This week I was tagged on Facebook under a comment regarding data collection. The comment referred to a practice of recording the ratio of weaning weight against dam weight. This is a comparison often used in the U.S.
I have to be honest; my initial reaction was to be a bit surprised. Not by being asked if it was a method I used or recommended. Rather, my surprise stemmed from this data itself.
I’m not saying this data isn’t useful. For some people I’m sure it could be a useful piece of data. However, for me, and for most of my clients, its not the first thing I’d be looking at when I’m analyzing a business.
In previous blogs I’ve talked about focusing on the important traits within a herd, and on the importance of using data to drive innovation. I’m still not sure that many producers are doing either of these as well as they could be.
I’m a very strong believer that making the most of your resources and investments to date is the first thing you should focus on. Too often I see producers chasing fads, pursuing new options without ever realizing the potential of their current program.
The only way you will ever realize your programs potential is to measure it and compare it over time. The measurements have to be relevant! There has to be a point in recording it.
The point of recording is to establish where you are, and then to set some plans in place to maintain or improve your position. So the whole point of recording is to focus on the resource you have!
My second strong belief is you should always grab the big wins first! To me, weaning ratio against mature cow weight isn’t a big win for most people. Its something you may choose to focus on when you’ve ticked all the big-ticket items off.
So what are those big ticket items? I know I’ve written about them before. However for a breeding program they are:
- Conception rate (number of cows pregnant / number joined x 100)
- Weaning rate (number of calves weaned / number joined x 100)
There is an important point to this. Weaning rate isn’t the number of calves weaned from the total number of pregnant cows. It’s against your total breeders joined.
There is an additional big ticket item, which is calving percentage (number of calves / number joined X 100). Again it has to be measured against total joinings.
The point of this? Well it helps you identify fertility rate in your herd. It assists you to clarify calving losses and weaning losses against your total numbers.
I’ve come across many issues that happen post preg testing. These range from mid term abortion losses to dystocia and predation. Having data helped focus problem solving onto those issues that were costing the program in a big way.
My additional big ticket items? Well I like to know the numbers of cows calving at the start, middle and end of a set calving period. If the numbers indicate a trend towards the middle and end, that highlights a real risk that cows are going into calf late. If it isn’t addressed, those cows run a risk of falling out of a 12 month calving interval.
In turn that lets me ask about weaning weights and perhaps then I may start looking at ratios. But by then I reckon we have gotten the big ticket items sorted, and now we can start selecting on individual performance.
So my question to you is what’s the point of the data you’re collecting? Is it able to be used to fix the big-ticket items? Can you use it to maximize the resources and investments you have? If it can’t, then maybe you need to re-evaluate your collection. And if you think you have the big tickets sorted, now you might be ready to fine-tune your program further with more targeted individual data.
And if you’re not really sure and you want to have a fresh set of eyes have a look, maybe its time to give me a call and get the independent assessment your business needs!
Reducing cow numbers is a fundamental strategy in many producers drought management plans. People talk about getting down to their core breeders, but what makes a cow part of the core breeding group?
In an ideal world, I reckon every cow in your herd should be considered a core breeder! However not all cows in a herd are the same, and not all of the cows you own will have the traits or production qualities you should seek to retain.
So where do you start? I reckon the first selection process is to identify the cows which are not in calf.
Preg testing your cows, particularly in drought at least allows you to identify animals which need to go.
Preg testing shouldn't be just about identifying the non pregnant females. Yes its a good start in identifying the first to go. But if you are looking to identify a core group of females to keep, you should use your preg test results to inform that selection.
With preg testing you should seek to identify the early, mid and late pregnant females. Early pregnant females are most likely the more fertile females and this is a trait producers should select for.
Ultra sound preg testing is a very efficient way of identifying pregnancy and the stage of pregnancy. The producers I have worked with have been able to start making some plans around the fertility levels in their herds.
While pregnancy status is vital to identifying productive females, its not the only thing to consider in your search for a core breeder!
In each cows history, how maternal has she actually been? Has she successfully raised a calf each year? How heavy have those calves been at weaning? Fertility is one thing, but its only completed if the cow can raise the calf through to weaning.
