The big thrust in the beef industry the past several years has been to improve quality, consistency and efficiency. More than likely, each of us has been at a meeting and listened to a speaker say, “Quality is the best way to improve profits. Measurements are crucial because you can neither control nor manage what you cannot measure.”

Geneticists and statisticians have done a great job of developing tools like expected progeny differences (EPDs) so the industry can do some of this crucial measuring. Have they considered, however, the economic impact that some of these measurements have on the bottom line?

For instance, on the surface, 205-day adjusted weights look like the way to go to get all cows on a level playing field. But, could it be a crutch for a slow-breeding cow?

Like a lot of breeders, I never questioned 205-day adjusted weaning weights. In fact, I was convinced it was a fair means of comparing calves on an equal basis. So much so that I asked James Henderson, the plant manager for our B3R Country Meats, why he placed as much emphasis on in-weights, the actual weights of cattle coming into the feedlot, as he did other traits like rate of gain, carcass weight, yield and carcass quality.

For perspective, our beef plant has found it crucial to know and discover as much as possible about the cattle we harvest so we can send data back to retained ownership customers. The intent is to help them figure out ways they can improve their net profit within our value-added, branded beef system.

I wanted James to explain to me why the in-weight mattered so much to him or our customers. After all, he didn't know the age of the calf, which could explain why one calf is lighter than another.

James' response was: “I know more about that calf than you think. The lighter calf is telling me one of two things about its dam. Either she's a poor milker or she's in the late part of the breeding season. Either way, she is costing the rancher pounds, and pounds equate money.”

Convinced as I was that adjusted weights were the most accurate and fair measure of performance I could share with my bull customers, I started doing some research on my own ranch records. I wanted to put James' comment to the test.

We have a 60-day calving season in our purebred herd that I've always been quite proud of until I opened my books with a fresh perspective and started running some comparisons. If I were one of my commercial customers and I looked only at the adjusted weaning weights, what impact would that late calving cow or poor milking cow have on my bottom line?

I found two of our cows that were similar in age, bred to the same bull, run in the same pasture and produced the same sex calf. I compared the results for two years (Table 1).

Across two seasons, calves out of our #4013 cow — she had a lifetime adjusted weaning weight ratio of 116 — had a total adjusted weaning weight advantage of 31 lbs. compared to our #4156 cow, who had a lifetime adjusted weaning ratio of 100.

Unfortunately, the cow with the lower weaning ratio actually gave me 185 lbs. more to sell at weaning time across those two years than the female with the higher weaning ratio. One cow made me $172 more than the other.

Of course, when I finally got down to studying it, the reason was obvious. The female with the higher ratio was calving about a month later in the calving season each year than the female with the lower ratio. Insult to injury came in 2001 when the higher-ratio female, already calving so late in the season, finally fell completely out of our 60-day window and had to be replaced.

So, she cost me pounds every year I maintained her. And, now she has to be replaced years earlier than should have been the case, which cost me three years of productivity.

It's humbling to be proven wrong by a Texas Aggie like James. But I appreciate the lesson.

We purebred breeders need to remind ourselves that we're selling customers the chance to produce pounds, not weaning weight ratios. And, our commercial customers need to demand we provide them fact rather than fiction.

Table 1. Adjusted vs. actual weaning weight

Cow # Calving date Calf sex Actual weaning (lb.) Adjusted weaning (lb.) +/- ($)
4013 12-12-99 F 566 588
4156 11-11-99 F 634 529 +61*
4013 12-16-00 B 608 606
4156 11-13-00 B 725 634 +111**
*68 lb. difference × $90/cwt. = $61.20
**117 lb. × $95/cwt. = $111.15

The Bradley 3 Ranch at Memphis, TX, has raised “Ranch-Raised Angus Bulls for Ranchers” since 1956. In 1986, the Bradley family opened its own beef processing facility and began marketing its own branded beef products under the B3R Country Meats label.

The program currently includes producers in 17 states and retailers in 18 states. Minnie Lou runs the ranching operation, while daughter Mary Lou runs the beef business. For more information, call 806/888-1062, visit www.bradley3ranch.com or e-mail bradley3@srcaccess.net.