To Brand or Not to Brand



Our dilemma back in March after so much rain was whether we wanted to brand our calves that were averaging over 500 lbs. With only 45-60 days left of our grass season, we knew that castrating and working the bull calves would set them back for at least two weeks as they recovered from the branding pen, two weeks of no gains in weight plus always the risk of losing one or two in the process. A live bull is better than a dead steer.

A big part of our consideration was the neighbors we needed to get the job done, most old riding older horses if we could put together a younger ground crew. In the bigger picture, we trade labor, so most of us were facing the same dilemma, all trying to get our calves branded at the same time.

As the steer calves bring more money per pound than the bulls, we had to project the sale weights and difference in price to calculate the net return for each. We figured a discount of $15/cwt, or 15 cents/pound, on 750 lbs. bulls against 700 lbs. steer calves as a place to start. Then we had to calculate the cost of branding, the vaccine, the gather and hired labor, etc. I came up with $44/head and ran the figures by one of neighbors to see if we were being realistic.

We decided not to brand our calves, but had a few steers that we branded with our Wagyu X calves in our first load of bulls that we sent to town three weeks ago, encouraged that the bulls brought as much money as the steers because they weighed more. Not branding your calves is tricky business, but our neighbors are all honest.



The bulls and heifers in the photographs are from the Paregien Ranch, the biggest calves we have. Most of these heifers will be replacements in our cow herd. After a 5-day wean, the bulls sell today and will average around 800 lbs., heavier than the buyers will want. But we can’t go back, yet satisfied that we made the right decision. Half-way through weaning and harvesting our crop of calves, we have another bunch gathered ready to haul off the mountain on Thursday.


4 responses to “To Brand or Not to Brand

  1. Most interesting explanation of your situation – thank you for sharing.


  2. I don’t understand why a 700-750 lb is ok but 800 isn’t?


    • The bulls sold well. Whether steer or bull, California calves weighing over 700-750 lbs. have been generally discounted, too small for the feedlots and too big to turn out on grass. California calves come off the grass now, while the rest of the West is looking for calves to put on grass. An 800 lbs. bull calf is too big to cut without risk and may lose 100 lbs. recovering.

      When I was a boy, we shipped 3-year old steers weighing 1,200 lbs. directly to the Chicago stockyards. Out of college, we shipped 2-year old steers weighing 800 lbs. to feedlot buyers, where the cost of feed played heavily in the price we received. The bigger the steer, the more he eats and the more it costs to finish the carcass.

      While the U.S. consumer no longer wants a 16 oz. rib steak, improved genetics are helping to produce 9-month old calves weighing 750 lbs. The beef business is more productive now than ever before, yet changing our markets and options. Like everything else, nothing stays the same.

      The cattle market is a little stronger this week, our bulls averaged over 800 lbs., one 9-month old calf weighing an unbelievable 1,025 lbs.


  3. Hi John, if you need ground crew help call me. 559-737-2498. We live on Blue Ridge and work in Visalia. Ben


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