Longevity and Fertility are Profit Drivers for Cattle Operations

by Clifford Mitchell

Reblogged from Cattle Today

DSC_0094_6x4_72Producers in the 21st century beef industry come better prepared than ever before. Continued education programs and an abundance of online resources help cattlemen stay well informed. Record keeping practices have improved and cattlemen have a good handle on the costs associated with their operation.

Tightening margins have forced producers to further evaluate the management plan, running through many different scenarios to find the best production model. For some this was a real eye-opener, for others it reinforced the approach they were taking to manage the herd for a profit. A genetic base complete with a bundle of traits also played a key role in the success of the operation. Many cattlemen have argued with neighbors and colleagues until they were blue in the face over their point of view; however, most will agree longevity built into the female is a definite advantage for most outfits.

“Every year I can keep a cow it cuts my costs $1,500. Because that’s what it costs to get a female into production,” says James Henderson, Bradley 3 Ranch, LTD, Memphis, Texas.

Photo by Penny Bowie

Photo by Penny Bowie

“Operations have to be profit driven. Fertility is a good trait to have and will lead to a long life on many ranches, but females have to be productive. Make sure cows are able to live in your environment, breed back and do it profitably year after year,” says Dr. Robert Wells, Livestock Consultant, Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation in Ardmore, Oklahoma.

“Longevity is one of the reasons we have Brangus females. A lot of times you wouldn’t know that old cow, is not a six or seven year old, because she’s still milking well and raising a good calf,” says Adam Whitesell, Lockwood, Missouri. This operation maintains 600 to 650 Brangus females and retains ownership of the calf crop most years at Decatur County Feedyard in Oberlin, Kansas.

Cattlemen have been programmed into two schools of thought; either buy or raise the replacements that the operation needs. Costs are associated with each method; another big debate among cattlemen looking for the most profitable answers.

“I know it costs us something to get that heifer into production. I have never put a pencil to actual costs. When it’s time, we select our replacements they go to grass and the cull heifers go to the feedyard,” Whitesell says. “I would think a five-year-old after producing three calves would have paid for herself in our program.”

“The cost of a replacement will vary from one operation to the next depending on if heifers are home-raised or bought. The first thing producers need to do is maximize the salvage value of that cull cow,” Wells says. “Quality replacements, from a known source and bred to good calving ease bulls are costing any where from $1,000 to $1,200 in our current market. Most females, depending on the value of the calf she is producing, should pay for themselves by the time they are four or five years old.”

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“Just to break even in our operation a cow has to be six and produced four calves,” Henderson says. “According to my calculations, it costs me $1,500 every time I replace a cow. This includes feed, facilities, pasture, semen and labor. None of these things come without a cost.”

Care and handling of these replacements will bring genetics to the forefront when done right. Management could help these females lead long productive lives just by making the right decisions as they are introduced to the next stage in the production cycle.

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Past President Spotlight: Dale Kirkham

Dale KirkhamPresident 2009-2010

Dale Kirkham
President 2009-2010

It was not until 1989 this past president first started registering Brangus cattle and became a member of the International Brangus Breeders Association (IBBA). But once he had the opportunity, Dale Kirkham, who served as the 2009-2010 IBBA President, was eager to learn more about the breed and quickly became involved in the industry.

A Kansas native growing up on a diversified crop and livestock farm, Kirkham had little exposure to purebred cattle during his childhood. He worked in a sale barn and helped the neighbors with their cattle during his college days. However, it was not until 1984 that Kirkham gained familiarity with Brangus cattle.

Kirkham attended college at Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kans., and after obtaining graduate degrees at the University of Wyoming and University of Missouri, he taught at small colleges in Indiana and southwest Missouri. After six years of teaching, Kirkham made a big decision to change careers and moved back to Kansas to begin working for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). After working at three other locations, he moved to Eureka in 1983.  A year later, an operation called Brinks Brangus started leasing the ranch where Kirkham was living at the time. With the help of other Brangus breeders, Kirkham launched his own Brangus operation.

“I wanted to get into the cattle business, and I bought my first cows in 1985 at a sale in Manhattan with the intention of running a commercial operation,” Kirkham said. “Fellow Brangus breeders Ray Thompson and Ken Hughes encouraged me to get started with Brangus and helped me implement AI techniques.”

Beginning in 1990, Vern Suhn, former manager of Brinks Brangus, assisted Kirkham with genetic breeding decisions and offered advice on purchasing cattle. Kirkham said he used AI techniques and heifer synchronization to manage his small herd and implemented intensive grazing management practices.

“It’s important to maintain cattle on forages that are already available instead of relying on supplemental feeds and feedstuffs,” Kirkham said. “There are too many cattle that are pampered and can’t hold their own when they go out to the commercial man.”

After Kirkham started his own operation, he joined his dad and brother in stocker and feeder cattle operations for several years from 1985 to the early 2000’s. He said this gave him a different perspective on other segments of the beef industry, allowing him to better understand his customers’ needs. In order to gain more knowledge about the breed, Kirkham said everyone should have diverse experiences and seek out opportunities beyond their own surroundings. Kirkham suggests visiting with other breeders about what they are doing on their operations to gain inspiration, new ideas, and more insight of the beef industry.

The IBBA hosts the largest gathering of Brangus producers and IBBA members in February at the Annual Convention and Global Brangus Roundup, in which Kirkham is a frequent participant. Kirkham said the convention provides breeders the opportunity to have an active role in the association and allows for better communication among members.

“Convention gives you a perspective of how the association operates,” Kirkham said. “I never walked away without gaining more enthusiasm about what I was doing on my own operation. Everybody out there, breeders both large and small, has different ideas, and you never know what idea will be the one that moves the breed and association forward.”

Kirkham said the biggest thing he learned from serving on the Board of Directors was the versatility of the IBBA membership because members came from all over the country with different needs and desires. He advises leaders to look at the big picture and see how decisions affect everyone.

“What the guy from Georgia wants is different from what the guy from Kansas wants,” Kirkham said. “It’s a challenge to make sure everybody is communicating and keeping everyone informed about what’s going on. Firsthand participation in open discussions is a good path to effective communication. The convention provides a great way to communicate with others in the breed and with the staff. I think we underestimate the value of face-to-face communication.”

Kirkham currently serves on the IBBA’s commercial marketing committee and is actively involved in both the Oklahoma Brangus Breeders Association and the Heart of America Brangus Breeders Association. You can find Kirkham at the upcoming IBBA Convention in February.

 

Note: It’s not too late to register for the 2013 IBBA Annual Convention. Visit GoBrangus.com to download a registration form and a schedule of events