In the ups and downs of the cattle industry, any concept that can provide 10 percent more profit year in and year out is a no-brainer decision. At least that's the perspective of Louisiana cattleman Jim Paul Dupont of Cameron Parish, La.
Dupont, a commercial cattleman with about 300 mama cows in his herd, is a participant and proponent of Louisiana's Calf-to-Carcass educational program. For the past seven years, Dupont sent calves to an Oklahoma feedlot and retained ownership of the steers until slaughter. The result, in addition to gaining valuable information about herd health and genetics, is an increase of at least 10 percent in profits on his F1 Braford steers.
The most impressive part of the program has been that instead of selling calves at a local market and getting discounted for their breed, the retained ownership has added value and profit to the end product instead of losing it, says Dupont. “I've been in this program for seven years. I classify this (retained ownership) as a risk interest investment. Out of the seven years, I've made 10 percent interest or more. This year I had up to $100 per head of profit.”
The Calf-to-Carcass program began in 1992 and involves dozens of producers and several hundred calves sent to a feedlot each year. The program allows cow-calf producers to see what happens to calves after they are weaned.
Data received by each producer addresses issues such as herd health, trucking fees, calf shrink, feedlot performance, marketing alternatives and carcass quality. They can get this information is a written report and can also track their animals through the feedlot's Web site.
To take part in the program, producers enter a minimum of three calves. Producers deliver their calves to three preconditioning sites in the state: LSU AgCenter's Idlewild Research Station at Clinton, the University of Louisiana at Monroe and McNeese State University at Lake Charles.
After a preconditioning program, the animals are sent to Hitch Feedlot in Guymon, Okla., where they are fed until slaughter weight, but the producers retain ownership of the cattle until slaughter.
Calf-to-Carcass is similar to other state programs such as Texas Ranch-to-Rail and Mississippi's Farm-to-Feedlot. The goal is to help producers finish out their calves and retain a larger percentage of the overall profit of the animal.
“Higher prices the past few years have helped growers enrolled in the program make from $150 to $200 more per animal,” says Darrin Goodwin, farm manager at the McNeese State location.
The program is accessible and of benefit to small cow-calf producers who may run 20 head of cattle or to full-time producers with hundreds of cattle in their herd.
“We run about 400 head per year through the program,” says Goodwin.
In 2003, 42 of those animals belonged to Dupont, who in addition to taking part in the Calf-to-Carcass program, also sends some steers to feedlots independent of the program.
Dupont says the first obvious marketing concept he learned from the program was that when he took his F1 Braford steers to local sale barns, they were discounted because they were long eared and buyers didn't particularly like steers with that Brahman influence.
“We would take those half-blood animals, and they would get the biggest discount because they had too much ear,” Dupont says. “By using the retained ownership, I saved those discounts. Once the hide was off, there wasn't a discount. The meat was there.
“In our operation, we are after the F1 heifers, so we have to do something with the steers, and this program lets us get more money for the steers.”
Dupont says he's learned how to improve his herd as have neighboring cattlemen.
“One thing we learned is if you don't do the health and preconditioning properly you are going to have more death loss out there. In the program this year I only had one calf in the sick pen.
“There's just nothing negative to say about this program,” says Dupont.
Goodwin says the program, designed as an educational program to add value to the state's overall beef industry, is also a profit-maker for participants.
“When growers sell their cattle at weaning, we feel like they may be leaving money on the table by selling at certain markets.
“The No. 1 educational tool is to train producers on how cattle will perform in the feedlot,” says Goodwin. “We know our growers are learning from the program. For one thing we've seen a tremendous increase in overall herd health throughout the state.
“We've also proven we do have a market for our cattle. We've always been told Gulf Coast cattle don't have a place in the market, but we've learned producers do well and people want our cattle,” says Goodwin.
Collection sites open at the three locations from Sept. 1 to Oct. 15. The target weight for calves brought in is about 550 pounds.
Preconditioning is a process where calves are trained, conditioned and fed to enter the feedlot. The animals are electronically identified, weighed, vaccinated and treated for parasites. In addition, professionals rate the frame score and estimate a price for each animal in the program during this early stage. Following the initial preparation, calves are placed on bermudagrass pastures for 45 days with free choice hay, and they are fed a medicated ration.
“Then we ship them all at the same time to the feedlot for 190 days,” says Goodwin.
At the end of the 190 days, the animals are sold and slaughtered and an in-depth report on the animal's stay at the feedlot is prepared and sent back to county Extension agents and the producers, who sit down together and see what factors the producer could better control such as genetics, health, breed selection, etc.
“Some of our first producers did so well with this they've formed alliances now and ship cattle to the feedlots independently of this program,” says Goodwin. “The bottom line is they are making more money per animal by retaining ownership. They are also able to make better decisions on where they want to be on the quality of their herds.
“Growers need to learn to fit their environment and their bulls. They can look at how well their calves gained and the quality of the carcass and see where they need to improve. Then they can use EPDs, the performance data, past history, etc., and they can gradually increase the quality of their herds.”
Part of the program is also the opportunity for cattle producers to take educational trips each year to the feedlot, to a slaughter plant and a packing house.
Goodwin says another aspect of the program they hope to implement is a winter forage program for the lighter calves so they can graze at the conditioning sites and put on weight there before being shipped to the feedlot.
“Our producers generally have a January-to-April calving season. By September, the April calves are only five months old. We hope that implementing the forage program will give us cheaper gains on those younger calves.”
For more information, contact Goodwin at 337-475-8004 or [email protected].
Eva Ann Dorris is a free lance journalist from Pontotoc, Miss. Contact her at [email protected].