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Put it all together

Profitability for a beef herd can come and go with the market. But there are ways to buffer that coming and going. Look at your operation through a series of management practices. As a full service provider to the beef industry and after some 15 years of Health Track, a nationally recognized preconditioning program, MFA has accumulated a wide range of best management practices. These are practices that can truly boost efficiency, and most importantly, profitability on Midwest beef operations. These practices have been formalized in a new program from MFA called PowerCalf.

“When I look across the MFA trade territory, I can’t say we have a lot of producers doing all of the practices that we outline in PowerCalf, but I guess that’s part of the point of the program. We want to push these practices because they work. Our goal is to put them all together and show just how powerful the result is,” said Mike John, MFA’s director of Health Track operations.

“Every single operation could improve somewhere through the practices we’re talking about.”

PowerCalf, in the pure sense of the word, is a holistic approach to raising cattle. From the quality of pasture the cows graze to meeting complete nutrition requirements, genetic selection, herd health and data management, the program seeks to incrementally improve everything about the herd. Ultimately the goal is to return maximum profits.

The animal health component focuses on vaccination details and specific times. The regimen
includes annual booster vaccinations with modified-live virals plus vibrio and lepto on open cows 30
days prior to breeding. Heifers get two rounds between weaning and breeding.

“Scientific literature on the importance of cow health to the whole herd’s success continues to come in,” said John. “A standardized health plan means you don’t have to guess if you’re doing a good enough job. Aside from the vaccinations, we want to have scheduled parasite treatments to help break the parasite cycle and keep pastures from being a reservoir for parasites.”

Nutritionally speaking, PowerCalf employs year-round access to mineral, including chelated trace minerals. In today’s market, buyers value knowing that cows have been properly supplemented. Breeding stock, at current values, needs to perform. The market pays for some assurance that cows will produce healthy, efficient calves.

PowerCalf recommends that MFA’s Ricochet be fed at least 60 days prior to calving and through breeding. The practice increases conception rates and calf health at birth. Moving pounds to market is the goal. Studies on fetal programming show that attention to the cow before calving is important for feeder cattle performance as well as developing replacement heifers that have life-long productivity. In PowerCalf, there is a focus on mineral and protein supplementation during the last trimester of a cow’s gestation.

Forage and hay quality along with supplementation are also a focus.

“We want to get a BCS score on cows and sort them if necessary,” said John. “If we have cows separated, we can efficiently feed them to meet their nutritional needs. And that figures into the fetal programming concept and getting the best calves we can from the genetics we’ve invested in over the years."

Along those lines, PowerCalf puts a focus on top-notch replacement heifers. “We’re talking about selecting for fertility,” said John. “That’s typically going to mean choosing from calves born in the first third of the calving season, or ones that you’ve specifically AI-sired for certain traits.”

Aside from traditional selection methods, PowerCalf replacements can get DNA analysis and sorting. Analysis can really speed up genetic progress. Developing heifers using the Power-Calf recommendation will maximize their genetic potential and enhance their life-long productivity.

The feeder market also seeks calves from the Health Track protocol, which pairs calf and dam identity to aid in selection and genetic improvement. Health processing is finished prior to weaning if possible, as data shows this delivers the lowest post-weaning disease risk. This protocol consists of two rounds of vaccination including MLV 4-5 way virals, blackleg and Pasteurella. The calves must also be treated for parasites. “We would like to see castration and dehorning done as early as possible. The steer calves can be implanted to efficiently compensate for early castration.” said John.

The Health Track protocol as implemented in PowerCalf also recommends creep feeding the calves. Research shows this accomplishes a couple of things. It’s cost-effective weight gain and it reduces demand on the cow, which gets her back to breeding shape with greater ease.

“It also teaches the calves to eat. We know bunk-broke cattle do better at the next level,” said John. “We focus on a high quality nutrition regimen at weaning. For the first 14 days, the calves are on Cattle Charge or Full Throttle. The rest of the pre-conditioning period, we’re calculating the average daily gain and cost of gain we’re shooting for and feeding the calves appropriately,” said John.

The genetic improvement component of PowerCalf means using EPD-based selection. Purchase bulls that have the right EPD traits for your herd.

PowerCalf also makes use of the Reputation Feeder Cattle indexes and Genetic Merit Scorecard. This creates six trait measurements for your calf crop. Over time, it calculates the relative value of your calves against a much wider average. In the long run, this provides you with a road map of what needs to happen to your herd to beat the averages and continue to improve.

Aside from bulls selected for specific EPDs, PowerCalf offers a look at artificial insemination to lower the cost per pregnancy from the best bulls with highly accurate EPDs. AI also increases the number of calves born early in the calving cycle, which tends to increase average weaning weight. To make the program work, beef producers who aren’t already doing it need to focus on data management.

The basic requirements for good herd data are individual animal ID. Other data points include preg check results, wean weights, breeding date and sire ID, processing products/dates and mineral history along with supplement history. Of course, calving, weaning and marketing data should be included as well.

“Digitizing records is extremely important,” said John. “MFA can digitize handwritten records for our customers. All you have to do is email, text a photo or fax copies of written records to MFA. In the future, the best way is going to be to collect the information digitally. You can do that with digital scale heads and smartphone data entry programs. That’ll give you the capability to easily capture real-time data on breeding, pregchecks, calving, processing and treatments along with weaning data and how the cattle sold,” said John.

Finally, PowerCalf enjoins its participants to step away from what might be considered traditional pasture management and take a good look at how they’re managing forages. As a building block to beef, good forage is one of best ways to put weight on cattle and keep them healthy. PowerCalf management means conducting frequent soil tests on pasture and hay ground, then fine tuning soil pH, available nutrients and weed control to make the best forage and hay possible.

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