Ruminant nutritionists Ki C. Fanning, PhD, PAS, and Jeremy Martin, PhD, Great Plains Livestock Consulting, Inc., Eagle, Neb., offer these cow-calf profitability tips.

  1. Good fences make good neighbors. Having your clients keep their neighbors’ bulls and cows out of their pasture and vice-versa will help minimize hurt animals, loss of animals, and disease transfer (i.e. trichomoniasis).
  2. Keep records of animal performance by age group, pasture, etc. By keeping records, informed decisions can be made to improve herd performance. Cow herds records should include, but are not limited to:  pregnancy, cycle conceived (1st, 2nd, or 3rd), birth weight, weaning weight, yearling weight, and the date bulls were turned out.
  3. Feedlots do pay more for calves that have been weaned and had shots. To capture these increases in calf prices the sale barn needs to be notified in advance that the calves will be brought in, what was done to the calves, and how they were fed. This gives the barn time to notify buyers of these calves. Weaning calves also gives clients the opportunity to put extra weight on the calves inexpensively. High grain diets are not typically recommended.
  4. You get what you pay for, so tell clients not to buy cheap bulls. Unlike most cows, a bull will be responsible for 25 to 50 calves each year and can also be responsible for the direction of future genetics. By purchasing bulls from a sale barn or leasing bulls, clients are not only purchasing poor quality genetics, but may also be introducing sexually transmitted diseases into the herd. It is best to buy bulls from a reputable breeder and buy very good genetics (it’s not necessary to buy the highest priced bull, but do not look for the one sold for killer price).
  5. Cull cows are a commonly missed opportunity. Cull cows can put weight on very fast for the first couple of months. By feeding cull cows a high concentrate diet in confinement for a month or two, 100 to 200 pounds can be easily and inexpensively added.
  6. Develop a grazing plan. Forages are the primary, and one of the more expensive costs incurred by a cowherd on an annual basis. Determine major grass species in clients’ pastures and construct a sustainable grazing plan to manage forage availability throughout the year.
  7. Review the herd’s health protocol. We encourage testing for persistently-infected (PI) BVDV animals and eliminating them from the herd. Schedule vaccinations and administer them at the correct time.
  8. Body condition score (BCS) is an important indicator of long-term nutritional status of the cowherd. We recommend producers condition score cows three to four times per year. Key times include pre-calving, post-calving prior to turnout on spring pasture, at weaning, and midway between weaning and calving. Ideal BCS will depend on the individual system and time of year, but generally a BCS of 5 to 6 at calving is desired, and a BCS of 4 should be the minimum at any time of the year.  
  9. Many producers believe feeding cows well during late gestation increases birthweight of calves and leads to more calving difficulty. Research proves that calf birthweight can increase if cows are dramatically overfed during late gestation. However, increased calving difficulty does not become a problem unless cows become obese. In fact, cows in good condition (5-6) that are receiving adequate protein and energy often calve easier than thin cows because they have more energy reserves to support the calving process. You cannot starve birthweight out of a calf and still get a strong, healthy calf out of the process.
  10. Last, but certainly not least, keep track of expenses. Identify areas with room for improvement; areas where costs can be cut without concomitant reductions in income. Profitability is simple: income – expenses. If your clients do not have an accurate record of both, it’s hard to determine whether their business is sustainable.