Stocker cattle best option for La. beef producers

(08/22/16) ALEXANDRIA, La. – Experts from the LSU AgCenter, McNeese State University and private industry gave beef producers tips to make more money at a beef profits conference on Aug. 18 at the State Evacuation Shelter next to the LSU Alexandria campus.

LSU AgCenter beef specialist Tim Page said cattle prices have decreased after a prosperous period. “Those three years were the best I ever saw, and maybe we were due a little setback,” he said.

Mike Strain, commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, said the strong American dollar has resulted in a decrease of U.S. agricultural exports, including beef.

Brazilian beef companies are selling their products in the American market because the economy in that South American nation is in decline. “The price of beef is going to come back but it’s going to take a while,” Strain said.

He also said new regulations will go into effect on Jan. 1 that prevent the use of antibiotics in domestic animals to prevent diseases or for growth promotion.

Andrew Granger, LSU AgCenter county agent in Vermilion Parish, said a stocker cattle operation is consistently the most profitable operation for beef producers.

The high price of corn and damaging hurricanes led many producers to start a stocker enterprise.

The break-even price for stocker cattle has to be determined along with the cost of weight gain, he said.

“If you’re going to be in the stocker cattle business, you have to be a ryegrass farmer,” Granger said, recommending the Tifton 85 ryegrass variety.

A stocker operation provides some flexibility, he said, because the females can be sold as replacement heifers if the market has a downturn.

AgCenter cattle researcher Ryon Walker said providing a fall food supply for cattle is a challenge because summer grasses are declining and winter pastures are not ready for grazing.

Hay and stockpiled bermudagrass are good options, but baleage gives the best return with a higher average daily weight gain of a half-pound or more. “Consistently, calves eat more baleage than dry hay,” Walker said.

The cost per bale ranges from $8 to $13, and the equipment has to be stored.

McNeese State farm manager Darren Goodwin talked about the McNeese Calf-to-Carcass program that provides information to producers on the performance of their calves at the feedlot and the slaughterhouse. The program works closely with the LSU AgCenter.

Mike Hebert, AgCenter county agent in Lafourche Parish, described the annual heifer sale held in Lafourche Parish in March since 1983.

Heifers have to be 12-36 months old on the day of the sale. Animals that are F-1 offspring are preferred, although some purebreds are allowed.

Stan Dutile, AgCenter county agent in Lafayette Parish, talked about the bull breeding soundness exam offered in Lafayette Parish. He said 15 percent of the bulls have failed the testing since it started in 1996.

A large ranch in Louisiana had only a third of its heifers pregnant, but after a bull breeding soundness exam was conducted the next year, the rate more than doubled, Page said.

McNeese State cattle researcher Bill Storer talked about the university’s heifer development program. He said the average heifer enters the program at 550 pounds and finishes with an average weight gain of 200 pounds. The average cost for the program is $300, he said.

Kenneth Sharpe, AgCenter county agent in Livingston Parish, described the cattle marketing alliance. Many producers don’t have enough calves individually to attract a large buyer, but under the alliance, cattle from different owners can be combined into one transaction, he said.

Producers have to synchronize their calving schedule to occur at roughly the same time so the calves will be ready for sale. It’s essential to have good relationships with the other producers. “You have to align with people you trust,” Sharpe said.

Representatives of several companies, including the Hitch Enterprises feedlot in Oklahoma and Superior Livestock Marketing of Colorado, explained their services. Mike Dominique of Dominique’s Livestock Market said Louisiana once had 62 sale barns, but that number has dropped to seven. One reason for the decline is the number of sales on video and the internet, he said.

Sale barns provide a much-needed service. “If they’re gone, I don’t know if we can stay in business without them,” Page said.

8/22/2016 6:06:25 PM
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