Time to Roll Up the Sleeves

– Dr. Les Anderson, Extension Professor, University of Kentucky

Unfortunately, the beef industry sits in the middle of a downturn in the market. When the market is low and margins get slimmer, pressure is on cattlemen to get more efficient in their production. Efficiency is a word that is thrown around in the beef industry but what does efficient production look like?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines efficient operation as “effective operation as measured by a comparison of production with costs (as in energy, time, and money)”. Interesting. Unfortunately, in the commercial beef cow-calf industry, we don’t spend enough time discussing or thinking about being an efficient operation.

Efficient beef cow-calf operations control the calving season. Having a short calving season establishes the base for efficient production allowing producers to implement their health, nutrition, and marketing programs more easily. Research from Oklahoma State University and Texas A&M University (Parker et al., 2004) has shown that longer calving seasons are associated with lower production (pounds of calf weaned per cow) and higher costs of production (4.7 cents higher per cwt of calf per day). These data were collected on 394 ranches from the Southwest and indicated that year-round calving systems weaned 45.82 fewer pounds of calf per cow per year at an additional cost of $13.63 per hundredweight.

Tom Troxel at the University of Arkansas described several factors impacting the productivity and profitability of uncontrolled versus controlled calving. First, more weight is weaned. Pregnancy rates are the same but calf death loss is much less when calving is controlled. Also, weaning weight increases because calves are older at weaning on average so weaning weight per cow exposed (reproductive efficiency) is also higher. Calves were healthier when born from a controlled calving season most likely because sound health programs are easier to implement. Also, it costs less to feed a cow in a controlled calving season likely because more effectively meet cow nutrient requirements. Finally, market value was higher because more calves could be marketed in larger lots.

So, let’s roll up our sleeves and figure out how to convert from a year-round to a 75-day controlled calving season. Decide when is most profitable for you to calve; spring or fall. Work with your veterinarian to assess the reproductive status of your herd. When did they calve? Are they currently pregnant and when will then calve next? Once you know the current status of your herd, you can plan. Most plans start with either building a pen for the bull or selling the bull. If you don’t want to manage a bull separately, consider purchasing and then reselling a bull when the breeding season is concluded. This sounds ridiculous but the costs of pregnancy aren’t much different. Next figure out what you are going to do with each cow. Some may need to be culled and some will need held open for a while. All cows need to be subjected to estrous synchronization before exposing them to a bull.

Getting the calving in your herd under control can be a little tough at first. An increase in productivity and profitability will follow. So, if your calving season is out of hand, roll up your sleeves, evaluate your cow herd, make a plan, and get started toward higher margins.