But She’s A Good Cow!

I really appreciate the conversations on Facebook! If you haven’t read or joined in on some, please come and check them out!!

One of the individuals I’ve really been enjoying conversation with is a producer in Canada that has larger frame cows. We’ve been having great conversation about large cows, cow selection, profitability, etc. She’s the one that I got the link for the BCS for on. It’s great having people that will actually discuss and share!

Photo compliments of Randi DeBruyne. Thank you!

Photo compliments of Randi DeBruyne. Thank you!

For ease of reading, I’m going to use different colors. Her original post (which was all one post, not broken up) will be in red, my comments will be in blue. 

We bought a group of Shorthorn x cows the fall of 2013. This year is the 3rd calf that they will raise for us. This cow would be around 4 and 5 years old in this example.

When we bought them, they would have been in a BCS of 3-4, and she weighed 1114 lbs. She was fairly thin. By fall, she had put on almost exactly 100 lbs. Was still thin, but closer to a 5 BCS.

1,114 as a short-bred heifer is HUGE. Any animal that large at that young of an age is destined to be too big when it reaches maturity. A 3-4 BCS? Was she abused? Neglected? Yes, she would require copious amounts of feed to be in a good (5.5-6 BCS), but if people are going to raise that type of animal, they need to feed it! Fairly thin…3-4 BCS would be a rack of bones. How tall is this cow?

She calved Mar 25. The Oct 1, 2014 she weighed 1220 lbs and her calf (adjusted to 205) weighed 608 lbs. For almost exactly 50% of her Body weight at the time.

So she calved, raised a calf, and managed to put on 100 lb. The 50% of her body weight sounds good. But if we examine it, it still would not completely compute. She was still growing, so she was consuming more feed, utilizing it to grow with, not going to her calf. Still, better than many cows do.

Fast forward to 2015, she calves Apr 5. Sept 28, 2014 (2015) she is now weighing 1463 (an increase of 240 lbs). Her calf (adjusted to 205) weighs in at 673 lbs. She is now in a BCS of 6 or better. BUT her calf is only 46% of her body weight.

The topic of this post.

The topic of this post.

So in 2014, after gaining 100 pounds, she slipped a cycle and did not breed back when she should have. She calves a cycle later on April 5, 2015 than her March 25 date in 2014.

Still, she bred and had a calf. Worth more than an open cow.

So now she is 1,463 pounds. She weans of 46% of her weight; she slipped on how much of her feed went to the calf vs. how much went on her body. She’s in a better body condition score, but presumably bred on time when she was in a 3-4 BCS (initially bred), but slipped a cycle when she increased to a BCS of 5. Hopefully not a pattern.

46% of her body weight is still better than a lot of cows do. Here’s the issue: calves that weigh less generally bring more per pound than calves that weigh more. Known as “the spread,” it varies by location. In some places, the spread is so great that animals that are a great deal smaller bring the same gross income (income per head) as larger calves. Larger calves took more inputs to get them larger (and commonly come out of larger cows that have higher maintenance needs). So even though she is close to 50% of her body weight, she is still not going to be as profitable as a smaller cow.

Now, wait for it…. Spring of 2016 she calves Mar 16….

She bumped back up a cycle. Good. That’s why they are generally exposed for at least two heat cycles. Not always the cow’s fault, there are other variables–silly bulls, distance, etc. She’s still a 1400-pound cow and will not have the ability to be profitable unless the calf market is record-setting again. I, personally, do not like to depend on the cattle market.

Now, there are many factors that change what her calves weighed. The first year she was bred Red Angus, the second Shorthorn, the first calf was a heifer, the second a steer.

Different variables. But can be accounted for, I’ll break it down in understandable terms.

And the Birth weight of her first calf was 81 lbs and the second 123 lbs.

Holy wow! 123 lbs! Like a human giving birth to a toddler. Since you didn’t mention anything, I presume it was unassisted and calf was normal and fine?

Trying to even things up, so they are more comparable…

1st calf weaned at 608 lb. Subtract the 81 lb. birthweight, 527 pounds gained from birth to 205 day.

2nd calf weaned at 673 lb. Subtract the 123 lb. birthweight, 550 pounds gained from birth to 205 day.

The difference between the calves’ gained weights: 23 pounds. Easily attributed to the first calf being a heifer, second calf being a bull (steer); and any difference left over could be attributed to Red Angus vs. Shorthorn.

What does this mean? It means that she did no better with her second calf than with her first. It means that she ate enough to put an additional 240 lb. on her body and raise a calf similar to the job she did the first year, with no added return on that feed that put another 240 lb. on her.

It means she is now consuming entirely too much to ever be profitable. There is no way that a calf will be able to pay for her and bring in a profit.

But her BCS would have directly related to her calf’s increase in weight, and when she bred back.

