Last week I described how Judy and I have used the guidelines from the book The Lasater Philosophy of Cattle Breeding to make decisions for developing our herd of mama cows. Essentially it makes the case for having a few, ironclad rules that favor fertility and adaptability under your farm/ranch management system. We found this to be a great way to build a herd of cows adapted to our farm–but it means you need to keep a large number of home raised heifers for breeding. This is especially true in the first years of the program for quite a few cows will be open at pregnancy checking and need to be sold. The issue is that we turn bulls in July 4th and leave them in 45-55 days, meaning they are often reproducing in very hot and humid weather which can lead to reproductive failure for unadapted cows.
We found out in a hurry that open cows sold after preg checking in December were selling on the lowest market of the year for slaughter cows. Not only that, but often the open cows are heavy milkers and thin – the reason they are open! We knew we had to find a better way to market these open cows to take advantage of the easy weight gain these dry cows put on and increase income at the same time.
We began turning bulls back in with the herd on Thanksgiving day to get the open cows pregnant with a fall calf and then sell them as bred cows anytime from May to August. The first couple of years we sold the fall calving cows we thought of and described them as our “cull” cows. Now, instead of culls, we have a complete dispersal of our fall calving herd-every year. We have increased the price received over selling an open cow by $200 to $500. These fall calving cows have done very well with other producers and we now have a good demand for our fall calving cows and are able to replace cows with adapted heifers that are easy keeping and will breed in our summer window.
Marketing. Marketing. Marketing. Steve evaluated the situation and made a couple changes that paid off. If you market your cows like everyone else, you are taking the lowest possible price.
In eastern Colorado there is no fall calving. Two other alternatives are possible. One is wintering the cow and selling her as soon as she is fat in mid summer. This works well if you can winter a cow very cheaply and let her put on fast gain on green grass which also is cheap. These cows can lose a little weight through the winter. There is a good demand for fat cows in the summer. This is an excellent method if you have a spring flush and need extra cattle to keep up with grass growth but do not want them around later. The important point here is to keep the winter cost low.
Next is finding or developing a hamburger market for fat cows in the summer. This makes a cow very valuable. Again, keep winter cost low and let the cow gain back of spring growth.
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