by Ron Locke
R & J Ranch, Long Lane
All professions require their members to attend periodic continuation training to stay abreast of innovations in their given fields. While some may argue “Cattlemen” or Cow/Calf Producers are not professions, I strongly disagree. For the sake of argument and space let’s assume I’m right and skip the several paragraphs of justification to that end. We cattlemen need to know how to improve our operations and that requires keeping ourselves informed.
In the past few weeks I have attended several conferences and came to the conclusion there are three “gamechangers” currently available in our industry that are being overlooked by most cattle producers and they are having a significant impact on their bottom lines day in and day out.
The first “gamechanger” is toxic fescue and its insidious drain on cattle performance from birth to death. With years of research at numerous universities and thousands of herds examined and assimilated we know every animal eating toxic K-31 fescue is being affected and more importantly we know there is no silver bullet that will prevent the toxin from lowering conception rates or reducing the weight gain loss we unknowingly experience when animals consume it. There are studies being conducted in genetics which may prove some cattle are better than others on K-31 but it is very doubtful we will find a breed that is immune to the toxin. The only certain way to rid our herds of the losses is to eliminate toxic K-31 from our pastures. The new “toxic friendly” or novel fescues have proven they will perform as well as the old K-31 in harsh conditions and cattle will not incur any of the problems consuming them. The longer you wait to eradicate your toxic fescue the more money you are leaving in the fields.
Bottom Line: You can raise conceptions rates in your herd by 15-20% and increase weight gains on all cattle by over ½ pound per day per animal! It’s impossible to justify, “it’s too costly to eradicate my toxic fescue”, when just the opposite is true.
The second “gamechanger” is fixed time artificial insemination (FTAI). In the past few years we have seen FTAI become more prevalent in the beef industry. Now with a new protocol called Split Time AI we have breeding by appointment with a reduction of drugs used and improved conception rates. Everyone understands a calf born at the beginning of the calving season weighs more than a calf born at the end of the season. At 2 pounds per day that can easily amount to over 100 pounds per calf born early over those late calves and at $1.50 a pound every calf born early puts extra dollars in your pocket. With split time AI you can see over 60% of your calves born in the first 16 days of calving season which I can personally attest to.
Bottom Line: Split Time AI will condense your calving window, significantly improve your herd genetics, and put more pounds on your calves by sale day translating to more money in your pocket!
Lastly, the third “gamechanger” is Genetic testing. Most registered herd/seed stock breeders have been using genetic testing for many years. Now we can test most all animals, providing informed expected progeny differences, (EPD’s) on our commercial cattle like registered cattle. I’ve heard countless producers tell me they can look at an animal and tell “XYZ”. I have witnessed many of these same producers put to the test with live animals and DNA testing results proving you can’t. You simply can’t look at an animal and tell what its next 10-20 calves will weigh at birth or at weaning or how big their ribeye’s will be or nearly anything else for that matter. But EPD’s will with certain degrees of accuracy depending on the trait. If your calves weigh 500 pounds at weaning now and you select a bull with a high weaning weight EPD your calves could easily weigh 550 at weaning next year. If you are retaining heifers for your herd you may want to focus on heifers that score higher in calving ease maternal (CEM), heifer pregnancy (HP), milk, etc. These traits can be determined the day the heifer calf is born by simply taking a drop of blood from the ear and placing it on a “blood card” and sending it to the appropriate testing lab for your breed/crossbred of cattle. Results are normally back within 30 days, long before you need to market the animals. At weaning time you can select the best heifer calves in your herd to retain and sell the rest.
Bottom Line: For less than $50 with some basic test costing as little as $17 you can determine the value of a calf to your operation about a month after they are born.
I have some experience with each of these topics and would be glad to answer any questions you may have however for more detailed advice I encourage you to contact the specific experts listed below and incorporate these gamechangers into your operation increasing your profitability in the coming years!
Toxic Fescue: Dr. Craig Roberts, State Forage Ext Specialist & Professor Plant Sciences University of Missouri
Split Time AI: Dr. David Patterson, State Beef Reproduction Ext Specialist & Professor of Animal Science University of Missouri
Genetics: Dr. Jared Decker, State Beef Genetics Ext Specialist & Assistant Professor University of Missouri