Creating profitable cattle requires a solid business model

go through Wesley Tucker

Do you have a favorite cow or two or three? Maybe she greets you every morning and waits to be scratched. Maybe she looks perfect, like she just stepped off a glossy magazine cover, or raises the biggest calf every year.

Maybe it’s sentimental. My favorite was my daughter’s first pit bull calf displayed at the county fair.

If we’re being honest, I bet we all have a few favorite cows. But which cows in your herd are the most profitable? Can you recognize them?

Years ago, while visiting one of my local dairy farms, the producer commented that his “anonymous cows” were key to the operation. Like his dad asking, “Who is Niu 215?” After thinking about it, he replied, “I really don’t know. I know she’s not one of our top producers, but looking back at the record, I can’t see where she is Was treated for mastitis or foot problems. She calved like clockwork every year. She didn’t do anything to get noticed or stand out.”

Thus, 215 is an anonymous cow. She is a great, dependable employee who comes to work every day, does her job and never complains or gets into trouble.

high return cows

So, how can we make a profitable cow? There are many opinions.

Some producers argue that one variety is better than the other. They debate the relationship of individual characteristics, such as growth and carcass mass, to fertility and longevity. Add in the topic of cow size and the discussion really gets heated.

My good friend, Dr. Jordan Thomas, a calf extension specialist at Missouri State University, says no cow is profitable, or “can be” profitable. It’s whether the business model we create is profitable.

Our beef cattle business model should only keep cows conceived early in the breeding season, Thomas said. Late breeding cows should be sold and removed from the herd. Taking the focus away from the cows and putting pressure on me as a manager to cull late breeders, did a lot of things:

Weaning weight will increase. Premature calves are older and heavier at weaning.

Cows live longer. They have more time to return to estrus and are less likely to come into estrus openly, so they stay longer in the herd.

Labor and herd health costs are reduced. A shorter calving window reduces the labor required and shortens the period during which pathogens accumulate, such as diarrhea.

Find your cow performance model

At my herding school, my last slide ended with a question: “What is your system?”

Grazing economics often comes down to a delicate balance between stocking rates and building flexibility into our systems. Are we trying to maximize the performance of the grass, the cows, or both? Do we just graze the cows, or do we create flexibility by deliberately breeding cows that are less mature than we are, and then take advantage of that when we have extra grass to carry our calves with more weight?

Designing a flexible system to make the best use of what Mother Nature gives us often separates above-average producers from below-average producers.

The primary responsibility of any manager who oversees employees is to create an environment in which all employees can be productive and reach their full potential. As cattle farm managers, it’s our job to create cattle farming business models or systems that allow our cows to live happy, productive lives.

If we do our job right and create the right environment for them, I believe we may find more “anonymous cows” in our herds – those who show up, do their job, don’t cause trouble, and Cows that add value to the farm.

Tucker is a business specialist and succession planner for Extension ag at the University of Missouri.he can reach [email protected] or 417-326-4916.

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