At the recent Northeast Tennessee Beef Expo in Greeneville, University of Tennessee agricultural economists Dr. Andrew Griffith and Dr. Emmit Rawls gave a brief tutorial to producers regarding factors affecting the value of their feeder calves and how to increase their profitability.

“It may be obvious,” said Griffith, “but any feeder calves that have defects or problems that can represent an additional cost to the buyer or result in a lower sale price when the buyer sells the animal, will be discounted in the feed calf market.”
The expert cited such problems as pinkeye, worms and physical defects like lameness as common causes for price discounts when selling cattle. He further noted that any characteristics that might influence the buyer’s expectation for cost of gain will influence the price of an animal.

On the other hand, factors such as weaning or a preconditioning program that reduce the risk to the buyer make the cattle worth more at sale time. “In addition, higher daily gains, less feed per pound of gain, reduced sickness and death loss, fewer days on feed and lower interest cost all make a feeder calf worth more to the buyer,” Griffith said.

Rawls noted that beef producers should observe prices at the weekly auction or graded sale and evaluate their management program regarding the best time to sell their feeder calves. “There are times when the cost of gain in the feedlot is very high. At such times the price difference may narrow between heavy and lighter weight feeder cattle. Sometimes buyers can buy the weight cheaper than they can put the weight on the calf in the feedlot. It is a dynamic market that does change over time,” he said.

While other factors such as input costs for feed and transportation also influence market price, the economists note that producers have little influence over these costs. “Producers can make management decisions with regard to physical and market characteristics of feeder cattle that affect their price,” said Griffith.
Among the main factors that can affect price are weight, sex, frame size, muscling, breed and color, condition, fill, lot size and horns.

For more details about how producers can manage their cattle for maximum profits, contact your county UT Extension agent or visit the UT Extension publications web page online at Most publications are available for free. Additional information may also be available at the national extension web site:


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