There’s a lot more to the Cattle Industry Convention than the 8 acres of indoor trade show exhibits and the politics of beef industry leadership. There are also several hours’ worth of educational seminars that fall under the banner of Cattlemen’s College.
Cattle ranchers and farmers at the convention in Florida can choose to attend sessions on a couple of dozen topics. Here’s what they learned at three of the more popular Cattlemen’s College classes.
How to expand a cow herd
With the nation’s cow herd at historic lows, drought fading away in some areas, and record high calf prices, many cow-calf producers are in expansion mode. That’s well and good, Texas A&M beef cattle specialist Clay Mathis told producers, but why not let expansion be an opportunity to improve your entire operation?
He used the real-life example of three ranches he’s helped in the past; one in Wyoming, one in Nebraska, and one in Texas. When those ranches expanded, they gave great thoughtfulness to overall productivity, rangeland stewardship, labor efficiency, and the bottom line.
As an example, the 3,000-cow Wyoming ranch switched from raising their own heifers to buying replacement heifers. That (and other changes) let them cut their labor force from 13 people to just 4, and improve the genetics.
The Nebraska ranch incorporated the power of crossbreeding into their herd with a four-breed composite approach. “One study I’ve seen says that crossbred cows stay in the herd an extra 1.8 years on average, and wean an extra 1,000 pounds of calf weight in their lifetimes,” Mathis said.
He also said these expansion-minded producers are numbers junkies, especially when it comes to numbers of the bottom line. For instance, he said, they know that about 70% of their costs for a cow herd are fixed costs – they go on regardless of the number of cows you have. In a 100-cow herd, if you add just one more cow and your fixed costs stay the same, net revenue could go up 13%.
The Texas ranch has incorporated a year-around grazing system without hay, and just minimal supplemental feed. That lets it run 1,500 cows with just one employee.
When to sell culls
If you’re selling your cull cows in the fall after weaning, you’re probably leaving money on the table. Patrick Linnell of CattleFax said that prices paid for cull cows are one of the most predictable of all cattle markets. Records for over 20 years show that cull values peak in the middle part of the year in the height of hamburger demand, and that’s where most cull cow meat ends up. Summer is also when the fewest cows come to market.
From the peak in July to the low in November, cull cows lose 12% of their value on average. That’s over $100 per head difference.
If you want to beat the system with your culls, Linnell gave a few options.
- Move your culling season ahead to the summer.
- Retain ownership after the fall glut of cows and add some weight to them. Keeping them from November to February might add $180 per head to gross value with the extra weight and a better market. “But at what cost?” Linnell asks.
- Direct market to the hamburger market.
- Sell late-bred cows into the bred cow market. “If she still has value as a bred cow, that could add $400 to her value,” said Linnell.
An ugly truth about cull cows
Wayne Morgan is the president of protein products for Golden State Foods. His company purchases beef trimmings and custom makes them into hamburger patties for some of the biggest meat retailers in the world, including McDonald’s. Golden State makes and ships 5 million beef patties a day!
Morgan told beef farmers about an ugly truth in the beef trimmings market: Too many carcasses have foreign non-meat objects in them. That could be gloves, hooks, cardboard, and other things from the slaughter plant. But far and away the biggest foreign object in beef trimmings is something you might never guess: birdshot. (They’re the small metal pellets that are shot from a rifle.)
“It’s number one,” Morgan said. He can only guess where the birdshot comes from, but it most likely happened on the farm. “Who’s doing the shooting? I don’t know, maybe it’s hunters or somebody shooting at the neighbors bulls. All I know is that we have to invest in metal detectors in our plants. We can’t afford to have any foreign object in meat.”
Golden State plants have six levels of metal detectors and x ray machines working to find the contaminants. “It’s expensive equipment, and takes a lot of maintenance. If a metal detector breaks, everything that’s been in the system is then suspect and has to be re-examined,” Morgan said.
They throw away 80,000 pounds of meat a year that is contaminated. Morgan’s solution: “Stop shooting cows! I know you aren’t the one doing it, but you’re the influencer who can stop whoever is doing it.”