Friday, March 31, 2017

2017 Cattle Raisers Convention How to Create Highly-Valued Feeder Calves

Tom Brinks
CEO Red Angus Association of America

What does it take to create Valuable Feeder Cattle?

1. Starts with the right mindset.
We can have cattle that excel for both maternal and carcass traits.

2. Understand the key value attributes for cattle going through the supply chain, then breed and manage your cattle accordingly.

Cattle that stay healthy, grow and grade are winners!

If it takes more than two sentences to describe the breed make-up of your cattle, it shows that you don't have a plan for your cattle. If you don't have a plan for your cattle, you can expect to receive discounts on your cattle. If you can briefly describe your cattle, e.g. 100% Char-Angus, 100% Red Angus on Santa Gertrudis, 100% SimAngus, etc.

3. Plug in to a value-added marketing program.
You need to use some sort of value added program. These programs verify

  • Health
  • Genetics
  • Natural
  • Nutrition
  • Source

What makes your calf crop unique? What is noteworthy about your calves? Providing these to prospective buyers shows that your are serious about your cattle.

You need to be intentional about marketing your cattle.

We are very discriminating buyers when we are purchasing a bull. Unfortunately, we all too often sell our calf crops as a commodity. We need to rethink this attitude and practice.

When we create valuable cattle, we need to put a label on it so that buyers know they are valuable.

What will it take to EARN a premium from feedyards?

  • Need to document genetic superiority
  • Solid health program with vaccine history on calves
  • High growth and marbling genetics are required
  • Historical feedlot and carcass data can help
  • Load lot groups will always receive more. Are there options to partner with a neighbor? 

High genomic steers outperformed low genomic score steers for every trait, and the high genomic scoring steers were $50 more profitable.

2017 Cattle Raisers Convention Common Traits of Successful Ranches

Dr. Rick Machen
King Ranch Institute

Successful Ranches share 1 common trait, and 5 components of that trait. 
Succesful Ranches are Stewards of the Resources
  1. People 
  2. Resources 
    • Natural (soil and water, plants)
    • Animals
  3. Financial
  4. Customers

1. People
  • Integrity
  • Work ethic
  • Motivated
  • Competent

A strong work ethic is not inherent, it is learned. The younger the learner,  the stronger the ethic.
People who are successful ranchers are life long learners.
It is easy to be passionate on easy, happy days. Are we passionate on the bad days, such as the people suffering from fires in Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma?

2. Resources
How does that energy from the sun taste? Cattle convert the grass growing from the energy from the sun into high quality protein.
Good Stewarts realize they can't control how much they get, but they can manage what they have. Gracing management is huge, must have a grazing plan.
Have to manage invading species.
In Texas if you remove the juniper canopy, the native grasses come back from the existing seed bank.
They match the production of the cow to the production of the environment.
Performance Measures:
  • Conception rates
    • Cowherd
    • 2nd calf cows
    • 1st calf heifers
  • Calving ease (short season with calving ease service bulls)
  • % calves born in first 30 days
  • % calf crop weaned
  • Pounds of calf per acre

Example ranch that is very successful:
  • 97% calf crop weaned 
  • 350 day calving interval
  • $280 cow cost

Cattlemen have been practicing sustainability for decades. Matching the cow to her production environment.
Diversification will be important as we move forward. Oil, multiple species, recreation, etc.

3. Financial
Hay, supplement fee, depreciation...
Avoid fed feed costs. Has feeding hay become a habit? What can you do to reduce feeding hay?
What is your cost of production? If I make a small change here what is the revenue outcome?
Smart ranches invest wisely, save when possible, expect and prepare for the tough times.
There are certain items we need to have to operate. Too many ranches suffer from  "hardware disease", i.e. lots of equipment, trailers, and other unnecessary purchases.
Never buy what you can lease, never lease what you can borrow.

4. Customers
Have to make sure we are meeting the concerns of today's customers.

5. People (again)
Need to look at generational transfer. Involve them when they are young.
Use teamwork.
"Keep the ranch in the family and the family in the ranch. " -Donnell Brown

2017 Cattle Raisers Convention: Making the Cow Herd More Efficient by 2037

Dr. Clay Mathias
King Ranch Institute

After adjusting for inflation, there was an 18% increase in calf value from 1990 to 2015.

The big cost categories are Depreciation, Feed, and Labor. The drivers of these are corn, oil, ag land and minimum wage.

  • Corn cost increased 24%.
  • Oil increased 284%.
  • Ag land increased by 134%.
  • Labor only increased by 9%.

"Like calf prices, all of these increased more than inflation." Mathias said.

