycle. I became aware of this program in the 80s, when I worked for the Schultz Angus Ranch out of Sheridan, Montana. They would consistently command a better than 97 percent calf crop out of 1,250 cows when participating in the program. Then, when I was employed as an ag banker, I tried to sell the “save a calf” program to as many of my customers as I could.

You see, if a cattleman can increase his number of live calves to wean, it will out-perform any breeding or feeding program he can come up with. Sounds simple in concept, and you will say, “well JT, that’s nothing new!” But you may be surprised at the number of producers out there that still winter their cattle on open range with a little cake and just let the cow “do her thing”, with no oversight, assistance, or accommodations. Whatever calves come in during the fall roundup are what are counted for the annual production. This type of operation boasts of low labor requirement, yet the percentage of live calves born on this type of operation can be as low as 70 percent some years, especially if Mother Nature decides to deal a rough blow during calving season…..and it happens here in the north country. Normally, this style of ranching is found on the big operations that have large land base, large cow numbers, no facilities, and little help. These type operations substitute efficiency with more population, and will be the first to go in the “red” when a disaster of any kind hits.

To illustrate my point further, if you increase your calving percentage by 5 percent on say, 100 cows….that would equate to 2,750 more pounds of beef climbing on the truck in the fall. If you use a 550 pound sale weight @ $2.50/lb, that equates to $6,875.00 more total revenue! An amortized payment on a 36 x 60 calving shed at $25,000 cost basis, is $2,006 per year (20 years at 5 percent interest).

So what is the “save the calf” program? Simply put, it is a devout commitment to provide accommodations for and live with your momma cows 24/7 during calving season, to assist birthing when necessary. That is when you will make your money. Striving for a 100 percent calf crop is the most efficient operation, and the most profitable. Breeding, nutrition, and supplements are secondary.

The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth, and strips the forests bare; and in His temple, everyone says, “Glory!” Psalm 29:9

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