During my years as a manager, the thing I liked the least was gathering information and doing analysis for decision making. However, I really liked havinggood information and the ability it provided. I also enjoyed knowing that we were using accurate and pertinent information to make decisions that would affect our future performance and profitability.
The most amazing tool we have is today’s computer. With very small computers in our home or office, we can input and store data very rapidly, make all sorts of calculations, graph our data for trend analysis, and much more. This lets us track key performance metrics and do good accounting efficiently and accurately. Meanwhile, the Internet allows us to access tremendous amounts of pertinent research.
With this helpful and versatile tool to help us collect, store and analyze data and access research, the next question is: "What should we track that will help us make continually better decisions?"
First off, I want to collect a few pieces of production and financial information in a consistent manner year after year. The production data I most want are:
- Weaned calf crop percentage based on the number of pregnant cows just before calving.
- Pregnancy rate as a percent of cows checked.
- Average actual weaning weight and date.
- Yearling gain from weaning to sale date, or date diagnosed pregnant if a replacement heifer.
- Pounds produced/acre (total weaning weight, plus yearling gain).
In addition, for range management purposes, I like to track animal days/acre (AD/A) using standard animal units where a dry cow is 1.0.
Some readers may ask why I don't use “calves weaned per cows exposed?” There are several reasons, but the most important is that we usually work with people at varying stages of understanding, plus we budget for and manage in the current year. Thus, I want us all to concentrate on this year’s weaned calf crop percentage and this year’s conception rate.
However, a very good proxy for calves weaned per cows exposed is to multiply this year’s weaned calf crop percentage by last year’s pregnancy rate. By doing this, one doesn't have to go back to a previous year’s cow inventory and make all the adjustments required to get calves weaned per cows exposed.
Some may also ask why I don't recommend individual animal records as part of the production records. The main reason is that I consider them a waste of time in commercial herds; it is time that can be put to a much more important and profitable use.
In purebred or seedstock herds, detailed individual records are an absolute requirement. However, almost all of the culling done in a commercial herd can be done without individual records.
For instance, at pregnancy-checking time, you can mark and separate the open cows without a single sheet of paper or computer entry. And, at the end of calving, you can easily sort and sell the dry cows. Or, if you give them one more chance to rebreed, you can mark them with an ear notch or a notch in their ID tag. You will never have to return to your records to find them again.
In the same manner, the lame, sick, blemished or otherwise undesirable cattle can be identified and sorted. If you want to sell cows that wean an inferior calf, you can sort off the undesirable calves at weaning, hold them away from the cows overnight and then let them find their mothers and sort them off. After you sell open, dry and blemished cows, you won’t be able to sell many due to inferior calves. If you get rid of the worst, you should depend on your seedstock provider to improve your basic herd genetics.
I also want financial data by enterprise – cow-calf, replacement heifers, stocker yearlings, etc. For each line item – such as hay, supplements, veterinary, etc., in the cow calf enterprise – I want to calculate “cost/cow” based on beginning inventory, “cost/calf weaned,” and “cost/lb. of calf.”
In the stocker and replacement enterprises, I like to know “cost/head” plus “cost/lb. of gain.” I also want to know hay and supplement amount fed/animal (by age group if fed separately), and hay and supplement cost/animal.
I also want to have sales data by sales groups. The data collected are class of animal, number sold, total weight, average weight, price/lb., and price/head. It will amaze you how much value the sales data provide for decision making when you have them presented in an easy-to-read format.
It's important to remember that profit/acre is much more important than profit/cow. Things like carrying capacity and enterprise mix could have as much or more influence on net ranch profit as production/cow. Cow size, milking ability and cost control will each have an effect on profit.
You can collect and track much more than I have outlined, but I think these are the key elements for making good production and financial decisions. Remember, it all needs to be as simple as possible or it's likely that the information won't be collected or used.
The key is to match the financial data with the production data. You may need to attach some notes to the records to remember when you made certain management changes; and when there were droughts, bad winters or other management challenges that could have an effect on production outcomes independent of your use of inputs.
My experience says that, when I have this kind of information and share it with each member of my team, our decisions become better and better over time.
Burke Teichert has served as a university faculty member, cattle reproduction specialist and manager of seven cattle ranchers for Deseret Land and Cattle. He is known for his practical take on livestock production and ranch management. Teichert retired last year as vice president and general manager with AgReserves, Inc., where he was involved in seven major ranch acquisitions in the U.S. and the management of a number of farms and ranches in the U.S. as well as Canada and Argentina.
His column on strategic planning for the ranch appears monthly in BEEFmagazine.