Cowherds keep getting bigger

The big keep getting bigger, even in the cow-calf sector.

Nevil Speer

October 10, 2018

2 Min Read
Cowherds keep getting bigger

Over the years, Industry At A Glance has regularly reported on data generated from the Kansas Farm Management Association (KFMA) to provide some insight into decision-making in the cow-calf sector. State management association programs allow farming/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. 

The KFMA data is especially useful from several perspectives. One, Kansas’ program is one of the largest in the country. Two, the data represent mostly mid-size (including both diversified and full-time) operations. Finally, there’s a solid track record across all the data enabling meaningful comparisons over time.

The data outlined above represent five-year moving averages beginning with 1996-2000 and subsequently updated annually through 2012-2016, resulting from the most recent 2017 analyses and published in 2018. Analysis of the five-year moving averages avoids year-over-year peaks and valleys because of weather, markets, etc., and helps provide some focus on longer-run trends within the cow-calf sector.


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

Related:Better business: Analyze your cowherd’s production facts

  • Cowherds are getting bigger. Operational size continues to steadily increase, thereby indicating ongoing consolidation within the cow-calf sector.

  • The marketing rate hasn’t budged. The relative proportion of calves marketed (or calf crop percentage – aggregately determined by pregnancy, calving, and weaning percentages, respectively) hasn’t varied through the years. The marketing rate has stubbornly hovered right around 84-5%. Seemingly, there’s been no major shift over time – one way or the other – in terms of either cow fertility or calf survivability.

  • Weaning (marketing) weights have plateaued. Lastly, despite all indications of greater growth potential across the industry over time (e.g. bigger steer slaughter and carcass weight) marketing weight of calves hasn’t changed during the past 15 years. Producers continue to market their calves at the time they weigh 600 pounds – and with a 3% shrink, that translates to a 580-pound pay weight.

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 foresee any of these trends changing in the coming years? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below. 

Related:3 weaning methods compared; which one rises to the top?

Nevil Speer serves as an industry consultant and is based in Bowling Green, KY. Contact him at [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Nevil Speer

Nevil Speer serves as an industry consultant and is based in Bowling Green, KY.

Nevil Speer has extensive experience and involvement with the livestock and food industry including various service and consultation projects spanning such issues as market competition, business and economic implications of agroterrorism, animal identification, assessment of price risk and market volatility on the producer segment, and usage of antibiotics in animal agriculture.
Dr. Speer writes about many aspects regarding agriculture and the food industry with regular contribution to BEEF and Feedstuffs.  He’s also written several influential industry white papers dealing with issues such as changing business dynamics in the beef complex, producer decision-making, and country-of-origin labeling.
He serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the National Institute for Animal Agriculture.
Dr. Speer holds both a PhD in Animal Science and a Master’s degree in Business Administration.

Contact him at [email protected].

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