A Few Thoughts by John Nalivka: Just a few words on cow size
April 5, 2017
I guess the topic of managing cows for size is once again making the rounds. It isn't new and yes it is important. I for one don't think I have anything necessarily new and/or earth shattering to say about it, but I did want to make a couple of comments and that will be that.
I was reading an article recently on the topic of cow size and I was thinking – we were talking about cow size with respect to grazing management in Nevada when I was in graduate school in 1982. In fact, I think there had been a couple of graduate fellowships funded to study the topic before I ever arrived. There was probably value to those studies in that it seemed as though there was a growing trend in breeding toward larger-framed cows with the idea that they wean bigger calves and therefore, generate more dollars to the top line of the financial statement. However, when forage is the limiting resource as it is in Nevada, those larger-framed cows were consuming more forage and consequently, the carrying capacity of the ranch was reduced. This is even more pronounced in a drought year or when the BLM cuts AUMs. It is about capacity and capacity utilization when a ranch is purchased and more so when the purchase is leveraged.
Since I view the primary product on ranch as pounds of beef not number of calves, then as long as the ranch was still producing and selling more pounds of beef, than that is positive. However, from the traditional measure of capacity is number of head, reducing carrying capacity is not a favorable strategy. In fact, the capitalized value of your ranch was just reduced from your purchase price.
But beyond the issue grazing management, the direction of the today's industry demands that cattlemen produce calves with the potential to consistently produce high quality beef. This is where the value lies in the industry as noted by the premiums paid for the calves, the feeder cattle, and the finished cattle. These cattle are generally profitable and therefore, making the business sustainable. This is the goal. This is a significant change from having bigger cows to raise bigger calves.
So my final words on cow size have been presented. It is about the managing the grazing resource, the product you produce and sell, and your financial situation. That is sustainability pure and simple.
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