Producers soon will be weaning calves and finalizing marketing decisions.

“For producers to capture the most value from their calf crop, they need to follow a carefully planned marketing strategy,” says Carl Dahlen, North Dakota State University Extension Service beef cattle specialist.

Here are four strategies to maximize calf crop value this year:

  • Start with a uniform group of calves.
  • Implement a sound herd health program.
  • Consider age and source verification.
  • Talk with your auction market representatives.

The sale price almost always is greater for a large group of high-quality, uniform calves than similar-quality calves brought to the livestock auction in smaller groups or similar calves with more weight range variation. High-quality genetics and groups that are uniform in color, frame, muscling, flesh and weight range are essential to add value to a group of cattle. To improve calf uniformity, concentrate on purchasing high-quality breeding stock, managing breeding seasons to create a tight calving window (consider a 45-day breeding season) and possibly culling late-calving cows.

“Implementing a sound herd health program is the easiest way to add value to the calf crop, but it has to be done correctly,” Dahlen advises. “Calves must receive the correct vaccines at the correct time.”

Vaccines calves receive as they walk onto the truck do not have a large impact on the price buyers are willing to pay because most cattle will be revaccinated upon arrival at a feedlot. However, producers who vaccinated calves two to three weeks prior to weaning and followed all Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) procedures are more likely to be rewarded with higher prices.

The type of vaccine cattle receive also can impact the price. Cattle feeders are looking for calves that have received a modified live vaccine. Many feeders are not happy with the protection from a killed vaccine.

Recent sales have shown price swings of $5 to $8 per hundredweight for the same quality of calves, depending on vaccination status, with higher prices paid for vaccinated calves. Consult with your veterinarian about the vaccination strategy appropriate for your herd.

Even one year ago, auction market staff had not received a lot of requests for age- and source-verified calves or special age- and source-verified sales.

“However, 2011 is a different story,” Dahlen says. “This year may prove to be the most beneficial year to date for producers who age and source verify their calves. As long as Japan restricts imports to less than 21 months of age, the demand for age- and source-verified calves will remain strong. But the process for verifying calves does not happen overnight.”