Decide when to wean
By John Forshee
River Valley Extension District Director
Livestock producers in north-central Kansas are quickly approaching the traditional fall weaning time when they must make a number of decisions, including the decision as to whether they will sell off the cow or background through the fall and into winter.
That decision is based upon how that producer answers the following questions. Do I have adequate facilities to properly house and care for calves during weaning and backgrounding? Do I have adequate feed resources available? Do I have adequate labor resources available to dedicate to the livestock program while maintaining the remaining farming and ranching operations? Am I willing to take the risks associated with the operation? Am I willing to price my feedstuffs to the cattle operation to be of equal value to selling the hay and grain through other marketing channels?
If the answer to all of these questions is yes, then the decision becomes solely a financial one. What level of profit can I achieve? This can often be a much harder question to answer as so many factors come into play such as current and future market prices for both feed and cattle, fall and winter weather conditions, and interest rates.
K-State has put together some really handy decision tools to help producers take a look at those profit potentials for either retaining ownership through backgrounding or for the purchase of feeder cattle for the backgrounding lot. To find these Excel spreadsheets go to www.AgManager.info, select decision tools, select livestock, then select download on the Cattle Breakeven Selling and Purchase Prices. This is a really simple spreadsheet that asks for only nine input variables: purchase weight, purchase price, average daily gain projected, feeding cost of gain, interest rate, death loss, trucking and vet cost, desired profit, and a minimum acceptable selling weight. Given these inputs the program will calculate a breakeven selling price with sensitivity analysis for varying purchase prices and feeding costs of gain.
Let's look at a quick example. I selected 500 pound steers that sold the week of Sept. 1 in Salina for approximately $146 per hundredweight. I assumed that I could achieve 2.25 pounds per day at $95 per cwt. feeding cost of gain. Other assumptions were 7 percent interest, 1.50 percent death loss, $20 other costs, and a desired profit of $20 per head. In this scenario it would take me approximately 150 days to be in early February when I would like to sell 850-pound steers. At that time given all my assumptions were accurate I would need to sell that 850-pound steer for $133.44. If I could buy those same steers for $140, then my selling price would need to be $129.75 to achieve that same $20 profit. Likewise the sensitivity analysis showed me that if I could trim $2.50 off my feeding cost per hundredweight I would only need to sell for $132.42. All of this information is in a convenient chart that is very user-friendly. This fall I encourage producers to take a few minutes, plug in what they project for their farm and use this tool as an aide in their decision making.
For more information, please contact your local River Valley Extension Office with offices in Belleville (785-527-5084); Clay Center (785-632-5335); Concordia (785-243-8185) or Washington (785-325-2121).