SEDALIA, Mo. – While spring calving and spring bull sales may dominate the producer’s current thought process, planning for weaned fall calves might slip through the cracks. Two items to pay close attention to for weaned calves is value of gain and cost per pound of gain. Having an idea of these two calculations can provide some guidance on how weaned calves should be managed.

I recently did some pencil-pushing on these two items. Feed costs are estimated from current retail prices or from Missouri Department of Agriculture market reports or Calf prices are from a recent MDA market report.

I’ll deal with cost per pound of gain and feed prices first. My post-weaning rations are hay-based and targeted for 2.0 pounds of gain. This may not quite fit the spring scenario if pasture is available, but it can provide a starting point to estimate feed costs. Hay prices are all over the board. Current MDA market reports for hay are $100 to $175 per ton. showed a range from $92 to $225 per ton from five different locations in central Missouri. I used $135 per ton in my calculations.

Based on my pricing structure, feed cost per day ranged from $1.60 to $1.91 for rations designed to achieve 2.0 pounds of gain per day. The more important calculation for comparison is feed cost per pound of gain. This ranged from $0.79 to $0.89 per pound of gain. While $0.10 per pound of gain doesn’t sound like much, it really adds up when estimating the total pounds of gain you expect to achieve on the weaned calves. Comparing the price of various ration options is absolutely essential in this process.

The most difficult calculation is estimating value of gain. In order to do this, subtract the current total value of a calf from the expected total value of the calf at sale time and divide by the expected pounds of weight gain. For my value of gain estimates, I use current MDA market reports. A recent report showed 427-pound steers averaged $3.40 per pound for a total value of $1,451.80. Steers weighing 523 pounds averaged $317.22 per cwt for a total value of $1,659.06. The price difference is $207.26 for a weight spread of 96 pounds or a value of gain of $2.16 per pound.

Since the value of gain for this weight change is currently $2.16 per pound of gain and the cheapest ration cost per pound of gain is $0.79, this leaves $1.37 per pound of gain to pay for other ownership, equipment and labor expenses. The question then is if there is enough difference between feed costs and value of gain to pay for additional expenses and profit.

The take-home message here is to provide an example of how estimating expenses and value of gain can be used to guide management decisions. Carefully evaluate feed costs and expected sale value of calves this spring and make decisions appropriately.

If you have questions or would like assistance in developing feeding programs or comparing the price of various feedstuffs, please contact me at or 660-827-0591.

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