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Monday, August 25, 2014

California kicks off the fall bull market

by Dr. Bob Hough, WLJ Contributor

The fall bull selling season is about to be in full swing starting with the early sales in California. Obviously, California has been dealt a tough hand in the last few years with a severe drought, which has caused cow numbers to decline. This has led producers to cull all of their marginal cows, leaving them with a tremendous nucleus for when the rains return. They are also producing calves worth record prices. When replacing bulls this year, commercial cow/calf producers should invest in the best quality bulls possible to further enhance the quality of their smaller herds and to take full advantage of this unprecedented market.

On the whole, seedstock producers have adjusted their bull offering to reflect the smaller number of cows in the country, so they should be offering the best quality genetics they have ever had. With the value of feeder cattle this year, seedstock producers on the West Coast have used the knife on all their marginal calves so only the best will be for sale this fall. This should offer commercial producers the opportunity to significantly upgrade their calf crop by adding outstanding herd sires.

It is worth the investment to pay good prices to seedstock producers that have the best objectively identified cattle for the economically important traits.

This includes meaningful contemporary group performance data, ultrasound and genomics. In an effort to get optimized production out of their commercial cows, producers should try to take as much of the guesswork out of the process as possible, which means rewarding seedstock producers for collecting the data and producing the genetics that will move their herds forward. With smaller numbers, it is time to produce the best cattle possible genetically; therefore, getting the most out of every cow and every calf.

When shopping for bulls, it is good to have clear-cut criteria for your next herd sires that will best move your herd forward. This will help you avoid mistakes that come with impulse purchases that are so easy to make at a sale. It often helps to visit with your seedstock provider ahead of time to help build your criteria for bull purchases. It is critical to make sure your objective criteria are in line with your environment, management and market.

Convenience traits like soundness, disposition and fleshing ability are extremely important, and usually require seeing the seedstock in person or by the observation of a trusted advisor. Many of the other traits can be sorted on paper with ranges of acceptability for each trait. Acceptable levels of calving ease potential for heifers and cows should also be taken into account as this consistently ranks as the number one trait in surveys of commercial producers, and research has shown that moderate birthweights are correlated with moderate mature size. As this drought has moved across the country, many producers have found that too much milk can be a major detriment, so producers should select for optimum milk potential for their situation and avoid extremes.

How you market your calves should also influence the level of traits you select. The traditional market of cattle moving East with a stocker phase before the cattle are placed in the feed yard calls for more moderate cattle. However, if cattle are headed to Harris or Beef Northwest to go straight on feed, higher growth potential is desirable. Whether you are selling feeder cattle or retain ownership, all producers need to accept the responsibility for having cattle that will produce a desirable end-product. This means carcass traits and breed or breed combinations should have the genetic potential to yield a high quality carcass.

It is an exciting time to be in the cattle business. Export and domestic demand for beef has never been better, and the combination of low grain prices and low cow numbers is a scenario for unprecedented prices for cattle. When high quality feeder cattle are bringing over $1,500 a head, it is easy to see why investing in top genetics will pay off. With the drought in California and other parts of the country still with us, it is also important to garner the most revenue per cow as possible. Even cull prices are setting new records, so it is easy to pencil out taking a mediocre mature bull to town and investing in a young bull with better genetics.

The bottom line is this drought has provided West Coast producers the ability to supply the industry with the best commercial calves in the country, albeit in smaller numbers. With this market, and through intelligent culling and the investment in the right bulls, commercial producers can still maintain the desired revenue even during this drought! — Dr. Bob Hough, WLJCorrespondent

 

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