Larger framed cattle may not be the most economical animals

In recent years, the demand for beef has led to the development of some pretty hefty large framed cows.

When walking through a sale barn or events like the annual Ozarks Farmfest, some of the cattle specimens presented to the public often dwarf their producers, creating an impressive agricultural sight. But while bigger is indeed impressive, is it necessarily better? Are smaller-framed cows more efficient?

The bigger the cow, the more inputs are required to keep her in good condition.

While on the surface it can appear that those inputs might be worth it at weaning time, it’s best to really dig deep and look at the numbers and results.

If a ranch can support 100 head of 1,400-pound cows, it will support 120 head of 1,100-pound cows – on the exact same inputs.”

“Larger cows consume more feed on an individual basis and in many situations, marginal increased weaning weight and cull cow income are not adequate to pay for higher inputs due to increased cow size,” said David Lalman, beef cattle professor at Oklahoma State University.

He went on to add that based on the evidence available; it appears that each additional 100 pounds of cow weight generates about $6 to $30 of added calf income, depending on the calf market. However, in a 2011 study, the addition of each 100 pounds of cow weight cost an additional $42 due to increased feed costs and grazing land required.

To take this a step farther, in several published economic evaluations of varying cow size and a given land resource, smaller and moderate cows have a financial advantage for three primary reasons: 1) higher stocking rates for smaller cows result in more pounds weaned per acre; 2) lighter calves sell for a higher price per cwt; and 3) the increased revenue from added weaning weights do not offset the higher feed costs of larger cows.

Larger-framed cows may also be at risk for decreased productivity over time.

“Increased size and milk production contribute to heavier weaning weights, but create stresses that can depress fertility,” said Eric Bailey, beef state specialist with the University of Missouri Extension.

Many producers are turning to smaller framed cattle breeds for efficiency and profitability – or at least somewhat smaller framed cows of popular beef breeds. Dexters and Red Devons are making an appearance on farms around the Ozarks due to their manageable size and feed conversion ability.


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