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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

The Cattle Business - VA Cow Herd Performance Check-Up

Livestock Update, June 2002

Bill R. McKinnon, Extension Animal Scientist, Marketing, VA Tech

If cow/calf owners are to treat their operations as true business enterprises, they must be managed as businesses. The business manager must routinely calculate some basic measures of herd performance. For years, the nation's producers have had access to the Standardized Performance Analysis (SPA) and later, SPA-EZ, a more abbreviated performance tool. Perhaps, due to the depth of analysis and effort required, very few Virginia cow/calf operators ever completed either of the SPA analysis packages. During late 2001, a new Extension worksheet/publication was released to help cow/calf producers conduct a simple audit of their operations. The Virginia Cow Herd Performance Check-Up is designed to allow producers with very basic cowherd records to calculate various measures of reproductive, calf growth, and marketing performance.

In several Extension meetings last fall and winter, cow/calf producers were encouraged to conduct a Performance Check-Up of their operation to establish a baseline level of performance. Operators can perform a check-up annually to measure their year to year progress. Additionally, those producers who completed the Performance Check-Up were encouraged to forward a copy to the Virginia Tech Animal and Poultry Sciences Department. Those submitted analyses were kept confidential but were used to develop an aggregate of Virginia herds.

A group of nine fall calving operations was used to develop an aggregate for the 2001 production year. Not enough spring calving herds were submitted to conduct an aggregate for those herds. Using simple averages across herds the following data was generated from the nine herd group.

2001 Virginia Cow Herd Performance Check-Up
Fall Calving Herds

Number of cows and bred heifers on hand Jan.1 67.7 hd.
Herd calving percent 96.9 %
Percent calf death loss 1.4 %
Length of calving season for mature cows 94 days
Percent mature cows calving Day 1 - 21 45.9 %
Percent mature cows calving Day 22 - 42 29.5 %
Percent mature cows calving Day 43 - 6319.5 %
Percent mature cows calving by Day 63 95.2 %
Approximate average calving date Nov. 11
Approximate average calf age at weaning 8.2 mos.
Average calf sale weight 588 lb.
Average sale price per hundredweight $89.80
Average calf weaning weight of all calves 593 lb.
Pounds of calf weaned per cow exposed 562 lb.
Average value per cwt. of calf weaned $88.77
Average calf value per cow exposed $494.90
Cow herd percent death loss 2.1 %
Date winter hay or silage feeding to cow began Nov. 13
Number of days cows fed hay or silage 132 days

It should be obvious that in several areas the average management of these nine herds was exceptional. Especially notable is a herd calving percent of 96.9%. Herd calving percent is calculated by dividing the number of females calving by the number of females exposed to bulls and/or A.I. (after adjustments for inventory changes). Another admirable area of reproductive performance is to have 95.2% of the mature to calve within 63 days or three estrous cycles. Additionally, an average weaning of all calves of 593 equates to a weight per day of age of 2.38. Assuming an average 80 pound birth weight, these calves had an average daily gain of 2.06, which is very commendable for fall born calves.

Though other basic areas of herd reproduction seem excellent, having only 45.9% of mature cows calving within the first 21 days of the calving season might require some attention. A goal of 65% of mature cows calving by day 21 provides for more older calves at weaning and allows more days for cows to be rebred during a restricted calving season. Most operators should seek methods to reduce the number of days that the cowherd must be hand fed.

The above analysis also indicates an average starting date for winter feeding of November 13 and a winter feeding period of 132 days. The drought conditions in Virginia during the summer and fall of 2000 played a huge role in the early winter feeding required during 2000-2001. One of the most important areas of cost cutting in cow herds is to reduce the days that hand feeding of cows is required.

Basic pieces of information required to conduct a Cow Herd Performance Check-Up include cow inventory records, calving records, calf sale receipts, and cow sale receipts. A copy of the Virginia Cow Herd Performance Check-Up is available at the local Cooperative Extension office or in the internet at

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