Tag Archives: open

Challenges or Opportunities

Oftentimes, we view challenges as mountains to overcome, but sometimes, those challenges are opportunities to diversify or force us to find the holes in our operations, the ‘dead wood’ as Stan Parson would call it.

I’ve penciled feeding hay vs grazing only. And even though feeding hay – even cheap hay and high calf prices – it is seldom (actually never) the path to take. Yet, i’ve taken it and been exhausted by mid-winter feeding hay! Now that i’m older, i must – forced, if you will — eliminate that practice. This year is tough – we are in a drought, so eliminating hay this year with little winter stockpile forage growth means a deep culling of my cow herd.

As markets have changed from their high in 2014, I also must let go of my beautifully colored Corriente and Longhorn cows. They have been a joy, but i can no longer justify the current deep discount those crossbred calves bring at market. My cow herd after November 19, 2020 will be almost exclusively black or red Angus.

Going forward, i’ve rigidly utilized the clever alliteration from the Noble Research Institute Foundation to start with my culling selections.

Old, Ornery, or Open.

This should be used every year actually, but i’ve let too many cows slide (not the ornery ones – they go quickly) through the years and this year is the year to clean up and add value. This year’s cattle prices have a lot of pressure with low demand and anything a bit off is deeply discounted.

  1. Even if a cow has really nice calf at side but comes up open (not pregnant) she needs selling because she will be freeloading for another year at least once her calf at side is sold. Plus, if she has a heifer i keep as a replacement, those poor conception genetics stay in my herd. Gone and gone. This cow may be a perfect fit for a fall calving buyer or one with better forages.
This particular red cow is actually pregnant and raising a decent calf, however she is a bit thin and shouldn’t be this time of year, so she will be sold as a 3 in 1 (3 animals in 1 package). Her pregnancy is a calf, not a blob of cells. The spotted cow with her butt to the camera also has a very nice calf, but she is not pregnant as indicated by the chartreuse ear tag we gave her to make it easier to sort off, she’ll be sold as a pair.

2. If a cow was bred and lost her calf sometime during the year and is open or bred back, i sell her. If she doesn’t bring a coupon (calf), she becomes the coupon.

This beautiful Corriente cow has made a lot of money for me, but she lost her calf this spring. She is bred back, starting to slip in condition, and is extremely old. She may have a difficult time making it through our harsh winter this year, so she can go to someone who may have a more gentle program. She has, until this spring, raised a big good calf for me for 12 years – she was middle aged when i bought her 12 years ago. She actually even carried an ET bull calf and raised it nicely. It’s tempting to keep her and let her die on the ranch and if she had a heifer calf at side i would do that.

3. Ornery is self explanatory. I used the same black Angus bulls for 3 years and one or more of them developed really bad attitudes. By the third year, i’d had enough and when i got them loaded out of the breeding pasture, I called the sale barn owner and asked i could just bring them up (there was a sale that day). Sold them (weighed up – i sure didn’t want anyone else have this problem) and so glad, but despite selecting my heifers very carefully for disposition, over the course of a couple years, some of them have become cranky. Now, i’m going to say, i’m much pickier on attitude than some people. I have 3 generations to work through.

This heifer coming with her first calf is bred and nice shape – you can note the Corriente touch in her. However, she is only being sold because she has snorted at me a couple times – even in the pasture. She doesn’t come after me, but i won’t tolerate a cow that raises her head and runs off or snorts at me.

4. As i wrote above, I will sell all my fancy, colored, cows with chrome – all euphemisms for being spotted or off colored. At the market, the quality of the animal is irrelevant if it is spotted. To quickly add value to the remaining calf crop is to just take my beating now and sell those beautiful cows and be done. 😦

This beautiful first calf heifer bred back in my 45 day breeding season and is raising a fantastic calf, yet both will be heavily discounted at the sale. Nevertheless, my goal is to eliminate ‘fancy’ cattle from my herd. It’s hard to cull a fine heifer strictly on color. 😦 You can see some hay set out in a spaced bale feeding scheme for winter. This is to not only feed cows, but add organic matter and build humus to the soil of that practically barren hillside.

5. If any cow had difficulty maintaining good body condition through the summer, she will also be sold. Even if she is bred back and/or has a good calf at side – eventually, she will come open. Selling her now at her peak.

6. Any cow with a dink calf (smaller or rougher haired than the other calves of the peer group) she will be sold with her calf. Usually, this happens with old cows, so they will be sorted off anyway – it’s just another mark against her.

