From the May 2016 issue of Farm Journal. Part one of three.

Forty head—that’s the size of the average cowherd in the U.S., according to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

“Usually a small cow-calf herd means a diversified operation,” says Rick Rasby, Extension beef specialist, University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL). This means the majority of producers have several irons in the fire, making it essential to maximize resources to keep the herd profitable.

“The cattle have to complement the rest of the enterprises, and the enterprises have to complement the cattle,” Rasby adds. Whether they’re juggling an off farm job or a diversified operation, cow-calf producers with a few dozen head have to play a smart game with limited resources. According to Rasby and Jaymelynn Farney, Kansas State University Extension beef specialist, there are a few steps producers can take to increase their herd’s potential:

1. Reduce input, increase output.

■ Ionophores. These feed additives are designed to alter the rumen to increase feed efficiency and weight gain. Ionophores allow cattle to perform similarly on 10% less hay, Farney adds. They can also be fed in a dry or liquid form to any age group of cattle.

■ Implant calves. “Implants are an old technology but still a great technology,” Farney says, adding there are different kinds of implants for different age groups of cattle. “For your dollar, you can hardly find a larger return on your investment than with implants.” According to Oklahoma State University research, steers implanted in the nursing phase will net a 0.10-lb. increase in average daily gain compared with non-implanted steers.

■ Appropriate supplementation. “First, I would test the forage,” Rasby says. “This allows you to figure out where you need to supplement.” Feeding a supplement when needed will balance cattle diets and result in greater performance. “You don’t have to spend a lot of money on a nutritionist,” Farney says. “Use your local livestock professionals and state Extension specialist.”

■ Use available feedstuffs. “Low input cost is key,” Rasby says. “Take advantage of corn residue if it’s available.” Research shows grazing residues has no impact on corn yield if cattle are stocked at a recommended to rate, he adds. The Cornstalk Grazing Cow-Q-Lator from UNL can help you determine stocking rate and cost.