With high feed, seed, fuel and fertilizer costs, beef producers need to consider alternative approaches to feeding and managing their herds, says a Purdue University expert.

“They need to make sure they have a feeding and management plan in place to minimize feed costs, optimize herd performance and maximize profit,” says Ron Lemenager, Purdue Extension beef management specialist.

Lemenager recommends producers:

  • Get rid of unproductive cows.
  • Have forage tested.
  • Evaluate and body condition score cows.
  • Think about ways to extend forage supplies.
  • Get the most value possible from calves.
Feed costs represent between 60% and 75% of the annual cost of keeping a cow. Lemenager says the annual cost this year to keep a cow will likely exceed $500/cow and could be as high as $700 in some operations.

Feed costs are going to be high, so producers must make plans now on how to get through the winter; one strategy is to cull unproductive cows, he says. “Cows that are open, cows that are old and that are arthritic, and cows that are not going to produce heavy weaning weight calves that will allow you to pay the cow’s way next year need to be culled.”

Getting rid of non-productive cows will also help to extend the grazing season by allowing more acres to be available later in the fall and into the winter feeding period. Lemenager explains that by extending the grazing season, you can carry more cows into winter and reduce the winter feed costs from harvested forages and supplemental feeds.

“I highly recommend our producers test forages this year,” he says. “If you’ve never done it before, this is the year to do it, because if you underfeed cows you’re going to sacrifice performance; and if you overfeed cows, it’s going to cost a whole lot more money. For more on forage testing, visit www.foragetesting.org.

It’s also important for producers to body condition score their cows, Lemenager points out. “It’s a pretty good indicator of where your cows are nutritionally,” he says. “If you start to see cows slide in body condition, then you need to add some additional energy or protein or other nutrients to make sure they stay at the level of production you want.”

Last, but certainly not least, is maximizing the value of the calves.

“If you haven’t weaned your calves and marketed them yet, think about how to maximize the value of those calves by talking with potential buyers,” Lemenager says. “If they want preconditioned calves, then think about preconditioning.

“If they want heavier weight calves, then maybe you should background those calves for a while. The point is don’t take a discount on your calves if you can help it. Minimize your discounts and if you have the opportunity to take a premium, that’s great.”

It’s important to recognize that each operation is different and the environment they operate in is different, Lemenager points out. No one approach is right for everyone, but a plan needs to be formulated for each operation that makes the most sense and provides the best opportunity for the operation to be profitable, he said.

For more on managing cow herds during tough times, visit www.ansc.purdue.edu/beef/articles/CowHerdToughTimes.pdf.
-- Purdue University release