Are your cows eating your profits?
At the time this catalogue goes to press, the average price of land in Québec passed the mark of 2200 $/acre while those of fuel and corn are still volatil. Already in the USA, the Cattle-Fax organization evaluates that the maintenance cost of beef cows has increased by 100 $/head over the last years and that a new 10 % increase is expected in 2009. Up to now, these increases have been absorbed by producers since they were not passed on to consumers. Therefore the level that hits you personally partly depends on the biological type of the females in your herd. Are they tall, high milking and do they require a lot of feed to remain in good condition or are they rather the hardy and low maintenance type?
Source : Dr Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University
To give you an idea of the additional feeding cost generated by the increase in the dairy potential and weight of your cows, Figure 1 evaluates the energetic needs of two cows calving in February/March and whose calves are weaned in October. A 1250 lb cow producing at her peak 26 lb of milk per day will have to consume 33 % more feed than her 1100 lb herdmate producing 18 lb per day to remain in good condition throughout the year. In other words, a farm having the resources to keep 100 cows of this latter type will only be able to support 75 cows in the other category.
Think production per acre rather than weaning weight
Because we have been benefitting of low-cost cereals and petroleum for a long time, genetic selection has up to now been mainly used to increase gross income (ex. : weight gain, milking ability, meat yield) without considering the notion of profitability. The best proof is that there are still very few EPD’s describing costs (ex. : maintenance needs, longevity). However, the situation has already started to change?: we are hearing more and more about feed efficiency and profitability of cows as related to their size. We have long been aware that in a dry environment where feed resources are limited, small-sized cows are generally more profitable. What is new however is that more and more experts are convinced that even in conditions where feed is abundantly available, the best economic efficiency remains the quantity of meat produced per acre, and that this element will always favour the smaller cows, regardless of the climate or geographical location. This is namely the case of Lee Leachman, manager of a major breeding operation in Colorado (5000 cows) whose reasoning is found in Table 1.
|Cow weight vs profitability
(Assuming an equivalent dairy potential in both cases)
|Calf weight/dam weight
|Weaning weight (7,5 months)
|Total calf weight
||59 856 lb
(116 x 86 % x 600)
|55 678 lb
(100 x 82 % x 679)
||64 644 $
||56 792 $
|Income (culling 10 %)
||6 032 $
||6 320 $
||70 676 $
||63 112 $
||7 564 $
|Source : adapted from Leachman Cattle Co., Colorado, USA
Worth noting is that despite lower weaning weights, the smaller cows (1300 lb) offer the possibility of producing, for the same acreage, a higher total of pounds of calves that will be sold at a higher price per pound, which translates into an additional income of nearly 7600 $ as compared to using larger sized cows (1580 lb).
Reducing costs and maximizing income
Knowing that feed expenses represent by themselves 60 % of production costs and that nearly 70 % of the energy used by a cow serves only to keep her alive, it seems logical to make sure that she is moderate in size and low in maintenance. In any case, that is the approach favoured by CIAQ in its selection of maternal breed sires. Once we have created this hardy and undemanding cow, what we have left to do is to have her produce maximum income. This is where the terminal breed sires come in. On top of bringing an additional dose of hybrid vigour, the efforts that we put in to choose them according to their growth potential and their superior muscling allow you to meet the feedlot requirements.
In the present context of increasing production cost and stagnant income, it may happen that you will have to review your image of a profitable beef cow. If such is the case, you will find in the following pages a battery of sires who will help you build a herd able to perform at a lower cost in this new economic environment.