Cow Calf Management and Productivity

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					Letter #28                                                            July 17, 1998

                    Cow-Calf Management and Productivity
             by Importance of Beef Herd as Source of Family Income
                                        Stephen L. Ott
                             Center for Animal Health Monitoring
                           National Animal Health Monitoring System
                                U.S. Department of Agriculture

        Producers who depend upon their
                                                   a ln H M ns
                                                   t Al e
                                                    o ml
                                                   Naiaa o i S
                                                           t n gt
                                                            h ir y
                                                              to  m
cow-calf herds as their primary source of
family income are more likely to use a variety           e ty
                                                        e S
of management practices and are more                   a a ts
                                                       ri t
                                                        t i
                                                        c na
                                                       Pp S gt e
productive than producers where beef cows
are supplemental source of family income.
        The USDA‟s National Animal Health           R
Monitoring System (NAHMS) each year                           D
surveys producers of one or more livestock                    NEA
species. These surveys provide national            C
                                                   A         OS L
                                                             CK I
estimates of morbidity and mortality rates as                   M KA
                                                                 O Y V
well as management practices, especially                           N
                                                             N O R
those related to animal health and                                S
                                                                  M A
productivity, that are employed by producers.                         T
                                                                      X         L
        In 1997 NAHMS conducted its Beef                                              L
„97 survey of the nation‟s cow-calf herds.
Producers from 23 of the leading cow-calf
states were surveyed. Overall 2,713
                                                          One survey question asked producers
producers with one or more beef cows
                                                 to rate the importance of cow-calf herds as a
participated in the NAHMS Beef „97 study.
                                                 source of family income. Nationally, cow-calf
These producers represented 85.7 percent of
                                                 herds were the primary source of family
the United States beef cows (as of January 1,
                                                 income for 14.0 percent of the producers.
1997) and 77.6 percent of U.S. operations
                                                 Herds provided supplemental income for 68.8
with beef cows.
                                                 percent of producers, and 17.2 percent of
producers had cows for some other reason                     herds are not synonymous with primary
than providing family income. The purpose of                 income herds.
this analysis was to determine if those
producers who relied on their cows as their                  Productivity Measures
primary income source were more likely to                            With their livelihood dependent on
use some management practices and if they                    what their cows produce, it is not surprising
were more productive than producers whose                    that primary income producers had greater
cows were not their primary source of income.                productivity. They produced more pounds of
 For analytical purposes, producers whose                    weaned calf per exposed cow than
herds provided supplemental income or                        non-primary income producers (440 vs. 400
existed for some non-income reason were                      pounds) (Table 1). This 40-pound difference
grouped together. This group is referred to                  was due to greater weaning weights (516 vs.
as non-primary income herds in this report.                  492 pounds) and a higher weaning
        Average herd size was much larger for                percentage (84 vs. 75 percent). The higher
primary income herds (138 cows) than for                     weaning percentage for primary income
non-primary income herds (33 cows, Table 1).                 producers was a function of higher calving
 It may be surprising that among herds with                  percentage and a lower death loss among
100 or more cows 46 percent were                             calves born.
non-primary income herds and among herds
with 250 or more cows 29 percent were
non-primary income herds. Thus, larger

Table 1. Cow-Calf Productivity Measures by Importance of Beef Herd as Source of Family Income.
                                                              ----Reason for having cow-calf herd-----
                                                              primary income supplemental income
                                                              source          or other reasons
Productivity Measures
Herd size (number beef cows)                                          138.2                   33.3***
Calving percentage (no. calved / no. exposed cows)                     94.9                   90.9***
Weaning percentage (no. weaned / no. exposed cows)                      84.1                  75.4***
Calf mortality (percentage born)
    total (including stillborn)                                         5.7                    6.5
    stillborn and 1st 24 hours                                          4.1                    5.9*
Weaning weight (pounds)                                               515.6                  491.7***
Weaning age (days)                                                    220.3                  214.1**
Weaned weight per exposed cow (lbs)                                   439.6                  399.6***

1. Number of herds providing data for each category does vary.

*       differences statistically significant at p <= 0.10
**      differences statistically significant at p <= 0.05
***     differences statistically significant at p <= 0.01

Breeding and Calving Management                              calving area, such as barns, calving lots or
         Producers use different management                  calving pastures, was more common for primary
techniques at calving time to try improve                    income producers than to non-primary income
number of calves born alive and surviving the                producers (Table 2). Both types of producers
first 24 hours. Such practices include having                were more likely to provide a special calving
special calving areas, observation of their cows             area to their replacement heifers than for their
and heifers for calving problems and assisting               mature cows.
when such problems occur. Having a special
Table 2. Cow-Calf Management Practices by Importance of Beef Herd as Source of Family Income.
                                                            ----Reason for having cow-calf herd-----
                                                            primary income supplemental income
                                                            source          or other reasons
                                                                 ---------------percent operations -----------
Breeding and Calving Management
Special calving area for heifers                               78.3                          42.2***
Special calving area for cows                                  45.3                          28.8***
Any births assisted by veterinarian                            22.5                          11.8***
Three or more observations per 24 hours during calving seasons
    replacement heifers                                        67.5                          41.1***
    cows                                                       45.0                          27.1***
Offer assistance 2 hours or less in labor
    replacement heifers                                        77.3                          55.7***
    cows                                                       66.8                          41.8***

Animal Health Management
Respiratory vaccinations (calves)                                45.1                        26.1***
    Reproductive vaccinations
    calves                                                       15.3                        17.1
    breeding stock                                               65.5                        43.2***
Clostridial vaccinations
    calves                                                       77.2                        61.0**
    cows                                                         43.1                        30.8**
Implant any calves with growth promotant                         31.9                        11.4***
IM injections into the neck                                      41.9                        33.6*
Deworm any cattle                                                72.1                        73.0

