What is in this article?:
- Do Beef Cattle Have A Biological Limit To Productivity?
- Cracks beginning to show
- Assessing the gains
Per-animal production may be approaching the limits of beef cattle’s ability, while straining the outer limits of the industry’s economic model.
Assessing the gains
“At some point, we also have to ask what the limits are relative to why we are in business,” Field emphasizes. “At our family’s ranch, and I’m not asking anyone to adopt our ethic, we’re not totally focused on short-term profit. It’s extremely important, but there are limits to what we will do to make a profit. These are limits based on our Christian values that focus on our responsibility as good stewards, and limits based on our willingness to tolerate increased inputs.”
Ironically, the industry’s penchant for balanced, multi-trait selection for traits of economic importance has steered the industry successfully toward its singular goal of increased production per animal, a collective single-trait approach.
“In business, one of the key management responsibilities is managing polarities: the decisions that are short-term in nature and the choices that are long-term,” Field explains. “If I focus on a single trait long enough, it will have consequences. What are the system limits? What are the short-term gains, and will they yield long-term benefit? As an industry, I think we need to pick up our heads and look.”
Field’s perspective is not a declaration that the cattle business’s path thus far is necessarily good or bad.
“I’m saying we need to idle for a second, apply our full senses to look, listen and smell, and then apply those observations to what we know as stockmen. We need to ask how we’re doing. Is there anything we need to do more of or less of?” Field says.
For his money, Field believes the industry’s most recent National Beef Quality Audit (NBQA) suggests the same kind of thoughtful consideration.
When it comes to any management decision, he believes the clear NBQA messages are: “Will it alter eating satisfaction? Will it negatively or positively affect the integrity of the product? Am I proud that this will be part of the industry story? Those are pretty good filters.”
Between expansion decisions on one side of the equation and growing consumer interest in how food is produced on the other, the time seems especially ripe for such industry contemplation.
“Nature limits us all the time,” Field says. “We can’t fear those limits, but must respect them. Once you cross that threshold, you have a world-class wreck on your hands.”
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