We have seen a 30 to 50 lb increase in weaning weight over the past 20 years in the seedstock sector. We have data-driven tools for selection decisions such as genomic-enhanced EPDs.

In Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma:
Pregnancy rate from 1993 to 1995 was 89%. In 2013 to 2015 it was 90%.
Weaning rate from 1993 to 1995 was 84%. In 2013 to 2015 it was 84%.
Weaning weight from 1993 to 1995 was 525 lbs. In 2013 to 2015 it was 525 lbs.
Pounds of calf weaned/cow exposed was 439 lbs. It was 438 lbs. in 2013 to 2015.

Identical trends are seen in the northern plains. However, this is looking at averages, and some individual ranches have seen improved performance.

Why is there no change in the commercial cow-calf level? Not limited by growth potential.
Why has reproductive performance not improved? Perhaps we have reached a maximum level.

What is more important, genetics or management?
Good genetics must be accompanied by great management.

How much improvement can we see in pregnancy rate and weaning rate? To do this in a cost effective manner, might have limited opportunity to make improvement if pregnancy rates are above 90%. If rates are below 90%, can probably make improvement in a cost effective manner.

If we look going forward, in the next 20 years we can expect the cost of oil, land, feed, and labor to all increase.

"There are opportunities going forward, we need to know how to capitalize on it," Mathias said.

A manager cannot control commodity prices, grazing land prices, compensation rate for labor, and others.

We can control labor (number of employees), feed, depreciation, technology, and genetic decisions. We need to think through these and identify the right decisions.

One of the laws of system dynamics and thinking, is that the harder we push the harder the system pushes back. An example of this could be asking each employee to work an extra hour each day. There is likely to be push back to this as employees value time with family, etc.

The greatest opportunity and leverage for cost effective performance are at the ranch level.

Crossbreeding is always high leverage. It improves fertility, calf age at weaning, calf weaning weight, and cow longevity. This is not a new concept, but remains underutilized. If you improve fertility, age at weaning, weaning weight and cow longevity you improve pounds weaned per acre.

Calving heifers can be high labor, and thus high expense.

Feeding hay is also an issue. Depreciation of equipment and storage facilities.

Labor is a high leverage factor. Can you operate your herd with one less employee?
Are the children of current employees also planning on being ranch employees? In most cases, probably not.

Where do we focus?
There is no silver bullet. Ranches are different in many ways, so there is no single answer. However, there are several factors in common.

Management should focus on high-leverage interventions at the production system level (ranch level).

  • Maintain or improve genetics of the cowherd.
  • Optimize labor, purchased feed, and depreciation to minimize unit cost of production.
  • Employ proven technology with positive ROI.
  • Marketing calves and cull cows to their highest value.

Question from the audience: Why do we see higher performance in the upper plains vs Texas?

  • They have higher quality dormant forages.
  • They have a less challenging environment, especially in terms of heat stress.
  • They have genetics with higher performance potential.

Decker's Take Home

I appreciate Mathias singing the praises of crossbreeding. However, I continue to doubt that genetic selection decisions have been optimized in the last 20 years of the beef industry. When we look at BEEF Magazine survey data, producers are using phenotypes (actual birth weight) as their top selection criteria. This indicates to me that producers are not fulling using genetic selection tools.

How can we change this?
First, if we are focusing on profit, we should be using economic selection indexes to make and drive our selection decisions. Here, we are putting all of our emphasis on profit and each trait is being incrementally changed according to its economic importance. This is the optimal way to use these selection tools.

Second, I think there are opportunities to better match the cow's genetics to her environment. We are working to create these tools.

I believe if we use these two tools (economic indexes and environment-specific genetic selection) this will allow the commercial sector to see genetic and performance improvement.

I always enjoy hearing Mathias speak because I learn more about systematic decision making focused on profitability.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Second Youth Leadership Academy seeks applications

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Applications are being accepted for the second annual University of Missouri Division of Animal Sciences Youth Leadership Academy.
Twenty high school students with an interest in agriculture and the livestock industry will attend the May 31-June 3 event at MU’s Animal Science Research Center.
“The intensive four-day event focuses on increasing knowledge of Missouri’s diverse and dynamic livestock industry, as well as building participants’ leadership and communication skills,” says Marcia Carlson Shannon, MU Extension swine specialist.
Students receive personalized instruction and interaction with counselors, professors and livestock industry leaders. They learn leadership skills, tour leading agricultural operations and businesses, and discuss current issues regarding livestock production, Shannon says.
Applications are available at MU Extension centers in each county and from FFA advisers. MU Extension, MU Division of Animal Sciences and Friends of the MU Animal Science Youth Leadership Academy sponsor the event.
Contact MU Extension livestock specialist David Hoffman at or Shannon at for more information.