Fertility and maternal traits are key attributes of a core breeding female. However there are other characteristics which producers should include as they choose which females to retain.
What maturity pattern have you identified as the optimum for your environment? Are there cows which are too early or too late maturing? If they don't fall into the optimum then they might not be as close to the core group as other cows.
What are the production traits of the females you are assessing? Which have the better growth traits, the best muscularity, and which are the more structurally sound animals? These are traits which are ideal to retain in a herd and can ad to a profitable enterprise as you rebuild after the drought.
How old are your cows? If they are towards the end of their productive life, they may not be essential as core breeders? What traits do they have in regards to health status?
Finally what are the other important traits to you? I reckon you can never underestimate traits such as temperament!
We know temperament is highly heritable, and has a major influence on eating quality as well as your safety in the yards!
Are there any other traits you need to retain in your herd? If there are, then ask yourself are these specific only to your herd, or can you replace those traits with other cows later on.
You have to be honest with yourself! If you have average maturity cows with average muscle scores, average growth and are just cows, then you can be pretty confident you can replace those with similar or better cows down the track.
If it is coming down to choosing cows to retain as core breeders, then any cows which fail to meet any of these traits shouldn't be considered as core breeders.
In a drought such as this, the core breeding herd should be the most fertile, productive cows with the best structure, temperament, age, maturity pattern and productive traits which will allow you to plan a rebuilding program around.
How big are your cows? That's a question I ask producers in almost every conversation. Not because I think bigger is better! Rather knowing the size of cows helps me to develop recommendations from feeding through to stocking rates and options for markets.
How much a cow needs to eat each day is driven by her weight. Saying this often seems to be quite simple and not at all surprising! I reckon its so simple, people often don't think about it properly, and more importantly, they don't appreciate how important this simple fact is for cow fertility, beef production and to enterprise profitability.
To show how intake changes, I thought I would refer to the intake chart used in the ProGraze courses.
Herbage Mass (2600 kg DM/ha) Pasture Digestibility 60%
Predicted daily Intake (kg /DM)
Dry Cow (Fat Score 3)
Early Lactation – 2 months (Fat Score 3)
Source: ProGraze Manual
I like this table for a few reasons. The first is that it shows how intake increases as cow weights increase. What it also shows is how much more feed cows require once they start lactating. In the case of a 500kg cow, she will need an extra 3.8kg of feed each day when she calves.
I guess 3.8kg may not sound like much, but over 100 cows, thats an extra 380kg/DM a day, or 2,660kg/DM a week.
If cows don't get that extra feed at lactation, they will lose weight. In some cases using body reserves for lactation can be an efficient option. However, if cows are in Fat Score 2 or below, they won't have sufficient body fat to really make up the difference. As a result their return to oestrus will be delayed - meaning a longer calving interval. And they will produce less milk, meaning you will have lighter and less valuable calves.
The profit driver on any beef enterprise is kilograms of beef produced per hectare. The key to this in breeding herds is to have a cow produce a live calf every 12 months.
Based on the intake chart above, we can do some quick comparisons between the requirements of 500 and 600 kg cows (based on a mob of 100 head).
The daily intake for 100hd of 500kg cows would be 690kg/DM.
This compares to the intake of 100hd of 600kg cows. They would need 840kg/DM a day.
The difference between the two is 150kg/DM. In practical terms this could mean either you could run around 20 more 500kg cows or more likely you would be probably running a smaller herd of 600kg cows. Less cows will mean less calves and therefore less profits.
If you did try to run the same number of larger cows you would have to be prepared to provide supplementary feeds to meet their daily requirements if your pastures were lacking. Doing this will also erode the profits of the enterprise. However without feed, your cows will be less fertile and productive.
As with any of these questions, the size of your cows should be balanced against your environment and your markets. If you have the pastures and the market options for moderate size cows, then you should be using those resources to improve your productivity. But just remember, bigger cows don't always give you the most flexibility when the season gets touch or your market specifications change.
Its a simple thing, but knowing how much your cows weigh lets you know how much they need to eat and to be productive. Know this, and you can start to manage your herd to be productive and profitable.
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