It's January, and you awake to find your cows in an average body condition score of 4.8. Calving will start soon and you worry herd fertility will suffer. This is the most costly time of the cycle to put weight on cows — late-term pregnancy and early lactation.

Or consider this: 30 days into the feeding period, you have a major wreck on a bargain-priced group of calves. You put $9.25/head into them at processing with various vaccines, vitamins and new “preventive” treatments — and paid for a bargain-priced mass medication program. Was it just money down a rat hole?

These two examples involve assessing needs and risks, and then applying dollars and effort in the right direction. Did you have all the facts and a plan when you started out?

Accessing a network

There are a lot of things of which I know just enough to be dangerous. These would include statistics, plumbing, electrical wiring, welding and pasture management, to name a few.

This lack of expertise doesn't stop me from trying, but how many times would I have been money ahead to consult an expert, if not just hire someone to do it? Will Rogers must have been thinking about this when he said: “It's not what we don't know that gets us in trouble, but what we know that isn't so.”

I'm always more comfortable when I can bounce my proposed plan off a more informed and/or experienced person. This resource person should be someone who understands the entire system within which the challenge lies.

The best resource people also routinely turn to other people for additional information. In other words, they give you access to a network of resources it would take you years to develop on your own.

For beef producers, the person you're looking for is a beef-production veterinarian who's committed to the industry. These people are easily spotted by how they attack problems.

The veterinarian you are looking for will only give you an immediate answer if he or she is comfortable with their knowledge and have recently researched or been updated on the problem. Very often, they'll give you an opinion but pursue their resources for further research. Those resources may be notes from a continuing-education meeting, a journal article, a fellow practitioner, or an expert source in allied industry or academia.

What are some opportunities to benefit from your veterinarian's involvement? Let's start by looking at recent “Vet's Opinion” columns. Past topics include pinkeye prevention, feedlot-pen density, reproductive failure, post-treatment intervals for antibiotics, new lameness challenges, preventing dystocia, health challenges in grass cattle, alternative weaning strategies and grass tetany. The common factor in all of these is a focus on using management skills to optimize production and avoid disasters.

Plan your work; work your plan

The best way to stay abreast of new developments and strategies is to sit with your veterinarian and map out a program. Plan to get the most out of the session by keeping a list of recent challenges, as well as new products or management techniques you've heard about. Expect this to be a consultation service, just as you would retain a lawyer or accountant.

A management protocol that's several years old may be costing you in lost opportunities. Remember that it isn't just about adding new products or practices; sometimes there's money to be made by discontinuing something shown to be ineffective or even harmful.

Are you aware of everything your veterinarian offers? Some offer ration development for cowherds and Standardized Performance Analysis (SPA) programs. Others have completed advanced graduate and certificate programs in beef production.

Have you thought about input on changing your current facilities or building new ones? And who's better trained on the diseases that challenge your operation, and methods to prevent and treat these diseases?

Let your veterinarian know the skills and information you're looking for, and give him or her a chance to fill that need, find the resources you need or develop the required expertise. Most all the veterinarians I've taught over the years would welcome a chance to grow with you.

Invest your wealth of experience, along with that of your veterinarian, through routine planning sessions. It's not an admission of defeat to work with your veterinarian on a routine basis. Consider it an investment in your operation that doesn't require corn, hay or fuel.

Mike Apley, DVM, PhD, is an associate professor in clinical sciences at Kansas State University in Manhattan.