The dry weather of 2007, and to some extent 2006, reduced the size of Alabama cow herds and in some cases, the entire herd was disbursed. Weather conditions have improved as of late and many cattlemen are planning rebuilding efforts. Several factors should be considered as you begin rebuilding.
Most of us have received decent rains so far this year, especially in comparison to the 2006 and 2007 growing seasons. Pastures, for the most part, are green and at least one good cutting of hay has been harvested. Producers should consider what they have in the pastures and the amount of stored forages that have been saved before making significant purchases of cattle. It is important to remember it only takes a few days of hot weather with no rain to make forages quit growing and water tables are not fully replenished after two years of low rainfall. The message here is not to overstock to a level that you are forced to feed cows or risk liquidating again if the weather turns dry later in the summer and through the fall.
Determining where you want to be in the cattle business is the first step before going to a sale to buy replacements. Your final marketing efforts will determine those goals. Goals and long term plans are just that, long term. Staying on track to attain your goals is important and should be in the forefront of the selection process. Producers that plan to simply sell calves through the local auction may give less consideration to certain factors. A producer that intends to retain ownership through the slaughter stage will want to cover as many bases as possible. Basic traits to focus on include conformation/quality, calving date, breed composition, and age.
Rebuilding provides a producer with an opportunity to better their brood cow herd in many ways. Establishing a 60 to 90 day calving season provides producers with better management and marketing strategies. If your herd is not on a defined calving season, this would be a good time to begin implementing one. If replacing an entire herd, producers should choose cows or heifers that are bred to calve together during the selected calving season. When selecting replacements for increasing numbers, target cows and heifers that will calve along with the majority of the current cow herd. Efforts should be made to purchase cows that will calve as close together as possible to better facilitate management. Then, remember to pull the bulls and cull the open cows.
If you are looking to go in a new direction with your cattle, this too may be the ideal time to make that change. This could be moving from Fall calving to Spring or visa versa. Fall born calves usually return a higher market price but Spring calving herds typically have lower input costs associated with production. In times of high input costs that may be a viable option. Remember, 60 to 70 perrcent of herd input is feed cost. A thorough evaluation of the current cow herd, potential market changes, and available forages should be considered in making that decision. Remember, it is usually fairly easy to move cows that are calving in the fall to calving later but it is very difficult and often impossible to move earlier in a season without skipping part of a production year.
Another type of direction change would be changing the breed composition of the cow herd. Many producers have a wide range of breed composition in their cows so eliminating cows that don't fit the new plans and replacing them with cattle that are uniform in their breed make up should be a priority. The key to making this restocking change should be to select cows that have the genetic/breed composition of the current cows on the farm and/or the type cows you ultimately want to have on the farm. Uniformity is a goal producers should work toward in a cow herd. This can be done by selecting cows and heifers that have the same basic breed composition and passing on the urge to buy for the sake of buying. Herds comprised of uniform cows will typically produce uniform calves which are easier to market for top dollar. The same color hide does not guarantee uniformity.
Always consider seeking reputable producers and/or special sale opportunities when looking for replacements. On farm production sales, private treaty sales, herd dispersals, and some consignor stock cow sales, are better choices to look for quality replacements. Be cautious buying singles at weekly sales because there is usually a reason she is being sold and that reason is often a negative one. Also, producers may find the specific type cow they are looking for is not readily available. Producers often chase the current trend which may make a particular breed or breed cross hard to find because they are in high demand. We all tend to want the going thing therefore they may be in limited supply. It could take time to find them and find them at an affordable price.
Working facilities are also an important consideration for producers during restocking efforts. It is always important to have adequate working facilities no matter what type of cattle you run. If you consider changing from mostly docile and gentle cows to cattle that tend to be high strung or flighty, you will need to have facilities that can handle those type cattle. Some producers don't really mind cattle that are a little fast but they also know the importance of facilities designed with their disposition in mind. Management and marketing require adequate and effective working pens. New purchases should be isolated from existing cattle for around 30 days to help prevent spreading sickness and possibly disease. Additionally you should inquire about vaccination history and consult your veterinarian for possible immunization needs. This is very important and will reduce the potential for some serious headaches.
Producers looking to restock cow herds should pay close attention to all of these factors when making their plans to buy replacement cows and heifers. We are currently faced with much uncertainty in the cattle markets, feed, fertilizer, fuel costs, and the economy as a whole. Be advised to take time and evaluate your entire production system and inputs as you look to buy replacements in the coming months.
This article is furnished as a producer-directed goal of the Alabama State 50 Cent Checkoff. For more information on how beef checkoff dollars are working for you, contact the Alabama Cattlemen's Association at 334-265-1867 or visit our website at www.bamabeef.org.