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An Alternative to Expensive Summer

The calls continue to come in asking about the feasibility of dry-lotting beef cows.

The calls continue to come in asking about the feasibility of dry-lotting beef cows. Dry-lotting cow/calf pairs seems like a lot of work. In addition, cows belong on pasture in the spring and summer and one of the unique characteristics of cattle is they have the ability to convert forage to protein. There are a couple of reasons for the questions. Pasture costs continue to increase even in this time of financial uncertainty. There are reports that pasture agreements are going for $26 to $28 per AUM for a 5.5 month grazing period. That’s $31.20 to $33.60 for a 1200 pound cow. With these figures, pasture costs alone range from $171.60 to $184.80 or the 1,200 pound cow. Add on transportation costs, mineral/salt, and fuel and labor cost associated with checking to cows and bill per 1200 pound cow/calf pair quickly approaches $200. So much for the spring/summer grazing phase for being a cheap part of total feed costs. Also, because of the soft cattle market, some producers think “running age” cows will continue to decrease in price and it may be a good time to add on a few more cows that have some years left in them, but yet they don’t have the pasture to add a few more cows.

Each year Dr. Bruce Johnson conducts a survey of Nebraska farmers, ranchers, and land-owners titled the Nebraska Farm Real Estate Market Development Survey. The results of his survey can be found in a publication titled “Cornhusker Economics” and is usually in one of the March issues. You can find this publication on the web at UNL Agricultural Economics, Cornhusker Economics Newsletter. Bruce categorizes the survey information into eight districts. The majority of the sandhills of Nebraska are located in the “North” district. The information is not reported in AUM’s but are dollars per cow/calf pair and cows will typically weigh between 1100 and 1300 pounds. Average rental on in 1986 was $10.50 and $33.65 in 2008.

Dry-lotting beef cows is not a new concept for beef producers. Vern Anderson at the Carrington Research Station that is associated with North Dakota State University has research dry-lotting beef cows and has a nice publication that can be accessed via the web: NDSU Beef Publications. Some of the advantages can include: less investment in land; small cow/calf operators can increase their cow numbers without buying or renting additional land; diets can more closely meet the cow’s nutrient needs as they change throughout the production cycle; drought is not a concern; easier to gather and treat animals that are sick or injured; easier to implement an artificial insemination program; and calves are basically “bunk broke” as they are use to eating out of a bunk. Some disadvantages are: more labor and equipment are needed; cows are need closer supervision; herd health program needs to be well designed and implemented; and, if cows are naturally mated in a dry-lot, calves need access to a place that they can get away from the riding/breeding activities. It is interesting that data suggests that performance of calves and cows is similar whether they were dry-lotted or managed on pasture.

To read the entire article or reference other industry topics, link to UNL Beef Cattle Production.