Production records for the commercial cow herd

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Every rancher’s wife knows the panic that ensues when she takes a load of laundry out of the wash during calving season and realizes she has washed the calving book! Hopefully that is not the only copy because the value of good herd records is irreplaceable when it comes to cow herd management. Dr. Temple Grandin put it best when she said “You can’t manage what you don’t measure”, and fall is an ideal time to implement a record keeping system or update your current records.

While many producers have transitioned to keep electronic records of their cattle herd, good old fashion hard copy records can prove to be just as effective. There are two types of records that cow/calf producers can keep: production records and financial records. This publication will focus on production records.

These are the records that allow producers to track the performance of individual animals and their cow herd as a whole. One of the major challenges of production records is getting the data recorded in a means that can be used to evaluate the herd.

The records that are attained in the field must be complied into some type of a system to allow year to year comparisons to take place. When a producer is able to compare the cow herds performance annually, an evaluation of the progression of production can take place. In addition, the effectiveness of changes in management can be evaluated. Furthermore the analysis of long term records will allow weaknesses and strengths within the herd and management to be identified.

Below is a truncated list of foundation records that producers should be keeping on their cow/calf herd:

  • Herd Inventory: Tracking the number of cows in the herd, total calves sold, bulls available for breeding season, and heifers being developed is critical for good management.

  • Calving Date: Research has shown that cows that calve at the beginning of the calving season, tend to continue to do so throughout their lifetime, and overall are the most productive and fertile cows in the herd. Therefore by keeping a record of calving dates, those females can be identified within the herd and a calving interval can be calculated. This can be very useful when selecting replacement heifers (see Selecting Effective Replacement Heifers).

  • Body Condition Score: By keeping a record of the BCS of your cows, producers are able to manage the energy reserves of their herd (see Understanding the Importance of Your Herds Energy Reserves). It is ideal to BCS the cow herd at weaning and calving. These two dates will allow proper management of supplementation.

  • Cow Weights: There are several factors that rely on your cows mature body weight. Weaning is a good time to weigh your cows as they are dry and the weight of the fetus will not be large enough to skew the results. Producers should use body weight to determine nutrient requirements of their cow herd. In addition, mature cow body weight is an important piece of information in replacement heifer development (see Factors Affecting the Attainment of Puberty).

  • Calf Weight: Typically calf weights are taken at birth and weaning. While both are important. Weaning weights will aid a producer in evaluating the overall productivity of the calf’s dam.

  • Cow Longevity: Tracking the total productive years a cow has within your herd will allow a producer to identify genetic groups of females which simply last longer in the herd, producing a greater total pounds of calf to sell over their lifetime.

  • Culling Records: It is important to note why females are culled from the herd. By tracking this, producers can make management decisions to strengthen their herd and increase female longevity.

  • Fertility Records: Tracking the reproductive performance of both the bull and cows in a herd is critical as infertility is the biggest source of lost income in any commercial herd.

  • Death Loss: It is good to track the amount of mortality within your herd to allow management alterations to be made if needed. In addition, in years such as a drought when government aid may be available, many times records are the key to getting financial assistance.

  • Health Records: Keeping track of overall health records such as vaccines given, dates of worming, health issues, and vet calls will help producers manage health cost.

Overall a producer cannot put a value on good records. They ensure the same mistake is not made twice and good management decisions are continued and capitalized on. For help in developing a record keeping system that is ideal for your herd contact your regional SDSU cow/calf field specialist.

Source: Kalyn Waters


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Michael R    
Illinois  |  November, 10, 2012 at 07:12 AM

So when is someone going to create an app for our smartphone? What I have seen are not that good. A lot of dairy but not beef.

Dallas Mount    
Wheatland, WY  |  November, 14, 2012 at 07:25 PM

Here is one way to use your smart phone for ranch records: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOLTng7rFE4&list=PLCxSK89yId6nSsh2P5hT7pxArBu5dWwn8&index=1&feature=plpp_video


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