by: Dr. Lee Jones

Beef production management (BPM) is not complicated, though some folks try to make it so. It is simply a plan to accomplish your goals for your herd. It is your herd so you have every right to decide what purpose they serve for you. Some folks just like having and looking at their cows while others intently manage to get the optimal production from their herd.

Like any other asset you only get out of your herd what you put into it. I chose beef cattle veterinary medicine because I really enjoy beef cattle and cattle people. I manage cow herds with two goals in mind: 1) to protect owner's assets and 2) to optimize production (and therefore, income). Cow herds can be an effective part of an integrated resource management program.

BPM first starts with a goal. What do I want from my herd? Some herds are like savings accounts: every once in a while I make a withdrawal when I need some cash. Like savings accounts, these herds don't provide much of a return on investment and when accounting for inflation, I might even be losing money without knowing it, but it doesn't require much effort and provides the tax benefits to reduce tax burdens. The other end of the spectrum might be the producer that carefully selects genetics, retains ownership of the calves through the feedlot and looks over their kill sheets to see what calves and genetics performed best and gave them the best return on investment. It doesn't really matter what your herd goals are, but without a goal you can't really develop a plan to achieve it. Just like Alice in Wonderland, if you really don't know or care where you are going, it doesn't much matter what road to take to get there.

The plan starts with a calendar. Ideally, beef production's foundation is forage production. My farm's resources determine what kind of production I choose. It might be the best use of my farm is for stockers. Or maybe I would rather have cows and need to decide when the best time of year is for me to produce calves. Determining the capacity of my farm and what fits best with my resources helps me decide when and what I need to do. When and what kind of production I want to market determines when I start the process. For instance, if I want to raise high quality replacement heifers I need to select genetics three years before I sell my first bred heifer. Or if I don't want my money tied up that long, I might choose to purchase stockers and graze over winter and sell yearlings in the spring. Depending on forage production, I might be able to combine different production strategies as long as the biosecurity issues do not threaten my primary herd.

Using the calendar, I can decide what procedures need to be done when. If I have a cow herd then I select times for procedures like pregnancy checking, vaccinating, working calves and weaning. I manage my bulls for optimum fertility, calf production and heterosis. (A semen check is not the same as a thorough breeding soundness examination. A cheap semen check can cost a lot of calf production if it misses injuries or other abnormalities affecting bull service.) If I am planning to use AI to breed my heifers then I determine whether I am going to use a synchronization program and which one and what bull I need to order. Many semen companies offer seasonal discounts on volume, but genetics may be a more important consideration. Getting these procedures scheduled on the calendar is not only important to ensure I get the important things done, but it also helps to make sure cattle work doesn't conflict with birthdays, anniversaries or other family or community events.

Planning time is a good time to consult a veterinarian who understands beef production. Not all veterinarians are interested in or capable of helping cattle producers develop a good program, but I do know a lot of veterinarians in Georgia who enjoy working with beef producers. A good beef cattle veterinarian knows how to help you make money and protect your herd through best management practice recommendations and effective, timely services.

While you are with your veterinarian, review last year's records, including number of calves sold and calf weights or average weights. See if there are areas of improvement. Cattlemen get paid on weaning rates and weaning weights. Sometimes a few simple improvements or adjustments to the production program can bring good returns. If you don't have those records start this year by developing a set of records. Records can be very simple and don't necessarily have to be on the computer. A simple list of cows and which ones calved and weaned calves can tell me who is working for me and who isn't. The next level might be weaning weights to help me determine which cows are most efficient by evaluating weaning weight as a percentage of the cow's weight. A cow needs to wean at least 40-45 percent of her body weight to be worth her keep.

There are a lot of things to keep track of in a well-managed cow herd or production operation: production and financial records; feed quality, inventory and cow herd nutrition; herd health program including vaccinations and internal and external parasite control; genetics and fertility; environmental issues, effects on carrying capacity and production decisions and marketing. Not only that but at some point you actually need to spend time with the cattle to monitor health and condition or hire good, qualified people to do that for you (which can be a challenge at times). It is almost enough to take all the fun out of owning cows!

We have several really good specialists in Georgia who really want to help cattle producers succeed. Sometimes we teach the information in fragments, which can leave a producer confused about how to integrate all the information. Where does a new herd owner get advice? There is a lot of information out there. Some of it is good and some will ruin you and your cows. Some folks really do care about helping you and some folks mostly want to help themselves at your expense. As a cattle veterinarian I have always cared about my producer's success and the well-being of their herds. Yes, I too had to make a living and my relationships with my producers had to be win-win or we were both in trouble. In practice I had a handful of folks I trusted to call to find answers and information to questions I didn't know. Technology in the cattle industry is changing at breakneck speed so it is impossible for any one person to keep up with all of it. Identifying and partnering with those folks to provide the necessary resources is key to success.

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