In my last column, I presented eight ideas to consider for improving your management of the ranch. Now, I’ll add nine more items to ponder, most of which are actually thought processes.
I urge you to consider making an abbreviated list of these to use as “thought for the day” topics to consider, one at a time, while driving, riding, resting or at other times when you have time to think. I drive many miles each year, and that time spent behind the wheel proves to be some of my most constructive thought time.
• Prioritize for profit rather than for convenience. Sometimes, convenience and profit are closely related. Other times, they’re not related at all or might even be antagonistic. Ranchers should never let their desire for convenience get in the way of improving profit – unless, of course, you’re already profitable enough and convenience can add enough quality of life to offset that foregone profit. The important point is to recognize the difference between the two and be prepared to prioritize for profit when it is more important than convenience.
• Think return per acre rather than return per cow. As ranchers, we often get so fixated on “maximums” that we forget the distinct possibility that running more cows that are smaller and give less milk might provide a greater return per acre while producing less return per cow. In such a scenario, calf crop percentages might be greater, and the cost per cow and cost per acre might both be significantly lower, which will greatly increase profit. The bottom line is that we want to improve the productivity and profitability of our entire ranch not production or profit per cow.
• Calve in sync with nature. This single practice may do more than any other to reduce cost and increase profit. While there may be some profitable exceptions, calving in sync with nature will enable a reduction in overheads – labor, equipment and facilities – plus significantly reduce feed cost. In almost all situations, calf health and calf crop percentages will improve as well.
• Cut overhead. If it rusts, rots, or depreciates, strive to have as little of it as possible. Think of ways to function with less labor, facilities and equipment. These decisions are often more emotional than rational.
During my career as a ranch manager, I managed or participated in the management of a number of ranches. In the beginning, I paid little attention to overheads. I guess I just assumed they were part of the ranching business, but failed to recognize the detrimental effect overheads can have on profit.
Once I became aware of this concept, I’d instantly recognize an excess of overheads when I began to manage a ranch. On other ranches, it would take a little time and thought to see how we could restructure operations or rearrange the mix of overheads and begin to reduce total overheads. Remember, we do need overheads – just not more than we need.
• Don’t take better care of bulls than they need. I get quite aggravated when I’m told how much I need to feed a bull over winter to ensure he’ll get cows pregnant next summer. Since a bull doesn’t need to gestate or lactate, if you need to take very good care of him, do you want his daughters to become your cows?
I’ll expect his daughters to pretty much take care of themselves through winter, with minimal help from me. In the meantime, they’re gestating and preparing to nurse a calf and rebreed. What kind of bull does it take to produce that kind of cow?
• Don’t over-develop replacement heifers. Doing so will cost you money in several ways. If some heifers don’t breed, take heart in the fact that the “good ones” did. At first breeding, 55% of expected mature cow weight is adequate in most situations, rather than the 65% that’s long been recommended.
If you insist on calving in February (which I have done and will never do again), you will probably need to over-develop your heifers to get good pregnancy rates. However, minimally developed heifers will rebreed better after the first calf and raise better calves. They might not breed quite as well as yearlings, but that’s a small price to pay for a better long-term cow. You can get plenty bred in a short season if you expose enough.
• Reduce transportation cost. Most ranches need a pickup capable of pulling a good-sized stock trailer, but they don’t need to use it for every lightweight job. The opposite extreme would be to use a saddle horse and packhorse for almost everything.
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Balancing the value of time with the cost of transportation is difficult. I know a ranch that rarely uses its “big” pickup for anything except pulling the stock trailer when the trailer is needed. The pickup was bought used and is still going strong more than 10 years later.
This outfit uses small, used, well-maintained pickups for all the tasks like going to town, checking stock water, fixing fence, distributing salt and mineral, etc. The small pickups are traded more often to maintain a high level of dependability. I don’t know the answer for your ranch, but I’ll bet you can figure it out.
• Make a “not-to-do” list. We can all think of things we used to do. We quit doing them because we discovered they weren’t necessary – often, long after they had ceased to be necessary if they were even necessary in the first place. I’ll guarantee most of us are still doing things that don’t need to be done, which costs us time and money. Be wise. Some things still need to be done. However, this may be the best list you ever make.
• Strive for a trouble-free, problem-free cow herd with good reproduction and accomplish this on your range or pasture with minimal added inputs. How great would it be to never have to pull a calf, doctor an animal or retrieve an animal that broke through the fence? How much less labor, equipment, facilities and tools would you need?
If a high percentage of your cows got pregnant and then subsequently wean a good healthy calf – even if they aren’t the biggest in the area – how would that help your marketing? And, if they did that with minimal fed feed inputs, how much more profitable would that be? Perfection is never achieved, but excellence can be. We will discuss profitable cow herds in my next column.
Burke Teichert, a consultant on strategic planning for ranches, retired in 2010 as vice president and general manager of AgReserves, Inc. He resides in Orem, UT. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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