Vet’s Voice: Herd-health risk management
May 31, 2012
Now that Memorial Day has passed, summer must be close at hand. Most farmers and ranchers were able to put their crops in during a cool, dry May. There have been streaks of heavy rains, but most could use an inch or so of rain. The windy and rainy holiday weekend was an ideal time to move cows and calves to grass.
Calf prices are still good, but input costs are also rising. The buzz word in the cattle industry now is “risk management.” Most people believe they need a broker to help them manage risk, when in fact there are many ways they can manage risk.
Preventative herd health allows producers to monitor costs and minimize expenditures. Vaccination and health care usually amount to 2-5 percent of the cost of production. These few well-spent dollars allow producers to generate more income. Healthy, well-vaccinated calves gain better and have better feed conversion. This is important, especially when cost of feed is often the single highest operational cost. Careful cow vaccination also helps more cows stay pregnant in the first heat cycle. This improved reproductive efficiency is very important because it takes five to six years to recover the cost of heifer development.
Implants are also an excellent way to improve efficiency. The cost of pasture rent, as well as the cost of grain, is very high. The more efficient cattle are, the more the herd profits.
Feed is the most expensive line item for the cow-calf herd – accounting for 50 percent of overall costs for most herds. Keep and eye on animals, whether they are on pasture or in the lot. Do not over feed, but attempt to keep them in appropriate body condition for the operation. If animals fall below ideal condition, it takes extra feed to get them back into shape to avoid reproductive losses.
Feed waste also needs to be controlled. If 10 percent of winter feed or pasture is wasted, it can add $40-$50 per head the cost of production. It is best to strip graze (paddock) pastures for efficiency and to winter feed in bunks rather than ground feed.
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Cows that calve in good body condition also have better quality colostrum and produce strong calves which suckle and resist disease.
Pregnancy-check and sort cows as early as possible. This allows cows to be marketed before calving. Opens, lames, etc. may be fed to regain some pounds before slaughter.
Many believe risk management involves controlling feed costs and establishing market price through futures contracts. This is important to lending institutions, but producers can do much more to limit risk. Healthy, well-cared for animals convert feed more efficiently thereby lowering the cost of production. Limiting reproductive losses and poor health helps improve returns. Minimizing feed waste also decreases the cost of production.
Careful attention to details helps decrease the cost of production and increase the profitability of the cowherd.
Dave Barz is a veterinarian at Northwest Veterinary Supply in Parkston, SD.