Tips to Help if You're Considering a Stocker Cattle Operation

In volatile markets and changing commodity prices, expanding your current income flow to include a stocker cattle operation may be beneficial for your bottom line. Stocker cattle operations are a quick turnover option to impact a producer’s profitability.  Benefits of these operations can be found for both row crop growers, producers as well as those with smaller cow-calf operations. In order to pull off this operation, there are many aspects to take into consideration.

First, let’s start with an overview.  Stocker cattle are beef animals that you can add value to.  The main value is accomplishing weight gain in the most cost-effective manner.  Typically weighing 300-900 pounds, they are grazed on pastures after being weaned.  Many people make money in the stocker business by taking small sets of cattle that have been discounted for some reason and put them into larger, more uniform groups.

To better understand the different mentality of a stocker cattle operation, the longest ownership of a stocker calf is eight months and the shortest is around two months.  Unlike a cow-calf production, where cows are looked at as a long-term investment, the stocker cattle industry runs on a shorter time frame.  On average, around two and a half years pass by between breeding and the age when heifer calves may be slaughtered.  Cow-calf producers may retain these calves for herd expansion or sell them, along with steers, to feedlot operators.  The cow-calf business is well adapted to small-scale and part-time farmers who have land suitable for pasture and hay production.

Picking the right cattle is the most important aspect to profitability in the stocker business.  It’s not about the price but more about buying animals with reduced risk of sickness and how well they grow on pastures and supplemental feeds.  It takes an alert eye and lots of time to pick the right cattle.  A veterinarian is a necessity for stocker cattle and also having good knowledge of the cattle’s nutrition and medical history like what vaccinations the cattle have had in the past.  Combined cattle have an increased risk of morbidity and mortality which can influence profits. Producers need to watch stocker cattle closely to make sure there are no illnesses and if spotted take care of it before it becomes serious.

The purchase and management of stocker calves may be a method to increase the value of marketing forage and feed resources.  Stocker cattle can help manage forage and production risk.  Due to climate differences from year to year stocker production can be used to lower the financial stress that can come with changeability of forage resources.  Stocker production provides flexibility to increase, decrease or eliminate the stocker enterprise relative to forage availability.

Smaller cow-calf producers may benefit from purchasing stocker cattle to group with home raised calves to make uniform load lots of cattle to market.  Full loads typically get a higher price than smaller lots of cattle.

Row crop producers may consider stocker production because it’s a method of harvesting cover crops on crop ground.  Row crop producers benefit from stocker cattle by using cover crops as forage for cattle.  Cover crops yield forage during periods that the cattle producers need it most to extend the grazing season and reduce or even eliminate their dependence on harvested feed.  Stocker cattle grazing on cover crops, provides another source of income from the land that is most farmers limited input.

If the stocker cattle business is what an operator is looking to get involved in it’s important to take advantage of all the opportunities that are out there.  Operators must know their capabilities and skill sets and have a plan to move forward with the business.  It can be a gamble but the trick is not to pay too much for the cattle on the front end, then put weight on the cattle in a cost-effective way and understand and protect the value of the calf in the future.