Planning for your 4-H beef project animal: Estimating costs

Second article in series featuring tips and tricks as you prepare for and select your 4-H market beef animal.

Planning for your 4-H beef project animal: Estimating costs

As the fall weather approaches, many youth across Michigan begin looking for their 4-H beef project animal. Caring for a beef animal requires forward thinking and creating a plan of how to see your project through to the end. In addition to the requirement of selecting the animal, there is also a financial burden of caring for an animal through the duration of your project. This three-part series will review important beef project content and address three main topics: preparations for the beef animal, estimating costs of care and calf selection. These tips and tricks will help you be more prepared for your 4-H beef project experience.

The second article in this series looks closer at the actual costs of raising market beef cattle. Beef cattle require two sizeable investments: purchasing the animal and feeding the animal. In addition, there are also veterinary expenses, show fees, equipment and miscellaneous other expenses you may or may not be able to anticipate. This article will help you learn some ways to be better prepared for the financial cost of raising an animal.

Purchasing your animal

Purchasing a 4-H beef project animal requires a set budget. It’s helpful if you have flexibility in your budget when attending sales or auctions where calves vary in quality and are available at different base prices. In an event such as a live action, youth can sometimes get carried away and spend outside of their budget. This is a burden in the short come, but may also mean taking a financial loss at the completion of the project.

The price of a beef animal will vary depending on the quality of the animal and the reputation of the farm. It is common to see calves range from $800 to even a few thousand dollars per calf. However, do not pay a high price for a calf with the idea that this alone will assure you of a winning champion. It takes a good feeding program and a lot of hard work, along with the right kind of calf, and good showmanship skills to win grand champion.

To determine your budget, start with looking at the average price of calves being sold in your area. If you are not able to find a local average, use sources like the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service Feeder Cattle Report to determine the current value of feeder calves. For example, in this cattle report, beef calves weighing between 600 and 700 pounds were averaging approximately $144 per hundredweight, or $864 for a 600 pound calf.

In reviewing the value of calves in your area, realize that the costs of calves will vary depending on quality. Use the base price you have determined from the averages to better set your budget for your calf project. Determine which sales you plan to attend and be prepared to adjust your budget slightly if needed. The Michigan Cattlemen’s Association has a list of fall cattle sales that may be helpful in planning. Many cattle producers also offer cattle for sale through private treaty on their farms, which may be another option for purchasing your calf project.

Keep in mind that you will need to transport your calf home, which could require an additional trip, or added fuel costs of hauling a trailer to farms. For more tips on animal selection, review the “Calf Selection” article.

Anticipating feed costs

If you are budgeting or need to borrow money to buy feed for a project animal, you need to know how much feed your calf will eat. If your 500-pound feeder calf will be sold at 1,250 pounds, it will need to gain 750 pounds. You can estimate that it will take seven pounds of feed per pound of gain for cattle. Therefore, your calf will probably need to eat about 5,250 pounds of feed (or seven pounds multiplied by 750 pounds of gain).

If you estimate that a quarter of the total weight of feed is hay (roughage) and three quarters is grain (concentrate), you’ll need 1,312.5 pounds of hay and 3,937.5 pounds of grain. If hay is $120 a ton (of $0.06 cents per pound because 1 ton equals 2,000 pounds) and your grain mixture costs $480 a ton (or $0.24 cents per pound), your feed costs will be $1,023.75 ($78.75 in roughage plus $945.00 in grain). Thus, your cost of one pound of weight gain is about $1.37 ($1,023.75 divided by 750 pounds). Experienced feeders who use additional supplements or grow their own grain may have a different cost, but these are good estimates for most 4-H members.

If your calf project remains healthy, you are on your way to a successful project year. Observing your animal frequently will help you to be aware of changes in animal behavior, which could help you prevent diseases and save additional costs. As you select your animal and feed, be proactive and ask questions of where you purchase your animal and feed to make the most of your money and set you on the path for a great livestock experience.

Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program helps to create a community excited about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). 4-H STEM programming seeks to increase science literacy, introducing youth to the experiential learning process that helps them to build problem-solving, critical-thinking and decision-making skills. Youth who participate in 4-H STEM content are better equipped with critical life skills necessary for future success. To learn more about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth in STEM literacy programs, read our 2015 Impact Report: “Building Science Literacy and Future STEM Professionals.”

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