Calculate herd efficiency for drought survival

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Calculating herd performance and annually comparing it to your own data set as well as a larger set of data can help keep your operation on the forefront of efficiency and profitability. As producers face the possibility of another year of below normal moisture levels (drought), knowing past herd performance will be more important than in recent years.

Many management decisions are going to need to be made this spring and summer. Depending on forage production, some cows may need to be culled. Knowing the efficiency of both your herd and the individual animals in the herd is going to be a vital component of making those culling decision this summer.

Is your cattle operation efficient? When you are asked that question, what numbers do you look at? How do you know?

Measuring Reproductive & Management Efficiency

Several measures can be used to identify the reproductive and management efficiency in your herd:

  • Percent diagnosed pregnant
  • Live calving percent
  • Weaning percent

Determining these percentages requires accurate inventories of the number of cows exposed, either through AI or natural service breeding, the percent diagnosed pregnant prior to calving season, number of live calves born, and the number of calves weaned (See: Measuring Cow Herd Performance).

Keeping track of these efficiency ratios on a yearly basis creates your own personal baseline to measure against year to year. The baseline can help move your operation to more productive management systems that increase profitability or insure that you maintain a high level of production.

These benchmarks allow you to compare your operation to others across the region or nation, which in turn helps you analyze how efficient your operation is in relation to other high, medium, or low efficiency operations to determine if changes are truly needed. CHAPS is one of the benchmark providers available to you. Their current database includes a total of 91,414 cows exposed to bulls and processed during 2007-2011.

Above: CHAPS 2011 Production Benchmarks
Reference: North Dakota State University Extension Service

The current averages for these three efficiency measures are:

  • Percent diagnosed pregnant: 93.55%
  • Calving percentage: 92.89%
  • Weaning percent: 91.09%

If your operation is not performing at these levels, ask yourself a big question: Why?

Most spring calving operations should be able to calculate the percent diagnosed pregnant for the 2013 calf crop. 93.55% is a high target to hit for many producers. What goes into getting 94% of your cows and heifers bred each year? Nutrition is going to be high on the list, and not just nutrition during lactation and breeding season (See: Beef Cow Nutrition during Calving and Early Lactation). There is a lot of research showing the last trimester as being a critical rebred period (See: Understanding the Importance of Your Herd’s Energy Reserves). Other reasons to evaluate for conception failure include, but are not limited to, reproductive disease, enough bull power, proper heat detection and AI techniques, summer heat and humidity, and others.

Example of Change

We have a 100-head herd. Feed costs and other yearly expenses per cow are $600. Total cow herd expenses are $60,000. Only 80% are pregnant and they are culled for $1250 of income each. Bred replacements are brought in to replace the culled cows at a cost of $1500. Assuming no other problems occur and all the calves are sold at weaning weighing 475 pounds at $1.85/cwt, those cows bring in $879 of income.

    Expenses: 100 cows @ $600 ea.  = $60,000
    Replacement Cow:   20 @ $1500  = $30,000
    Total Expenses                               = $90,000

    Cow income: 20 @ $1250 ea.      = $25,000
    Calf income: 80 @ $879 ea.         = $70,320
    Gross Income                               =  $95,320

    Profit                                               = $5,320

$5,300 is a good profit in this example. But what if the herd improved to a 90% conception rate? Same herd, same numbers, just wean 10 more calves instead of cull cows.

    Expenses: 100 cows @ $600 ea.  = $60,000
    Replacement Cow: 10@ $1500    = $15,000
    Total Expenses                                 $75,000

    Cow income: 10 @ $1250 ea.       = $12,500
    Calf income: 90 @ $879 ea.          = $79,110
    Gross Income                                = $91,610

    Profit                                              = $16,610

There is an $11,000 increase in income due to the improvement in the pregnancy percentage. Admittedly, there may have been some additional costs incurred to increase the conception rate 10 percentage points. However, the increase in profit allows for some additional spending without jeopardizing the profit margin very much.

This type of analysis and comparison can be done for each ratio listed. What does a 5-, 7-, or 10% change in any of the ratios really mean to your operation? Probably more than you thought.

With the potential for herd reductions later this summer due to drought-reduced forage production, analyzing your herd and the problem areas is more important than ever. Are there nutrition requirements you are missing? Are there problem cows in the herd that consistently don’t produce? Can you reduce the number of cows you are managing, but move their efficiency to a higher level to maintain current income levels and reduce forage requirements?

Answering strategic business decisions and creating action steps now, all the while praying for rain and a reason not to reduce your herd size, will lead to a more efficient herd and thus more dollars in your pocket at the end of the day.

Ratios and Formulas

Percent Diagnosed Pregnant

This percentage is a measure of a successful breeding season. If you have multiple breeding pastures you will want to determine the percent pregnant for each pasture in order to determine if there were problems with a certain bull battery or management system.

Live Calving Percentage

This measures the success of your calving season. Changes in this percentage year to year can indicate management problems with sire selection as well as health and disease problems causing late term pregnancy losses in the herd.

Weaning Percent

This is the final measure of reproductive efficiency for the herd. When you make comparisons between the live calving percent and weaning percent you can analyze any production problems or concerns that occurred after the calf was born.

Source: Heather Gessner


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