Weaning Calves: To Sell or Feed? Weighing Pros and Cons

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Curious cows

With calf prices starting to rise, and weaning time coming up, what will you do? Are you going to wean and feed your cattle out to gain more profit? Or, are you considering cutting your losses and sending them on, even though they are light weights? With the market prices where they are today, that has never been more debatable. 

For example, if you take a 300 pound calf to the sale barn and it brings $2.00 per pound then you have gained $600 from weaning that calf, and taking it straight to the sale. There are some downsides to this method. You are going to have more shrinkage in the calf due to being weaned directly, which will cause it to be more stressed, which could also cause less appeal to buyers. 

If you decided to hang on to the calf a little longer and get them to the little more desirable 500 pound range with feed and the calf brings $2.10 per pound, then you have made $1,050. In this scenario, you are still going to have shrinkage, and some stress but not as much as if they were directly weaned and sold.

With these two scenarios in mind, let’s sit down and think about this in terms of money. While we could both agree the 500 pound calf brings more, how much money have you put into it? Is it grass fed or did you give it some grain to help it gain? If so, how much did the cost of feed set you back? While the 300 pound calf brought $600, you had less of an investment in it versus the 500 pound calf. Before we make a decision on anything, lets keep an open mind and look at another option.

Back to the 500 pound calf scenario, it takes roughly 6 pounds of feed to gain 1 lb on cattle. So if you fed the calf 18 pounds a day that would be 3 pounds of gain a day. To go from 300 to a 500 pound calf would roughly take 67 days on feed. If the calves have access to quality grass and hay as well as minerals, that will help take less days on feed to reach the desirable rate. 

Now, I am not saying you should take them straight to the sale as your method of weaning. Weaning at the sale barn is not very desirable to buyers, due to stress on the calf. But these are some things to think about when it comes to selling your cattle. While you will have a lower return on the younger calves, there’s a chance you could have an even bigger return on the heavier calves, if the prices continue to increase. While every operation is different, choose what works best for your operation. After all, the cattle business is a gamble, but strategy is the key to success.