Cowherd trends: Are we stuck in neutral?

Several important metrics of cowherd efficiency haven’t changed over the past 10 to 15 years.

Nevil Speer

February 13, 2020

2 Min Read
February KFMA Trends
Nevil Speer

This column has routinely provided updates from data generated by the Kansas Farm Management Association (KFMA). Analysis of the enterprise reports over time enables some key insights into the decision-making process of beef producers. 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 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. 

February KFMA Trends

The data represents five-year moving averages beginning with 1996-2000 and subsequently updated annually through 2017 (resulting from the 2018 analysis completed in 2019). Presentation of the five-year moving averages avoids year-over-year fluctuations that may occur due to weather and/or markets. What’s more, the moving averages enable a meaningful perspective of broader 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:

  1. Cowherd size: Clearly, there’s been a trend toward managing more cows since the beginning of the data series. However, it seems that has leveled off in recent years around 135-140 cows, largely matching the broader trends across the country in terms of overall numbers.  

  2. Marketing rate: The relative proportion of calves marketed (or calf crop percentage marketed – aggregately determined by pregnancy, calving, and weaning percentages, respectively) has remained stubbornly stuck at about 85%. There’s been no major improvements – nor declines – in cumulative cow fertility and/or calf survivability.  

  3. Weaning (marketing) weights:  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 around 600 pounds. With a 3% shrink, that translates to a 580-pound payweight.  

Are these consistent with the trends you’ve seen in your area?  

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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