Is Your Cowherd Efficient? by Andy LeDoux

In today’s beef industry, there are many buzzwords: local, organic, and sustainable. These words are often used to compound what I like to call the drama effect, and this most often causes an emotional response. In this day and age, it seems most of us are too comfortable doing business as usual — like my dad, and his dad did things. Like most new technology in the beef industry, it seems that the first responders normally reap the benefits. The discussion on feed efficient cattle is still relatively new, but again, the first seedstock producers that acknowledged the need
are getting to set the standards within the industry and reap the rewards. One segment of efficiency that is almost non-existent today is efficiency within the cowherd. The main reason for this is the inability to gather data on grazing herds in different geographical regions across the country.

Efficiency in a cowherd could possibly be the kingpin within future beef production. To me, the word efficiency is synonymous with profitability. So, with regional requirements and locations being held neutral, profitability now takes center stage. Profitability on the ranch is determined primarily by two factors: 1. Pounds of calf weaned per cow exposed 2. Control of production costs, e.g., feed costs

Increasing costs associated with feeding supplements to the cowherd may lead to greater distinctions between economic and biologic efficiency. A proven and simple way to enhance biologic efficiency is to readily adopt heterosis into your cowherd. Heterosis is responsible for the largest improvements in lowly heritable traits. Balancer® cattle have been shown to be an efficient method to improve reproductive efficiency in commercial cowherds regardless of the region. All research points that the most cost effective way to improve efficiency in the cowherd is to select for the appropriate biologic type that fits your environment or region. With that said, they should also be crossbred or Balancer-based for the added benefits of maternal heterosis as well.

In other words, seedstock producers that are committed to improving their cowherd efficiency as well as their commercial customers better start simple. First and foremost, you should select a seedstock supplier that has a verified feed efficiency program intact. Educate yourselves on what selection indexes they place an emphasis and if this particular suppliers’ cattle will acclimate to your environment or region. The sooner you start to pay attention to the efficiency of your bull battery, the quicker your cowherd will follow suit. Reproductive success is just as important; the cowherd must breed and produce a highly marketable calf crop.

Utilizing body condition scores (BCS) is one of the easiest ways to get a feel for the productivity and fleshing ability of a grazing cowherd. This approach helps readily determine if your regional forage availability is meeting nutritional requirements demanded by the high reproductive levels desired on the ranch.

There are two very different mindsets on how to best achieve success when it comes to BCS and high levels of reproduction. First, is to feed the cowherd into a certain stage of somewhat forced production. I will let that thought sink in for a while, and you tell me if we all could be guilty of this one. Secondly, push our operations to find common ground with our individual environments or regions and see what they will support regarding biologic type or genotype.

So again I will ask, is your cowherd efficient? Be prepared and do your research concerning efficiency because it will ultimately affect your profitability. I know at the end of the day I will be in the second group and have a cowherd that can thrive in my environment and work for me, but also exceed the expectations in efficiency of any kind.

I found two articles to be helpful when researching the topic: proceedings from the Range Beef Cow Symposium titled “Feed Efficiency-How should it be used for the Cow Herd?” and “Using Genetics to Get More Efficient,” by Bob Weaber, Ph.D., cow-calf extension specialist with Kansas State University. With a little more digging, I’m sure you could find a couple more articles discussing the importance of cowherd efficiency for the future of the beef industry.