Steps to better cattle herd all begin with measuring.
Maybe you’re just starting out in the cattle business, or maybe you’ve been in it for decades and thought you’d seen it all by now. Either way, this is an exciting time when you can be sure of great risk and, potentially, great rewards.
Let’s say you really like steak. Maybe you’ve known that for decades or you only recently discovered that ideal combination of aroma, tender juiciness and flavor. Either way, this is a time when it costs more than ever to buy a steak, and it’s more likely than ever to be a great experience. Especially if you look for repeatables.
When a steak is great, it’s more than tender — that’s become basic thanks to industry-wide efforts that go back all those decades. Surveys show nearly 95% of the most popular steaks are tender now. So you expect that. When you enjoy a steak that also delivers the juiciness and flavor, you remember where, find out why, from grade to brand, doneness and how it was prepared.
Meanwhile back on the ranch, you’re more likely to earn the greater rewards if you reinvest some of these above-average returns from the market to lift your herd above average performance and grade. Even if you have good cattle and everybody knows it based on repeat buyers over the years, they can always get better. They could become great cattle that produce great beef if you aspire to that as their owner or manager.
Go beyond the idea and make specific goals. Dream with deadlines and steps to get there on time. You’d like to make the herd twice as productive and profitable, but is that even possible? It depends on your starting point and how you measure productivity, but you could start with baby steps and see where they lead.
Those steps all begin with measuring. You can’t even assume a herd is average as you make plans to make it better.
There are lots of cowherd records and accounting programs from academic and commercial developers that you can find by asking your trusted advisers, or you can find some via online Web searches. Typically, those programs contain “default” settings based on industry averages.
Track your own numbers
Your first goal could be to find your actual numbers from field records and scales to tax returns and balance sheets, to replace as many of those defaults as possible. Otherwise, the programs will only spit out default results and you’ll be spinning your wheels.
Most of the programs allow you to enter feedlot performance and carcass traits. If you don’t have that data yet, your first big step should be to start collecting and entering it, probably through a relationship with a cattle feeder and by extension, his or her relationship with a packer.
Along the way, you should document your herd health program, and measure results. Which animals require treatment despite your preventive vaccines? Talk to your veterinarian and find out why.
The road to greatness is paved with records, monitoring and course corrections. There are exits and forks in the road, but there are no roadblocks for the motivated. If you’re guessing about anything or going with yesterday’s conventional wisdom, or cutting the same corners you started snipping when cattle were half this price, get back on track. Talk to your vet, your banker, your marketing partners and get your plan on.
Remember, some of those who really want you to succeed can’t tell you anything directly, but consumers speak volumes through the quality premiums of the value-based market. It doesn’t help you or them to hit the quality target if your herd can’t pay its way along that road to greatness.
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