For those of you enjoying my lectures on how to make money in farming here is the third lesson in the series.
In the cattle raising industry, calves are weaned from their mothers when they get to a certain age. Usually at about 7 months of age. At that time they are still too small to put into 'finishing' feed yards. They need to grow several months more. The question becomes how do you grow them cheaply and efficiently? Some places grow them in 'grower' or 'backgrounding' yards where they feed them cheaper low grain, lower carbohydrate, high protein feed that enhances their frame and size. When cattle finally go into a finishing yard you want most of their height, length and breadth established so they will mostly gain weight and muscle. (beef steak)
Another method is putting the weaned calves out to graze for the growing period. That is what we are doing. We buy calves that need to grow, get used to being weaned, and hopefully be ready to go to the feed yard next spring. It works really good because wheat pasture is an excellent high protein feed that calves can utilize, cheaply filling in the gap between weaning and finishing. Native grass is also good, but not really available in the winter when most calves are needing to be grown. Some calves are grown on native grass in the summer, much the same as wheat in the winter.
Cattle growth timeline:
A calf is born in winter or early spring. Stays with his mamma until weaning around 7 months.
Weaned in the late summer or fall. At weaning say they average 550lbs.
Goes to either a backgrounding, grow-yard (more common in northern US) or on wheat, rye, oat pasture in the winter. Grows from 550lbs to 850lbs or more.
Put in a finishing feed yard where he gets to lay around and eat high carb fattening food for some months. When he is big enough (1300 lbs) he gets to go to cattle Disney Land, that is what they tell them anyway. (dumm, da-dummmm)
It is entirely possible one person could own the same animal all the way through from birth to slaughter. Not at all unusual. But a lot of people do not want to take the risk of owning them that long, with the risk of volatile markets, high feed costs, etc.
- Ranchers out west can sell the calves at weaning and get their money, and go on to raising more calves for the next year.
- I can't raise mamma cows and calves, so I buy them and grow them cheaply on my wheat in the winter. I don't want the risk of feeding them, so I...
- sell them to some old cattle feeder man and he feeds them out to slaughter. (think old man with rusty money and a big gray Stetson)
The amount of beef raised and eaten in this country is unbelievable. It takes many, many small, medium, and large ranches, stockers, and feeders to meet that demand. I know of one man that raises calves, and grazes them on his corn "harvesting it", and sells them direct for freezer beef on a really small scale. Not more than about 30 head a year. And then you have big, huge conglomerates like Cargill that own hundred of thousands of feeder cattle, and also several slaughter plants. Not to mention all the grain and feed handling facilities they run. Makes me feel like a very small wheel in a big machine sometimes.