people meetingby Katie Navarra

Nick Tommell and his family are savvy businesspeople who have implemented the practices of Kansas feedlots to maximize profits on tight margins on their Berne, NY, farm. The family’s CN Tommell Cattle Company, LLC buys and aggregates pastured beef cattle from farms and sale facilities across the Northeast and bring them home to be “backgrounded” and put through a custom feeding and health preconditioning program before sending them to Kansas to be finished at 1,200 to 1,400 pounds for specific markets. Thus, it was only fitting that the family’s farm hosted Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Backgrounding Beef Cattle workshop on June 13, 2019.

“Backgrounding is the period of time from when calves are weaned and before they are turned out on grass,” said Mike Baker, the Cornell University Beef Specialist. “It’s the period of time when you’re using stored feed.”

Baker uses two years of historical data based on actual sale prices at auction to project future sale prices. The market news reports collect sales data and include specifics such as the prices cattle brought on different dates and weights. Based on the information collected, one year was profitable for New York beef producers, the other was not. Using those statistics, producers can use price predictions to project sale prices in fall 2019, spring or fall 2020 to determine when to sell their cattle to maximize profitability.

“On average, it’s not a profitable venture to hold on to call,” he said. “You have to be above average to be profitable.”

Most cow/calf operations in New York state are considered small ranging from 20 to 25 head. Buyers of yearling cattle tend to want larger groups of cattle, he explained. Collaborating with other similar-minded producers can make both producers’ cattle more profitable.

“Cooperating with other producers who have similar types of cattle can help push prices up,” he said. “Empire Livestock and I are working to put together a yearling sale that would facilitate this type of collaboration, which would increase the volume of cattle and the prices.”

A significant factor in profitability is feed costs. It’s important to decide if you’ll be feeding 100% forage, or a forage/grain mix plus a supplement. Most farms can make forage for $50 or $60/ton, but those buying it may need to pay as much as $80/ton. Baleage, corn sileage and silo waste, weigh backs or refusals from nearby dairies can all be cost effective food for backgrounding cattle.

“Reaching out to local dairies can work well for beef producers because sometimes the refusals may be free for the hauling,” he said. “The producers who are most successful don’t get into a routine. They look at where the market it is and where they can save on feed costs.”

The forage/grain ration largely depends on how the producer obtains the cattle. Those born on the farm and weaned off their mother are less risky than those being bought and brought in. As a rule of thumb Baker said:

  • Cattle should eat 2-2.2% of BW in dry matter per day.
  • Keep concentrate level below 50%.
  • Corn silage is 40-50% corn on a dry matter basis
  • Crude Protein level should be 12-14%

“The future of beef production lies in moving up the chain,” Baker said. “Collaborative integration allows producers to gain more value.”

The next workshop in the CCE series is All about Stockers. It is scheduled for July 11, 2019 from 6-8 p.m. at Diamond Hills Farm in Hudson, NY. The presentation will focus on key points to consider for healthy animals and profitably when purchasing a group of cattle in the spring, feeding them all summer and selling them in the fall. Presenters include Jason Detzel, Ulster County Senior Resource Livestock Educator and owner of Diamond Hills Farm, and Mike Baker, the Cornell University Beef Specialist.

The early bird registration fee is $10 and the deadline is July 9, 2019. Registration at the door is $15 per person. Register online at For questions or to register by phone call 518.765.3518.