Raising Cattle For Profit
One of the most important decisions you will ever make when raising cattle for profit is your choice in breed or breeds of cattle you plan to produce. This one decision will have life-long effects and might even make you or break you. I don’t want to pick any certain breed of cattle, at this point, because there are both pros and cons about every breed of cattle raised in the US and abroad.
What many producers don’t realize is there are underlying factors that should help you decide on which breeds will be best — location, location, location when you are learning about how to raise cattle.
Every region of the country has a different climate and every ranch has a different “micro-climate”. How many times has your neighbor gotten a needed rain shower and you have gotten some wind packed with dust?
Every single piece of land across this country has differing weather patterns, so the question of what breed should I choose should begin with “what breed is best suited for my particular location?
There are many other factors that help us choose the breed or breeds of cattle we want to produce like: our goals, market trends, opinions, early maturing breeds, later maturing breeds, etc.
Something I would like to interject into your thoughts is how other operations along the beef production chain view the choice of cattle you plan to raise.
The stocker operators are looking primarily at gain on grass (pre-feed lot); the feed-lot operators are looking for gain on feed (finishing phase); and the packer’s are looking for meat quality or Grade.
Every single steer calf and many heifer calves that enter the market system are headed down the path of the beef production chain, so my question for you is:
Do your goals coincide with the beef production chain? And if not, why not?
We now see how important choice of breed or breeds is to the equation.
One of the worst mistakes, I have seen in the cow-calf producer side of this equation, is too much of an emphasis on quantity pounds produced rather than quality pounds produced — as the only premiums paid at the end of the beef production chain are for quality pounds.
Another idea I want to interject into your thinking process is the fact that every feed yard, across this country, has seen every single cross, known to man, come through the production chain and they know “what works best”-Do you?
An equally important step in breed selection is:
What will my land produce?
What does my forage base consist of and how many cows can my land support?
The reasons this is important in making a choice of breeds is because some larger framed heavier cattle consume more grass than other moderate framed cattle.
1 1500 lb cow will eat 3% of her total body weight per day, which equals 45 lbs.
1 1200 lb cow will eat 3% of her total body weight per day, which equals 36 lbs.
At the end of the growing season, say 6-7 months (200 days) the 1500 lb cow will consume 9000 lbs of forage and the 1200 lb cow will consume 7200 lbs of forage.
Why is this important?
On 100 acres of grassland where our average forage production in 200 days equals 1000 lbs per acre/month this can be calculated as 700,000 lbs per growing season.
How many 1500 lb cows can be grazed on our land? 700,000 / 9000 = 78 cows
How many 1200 lb cows can be grazed on our land? 700,000 / 7200 = 97 cows.
The bottom line:
97 calves produced @ 500 lbs x $0.80 = $400 x 97 calves = $38,800¹
78 calves produced @ 600 lbs x $0.70 = $420 x 78 calves = $32,760²
¹ Understanding that these more moderate framed cows (breed dependent) wean lighter calves usually, but those calves bring more dollars per cwt (hundred weight). But we can run more of those cows on our available land base, therefore we make more money.
² Understanding that these larger framed cows (breed dependent) wean heavier calves usually, but those calves receive fewer dollars per cwt and we cannot run as many cows on our available land base, therefore we make less money.
This is an easy example of how breed selection can greatly affect the profit and loss equation and negates the idea that “I make more money with quantity pounds at weaning.
In the cow/calf business every stock-person must understand one very important thing relating to nutrition throughout the cows life-cycle. As soon as a cow has a calf her nutritional requirement begins to increase. This is helpful in determining calving time.
For instance, if you know, that between month two and three her nutritional requirement is the highest all year (peak milk production), you can better plan when you should be calving for your particular situation.
This is why many western producers begin calving in the spring when forage availability is high and wean their calves in the fall when their forages are finishing up for the year.
In the eastern US, where the winters are less severe, we can manipulate the calving season for either spring or fall. By planting winter annuals for temporary grazing (in October) we can begin calving in the fall. Cow’s that have weaned their calves, by May, spend the hot summer months maintaining their body condition on permanent pasture and/or summer annuals to improve body condition that was lost during the previous 7 months.
After we have selected a breed or breeds to produce, the next step is to decide how we will market our calves: at weaning, as pre-conditioned stocker calves, or feed-lot ready.
The real question is; will keeping my cattle past weaning improve my bottom line- again this depends a lot on your selection of cattle you produce, e.g. early maturing / late maturing.
Early maturing cattle breeds tend to pack on the pounds earlier in life and finish at lower weights, while the later maturing breeds tend to grow well, but require a longer time to reach finishing weights.
1. At weaning, you have no expenses associated with your calves and it might be better to sell them immediately after weaning as it all depends on your goals and available resources.
2. Pre-conditioning your calves post-weaning has its’ ups and downs and at times can be a frustrating process.
But can I get a better price for pre-conditioned calves ready for a stocker operation?
This depends on so many varying factors including the market prices and your ability to forecast the future.
Some stocker calves that enter the beef production chain go on some sort of grazing and those buyers want those calves completely over the stress of weaning and ready to gain, while other buyers want your calves feed-lot ready (started on feed) and at a specific weight before they purchase them.