Vet’s Voice by Dr. Dave Barz: Short term cows can hold value
October 28, 2015
It's clear that the national cowherd is undergoing expansion. You must evaluate your position in beef production and plot your future. The cow calf producer has earned excellent returns over the past several years. As the cow-herd increases calf prices have become volatile while cow prices have remained relatively constant. There are many ways to increase your herd in both the short term and long term.
Normally cow prices decrease this time of year as the western cows are culled after weaning and marketed. In eastern South Dakota we tend to keep older cows in our herds because we feed heavily rather than forcing winter grazing. Many of the western "culls" move to our area and enter herds. We like to call these flip cows, because the animals may be marketed at many times and stages of gestation.
Cows may be purchased and fed. They are usually thin when they arrive and gain weight through the winter. If the cows are preg checked and open, they will be sold to slaughter. Pregnant cows may be marketed as breds. You may also calve these cows and then market them as pairs or turn to grass to rebreed. When grass is short many of these pairs are kept in feedlots and fattened while the calves are nursing. The cows are marketed to slaughter in August and the calves are weaned in the lot. They are already bunk broke because they were eating with the cows. This type of purchase will add cows to your herd for six months to several years. If the cow market remains constant, your initial investment will be returned when the cow is sold for slaughter.
The perpetual question for the cow-calf producer is heifer retention and the cost of heifer development. Many producers prefer to develop their own heifers, because they know their history and breeding. Now we have genomic testing which can analyze heifer's DNA and rank them to help predict their productivity. This will prove to be an important means of selection of the both home raised and purchased heifers.
Artificial Insemination (AI) is easily accomplished in heifers. Timed AI generates about a 65 percent conception rate. Our calculations indicate a cost of around $80/head for drugs, semen and technician skills. If I use a bull, I would expect 90 percent conception rate. An adequate calving ease bull would cost $5,000 and could be sold in two years for $1,800 salvage. Assuming the bull breeds 25 head per year, you have a breeding cost of $90 per head. We feel that an AI calf may weigh 70-80 pounds more than a bull bred calf. Sexed semen also allows choice of the calf's sex as well as specific traits. 2014 was the first year in the ten years developed heifers would be less expensive than those purchased on the open market.
Many of you are planning to increase your herds. Decide whether you are seeking short or long term expansion. Consult with your extension specialist or veterinarian to devise a plan for your herd. Allow these prosperous times to increase the returns of your cow-calf operation.