Getting a return on investment in the cow-calf industry

Jan 31, 2019

For cow-calf producers, profitability has a great deal to do with cow reproductive performance. Tim Clark discusses the importance of body condition scoring your cows prior to breeding to ensure your investment pays off.


Tom:                            I’m Tom Martin. And, I’m talking with Tim Clark, a nutritionist with CRYSTALYX Brand Supplements about getting a return on investment in the cow/calf industry.

                                    Greetings, Tim.

Tim:                             Good afternoon.

Tom:                            And, Tim, as we go into this New Year, cow/calf producers often reflect back and they think, will I get a return on my investment? What can these cattlemen do to ensure that they do see good returns when feeding a low quality forages in the cold weather months?

Tim:                             Yeah, it really comes down to enhancing rumen function and improving fiber digestibility getting more out of their forage, you know, producers really don’t want to go out and buy protein tubs, what they want is cows in good condition and a good calf crop. But, with our quality of forage that we’re feeding the beef herds, we really need that additional protein and carbohydrate that we can deliver through our self-fed supplements that really enhances the digestibility getting more out of it.

Related article: How bred cow nutrition affects body condition

Most of these forages are going to be in the upper single digits to low teens as far as protein and not much for carbohydrate. And from a rumen bacteria standpoint, we really need that little bit of additional protein carbohydrate to really keep things digesting well and getting full benefit out of the forages.

                                    In addition, a lot of times sweet source mineral intake this time of year declines just because of the different feeding situations with feeding forage, so feeding the supplement could deliver protein, carbohydrates, and the mineral package gives you a real benefit. It’s kind of like getting – our research we show 10 to 15% better utilization of your forage. For a producer that’s like for every 50 bales of hay, you’ve got another 5 to 7 bales extra due to the better utilization and a lot of times that’s another 5 to 7 days worth of hay that you don’t have to go buy.

Tom:                            For cow/calf producers profitability has a great deal to do with cow reproductive performance. What’s the significance of monitoring body conditions score or “BCS” in beef cows?

Tim:                             How Mother Nature takes care of the cow is, you know, she needs to get back in a pretty good steadied or good body condition before she’ll become pregnant again. A lot of data out there is suggesting that if cows get a little bit thin, 3 to 4 on the body condition score on a 1 to 10 scale kind of where we’re seeing some hipbones and some ribs, they only become pregnant about 80% of the time.

                                    If we can improve their body condition by just a couple points, another 80 to 100lbs of body weight and get them to a 5 or a 6, then we are going to have pregnancy rates in that 90 to 95% rate. So, for a 50 cow herd, not letting your cows get thin is like having an additional 5, 6 calves.

Tom:                            When should a cow’s BCS be evaluated? Is there a specific time in the production cycle that has a bigger impact on herd profitability?

Tim:                             My preference is doing it at least three times a year prior to calving because that’s kind of the baseline that we’re working from – the condition that she’s in going into the calving season. And it helps us determine what kind of nutrition level we need to have these animals on.

                                    And then, prior to breeding because that’s going to have an impact on, like we discussed earlier, their conception rate, mid to late gestation depending on whether you’re a fall calving herd or spring calving herd just to make sure that we’ve got them in good shape to get them into prior to calving. And, about – again, about this time of year, this February, March timeframe can be pretty tough on animals as far as the winter goes. We don’t want animals slipping backwards because the winter condition is catching up to us.

                                    I know here in the Southeast we’ve had a lot of mud and poor forage quality. Cows have really struggled just with the environment and weather conditions that we’ve had. So, at least 3, but if we can do a 4 just to kind of double check ourselves here in the winter it helps. This is where the body condition scoring app that we have comes in real well. You don’t have to have a paper and writing down numbers and averages, it will calculate it for you, plus it keeps a picture record. So, it’s a pretty simple tool that really helps keep track of your nutrition status of the herd.

Tom:                            Tim, what kinds of basic information do you want to make sure you have in your reproductive records to calculate a true return on investment?

Tim:                             When it comes down to what makes money in the beef industry, it’s pounds of calves sold. So, the basic reproductive information that we need is how many animals we get pregnant, so that’s simple just pregnancy rate. But, there’s a difference between getting 90% pregnant over a three-month period versus 90% pregnant over a six-month period.

                                    So, we really need to have some detailed records of the calving dates and group them in twenty one-day period that matches up with the heat cycle or estrus cycle of the cows. The more animals we can have born in a defined calving season early, the more money we’ll make. Just simple biology of calves that are born in that second round they’re on the – conceived to the second heat, they’re going to be 42lbs lighter than the herd mates that were born one cycle earlier.

                                    So, just keeping track of when they were born and whether it’s a first, second, or third service pregnancy that’s kind of some dairy jargon there. But, on the beef side, we just slot them the into those twenty-one day segment to get a feel for how tight we’re calving.

Tom:                            Can you talk to us about how pregnancy rate impacts income potential with cow/calf producers?

Tim:                             Yeah. We’re selling pounds. That calf that’s born one cycle late, using today’s prices, that 42lb difference is about $60, $65. So, every calf that we can move one or two cycles earlier starts adding up significantly. You can easily change your cow’s income potential by over $100 just by having a calf early in the season versus two or three months out.

Tom:                            We’ve talked on a previous podcast out the CRYSTALYX BCS app. Can you tell us more about this tool and how it helps producers to evaluate animal performance?

Tim:                             Yeah. I mentioned it briefly earlier. It’s a very good user-friendly tool. It can be downloaded to either an iPhone or Android and it helps you make a picture record. Oftentimes, we see our own cattle too often and we don’t pick up some of those slight changes and then if you’re doing a paper log, you got a paper trail to put in – put into a spreadsheet somewhere.

                                    This is an app on your iPhone that kind of takes away a lot of the background efforts that you do. You actually take the picture of the animal. There’s some reference photos that you can compare it to - to assign a body score and then you can put in her ear tag and pasture location and then that goes into a record. You can come back a month later, two months later and evaluate that animal again and instead of having to go from memory, you actually have a picture of what she looked like, so you can pick up some changes.

You do a group of animals and it will calculate the averages for you to see on average how things are changing. And it is exportable, so you can still make that paper trail if you do want an Excel spreadsheet of body condition to tie in with your other reproductive records. Very useful tool.

Tom:                            Yeah. It does sound very unique, very handy piece of technology there.

Tim:                             Yeah.

Tom:                            CRYSTALYX Brand Supplements nutritionist, Tim Clark. Thanks, Tim.

Tim:                             I enjoyed it. Thanks so much.


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