Many beef cattle farming operations only prosper during peak auction prices. Even many of them subsidize operations by getting off-farm income to keep their farms alive. There are numerous operations specializing in grass-fed beef that is also plagued by high production costs and are barely profitable, despite the high-priced grass-fed beef that is currently available on the market.
Farmers are generally frugal people. The problem is not wastefulness or a lack of hard work. The farmers work hard and are resourceful. In fact, they are willing to do anything for the love of their cattle and their land. Prior to discussing the best ways to finish beef cattle for increased profit, it is important to scrutinize likely reasons for low profit in beef production.
Factors Affecting Profitability of Cattle Production
There are a number of factors adversely affecting profitability on cattle farms, including conventional, organic, grass-fed alike.
#1. High Winter Feed Costs
A pasture rotation requires some wire, some mineral supplements, and an ATV. The grass is cheap, but taking (and feeding) hay, silage, and grain are not. Compare this to all the machinery and equipment that goes into making and feeding hay, grain, and silage, including tractors, balers, feed wagons, combines, rakes, hay sheds, and bins, and the various maintenance and repair costs and labor. Usually, farmers dedicate countless hours to finding ways to produce feed more efficiently. That means stronger tractors, bigger balers, labor-saving technologies, as well as better feed rations for the winter.
Most people put little effort into planning how to reduce the amount of time they need to feed in the first place. Grazing programs should not have to be halted just because of some frost and a little snow. You should know how to design high-quality winter pastures and develop winter grazing strategies so you can extend the grazing season despite these weather conditions.
#2. Calving at the Wrong Time of Year
Most cow-calf operations calve at the earliest possible date each year so as to sell their weanlings in late fall when the cattle come off of pasture. This then allows them to pay back their bank loans by the end of the year. But unfortunately, this kind of calving cycle requires a lot of effort, time, and infrastructure. The effort, time, and infrastructure needed to reach live calves and keep them present in the mud and snow during the spring is only part of the cost, even though that is already considerable.
Winter feed costs are also significantly higher when calving before the start of the growing season than if calving at other times of the year. Cattle cannot coast through the winter. They require optimal food supply all winter to ensure that cows are in peak condition when they calve. If they do not, the conception rates will be terrible during the next breeding season. However, keeping your cows on optimal feed all through winter is costly, so it is unlikely that you can continue grazing the winter pastures to keep your costs down.
This process is commonly known in the industry as “summer calving,” though it is often false because calving does not happen at the peak of the summer heat, rather four to six weeks following the greening of the pasture. Also calving in the summer will help greatly reduce your production costs. Warm temperatures, dry ground, and clean pastures mean more calves and fewer diseases. During calving, cows also tend to need far less assistance. Most times, calving difficulties are reduced so greatly that farmers cease checking the herd once daily rather than every two hours, 24 hours a day, during the calving season.
#3. Too Many Small Herds
The practice of separate cattle groups is a popular cattle management strategy. For a winter feed program, this can be advantageous, especially to manage the nutritional needs of various age groups, but in a grazing program, this is a disaster. It is advisable to keep heifers separated and maintain multiple cow herds on pasture in order to reduce labor and expenses and to really simplify pasture management.
Moving a single herd can take about the same amount of time, regardless of how many animals are in it. Combining herds means fewer grazing moves and less need for infrastructure. Combine your herds as much as possible. Cows, heifers, and yearlings can all be pastured in one large grazing rotation. You’ll save vast amounts of money, your pastures will appreciate it, and your stock will show it for the effort.
Ways to Finish Beef Cattle at Reduced Cost
Now to the main subject. Rearing cattle at low cost with increased return should always be the motive of every livestock farmer, hence, to achieve this, I would recommend the following procedures:
#1. Purchase Cost
A completed beef animal’s most significant cost is the feedlot. Proper budgeting prior to purchase is extremely important in tight margin times. Good records of past close-outs and past performance of cattle from a source can be useful in projecting cattle performance. It is important to know that the cheapest cattle, depending upon performance and efficiency, may not be the most profitable. Be realistic when budgeting for new feeder cattle, and remember to pay close attention to market conditions. Periods of low prices and price volatility can provide opportunities for good cattle buyers.
#2. Use of Feed Additives
As feed prices are rising, the payback for improved efficiency increases while the use of ionophores like Bovatec, Catalyst, and Rumensin are greater. Optaflexx will improve carcass gain in the last 28 days of feeding.
#3. Implants or Artificial Insemination
The technology of implanting can improve efficiency by 10 to 15%. Learn about the different implanting strategies and choose the one that matches your cattle and management practices.
#4. Keeping Good Records
In order for producers to make timely marketing and management decisions, it is necessary to monitor feedlot performance and costs so that mid-course adjustments can be made. Because feed costs are rising and cattle prices are changing, it is important to understand current production costs.
#5. Feed Bunk Management
Optimizing feed bunk management can help reduce the incidence of low-level acidosis that occurs with high-grain rations. In addition, using bunk scoring or similar methods to reduce feed waste during high grain cost periods can yield substantial savings. The advantage of using a feed bunk may be increased performance and efficiency by reducing the variance in daily feed consumption. Good feed bunk management also involves correct feed mixing of feed ingredients and accurate weighing of feed ingredients.
#6. Feeding Alternative Feedstuffs
In addition to low-cost corn, alternative feeds may aid in lowering costs. Your best bet is to look local for feeds that may have advantages over transportation costs. However, changes in the ethanol industry have led to increased volatility and changes in value in corn co-products.
Limited cattle supplies have increased market weights in recent months, but timely marketing can help to reduce the cost of production. It is important to constantly monitor the balance between cost of gain, dressing percentages, and carcass value changes.
#8. Mineral Supplementation
Make necessary adjustments to your mineral supplementation program. Does your pet receive a complete mineral supplement or do you supplement free choice minerals? If you supplement at free choice, is your mineral the correct one? Phosphorous is one of the most expensive nutrients used in most mineral supplements. Supplementation phosphorous is unlikely to be needed if the ration is high in corn or coproducts.
When feed costs are high, improved efficiency with basic management such as simple water maintenance and cleaning can result in big savings. These include feeding cattle at a regular time and location, handling cattle to reduce stress, and monitoring feed ingredients for quality.