Cow Efficiency Topic of Cattlemen’s Meeting

Nothing beats a meal of good bbq and good conversation with older cattlemen from the area. The one place to find such a thing is at a County Cattlemen’s meeting. I have always enjoyed traveling to these meetings across Arkansas with my dad. Our family’s cattle auction gives him a pretty good excuse to visit other counties’ meetings and get to know everyone. Now I get the chance to do a little visiting of my own here in Tennessee.

Last week I traveled to Erin, Tennessee for the Houston County Cattlemen’s meeting. In the warehouse portion of a fairly new Farmers’ Co-op building, we had some folding tables, a good spread of bbq, and about 20 cattlemen to strike up the conversation. True, these meetings make a great place to “shoot the bull” but it also makes a prime opportunity to gauge the current situation of area cattle producers. As we move into Fall calf weaning, it is perfect time to do some herd culling and work on the direction of our cattle programs. This meeting hosted guest speakers from Tennessee Extension, the state’s Farmers Co-op, and veterinary medicine company Boeringer Inglehiem. The topics all surrounded the idea of cowherd efficiency.

Market prices may be high for beef products, but at the same time, input costs have risen sharply. Making sure our cows are efficient in both health and production can be the difference between going under and being able to cover feed costs for next year’s calf crop.

There is no uniform answer for the perfect cow size. We want a cow that will raise the largest calf, on fewer resources, and at the same time be able to maintain and prepare for next year’s calf. Cattle ranchers are more like forage producers. We produce grass that is inedible for humans, harvest it with cattle that transform that energy into an edible, nutrient dense human food source; BEEF!

So the perfect cow size is one that can maintain herself in the environment, raise a calf, and be able to reproduce in time for the next calving season. We could get into it and talk about % calf crop weaned or pounds of calf weaned per pound of forage consumed. Bottom line when retaining cows is we want to identify those cows producing more with less, and cull those who are least efficient. Grazing land isn’t getting more accessible, and input costs aren’t going to disappear. So we’ve got to do a better job of producing more with less.

Do you attend any producer meetings in your area? Gauging by discussions, what are current important topics to farmers and ranchers in your area?


  1. From those few of us cattleman left in the Southern California area, our conversation is about the same. Will we get early and or normal rain fall, grass forage quality of our pastures…

  2. This year, our main topics: hay going to Texas; mommas selling for 20-50 cents on the pound in Texas; and yes, do we have enough hay forage put up for the winter and will the rains come early. Wished it would have rained one more time here, to keep our grasses up till the end of October, but feeding has already started for us.

    And, oh yeah, cubes are higher this year, and corn is still feeding the wrong source: Automobiles!

    1. As a rancher/farmer, a beef nutritionist, and an employ of an ethanol plant (I sell the cattle feed the plant produces) I am going to disagree with you about the corn to fuel. Ethanol plants are making what I consider the “perfect” cattle feed or as close as perfect as beef producers can buy for the money. It is high in protein (28% on DM basis) high in fat (8-11% DM basis pending the plant), and high in Phosphorus (0.80% DM basis). And here is the best part it is sold at a discount to corn (70-80% the value of corn). So it is hard for me to believe the ethanol is bad when the cattle industry has the oportunity to buy a feed product that has more Protein, Energy, and Phosphorus than corn at a discount to corn. Oh and there is 1 more perk to distillers grain, there is very little starch. Starch in high forage diets reduces the fiber digesting bacteria in the rumens abiltity to digest the fiber. So you get better utilization of of forage. Dry distillers can be shipped as far as Texas (from the midwest) and cost per pound of delivered protein is still much cheaper than shipping in the alfalfa that is leaving my home state of Nebraska right now. If anyone whats to learn more about the feeding distllers grain check out my blog my next series is going to be on the link between corn farmers, ethanol plants, and cattle producers. Below is the link to my blog.

      1. I’m, and I believe a lot of other folks, waiting for your assessment to balance out in the overall markets, cost wise. If the markets adjusts in time and balance out, I’ll agree to what you are saying. However, I’m not convinced, yet.

        I believe I am still suffering with the costs-rise of corn-based food products for my livestock and family. I’m trying different strategies, but haven’t found a more cost-effective food source replacement than corn-based products.

        I’m not sure how reasonable [economically] (long-term) the ethanol based fuels can balance (or lower) and sustain overall costs to our food markets. If the byproducts of this are useable at a discounted, good quality rate, then I await for the food/feed prices to drop, or the markets to balance. At this point, I’m still waiting and paying nearly 5 dollars for a gallon of milk. I believe that is unsustainable, or inflation will be our lot in life.

        I can’t eat oil, but my cars and equipment love it!

        Anybody got a Jersey cow for sale? Might have to go to goat milk if not!

      2. Haha Bryan good point. And to take the strategy from a former Tennessee Cowman, “the most efficient cow is the one that fits my management strategy.” If they don’t perform with the management that you can provide, there are those other cows who will perform best with the resources you can.

      3. Please feel free to stop by my blog for my assessment of feeding cattle and working with the ethanol industry to use their feed products to increase cattle feed efficiency and increase sustainability in the beef industry. I also have a facebook page that I update when I post new things to blog. I invite anyone interested to message me or post questions. I would love to shed some light on my opinion and share feed economics. I am not convinced that ethanol is the Final Answer to getting us out of the “economic crisis”, decreasing fuel costs by itself, or the perfect solution, but there is opportunity for cattle producers to take advantage of the products they produce. Feel free to message me on the facebook page as well.

        Facebook page-
        Where-CornGrows And-CattleGraze

      4. Thanks for giving the shout out. It’s always interesting to read how others take advantage of local resources, because it is different every where we go.

  3. Ryan,
    Cowherd efficiency is a great topic to bring attention to for the reasons you listed. I would agree that we might not all agree on the perfect cow size. If we did get into % calf crop weaned or forage consumption discussion I believe we would find the answer. I am sure the smaller cow size will most always be more efficient. So I do think there is an answer to the perfect cow size. Smaller cows + more efficient = more profit for rancher.

  4. Improving effeciency has been a hot topic for a long time and I think it will continue to be at the fore front of conversations between agriculture producers for ever. We have a huge task to feed more people each year with less acres and the only way to do this is through increased efficiency. We will continue to improve efficiency through both genetics, feed/nutrition management, and better cow management. Thank good ness there are still some land grant universities doing the research and testing the new theories to give the cattle producers some new ideas to keep improving.

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