Sell Now or Sell Later

There has always been great debate about whether or not to sell open (not pregnant) cows in the fall at pregnancy check or turn the bull back in with them and see if they’ll breed for another season, then sell them pregnant.  Many trade publications will encourage producers to ‘add value’ to a cull cow, but i seriously question the validity of such endeavor, but then again, i’m not an expert with numbers, i’m just lazy and don’t want to be shifting and handling and sorting my cows more than necessary.

It’s easy enough to simply put numbers to the various practices, then make your favourite decision.

My first stumbling block with the concept of adding value to one of my cull cows has to do with passing off a potentially problem cow to my neighbor.  That doesn’t sound very neighborly or make good business since.  However, one could simply ‘add value’ by pouring the feed to the cow to make her fat and increasing the grade or value for slaughter.  It also could be justified by the fact that my management is super low input and most of my cows would thrive in another producer’s management style.

Let’s compare:

Pregnancy check in the fall reveals 10 open cows.  My cows all have a calf at side or they’d already be sold, so 14-30 days after the calves have received their vaccines, I’ll wean the calf by selling off the cow to slaughter.  She’s not going to be in the fattest condition because she’s nursing a nice calf and a non-fat cow will not bring top dollar.

For example, the different cow classes are as follows:

SLAUGHTER COWS:

  1. Breaking and Boning (75-85% lean) $47.50-$57.50
  2. High dressing $58.00-$67.00.
  3. Lean (85-90%) $44.00-$54.50

Cows in the fall nursing a calf will typically fall in the Lean or Breaking and Boning categories and this year are bringing about $43/cwt (hundredweight).  My cows are primarily Corriente or Corriente cross and will weigh about 800 lbs (by comparison and Angus or other beefier breed will weigh 1200 lbs, although she still may be thin and be in the same category).

 

OR

Keep the cow and turn the bull back with her and hope she gets bred – Let’s say there is 70% chance that she will.  So, we keep the cow until she is in the 2nd stage of pregnancy or about 5-6 months along.

Therefore, if she would bring $875/head as a P2 cow (and this would be a stretch if she is older than 5 or 6).

OR

Leave the bulls in with the cows an additional 20-30 days and hope that another 50% of the potentially open cows actually breed, then sell the bred cows that calved late as well as the open cows in mid-December.

Let’s compare:

10 $105 -$1,050 labor
10 $127 -$1,270 pasture costs
7 $875 $6,125 bred cows sold
3 $400 $1,200 open cows sold
$5,005  keep and sell in June
vs
5 $360 $1,800 open cows sold
5 $675 $3,375 bred cows sold
$5,175  sell in December
($170)

Things to consider.Interestingly, in my opinion, these numbers probably won’t change even if one leaves the bulls in for another 20 days, sort out the cows that have not calved by 10 June and selling them as ready to calve in the last trimester (P3).  In this part of the country (Missouri, USA) a summer calving P3 cow is not as desirable as a fall calving P2 even though i’ve credited her with more value in my chart above.

Leaving the bulls in an additional 20 days is advantage for me in that i avoid having to handle the cattle during ragweed allergy season.  My allergies are so bad, that this is a serious consideration.  However, the reality of bringing in the cows with baby calves and sorting off the one which haven’t calved yet is that it likely won’t happen and one would be right back to a 65 day calving season.  However, those cow numbers could be written down, paired up in the fall and then sold as pairs when animals are mustered in for preg check and calf vaccinations.

The point of changing the time and reducing the length of breeding season was to avoid ragweed allergy season.  However, i discovered that at least this year, i was unable to withstand the debilitating effects of ragweed as late as 1 September.   Also, the longer the calving season, the more inconvenient it is to shift the animals through a managed rotation.

Other alternative is to separate those open cows and a bull put in with them.  Disadvantage is that a separate herd must be maintained for 7 months.  Not really a feasible situation.

So, now that i’ve thought through the pros and cons of the various scenarios, especially solving the issue with allergies i will plan to leave the bulls in an additional 20 days, thereby hauling them out about 20 September.  This means, however, that the following spring that i’ll be dealing with an additional 20 days of baby calves to shift (yes, this is a pain in the butt) and be diligent to write down the numbers of those cows calving late so they can be sorted off during preg check in November.    If half of those late calvers go ahead and get bred, it will add dollars to my bottom line without adding much expense.  Most importantly, it solves the allergy issue.

WOTB – (working on the business)

Cheers

tauna