Late April is a busy and exciting time of year for the typical cow-calf producer in Ohio. Winter has given way to spring as temperatures slowly rise and grass begins to green up and grow. The 2013 calf crop has hit the ground and we see the early returns on breeding and management decisions from the previous year. Will these results have a direct bearing on the upcoming breeding season?
The 2007 National Animal Health Monitoring System's (NAHMS) Beef Survey indicated that the typical beef cow herd in Ohio averaged 17 cows in size. This number would indicate the typical beef operation is a part of a larger farming operation or an enterprise managed by someone that obtains their primary source of income away from the farm. In either situation, the cow-calf operation must "peacefully" coexist with the primary farming operation or other employment.
As I visit with commercial cow-calf producers in the region in my roles as an Extension Educator and a seedstock producer, I have come to realize that these individuals have some unique circumstances upon which they base many of their management decisions. Regardless of the situation, a common theme that I hear from producers is that they want to simplify their cattle operation. They have enough demands on their time that they can't afford to have cattle complicate their daily routine. I can certainly respect that desire.
The producer's desire to simplify things is often manifested in the manner they go about selecting a bull for their herd. Regardless of the breeds involved, the most important trait that I hear expressed by the average bull buyer is calving ease. I can't disagree with that opinion because a cow needs to deliver a live calf every year if she hopes to have a chance at profitability.
However, I do have an issue with how many producers let their replacement heifers dictate the amount of emphasis that is placed on calving ease across the entire herd. The same 2007 NAHMS study that I mentioned earlier in this article also indicated that 16 - 18% of the national cow herd is replaced annually by heifers. This data would indicate that the typical Ohio beef herd adds three replacement heifers annually. It is my opinion that the producer with a typical herd size allows a small number of heifers to dictate the genetic package of the bull selected for the entire herd.
I believe the average producer sacrifices too much quality with traits of importance such as weaning weight, yearling weight, and carcass traits for matings with the mature cows just to insure calving ease on the yearling heifers retained. It just doesn't make sense to let three heifers dictate the matings on 14 cows in the average Ohio herd. Producers seem all too willing to give up growth and carcass merit, traits with significant economic rewards, on calves from mature females that can handle a bit more birth weight.