Information Sources
Veterinarians as very important source of cow-calf information   70.5                        59.2***
Veterinarians as most important source of nutrition              31.8                        36.1

Feeding Management
Balance feed ration                                              30.7                        20.6***
Test feed stuffs                                                 18.9                         7.4***

Marketing Management
Most important factor for determining when to wean calves
   calf age or weight                                            37.8                        51.9***
   market price or contract                                       6.3                         6.5
   sell calves by auction                                        77.1                        69.5**

Record Keeping
Any record keeping system                                        90.7                        79.7***
Computer record keeping system                                   22.1                        11.5***
   Individual calf identification                                69.8                        46.7***
   Individual cow identification                                 76.9                        51.0***

1. Percentages based on number of operations answering each particular question.

*       differences statistically significant at p <= 0.10
**      differences statistically significant at p <= 0.05
***     differences statistically significant at p <= 0.01

                                                             producers administered clostridial vaccines
                                                             compared to two-fifths of the non-primary
        Special calving areas make it more                   income producers. For breeding stock
convenient to observe the calving process.                   (weaned replacement heifers, bred
For example, 80 percent of those with special                replacement heifers, cows, and bulls),
calving areas for replacement heifers                        reproductive vaccines were most commonly
observed their calving heifers at least three                used by producers (66 percent) than
times during a 24-hour period. A comparison                  non-primary income producers (43 percent).
of primary income producers and non-primary                  Almost half of the primary income producers
income producers shows that primary income                   administered respiratory vaccinations for pre
producers were more likely to observe calving                weaned calves, greater than the one-quarter
females at least three times per 24 hours than               non-primary income producers who
non-primary income producers. Both groups                    administered them.
of producers were more likely observe their                           Placement of intramusclar injections
calving replacement heifers three or more                    impacts the quality of meat. To improve meat
times per day than their calving cows.                       quality, the beef industry promotes the neck
        Seventy-seven percent of the primary                 as the preferred site for intramusclar
income producers provided their replacement                  injections. Less than half of the producers
heifers with assistance within 2 hours of onset              administrating intramusclar injections usually
of labor, while only 56 percent of the                       placed them in the neck with primary income
non-primary income producers did so for their                producers more likely to use this site than
replacement heifers. Both groups of                          non-primary income producers.
producers were somewhat less likely to offer                          Almost three-quarters of producers
mature cows assistance within 2 hours of                     dewormed their cattle. There was little
labor.                                                       difference between primary and non-primary
                                                             income producers in this practice.
Animal Health Management
         Animal health management includes                   Information Sources
vaccinations, deworming, and use of                                  Among professional sources of
veterinarians as resources. Vaccines can be                  cow-calf information, veterinarians were rated
grouped as respiratory1, reproductive2, or                   as a very important more often (60 percent)
clostridial3. Clostridial vaccines were the most             than any other source with a greater
commonly used vaccines for pre weaned                        percentage of primary income producers
calves. Three-quarters of primary income                     having this opinion than non-primary income
                                                             producers (71 percent vs. 59 percent). The
  Respiratory vaccinations for pre weaned calves             Extension Service was a distant second with
included IBR, BVD, PI3, BRSV, and Hemophilus                 24 percent producers rating them as a very
somnus.                                                      important source.
                                                                     When asked to rate their most
  Reproductive vaccinations for pre weaned                   important source of animal nutrition,
calves included leptospria and Brucella abortus.             veterinarians were the top choice with 36
  Reproductive vaccinations for breeding stock               percent of producers, followed by feed sellers
included IBR, BVD, Brucella abortus,                         at 27 percent. There was no statistical
camplyobacter, trichomoniasis, and Hemophilus
                                                             difference between primary and non-primary
                                                             income producers in rating veterinarians as
  Clostridial vaccinations for both pre weaned               the most important source of animal nutrition.
calves and breeding stock included C. chauvoei,
C. septicum, C. perfringens C and D, and other               Feeding Management
clostridial vaccinations.                                            Feed, including pasture, is usually the
                                                             largest expense on a cow-calf operation
which makes optimal use of feed resources         Record Keeping
key to profitable cow-calf production. Though             Almost all primary income producers
the majority of producers did not balance their   kept production and/or financial records in
feed rations, primary income producers were       some form - from simple pocket diaries to
more likely to do so than non-primary income      sophisticated computerized record keeping
producers. However, one must question the         systems. Though the majority of non-primary
effectiveness of balancing their feed rations     income producers kept some type of records,
as approximately half of those producers who      their percentage was less than that of primary
balanced feed rations, did not test their         income producers (91 percent vs. 80
feedstuffs for nutritional quality.               percent). Primary income producers were
                                                  more likely to use a computer record keeping
Marketing Management                              system and keep track of individual cows and
        Using market price as a determining       calves than non-primary income producers.
factor as to when to wean and sell calves
separate profitable from non-profitable
operations in an earlier NAHMS study (see         This report was based on Veterinary Services Info
NAHMS_ Info Sheet, _Management Practices          Sheet “Importance of Income in Cow-calf
Associated with Profitable Cow-Calf Herds,        Management and Productivity.” The Info Sheet
#N197.796). Very few producers in either          may be obtained by contacting:
group based their calf marketings on price.
For non-primary income producers, the most        Centers for Epidemiology and Animal Health
popular method to determining when to sell        USDA:APHIS:VS, attn. NAHMS
their calves is the age or weight of the calves   555 South Howes
                                                  Fort Collins, CO 80521
        For both types of producers, the most
                                                  Telephone: (970) 490-8000
popular method for marketing their calves         E-mail:
was through an auction with primary income        World Wide Web:
producers more likely to use auctions than
non-primary income producers.

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