Finding females for the cowherd to either replace cull cows or increase herd size can be done in many ways, explained Taylor Grussing, SDSU Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialist.
"At the end of the day, profitability begins with a live calf. The type and kind of females chosen is an important decision which can have long-term implications and great impact on the economic viability of the operation," Grussing said. "Because profitability varies widely from year-to-year, cattle producers need to make the best replacement decisions they can to set themselves up for future success."
When purchasing bred cows Grussing said producers need to start by going back to the basics. "Evaluate the goals of the operation. Can value be realized in certain areas of production (increase weaning weight, decrease feed cost, increase longevity) in order to free-up capital needed to purchase/keep more females?"
Below she answers this question by addressing management areas to help producers find and retain the right females for their herd today.
"Cattle producers need cows that will help increase returns in tough years like this," Grussing said. "Genetic progress doesn't need to stop just because the markets are down."
Define Ideal Females: Based on the basic goals of the operation, producers should select the type of females they want to keep in the herd.
Below are some basic herd objectives to help identify if cows are making the cut or not:
"If females don't meet the herd criteria, they will likely fall into the cull list and find wheels under them on the way to town.
If a cow meets some but not all the criteria, producers should seek out alternative marketing strategies to obtain some profit from the animals. For example, if a cow is bred later in the season than desired, she could be marketed to an operation with a later calving season which would free-up capital, labor and time to be spent on another, potentially more profitable, enterprise.
Smart Cost Cutting: Evaluate everyday decisions that have a major impact on the operation's bottom line.
"Areas such as feed costs - which account for 60 percent of the expenses on the operation - is a good place to start," Grussing said. She added that nutrition is a very important factor on the ranch. "Nutrition impacts reproduction, health and profitability."
However, instead of feeding the same feedstuffs, Grussing encouraged producers to look for an alternative/lower cost feed that can be substituted into the ration.
Areas Grussing said producers need to continue to invest in areas that include; health, pregnancy checks and bull quality.
"Herd health programs are vital to the success of the ranch, whether you're selling calves or retaining replacement heifers," she said. "In addition, pregnancy checking cows can save in feed costs by eliminating open cows before feeding them through the winter."
She added that bull quality should never be sacrificed. "A poor bull will likely return less than desirable calves to the herd, which won't return a premium to the balance sheet next year," Grussing said.
Heifers Versus Cows: When deciding whether to purchase an older cow or a bred heifer, Grussing said cattle producers need to take a holistic look at their operation.
"It really depends on the operation and is influenced by the management style, nutrition and breeding programs. Comparing expenses of raising versus buying heifers or labor differences between cows and heifers can help make this decisions," she said.
Additional expenses of cost, number and type of bulls needed, value of labor, calf revenue and stocking rate should also be evaluated.
When purchasing bred heifers, Grussing reminds producers that they should represent the newest genetics in the herd. Heifers should be selected based on their ability to help direct the operation towards its ultimate goal.
"It takes attention to detail to develop heifers effectively and set them up to successfully enter the cowherd," Grussing said. "With this in mind, some producers get the same genetic progress and longevity by buying bred heifers instead of raising them."
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