Category: Depreciation

Turning common heifer development logic on its head

Most of you, because of “expert” advice, have been over-developing your heifers. Let’s throw out everything you have learned and start fresh to get the most efficient cows in your herd.

Burke Teichert | Nov 28, 2018

From my earliest memories of reading farm magazines and attending cattle management conferences or seminars until now, there have been many ideas and opinions about how to develop and select replacement heifers. I am about to offer a perspective that will differ from most of what you have heard or read during these many years. I have interspersed much of it in these articles during my time as a writer. Now I will try to put it in this one piece.

Heifer development not only can be, but should be much simpler than we typically make it.  Selection and development go hand in hand. They facilitate each other.

Most of you, because of “expert” advice you have received, have been over-developing your heifers. You have selected the biggest and prettiest heifers based on biased and subjective criteria. I want to suggest that you change that approach.

You will need to start where you are with the cattle that you have; so most of you will want to take a few years to get to the point I suggest. Each step will tell you how big the next step may be.

I think nearly every herd has some good cows. My definition of good—those that get pregnant, deliver and raise a good, not necessarily excellent, calf every year without you ever touching them except for routine immunizations. The rest are inferior. In the long run, you want those cows to be the mothers of your replacement heifers; so raise more of them.

How do you do it? You keep nearly all of your heifer calves. You only remove the few that are obviously challenged or inferior.

This will usually be less than 5% (maybe not at first, but keep most of them). You then shorten the heifer breeding season as fast as you dare until your bull and/or AI exposure is not more than 30 days, ideally 24.

If you have calving dates from previous years, you can see what percentage bred in 24, 45 or 65 days and can get an idea of how many days to expose this larger group of heifers. Because you will be keeping some later-born heifers and not developing them to gain as rapidly in addition to shortening the breeding season, you will need to expect a lower conception rate.

Now, instead of trying to get the heifers to 65% of expected mature cow weight, 55% will be enough. You may want to take a couple of years to get to that point. However, many have done it quickly.

I hope you see how this more moderate or “minimal” development plays into heifer selection.  With less input and size, the ones that conceive in a short season are truly the good heifers.  They are more closely adapted to your environment.

Now the arguments start to come:

  • I won’t be breeding the best heifers. You don’t know which ones are the best. Let the bulls and the environment tell you which ones are best. They are the ones that get pregnant. There are very few, if any, people that can look and tell which ones will breed.
  • I don’t want to keep that many heifers. Why not? Yearling operations are usually more profitable than cow-calf operations; and you should winter these calves like stockers going to grass. The only added expense is use of the bulls or AI.Open heifers should be nicely profitable. Many people are hesitant to keep more heifers because of the cost of development. If the cost of development is high, that is a problem; and unless you can change that, you shouldn’t be raising your own replacements.

    Don’t tell me that you need to develop your own heifers because they are better. If they were better, you could get a good breeding rate with less development cost. The added value of yearling heifers should be significantly more than the added cost.

  • I would like to use the genomic tools to evaluate the heifers before breeding them.  Why? Those tools might give you some genetic tendency information, but it won’t tell you which ones will get pregnant in the first 24 days. The bulls will.The average heifer calving in the second cycle cannot live long enough for her lifetime production to catch up with the heifers that calve in the first cycle regardless of other genetic differences.
  • That heifer’s mother isn’t good enough to keep the daughter as a replacement. You are selling the wrong one. Sell the mother. If you are using good maternal bulls, the heifer calf should have a good chance of being better than her mother. If you are not using good maternal bulls, you need to find them or raise them or become a terminal breeder.
  • I might soon have more pregnant heifers than I need. Good. Now you have a marketing opportunity. You may sell the excess bred heifers. Or my recommendation is to keep the bred heifers and sell enough late bred cows to make room for the heifers that are going to calve early.Many areas have buyers for cows bred to calve later than your calving season. Also, as you remove late-bred cows, your calving season will get shorter and the latest born heifer calves will be older and more likely to breed. You can see how the positive effects begin to multiply.
  • I don’t think those “underdeveloped” heifers will make good cows. Research done by Rick Funston at the University of Nebraska and Andy Roberts at the Land and Range Research Station in Miles City, Mont., plus a bunch of personal practical experience says that they will make better cows than the ones I am calling “over-developed.”If you want to help them along a little, do it from the time they are diagnosed pregnant as a yearling until they are checked pregnant as a 2-year old. That is the most difficult 12-month period of her life. You would much rather sell an open yearling than an open 2-year-old.

