Adding Value to Feeder Calves

As spring-born calves across the country reach the end of their stay at their farm or ranch of origin, it is important to consider management options like implanting, weaning, castrating bull calves, and dehorning that add value on sale day. Each choice requires an investment of time, facilities, and some education, but when used appropriately, each option tends to yield a positive return on investment, ROI. 

Whether you have weaned or are in the post-weaning phase, implanting calves has one of, if not the highest ROI of any production tool in the business. Implants contain growth stimulants that increase muscle growth and result in higher weaning weights and sale weights. Consider a popular implant priced at $40.78 for 24 doses or $1.70 per dose. The product is marketed to increase weaning weight by 20-35 lbs. That means each additional pound costs roughly $0.06 to produce, and today those additional pounds are worth anywhere from $1.70 to $2.15/lb. Some producers will reach out to us and suggest they are missing the premium for NHTC calves if they implant; if you are not in a verified, likely audited program that produces calves bound for either the EU or Whole Foods, those calves are unlikely to see any premiums at sale, and they are implanted the minute they set foot in the feed lot. Remember, even if you’ve already weaned calves, implants can be utilized post-weaning.

On that note, weaning is another management choice that adds significant value to calves at sale. However, the investment in weaning is certainly greater than that required when implanting. The table below reports sale values for weaned steer calves and their un-weaned peers in different weight ranges. With only one exception, the value of weaned calves exceeds that of un-weaned calves. In one case, the premium for weaned calves was 20 cents per pound or roughly $94 per head. The average difference in weaned and un-weaned calf prices varies by weight class but averages $8.33 per hundredweight across the report. This sample suggests that weaning increases the value of each calf by roughly 4.6%. 

Medium & Large #1 and #2 Steer Values for the week of 10/3/2022 – 10/7/2022 ($/CWT)

Dehorning and castrating bull calves both add value as well. Data on each management decision is reported less frequently through AMS, but expect both management choices to yield a positive ROI. A few data points from Texas collected over the last month suggest a $0.19 per pound discount for bulls compared to steers and a $0.03 per pound discount for horned calves. 

Consider the aggregate difference in a few management decisions presented here. Last week at the Oklahoma National Stockyards, a weaned steer calf that was implanted and sold at a weight of 450 lbs. brought roughly $787.50. A similar quality un-weaned bull calf that was un-implanted and therefore weighed only 420 lbs. may have brought only $627.80; a total discount of $159 per head compared to the calf from the producer that applied some management tools. 

We want to keep animal welfare at the forefront of our decision-making, even before financial gains, so always read and follow the product label. It is also true that the misapplication of these tools can result in a financial loss. If implanting calves, castrating bulls, dehorning, or weaning is new to your business, be sure to reach out to your county Extension agent, Extension Animal Science Specialists, or at least experienced producers you trust. The experience and knowledge these groups will bring to your operation will help prevent a financial misstep and will help you maintain the well-being of your cattle. 

Benavidez, Justin. “Adding Value to Feeder Calves“. Southern Ag Today 2(43.3). October 19, 2022. Permalink