Cows' looks alone can fool beef herd owners

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RUSSELLVILLE, Mo. – Better genetics puts high-quality beef on the consumer’s plate. Also, better genetics brings more profits back to the producer’s pocketbook.

“Today we have the ability to make quality product and get paid for it,” Mike Kasten told 70 beef producers in the meeting hall of St. Michael’s Church in Russellville, Mo.

“We didn’t have these tools 15 years ago. Now they are available to every producer,” Kasten said. He heads the “Quality Beef by the Numbers” program from University of Missouri Extension and the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.

Change arrived with the new technology of proven protocols for fixed-time artificial insemination. “AI allows use of the highest-quality beef genetics from sires that we could never afford before,” Kasten said.

He pulled examples from the beef herd on his farm, Millersville, Mo., near Cape Girardeau. He started breeding cows when he was 15.

“Quality started with the Show-Me-Select Replacement Heifer Program,” he added.

Since 1997, more than 105,000 bred heifers have been sold in those auctions. The average price has been $1,638. But heifers bred by AI brought an added $192 per head over bull-bred heifers. The Tier Two heifers, daughters of highly proven sires, bred to highly proven sires, brought an added $329 per head.

“People realize genetics adds real value to beef heifers, and that we can capture that value,” Kasten said.

The MU Quality Beef program started last year to add a marketing plan for steer mates of Show-Me-Select heifers.

Kasten told producers that quality calves require more than genetics or AI breeding. “You have to take care of them and treat them right. That includes health and nutrition.”

This brings in the “By the Numbers” part of Quality Beef. “You can’t manage based on averages,” he said. “You must identify the top calves and tie them back to their mamas and their sires.”

Only records allow you to keep the high-quality cattle and get rid of the low-quality cattle at the bottom. “You can’t do that on looks,” he added.

The numbers are recorded all the way through a calf’s life, up to final carcass weight, USDA quality grades and all premiums paid for quality beef.

“It comes down to knowing which cows in your herd make the most money,” Kasten said. Until he did the math using his cow herd records, he didn’t know that his favorite cow was not the one that looked the best.

“The cow whose calf made the most money became my new favorite,” Kasten said. “I’d never given her a second look before.”

From the last load of calves shipped to a Kansas feedlot, Kasten looked at two sets of numbers: The most profitable calf and least profitable calf.

The most profitable calf made $883 more than the least. The bottom calf lost $249.97 while the best made a net profit of $633.03.

“If I had a whole load of those top calves I wouldn’t have to keep near as many cows to make a living,” he said.

The top and bottom calves were born nine days apart. Weaning weights were within 2 pounds of each other. The weight into the feedlot was only 50 pounds different.

The big difference was at the end. The carcass of the top calf weighed 997 pounds. The loser carcass weight was 705 pounds.

Another difference: The top calf graded prime. The other did not.

Even Kasten, who knows genetics pays, was shocked at the difference in value, top and bottom.

Referring back to the mama cows, Kasten said they don’t look different. Both cows eat the same amount of grass and cost the same to keep.

He’ll definitely keep replacement heifers out of the profitable cow that produces the most profitable calf.

It’s not about looks. It’s in the records, Kasten says.

He offers to help producers learn about Quality Beef by the Numbers.


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