Eight thousand calves were sold for premium prices last year through a program that is helping to increase profits for Pennsylvania beef producers.
Begun in 1995, the Pennsylvania Feeder Calf Pool traditionally has added 10 to 25 cents a pound to the sale price, according to Dustin Heeter, livestock-production educator for Penn State Cooperative Extension in Westmoreland County.
These higher returns can really add up, he says. Pennsylvania calf-pool participants have earned between $100 and $145 more per head than other cattlemen in the state over the past five years, resulting in $3,000 in additional income per producer.
The calf pool is a cooperative marketing effort that enables small-scale cattle producers to group animals of uniform sex and weight into larger lots. Uniform lots of cattle fetch a higher price on the market and decrease additional sorting after purchase.
“Producers who market in pools receive premium prices for their animals because buyers are interested in purchasing lots of 48,000 to 50,000 pounds at a time,” Heeter says.
A study conducted at Utah State University found that feedlot operations prefer to buy uniform lots large enough to fill at least one pen, typically numbering between 100 and 250 animals. Such transactions are simpler, and reduced mixing decreases the risk of spreading diseases among cattle.
Penn State works with the Pennsylvania Feeder Calf Pool to provide educational services to producers concerning calf-pool management practices. In addition, extension manages some of the calf-pool events and aspects of the pool’s protocol, such as vaccination programs.
Extension guides producers through standard guidelines set up by the cooperative pool, such as vaccination and preconditioning programs, weaning and management practices, and time schedules. All of the calves are state graded on the farm by Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture graders, receive two rounds of vaccinations and are preconditioned 40 to 45 days prior to shipment.
Twenty-six cow-calf producers across western Pennsylvania participated in the Pennsylvania Feeder Calf Pool program last year, and its members’ efforts were rewarded with premium prices for their calves. The 2008 sale of 8,000 calves was conducted in a tele-auction.