by: Kim Mullenix, PhD.
Extension Beef Specialist, Auburn University

Being a successful cattle producer requires taking a "systems approach" to management. In other words, there are many aspects of our beef cattle operation that we can look at to determine where efficiencies can be improved to help take us to the next level.

• Soils -- A soil analysis provides valuable management information needed for every beef producer. Routinely soil testing pastures and hayfields will provide an estimate of available nutrients in the soil and fertility recommendations. A soil analysis service is available through the Soil, Forage, and Water Testing Laboratory at Auburn University. A more extensive assessment of your soil quality (soil organic matter, etc.) can be conducted through the Soil Quality Index analysis. Contact the lab at 334-844-3958 for additional information on how this can benefit your farm.

• Forages and Nutrition -- Forages are the foundation for nutrition in the beef cattle herd. Climatic conditions in Alabama allow us to grow forages for the majority of the year and economically meet the nutrient requirements of our herds. Understanding forage adaptation, the level of management required, and if these species will meet the nutrition needs of your herd are important factors when making a beef management plan. Developing strategic, targeted supplemental feeding strategies based off of a forage analysis during the winter months can help reduce feed input costs and better meet nutrient demands of the herd.

• Herd Health -- Development of a routine vaccination and herd health monitoring program for your operation is critical for long-term health and productivity of the cow herd. Establishing a local veterinarian-patient relationship is crucial in determining the correct health program in your operation.

• Record Keeping -- Collecting, using, and maintaining good cattle records are key components of tracking and measuring progress in beef systems. The level of record keeping practiced on the farm can help define the level of success achieved in the operation. Without adequate records it will be difficult to determine if your goals can be achieved efficiently and productively. New technologies such as web-based cattle management tools and mobile applications have broadened our ability to input records on the go and in the field. Contact the Alabama Beef Cattle Improvement Association 205-646-0115 or for additional information regarding recordkeeping tools.

• Facilities Management -- Functional working facilities. fencing infrastructure and watering systems are just a few of the main considerations that can make life easier and create a low-stress environment for handling cattle. Very basic, well designed and maintained handling facilities and fencing systems are usually sufficient for the average Alabama cattleman. Access to clean; cool water can have a positive influence on animal performance.

• Weather and Environment -- Choosing cattle and forages that are adapted to your production environment and management system are critical. Managing forages for improved soil health, nutrient distribution, water infiltration and retention can build a more resilient pasture system that can better weather •climatic extremes such as drought. Reviewing traits related to animal growth, reproduction, maternal ability, and the end product are all important considerations when selecting cattle that have longevity in the southeastern environment.

• Marketing -- Evaluating the best time of year to market calves based on your calving season, identifying a marketing outlet, and staying informed about past and future cattle price cycles are critical management decisions that influence the price received for calves in commercial cow-calf operations.

All of the management practices above are critical for developing a full systems management plan for your operation. Take a look at the categories and do a quick self-assessment - ask yourself: what are the top two areas that I want to focus on and improve in 2018? In 2018, the ACES Animal Science and Forage Extension Team is starting a new series of programs that use producer-based discussion groups to facilitate better understanding and adoption of these topics.

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