News Adding Pounds and Profit

Adding Pounds and Profit

Adding Pounds and Profit
September 28, 2004 |

When a group of beef cattle producers from west Alabama sold their feeder calves this summer, they pocketed about $100 more per head, thanks to an unusual business arrangement with Wilcox County cattleman Leo Hollinger Jr.Hollinger, who has more than 30 years experience raising stocker cattle, began what he calls a custom weaning and backgrounding service three years ago with about 500 head of cattle. This year, he will wean and feed about 3,500 head of cattle for other producers before those cattle are sold to western feedlots. “We were looking to diversify our farm without investing a lot of money,” Hollinger said. “This allows us to take advantage of our experience and facilities while helping other producers add value to their cattle.”Hale County Extension System Coordinator Johnny Gladney said the custom weaning program was especially profitable for five members of the West Alabama Feeder Cattle Marketing Association who sent 77 calves to Hollinger’s farm this spring.”Leo weaned the cattle for 50 days. When they got there, they weighed (on average) 603 pounds. When we sold them, they weighed 766 pounds, and we gave the buyer 3 percent shrink. Leo added about 150 pounds of pay weight, and we sold them for $119.35 (per hundredweight),” Gladney said. “He basically added $162 of value per calf.”Hollinger, in return, charged the producers about $20 per head for yardage plus the cost of the feed for a total cost of gain of about 51.6 cents per pound. With that kind of result, Hollinger said the custom weaning program could benefit producers even if feeder cattle were only bringing 60 cents a pound.”That’s what I want to do. If I can offer the five-head man a service where he can increase his bottom line, then I’ve done all I can do,” he said.Not all of Hollinger’s customers, however, are small producers. In addition to Gladney’s group–which included one producer with just five head–he also is weaning 1,500 head this year for a Florida-based farm that has the 12th largest beef cattle herd in the United States. Hollinger Cattle Co. also owns 1,100 stocker calves, and is in a partnership on 1,500 head being fed for the all-natural market.To make Hollinger’s system work, producers must have a good herd health program, and smaller producers must work together to sell their cattle in truckload lots. Cattle entering the custom weaning program must be vaccinated with a four-way respiratory vaccine–preferably twice; males must be castrated and healed; and the calves must be dehorned and healed.”Our goal is to add as much weight as is economically feasible,” Hollinger said. “The healthier the cattle are when they arrive and the less stress they go through, the better they will perform.”So far, Hollinger’s system is working well. Cattle in his custom weaning program consistently gain 2 to 3 pounds per day, and because Hollinger has certified scales at the farm, the cattle don’t lose as much weight–or shrink–between the pasture and the buying point. Alabama Farmers Federation Beef Director Perry Mobley said Hollinger’s experience in the stocker business can be an asset to farmers who don’t have the time or facilities to wean their own cattle.”Weaning calves is an extremely stressful venture, not only for the cattle but for the producer as well,” Mobley said. “It’s labor intensive, but it can add a lot of value and pounds to the cattle. Leo provides that service at a very economical cost. If the producer needs assistance marketing his cattle, Leo has the experience to help in that area as well.”Hollinger has an excellent working relationship with Jerry Etheredge of Linden Stockyards, which was one of the first auction barns in Alabama to conduct board sales of cattle in truckload lots. Hollinger’s efficient loading facilities also make his farm a favorite among buyers. “Three or four of the largest buyers have told me they would rather load and buy cattle at my place than any other place,” Hollinger said. “This summer, we loaded 14 truckloads in three days.”The load-out chute is just one aspect of a farm that Hollinger designed to facilitate the fast and stress-free movement of beef cattle.When the cattle arrive, they are weighed and sorted by sex. The calves are then placed in “high-security” weaning pens for a few days before being moved down a central lane to pastures where they are fed a 13-percent protein, soy hull-based ration and free-choice hay. Feed bunks are located along the central lane, so Hollinger and his employees can feed every calf on the farm in about three hours. The feed is weighed as it is distributed, and Hollinger records how much feed is given to each group on a daily basis.The central lane also allows Hollinger to check each pen of cattle several times a day and identify any animal that might be sick.
In addition to designing the farm to accommodate efficient movement of cattle, Hollinger also has invested in fencing to make the 1,400-acre farm more environmentally friendly.”We try to be proactive with our environmental work,” he said. “We’ve worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service on some projects, but a lot of it we just did on our own. We maintain grass at least six months a year in our pens, and we try to do as much feeding as possible on pastures. We have fenced out every stream and ditch, and we’ve also put in a lot of riparian buffer zones. It’s added a lot to the aesthetic value of the place and improved the wildlife habitat.”Hollinger admits that he couldn’t manage the operation without his employees and the help of his wife Jeannie, who recently retired from the Extension System and now does much of the bookkeeping for the farm.Having good help and family support has allowed Hollinger to start another business venture–a heifer development program. He plans to select about 300 heifers a year, which he will breed to below-average birth weight Angus bulls and pregnancy test before they are sold. To qualify for the program, the heifers must pass a persistent infection bovine viral diarrhea (BVD) test, have a minimum pelvic area of 144 square centimeters and have a reproductive tract score of three or better. “We want to do all we can to guarantee that we are providing a bred heifer that won’t have BVD and will calve with ease,” Hollinger said. As for the custom weaning program, Mobley said word already is getting out about the additional weight and value calves are gaining at Hollinger’s farm.”Leo provides a service that’s pretty unique, especially to the southeast part of the country and Alabama,” he said. “He does such a good job of managing the cattle I foresee him having a good problem of having too much business.”

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