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By Scott Lake, UW Extension Livestock Specialist

It’s getting to that time of year when the calves are off to a really good start and growing well. I have a lot of friends around the state who are beginning to utilize creep feed for their calves. However, most, if not all of them, are raising show calves or purebred cattle. The benefits of creep feeding for these producers are obvious. Both show calves and purebred calves sell better when they are really full and fleshy. However, the question I am asking is, does creep feeding make sense for commercial cattlemen?

The main objective of creep feeding is to put additional weight on calves prior to weaning. There is a fine line as to how much weight should be gained. Calves that are too fleshy are often discounted in the feeder calf market. Therefore, a good creep feed will add pounds of weight without making the calves overly fleshy.

Whether a producer feeds creep or not is an economic decision. The scientific literature is full of research studies proving that creep feeding does in fact increase the weight of calves prior to weaning. In fact, the type of creep, including starch-based feeds compared to highly fermentable carbohydrates like distiller’s grains, can play a role in the type of weight a calf gains. That is a discussion for another time, but the point of this article is simply to discuss the potential merits of providing a creep feed to calves and to hopefully provide an example to help producers determine for themselves whether or not a creep feed should be considered in their own operations.

Some of the side benefits of creep feeding include an easier transition to feed at weaning, easier weaning itself and improvements in carcass quality, which could be economically beneficial to producers who retain ownership.

The down side to creep feeding is that calves can get overly fleshy, and it does not take off as much lactation pressure as one would think.

Research would suggest that calves typically consume about 3.5 pounds per head per day, with a range of two to six pounds per head per day, and gain an additional 0.3 pounds per day. Gain ranges from 0.15 to 0.65 pounds per day. As I sit here today, the futures contract for October delivered feeder cattle is sitting at $2.11 per pound.

The next question is how much is additional weight worth? How much profit can be realized with additional weight? Increased weight and prices sound good on paper, but how much profit will be realized after paying for expenses? Let’s go through an example to determine the real economic benefit of creep feeding.

The first step is to determine the value of the added gain due to creep feeding. Let's assume calves would normally weigh 500 pounds at weaning and by creep feeding, calves will now weight 560 pounds. Using the spot futures market for October delivery, the price in this example for the 500-pound calf is $2.11. We will assume a 10-cent slide for the heavier calves, putting the 560-pound calf at $2.01.

I am hopeful that calf prices will be higher than these numbers in the fall, however, for this example it is the exercise not the numbers that are important.

Therefore the 500-pound calf is worth $1,055, and the 560-pound calf is worth $1,125.

It is extremely important to note that the value of the added weight is not equal to market value. As calves get heavier there is a spread that reduces price. The value of the difference in weight added due to creep feeding is determined by dividing the difference in price by the difference in weight.

In this example, the $70 difference in price is divided by the 60 pound difference in weight to give a value of $1.16 per pound of added weight.

The scientific literature would suggest calves on creep feed have a feed to gain of six to one. In other words, it requires six pounds of creep feed to gain one pound of weight. If these calves gained 60 pounds, it would require 360 pounds of creep feed per calf.

If the cost of the creep feed is $300 per ton, or 15 cents per pound, then the cost to put on the 60 pounds of weight would be $54. The amount of money generated from the additional weight is $70. The return value of creep feeding in this example is $16 per head.

It is important to note that in this example labor, fuel, equipment, etc. has not been factored in and would be extremely important to do so your own calculations.

Obviously in this example it is debatable as to whether or not creep feeding is financially beneficial. Your individual ability to lock in prices on calves and feed could give dramatically different numbers than those generated in this example. Again, the main point to this article is not to argue for or against creep feeding, but rather provide an example of how to determine if it makes sense economically.

 

By Dallas Mount, UW Extension Livestock Extension Educator

What items have the greatest impact on your ranch’s profitability? Let’s take the ones off the table that you have very little control over, such as weather and national market trends. Now, try and put these major items in order from top to bottom on their relative impact on your operation. Next comes the question that may cause some discomfort – where do you spend most of your management time? Do the items you spend most of your management time on line up pretty well with the items that have the greatest impact on your profitability? If they don’t, I’d suggest you are in the majority.

Those of us who work in agriculture usually have the benefit of being our own boss, but with that comes the danger that we spend most of our time working on the things we enjoy rather than the items that have the most impact on profitability. I’m not suggesting that we ignore all the things that are not on our top five list or that we completely abandon the items of ranching that we enjoy. What I am suggesting is that if you recognize your ranch business is not giving an important area the management emphasis it deserves that you develop a plan to address this.

Perhaps there is someone else on your ranch team who is waiting in the wings for an opportunity to have meaningful input into the management of the ranch? Maybe this is an opportunity to involve this person? Maybe the ranch should hire someone to do or help with these important areas if they are not being done or are done hastily.

