Transportation costs are a big issue in the cattle business because of the distances traveled to manage facilities and animals. One particular cost that is often hidden is the cost of pickups. At the North Dakota State University Dickinson Research Center, vehicles are leased through the North Dakota Department of Transportation. Extension beef specialist Kris Ringwall evaluated the costs associated with running vehicles in normal cattle management duties necessary on the research facility. The costs he found may surprise you.

"Currently the half-ton gas pickups are costing us $0.57 per mile, the three-quarter-ton gas pickups are costing us $0.54 per mile and the diesel one-ton pulling rigs are valued at $0.46 per mile," explains Mr. Ringwall. "In contrast, the over-the-road sedan costs $0.26 per mile."

These costs include operating, replacement and depreciation associated with the usage of these vehicles and are fleet prices utilizing volume discounts. Producer costs may be $0.10 to $0.15 higher.

Producers need to strive to reduce costs and increase revenue. Well-run operations have discovered that the little things add up to be big expenses. For example one trip to town isn't bad, but the next two just tripled the day's costs. The center's ranch is 23 miles from the operation's headquarters. Cattle are spread out in three counties contained in more than 75 miles of three or four strands of barb wire fence. Checking fence and water will easily put 150 miles on the odometer. Mr. Ringwall estimates that a single day of checking fence and water with a half-ton gas pickup costs more than $85.

Managing costs is not always easy and cutting costs can be even harder. One managerial option may be to use a less costly vehicle, such as a sedan, because the mileage rate is half as much as the half-ton pickup. That seemed like a good idea until the sedan fell in a pasture rut and the door was torn off getting it out. In some situations the least cost is not the cheapest.

Well planned days and elimination of extra trips will certainly cut back on travel costs. And by measuring the costs of transportation, you can manage to control that cost.