Profit strategies: Increasing the cow herd

Pete Talbott  |  Updated: 10/09/2014

Back in February, I discussed the options for utilizing available forage and whether it should be used by expanding the cow herd or a different class of cattle, be it your own or custom graze.  For the purpose of this article let’s assume you have decided to increase your cow herd.  So first, the assumption is made that you did the economic, resource and personal analysis that increasing the brood cow herd is your best option.

There are a number of ways to increase the cow herd, some of which include saving heifers from your calf crop, buying young open heifers, buying bred heifers, buying young bred cows, buying pairs and, lastly, buying open cows.  My thoughts on the last option are very simple: Don’t do it.  Open cows are open for a reason: poor fertility, disease-related problems that you don’t want to introduce into your herd, nutritionally challenged that could be from the resources she was on or her body is not suited to the resources she was on during the last breeding cycle.  The one positive to purchasing open cows is that the initial price will probably be the lower investment at the time of purchase, but that could be the last lowest cost for her.  Like any scenario, there are exceptions, and a specific situation might warrant the risk in obtaining open cows but be very cautious in doing so.

The market levels today don’t make any of the options an easy decision.  Individual goals, ranch resources and operating procedures are a few of the factors that must be considered for each operation.  In addition to the above:

  1. Depending on the ranch, the older the new cow the longer it takes her to acclimate to the new environment and society of the existing herd.  I have found it takes two to three years for a cow in new country to learn the country and reach her production potential for that set of resources.  Now the easier the ranch, the faster the transition will be (i.e., desert vs. irrigated pasture).
  2. Keeping your own heifers delays a product to sell but retains your genetic base and goals (if that is important) and also gives you cattle already adapted to your environmental resource and methods of working the cattle.
  3. Do you spend a lot of time watching heifers at calving?  This could be a burden on human resources.  Calving 3-year olds could all but eliminate having to watch heifers, and I have observed that heifers calving at 30 to 36 months stay in the herd several years longer.  However, this must pass the economic analysis.
  4. Another consideration in calving heifers is when you calve in relation to the grazing season.  Heifers that calve in the dead of winter will always require more inputs than those that calve in more moderate weather and on green grass.
  5. What does it cost to develop a replacement female from a weaner to a producing cow?  Some individuals’ development costs are not much more than the costs of running a mature cow, while others will have costs twice or more than that to run a cow.
  6. Purchasing young bred or young pairs gives you a saleable product sooner.  Can you find what you want in genetics and frame size, adapted to your type of environment?
  7. What are your cash flow needs if you retain? Do you have the assets in hand to purchase, or will you have to borrow?

This is why using a cookbook approach, or industry averages, to come to a decision on your ranch is not appropriate.  You must do the hard work it takes to analyze economic impacts, resource and environmental considerations, human resource requirements and so on.  Use your financial and resource data in coming to the best decision for your business.

See the full article and more in the digital edition of the September issue of Drovers/CattleNetwork.

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