Now let’s ring up the pluses:

  • When you start putting many heifers into your herd that will all calve early in the calving season, you will soon be able to shorten the cow calving season by removing late bred (less efficient and less adapted) cows. As your calving season gets shorter, the latest born heifer calves will be older and more likely to breed. Weaning weights will also increase.
  • In future years, more and more heifers should be eligible breeders.
  • As more of these heifers come into your herd, you will be able to remove the less desirable cows. Soon you will get by with less supplemental feed and have an increased level of herd health.
  • New marketing opportunities will show up. Remember the ranchers who are terminal crossing or should be. They need your excess cows. Even though the late calving cows are a little inferior for you, they could work very well for the terminal breeders, especially after a few years into your program.

Two more points:  I am convinced that the heritability of fertility, under minimal heifer development and reduced cow herd inputs, is significantly higher than the estimates of low heritability that we usually hear. You need to buy or raise bulls that will not undo what you are trying to accomplish with your heifer development and cow culling.

Teichert, a consultant on strategic planning for ranches, retired in 2010 as vice president and general manager of AgReserves, Inc. He resides in Orem, Utah. Contact him at

BeefTalk: Let the Cow Save You Money and the Bull Make You Money

By : Kris Ringwall, Beef Specialist

NDSU Extension

A recent conversation regarding economic drivers in the cow-calf enterprise left me with a lot to think about.

Let me summarize: The thoroughfare to consumers begins with the conception and birth of a calf that slowly morphs into beef. The beef industry is huge, so reflecting is good as the calf moves from the cow-calf producer to other beef enterprises throughout the beef chain.

Much like the source of a mighty river, at some point, only melting snow or raindrops were present. Mighty rivers do not become majestic if the snow does not melt or the rain does not fall. Everything starts somewhere, albeit small, and needs to grow. The cow-calf industry is no different.

Let us consider some thoughts regarding the cow-calf enterprise. Generally, the cow-calf producer has had some cushion between total expenses and market price (positive cash flow). Expenses, however, loom on the horizon as historically high, and given the relative low rates of return on investment, along with the challenges of finding adequate labor, some cattle producers are giving up the reins.

What steps can producers take to improve probability and, ultimately, return on investment? Almost anybody can buy a cow and bull, and produce a calf, but that is not the definition of a cow-calf enterprise. The operation needs to have some scale, and I usually review data that involve operations of 50 or more cows. But today, even 100 cows probably are below the threshold of “economy of scale.”

I will be the first to state loudly that the cow-calf business has many economic drivers, and “economy of scale” does not have to be one of them. Why? Cow producers like cows and enjoy the lifestyle of raising beef. But a positive cash flow will put more smiles on the producers’ faces.

That being said, how do we do that? Here are some thoughts.

First, recognize the environment one is in and quit fighting it. Building to beat Mother Nature is futile; feed the cows, breed the cows and calve the cows when the weather is right.

The weather is right when cool-season grasses are growing actively. As a consequence of calving when the grass grows, a shift occurs when the third trimester of pregnancy starts, creating the opportunity for alternative winter forage programs.

At the Dickinson Research Extension Center, we turn bulls out on Aug. 1. The third trimester starts Feb. 12, and calving starts May 7. Winter feeds costs, which are 70-plus percent of the total cow-calf costs, have the potential to decline significantly, depending on the extent that “extensive winter forage” is utilized.

Second, recognize the importance of monitoring cow size. The maintenance of excessively large cows has proven difficult to offset with increased weaning weights. The center has targeted mature cow size at 1,100 to 1,300 pounds. Although individual calf weights will be lighter, total calf weight based on calves produced per acre will be greater, resulting in more total pounds of calf.

Third, recognize the importance of good bull selection using technological advancements that improve accuracy. Generally, keep expected progeny differences (EPDs) above the 50th percentile within the desired traits and breed. As matter of practicality, become comfortable with bulls that are above the 50th percentile but may not exceed the upper 30th percentile for commercial production.

Fourth, recognize the value of breeding systems, maximizing the traits of interest in the terminal sire program while balancing appropriate traits on the maternal side. Let the cow save you money and the bull make you money.

