For the last 50+ years, nearly all of the so-called “experts” in the beef industry have been focused on one thing – increasing individual animal performance – weaning weight, for the most part. This is why all of today’s status quo beef producers adhere to what I am going to call the “Increase Individual Animal Performance” paradigm. They have been led to believe that success in this business is dependent on measuring and increasing individual animal performance.
By definition, the “Increase Individual Animal Performance” paradigm assumes bigger is always better. For example, it assumes a calf with a 500-pound weaning weight is superior to a calf with a 450-pound weaning weight – and a calf with a 600-pound weaning weight is superior to a calf with a 500-pound weaning weight – and so on and so on. The bigger the weaning weight, the better. I know of a seedstock producer who brags about weaning weights in the 900 to 1000 pound range. The fact that they sell lots of bulls for lots of money tells me that there are lots of producers who are trapped in the “Increase Individual Animal Performance” paradigm.
What does it take to produce calves that weigh 900 to 1000 pounds at weaning? Among other things, it requires cows that weigh a ton and an artificial environment that includes a hot feedlot ration. Never mind the cost, bigger is always better – or is it?
Those who are more concerned about profitability than they are about bragging rights will quickly tell you that bigger is NOT always better. They adhere to what I am going to call the “Increase Profit Per Acre” paradigm. They know that it does not matter how big your cattle are or how fast they can grow if they are not profitable. Their program is geared toward increasing pounds and profit per acre – NOT per individual animal. They know that the optimum (most profitable) level for any trait is NEVER the maximum level.
Whether you have 100 acres or 100,000 acres, you can run substantially more low-maintenance cows than high-maintenance cows. The smaller, more efficient cows will always wean a higher percent of their own weight with fewer inputs. Consequently, we have NEVER found an environment where our low-maintenance cows could not produce MORE TOTAL POUNDS that are worth MORE PER POUND than the bigger, high-maintenance cattle that most cow-calf producers have. No matter how you do the math, MORE POUNDS that are worth MORE PER POUND with LESS INPUTS will always, always, always translate into MORE PROFIT.
The reason we consider understanding this concept to be of utmost importance is because we have reason to believe most ranchers can double their profit per acre once they stop focusing on the wrong things. That’s HUGE! As discussed in our Winter 2015 Newsletter, this will require producers to make a shift from the “Increase Individual Animal Performance” paradigm to the “Increase Profit Per Acre” paradigm. It will require producers to work with nature – instead of against nature. It will require producers to implement proper grazing management – and it will require producers to have the right size and type of cattle.
Here’s how this concept works in response to questions I’ve received:
Question: “My cows average around 1400 pounds. We wean off 600-650 pound steer calves. I believe if you can raise a 650 pound calf with the same inputs as raising a 450 pound calf, you are going to have more money in your pocket.”
Answer: You are missing the point – but I’m sure you are not alone. If your farm can support 100 1400-pound cows, it should be able to support 130 low-maintenance, 1100-pound cows. That is 30% more cows producing 30% more calves on the exact same inputs. Since smaller cows can wean a higher percent of their own weight, I can guarantee the 130 smaller cows will produce substantially more total pounds than the 100 larger cows – on the exact same inputs.
As I said last week, the “Increase Individual Animal Performance” paradigm assumes bigger is always better. For example, it assumes a calf with a 650-pound weaning weight is superior to a calf with a 450-pound weaning weight. That is an incorrect assumption. The only time bigger is always better is when we are talking about profit.
The calves produced by the smaller cows in the example above may have smaller individual weaning weights than the calves produced by the larger cows – but there are more of them. To add insult to injury the smaller calves are worth more per pound than the bigger calves. MORE POUNDS that are worth MORE PER POUND always equals MORE PROFIT.
Question: “I understand how small cows produce more pounds and profit per acre than large cows. I’m wondering if there is a limit to how small cows can be.”
Answer: Excellent question. A herd of 4-frame cows will produce more pounds and profit per acre than a herd of 6-frame cows. Likewise, a herd of 2-frame cows will produce more pounds and profit per acre than a herd of 4-frame cows – and a herd of Lowline (miniature Angus) cows will produce more pounds per acre than a herd of 2-frame cows. I’m confident a flock of ewes will produce more pounds per acre than a herd of Lowline cows.
If you are direct marketing all of your animals in the beef, it probably doesn’t matter how small your cows are. However, most cow-calf producers market most of their animals on the hoof. If your animals are too small to fit the box at the packing plant, they will be discounted. We have found that 2 to 4-frame cows work the best. They produce more pounds and profit per acre than the larger cows most producers have – without being too small for the feedlot and the packing plant. Our low-maintenance 2 to 4-frame cows weigh 1050 to 1250 pounds.
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