Five Keys to Success in Cow-Calf Production

August 25, 2015 06:17 PM
Five Keys to Success in Cow-Calf Production

Nearly 120 cattle producers from 23 states attended Beef Today’s Cow-Calf Cowboy College in Denver, Colo., in June. The two-day conference brought cattlemen and women from Delaware to Florida to California to engage in top-notch cow-calf research and profit strategies. Here are five takeaways from the event to put into practice:

1 Remove transportation stresses.

A full room of attendees listened to animal handling expert Tom Noffsinger explain how understanding animal behavior can help lower stress for cattle of all ages. “Our goals is to remove all relocation stress, from birth to weaning, feedlot arrival to final trip to the processor,” he says. “Acclimating cattle to the movement and weight gain is critical.”

The immune response due to low-stress handling might be the greatest profit-saver a cow-calf producer can have and give to feedlot operators. “It’s very possible to have cattle gaining weight on weaning day. When cattle show up with that mentality, it’s amazing how well they respond to immune
response and weight gain,” Noffsinger says.

Those effects track with the animal all the way to the packing plant. “High-stressed cattle are 5.6 times more likely to shed E. coli at the packing plant. It’s a huge food safety issue,” he adds.
Video instruction brought many questions from attendees. “If the animal doesn’t trust us, they are not going to be honest in how they feel. They will hide lameness, early sickness … It’s confusion or distrust,” Noffsinger says.

2 Measure ranch sustainability.

As the former CEO of Padlock Ranch, Wayne Fahsholtz has experience in managing a large operation for sustainability in profit and environment. To achieve a higher standard of operating, set goals for the operation and measure your progress.

Fahsholtz used the following scorecard—working from bottom to top—to measure sustainability:

  • Ranch lifestyle and legacy
  • Financial
  • Marketing and consumer
  • Production records, nutrition, etc.
  • Natural resource and asset management
  • Learning and growth: meetings, education and trainings

“This kept us accountable to whether we were making progress,” he says. Operational goals and contingency plans were also helpful in times of drought and grazing loss after wildfires.

3 Focus on reproduction.

With record prices and lower supplies, reproduction has to be our focus for increasing efficiency, says Rick Funston, University of Nebraska beef specialist. “By increasing the number of progeny per dam, through selection, heterosis or better management, we will increase efficiency. It’s all about numbers.”
“If we improve heifer retention by 1%, that’s 300,000 more calves,” he says. “Whenever you choose to have your calving season, one of the single most important factors in profitability is having a high percent of calves born early.”

Unfortunately, 55% of cattle operations do not have a limited breeding season, even though it improves nutritional management, lowers labor costs and creates more cattle uniformity.
Long-term, Funston says, heifers conceived with AI early in the season could wean essentially the value of another calf over her lifespan, compared with heifers that conceived later in the breeding season.
“Animal behavior is hard to measure in cattle, but it is very real. We know heifers exposed to the environment they will have to live on as an older cow, if they experience that early in life, they perform better,” he says.

4 Reach for Higher Genetics.

As one of six initial cattlemen on the U.S. Premium Beef board, Mark Gardiner of Gardiner Angus Ranch (GAR), has a vested interest in producing high-value carcasses.  

“Packers want Prime quality beef,” the Ashland, Kan., rancher said. “My mentality in selection is if I can get one, I can get them all at Choice or Prime.”

As an Angus seedstock supplier, Gardiner advises all cattlemen to reach for higher genetics with the new technologies available, especially dollar ($) index values.

“What makes you money?” he asks. “We can design cattle to do great things and more with these tools. My job is to know each attribute inside and out—it’s your job to know how to use the $ index to benefit your operation. Our job as a supplier is to make our customer the most money possible. We have to capture the added value.”

From 1998 to 2015, he says GAR customers marketed 72,000 head through U.S. Premium Beef, receiving premiums totaling $6,264,802 above cash market values.

“The beef industry is simple,” he says. “Have a herd health program and nutrition system to allow cattle succeed.”

5 Utilize BQA and animal husbandry practices

When it comes to herd health, Dan Thomson, DVM, Kansas State University, says he often hears a particular drug “doesn’t work anymore.”

“Drugs don’t just quick working,” he says. “An antibiotic is a tool that kills the bacteria and gives the animal an opportunity to heal itself. About 10% of animals that are sick die regardless of which medication is used.”

“Preconditioning might be the No. 1 thing in the animal welfare discussion moving forward,” he says. Thomson also led attendees in their Beef Quality Assurance certification.

With consumer perceptions of antibiotic use at an all-time low, he adds, “use of medically important antibiotics for food producing animals should be limited to those uses that include veterinary oversite or consultation.”

Developing a close relationship and treatment protocols with your veterinarian is important, especially with the Food and Drug Administration’s Veterinary Feed Directive that will go into effect Jan. 1, 2017.

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