5 min read
Cattle in a feedlot

Alabama Pasture to Rail is a retained ownership program allowing beef producers to collect post-weaning performance data, health data, and carcass data on cattle from their breeding program. This allows producers to determine whether changes need to be made to the breeding program for post-weaning traits.

Why Participate?

Understanding how calves fit into the entire beef chain is critical for optimal marketing.  Obtaining post-weaning and carcass information on calves will allow producers to edit their breeding program and strengthen their position in marketing calves each year.

Southeastern cattle represent 25 percent of the calves being fed in the United States feedlots annually. For most producers, calves are sold at weaning. Because of the U.S. beef industry fragmentation, little to no feedback is provided back to the cow/calf level. However, in the end, a high quality carcass is the most valuable item a cow/calf operation produces, but it is the last thing producers are paid for.

As the U.S. beef industry moves forward, the prosperity of the entire industry rests on its customers. In 2015, beef prices were 57 percent higher than pork and 207 percent higher than chicken. The demand for beef has remained strong because customers still want taste. Much of beef’s taste or flavor is enhanced by the amount of marbling in the beef. In early 2015, sales of prime and branded choice beef surpassed sales of select beef for the first time backing up the claim that our customers want taste.


The Alabama Pasture to Rail Program is an educational program for cattle producers.  The purpose is to give cattle producers the following opportunities without the investment required to finish an entire pen of cattle.

  • To obtain individual animal data for post-weaning performance, health performance, and carcass merit that can be used to assist producers with selection decisions pertaining to existing breeding, nutrition, and health programs.
  • To educate cattle producers on recommended health practices and custom feeding programs.

2021 Rules and Regulations

  • A consignor may enter three steers or heifers, provided that each calf weighs a minimum of 600 pounds on the day of delivery.
  • Consignments are due three weeks prior to shipment of cattle. A consignment fee of $30 per head is required at nomination for ear tags, health certificates, and for administration of the program. The consignment fee is refundable until 10 days prior to shipment.
  • Calves must be weaned for 60 days prior to shipment. They must also be dehorned and properly vaccinated. All bull calves must be castrated.
  • Calves will be gathered at central locations around Alabama for shipping. Locations will be determined once nominations are received. At the shipping point, calves will be tagged, weighed, and graded.
  • After processing, cattle will be shipped to Hy-Plains Feedyard in Montezuma, Kansas as soon as possible. This will be a 15 to 25 hour ride, depending on where the calves are commingled in Alabama.
  • For calves to be shipped on a given date, there must be at least 47,000 pounds of cattle to ship. Transportation cost will be split per animal based on the weight of the animal, cost of transportation, and the weight of the entire load. If the load is shipped with less than 47,000 pounds, producers will not be responsible for the added costs of shipping a light load.
  • Cattle will be fed to market weight as determined by the feedlot management team.
  • To attempt to slaughter cattle at their optimum size, there will be a maximum of three slaughter dates per shipment.
  • Cattle will remain the property of the consignor, and thus consignors assume responsibility for loss by death or injury. A named peril insurance, in which all cattle will be covered, is automatically provided at the feedlot. Bloat and respiratory items are not covered by the peril insurance. Items covered include lightning strikes, smothering by snowstorms, tornadoes, or electrocution. Other livestock insurance can be purchased by each individual consignor, which could cover losses due to bloat, broken limbs, respiratory, water belly, entertoxemia, and the like. Consignors are responsible for purchasing additional insurance prior to shipment.
  • Price protection, in the form of hedging or forward contracting, will be used to protect cattle prices when available. The cost of the price protection would be added to the bill. This will be determined through consultation with feedyard management and Alabama Extension personnel.


To participate in the Alabama Pasture to Rail Program, producers must complete the following forms.

