By John Grimes, Ohio State University Extension Beef Coordinator, retired
I have had the pleasure of writing articles regularly since 2011. Over the years, I have written about several wide-ranging beef management topics and timely industry issues including a few “editorials” along the way. I hope you have found them worth the time it took you to read them and gained some useful information along the way. Since I retired yesterday from over 33 years of employment with OSU Extension, I want to thank you for allowing me to work with you through many OSU Extension and Ohio Cattlemen’s Association programs over the years.
I have tried to think of an appropriate way to wrap up this column. I really could not think of a single topic that I thought would make a fitting conclusion. Rather than focusing on a single topic, I thought I would touch on a few of the subjects that I admit that I am passionate about relating to beef industry. I believe each of these topics have seen many changes throughout my Extension career. Many advancements have been made in each area but I believe there are still improvements to be gained. These are a few of my parting thoughts.
Shorten the calving season
Regardless of whether you use a natural service sire or artificial insemination in your breeding program, there is little justification for a lengthy breeding season. A 60-day breeding season is an ideal goal to shoot for and I would recommend nothing longer than 90 days. If you are currently involved in a longer breeding season, there are valid economic and management reasons to make a change. It requires a little discipline, some rigid culling, and a willingness to use technology and other resources available.
Nearly every management decision associated with the cowherd is simplified with a shorter calving season. Herd health, nutritional, and reproductive management are much easier when all cows are in a similar stage of production. Restricting the breeding season to 60 to 90 days will produce a more uniform calf crop that enhances marketing opportunities. It is easier to match up your forage supply with the nutritional demands of your herd when all animals are in a similar production cycle. Vaccination programs are more effective when animals in the breeding herd are in a similar reproductive status.
Purchasing a herd sire is serious business
Ohio currently has nearly 300,000 beef cows. Hundreds of bulls are required to help make the next calf crop possible. Over the years, many tools have become available to help the producer make an educated decision when choosing your next herd sire. Establish the production goals for your herd and select a sire that compliments the needs of your cowherd. Use EPDs, actual performance data, and Selection Indexes to identify outstanding sire prospects. Never buy a bull without a Breeding Soundness Examination.
Select the appropriate age and size that matches the number of cows to be bred. A time-honored rule-of-thumb is to place about the same number of cows or heifers with a young bull as his age is in months. Putting too many cows with too young of a bull is a recipe for open cows. A bull that can increase the number of live calves born, add growth, and increase the maternal strength of a herd through daughters retained should be viewed as a sound investment. A low-cost bull that may not excel in traits of importance may be purchased just to get cows bred and does little to add to the profitability of the herd. This bull is little more than a “cow settler.”
Forage production and storage
Harvested feeds are the single largest expense in any beef cow-calf production budget that I can find. Typically, the most important component in this category are harvested forages. The producer can improve their bottom line significantly by improving forage quality and yields from every acre of grazed or harvested forages. Yields are certainly an important factor for improving the bottom line. However, the timely harvest of grasses and legumes at the early bloom stage can improve forage quality and ultimately improve animal performance. There is also plenty of room for improvement in the areas of storage and feeding practices. We simply waste too much of the forage that we produce.
Replacement females for the cowherd
Several surveys have indicated that the typical beef cowherd in Ohio averages approximately 17 cows in size. The average replacement rate for females in a given cowherd is roughly 15% to 20% annually. If heifers are being retained as replacements for the herd, this can quickly become a significant management problem for the producer. It is extremely difficult to manage replacement heifers with mature cows and hope that they will become properly developed additions to the herd.
I believe that heifers should be managed separately from the mature females from weaning until they wean their first calf. If this is not possible, the producer should consider purchasing bred heifers or young bred cows as a viable alternative raising their replacements from within their herd.
Feeder calf production
Feeder calves are the most commonly merchandised product by Ohio’s beef industry. A few producers retain ownership of their calves by feeding them to harvest themselves or through a custom feeder. However, the vast majority of calves produced in Ohio herds are sold at weaning or shortly thereafter. A wide range of marketing strategies may be in play. Some will choose to wean calves from the cow and sell them at a weekly auction market that same day. Others may implement a vaccination program prior to weaning, wean the calves and background them for a period of 45-60 days. Various weaning and marketing strategies occur between these two extremes.
Feeder calf marketing is undergoing significant changes across the country. The market is currently sending a clear message that buyers are demanding more for their purchasing dollars. Significant discounts are occurring in the market place for feeder calves that are not weaned 45-60 days, castrated & healed, dehorned, and given two rounds of a modified live vaccine for the shipping fever complex. End-product users are requiring their suppliers to be Beef Quality Assurance certified and this will in turn be pushed down to the producer level. Exports to China and other countries are going to require age and source verification. These are growing realities for cow-calf producers if they want access to as many markets as possible.
The “big picture”
Now more than ever, producers must treat their beef enterprise as a business and implement management strategies to keep them profitable for the foreseeable future. Regardless if you are involved in cow-calf, stocker, or feedlot enterprises, you must consider all proven and potential practices and technologies to remain competitive in this business. Look around and you can see how rapidly things are changing. Input costs and market prices are more volatile than ever, the consumer increasingly wants to know how their food is produced and expect more choices and quality options, and we continually evolve into more of a global economy where the impacts of imports and exports resonate on the farm.
Now more than ever, it is important to become a member of your local, state, and national cattle organizations. We cannot expect people outside of our industry to promote our product and fight for the issues that are near and dear to us. It is our duty to the beef industry to understand the issues that threaten our livelihood and speak out individually and through the strength in numbers that a cattlemen’s organization can provide. Support your local, state, and national cattlemen’s associations however possible.
There are many of you that are addressing several or all of these topics and achieving success within your operations. However, there is always room for improvement. I encourage you to take a critical look at your own operations and determine where you can make practical changes that can influence your bottom line. It has been a pleasure for me to work with you over these years and I hope I have made a difference for some of you. Best of luck in the future!