When BEEF editorial staff decided last fall to dedicate this annual, single-focus issue as a how-to on doing a cost-and-return analysis on the ranch enterprise, the timing seemed optimal. With good times and great prices projected for the next few years, it seemed the timing was ideal for cow-calf producers to get their ranching enterprises on more efficient footing to better withstand the next price dip.

Things changed somewhat Dec. 23, however, when USDA announced the first U.S. case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy. With the loss of export markets, prices have suffered, but domestic demand has remained stout. And, Cattle-Fax is still predicting profitable years ahead for the cow-calf segment.

To produce this issue, BEEF editorial staff teamed up with Harlan Hughes, the North Dakota State University professor emeritus who pens our monthly “Market Advisor” column. Hughes, an Integrated Resource Management (IRM) guru, consultant and frequent lecturer in the U.S. and Canada, is a renowned leader in this discipline. He was named the 2004 IRM Achievement Award winner at last month's Cattle Industry Annual Convention in Phoenix, AZ.

But, the information and worksheets in this issue are just a starting point. It's aimed at providing insight to producers on the process, the information needed, how to gather and compute it, and how to distill that data into information you can use in raising your operation efficiency. The rest is up to you. Good luck.