How would her BCS directly relate to her calf’s increase in weight? The differences in calf weight can easily be attributed to the Red Angus vs. Shorthorn and the heifer vs. steer. The only thing her BCS tells you is that she was eating enough to pack on more condition instead of all that feed/energy going into adding pounds on her calf. The pounds on the calf are the only thing that pay you. Extra condition on the cow generally costs.

What return do you get for the added BCS? It costs you for her to get into and stay in a 6 BCS. What’s in it for you? Unless she inherently carries that condition–which she would have been in that condition when you bought her if it was one of her inherent characteristics.

Her history shows that in reality, that extra BCS gets her bred on time. That leaves you with determining the cost of keeping her in a BCS 6 vs BCS 5. How much extra feed does that take? What could you do with that extra feed that would give you a greater return? She doesn’t give you more pounds on her calf, she just takes more feed to do her job.

And, I will never penalize a cow because she gained weight, as long as she is also raising a good calf.

I, too, have a problem penalizing a cow for gaining weight. It’s just a thing. I don’t like people getting on me about putting on a few pounds…

But looking at it from a business standpoint, in this instance, the cow does get penalized. She’s busy putting feed (money) into her body and not giving additional benefit of more pounds (money) on the calf than she did when she was in a BCS of 5. (I will never condone a BCS of 3 or 4, it’s just not in me, that is not proper animal husbandry and neglecting/abusing animals that they are in that low of a BCS is wrong).

The toughest part is that she missed a cycle and didn’t breed back in a timely manner when she was in a BCS 5. So yes, as mentioned above, keeping her in a BCS 6 may ensure that she breeds back in a timely manner, but there is cost involved in that, and no return on income (bigger calf) for that extra feed.

Also, as much as we like using adjusted weights to compare our cows, when it comes down to it, calves that are born earlier in the year will almost always weigh more than calves born later, and if you figure on 2.5 lbs/ day a calf that is one cycle older (21 days) will weigh about 50 lbs more….

In my experience, this is not true. 205 days is 205 days. Calves born earlier will just reach a 205 day weight sooner than calves born later. In my experience, calves born earlier (December, January, February) don’t grow near as well as calves born later. We have theorized that it is because when they are born so early, they are using their energy to stay warm instead of grow.

We had friends with a herd of 700 cows. They had cows calve as early as December and as late as May and June. The later calves were the same size in October as the calves born earlier!

I advocate calving when the deer and other wildlife in the area give birth (although, just thought about it…in a high predation area, with wolves and such, maybe that would increase pressure from predators because moms are looking to feed their young? Just another reason to not work cows with dogs….but I digress–again). Even with higher predator pressure, I believe that working with the time that nature says babies should be born is the best practice.

Photo compliments of Randi DeBruyne. Thank you!

Photo compliments of Randi DeBruyne. Thank you!

No judgement here. There are different reasons for calving at different times. Having calves early so that they will be bigger sooner (which, as I said, doesn’t really work in my experience, but I know people that say it does for them) is not a good enough reason in my book, for selling beef calves. I do know a few that calve earlier because they sell bulls and their buyers want the bulls to be bigger, more mature sooner the next year. Don’t know my input on that quite yet, would have to evaluate from a business standpoint and see if it works.

Photo compliments of Randi DeBruyne. Thank you!

Photo compliments of Randi DeBruyne. Thank you!

As for the cow in this example: She’s just too large and requires too much feed to ever be able to be profitable. Open cows will be the first culled, but she would be next on my list simply because she can never make a return. A cow should be able to pay for herself (what you paid to purchase her or the money you gave up because you didn’t sell a heifer calf and then the money you paid to develop the heifer), plus what she costs to maintain annually, and return a profit (return on investment).

Both cash costs and opportunity costs should be taken into account. That means even if you inherited land and it didn’t cost you anything to purchase, it should still be calculated. What is the land worth? Not if it were turned into a subdivision. What would someone lease it for, by the acre? That is a good measurement, unless it’s something stupid, like here where people are paying ridiculous amounts for leases.

When you start breaking it down by the acre, the profitability of the cow will really come into play. The true costs really come to light. Figure how many acres it take to support that cow, and figure return per acre. When you can start increasing your cow numbers without increasing land costs exponentially, you are making progress to increasing production, profitability and sustainability.

Photo compliments of Randi DeBruyne. Thank you!

Photo compliments of Randi DeBruyne. Thank you!

Confession: I love big cows. Really. I’ve always loved larger things (the biggest puppy in the litter, when everyone else liked the runt, draft horses, one ton and semi trucks, and monster-cows and bulls). They are impressive to me. But my love for them doesn’t change the fact that that business side of me screams that they are unprofitable and cost money (and it’s true with most of the large things I listed above….especially horses….most especially horses).

Photo compliments of Randi DeBruyne. Thank you!

Photo compliments of Randi DeBruyne. Thank you!

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