Consultant and Beef Today columnist
Many of us in the beef industry meander through our production cycle aimlessly. We breed cows and heifers, make hay, assist with calving, feed hay, wean calves and repeat the cycle annually. Much of what we accomplish is done without a plan.
If we fall into the habit of going through our cattle production cycle with minimal purpose or direction, the result is mediocrity, commodity beef and just simple survival. Very simply, I believe taking the time to create a plan and measure progress could be one of the greatest opportunities we have to achieve profitability in the beef industry.
What if you had a plan? A plan is a road map of how to get to a destination and a way to measure progress. The kind of plan I’m talking about doesn’t have to be fancy. What’s important is getting started and then measuring progress. I’ve written many plans on a piece of feed sack or cut cards, while other plans require much detail and expansion of thought.
What kind of plan does a cow–calf operation need? For either a commercial or registered seedstock operation, I would start by covering a few basics: genetics, conservation/forage and marketing.
Relative to genetics, at the 2013 Beef Improvement Federation meetings, Tom Brink, formerly with JBS Five Rivers Cattle Feeding and now an independent cattle industry and trading consultant, made this profound statement: "Breeding cattle without any plan is the problem." I think this summarizes my entire point.
Create measurable tasks you can implement in your operation
In a genetic plan, start with your end point in mind. Then work backward. Define what kind of bulls will produce calves that meet your targets and what size of cows will fit your environment and feed resources. With these and other points defined, you can measure progress made with each calf crop.
In a conservation/forage plan, define how to manage through a drought, how to make sure you have enough winter feed resources and how you can implement conservation measures in your operation. For many western operations, a plan to maintain or increase water capacity on their ranch is a huge priority.
The key is to create measurable tasks that you can implement in your operation. Many cattle producers did not have to drastically reduce cowherd numbers due to drought because they had a plan in place.
A marketing plan may be the easiest to create and most challenging to implement. In the same breath, I can say your marketing plan may offer the most opportunity for increased dollars returned.
Define where you will market calves, bred heifers, cull cows, bulls, etc. Are you selling at the top of the market or simply taking calves to the sale barn at the same time every year because that is what you have always done? Once you define what, where and when you will market, you can move on to how to add value to your product.
My plan for 2014. I am accountable to several beef industry clients, and I have written a detailed plan of how I can help each of them become more profitable. I’m not going to deny that my plan is written on cut cards and stored in Notes on my phone … but I have a plan.
Specializing in genetics and marketing, Cheramie takes a big-picture approach to herd management. A native of Louisiana, she has worked all across the country to help ranchers maximize opportunities. See Cheramie’s videos at www.BeefToday.com/videos. Contact Cheramie: