The 2009 economy continues to be a nail-biter, and beef producers who aim to be around for another year – or hoping to be here for the next generation – know that keeping costs low is always a wise bet. So where should ranchers save and where should they spend?

Montana State University Extension beef specialist John Paterson recently shared the findings of a survey conducted with ten ranches to seek their advice on future management practices given the current market situation. Ranchers were located in Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico and Colorado. Ranchers were asked how they will save money and where they will spend money this year.

Among the “places to save” responses included:

  • Reduce hay, stay on range,
  • Sell cows above 1350 lbs.,
  • Postpone capital expenditures – rent and hire machines rather than own,
  • Earlier preg testing and selling,
  • Cut fertilizer cost by using more clovers,
  • Streamline mineral program; Reduce phosphorus
  • Sort by Body Condition Score and feed accordingly,
  • Sell more heifers rather than keep replacements
  • Graze more cattle on stockpiled feed
  • Question everything

Where did these producers think were the places to spend money in their operations this year? Responses included:

  • Protein, mineral and vaccines,
  • Testing and monitoring – PI calves, soils, feedstuffs and range
  • Continuing education
  • Spend time and money on maintenance and extend life expectancy of equipment
  • Animal ID
  • Keep good ranch help
  • Pasture renovation
  • In synthesizing the responses, Paterson says he thinks the top five important places to cut costs are:
  • Cut hay waste
  • Feed more crop residue such as straw
  • Weigh and sort cows
  • Body condition score and sort the herd
  • Supplement wisely based on forage analysis.

The five places Paterson believes are worthy to spend this year include:

1. Mineral supplementation, specifically phosphorus, copper, zinc and selenium,
2. Forage analysis
3. Preg testing
4. Implants/ionophores
5. Herd biosecurity

He concludes: It will be important for producers to balance rations, remember that health and nutrition go together, use straw in rations, price supplements based on both nutrient and non-nutrient costs, and know the weight of your cows.