By John F. Grimes
We are entering an exciting time of the year for cow-calf producers. They have started or soon will be weaning their spring-born calves. Weaning is an excellent time to prepare the calf crop to become herd replacements or for future marketing opportunities by implementing health programs and transitioning to feed rations. It is also a great time to determine the pregnancy status of the breeding herd. Management practices for both these groups can go a long way to determine the ultimate profitability of herd.
The factor that should ultimately sort a female to the keep or cull pen is pregnancy status. The three primary methods used in pregnancy diagnosis are rectal palpation, ultrasound evaluation, or blood testing. Each of these methods can effectively diagnose the female’s pregnancy status when properly implemented. Obviously the preferred result is for the female to be pregnant. Pregnancy diagnosis is relatively inexpensive, especially when you consider the potential savings of expenses it facilitates.
While variable costs such as feed may have moderated somewhat in recent years, quality hay may be hard to come by this year making it still fairly expensive to maintain a cow on an annual basis. Producers often fail to consider fixed costs such as machinery, buildings, management, and replacement animal expense. We do not have enough space in this article to debate a sample budget, but it is fair to say the annual carrying costs for a beef female can run from $700 to over $1,000 depending on the situation. An open female is not going to generate any income to help pay the bills.
Carrying an open female over to the next year or the next breeding season only compounds the accumulation of expenses. In nearly every case, the producer would be better off selling the open female and replacing her with a bred female. This is particularly true of yearling females. If you can’t get a properly developed, healthy yearling heifer bred in a 60 -90 day breeding season, sell her as a heavy feeder calf or finish her out to harvest weight. If she is sub-fertile as a yearling, she will likely have fertility problems as a mature female.
At the risk of stating the obvious, the pregnant female is the foundation for any productive cow-calf operation. Hopefully the female will calve within a relatively short calving season window that occurs during the months of the year that are best suited for your operation and time constraints. A pregnant female can also create some additional marketing opportunities for the producer.
Now is an excellent time to evaluate your herd and consider marketing decisions for the fall. First, open cows or heifers can be sold. Young, high quality cattle backed by solid genetics are in demand with potential buyers. Yearling heifers bred artificially to proven calving ease sires are very marketable. It is also a great time to evaluate the body condition of potential sale animals and make nutritional adjustments to the animal’s diet in anticipation of a sale date. It is my experience that while prospective buyers may complain about overly fat breeding cattle, they certainly resist purchasing breeding cattle that are in thin body condition.