High input costs are putting a squeeze on cattle producers, and experts at the 2008 Texas A&M Beef Cattle Short Course, sponsored by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, provided several options to overcome these challenges.

The following are a few recommendations:

- Keep good records: “You’ve got to keep records so you know where you are spending money and what your annual cow costs are,” said Dr. Jason Banta, AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist at Overton.

“We also need to know our supplement and fertilizer costs. One thing I’m going to really push is to know how often those cattle are calving. Trust me, if you do it by memory, you’re going to be in trouble. You’ve got to keep good records.”

At the basic level, data can be recorded on paper.

“It doesn’t have to be an expensive software program, it can be on a Big Chief tablet,” he said. “But if you have a computer, you can make a simple spreadsheet.”

- Herd genetics: Don’t sacrifice on superior genetics in a cow herd, Banta said. Maintain high-quality bulls and female cattle, and castrate calves before marketing.

“Producers can add $5 per hundredweight by castrating calves, and when you have a 500-pound calf to market, that’s an added $25 per head added value.”

- Fuel and equipment: Banta advises when selling cattle, make sure you have a full trailer load and avoid hauling a few head here and there. Regarding truck purchases, Banta advised to do “what makes sense, not what you want.”

Those operators who use a Gooseneck trailer only once or twice a year might want to consider hiring someone to take full loads to market and eliminate the need for an expensive three-quarter-ton truck, Banta said.

Also, plan trips for feed and supplies to save on fuel, he said.

- Supplemental feed: There’s no need to supplement cattle during the spring when cows are standing in knee-deep forage, but there is a need when hay or forage supplies are not adequate. If you skimp on supplemental feed when needed, it will affect conception rates, Banta said.

“Buy the appropriate supplement,” he said. “Purchase feed based on cost per pound of nutrient.” Another tip: Match calving season to forage production, Banta said.

- Early weaning calves: Dr. Ron Gill, AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist from Stephenville, said this is a viable option for a select group. It’s not one for cattle producers running an operation that doesn’t involve day-to-day observation. Calves must have a good immune system in the beginning.

“The entire success of this process hinges on whether or not you can get a functional rumen,” Gill said. “Provide a high-quality, palatable diet, getting calves to consume an adequate ration.”

The producer becomes the surrogate mother, Gill said, and reducing stress early on is critical.

“You will need to interact with those calves to alleviate depression and stress,” he said.

That involves interacting with the calves daily by walking through them, encouraging them to walk and play, allowing them to develop healthy lung capacity. At the end of this exercise the calves need to be placed on feed.

“This system isn’t for the absentee owner,” Gill said.

For more on the beef cattle short course, visit http://beef.tamu.edu. For a wrap-up from the 2008 short course, visit the media blog.