Obtaining the Most of Your Pastures
Dr. Mario A. Villarino, County Extension Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources
The recent rain has certainly put enough moisture in the ground to start making considerations about re-stocking our beef operations. One option to maximize the use of current grasslands is the feeding of stockers. For this discussion, Dr. Manchen, Extension beef cattle specialist identified stocker calves are either 1) weaned calves of suitable age and body condition for a grazing program, or 2) heifers with brood cow potential, grazed from weaning (at least 4 months old) to yearling age (12 to 14 months old). Feeder calves, in contrast to stockers, are weaned calves bound for a feedyard because of their weight, age, body condition and/or the market conditions. (An example of a feeder calf would be a fat steer weighing more than 650 pounds.) Cattle prefer grass rather than browse (trees and shrubs) or forbs (weeds). If your acreage has mostly grass, cattle should do well. However, if you don’t have enough forage to support at least eight to ten stockers for at least 4 months, you shouldn’t choose this enterprise.
In a stocker calf enterprise, your primary product is the forage (grass) and you sell that product
by marketing calves you own and have grazed, or by allowing others to graze their animals on
your land. A stocker calf enterprise offers these benefits:
1. Flexibility. Landowners do not have to own the cattle. When grass is available, grazing
can be leased to someone who is willing to pay to graze their stockers on your property.
Selling grass usually incurs less risk than buying cattle.
2. Minimal facility requirements. Stockers can be grazed without an investment in large
facilities and handling equipment, unlike a perennial cow/calf operation. The minimum
requirement is a small pen or corral from which calves can be loaded into a trailer.
Portable cattle panels can be used instead of permanent facilities.
The property should have a permanent perimeter fence constructed with at least five barbed
wires, with the top wire at least 50 inches above the ground. Seven barbed wires or 48-inch net wire
with two barbed wires above it would be preferred. Barbed wires above the net wire should be either
close together (less than 2 inches apart) or far apart (at least 6 inches apart) so they will not catch the
leg of a jumping deer. Electric fencing is suitable for internal partition fences but not for a perimeter
fence. The health of incoming calves is of paramount importance to any stocker operator, but especially
to the small acreage landowner. A lack of handling facilities combined with inexperienced caretakers
could result in a disaster. Ideally, a group of calves would come directly from the ranch where they
were born, preferably from within the county or from an adjacent county. Calves from several
sources, or from a commission company, are more likely to incur health problems.
Heifer development is a very viable enterprise for small acreages. Many central Texas cow/calf
producers have a 1-1-1 operation—one herd, one bull, all in one pasture. As a result, it is difficult for
them to develop replacement heifers. The small acreage owner could establish a cooperative agreement
with such a producer to pasture weaned heifers for 6 to 8 months and then return them to their owner. An attractive part of this arrangement is the well defined grazing period.
How to begin
Before looking for stocker calves to pasture, the landowner should decide on an appropriate, yet
negotiable, price for the pasture and management services provided. The simplest arrangement is to
sell the grazing rights and let the owner of the cattle be responsible for their management. Grazing
can be priced several ways, including 1) cents per pound of weight gain, 2) dollars per head per
month, or 3) dollars per hundredweight of initial weight. The simplest plan is a fixed rate per head
per month. With this arrangement no scales are required and the profit or expense can be calculated
easily by all parties involved. In general, the monthly pasture charge for calves ranges from $5
to $15 per head. If you include management services such as monitoring water supply, distributing
salt, or putting out mineral supplements, supplemental feed or hay, you would charge more. The
time required to perform these services depends upon the equipment you have, the size and
arrangement of your pastures, and the number of stocker calves involved.
When you are ready to begin, you will need to make contact with cattle producers who need pasture.
Newspaper ads and notices posted at feed stores and livestock commission companies can
help. Large animal veterinarians and your Hopkins County Extension Office will be glad help put you in touch with cattle producers (In Manchen, et al. Livestock for small acreage Owners, Texas AgriLife Extension Services Factsheet)
For more information on how to farm with stocker cattle please contact the Hopkins County Extension Office at 903-885-3443.