Farm and Ranch
Meanwhile, back at the ranch...
By Rayford Pullen
Aug 5, 2018
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As we turn the corner and head into fall, those of us with fall-calving cows will be getting ready for the new arrivals and weaning those spring-born calves that are now 6-7 months old.  Weaning weights and cow breed-back may be below our normal averages so with the short grass and hay predicament we find ourselves facing, making sure we sure we are wintering productive cows is a must if we are to remain viable or at the least, minimize our losses.

Around our place, we have been identifying cows with any kind of problem for elimination from our herd.  That may be age, udder problems, condition, disposition, extremely hard-doing cows and those cows producing calves that donít meet our criteria. 

Pregnancy testing our cows is probably at the top of our list for cows to cull.  With winter supplementation topping our list of annual cow maintenance costs, keeping only cows that have a positive economic impact for us is extremely important.  While annual cow cost per year varies greatly among producers, itís bound to be $500 or more per cow and more per calf weaned.  If your have a weaning rate of 90 percent, which is above the average for most ranches which is 86 percent, you have a cost of $555 in each calf sold.  And, depending on your accountant, you may not want to actually know what it cost you on an annual basis to maintain each cow.

For several years now, we have used the BioPryn blood test to determine pregnancy and at a cost of $2.50-$2.75.00 per test, itís about the best money we invest each year.  And since this test can pick up pregnancies at 3-4 weeks, we know really early which cows are breed or open and removed from our payroll.  For heifers being bred for the first time, it also allows you to cull slow breeders quickly that other wise will probably be slow breeders for the years they remain in your herd.

While this article is being written Aug. 1, I have been hearing hay prices nearing $100.00 per bale which brings up another topic and that is hay wastage which is very expensive.  From literature Iíve read over the years, the average loss per bale for all reasons is about 30 per cent making that $100 bale now costing us $130 for the hay our cows actually get. We have found hay feeders out there that have greatly reduced our hay waste and now is a good time to make sure you minimize your losses as much as possible.  If you are not using hay feeders of any kind,  most folks I visit with around the county will feed 2-4 bales per cow during the winter, which will take all the fun out of raising cattle and needing or expecting to make a profit.  With steers running from $600-$900, depending on the weight, adding another $150 or so to the $555 mentioned above, we now find ourselves in a negative position on our steers and more on the heifers.  If you have a full-time day job, the tax savings will be significant but if you depend on cattle for a living, it could be disastrous. 

It is in all our best interest to keep all cows off our place if they are not producing a calf annually, raising a calf that does not pay the annual cost of its mother plus a profit, or has other problems such as disposition issues that could cost us more long term for health-related issues.

Do the math and see if you can make it through these tough times economically or if now is a good time to downsize or worse, sell out.  These are decisions that will vary based on your current financial position or your age or both.  While I hope you donít interpret all this as a doom and gloom forecast; we all need to be realists and address the situation facing us and our families.  Do whatís best for your operation because there are better days ahead for us all.

Itís a wonderful time to be in the cattle business.

Rayford Pullen
Pullen Angus