Expenses are up across all sectors of the economy and agriculture is no exception. Whether beef or dairy, the largest expense for most cattle operations is feed. With the cost of fertilizer and commodities through the roof, this will be a serious hit to already narrow farm margins. When times are tight, careful management of cattle inventory can make a significant difference in the bottom line of your operation.
For beef cattle, prompt pregnancy checking after the breeding season allows timely marketing of open animals. Failure to identify an open cow means potentially feeding her for a full non-productive year before discovering that she will not produce a calf. Likewise, semen testing bulls reduces the risk of a failed breeding season, which can similarly lead to feeding non-productive animals for 6-12 months before the problem is identified and corrected. It is important to watch markets carefully this year to determine the best time to wean and sell calves. Across the nation, beef cattle inventory is down and feed costs are up. This may create some opportunities for marketing calves at a premium when the timing is right.
This is also a good time for dairy herds to closely examine heifer inventory and management practices. It is estimated that the average cost to raise a dairy replacement heifer to calving is over $2,000, yet their market value is far lower. Improvements in nutrition, cow comfort, health and reproduction mean that many herds now have a surplus of heifers. With feed and labor costs through the roof, raising surplus heifers to calving is less affordable than ever. Genomic testing, combined with selective use of sexed and beef semen, is one effective method for managing heifer inventory. Custom heifer growing operations are another way to control heifer rearing costs. Outside of controlling inventory, it will take excellent management, nutrition and preventive care to protect these valuable heifers and efficiently rear them to calving during these challenging times.