– John F. Grimes, OSU Extension Beef Coordinator
Do you ever ask yourself why you are involved in the beef cattle industry as a producer? Of course, the logical answer is that you raise beef cattle as a primary or supplemental source of income to your overall farming operation or off-the-farm career. Others may add that they simply enjoy raising beef cattle. Whatever the reason, it certainly is much easier to justify being involved in beef production in light of the current prices being received for all classes of beef cattle.
The OSU Extension Beef Team and other Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources professionals offer educational programs and advice to beef producers across the state to hopefully improve the efficiency and overall profitability of their operations. Proven and new management practices are shared with clientele. Some of these practices are adopted and others are not for whatever reason.
As a “seasoned” veteran with OSU Extension, I have often thought to myself or have been asked why various management practices have not been adopted by more producers. I am sure that there are many specific and unique reasons why these practices may not have been adopted by more producers. If you ask a producer why a producer doesn’t use a particular management practice, you would hear reasons such as: “not enough labor/too much time”, “cost”, “lack of facilities”, “too difficult or complicated”, “don’t believe it works”, etc. Depending on the producer’s situation, these and other reasons for not implementing a practice may be valid but often times they are not acceptable.
The 2007-08 National Animal Health Monitoring System’s (NAHMS) Beef Study is a great source of information on producer’s attitudes on a variety of topics including the adoption of various practices. Consider their findings in the area of reproduction technologies. When asked if they used technologies such as palpation for pregnancy, semen evaluation, artificial insemination, estrus synchronization, ultrasound, embryo transfer, pelvic measurements, or body condition scoring, none of these practices were used by more than 20% of the operations regardless of size. A closer examination of the results showed that only 35% of the operations used any of these practices. Results by herd size indicated that in herds of 1-49 cows, roughly 25% used any of these reproduction technologies. The adoption rates increased steadily as herd size increased as herds of 50-99 cows were at approximately 50%, herds of 100-199 cows were at nearly 66%, and herds over 200 cows were almost 79%.
The level of commitment that a producer has to the adoption of management practices is certainly related to the size of the operation. It is easier to justify a new practice if the costs can be spread out over a greater number of animals. An improvement in animal performance or efficiency must be shown to justify added expenses. Lower adoption rates of various practices in smaller herds can be explained by the fact that many of the operators have other careers or the cattle operation is a smaller part of a larger farming operation. The lack of labor or time is a real factor in these situations. Can anything be done to rectify the situation?
As I have worked with producers over the years, a common theme as to why many management practices are not utilized is that the producer simply does not have adequate facilities to make significant changes in their operation. This is particularly true for the producer with a smaller herd as they often believe they cannot justify the extra costs of any facility improvements. In order to implement many improved management practices, a certain level of facilities is required to complete these tasks.
What would you do differently in your operation if you had better facilities? A new or improved chute or working system could improve the efficiency and safety in which cattle can be processed. Feeder calf preconditioning programs and reproductive technologies can be more easily implemented. Constructing an extra pen or lot could allow you to separate the herd bull from the cow herd to shorten the breeding season. The extra pen could allow you to background calves to add pounds for better marketing opportunities. Increasing pasture divisions with modern fencing equipment could facilitate improved grazing efficiencies. Additional fencing could be constructed to allow the separation of females into different groups based on age, stage of production, or body condition.
Cattle facilities do not have to necessarily be pre-manufactured or overly expensive but they should be well thought-out and properly designed. The OSU Extension Beef Team’s web site has some useful information that can help you with facility design and layout. Check out the publication titled “Cattle Handling and Working Facilities”. It is located at: http://beef.osu.edu/library/CattleFacilities.pdf.
OSU Extension Beef Specialist Dr. Steve Boyles has developed two videos that describe best management practices for handling cattle. In lesson 1, the focus is on animal behavior and in lesson 2, the focus is on corral setup. Find those videos embedded below or on the OSU Extension Beef Team YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/OSUBeefTeam.
An investment in improving facilities is a commitment from the producer to do a better job at the task of producing the best possible product for today’s consumer. While this may add expenses to your budget, given the market value of all classes of beef cattle, can you afford not to take advantage of practices that can add numbers and/or pounds to your next calf crop? Regardless of the size of your operation, I do not believe we can allow the lack of facilities to limit our production of beef. Are you committed to the task?