Is it time to get out of beef production?

The calf feeder market has the potential to be very profitable this year, so now may be the wrong time to leave the cattle industry.

Though competition for farmland and the greater profitability of raising crops has caused many beef cow/calf herd owners in Michigan to ponder their future, Dan Buskirk, Michigan State University Extension beef cattle specialist, said now may be the wrong time to leave the cattle industry because the calf feeder market has the potential to be very profitable this year.

To address this market opportunity, the Michigan State University beef team will offer “Feeding Michigan’s Beef Cow Herd in 2013 and Beyond,” a two-part Michigan State University Extension series, at three locations in Michigan. The series will address various feed alternatives for beef cow/calf herds and look at the economics of each.

“Michigan has the smallest beef cow herd in 60 years, and we have corn acres that appear next season to be climbing even higher across the country,” Buskirk said. “Feeder calf prices are already good. If we benefit from a good growing season in the summer in the Corn Belt and corn prices fall, calf prices will rally to some very profitable levels.”

Staying the course is one thing; doing the same old thing is another, and not what Buskirk believes that most Michigan beef herd managers should do. Times have changed, and the cow/calf industry must change with them.

“Predominately feeding hay as a winter feed source has gotten too costly because of the high cost of machinery, fuel and fertilizer, along with this competition for land,” he added. “We must use more of our other, lower cost winter feed sources in Michigan to remain competitive.”

Kevin Wernette, president of the Michigan Cattlemen’s Association, agrees with Buskirk and recommends that Michigan cattle producers look for more economical feed sources.

“There are too many beef farmers who think baled hay is the only way to feed a beef cow in the wintertime. They are blowing the extra income they are receiving from their cattle by feeding expensive hay this winter,” he said.

The next three years could become very profitable for cow/calf producers who control farm feed costs, said Kevin Gould, MSU Extension beef educator. The increase in corn acres and the higher corn plant populations of today help make cornstalks a valuable winter feed source for the gestating beef cow.

“We can bale cornstalks and bring them to the cow, or, even better, if we have fence and a water source, we can let the cows graze cornstalks in the fields after grain harvest,” Gould said.

Rather than selling the cows, Gould recommends that more feeder calf producers consider adding some corn acres to their operation, harvest the shelled corn for a profit and then feed the cornstalks as a portion of the winter feed supply.

“This scenario makes so much economic sense, the market is there and producers can take advantage of the situation,” he summed up.

To register for “Feeding Michigan’s Beef Cow Herd in 2013 and Beyond,” visit or contact beef team member Phil Durst at (989) 345-0692 or Jerry Lindquist at (231) 832-6139. Sessions run from 7 to 9 p.m. on the following dates at:

  • Feb. 11 and 18, Kettunen Center, Tustin, Mich.
  • Feb. 12 and 19, Gratiot/Isabella RESD Administrative Bldg., Ithaca, Mich.
  • Feb. 13 and 20, MDARD Center, Atlanta, Mich. 

A live Internet webinar feed will also be available to producers across the state.

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