Managing Risk in a Risky Business

Garth Ruff, Field Specialist Beef Cattle and Livestock Marketing, OSU Extension

Manage the risk of grazing stockers!

The grass is getting greener by the day and livestock are being turned out to pasture as we speak. For many years cattle producers have purchased and turned out stocker cattle on grass this time of year. The goal: put on cheap gain, utilizing grazed forages. While the pounds added to cattle in a stocker operation might be cheap, one thing is for certain that in 2024 calves being purchased to be stockers on grass are anything but.

Looking at livestock auction reports in eastern Ohio 300-500 pound steers last week cost anywhere from $3.00-$3.52 per pound for quality steer calves. Heifer calves cost $2.50 – $3.00 per pound. That is a range in cost from $750 to north of $1,700 per head invested in a calf that will be grazing through the summer. With that kind of up-front costs in buying cattle this spring, summer grazing is risky as it has ever been and there are management considerations to account for.

Vitamin M(anagement)

There is a science behind being a successful stocker operation. Those who are the most profitable start with the type and kind of cattle that best match their management style. Just because cattle are high priced, doesn’t mean a stocker operator can sacrifice calf quality at turn out time. For stocker calf grazers that have off farm employment, baseball/softball schedules to work around, or may get a case of corn planter-itis in coming weeks, starting with quality healthy calves is paramount.

Buying lesser quality, or health challenged calves takes a more intensive management style and know how to get calves back to health and eating. Remember, you get what you pay for.

An Ounce of Prevention

A good bill of health is paramount before turning stocker calves out to grass. Vaccinations for Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD) and Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD) are key given the value of these cattle.

I get asked several questions each year about pinkeye prevention. There are a few options here including autogenous vaccines, but the best plan of attack is to work with your veterinarian on developing protocols for pinkeye prevention and treatment.

As it relates to pinkeye, producer may choose to feed a fly control mineral. Those products should be fed roughly 30 days before the fly season, early May into October when temperatures begin to cool off and fly populations subside.

Feed a good quality mineral. The goal of stockering cattle is to add cost effective lean gain to the animal in preparation to enter the feed yard. Most of the pounds added are going to attributed to growing the frame, lean muscle, and expansion of the digestive tract. A good quality mineral that is bioavailable to the animal is a must for growth and development of the animal.

Consider Risk Protection Tools

I cannot emphasize enough that stocker calves this spring are a valuable commodity. With all commodities there is inherit risk due to volatility in the marketplace. While this cattle market looks to be strong and supported by low cow numbers for the next couple of years, having risk protection tools in place such as LRP (Livestock Risk Protection) will help in protecting the backside, should the market drop for whatever reason.

Think back to last November when the cattle on feed report took the steam out of the cattle market for a few weeks. Those producers who had risk protection tools in place didn’t feel the effect of that sudden price drop nearly has hard, as those who were unprotected. Many crop insurance companies across the state offer LRP, reach out to them for more information on premiums and the level of protection offered on a given day. If grazing any significant number of cattle this summer, having a risk management plan might make sleeping at night a bit easier.