Fall means a lot of things for cattle producers in the area. We’ve already discussed how we choose replacement heifers, but what do we do with the rest of our calves? Most ranchers will be selling their calves into the next stage of the production cycle, but some others are retaining ownership through the entire life cycle, retaining ownership until the calves are a year old, or even pre-conditioning their animals.
At roughly 6-9 months we wean our calves. What does this mean? We wean them off their mother’s milk and onto a strictly solid diet. This is already happening naturally – the cows start to push their calves off them this time of year. It is important that we help with this process so that the cow can recover and be able to focus on their current pregnancy. When they are done lactating their nutritional requirements will drop by 15-20%. This allows the cow to put this extra energy into the young pregnancy that they are carrying right now, which is essential as we head into our brutal Gunnison winters. Producers can use several different methods to wean. We can use what is called fence line weaning, where we place the cows and calves across the fence from each other – so they can see each other but the calves cannot nurse. Producers can also use a device that prevents the calf from sucking on their mothers but allows him to eat and drink while they are still physically with their mothers. Regardless of which method producers use, their priority is on the cow and calf’s comfort, safety, and wellbeing.
After they are weaned producers have a variety of options of what to do next. Most producers will give vaccinations to these weaned calves – making sure they start off their adult life as healthy as possible. Ranchers then have the option to either sell their calves right away, or “pre-condition” them. Pre-conditioning can consist of vaccinating for common diseases, getting calves used to drinking out of water troughs, eating out of feed bunks, and a deworming protocol. This pre-conditioning system takes 45 to 60 days and can add great value to a producer’s herd. This system can help reduce the need to use antibiotics later on in the calf’s life by setting them up for success with essential vaccinations. This whole pre-conditioning system just essentially means we are prepping them for the next stage of their life.
We have many options to sell our cattle. We of course have the live auctions that have been the mainstay of selling animals for hundreds of years. These are held at physical auction barns across the country – and for anyone curious to go, they are exciting to go watch! Many ranchers now sell their calves on video auctions – which makes it easy for buyers across the entire country, even world, to see and bid on our local Gunnison cows. There are a variety of “value-added” programs that can help us get a better price. For example, if we are using a registered Charolais bull or cow we can sell our calves in a program known as “CharAdvantage”. This program can provide the next owner a record of the marbling EPD (Expected Progeny Difference – discussed two weeks ago), the sire or dam of the calf, any additional health protocol the calf received, and the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) certification of the rancher that raised the calf. This is the same for most breeds – if you want to buy a certified Angus calf you can buy from a Certified Angus Beef breeder. All these programs allow the buyer to know more about the animal they are buying. Not all ranchers sell their calves – some ranchers retain ownership of their calves through their entire life cycle – from birth all the way to the processing facility.
As you can see, we have a variety of options that we can utilize as producers in this day and age. All producers have to weigh the costs and benefits of these different systems – and ultimately decide their bottom line and what method makes the most sense.