Download a PDF of the Alabama Pasture to Rail Consignment Form

Download a PDF of the Alabama Pasture to Rail Supplemental Tag Form

Download a PDF of the Alabama Pasture to Rail Health Form Option One

Download a PDF of the Alabama Pasture to Rail Health Form Option Two

Complete and send all forms and a $30 per head consignment fee at least 21 days prior to shipment to:

Alex Tigue

Animal Science & Forages Regional Agent

140 Duncan Hall Auburn University, Alabama 36849

About Hy-Plains Feedyard

Hy-Plains Feedyard is located in Montezuma, Kansas, approximately 30 miles west of Dodge City. It has a 50,000 head capacity. Hy-Plains will sell the cattle on a carcass grid, when possible. If not possible, cattle will be sold cash and data will be purchased back. Cattle can be sold to one of three plants:

  • Cargill
  • Tyson
  • National Beef

At National Beef, cattle would be sold on the U.S. Premium Beef grid when possible. At the other two plants, they would be sold on the plant carcass grid. Thus, cattle will be sold based on their merit to grow, grade and yield. Table 1. outlines the costs of retaining ownership.

Table 1. Costs of Retaining Ownership

Item2016-2019 Average Cost Per Head
Consignment Fee$30
Shipping to Feedyard$50 to $75
Yardage (cost per head, per day at feedyard)$0.05 per day
$8.39 per head
Feed Cost $0.75 per lb of gain
$426.12 per head
Processing Fee$13.70
Mass Treatment Cost$21.51
Treatment Cost for Sick Calves~$30 per treatment
Interest Rate on Carrying Costs$5.84
Carcass Data Collection $4.73
National Beef Checkoff$1
Alabama Beef Checkoff$1
Shipping to Harvest$3.56


Health Management Prior to Shipping

Health is a key component of successful retained programs. Sick calves will not accurately represent their genetic potential, skewing performance and carcass data. Additionally, data from 2016 to 2019 shows that there is a $158.16 per head reduction in profitability in cattle that are treated for disease only once.

Producers are strongly urged to work with their veterinarian and to carefully follow the pre‐ delivery health guidelines. All animal health products should be administered following Beef Quality Assurance Guidelines and manufacturer instructions.

At least four weeks prior to delivery, calves must be:

  • castrated, dehorned, and healed
  • dewormed
  • vaccinated for
    • IBR, BVD, PI3, and BSRV
    • 7-way Blackleg
    • Mannheimia hemolytica and Pasteurella multicida
  • given booster vaccinations fora
    • IBR, BVD, PI3, and BSRV
      • booster must be a modified live vaccineb
    • 7-way Blackleg
  • weaned and started on feed for 60 days by shipping date (minimum 5 lbs per head, per day).

aBooster vaccinations should not be given within 14 days of shipment, but within 60 days of shipping.

bIt is recommend to at the least use a modified live vaccine to booster calves for IBR, PI3, BRSV, and BVD. Following label directions when utilizing modified live vaccine is extremely important. 

A vaccination record, stating the calf has been vaccinated for the organisms described above should be filled out and brought to the load out location if not mailed to the Alabama Pasture to Rail Coordinator prior to the load out date.

Any implants given on the farm should be given long enough before shipment to “play out” before arrival at the feedyard. This will allow you to receive the full benefit of any implants you use and give the feed yard the ability to fully implement their implant strategy.

Further Recommendations (Not Required)

  • If producers feel they have an immune response problem on their farm, giving each calf an A-D-E vitamin shot can help jumpstart their immune system.
  • Histophilus Somni (Haemophilus somnus) is an organism where death-loss in research cattle has been experienced. This might be an organism that producers are interested in vaccinating against, but is not required.
  • Testing for persistently infected BVD calves might also be good idea. To do this, a producer sends an ear notch sample to the Alabama Veterinary Diagnostic Lab in Auburn. The cost is $5 per sample.
    • The sample submission form can be found on the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries website. Producers will need tubes to put the ear notch in. They may be able to obtain these from their veterinarian, or can order them from the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries.

More Information

For more information regarding the Alabama Pasture to Rail Program, contact Alex Tigue, Alabama Pasture to Rail Coordinator, or Soren Rodning, Extension Veterinarian.


Read additional summary data on the Alabama Pasture to Rail Program.

Did you find this helpful?