With the beginning of a new year, most of us make resolutions to better ourselves. This is also an excellent time to make new resolutions for your farm operation as well. While the weather is cold and we are spending more time in the house or shop, take this opportunity to develop a management plan for the coming year. Once you have developed and implemented a cattle management plan, it will be much easier to make decisions to improve the profitability of your herd. While we are enjoying a strong cattle market, we can consider other ideas that could lead to even more profits during the coming year. Once you have decided to create a management program there are several areas you should pay close attention to. Consider your management plan in the following areas: cattle selection, recordkeeping, health, forage utilization and nutrition. We will cover each of these briefly to assist in creating an overall plan.
Let’s start by looking at cattle selection. Cattle selection is the beginning of every management plan. If a producer does a poor job in cattle selection, it makes all the other areas more difficult to manage. The biggest problem I am aware of in cattle selection continues to be consistency in the herd. If you will be adding cattle or if you will be purchasing cattle in the coming months, please consider the following. Buy cattle that match!!! Go into the marketplace with a visual of your current herd and select cattle that will match your other cows. Too many times producers select cattle that do not match once they get them on the farm. Select cattle based upon body type, breed, color, quality and disposition. Cattle that are close to the same type are much easier to manage than those that look like a rainbow. Cattle that are alike also will usually have similar needs and demands, will produce similar calves and will allow you flexibility in marketing your calves. Remember, "one bad apple will spoil the whole bunch." Similar cattle will also have similar nutritional demands and will make it easier to create a feeding supplementation program. The final advantage of similar cattle selection is in the area of bull selection. With similar cattle, you can select a bull best fitted for the needs of your cattle market.
If you have made a decision to keep heifers, locate them in a different pasture so you can manage them differently from your mature cow herd. A reminder: when selecting cattle from a livestock auction, pay close attention to details like disposition, udder development and reproductive performance. Other than herd sale-outs, most cattle are at an auction for a reason.
Another key area for management consideration is recordkeeping. A good recordkeeping system will save you money as well as assist in cattle selection. It will also help you to prepare for the National Identification System that will be implemented throughout the country during the coming months and years. A good recordkeeping system including identification, reproductive performance, calving problems, weaning weights of calves, body condition scores and health issues will give you the ammunition needed to cull poor-performing cattle each year. Poor-performing cattle will cost you money and the only way to recognize these poor producers is with proper recordkeeping. For example: a cow that calves every 14 months instead of 12 months will cost you an extra calf in six years. There are several good computer programs available for record-keeping as well as the old standby of a pencil and notebook. Your local Quality Co-op can help you get started by providing ear tags and other methods of cattle identification.
A good health program with proper vaccination and parasite control is another area of cattle management easily overlooked. I have been on several farms that have suffered from poor reproductive performance as well as poor body condition due to an inadequate health program. A proper health program is used as a preventative while an improper health program is used as a cure. A proper health program consists of internal and external parasite control, reproductive vaccinations and blackleg vaccinations. Other vaccinations for problems like warts and pinkeye are also available and should be considered when working your cattle. Also remember, it is imperative to have a facility allowing you to work your cattle easily and safely. Again, your local Co-op can help you in developing a program and providing the vaccines and parasite control products needed for a proper vaccination program.
They can also assist in selecting handling equipment to help keep you and your cattle safe. Poor facilities lead to stressed cattle and lost body weight.
Next, let’s look at forage utilization and then nutrition as integral parts of a detailed management program. Once you have selected like cattle, have implemented a record-keeping system as well as a health program, you now look at a feeding program. Nutrition and genetics work hand-in-hand to create a desirable end-result. A great nutrition program cannot overcome poor genetics, while great genetics cannot reach its full potential without adequate nutrition. This statement, while simple, is overlooked time and time again on farms throughout the state.
When looking at a nutrition program we start with what is available naturally, and that is forage. Whether hay or standing grass, your nutrition program will be based upon this. With something this important, "know what you got." Send in soil samples and fertilize based upon these recommendations. Send in hay samples from each cutting and see how nutritionally sound the hay is. If you know the forage quality, you will know what is needed to supplement for maximum performance.
You should also pay close attention to weed control. Weeds will reduce the overall quality of the forage as well as take away needed nutrition from your grass.
We can help you in taking and making recommendations on soil samples, as well as helping analyze your forage. Your Co-op also carries weed control products and the knowledge to help you select the proper herbicide program for your farm.
A final piece to the management program can now be implemented. Nutritional supplementation should only be considered after you have looked at all of the other areas. A complete nutrition program will provide supplemental energy, protein, minerals and vitamins to help your operation to maximize profits. So many times, we visit farms that supplement just to be supplementing. Your supplementation program should only be implemented after giving careful consideration to your total management program. Again, we have qualified personnel who are available to assist in selecting the best feed products available to meet the additional nutritional needs of your cattle herd. Also remember, just because a feed is cheaper on a per-ton basis, this does not always lead to your most economical means of supplementing your cattle. Too often, producers purchase a commodity ingredient based upon price without looking at the total nutritional profile of that commodity. I encourage you to research the supplement you are using and see what that commodity is providing your cattle and whether it meets their nutritional needs.
While these are some general ideas to help you to get started in developing and implementing a total management plan, it is by no means the only way to do it. Evaluate your current program and implement ideas you think will best help you improve the overall quality of your operation. You might need several years to completely implement a total program. But once implemented, you will soon see the fruits of your labor.
I would also like to take this opportunity to encourage producers to keep a close eye on the nutritional plane of their cattle herd. While hay was plentiful this past year, most hay crops were harvested at a more mature level, reducing overall nutritional quality. I have also talked with producers who put hay up at a higher moisture level due to poor weather conditions. The months of February and March are always difficult on cattle and I expect this year to be no different. If we can assist you in improving the nutrition levels of your cattle, please let me know.