The Cattle Business - Herd Check-Up
Livestock Update, January 2002
Bill R. McKinnon, Extension Animal Scientist, Marketing, Virginia Tech
It is time for cow/calf operators to decide whether they are in the cow business or just "run a few cows." Most cow/calf operations have tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in their enterprises and yet may not manage them as businesses. Some very simple observations of basic cow herd records can be revealing and serve as an effective management tool.
If the cow/calf operator can assemble his calving records and sales receipts for the year, he can complete a new basic worksheet, the Virginia Cow Herd Performance Check-Up. The check-up form allows the manager to utilize the most basic of cow herd records to calculate some important measures of performance. By following the form and calculating such reproductive measure such as herd calving percent and length of calving season, the operator can take a quick reading on the herdžs reproductive status. In calculating measures such as the percent of the mature cows that calved within the first twenty-one days, the effectiveness of the herd's nutrition program can be gauged. Probably the most significant benchmark of a herd's combined reproductive and growth performance is the pounds of calf weaned per cow exposed. Operators can determine this measure and the average value of calf per cow exposed by working through the check-up form. All the information needed to fill in the form can be found in the owner's IRM Red Book, the green BCIA calving record book, or some other calving record, along with calf and cow sales receipts coupled with a little memory.
The real power in using any herd analysis tool comes from comparing the results against the previous yearžs performance or with other herds within a region. For those producers who wish to participate, they can submit their analysis to become part of a Virginia Performance Check-Up aggregate. The Animal and Poultry Science Extension group will create an aggregate analysis of check-up forms submitted. Those operations submitting a copy of their check-up form will be pooled with other Virginia operations to create average production and economic measures. The aggregate information will be distributed back to those farms submitting data. The process will allow managers to identify strengths and weaknesses of their cow/calf business compared to other Virginia operations. Individual farm identity and data is kept strictly confidential. Smaller groups of producers such as local cattlemen's group may want generate a local aggregate.
The Virginia Cow Herd Performance Check-Up is available through the local Extension office or by download from the internet at http://www.ext.vt.edu/resources/anrpublications.html. Directions for each line accompany the form. An Excel spreadsheet version of the form is also available from the local Extension office. Those folks who "run a few cows" probably will not be interested in any real measures of cow herd efficiency, but the serious cow herd managers will feel compelled to make improvement. The old saying goes, "You canžt improve what you canžt measure."