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Cow-calf profitability by the numbers

These days, we often see popular news segments describing topics “by the numbers.” Let’s see if we can apply this “by-the-numbers” format to some important aspects of cow-calf profitability.


We strive to get one live calf to market for each cow exposed every year. Management decisions can impact this outcome year-round.


Calve heifers at two years of age. While this is not a feat, it is a challenge to develop heifers in a manner closely resembling the herd nutrition program and environment. I’ll explain more in-depth below.


Three-year-old cows are often the hardest to get re-bred. They are still growing and lactating and could have a negative energy balance at breeding, whereas cows with a positive energy balance will breed much better. Some heifers are provided unrealistic nutrition as they develop, allowing heifers who perform poorly at reproduction to conceive. However, once in a more stable environment, those poorly performing heifers will likely fall out of the herd as three- or four-year-olds. Ideally, your heifer development program should put enough selection pressure on these animals so they do not conceive and do not enter the herd as bred heifers. You will save money by identifying these heifers sooner rather than later.
RELATED PODCAST: Getting a return on investment in the cow-calf industry


There are four seasons in a year; do you have a different supplementation program tailored to your production goals for each of them? It should be noted, though, that the nutrient availability and nutrient needs of the cow vary from month to month — and, as such, four programs per year may actually not be enough.


When your cows have a Body Condition Score (BCS) of 5.5 at calving, you will have better conception rates at breeding. CRYSTALYX® has an excellent —and FREE! — app for your smartphone that can help you track your herd’s BCS over time.


A BCS of 6 may be your goal at calving, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, aiming for an even higher BCS isn’t likely to help conception rates much, but it will certainly increase your feed costs.


CRYSTALYX is available to your herd 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A set of CRYSTALYX barrels should last your herd between 14 and 24 days, depending on the formula (i.e., protein or mineral) and the exact stocking rate of animals per barrel.

21, 50.

A beef cow in good condition will cycle every 21 days. If she misses one cycle and conceives 21 days later, the calf will likely be 50 pounds lighter at weaning time. Providing proper nutrition to both the cow and the bull, however, can work in your favor by helping move these numbers in the other direction. Cows that conceive one cycle sooner should have a calf that is around 50 pounds heavier at weaning.

18, 40.

Research shows that, as a group, heifers fed with Blueprint® supplements conceived an average of 18 days sooner. Consequently, their calves could be an average of 40 pounds heavier at weaning. 

45, 60.

More and more cattlemen are transitioning to 45- or 60-day calving/breeding seasons —  essentially giving a cow two or three chances to get bred. To some, this may seem like a lofty goal, but it can happen with good genetics, good nutrition and good management.


Over the 20-odd years I have been working with CRYSTALYX Brand Supplements, many long-time CRYSTALYX users have told me that they think that around 85 percent of their calves have been born within the first three weeks, or in the first cycle. While speaking with one customer who had reported this, I commented that he must be pleased. He responded, “Yes, but what if we had gotten a blizzard one of those weeks?” Sometimes, it really is hard to tell if someone sees the glass as half-full or half-empty.

365, 283, 82.

Ultimately, these are probably the most important numbers to keep in mind. Cattlemen strive every day to make these three numbers work: 365 days per year, minus the average gestation length of 283 days, leaves you with about 82 days to get a cow bred in order to keep her in line with #1 above.

CRYSTALYX offers supplements that can help you achieve any of these numbers, or any other numbers you set as goals for your herd.

CRYSTALYX self-fed supplements are an affordable way to provide protein, trace minerals, vitamins, macro-minerals and certain additives in a highly palatable form that’s available 24/7, all while minimizing your investment in time, labor and equipment.