The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

March 2, 2013

Technology can help beef producers

By Rick Nelson, Extended Forecast
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Beef, and by extension, beef cattle, is a commodity, and almost by definition will sell over the long term at roughly its average cost of production.

The profitability of beef cattle producers is challenged by market forces mostly out of their control.

If beef cattle producers are to make money, they must produce with lower input costs than the industry average, or sell at a higher price than the average, and what frequently allows them to do that is technology.

The converse of that idea is that technology reduces the profitability of some producers.

I say that recognizing that most industries, including agriculture, absorb technological advantages within three to five years, meaning once that management is recognized and widely adopted, the market adjusts to accept it as normal, and the technological advantage to product quality or cost of production is lost.

So producers who do not incorporate technology, even older technology, into their management, are producing at higher costs relative to the market and their competitors who do use technology.

For instance, producers who used the advantages of growth promotants or feed additives soon after their release in the market, benefited from production advantages.

Now, though, the market expects the use of that technology as a matter of course, so basically, technology costs those producers who don’t use it.

Feedlots and stocker cattle producers routinely use growth promoting implants to enhance animal performance, while cow/calf producers are reluctant to do so.

Oklahoma State University and OSU Extension field trials have repeatedly demonstrated nursing calves will gain an additional 25 pounds of weaning weight when these implants are used.

Yet, surveys such as those conducted by industry publications and university personnel show only about 10 percent of cow/calf producers use growth promoting implants.

Other seldom-used management techniques include early weaning of the calf crop or temporary calf removal to stimulate rebreeding of the cowherd in times when body condition of the cow has suffered because of deficient forage supplies or harsh weather.

Temporary calf removal requires management only, no additional out of pocket input costs, and early weaning can often be accomplished without any loss of profitability.

Later this year, cow/calf producers with ample forage may have the opportunity to assist calves in better utilizing dormant summer grass with a high protein creep feed, especially one containing a relatively tasteless ionophore, such as Bovatec.

Regardless of the high prices of calves, increasingly high input costs necessitate the utilization of available technology, even those whose advantages are already built into the market.

Fuel, fertilizer, hay costs are all about twice what they were only three or four years ago, and any producer should be actively working to incorporate all technology into their operations.

Producers interested in any of the management techniques discussed here should contact their local OSU Extension office for more information on adapting that management to their specific operation.        

Nelson is Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service ag educator for Garfield County.