Misconstrue: interpret erroneously
I know you are wondering what I mean by misconstrued weight. Weaning weight is the most used and abused indicator of profitability ever devised! Yes, it is the pay weight for most producers, but does that certify its validity as an indicator of profitability? Then how did it gain such prominence as the supreme arbiter of profit?
Partly, for the above reason. Pay weight. A very high percentage of cattlemen in this country sell calves off the cow and this weight, the heavier the better, is important to them, at least in their constricted view. Because this is their largest yearly check much weight (pun intended) is given to this sale.
Before going any further I need to explain there are two conflicting weaning weights to consider. One is the 205-day weight mainly used by seedstock producers for their breed association records and for tracking individual animals and herd progress. The second, and most widely used, is the selling weight at the sale barn which should be called the “coffee shop” weaning weight. This weight has absolutely no standards. At the coffee shop January calves out of 1500-pound cows are compared to May calves from 1000-pound cows. This is far from a fair comparison, but at the coffee shop the biggest calves, and their owner, are automatically conferred the pseudo title of, “most progressive.” There will always be someone trying to lay claim to this erroneous honor, even at a bankrupting cost.
It has been said that traits easily measured become well used and acquire outsized importance just for the fact they are easily calculable. Fairbanks-Morse made this one easy. It is hard to ignore as it allows swift comparisons that have become deeply ingrained in our cattlemen culture. Once again, does it validate profitability? Nope, just, “braggin rights.”
The usual way to evaluate weaning weight is to reckon the heavier weights as more profitable. Is this certain? Not when there are ranchers NETTING more per head raising 400-pound calves than 600 pounders. Are you wondering how? It is simply the difference in level of inputs and management to raise the calf and the differential in price per pound between a heavy calf and his much-maligned lighter brethren. Our system of pricing calves dictates how we must devise our management strategy. Both biological and economic issues must be in sync for the highest level of profit. Everyone realizes the downward trending calf price as weight goes up, but it is very hard to dislodge the thinking that extra weight is still profitable. Maybe this should be called, “gross”, thinking as the emphasis is on “gross” profit with no recognition of the cost to get there. Net profit is not considered.
Is there any economic value to chasing a moving target that is going down in value as cost to do so is going up? If there were only one price per pound for calves regardless of weight, pursuing heavy weaning weights might be the best strategy. But, this is not the case so you must determine a point where the average, “unpampered”, weaning weight of your calves is at the least cost. This is where net profit will be highest. (Ed Rayburn’s great article on “Figuring the Marginal Value on Calf Weights” even gives you a spreadsheet to figure out what will be most profitable.)
Producers must realize that continuing to fight the downward drifting pricing system with heavier weaning weights is akin to throwing a rock to a drowning man.