In my experience assisting ranchers in conducting cost of production analysis over the past several years, I believe there are several areas that, for most cow/calf producers, should be in their list of top five areas.

First, fed feed impacts profitability. Most people agree that feed, both grazed and fed, accounts for 60 percent of the annual costs of maintaining a cow. In my experience the more feed made up of fed feed rather than grazed feed, the larger your total feed bill will be. I would challenge you to spend a substantial amount of management time trying to reduce your fed feed bill.

Replacement costs or cow depreciation costs can be hidden costs since most ranchers don’t write a check for cow depreciation or purchase outside replacements, but even if you raise your own they make up a major expense. Most ranches spend $250 to $600 per cow per year on this very easily. Investigating ways to lower this expense by either increasing the value of cull animals, decreasing the cost of developing replacements or improving stayability can be time well spent.

Rangeland productivity and harvest efficiency are other factors to consider. By improved grazing management, both of these can be improved, and with the current value of forage, this can reap huge financial rewards. Sure, fences and stock water developments cost money, but they can often be paying investments.

Other land business ventures can influence profitability. This varies greatly from one ranch to another, but it is not uncommon for a ranch to generate more income annually from non-ag uses of the land business. How are you doing about marketing and managing these income generators?

Finally, it is important to undertake a whole ranch enterprise analysis. This means taking the time to look at the long-run profitability of each major enterprise on your ranch and perhaps making decisions to improve the profitability of some enterprises or eliminate those enterprises that frequently lose money.

This can seem like a daunting task the first few times you do it, but there are plenty of resources to help you accomplish this. One online guide is available at HPRanchPracticum.com.

Hopefully my list will challenge you to make your own list. Perhaps your items are quite a bit different from mine. These times of high profit are a great time to make some strategic evaluations of your operation. Please let me or other UW Extension people know if we can be of help to you.

Driving across the green Wyoming rangelands this June, the reddish patches that indicate cheatgrass is having a good year remind me of the summer 14 years ago I spent up to my eyeballs in the weedy annual grass. Cheatgrass grows well in the Great Basin of Utah and Nevada but not that tall. I spent much of that summer standing in five-foot-deep holes with my head protruding at ground level in a sea of cheatgrass. 

As a researcher at Utah State University, I was collecting data on how conversion from sage-steppe grassland to persistent monocultures of the exotic winter annual grass impacts soil health and organic matter processes. I started by working with long-time Great Basin ecologists like Neil West and Steve Monsen to locate seven long-term infestations with matched areas dominated by native range vegetation.

With help from a crew of muscle-bound Utah college students, I dug holes at each of the 14 locations and carefully described the soil to make sure the paired sites were well matched and to look for differences attributable to the weed infestation, like porosity and root characteristics. Then I took samples back to the lab where I measured many properties that underlie soil health and productivity, such as density, texture, alkalinity, organic carbon and nitrogen, microbial activity and easily decomposable soil organic matter.

It turned out that looking at soil under paired cheatgrass and native range in the Great Basin was almost like looking at soil under paired wheat fields and native range in eastern Wyoming. Cheatgrass grows a thick mat of shallow, very fine roots that die each summer, aerating the soil and adding carbon-rich organic material in almost the same manner as tilling to incorporate wheat straw. Soil microbes thrive on the added air and the carbon energy source, and their rate of decomposing organic material multiplies.

The initial effect of increased microbial activity is increased mineralization of soil organic matter, making more nutrients available for the crop or the weed. But after a few years of enhanced conditions caused by disturbance, microbes start eating themselves out of house and home, depleting soil organic matter that accumulated under millennia of perennial grassland vegetation. Loss of organic matter degrades all the properties that contribute to soil health, including building soil structure, enhancing water infiltration and storage, providing a time-release nutrient supply and supporting sustained productivity.

In cropland, organic matter loss means that more and more tillage and more and more fertilizer might be necessary to keep growing crops. In cheatgrass-infested rangelands, it means that the older and more monocultural the infestation, the more difficult it might be to restore desirable vegetation. Cheatgrass tends to convert slow, conservative nutrient cycles of native grass and shrublands to flashy, leaky nutrient cycles where mineral nutrients accumulate to create conditions for rapid cheatgrass growth – just add water, or to be lost with erosion, leaching or volatilization. In native perennial plant communities a diversity of plants and microbes turn mineral nutrients into more stable organic forms almost all year.

In annual cropping, a great practice is to try to keep plants growing and covering the soil all year or especially to convert fields to perennial cover, like hay or pasture, for a few years. This minimizes disturbance and aeration and shifts the system back toward accumulating, rather than losing, soil organic matter.