At the center, 1,100- to 1,300-pound cows bred to bulls above the 50th percentile for growth and marbling and in the upper 10th percentile for rib-eye area have an advantage of $26 per acre of ranchland over traditional cows. The calves are summered on forage, and after a short feedlot stay, they are harvested at an average weight of 1,450 pounds, with 94 percent at the “choice” grade at an average yield grade of 2.9.

The search for the next generation of cow-calf producers has a tremendous opportunity for success, provided some simple targeted goals based on real numbers are put in place. Efficient beef production starts when the bull mates with a cow and biological efficiency mates with economic efficiency.

And just like the majestic river that starts with a few raindrops and a small stream, beef production needs to start with the cow-calf producer. Fishing in the big river may catch some big fish, but do not let fishing tales run the operation.

For new cow-calf producers, the single biggest mistake made is the tendency to work hard physically and set aside the homework. Each cow-calf enterprise is a unique business, and businesses need records. Focus, listen and learn.

May you find all your ear tags.

Depreciation – Take a close look…

Quoted from Pharro Cattle Company…

I’m not a depreciation expert either.  However, I AM a recovering ag banker and have dealt with depreciation in one form or another for 20 years.

Steve, you are correct when it comes to “tax” depreciation, which is what most farmers think of when they hear the word depreciation.  You need to have purchased a depreciable asset in order to claim the depreciation.  A raised heifer that peaked in value as a second-calf cow at, say, $3,000 and is now worth only $1200 as a butcher cow has generated no depreciation for income tax purposes.

That’s not to say she didn’t cost you that money.  As Charlie correctly points out, selling animals at or near their peak value is a great way to avoid “real world” depreciation, which is the loss of value as an asset ages or is used up.  And as he says, that number is not given a great deal of thought by many producers today.

Accrual accounting is a wonderful tool for cutting through the mess that is often caused by accountants and producers looking to limit tax liability.  It can be complicated and requires that a producer be honest with himself, which is not always the easiest thing to do.  But it can also create some good surprises.

I used accrual accounting exclusively when I was a banker.  While I learned this method at Farm Credit training school, I was surprised that very few bankers did this in the real world, because it takes digging pretty deep in a balance sheet as well as a tax return.  I soon discovered that even bank examiners didn’t have a firm grasp on the concept, which pretty much allowed me to BS my way through many exams!

If you do a good job filling out a financial statement on the same day each year (January 1st works great for those of use who are on the typical year tax cycle) and you are honest with yourself about the value of all your assets, including hay on hand, prepaid expenses, stockpiled forages, and capital assets, you can identify good and bad trends in your business long before your neighbors, no matter what the Schedule F says.

Consider this example:

Rancher A has a five year average Schedule F profit of $100,000, with tax depreciation of $50,000 a year.  He has a herd of 200 cows that he bought five years ago and annually bought enough bred heifers to replace his open cows.  He has a full line of newer machinery that he spends $50,000 a year on between payments and updates.

His “real world” depreciation is probably somewhere around $70,000 to $90,000 a year.  $50,000 of that is due to equipment depreciation, and his cow herd is dropping at a rate of $100-$200/cow/year due to aging.  To handle that depreciation, he has $150,000 in profits (Schedule F plus the depreciation), so he’s left with something in the neighborhood of $60,000 to $80,000 to feed his family and grow his business.

Rancher B has a five year average Schedule F profit of $150,000, with tax depreciation of $0 a year.  His herd of 200 cows was raised, and he has a full pipeline of heifers each year.  Rather than selling steers and heifers, he sells steers, a handful of open cows, and a large number of 4 and 5 year old bred cows.  His equipment line is smaller, older, and depreciated out.  He doesn’t even use most of it.

On an accrual basis, we can see that rancher B has no real depreciation, and actually has APPRECIATION.  His cow herd maintains its value year after year because it is not aging, and as cattle prices have increased over the last five years his average animal is worth $500/head more than it was 5 years ago.  This averages out to an gain of $100/head/year, or $20,000 for him.  This, added to his income, gives him $170,000 to feed his family and grow his business.

Driving by these two operations, one would be fairly certain Rancher A is better off.  He has nice equipment, after all.  Digging deeper, you can see that he is barely feeding his family, while Rancher B is poised to grow his business.  Granted, this is a pretty simplistic example, but I can assure you that accrual adjustments make a world of difference for many operations.