Retaining ownership of calves beyond weaning is a value-added process that provides cow-calf enterprises access to a greater share of the retail dollar. There are costs and benefits to selling at weaning as well as costs and benefits when retaining ownership, each of which must be evaluated on an annual basis. Estimating expected returns is challenging in a normal year, and has been complicated in 2022 by drought, widespread culling, high feed costs, and increasing calf prices. Below is an analysis of the retained ownership decision using today’s market expectations.
We can roughly estimate the expected revenue generated from the sale of a weaned calf today. The average price of a 7-8 weight steer in Joplin, MO the last week of April ran $1.63 per pound, meaning a 750-pound steer calf brought $1,224.38. So the question of retained ownership is how much additional revenue (value-added) over $1,224 can I expect from selling a fed calf, and what is the additional cost associated with the added value.
If we assume a current calf weight of 750 pounds for a 2021 spring-born calf, and an average daily gain (ADG) of 3.5 pounds, we can assume a target harvest date of mid-October at approximately 1,350 pounds. The board price for an October delivery fed steer last week averaged approximately $1.43 per pound. If we locked that price in today, a 1,350-pound steer would generate $1,930.50 in revenue. Compared to selling today at $1,224, retaining ownership would generate an additional $706/head. Now let’s look at the cost of achieving that additional $706.
Cost of Gain (COG) is a function of days on feed, cost of feed, and pounds of feed per pound of gain. It is commonly estimated using corn price, so it is significantly higher this year than in recent years. The increased cost of corn has cost of gain in the neighborhood of $1.20 per pound to $1.50 per pound depending on the feeding location, including an approximate 33% markup for yardage fees, overhead, and miscellaneous expenses. Subtracting COG from the expected value-added ($706.12) leaves the bottom-line Expected Net Revenue change from making the retained ownership decision. The table below shows the expected net revenue impact of retained ownership for various COG estimates ranging from $1.20 to $1.50 per pound of gain.
Given the current COG and relative calf values retaining ownership through the feed yard seems to be a relatively less profitable choice against selling a weaned calf. The market appears to value an additional 600 pounds of gain at a little over $700/hd while the cost of that gain could range from $720 to $900.