Goals for Your Cow Herd in 2020

Garth Ruff, OSU Extension Henry County

Group lots of calves with uniform weight, frame, and genetics sell for a premium in the market place.

Each year I like to look evaluate any upcoming opportunities and set goals for the New Year in an effort to better myself both professionally and personally. I prefer to call them goals rather than New Years Resolutions because many people tend to let resolutions fall through the cracks. When developing goals, the key is to write them down! Call them whatever you want, in just a few minutes of looking back and reflecting on some observations made in the last year I was able to come up with a few goals focused on improving profitability and the quality of calves marketed in 2020.

Sharpen the Pencil. Do you have a projected budget for the year? How much does it really cost you to feed a cow for the year? Put together an enterprise budget to use as a decision making tool. There are many templates available online from various universities and institutions, chose one that’s geographically relevant and considers the variables that affect your operation (find the OSU Farm Budgets linked here). Be realistic in valuing feed, labor, and livestock values. Knowing cost of production and breakeven points are useful in making cattle marketing decisions as well.

Improve Efficiency. Once you know your input costs, it becomes clearer as to where your operation is less efficient. Is there an area that needs more improvement than others? One of the best quotes I heard this past year was that “High return cow-calf producers do not sacrifice fertility, and fertility equals reproduction.” That said, look at improving factors that influence fertility; such as animal health (more on that later), nutrition, and genetics. Potential areas to focus on include; revamping rations of first calf heifers in order to improve conception and calving rates, or evaluating your herd’s mineral supplementation program.

Be Critical. This is an annual reminder to be critical of individual animal performance within the herd. Given the current shortage of quality forage, consider the cost of calving and keeping an under performing or an open cow for another year. Remember below average production and fertility can be culling criteria just like age, reduced mobility, poor udder confirmation, and temperament. Cow size is also overlooked when making culling decisions. From a pure feed cost standpoint, a under preforming 1,600 pound cow cost significantly more to feed than a 1,300 pound cow.

Focus on Uniformity. You don’t have to spend much time at the local feeder cattle auction to see that there is a premium for group lots of uniform weight, frame, and genetics. This premium combined with management and reproductive advantages provide support for shorter breeding and calving seasons. Results from a CattleFax survey show that nearly half of “High Return” Producers have a calving interval of 45 days or less and the greater than 85 percent calve in a 60 day window or less.

Take Advantage of Your Veterinarian. In the age of Beef Quality Assurance, your vet should be more of an asset than ever. While having the vet out for a farm call is not always cost friendly (should be budgeted for based on herd history), every producer should be able to see positive returns from a quality Vet-Client-Patient-Relationship. Utilize their services to develop and improve herd health plans, write SOP’s for antibiotic use, vaccination protocols, identification and treatment of illness.

Be Flexible. I have written before about management practices that can be used situationally to provide management and economic advantages. In a year where there is a short supply of high-quality forage, early weaning maybe an option to reduce the nutrient demand of lactation. Supplementation of alternative feedstuffs and annual forages will be key in areas of Ohio and elsewhere that faced excessive amounts of precipitation in 2019.

2019 was an interesting year in the cattle business highlighted by weather challenges and disruption in packing capacity due to a fire. The turning of the calendar serves as a good reminder to do an annual review of the cow-calf enterprise and evaluate those areas for continuous improvement. Happy New Year.

EDITOR’s NOTE: Upcoming winter beef schools/workshops have been designed to follow along with the theme Garth describes above by reflecting on past practices and subsequently setting goals that allow improvement in the coming year. Find more information on those upcoming opportunities in the EVENTS/PROGRAMS link found above in the header, and in particular make plans to participate in one of the Ohio Beef Cattle Nutrition and Management Schools (one being held in Sandusky County, and the other in Licking County), and the Ohio Beef Cow/Calf Workshop (held in Licking County).