Research led by vets, management has a perfect fattening calf as the end goal

According to the USDA-Economic Research Service, 550-pound steers sold in November 2014 for $ 302.66 per cwt; in October, 800-pound steers sold for $ 238.80. Yet Randall Raymond, DVM, at Simplot Land and Livestock, is working hard to create an even more valuable and profitable fattening calf. How? ‘Or’ What? It uses a systems approach to select economically important traits and anticipate traits that will be economically relevant in the future.

Dr Raymond is the director of research and veterinary services at Simplot. It manages all the animal health issues of two large commercial feedlots (feeding capacity of 200,000 head) and 15 commercial cow-calf ranches, manages the genetic program of the company’s registered Charolais herd ( 450 heads) and directs internal and sponsored research programs.

With feedlots in Grand View, Idaho and Pasco, Washington, Simplot ranks in the top ten feedlots in the country in terms of size.

Systems management

Simplot’s livestock management plan is essentially a member of a large agricultural tree. There are joints on the limb where the branches point in different directions, but overall the goal of the limb is growth towards the ideal fattening calf.

Seed stock: The first branch is the seed program. Charolais bulls registered by Simplot are bred, bred and transferred to the cow-calf system as commercial bulls. Purebred Charolais heifers return to the breeding herd.

Recently, the seed business has grown sufficiently to offer a calf buyback program. Charolais bulls can be bought or rented, at a fixed price, by commercial producers. The descendants of these bulls are then under contract to be fed until arrival by Simplot.

“I see this program expanding over the next few years. We are just getting to the point where we can supply bulls and expand our business to other operations, ”said Dr Raymond. Simplot wants to work with “producers who have an interest in feeding their calves, who have an interest in seeing the benefits of increasing the value of their fattening calves”.

Cow-calf commercial: Simplot’s 30,000 Angus / Hereford mother cows raise Charolais cross feeder calves on the Idaho range before the calves are shipped to either Grand View or Pasco feedlot. Black bald mother cows are ideal. “We want our cow herd to be moderate and versatile. We’re trying to capture as much hybrid vigor or heterosis as we can handle, ”explains Dr Raymond. The Angus and Hereford influence produces cows that adapt to the environment and add carcass value to Charolais crossbred calves, he adds.

Feedlot: In addition to feeding its own commercial calves, Simplot also offers feeding options for outside beef producers. The ranchers have the choice of keeping ownership, partnering 50/50 with Simplot on the cattle, or selling their calves to the feedlot depending on the large cattle market.

“Grand View is probably one of the best places in the country to feed cattle,” says Dr. Raymond. The desert region receives six to eight inches of precipitation per year and has a long growing season. The temperature ranges from 21 degrees Fahrenheit to 91 degrees Fahrenheit without much humidity.

“Pasco is right next to Tyson’s packing plant, which adds a huge advantage to moving large livestock to harvest without any trucking costs,” he explains.

Development: Simplot develops its own bulls and semen heifers and provides personalized development for outside beef seed companies, as well as the development of dairy heifers.

Research: Through its significant investment in the GrowSafe Feed Intake and Behavior Monitoring System (900 head capacity), Simplot conducts its own proprietary research and research for other private sectors of the beef industry. The GrowSafe system is an individual feeding system. It uses Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) ear tags and feeders attached to scales to capture feed consumption, time spent in the feeder, bite size, and several feeder behavior traits. .

The GrowSafe system is a useful tool for seed selection. Simplot sends its own seed cattle through GrowSafe, as well as Angus and Hereford seed from their customers. Dr Raymond says bull selection is heavily influenced by the feed consumption data collected by GrowSafe.

Feed Profitable Livestock

“We entered the seed sector to try to improve the feed performance of our [commercial] cattle, ”says Dr Raymond. “At the end of the day, we are cattle feeders and we want to feed profitable cattle, so we are using this program to try to improve the quality of the feed for our own cattle.

All of the company’s Charolais cross calves enter the GrowSafe system and some Angus / Hereford cross calves do as well. Thanks to the systems approach, Dr. Raymond follows his calves every step of the way.

