Feeding Conventional or Natural Cattle

The debate around farm and feedlot has been, should I feed Conventional or Natural Cattle? Which is more profitable? So let’s look at some of the positives and negatives.
First, we as beef producers need all the different markets we can get to sell our beef. So any way we can sell more beef is a good thing, whether it is grass fed, natural, hormone free or conventional. The broader the market base the better.

fullsizerender1One negative of having a variety of markets would be, when the consumer goes to the meat counter and sees all the different labels of beef. This may be confusing. Does the consumer even understand the difference between natural and conventional? If some is labeled natural and some is not, will the consumer think that the conventional is less desirable or less healthy? Will they wonder if the cheaper priced conventional beef is less tender or less healthy? To me, I think Conventional beef is healthier than Natural because it has less fat, but that may not be the case for the average consumer.

Feeding Natural cattle takes more days on feed, so it takes more feed and water to produce the same amount of beef. Since it takes less feed and water to produce conventional beef I would say it’s more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Implanted cattle produce more muscle and less fat. Conventional cattle have less yield grade 4’s. Our local conventional cattle easily grade 80% choice or better with up to 50% CAB. Natural cattle often grade 100% choice and prime but will get more yield grade 4’s.
How much more can I pay for Natural cattle? I will do the math later. On a 750 lb. steer it is about $10.00 a hundred weight. Natural feeder cattle are harder to find and there are less to choose from. In Natural cattle the question is, how soon do I use antibiotics? The tendency is to wait longer to treat because if I treat I lose $75.00 on first cost. Now the steer is no longer natural and it has to be marketed separate. Feeding Naturals also invites more paperwork and regulations on the farm.

Let’s do the math for a 750 Lb. feeder steer on feed for 200 days.
As you can see I did not include all costs such as freight, yardage, discounts and bonuses at harvest. There is no way to come up with an exact number because of all the variables in buying and marketing cattle. Conventional cattle usually dress at 62.5% and Natural at 61.5%. I feel that implanted cattle yield about 1% more than non-implanted.

There is very little difference in the bottom line of Natural versus Conventional. I do know if you feed Conventional cattle and do not implant you are giving up at least 100 lbs. and some feed efficiency which is $100 to $150 per head. As you can see it is important to implant conventional cattle. If you feed Natural be careful how much more you pay for feeders. The benefits of good genetics are more important in Natural cattle and maybe not as much in Conventional cattle. So which ever program fits your farm and as long as it is done correctly, there can be profit in either program.

by Homer Eberly, Agri-Basics, Inc., Nutritionist