The last couple of years have been some of the most eventful in memory for this nation's cow-calf industry. While feeder calf prices have been historically high during this time, input costs have escalated as well. Aggressive cattlemen have always tried to balance to the antagonistic mix of maximizing gross income from their calf crop while controlling input costs. The bottom line is that it has always been and continues to be a challenge to make a profit in the cow-calf business.
Cow-calf producers are constantly searching for new ways to add value to their calf crop. Efforts are made to use the best genetics available, provide balanced diets, implement sound health programs, and provide management history in order to attract potential buyers. Buyers can be found in different locations. Traditional livestock marketing outlets continue to set the standard for market price discovery. Satellite and internet sales open up more potential markets for the producer. Source- and background-verified cattle are seeing increased demand with potential customers.
However, I am going to suggest a less-traditional option for cow-calf producers looking to maximize the value of their calves. My recommendation is not to raise your own calves but to raise someone else's calves. This can be accomplished by using your cows as "foster" or "surrogate" mothers to raise calves for other producers. In this situation, a herd of commercial cows serves as a "Cooperator Herd" for another herd wanting to produce additional calves from a desirable female through embryo transfer.
Embryo transfer is the process of removing eggs from a superovulated donor and placing them into recipient cows. Beef seedstock producers have utilized embryo transfer for many years as a means to produce more calves from females with real or perceived higher monetary value. The first calf resulting from embryo transfer was born in 1951 and the first commercial embryo transfers in cattle were done in the early 1970's.
The recipient cow is the key component to any successful embryo transfer program. A good candidate for a recipient cow is one that possesses the following important traits: the ability to deliver calf easily; adequate milk production; good mothering ability; and excellent fertility. This sounds that the job qualifications for a good commercial cow, doesn't it? The perceived notion of the "ideal" recipient cow has evolved over the years but it generally comes down to these previously mentioned traits.