By John F. Grimes
As we come to the end of 2017, you may hear people talk about making New Year’s Resolutions. While it is admirable to set targets for areas of personal improvement, much of the enthusiasm surrounding these resolutions peaks early in the calendar year and typically fade away after a few weeks. Maybe you have had more success with resolutions than I have!
I would suggest that a more business-like approach to your beef cattle operation would involve setting goals for improvement. Every business needs to set aggressive goals for improvement to remain competitive and profitable in today’s challenging economy. The following are a few realistic goals that the average beef producer in the state of Ohio can set for 2018.
1. Limit the breeding/calving season to no more than 90 days.
University research has shown the profitability found in the older calves born in a given calving season. There are volumes of documentation on the herd management advantages associated with a relatively short calving season. Remember, calving year-round is not a season!
2. Be discriminating with your herd bull purchases.
Regardless of your breed preference, a quality herd sire can quickly improve your calf crop. Purchase the best bull that a reasonable budget will allow. A herd bull influences the entire calf crop by providing half of the genetics of every calf born. Purchase a bull with Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs) to determine if his genetic merit compliments the needs of the cow herd. Demand that any bull purchased has a Breeding Soundness Examination performed before turnout. A herd bull with poor fertility is a sure way to reduce conception rates and impact a profit/loss statement.
3. Cull aggressively to weed out cows with low fertility and other management problems.
Poor fertility is not limited to the male side of the equation. Cows that have failed to conceive when exposed to highly fertile bulls or bred several times by an experienced Artificial Insemination (A.I.) technician are prime candidates for culling. Additional reasons for culling a female from the herd are long calving intervals (over a year or more), disposition problems, poor udder structure, structural correctness issues (focus on feet and legs), age, etc. Do not make excuses for poor performance.
4. Identify all animals within the herd.
Regardless of the size of your production unit, identify all bulls, cows, yearlings, and calves within your herd. It is much easier to make critical management decisions when you are able to identify individual animals. You can’t evaluate or measure it if it isn’t identified.
5. Don’t be afraid to utilize structured crossbreeding programs.
Heterosis is defined as the increase in an animal’s performance on any given trait above the average of the parent’s performance. It is truly one of the few “free lunches” that Mother Nature provides to a cattle producer. This phenomenon can be very dramatic in lowly heritable traits such as fertility. Heterosis is practically maximized when a two-way cross cow (Breed A X Breed B) is mated to a bull from a third breed (Breed C). An optimal crossbred cow would be heavily influenced by breeds strong in maternal traits while growth and carcass traits can be derived from the sire side. Utilize breeds that complement each other genetically and provide you the best opportunity to meet your production goals in terms of the marketability of the animal and mature size of the cow.
6. Consider the purchase of replacement females.
The average cow herd size in Ohio is slightly less than 17 cows. It is difficult at best for smaller herds to properly develop, breed, and calve out heifers separately from the mature females in the herd. The purchase of bred heifers or young bred cows removes a potentially inefficient and expensive step in the production cycle. Quality replacements can be found throughout the region through private treaty and public auctions at prices suitable for a wide range of budgets.
7. Minimize the use of harvested feedstuffs.
Feed costs are the largest expense contained in an annual cow budget. Harvested feeds are necessary for the cow herd in a given year. They are expensive and efforts must be made to minimize their use. Any time the animal is used to harvest forage instead of a piece of machinery, costs are reduced. Enroll in an OSU Extension Grazing School to learn more about the principles involved with extending the grazing season.
8. If you must make hay, then don’t waste it.
Haymaking is a very expensive practice if you document all of the costs. Many research trials have documented large amounts of hay wasted through poor storage techniques. Investments ranging from extra rock on the ground to temporary covers to a permanent structure can save significant dollars by preventing hay spoilage. Poor feeding techniques can further compound this problem. Feeding devices that limit hay being fed outside on the ground should be utilized. While this practice may not be convenient for a cattleman with an off-the-farm job, more frequent feedings of smaller amounts will help minimize wastage.
9. Practice good biosecurity and herd health techniques.
OSU Extension spends a great deal of time and resources teaching Quality Assurance programs to youth livestock exhibitors. In many instances, the youth do a better job than the adults with their animals in this area. Have you established a Veterinarian Client Patient Relationship with a practitioner? Do you properly store medications as stated by the label? Do you adhere to drug withdrawal times to avoid drug residues in the meat that we produce? Do you minimize the transmission of potential diseases in your herd by isolating newly purchased animals for a period of time and utilize good sanitary practices such as one animal per needle and a different glove for every cow you palpate?
10. Treat the feeder calf like the valuable commodity it is.
Producers need to be willing to implement practices that can add value to their calf crop. The market is currently sending a clear message that buyers are demanding more for their purchasing dollars. Significant discounts are occurring in the market place for feeder calves that are not weaned 45-60 days, castrated & healed, dehorned, and given 2 rounds of a modified live vaccine for the shipping fever complex. The producers that will be successful in the long-term will be willing to change their management practices to have greater market access and will avoid the price discounts experienced by producers unwilling to change.
11. Get involved in the beef industry and understand the issues.
Now more than ever, it is important to become a member of your local, state, and national cattle organizations. We cannot expect people outside of our industry to promote our product and fight for the issues that are near and dear to us. It is our duty to the beef industry to understand the issues that threaten our livelihood and speak out individually and through the strength in numbers that a cattlemen’s organization can provide.
Hopefully, this list of goals gave you some ideas for improving the overall performance and profitability of your herd. There is no time like the present to get started on the goals for your operation in 2018.