Last month I started a list of readers’ questions about why I make certain recommendations. Here is a continuation of that list:
- Composite or hybrid bulls? I recommend composite bulls to make crossbreeding easier. In my youthful exuberance, I imagined designing crossbreeding programs to achieve and maintain very high levels of heterosis through the entire cow herd. However, upon becoming a manager and the one responsible for implementation, I discovered my lofty ideals were not fully aligned with other objectives.
I had adopted grazing practices which required a large number of paddocks per herd and also discovered that it was much simpler to manage one large herd than several small herds. In spite of some antagonistic goals, I still knew I wanted to take advantage of the values of heterosis. When research at the USDA Meat Animal Research Center showed that matings of similar composites would retain heterosis at levels similar to the degree of crossbreeding in the animals, it made the world of crossbreeding much simpler and possible for me.
I then needed to consider what was optimum while understanding that it would not be maximum. I want at least three breeds in a composite and preferably four to provide good levels of heterosis.
- Calving in sync with nature? If you want to reduce cost and maintain good reproductive rates and calf survivability, calve in sync with nature. You eliminate or at least greatly reduce the need for calving tools and supplies, facilities such as calving barns and lots and a lot of labor. You can also significantly reduce the cost of heifer development. Winter feed and supplementation cost will be greatly reduced. Cows will gain weight while grazing and nursing a calf from calving to breeding. Ranchers who have made this change would never go back.
- Large herds? It is just much easier to care for one large herd than several smaller herds. When you go to check stock water, salt and mineral, the cattle are all in one place. You can see them much easier. That’s one of the reasons I suggest smaller ranches use terminal matings—to only have one herd.
- Time controlled, adaptive grazing? When done well, it is usually the most powerful economic tool that ranchers have. Well managed grazing will improve carrying capacity (big increases if done well), lengthen the grazing season and thus reduce the need for fed feed, improve pasture quality and reduce the need for supplementation. Spending money on stock water development and fencing will increase ranch carrying capacity much more cost effectively than buying or leasing more land.
- Low-stress animal handling? When you get truly good at low stress animal handling as taught by Bud Williams, the rest of your animal handling activities get easier and safer and the animals perform better. Some feel that slow and quiet makes you a low-stress handler—not necessarily so. Most of us can learn different techniques and get much better. Remember, 90% of all drivers think they are a better than average driver.
- Cut overheads? On most farms and ranches, overheads are the big robber of profitability. Overheads are land and the facilities and buildings attached to it and people and their equipment and tools. We get used to having this stuff and tell ourselves we can’t get along without it. On ranches where I became the manager and many ranches where I have consulted, reducing overheads needed to be a high priority. You need overheads, but carefully select what you need and what you can eliminate. In the cattle business, after managing feed, animal health costs and marketing, the overheads are all you have left. They must be trimmed as much as possible.
- Improving marketing skills? A little more time spent on marketing can yield significant differences in revenue. Often the time can and should be taken from less productive activities. Therefore, the added revenue drops straight to the bottom line.
- Improve the cows/person ratio? Employees or owners plus their equipment, housing, etc. have a high cost. Spreading those costs across a larger number of cows can be very significant. It is much more cost effective to manage and organize better and then pay a good employee more than to add an employee.
- Reduce acres per cow? This is accomplished by increasing the carrying capacity of your ranch and/or reducing the size and milk production of the cows. Think of it this way—if you can double carrying capacity, you will have bought another ranch on top of the one you already own. You will pay no additional property tax and will probably not increase overheads except for stock water and fence. I know several people who have done this by spending between $50 and $100 an acre for fence and stock water development.
- Reduce fed feed and increase grazed feed? Every time you put a machine between the mouth of a cow and her feed source, it costs money. Sometimes this cost can be justified, but not often if grazing options are available. If you can feed cows in a drylot cheaper than you can buy or produce pasture, the person selling the feedstuffs is not getting the value that his straw, hay or whatever is worth back on his land as fertility and carbon especially after subtracting his harvest and hauling cost.
- Put people first? Everything is accomplished through people. They make the decisions and do the work. Everyone deserves to be treated well and offered a chance to succeed. “Good managers create an environment in which people want to excel and then provide the tools, training and freedom to do it.” It takes effort and time to create a strong team that may include family, employees, service suppliers, customers and other ranchers.
- Prioritize for profit before convenience? It is always easy to ask if an action or purchase will make the job easier or more pleasant without asking if it will be more profitable. That’s OK if your profitability is acceptable and the new practice won’t make continued profitability more difficult. However, good profitability makes many good things possible and makes ranching much more enjoyable.
Teichert, a consultant on strategic planning for ranches, retired in 2010 as vice president and general manager of AgReserves, Inc. He resides in Orem, Utah. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.