Livestock specialist: Variety of factors may cause stocker steer gains to decline
Some cattle producers raising stocker steers are reporting smaller than average gains this year despite not making any drastic operational changes.
According to Eldon Cole, a livestock specialist with University of Missouri Extension, there is many factors that could be at work to reduce stocker steer gains.
"The most obvious would be the weather. Hot weather the last two years likely has resulted in lower animal performance. The hot dry summers probably reduced the percentage legume in the pastures, thus lowering gains," said Cole.
Straight fescue pasture with endophyte problems, no doubt is the forage that has survived the stressful weather. The "hot" fescue can reduce gains by 0.5 pound per day or more, compared to novel endophyte fescue, a fescue-legume mix or a warm season grass.
Cole says shade can also be a factor in animal performance. Research at the University's Southwest Center showed an improvement in daily gain of 0.2 pound for shade versus no shade on "hot" fescue pasture for stocker steers.
"The genetic background of stocker cattle plays a big role in coping with heat stress and the ability to make gains. For example, cattle that fail to shed their winter coats early will be at a disadvantage in performance," said Cole.
It also appears that stocker operators are concentrating more on black cattle now when they make purchases than in past years.
"It's possible their choices at buying time may contribute to some difference in rate of gain," said Cole.
In addition to genetic differences, age and condition of stockers could be a consideration. With the shortage of cattle, the stocker folks may be buying younger cattle, perhaps with more flesh, and that reduces their compensatory gain benefit.
"As management intensive grazing is adopted gain per head or per day may also drop slightly. Gain per unit of land could actually increase as stocking numbers increase, but individual performance could decline," said Cole.
Pasture fertility should be considered as a factor impacting gains also. Liming is a vital part of pasture performance, especially since it can enhance legume establishment and growth.
"A complete soil testing program could uncover fertility needs that might impact animal gains," said Cole.
Management practices that may have been altered should be reviewed by the owner. Cole says records definitely are required to thoroughly analyze the following practices; implant product and protocol; external and internal parasite control; disease problems; castration timing, method and numbers; supplement use; weighing conditions, beginning and end.
"The bottom line is, only a close review of management practices with written, documented records can help a producer determine if there really is a substantial effect on animal performance that they can change. Unfortunately, there are many variables that may affect gains and pinpointing one or two specific items will be difficult," said Cole.
For more information, contact any of the MU Extension livestock specialists in southwest Missouri: Eldon Cole in Mt. Vernon, 417-466-3102, Andy McCorkill in Dallas County at 417-345-7551 or Dona Goede in Cedar County, 417-276-3313.