Building a more profitable ranch sounds easy – manage aggressively, wage war on costs and take advantage of cheap production gains and low feed costs.

The devil’s in the details.

Dallas Mount, University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service (UW CES) educator, presented characteristics of high-return ranchers during a presentation at a Department of Animal Science seminar Friday, Sept. 18, in the UW College of Agriculture.

The information was distilled from two years of participants in the High Plains Ranch Practicum School and from a livestock enterprise analysis from the North Dakota Farm and Ranch Business Management Education Association program based on 119 producers.

The practicum is a joint venture between UW CES and University of Nebraska Extension. Producers can attend any of the one-day schools. The schedule is below. Information about the practicum is at

Data shows low-cost producers are high-return ranchers, and the high-cost producers are low-return ranchers.

“Over the last 50 years, weaning weights are up,” said Mount, who serves southeast Wyoming. “Market prices were at an all-time high a few years ago. We should be doing great, right? Profitability should be going up and up. Why isn’t it?”

Expenses, he said. “The cost of production keeps going up.”

Mount presented information about unit cost of production (UCOP) – how much it takes to raise a pound of calf. That formula is the herd’s total cost divided by total pounds produced.

Information comparing high-profit herds against the others in the practicum showed dramatic differences. For example, the high-profit producers had a cost of hay per cow of about $40. Others had hay costs per cow of $166. Also, the high-return producers had a UCOP of about $89 per cow compared to $117 for the rest.

The high-return producers have the characteristics mentioned at the top of the article. To get to there, ranch practicum presenters advise producers shouldn’t compare their numbers against averages for making management decisions.

“Not all profitable operations look the same,” said Mount. Based on data, those involved in the practicum suggest producers calculate UCOP for each enterprise in their operation (hay, land, cow-calf, stocker), stop doing the wrong things, get better at the right things, identify bottlenecks to profit and address one bottleneck a year.

For fall and winter, the ranch practicum is offering one-day presentations. Producers can attend any of the one-day practicum schools. The schedule is: Oct. 27 – Crawford, Neb.; Oct. 29 – Laramie; Nov. 12 – Wheatland; Nov. 16 – Powell; Nov. 17 – Worland; Nov. 18 – Crowheart; Nov. 23 – Kimball, Neb.; Feb. 18 – Casper. All locations to be announced.

Each school examines key factors to sustainable ranching.

Topics are:

* Ranch financials – How to determine unit cost of production and compare against regional benchmarks
* Integrating nutrition, body condition scoring and reproductive performance
* Grazing systems – Developing an applied grazing system and simple methods for monitoring rangeland systems
* Strategic planning – Working on the ranch business and with the people involved in it.