Evaluating a herd is key to keeping it on track for the goals set by the producer

When a producer is around their herd day in and day out, sometimes it can be easy to tune out the finer details of the group. 

In order to stay on top of management, it is a wise idea for producers to periodically take a step back and analyze their herd to make sure they are staying on track with their herd goals. 

In order to analyze the herd, a producer first needs to have data to study – therefore, record keeping is extremely important. The Noble Research Institute in Oklahoma offers producers numerous apps and desktop spreadsheets to assist with keeping useful, organized records. 

Eldon Cole, livestock field specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, advised producers to utilize objective data from their records and look at the numbers when analyzing their operation’s strengths and weaknesses. He suggested more subjective information, such as structural soundness, conformation and various convenience traits of individual animals, can be considered after a look at the numbers. 

Numerical data producers might consider include, a herd inventory, pregnancy rate, weaning data (total number, weights and average weights), the average cow production in pounds and, of course, income and expenses. Using objective data can help a producer make decisions about which animals to keep and which to cull without as much emotional attachment. 

“It’s easy to become attached to animals but if they’re not paying their way, cut the cord,” Cole advised. 

A stringent herd analysis, formed from objective data, can be a tool to guide producers toward long-term improvements. 

“As I work with beef producers, I feel one of the basic improvements they should make is to improve their product they will market,” Cole said. 

He suggested some strategies for overall herd improvement could be to analyze how to improve the calf crop percentage, shorten the calving interval, put more early growth on calves, and to track carcass quality. Using a herd analysis to make improvements can take time, but producers should stay the course and keep an open mind. 

“Making a change or improvement in a beef operation is hard to do because the generation interval is so long. If you make a breeding stock selection, such as keeping a heifer you raised or buying a bull, you’re committed for several years,” Cole explained. “This is why you should consider an expanded use of artificial insemination or perhaps embryo transfer. They give you flexibility.”

Analyzing herd genetics is an efficient way to make culling and selection decisions, and to help producers make improvements that align with their herd goals a bit faster. 

“Today, in the beef business, a thorough herd analysis should include a genomic analysis done early in an animal’s life,” Cole advised. “Even for commercial herds, you can use genomics or expected progeny differences (EPDs) to guide your decisions. Genomics will allow you to have data more quickly than having to wait for offspring to be born and raised to slaughter.”

While taking the time to analyze the herd might, at first glance, appear to create more work for the producer, using the results as a tool to create an improved herd that meet the producer’s goals is well worth the effort. 


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