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Producer Applications Committee

Understanding Cow Size and Efficiency

by Barb Baylor Anderson for Angus Productions Inc.

COLUMBIA, Mo. (June 29, 2010) — When confronted with the challenge of trying to determine the “right-size cow,” Jennifer Johnson and J.D. Radakovich, Texas A&M University-Kingsville, set out to define efficiency and help find tools producers could best use to evaluate cow efficiency in their own herds.

J.D. RadakovichJ.D. Radakovich“Different cattle are efficient in different environments and production systems. Gaining a better understanding of the interrelated components is critical to maximizing profit,” says Radakovich told attendees of the Producer Applications Committe during the 2010 Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) research symposium.

The pair began by defining efficiency as measured by the ratio of total costs to total animal product from females and progeny over a given period of time. But despite a concise definition, defining optimum efficiency is complicated. It is a combination of biological efficiency, or feed consumed to beef produced, and economic efficiency, or dollars spent to dollars returned.

“Optimizing the relationship between the two is a complicated process, and doing so requires understanding and managing the genetic potential of cattle, the environment in which cattle are asked to perform, and decisions about when and what product to market,” he says.

The proceedings available from the BIF symposium detail the various factors that can affect efficiency optimization.

Jennifer JohnsonJennifer JohnsonWhen considering tools producers can use to improve efficiency, the ratio of total pounds weaned divided by number of cows exposed is the best measure for the entire herd, Johnson said. The ratio recognizes the most important maternal trait of efficiency — reproduction. Producers who are able to increase the ratio without increasing input costs will see an increase in net profit.

“Selecting for genetic change in a cow herd through female culling is not an effective method for changing overall efficiency,” she added. “Since an individual cow contributes little to the overall genetic makeup of a calf crop, it is much more effective to select for efficiency through bulls.”

Capturing genetic potential in a given environment and market will also optimize efficiency. Crossbreeding programs take advantage of breed similarities and differences, making them an ideal way to positively and relatively quickly produce genetic change for efficiency.

“Availability of low-cost feed should also affect decisions about efficiency. That availability varies by region and by ranch,” she said. “Market end point is another factor. Increased milk potential is most beneficial when calves are sold at weaning and maximum preweaning growth is rewarded. In retained ownership, The calf’s own growth potential will capture profit.”

“Each producer must evaluate their unique system and determine, based upon biological and economic determinants of herd size, what is most profitable for them,” Johnson said. “For the majority of producers, the most efficient cow is the one with the highest milk potential that can, without reducing the percentage of calves successfully weaned, repeatedly produce a calf by bulls with growth and carcass characteristics valued most in the marketplace.”

“There is no silver bullet or home run," Radakovich added. "As long as your cow type is within given environmental and economic guardrails, size difference has little impact on profitability.”

Themed "Gateway to Profit," the 2010 BIF Annual Research Symposium and Annual Meeting was hosted by BIF June 28-July 1 in Columbia.

Editor’s Note: This summary was written under contract or by staff of Angus Productions Inc. (API). Through an agreement with the Beef Improvement Federation, we are encouraging reprinting of the articles to those who will adhere to the reprint guidelines available on this site. Please review those guidelines or 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.

API's coverage of the event is made possible through collaboration with BIF and sponsorship by BioZyme Inc. through its significant gift to the Angus Foundation. For questions about this site, or to notify us of broken links, click here.

Headquartered in Saint Joseph, Mo., API publishes the Angus Journal, the Angus Beef Bulletin, the Angus Beef Bulletin EXTRA, and the Angus e-List, as well as providing online coverage of events and topics pertinent to cattlemen through the API Virtual Library.

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