Cattle producers saw one of the most significant economic downturns in history this past year. The steep price decline began in the second half of 2015 and is a direct result of supply and demand.
A short supply of forages as a result of the 2012 drought and high grain prices caused many producers to sell off their herds, eventually causing a shortage in the cattle market beginning in 2013. The markets responded to the shortage with a rise in cattle prices that reached a historic high in 2014 and early 2015.
As the drought ended, forages became more available and producers responded to the rising prices by retaining record numbers of heifers as replacements and increased their herd sizes.
Steers from the expanded herds begin to hit the market in the latter part of 2015 and in 2016. The increase in market cattle and steep competition from the pork and poultry industries caused cattle prices to drop.
Even though prices have slightly improved the first part of 2017, cattle producers are being challenged to achieve a positive balance between production levels and production costs.
John Grimes, Ohio State University Extension beef coordinator, recommends the following 10 steps for beef producers to improve profitability:
• Limit the breeding/calving season to no more than 90 days. There is a great deal of university research that shows the profitability is found in the older calves born in a given calving season. There are volumes of documentation on the herd management advantages associated with a relatively short calving season.
• Don’t use a bull unless he has had a breeding soundness examination prior to breeding season. As expensive as annual cow costs are, every cow needs to deliver a live calf in order to give the producer a chance to make a profit. A herd bull with poor fertility is an easy way to create red ink on a profit/loss statement.
• Cull aggressively to weed out cows with low fertility and other management problems. Poor fertility is not limited to the male side of the equation. Cows that have failed to conceive when exposed to highly fertile bulls or when bred several times by an experienced artificial insemination technician are prime candidates for culling.
• Regardless of the size of your production unit, identify all bulls, cows, yearlings, and calves within your herd. It is much easier to make critical management decisions when you are able to identify individual animals.
• Don’t be afraid to use structured crossbreeding programs. Heterosis is defined as the increase in an animal’s performance on any given trait above the average of the parent’s performance. Use breeds that complement each other genetically and provide you the best opportunity to meet your production goals.
• Minimize the use of harvested feedstuffs, and use pasture. Feed costs are the largest expense in an annual cow budget. While a certain amount of harvested feeds are necessary for the cow herd in a calendar year, efforts must be made to minimize the use of harvested feed.
• If you must make hay, then don’t waste it. Haymaking is a very expensive practice if you document all of the costs. However, once the hay is made, the work is not done.
Many research trials have documented large amounts of hay wasted through poor storage systems. Investments ranging from extra rock on the ground, to temporary covers, or a permanent structure can save significant dollars by preventing hay spoilage.
Poor feeding techniques can further compound this problem. Feeding devices that limit hay being fed outside on the ground should be used. While this practice may not be convenient for a cattleman with an off-the-farm job, more frequent feedings of smaller amounts will help minimize waste.
• Improve your facilities to improve herd management. Objectively evaluate your facilities to determine if they are limiting your ability to manage the herd.
• Critically examine all management decisions and inputs. Today’s economy dictates that we use a very sharp pencil in the budgeting process. The way that we have always done it may not work today.
• Get involved in the beef industry and understand the issues.
Beef producers can improve their production practices by attending the Ohio State University Extension’s second webinar for the Beef Cattle School from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Feb. 7 at the Hancock County Extension office, 7868 County 140, Findlay.
Dr. Francis Fluharty, OSU Department of Animal Sciences, will compare grazing versus confinement growing systems and explain how calf health and management practices impact the end product. The program is free and open to the public.
Lentz is extension educator for agriculture and natural resources for The Ohio State University Extension Service in Hancock County. He can be reached at 419-422-3851 or via email at
Lentz can be heard with Vaun Wickerham on weekdays at 6:35 a.m. on WFIN, at 5:43 a.m. on WKXA-FM, and at 5:28 a.m. at 106.3 The Fox.