Cow Efficiency: Economic Considerations for Building a Better Cow

December 3, 2015 02:56 PM

Note: This story is the first part of a three part series on cow efficiency.

Currently, the U.S. cowherd is in rebuilding mode. While more heifers are being held back cattlemen need to consider how to make their herd more profitable. The best way to do that might be improving the efficiency of your cows.

During the Range Beef Cow Symposium held in Loveland, Colo. a panel of ranchers described how they have improved the efficiency of their cowherds and gave advice on what can be done by other producers.

The economic component of efficiency is the most important consideration says Trey Patterson, chief executive officer for Padlock Ranch Company in Ranchester, Wyo.

“Yes, we do need a certain level of production, but we need to have economic efficiency,” Patterson relates.

Patterson has looked at feeding the cows and heifers he manages less purchased and harvested feed to reduce costs.

“The top notch managers push the limits without falling off the cliff. You’ve got to be bold enough to try that,” Patterson says.

It might involve feeding a cow 25 lb. of hay per day instead of 28 lb. Maybe the stocking rate on the pasture is pushed down from 3 acres per month to 2.5 acres by rotational grazing, while improving range condition

He acknowledges you need to pay attention to your cattle and pasture. When you start to see production or body condition go south then you should respond with additional feed.

“We have to push the limits,” Patterson says.

The Padlock Ranch has been able to push those limits with heifer development out on range the past few years as less supplemental feed has been fed. Starting out in 2011, heifers were getting 3 lb. of cake per day with no hay. The next year it dropped to 2 lb. This past year heifers got just 1 lb. of cake a day.

At that same time additional heifers were developed in a feedlot during the winter with a grower ration. The 2012 heifers on range came in nearly 50 lb. lighter for July breeding, but had an improved first service conception rate of 64.5 percent compared to the heavier feedlot heifers at 60.7 percent.

This year’s heifer development groups showed an additional economic advantage by having lower costs through the winter and better average daily gains (ADG) through the summer. When the feedlot heifers were weighed the first part of May before heading to grass the average weight was 802 lb. on 1,026 head. Range heifers came in at 662 lb. for 1,093 head.

For the next 120 days the heifers all grazed out on range before being artificially inseminated on July 23. The range heifers weighed 836 lb. versus 902 lb. for the feedlot heifers. That translated to a 2.36 lb. ADG for range heifers and 1.22 lb. in feedlot heifers during that period. Range developed heifers cost $60/head less for the 120 days on winter pasture prior to breeding.

Patterson notes that keeping heifers out on range might be the best way to encourage grazing behavior to build a better cow. “Do you want the first time that they have to graze in the winter to be when they are pregnant?” he asks.

Mature cows at the Padlock Ranch are fed during the winter, but on an “as needed” basis. It is dependent on various factors like the weather severity, body condition and grazing pressure.

For instance, this year has been dry compared to the past three years so there isn’t as much available grass. Patterson estimates he’s at 60 percent of the forage compared to last year so he will have to feed some hay.

When grazing cows receive 1 lb. of cake featuring 35 percent crude protein with nearly the same profile as distiller’s grains on a dry matter basis. The time in the winter varies for when cows will receive supplements. Most years the May calving herd will start receiving supplements after the first of the year.

Note: The cow efficiency series will continue with perspectives from Colorado and Nebraska beef producers.

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