Now is the time to plan your market beef project
Are you thinking about taking a market steer or heifer to the fair next year? If so, now is the time to start planning your project. There are all sorts of questions to ask yourself when developing your project – what breed of calf will you show, what activities will you be involved in, what goals do you have for the project, where will you purchase your calf, where will your calf be housed and what will you feed your calf?
The first step is to prepare a place for your calf to live. Be sure that your pen will give them plenty of room to exercise and provide them with shelter from the heat, cold, rain and wind. Make sure that the location you choose is well drained so that the pen stays dry and comfortable. Provide a place for your calf to get fresh, clean drinking water at all times. You’ll need to check that the water source has a constant supply of water and that the water doesn’t freeze in the wintertime.
The second step is to decide what you’ll feed your calf. This will be your biggest expense so you’ll need to budget accordingly. For an approximate budget, assume that your calf will eat at least 4,000 pounds of feed during the completion of your project. Most 4-H members will choose a complete mixed ration instead of trying to formulate one that will meet all of their calf’s needs. Look for feeds that are free of mold, dust and fines. Be sure to offer roughages like hay in addition to grain. Your calf may not be used to eating grain when you first bring it home so start the calf slowly by offering it free choice of quality grass or grass/alfalfa hay and a very small amount of grain (less than .5 percent of the animal’s body weight per day). Gradually increase the level of grain over the next couple of weeks to the desired level. For more detailed information about feeding your project, contact your local feed representative, 4-H leader or extension agent.
Now that you have a plan for your project, it is the perfect time to start selecting your animal. Contact local producers, check local media sources for club calf sale dates, or contact local stockmen’s groups to find a place to purchase your calf. You may show a steer or a heifer but keep in mind that if you show a market heifer, she may only be allowed to show in a market class, not a breeding class. When selecting your calf, try to select an animal that is heavy muscled and structurally correct. Because you are selecting a meat animal project, you want your calf to produce a lean, heavy muscled carcass. Your calf will need to be structurally correct to be able to travel well to the feed bunk and to exercise. Other things to watch for are depth of body, eye appeal, length and disposition. A wild steer or heifer will not gain as well and may be a safety hazard, especially for younger members. Try to avoid animals that immediately isolate themselves and
run to the back of the pen as you enter. All animals will need work to tame and halter break but selecting a calm disposition calf in the beginning will offer the best opportunity for young members.
The most important aspect of your calf selection is weight and size. To figure out your ideal size calf, figure how many days you have until fair. If you purchase a calf November 10, you’ll have approximately 260 days until early August which is when most fairs occur. A calf will typically gain about 2.5 lbs/day so your calf should gain 650 pounds from November until the end of July. Check with your local fair to see what their allowable weight range will be to show. Most calves should weigh between 1,150-1,300 pounds at fair depending on their frame size or how big and tall the calf is. If you want your calf to weigh 1,250 pounds at fair and it will gain 650 pounds then you’ll need to look at purchasing a calf around 600 pounds this fall. If you are trying to budget for a calf this size, a typical 600 pound steer at current market price of $1.10/lb will cost approximately $660. Higher quality calves and calves bought through club calf sales will bring more than market price so budget accordingly. Just a reminder that you’ll need to have your steer purchased before your county weigh in so check with your local Extension office to see if that date has been scheduled and if there are any other requirements that you need to meet.
As you can see, there is a lot to consider when preparing your market beef project but don’t be overwhelmed. Ask your local 4-H leader for advice or contact your local Extension office today for more information.
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