With the beginning of a new year, most of us make resolutions to better ourselves and those around us. This is also an excellent time to make new resolutions for your farm operation as well. While the weather is cold and we are spending more time in the house or shop, take this opportunity to develop a management plan for the coming year.
Once you have developed and implemented a cattle management plan, it will be much easier to make decisions to improve the profitability of your herd. While we are enjoying a strong cattle market, we can consider other ideas leading to even more profits during the coming year.
Once you have decided to create a management program, there are several areas that need close attention. Consider your management plan on the following areas: nutrition, forage utilization, health, cattle selection and record-keeping. We will cover each of these briefly to assist you in creating an overall plan.
Let’s start by looking at cattle selection. Cattle selection is the beginning of every management plan. If a producer does a poor job in cattle selection, it makes all the other areas more difficult to manage. The biggest problem I see in cattle selection continues to be consistency in the herd. If you will be adding cattle or purchasing cattle in the coming months, please consider the following:
Buy cattle that match!!! Go into the market place with a visual of your current herd and select cattle matching your other cows. Too many times producers select cattle that do not match once they get them on the farm. Select cattle based upon body type, breed, color, quality and disposition. Cattle closer to the same type are much easier to manage than those looking like a rainbow. Like cattle also will have similar needs and demands, will produce similar calves and will allow you flexibility in marketing your calves. Remember, "one bad apple will ruin the whole basket." Similar cattle will also have similar nutritional demands and will make it easier to create a feeding supplementation program. The final advantage of similar cattle selection is in the area of bull selection. With like cattle, you can select a bull best fitting the needs of your cattle market. If you have made a decision to keep heifers, locate them in a different pasture so you can manage them differently from your mature cow herd. Remember, when selecting cattle from a livestock auction, pay close attention to detail like disposition, udder development and reproductive performance. Other than herd sale-outs, most cattle are at an auction for a reason.
Another key area for management consideration is record-keeping. A good record-keeping system will save you money as well as assist in cattle selection. A good record-keeping system will also help prepare for the National Identification System I expect to be implemented throughout the country at some point. A good record-keeping system including identification, reproductive performance, calving problems, weaning weights of calves, body condition scores and health issues will give you the ammunition needed to cull poor performing cattle each year. Poor performing cattle will cost you money and the only way to recognize these poor producers is with proper record-keeping. For example: A cow that calves every 14 months instead of 12 months will cost you an extra calf in six years. There are several good computer programs available for record-keeping as well as the old standby of pencil and notebook. Your local Quality Co-op can help you get started by providing ears tags and other methods of cattle identification.
A proper vaccination and parasite control program is another area of cattle management easily overlooked. I have been on several farms suffering from poor reproductive performance as well as poor body condition due to an inadequate health program. A proper health program is used as a preventative while an improper health program is used as a cure. A proper health program consists of internal and external parasite control, reproductive vaccinations and blackleg vaccinations. Other vaccinations for problems like warts and pinkeye are also available and should be considered when working your cattle. Also remember it is imperative to have a facility allowing you to work your cattle easily and safely. Again, your local Co-op can help you by providing the vaccines and parasite control products needed for a proper vaccination program. They can also assist in selecting handling equipment to help keep you and your cattle safe.
Next, let’s look at forage utilization and then nutrition as integral parts of a detailed management program. Once you have selected like cattle, have implemented a record-keeping system as well as a health program, you can now look at a feeding program. Nutrition and genetics work hand-in-hand to create a desirable end-result. A great nutrition program cannot overcome poor genetics, while great genetics cannot reach its full potential without adequate nutrition. This statement, while simple, is overlooked time and time again. When looking at a nutrition program, we start with what is available naturally and that is forage. Whether hay or standing grass, your nutrition program will be based upon this. With something this important, "know what you got." Send in soil samples and fertilize based upon these recommendations. Send in hay samples from each cutting and see how nutritionally sound the hay will be. If you know the forage’s quality, you will know what supplements are needed for maximum performance. Producers waste large amounts of money each year purchasing the cheapest feed per ton versus the cheapest feed to supplement their cows. There is a huge difference in these two situations and I encourage you to purchase supplements based on cattle needs and not the least cost on a ton basis of feed.
You should also pay close attention to weed control. Weeds will reduce the overall quality of the forage as well as taking away needed nutrition for your grass. We can help in taking and making recommendations on soil samples, as well as helping you to analyze your forage. Your Co-op also carries weed control products as well as the knowledge to help in selecting the proper herbicide program for your farm.
A final piece to the management program can now be implemented. Nutritional supplementation should only be considered after looking at all of the other areas. A complete nutrition program will provide supplemental energy, protein, minerals and vitamins to help your operation to maximize profits. Cattle on a poor supplementation program will suffer in body condition scores and reproductive performance. As a producer, always remember you must have a calf to remain profitable each year. So many times, we visit farms supplementing just to be supplementing. Your supplementation program should only be implemented after giving careful consideration to your total management program.
Again, we have qualified personnel who are available to assist in selecting the best feed products available to meet the additional nutritional needs of your cattle herd.
While these are some general ideas to help you get started in developing and implementing a total management plan, it is by no means the only way to do it. Evaluate your current program and implement ideas you think will best help improve the overall quality of your operation.
You might need several years to completely implement a total program, but, once implemented, you will soon see the fruits of your labor. I hope this will provide you with the information needed to create a management plan to help keep you profitable even if depressed market conditions come our way.
Jimmy Hughes is AFC’s animal nutritionist. If you would like to contact him, please feel free to call at (256) 947-7886.