Why the Packer Loves Cowmen: Part II, Average Cow Life

by Dr. Jimmy T (Gunny) LaBaume

At the end of Part I. We sad that there are three ways to cut back on breeding animals without reducing the calf crop: 1) improve herd fertility so that fewer replacement heifers are needed; 2) increase the useful life of your mamma cows and 3) find ways to cut back on the number of bulls.

Let’s talk about mamma cows and their relationship to replacement heifers.

Although a standard useful life for a breeding cow used by most ranchers who bother to budget is 7 years. However, this is a  bit misleading. The average beef cow’s useful life is about 3 years (see the table below).

The average rancher (your neighbor) typically gets less than an 80% conception rate (20 open cows out of 100 at pregnancy testing). Then, of those, only 90% will actually wean a calf (i.e. there will be 8 dry cows at weaning).

Using generous assumptions: 1) we have 100 heifers of breeding age; 2) the conception rate is 90%; 3) we have no death losses, and 4) cows that do not wean a calf are culled.

The table below shows what will happen to the herd without replacements.

Year Opening Inventory (# of Cows) Open(10%) Dry(10%) Calves Weaned Culled (Open & Dry) Closing Inventory (# of Cows)
1 100 10 9 72 19 81
2 81 8 7 58 15 66
3 66 7 6 47 13 53

Note that, without replacements, the herd went from 100 head to 53 head in 3 years. In other words, we have to have a lot of replacement heifers and these heifers take up room that could be occupied by cows. This represents an enormous hidden cost.

In part III, we will do a similar exercise dealing with bull costs. It too is a shocker.

After: Parsons, Stanly D. Putting Profit into Ranching

Dr. Jimmy T (Gunny) LaBaume (send him mail) is President & CEO, Land & Livestock International, Inc. providing a complete line of management & consulting services to the range livestock industry. 

About Land & Livestock Interntional, Inc.

Land and Livestock International, Inc. is a leading agribusiness management firm providing a complete line of services to the range livestock industry. We believe that private property is the foundation of America. Private property and free markets go hand in hand—without property there is no freedom. We also believe that free markets, not government intervention, hold the key to natural resource conservation and environmental preservation. No government bureaucrat can (or will) understand and treat the land with as much respect as its owner. The bureaucrat simply does not have the same motives as does the owner of a capital interest in the property. Our specialty is the working livestock ranch simply because there are so many very good reasons for owning such a property. We provide educational, management and consulting services with a focus on ecologically and financially sustainable land management that will enhance natural processes (water and mineral cycles, energy flow and community dynamics) while enhancing profits and steadily building wealth.
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