Long-run cowherd trends show fertility is in the crosshairs

Long-run cowherd trends show fertility is in the crosshairs

The number of cows per herd is getting larger, yet the percentage of the calf crop that is marketed remains flat.

State farm management association programs allow farming and ranching participants to obtain comprehensive analysis of their respective enterprises which comprise the farm operation. That information subsequently leads to establishment of meaningful benchmarks for comparative purposes – both from a production and financial standpoint.    

Accordingly, this column has regularly utilized data from Kansas Farm Management Association (KFMA) to provide some insight into decision-making in the cow-calf sector. The KFMA data is especially useful from several perspectives. One, Kansas’ program is one of the largest in the country. Two, the data represents mostly mid-size (including both diversified and full-time) operations. Last, there’s a solid track record across all the data, enabling meaningful comparisons over time. 

The data outlined below represents five-year moving averages beginning with 1996-2000 and subsequently updated annually through 2010-2014, resulting from the most recent 2015 analyses). The five-year moving averages avoids year-over-year peaks and valleys because of weather, markets and other factors, and helps provide some focus on longer-run trends within the cow-calf sector. Meanwhile, single-year data from 2015 is also included to reference against the broader trends.

cows maintained

The key components in the graph include number of cows maintained, number of calves marketed and marketing weight. The trends are surprisingly consistent over time:

  1. Cowherd size continues to steadily increase, thereby indicating ongoing consolidation within the cow-calf sector.
  2. The relative proportion of calves marketed or calf crop percentage – aggregately determined by pregnancy, calving, and weaning percentages, respectively, hasn’t budged up or down. Seemingly, there’s been no major shift over time – one way or the other – in terms of either cow fertility or calf survivability.
  3. Lastly, marketing weight of calves has plateaued during the past 15 years, despite the fact that the beef industry has been able to consistently push slaughter and carcass weights higher.  

Further discussion in coming weeks from recent KFMA analyses will revolve around cowherd profitability and cost management. How do you perceive these trends? Are they in line with your operation? Are they consistent with your perception of what’s occurring in the cow-calf sector? Do you perceive any change in the direction of these trends in the years ahead?  Leave your thoughts in the comments section below. 

Nevil Speer is based in Bowling Green, Ky., and serves as vice president of U.S. operations for AgriClear, Inc. – a wholly-owned subsidiary of TMX Group Limited. The views and opinions of the author expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the TMX Group Limited and Natural Gas Exchange Inc.

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