Profit is not a common word in the vocabulary of many producers. So many factors beyond their control: weather, the price of corn and diesel and of course what happened at the sale barn.
Successful producers watch their genetics; buy the best and sell the rest.
Farmers go out every day, roll out another bale, mend another fence and look for ways to squeeze out a little more.
Dr. Justin Sexten is a State Extension Beef Specialist, focusing on nutrition. He spoke to more than 160 who attended the recent Southwest Missouri Beef Conference & Trade Show in Bolivar, Mo.
Sexten spent about 40 minutes showing how even the most savvy producers can still find ways to minimize costs while maintaining productivity. Some in his audience had likely heard all this before but with economic times in flux, old ideas and new times made for an attentive audience.
“The very last thing I’m going to talk about is spending money,” Sexten began. “How can we economically feed your cow herd without taking money from your pocket?”
Most producers will say they cull hard but Sexten advises to cull even harder. Reducing the number of mouths to feed but keeping the food supplies at the same level means giving more feed to each cow. So far – no increase in feed costs. Plus some additional income from the sale of the culls.
Sexten joked about fall calving but then provided some hard numbers to consider. Many ranchers will keep an open cow around and count on her to calve in the fall. Sexten reminded everyone that an open cow, (assuming she does calve in the fall) could still go 488 days without producing any income. But that cow’s been costing the producer for every single one of those unproductive days.
Just in case the point wasn’t clear Sexten added this advice as a question: “If you go out to buy a good set of fall-calving-cows and they run this group into the ring – and they say ‘this group of cattle did not breed the last time they were exposed to the bull’ – would you buy them? No, but we start a lot of fall-calving-cow-herds that way.”
Sexten also advised grouping cows 90-120 days before calving. He made it simple: Group One is marginal cows; thin and old. Group Two is made up of those the rancher thinks are “fat enough.”
The method is to use an average of three pounds per head per day to arrive at a total amount of feed, but give Group One four pounds per day and Group Two only two pounds. Sexten explains: “You give the young, thin group the greater amount of feed and reduce the feed to fat-enough cows. Without increasing feed costs you direct nutrients to the group most in need. If you feed the average amount by definition, you under-feed the young, thin and overfeed those fat enough.”
Test, Test, Test
Sexten quizzed the crowd on the use of supplements. Many hands were raised. He then asked how many tested their forage. Only a few hands went up. Sexten then admonished them for assuming the type and amount of supplement needed when the rancher did not know the quality of his forage. Sexten explained, “Feed costs aren’t high enough if you are not testing your forage.” Forage should be sampled prior to feeding – not in the field before it is stored. Nutrients will be lost that the test says are there.
Conference organizer Wesley Tucker, Agriculture Business Specialist with the University of Missouri Extension in Polk County, has forms available for forage testing, as do all Extension offices. The tests are usually done by Custom Labs in Golden City, Mo., and cost between $14-19 depending on the specific test done.
Prioritize Four Feed Sources:
1. Utilize crop residue fields
2. Pastures and stockpiled forages
3. Quality stored forage
4. Poor-quality forage, supplements
This list brings the farmer back to the need to test in order to know whether the forage being provided is of good quality or poor. A cow will have to consume 25 percent more if the forage quality is poor. And that may be more than the cow can get.