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Feedlot cattle: JBS manager explains what feedlots look for

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Brush, Colo. – When ranchers walk through their freshly weaned calves, they have to wonder if they are producing top quality calves that will earn them top dollar from a feedyard.

Nolan Stone, general manager of the JBS Five Rivers Kuner Feedyard, talked to ranchers about what the feedyard is looking for in the feeder cattle it buys during an open house in early March at the Stockmen’s Livestock Exchange in Brush, Colo.


Stone says a good vaccination program is important.

“If the rancher isn’t going to vaccinate their cattle, we probably don’t want them – even at any kind of a discount,” he told producers.

At the very minimum, Stone says its important for calves to receive two rounds of modified live 5-way a minimum of three weeks apart and at least two weeks before shipping.

“Most people give this vaccination at branding and again before they ship,” he said.

One round of 7- or 8-way clostridial vaccine is also important.

Producers also need to use an oral, injectable or pour-on product to control parasites. Stone also recommends giving cattle an ionophore, if they are not marketed for a natural program.


After the Kuner feedyard added natural beef to their program, Stone said the company began to realize the important role genetics plays in beef cattle production.

“Before then, genetics were not that important to us,” he said. “We didn’t pay a lot of attention to them. The cattle would come in, then we implanted and sorted them.”

When the natural program started, Stone said they started to realize how important genetics were because the natural cattle were being finished without the use of feed additives, implants or antibiotics.

He shared a study conducted at the feedlot that looked at the 60,000 head on feed at that time. This study found that the difference between the high-growth, high-grading cattle and the low-growth, low-grading cattle was $80 a head.

Stone said it showed them the value of using some of the new genetic and DNA tools out there to produce cattle with more value.

“More important is buying good bulls,” he stated. “If producers know what they are looking for, they can go to a seedstock producer who is raising good cattle, look at the EPDs, look at the numbers and look at the bulls. I feel like the days of going to the sale barn and buying the cheapest bull we can are probably over,” he said.

With feedlots becoming more tech-savvy, they are keeping more computerized records to learn more about the cattle they feed all the time.

“We want to identify those cattle that perform well. Genetics are becoming a big deal,” Stone said.


Producers also need to pay attention to the condition of their calves.

“We obviously want calves that are on the thin side because they will gain better,” Stone told producers. “We don’t want fat cattle. We prefer calves that are green.”

Green calves will grow and finish better than fat calves. Calves purchased from a grow yard or calves that have been fattened have lower out-weights and increased dry matter conversion over green cattle. They also have a higher cost of gain.

“There is data out there that says if we put fat on calves early, it improves the quality grade,” Stone said. “Quality grade is not that important to us.”

In fact, with the Choice/Select spread at seven dollars and a pound of gain at $1.37, the $1.37 is a lot more significant.

At the same time, as a whole, Stone said most of the cattle in the U.S. already grade well.

“Quality grade is not as important to us as size,” he said.

Natural programs

Stone also discussed the natural beef program producers can participate in at the Kuner feedyard.

The natural program started in 2011, and about 20,000 head of calves are enrolled in the program each year. Producers who participate must sign an affidavit stating their cattle have never been given antibiotics, hormones, rumensin, Tylan or any animal by-products. The program is third-party verified, and a percentage of producers in the program are audited each year.

Stone said the program is highly inefficient.

“We pay producers a premium for these cattle because if they are not implanting them for growth, they need it,” he said.

“I would never ask anyone already implanting their cattle to stop doing it for a natural premium. Natural premiums are about five dollars a hundredweight, and they can get more than that by implanting,” he explained.

The natural program is a hard program for Stone to promote because it is so inefficient.

“It is hard for me to knowingly produce less beef using more resources in a world where we are trying to feed more people and hungry kids right here in the U.S.,” he said.

The cattle in this program will weigh about 100 pounds less at shipping and will have consumed about 15 percent more feed.

“That’s why this beef is more expensive in stores,” he said.

The Kuner feedyard also has a USDA verified program for non-hormone treated cattle that are eventually shipped to the European Union (EU). This program has slowed down this year, mainly because of the value of the dollar and the economy in the EU, Stone said.

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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