Generally speaking cows… not!

Farm and Dairy file photo

All generalizations are false.

Or rather, let’s say most of them have a lot of exceptions — because if they were all false, that opening statement would be both true and false. Can we have it both ways?


Let’s say the full-time producers think if you have cows and a full-time job that does not include the cows, then you have a hobby herd.

It’s fine to have a weekend diversion for fun with your horses, and a source for the next beginning 4-H club project. And it gives you a reason to tow a stock trailer sometimes. But c’mon: You’re just playing, right? You’re not in it to make a profit or improve your herd. Don’t be so sure.

Sometimes the lifestyle seems like play for every size of farm or ranch, when the family enjoys what they’re doing. But sometimes things go wrong regardless of herd size, and a loss for a small operator is a bigger percentage loss.

A manager of the smallest herd can still use most of the science and animal husbandry of a large, commercial ranch.

Herd size

With an average herd size of 40 cows in the United States, we know most outfits are too small to allow the option of sending a semi-trailer load of calves off to a feedlot or selling load lots at an auction market.

But they can network with family and friends to pool a load. They can finish as few as three to five calves in a state or regional feeding futurity.

Local market

They can work with the local auction market to document health and improve genetics to suit the buyers. They can and many do make rapid herd improvement with artificial insemination (AI) and timed breeding to fit their non-farm schedules.

Commodity cows

Some small herds are made up of random commodity cows, but you can say the same about some large herds. On average, a herd can be relatively great or poor, but cows are individuals with strengths and weaknesses. A small producer with records and focus can use AI breeding strategies to build on or fix those in the next generation.

Life experience

Now let’s go back to the assertion that full-timers look down on part-timers as “mere hobbyists.” That’s actually just another generalization that doesn’t hold up to most real-life experience.

Sure, there are a few who feel that way, but part of the ranching culture is appreciation of their fellow producers of every size, scale and focus. The large producer is often saddled with another generalization: they can’t practice individual animal management when there are so many cattle.

We know many managers who prove that’s wrong, from the rancher who sees that each of 500 calves are tagged and records brought to bear on their dams, or the commercial cattle feeder who takes the same care with thousands of customer cattle.

And the common ground is knowing they are in business to produce food for consumers who enjoy great beef.


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