by: Steve Suther

The herd's getting bigger. USDA says there are at least a million more beef cows and replacement heifers compared to last summer, a rapid start to a rebound that should last several years.

Are you on board, keeping more heifers or culling fewer cows? Buying females from other herds? Those are the usual ways to expand, and heifers may be worth a little less than last year's record, making it a little easier to forego selling.

The best ones have not slipped much in price, and the cheapest replacements won't be the best buy, anymore than the cheapest beef will make a good meal. Thousands of bred heifers will come to market this fall with unknown genetics, and they will probably earn a profit for their sellers. That's not as assured for buyers.

Unless they buy more than needed and invest one to two percent more in DNA testing to see what they have – and then resell the bottom half to less wary buyers.

Many have steadily maintained as many cows as pastures will sustainably carry, just lately returned to full capacity as the drought subsided. Can you still expand without buying or renting more grass?

That depends on how you define expansion.

If you run a diversified farm that includes cattle as part of the mix, somebody in the next generation could be looking for a special focus. Identifying one person to head up that area or enterprise can lead to expansion on the same land base, just from creative thinking.

If lack of winter feed or summer grazing limits you, perhaps a change in crops and equipment can raise the bar and make room for some custom grazing or forage harvest.

What if you simply follow the calves through intensive efforts to communicate with buyers? What if you use genomic testing to cull the bottom 25 percent and keep replacements from the top quarter? What if you diversify marketing methods to get in on special sales, video, contracts or sharing retained ownership?

Some could build up facilities to allow weaning and preconditioning at home. That can open the door to future expansion by developing your own replacement heifers, while you add value and marketing options for all of your calves.

Of course, the longer you own animals, the more you are open to health risk and death loss, so veterinary advice is paramount.

Health, nutrition and management practices are certainly keys to expansion. If any of those lag, total pounds of weaned calf per acre fall short of goals.

Can you measure and improve efficiency in your herd? In percentage of body weight weaned and in feed conversion, the difference from best to worst could point to culling your way to more beef per acre.

Do your heifers and cows have enough opportunity to get bred, without stretching the season out to produce an uneven calf crop? Can you save more calves and then help them realize their genetic potential by making adjustments in management?

Everyone produces for the consumer, and that means using genetics that are above average for marbling, the primary factor in quality grades and eating satisfaction. Document those genetics in your cattle to open more doors and add dollars when you market to increasingly quality-minded cattle feeders.

Network with friends and neighbors to share knowledge and equipment. Working with a common hub such as a veterinarian, producers have ventured into sharing pastures, facilities and even bulls between spring- and fall-calving herds.

At a certain age that differs for each person, you may reject the whole idea of expansion, especially if nobody in the family seems interested.

But you could be missing a legacy opportunity to share knowledge and equipment with other young people who care about what you have built. They can bring labor, energy and new perspectives to your table that keep everyone excited about tomorrow.

Next time in Black Ink® Miranda Reiman will look at why you should say yes to visitors. Questions? Call 330-465-0820 or e-mail steve@certifiedangusbeef. com.

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