Weigh costs and premiums of raising "natural" cattle

US - Cattle feeders should weigh costs as well as possible premiums when deciding whether to raise “natural” cattle that could command a higher price.
calendar icon 31 January 2007
clock icon 2 minute read

South Dakota State University Extension Beef Feedlot Specialist Erik Loe says cattle raised the conventional way put on beef faster.

“When cattle feeders are going to consider managing their cattle for natural programs, they have to consider what they’re going to get for cattle performance,” Loe said. “There will be a lowered rate of gain and a decrease in feed conversions.”

Loe says that’s because cattle being raised on natural programs can’t be given implants, ionophores, or antibiotics.

“Those things – implants, ionophores, antibiotics – can be used by cattle feeders to improve cattle performance. So when they are not used, there will be a 10 to 15 percent decrease in feed conversions. What that equates to for premiums needed would be $90 to $100 per head when selling fat cattle in a natural program.”

To put it another way, Loe said premiums must offset an additional 10 to 15 cents per head per day increase in the feed cost of gain when cattle producers do not use implants, ionophores, or antibiotics.

“Those are the aspects that a person really has to look at when considering what they’re going to need to change in their system to accommodate raising cattle for natural programs.”

Producers can formulate diets to improve rate of gain; however, they still will not be able to capture as much feed energy out of that feed when they do not ionophores, because ionophores make rumen fermentation more efficient.

Producers need to monitor cattle closely and make quick decisions to remove cattle from a natural program at the earliest sign of any downturn in health, Loe added. Cattle producers will lose the ability to capture a premium after treating sick cattle with antibiotics. Early identification and treatment of sick cattle is important for enabling cattle to recover and perform normally. Cattle that are treated with antibiotics must not be represented as drug-free or sold into natural programs that do not permit antibiotic use.

SDSU Extension held a conference in January on raising natural cattle. Information from the presentations as well as other SDSU Extension publications on natural beef are available at an SDSU conference Web site. Find it by going first to the main SDSU Extension Web site, http://sdces.sdstate.edu/. Look for “Conference Info” at the left side of the page and click on “Natural Cattle.”

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