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Saturday General Session

Fitting Cows to Your Operation

“There is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ cow,” said Harvey Freetly of the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) at Clay Center, Neb. “Instead, she has to be chosen to fit your particular system, because what may be optimum in one situation may not work at all in another.” Freetly spoke May 2 at the 2009 Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) symposium in Sacramento, Calif.

Harvey Freetly

Harvey Freetly, U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, Clay Center, NE

To determine the cow traits needed in your herd, Freetly said to first evaluate your market end point and management preferences, then look at your available input resources. Optimizing the ratio of outputs to input resources will lead to a more efficient herd. He cautioned that the optimum ratio on biological bases may not be the same optimum on economical bases, for example feeding harvested forages.

Selecting for efficiency can be difficult, and Freetly said genetic markers offer great potential in easing our ability to improve efficiency through selection.

There are two main factors that affect efficiency. The first is production life, also called stayability. Low production life decreases herd profitability, increases replacement costs and slows genetic improvement.

“With low production life, cows are not profitable until their fifth calf, so that means usually only one-third of your cows are making you money at any given time,” Freetly said. Production life is influenced by fertility, weight of weaned calf, udder structure/health, feet and leg structure/health, dental wear and temperament.

The second factor affecting herd efficiency is feed efficiency, he said. With feed accounting for 60% of annual cow costs, it’s easy to see why this can have such a dramatic effect on efficiency. The greatest proportion of feed energy is used to maintain cow body weight. Maintenance occurs when a cow neither gains weight nor loses it.

Maintenance requirements are influenced by cow size, with smaller cows naturally having smaller maintenance needs. For example, an 1,100-pound (lb.) cow requires 6 fewer pounds (lb.) of hay per day when at maintenance than a 1,600-lb. cow, Freetly said.

“Big cows are not bad. It just depends on your production inputs,” he said. “Sometimes it is advantageous to select cattle that need greater inputs if there is increased value in their resulting products.

“It all comes down to matching your cattle to your production system,” he said.

Editor’s Note: This summary was written under contract or by staff of Angus Productions Inc. (API). To request reprint rights contact Shauna Rose Hermel, editor, at 816-383-5270. PowerPoints are posted with permission of the presenter and may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the express permission of the presenter.

The 41st BIF Research Symposium and Annual Meeting was hosted by the California Beef Cattle Improvement Association and the California Cattlemen's Association. For more information, visit www.bifconference.com or www.calcattlemen.org/bif2009.html.


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