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Stocker Opportunities Abound In
New York Pastures
Virginia-born stockers thrive on cool-season forages.
Bill Tracy is nothing if not enthusiastic about the opportunities to turn a
profit grazing Virginia-born stocker cattle on New York pastures. He's so sold
on the idea that this year he's shipping in 1,800 head to graze the 800 acres of
pasture at Sunrise Farm, Auburn, N.Y.
"We have an unreasonable
advantage here over cattle producers in Virginia. They can't believe how much
cool-season forage we can produce," Tracy told the audience at the NYPA
annual grazing conference in March '96. "It usually rains here and you can
pretty much depend on the grass to grow," he explains. "Our
cool-season grasses -- especially orchardgrass -- will still produce all season
long if kept in a vegetative state, where it's too hot in Virginia for that to
With low-cost production and savvy marketing, Tracy
practically guarantees a profit on every trailer load of cattle he ships. "There
are acres and acres of abandoned farmland around Upstate New York just waiting
to be put to work doing essentially the same thing I do. It's just a matter of
more people stepping forward to take advantage of the opportunity," he
Here's how Tracy does it:
your product. "Find out what the packers want, and then deliver it,"
he stresses. He grazes Black Baldy steers and heifers (discounted 6 to 10
cents a pound under steers) exclusively, because he knows that they are in
demand by Lancaster, Pa., packers looking for premium beef to ship to Japan.
early. This year ('96), Tracy will pull his 800 top-producing stockers off
pasture in early July and send them to the feedlot (while retaining ownership)
where he expects them to put on at least 3 pounds of gain per day. That way he
only has to carry 1,000 head through the cool-season forages' summer slump.
Last year ('95), he was able to carry 1,200 head through the summer on pasture
by grazing 180 head on 40 acres of corn. Heavy stocking early in the season
helps him keep ahead of the cool-season forages during their peak growing
season, drastically reducing pinkeye problems associated with grazing
costs low. "The only equipment we need to run this operation is a
couple of tractors and some ATVs," says Tracy. He uses the tractors to
haul 1,500-gallon water tanks to the pastures so he can keep the stockers out of
full trailer loads. To keep freight costs from eating into profits requires
that you deal by the trailer load, cautions Tracy. Keep in mind that it will
take two loads of 90, 500-pound stockers coming in to fill three trailers of
850-pound stockers going out.
Lock in profits.
"Don't ask, 'Can I make money?'" Tracy stresses. "Know that you
will before you get started." He does that by calculating production costs
and locking in his selling price using the cattle futures market. (See box, "Stocker
Cattle Budget," below.)
|Stocker Cattle Budget|
|In this sample budget, Bill Tracy pencils out a profit of
$72.50 per head. His $.30-per-pound feed cost includes everything it takes to
run the farm, including labor and land costs. In processing includes
vaccination, eartags and worming.
|| per head|
|Feed cost (@ $.30/lb. of gain)
|Brokerage and freight
| In processing
|Other (Interest, death loss, beef board)
|| 850 lbs.|
©1997 Committee for
Sustainable Farm Publishing
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