Do you have a favorite cow or two or three? Maybe she greets you every morning and waits to be scratched behind the ears. Maybe she looks perfect, like she just stepped off the cover of a glossy magazine, or she consistently raises the biggest calf every year.
Maybe it’s sentimental. My favorite is my daughter’s first bucket calf that she showed at the county fair.
I bet if we’re being honest we all have a few favorite cows. But which cows in your herd are the most profitable? Can you identify them?
Years ago, while visiting one of my local dairies, the producer commented on how his “anonymous cows” were the key to the operation. For example, his father asked, “Who is cow 215?” After thinking about it, he replied, “I really don’t know. I know she is not one of our top producers, but looking back at the records I can’t see where she was ever treated for mastitis or leg problems. She calves every year like clockwork. She didn’t do anything to draw attention to herself or stand out.
Therefore, 215 is an anonymous cow. She is a good, reliable employee, shows up to work every day, does her job, and never complains or causes trouble.
High yielding cows
So what does it take to create a winning cow? There are many opinions.
Some breeders claim that one breed is better than others. They discuss individual traits such as growth and carcass quality versus fertility and longevity. Throw in the topic of cow size and the discussion really heated up.
My good friend, Dr. Jordan Thomas, Cow and Calf Extension Specialist for the State of Missouri, says that no cow is a winner or “capable” of winning. The business model we create is profitable or not.
Thomas says our beef cattle business model should only keep females that conceive early in the breeding season. Late bred females should be sold and removed from the herd. Taking the emphasis off the cow and putting the pressure on me as a manager to cull late breeders does a lot of things:
Weaning weights will increase. Early born calves are older at weaning and simply weigh more.
The longevity of cows is increasing. They have more time to return to estrus and are less likely to open, so they stay in the herd longer.
The labor and health costs of the herd are reduced. Shorter calving windows reduce the labor required and shorten the pathogen build-up cycle for things like canker sores.
Find your cow presentation model
In my pasture schools, my last slide ends with one question: “What is your system?”
Grazing economics often comes down to the delicate act of balancing stocking levels and building flexibility into our system. Are we aiming to maximize the performance of the grass, the cows, or optimal levels of both? Do we graze only mother cows, or do we create flexibility by deliberately running fewer mature cows than we could, then taking advantage of the extra grass when we have it to prepare our calves for heavier weights?
Designing a flexible system to optimally use what Mother Nature gives us often separates above and below average producers.
The primary responsibility of any manager who leads employees is to create an environment where all employees can be productive and reach their full potential. Our job, as beef farm managers, is to create a business model or beef system where our cows can live happy and productive lives.
If we do our job right and create the right environment for them, I believe we can find many more “anonymous cows” in our herd – the ones who show up, do their job, don’t cause problems and add value to the farm.
Tucker is a University of Missouri Extension business specialist and succession planning specialist. He can be reached at [email protected] or 417-326-4916.