“Our [cow-calf] the ranches retain ownership throughout the system, so we are able to track these calves by origin from the ranch to the packing station, ”he says.

The research entity really has two arms, explains Dr Raymond.

Commercial research is conducted for sponsors such as pharmaceutical companies, feed additive companies, seed customers, breed associations and artificial insemination companies.

“We test a lot of off-the-shelf products or products already on the market and identify the best way to use them. This data belongs to the people who approached us, ”says Dr Raymond.

Some of the data is published in technical bulletins; other data is kept for the internal files of the sponsor.

Simplot’s proprietary research is used to differentiate the company from its competitors, to test new management strategies or to try out the latest technologies, explains Dr Raymond.

He says a by-product of all of this research is that the company learns what products and strategies are working in their system. If it works economically in the system, it is integrated.

“A lot of research done in universities is small and it’s small because these facilities are able to handle small numbers. Livestock are expensive, as are the changes in management systems needed to run well-designed trials, ”he explains.

“I think it’s important to make sure that we recognize that there is a lot of good work being done by universities in very small numbers,” he says.

“The advantage we have on our farm is that we have a lot of cows. We can do projects with a lot of power, with a lot of numbers. We’ll try this (research) in the “real world” to see if we can still identify enough differences to make economically sound decisions in a real production environment. “

Navigate the system

Each branch of the livestock branch (rootstock, cow-calf and the GrowSafe system) plays a role in producing the most profitable fattening calf. Dr Raymond explains that “the goal of the research (for Simplot) is to try to identify the traits that will be important in the future, and how do we create cattle that have the traits that will be profitable? “

He predicts that feed efficiency is the main feature of the market, as it affects all producers. He says other important traits are likely to be determined by the consumer, so he tries to answer questions like:

“How can we make beef, in general, healthier? How can we make it more palatable? How to make it more desirable? How do we keep it at a reasonable price, so that the consumer has a choice of beef? “

Thanks to Dr. Raymond’s pivotal role, he is well positioned to ensure progress is made in answering these questions. In addition to managing animal health protocols for the entire system, Dr. Raymond participates in management decisions.

“As a vet, I do protocol training and try to train teams on identifying sick cattle, treating sick cattle and handling low-stress cattle. I try to work with managers and employees to put into practice the principles that are important, ”he says.

The systems approach allows Dr Raymond to play a key role in each branch of the operation.

“My job gives me the opportunity to really influence some of the decisions that are made from conception, and even before that, until these calves feed someone’s family,” says Dr. Raymond.

He recognizes that a good steak or profitable fattening calf begins with sire selection and dam nutrition before breeding and during gestation. He moves on to managing day-old calves and obtaining adequate immune responses to allow calves to reach their genetic potential. At the feeder level, it is the presentation of nutrition, the transition between different energy levels and rations. Health management and stress reduction are closely linked with the whole system.

“There are many talented people in our operation who are involved in all of this,” says Dr Raymond. “I’m fortunate enough to work with all of them and influence some of these key places where you can have huge health impacts, huge performance impacts.”

With such great responsibility, Dr Raymond says he has become a better problem solver.

“A lot of the challenges we face in these cattle are created long before the challenge actually arises. For example, we know that we can display calves or manage calves while they are in utero and that has a profound impact on that calf as a fattening calf, ”he explains.

“You have to think about what the real problem is and go and fix it. To really fix the problem, it doesn’t necessarily mean prescribing a different antibiotic, although sometimes that is very important. It’s about identifying what the problem is today and tackling the crisis, but then getting to the root of the problem and really tackling it.

“A lot of cattle practitioners don’t have that luxury. Most of them understand that the problems presented today were created by something a long time ago. Sometimes it’s hard to have an influence this far into the system, ”he adds.

In a traditionally segmented industry, Dr Raymond has the advantage of working closely with each of the branches of Simplot Land and Livestock. Essentially by tying them together into a continuum that can be tweaked as needed for optimal performance – a system well on its way to creating a differentiated and profitable fattening calf.

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