The extensive nature of cheatgrass infestation, often on hot, south slopes and rough ground, makes restoration difficult. Range managers in the Great Basin have had some success “re-perennializing” cheatgrass stands by seeding introduced cool-season bunchgrasses like pubescent wheatgrass or crested wheatgrass. After the bunchgrasses become established and reduce competition from cheatgrass, managers increase the diversity by weakening the introduced grasses with fire, heavy grazing, herbicides, mechanical treatment or a combination and then planting native grasses, forbs and shrubs.

Rigorous fire prevention is crucial to restoring cheatgrass infestations to diverse, desirable plant communities. Once a seed bank is established, cheatgrass may always be there in the understory, filling the bare spaces and creating a continuous fine fuel load so that when a fire occurs, it can be much larger and more destructive, and the plant community quickly converts back to cheatgrass.

A comprehensive guide to cheatgrass management in the Rocky Mountain region can be found at the University of Wyoming Extension publications website at wyoextension.org/publications. Search “cheatgrass” or bulletin number B-1246. For more detailed information on the study discussed here, see the papers posted at uwyo.edu/esm/faculty-and-staff/norton/papers/wildland-shrub-proc-2004.pdf and uwyo.edu/esm/faculty-and-staff/norton/papers/jae57-4-6-04.pdf.

By Bret W. Hess, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Associate Dean of Research, Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station Director


The University of Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station (WAES) has been making great strides to be responsive to producers in Wyoming. Recent efforts have centered on disseminating information, reaching out to gather input and funding producer oriented research projects.

One of the key ways the Experiment Station shares information is by working with its Research and Extension (R&E) Centers to host Field Days throughout the summer months. This year’s field days are July 14 at the Sheridan R&E Center, July 16 at the Powell R&E Center, Aug. 20 at the James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture R&E Center (SAREC) near Lingle and Aug. 27 at the Laramie R&E Center. The public is invited to join us, and those who attend will have the opportunity to participate in field tours, listen to presentations and visit with researchers about their research. Participants will learn about new activities and experiments happening at the Centers as well as on-going research projects. The R&E Center staff work hard to make these events informative and fun for everyone and the feedback has been positive over the years.

Another important step the Experiment Station took to disseminate its work to the public was the annual publication of the Field Days Bulletin starting in 2010. Published in response to stakeholder requests to better inform the public about research conducted at the R&E Centers, the Bulletin summarizes experiments and other activities in a simple standardized format that is reader-friendly. Bulletin reports are not intended to be a comprehensive account of each experiment – instead, two-page peer-reviewed reports hit the highlights of research projects and provide contact information for readers wanting more information. Recently included short format reports provide even briefer descriptions of new and soon to be started projects. Readers are invited to contact researchers directly with questions or to obtain more information about a specific topic. The Bulletin is made available in hardcopy to everyone attending R&E Center field days. Electronic copies of past and current-year editions are available on the publications page of the WAES website at uwyo.edu/uwexpstn/publications.

Readers of the 2014 and 2105 WAES Field Days Bulletin may note a few changes from previous editions. Authors have been asked to indicate which of the Wyoming Production Agriculture Research Priorities (PARP) are addressed in their research. PARP was developed to identify agriculture research needs in Wyoming and its formulation began by soliciting input from R&E Center Advisory Boards. Research topics that producers expressed an interest in formed the basis of an outline for PARP. A distribution list was developed with the help of UW Extension’s Profitable and Sustainable Agricultural Systems State Initiative Team and the Sustainable Management of Rangeland Resources State Initiative Team, along with the major producer associations in Wyoming. With the assistance of Ron Pulley, a retired producer who farmed and ranched near Huntley, the outline was sent for comment to producers throughout the state.

Ron, a long-time supporter of the experiment station, passed away June 26. Ron’s enthusiasm and contributions have been indispensible. Our good friend and colleague will be sorely missed.

Producer comments received in response to the original outline were then incorporated into the first version of PARP. The Experiment Station considers the PARP to be a “living document” and strives to continually update it in response to producer and stakeholder needs and input. Stakeholder listening sessions held around the state over the past year resulted in the second version of PARP, and that version can be found as an appendix in the 2015 Field Days Bulletin. Readers are encouraged to keep a lookout for the most updated version of PARP on our webpage under “Important Links” at uwyo.edu/uwexpstn. Readers should also feel free to contact the Experiment Station  at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if they have suggestions for PARP objectives not currently listed.

Please join us for this year’s Field Days and if you have any questions don’t hesitate to contact the Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station or the Research and Extension Centers in Sheridan, Powell, Lingle or Laramie. You can find more information on our website at uwyo.edu/uwexpstn.