Producers learn how to make operations more profitable at West Central Cattlemen’s Day in Brush
Profit was the name of the game at the West Central Cattlemen’s Day meeting in Brush last week.
Producers were presented with a wealth of knowledge from University of Nebraska and Colorado State University extension researchers about a variety of topics, inclduing grazing systems, the importance of minerals, matching calves to a backgrounding system,bull selection, improving the reproductive efficiency of the herd, and the Beef Quality Assurance program.
The event kicked off with a presentation from Nebraska extension educator Troy Walz discussing how producers can manage their grazing systems. According to Walz, producers need to consider stocking rate, timing of grazing or season of use, distribution and the kind and class of livestock when making grazing decisions. Grazing capacity is important, Walz said.
“It is the total number of animals which may be sustained on a given area based on total forage available,” he said.
The stocking rate is the animal unit demand per unit area over a period of time, Walz continued.
“It influences how well the plant can recover from grazing during the growing season, future forage production, the quality of available forage, animal performance and the long-term change in species composition,” he said.
Travis Taylor, CSU extension educator in Lincoln County, talked about selecting bulls using EPDs. A lot of progress has been made in the accuracy of EPDs, Taylor said, and even more will be made in the next five years. Where ranchers were once limited to selecting bulls by visual appearance, they can now select bulls for a certain trait or groups of traits using EPDs.
EPDs include pedigrees, phenotypic data and heritability estimates. Some traits, like birth weight and body condition score, are more heritable than other traits, like calving ease. With the development of genetic testing, EPDs can be of even more use toward the improvement of a cow program.
Before genetic testing was available, young, unproven sires only had an accuracy rating of .05 or .18 if it had proven ancestors. Now, genetic testing can determine what a bull can really produce.
“It is important to pay attention to the accuracy, because it will help eliminate variations,” Taylor said.
Producers need to be aware of the limitations of EPDs. Mostly, they are individual traits — and breed specific — he said. EPDs can also be impacted by environment, and there are reporting effects within a breed.
“EPDs focus on individual traits, but focusing on these single traits can have an affect on other traits,” he said.
Chris Shelley, CSU extension educator for the Golden Plains area, discussed the importance of minerals in the cattle diet. For cattle, producers need to be concerned with providing 17 essential minerals. The seven macro-minerals are calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, chlorine, magnesium and sulfur. The 10 trace minerals of importance are iron, iodine, zinc, copper, manganese, cobalt, molybdenum, selenium, chromium and nickel.
Shelley said cattle requirements for mineral are dependent on age, size, sex, stage of production and performance. For example, a lactating cow will need more calcium, potassium and magnesium. Mineral requirements also change depending upon what stage of growth the grass is in and any major change in the diet.
Minerals can be added to pasture, mixed with feed or in a complete ration, offered free-choice or injected. Shelley said producers will need to determine which way to provide mineral based on their individual program. Choosing the right mineral is also important.
“One size does not fit all. Producers need to select mineral based on economics, animal requirements and production goals,” he said.
Randy Saner with the University of Nebraska extension said pregnancy has four times more economic impact than any other production trait. Saner talked about how producers can increase the reproductive efficiency within their cow herd. Saner told producers how to use fixed time AI when breeding their cows to get more cows bred at the beginning of the breeding season. He showed the group research that cows who breed later and later in the breeding season will be culled from the herd sooner and produce at least one less calf than her counterparts.
Fixed-time AI can also be used to breed open cows and heifers to generate some additional revenue. Saner also made a comparison of how open cows and heifers bred up, depending upon if the producer gave the animal MGA or used a CIDR. Producers using one of these programs also have the option of breeding these cows and heifers with a bull, if they don’t want to AI.
Erin Laborie, Nebraska extension educator, discussed backgrounding calves and marketing them at a better time. In addition, backgrounding allows producers to utilize inexpensive and homegrown feeds they may have on hand and add weight to small and medium-framed calves.
Backgrounding may not always be profitable, so producers will need to pay close attention to the economics and the market. In an example, Laborie used a 650 pound steer at $1.60 for $960, and an 850 pound steer at $1.30 for $1,105, which is a $145 increase per head. Laborie determined the value of gain at $0.97 per pound by dividing $145 by 150 pounds the calf would need to gain. Laborie also discussed the value of implanting the calf.
Kacy Atkinson, CSU extension livestock agent in Logan County talked about the importance of becoming Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) certified, and the role BQA will play in the future of beef production. Atkinson said 94 percent of consumers have no connection to agriculture, but are showing more concern for environment, sustainability, animal welfare, food safety and nutrition as it relates to food production.
“Ninety-two percent of consumers have concerns about humane treatment of animals,” Atkinson said. “If we can educate them, we can drop that to 8%. The problem is, every time they see an undercover video, they think we all abuse our animals.”
Consumers are also concerned about antibiotic use in meat animals. Atkinson said 82% of consumers have concerns with antibiotics, but only 24% have any familiarity with how they are used. She noted that 78% have no issues with using them to treat sick animals, and 72% have no issues with using them to prevent disease.
“But they don’t believe this is how we are using them, and they don’t understand resistance issues,” she said.
As a whole, Atkinson said the beef industry needs to be more transparent, and producers need to be willing to tell their story.
“We must become more willing to engage in consumer-accepted practices, and do a better job educating consumers about what influences beef quality, safety and wholesomeness,” she said. “The bottom line is we must find ways to assure consumers.” ❖
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