By Glynn Tonsor, livestock and meat marketing specialist
Calendar year 2019 is sure to go down as a memorable on many fronts for Kansas cattle producers. The abnormal weather conditions may have cow-calf producers considering several adjustments in their operation. As with any decision, it is prudent to gather information and assess the situation before proceeding. While some producers may seek to wean later given additional forage availability, here some base information is shared for producers considering weaning calves earlier in the fall than normal. Projected revenue is the focus; however, producers are encouraged to utilize personalized cost impacts to guide their final decision.
Consider the example situation of a producer who observes the body condition of his herd is worse than normal or what is desired. One option available is to wean at a typical time and then post-weaning to make a focused effort on improving body condition of the breeding herd. While this warrants consideration, the expense of this option can be higher than some producers anticipate. For broad context, it is helpful to note Kansas Farm Management Association estimates indicate feed and pasture expenses in 2018 totaled $472/cow or 66% of total variable costs. This estimate almost certainly reflects a “base” situation where improving body condition more than normal is not occurring. 
An alternative option perhaps worth considering by some operators is to wean calves earlier than normal. This may aide the breeding herd in regaining condition for the subsequent year yielding, among others, benefits in improved conception and ultimately weaning rates. The viability of this option hinges on how reduced calf crop revenue compares to differences in costs of improving body condition of the breeding herd.
Fortunately for producers, there is an easy way to gain insight on the current calf-crop revenue impact of differing weaning times. The BeefBasis.com website exists to provide tailored forecasts for feeder cattle prices in an array of situations. As of June 7th, the projected sales price for 6 cwt steer calves (Medium/Large, 1-2 Muscling, 100 head lot) in Salina for October 16th was $148.21 for a per head revenue of $889.26. Consider the possibility of earlier weaning and selling on September 11th at 525 lbs. This earlier, lighter projected sales price was $159.77 (implying per head revenue of $838.79) as of June 7th. What is critical to compare is how the projected $50/calf lower revenue stacks up to alternative ways for producers to add body condition.
While feed and forage costs can vary widely across producers, this year is an excellent example of when weather conditions may have producers thinking about alternative weaning times. The BeefBasis tool has been designed to help producers evaluate this type of decision.
 Readers interested in further self-assessment may utilize the “KSU Beef Cow-Calf Budget” available online at: https://www.agmanager.info/farm-mgmt-guides/livestock-budgets