Cattle producers look at efficiency to fine-tune the cowherd

Teresa Clark
for The Fence Post
Jeff Weyers of Zinpro co-hosts a student luncheon sharing tips for career success at the High Plains Nutrition and Management Roundtable in Laramie, Wyo.
Photo by Teresa Clark

The U.S. cattle industry is producing 14 percent more beef today, with 1.8 million fewer cows. Despite that, commercial cowherd fertility has made no progress in recent years, with the exception of calving difficulty, according to a professor with the Department of Food and Animal Sciences at Oklahoma State University.

David Lalman spoke about fine-tuning an efficient cowherd during the recent High Plains Nutrition and Management Roundtable in Laramie, Wyo.

Lalman told producers substantial evidence exists that the environment limits calf weights at weaning.

“I think individual ranch records are becoming more important. Ranchers can look at their records and evaluate them to see that weaning weight is going up. If weaning weights aren’t going up, they may need to change their genetics. But a lot of other things can influence weaning weight besides cow size.”

For each 200 pound increase in cow weight, Lalman said producers should expect a 6-32 pound increase in calf weights, according to eight separate studies. However, these studies also indicate a 200 pound increase in cow weight increases annual cow costs by $40-$50 annually.

Lalman told producers that although cow size is increasing, GI and liver mass is still less than 10 percent of the cow’s body mass, but uses 40-50 percent of the total energy expended by the cow. At some point, Lalman said maintenance requirements for larger cows will limit what rangeland forages can support.

He said that producers need to do more to control feed intake within their cowherd. “Controlling feed intake for growing cattle consuming high-quality concentrates or high-quality mixed diets will create more efficient cows, and can still improve post weaning traits,” he said. “Producers should be willing to challenge their cows, and cull those that don’t meet their expectations.”

Selecting for moderate size, milk and muscling are key. “Don’t gradually modify the environment to fit the cow. Instead, match your cows to your forage resources,” he said.


Robbi Pritchard with the University of Nebraska questioned whether finished cattle can get any bigger. “Most people already think they are too big. If weaning weights get bigger, that will make the spread between weaning weights and finished weights smaller. So, where is the right number for weaning weights? More is not the goal,” he said.

As weaning weights increase, Pritchard said the cow’s energy needs increase, birth weight increases, fleshier calves are produced, and calf feed costs go up. Bulls can also cost more, he said. “If you add 20 pounds of weaning weight to a calf, what does that cost in a bull? You will be spending more on a bull that may only last two years.”

Pritchard encouraged producers to implant calves at branding. “When an auctioneer brags up implants and the 40 pounds of added weight of that calf, remember that half of that weight comes from the implant and the other half from management.” Feedlots started to complain, Pritchard said, so implanted calves were discounted. “Implants are limited by the genetic potential of that calf. Feedlots think they are losing growth because of the implant, but it’s actually limits in the calf’s genetic potential,” he said.

Pritchard shared several studies with producers showing the financial benefits they can get from implanting their calves. However, he urged producers to implant them correctly. “Don’t implant them at birth and don’t implant late calves that are less than three weeks old at branding,” he said.

Synovex C and Ralgro are the only two implants approved for suckling calves. “It is also important to make a plan for what you plan to do with the calves post-weaning, or you will give it all back,” he said.

Milk and grass matter. “There is no benefit to implanting if the grass doesn’t give a gain of at least 1.7 pounds a day,” he said. He also recommended skipping implants for heifers.

Technique is also important. “You must audit your implant technique. If you just grab someone, it’s 30 days later and only 64 percent of the implants may be effective. The new generation needs to be educated on how to implant calves or they won’t be happy with how the implant performs,” Pritchard told producers.


Can the world produce 70 percent more food?

By 2050, the global demand for food is expected to increase by 70 percent. According to Kim Stackhouse of JBS USA, predictions are for 40 million extra metric tons of beef and 100 million more metric tons of poultry. The question is how to meet that demand with the resources available. “The newest challenge for us is how to innovate and become more efficient. The U.S. will become the powerhouse for doing this for the world. Fortunately, we have a long history of meeting demand. Ten years ago, we started seeing dressed weight for carcasses explode. Cattle dress at an average of 63.5 percent now,” she said.

Stackhouse said the beef industry has adjusted to consumer change and response, which is evident in the evolution of the meat case. “Consumers have a lot of choices today. We have innovated for our customers. We have started making leaner cuts, and eliminated the amount of fat we have to trim. We are progressive people looking to do better,” she said. ❖