Looking for more profit in your pocket? Turn to production systems highly dependent on soil, sunlight, rainfall, and personal ingenuity and inventiveness, than one highly dependent on fossil fuels and equipment.
The prices of fuel and equipment have risen significantly faster over time than the market value of cattle. Therefore, I prefer a production system highly dependent on soil, sunlight, rainfall, and our ingenuity and inventiveness, than one highly dependent on fossil fuels and equipment. Most of the following suggestions will tie back to this statement, as well as the fact that cattle prices tend to be cyclical and will most likely decline again at some time.
In my travels, I have visited with many ranchers who struggle to be profitable, even with the good prices of the last few years. At the same time, I talk with ranchers who are having the highest profit years of their lives. Nonetheless, this latter group of ranchers assumes that cattle prices will go down and that the price of purchased inputs will continue to rise, largely because of fuel and equipment prices. As a result, they are paying attention to several, or even all, of the following factors:
A Closer Look: Reduce Cow Costs, Increase Revenue
Every item in the above list is a metric that should be measured and recorded, and then reviewed at least annually to measure progress.
Now let’s consider ways to improve the items listed above.
• Good grazing management is a powerful tool for increasing carrying capacity, animal productivity and labor efficiency, and reducing the need for fed feed. I combine nutrition planning with grazing planning because I want to graze during most or all of the year, and supplement to take off the very roughest edges that nature gives.
I will feed cattle when snow depth or severe crusting makes it impossible to graze, but I won’t give in easily. Cattle can graze in tougher conditions than most of us think. I will help them through extreme wind chill, especially the younger ones.
I also will supplement protein when I am expecting them to graze low-protein feeds, and I will strategically supplement mineral. To me, that’s all part of grazing management.
• Large herds make grazing management more cost-effective, both in water and fence cost, as well as improved labor efficiency. It's just easier and quicker to check 500 cows in one herd than 500 cows in five herds. It’s important to have a sufficient number of pastures or paddocks per herd, but large herds enable you to get by with a lot less fencing and stock water sites.
• Heterosis, or hybrid vigor, has so many advantages that it deserves consideration on most ranches. Remember, heterosis is most effective where selection is least effective – traits of low heritability that include reproduction and survivability. Using the advantages of both selection and heterosis, while combining the best aspects of two or more breeds, makes for really good cattle.
• Be careful in the selection of bulls and the seedstock provider. The seedstock provider is your genetics supplier. He should thoroughly understand your objectives and be able to provide the bulls to meet those objectives. Remember, the bulls determine what the herd will be in a few years, unless you are buying replacement cows or heifers.
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• A good culling program combined with an effective, low-cost heifer development program will result in very few cow problems, as well as a short calving season with uniform calves that are very marketable. It will also reduce the need for labor to handle cattle problems.
• Marketing must be attended to continuously, so always be thinking about how to sell each animal to its highest and best use. This doesn’t imply that you sell animals individually, however. You can group similar animals and ages to sell to best advantage.
• Use good animal handling practices to improve production, reduce risk and improve buyer acceptance of your product. Learning good technique is another area that can be very challenging and fun. Your buyer will like your cattle better, too.
Monitoringcan be done for each of the above practices to make sure you are getting desirable results, or to provide warning that things aren’t going right. Rangeland and pasture conditions, along with plant growth rates, can be measured. Weaned calf crop percentage, pregnancy rate, stocking rate, weaning weight and yearling gain also can be measured. It might require a little more subjectivity to evaluate animal handling procedures, but it's important that you also measure progress there as well as you can. You also want an early warning if things aren’t going right.
Burke Teichert, consultant on strategic planning for ranches, is retired as vice president and general manager of Deseret. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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