Jan. 8, 2018
Efficiency and cow-calf production
by Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist
Cow-calf producers use a variety of efficiency measures to help manage production systems. Many of these are technical efficiencies that capture physical measures of output and input use and range from very specific measures to more broad-based values that incorporate a range of production components. For example, pregnancy percentage focuses on breeding efficiency and highlights management of cow body condition and can indicate reproductive failures in cows and bulls. Calving percentage incorporates pre-natal calf mortality in additional to pregnancy percentage while weaning percentage adds calf mortality to calving percentage.
Weaning weights are a basic measure of productivity while pounds of calf weaned per exposed female is a much more robust measure of reproductive and nutritional efficiency. Better yet, pounds of weaned calf per acre also adds in forage management and stocking rate. Technical efficiency measures are very useful to monitor and manage particular components of production systems. However, excessive focus on technical measures, especially very narrow ones, can misdirect management attention. Technical efficiency measures tend to emphasize maximums (such as weaning weights) or minimums (such as death loss). Often times, maximums and minimums are not optimal in terms of economic outcome. Data certainly shows, for example, that the most profitable cow-calf operations often do not have the highest weaning weights.
Economic efficiency measures go beyond technical efficiencies to include values of inputs and outputs as well. Economic efficiencies demonstrate that efficiency can change due to changes in output and/or input values even when physical efficiency is unchanged. A good example is least cost feed rations where ration composition can change, not because the nutrient contribution of feedstuffs changes, but simply due to changing values of feed ingredients.
Economic efficiency measures tend to focus on optimal levels rather than physical maximums and minimums. For example, dollars of return per cow will reign in an excessive focus on weaning weights by recognizing that some means of increasing weaning weights, such as increasing cow size, may be very expensive and not efficient at some point. For many cow-calf operations, the land investment is the biggest component and the final assessment of economic efficiency is returns per acre. This incorporates physical animal components related to reproductive, nutritional and health productivity, along with feed and forage management plus output values and input costs.
Typically, a combination of technical and economic efficiency measures are needed to manage an operation for maximum economic returns. Technical efficiency measures are critical to understand physical productivity and identify weaknesses or failures in production systems. However, excessive focus on technical efficiency can be detrimental. Economic efficiency measures focus on optimal use of inputs relative to the value of outputs. However, changes in output values or input costs can lead, for example, to improved returns due solely to changing market conditions while masking stagnant or even declining physical productivity. It takes both to ensure that the operation is moving in the right direction. The first step is to measure productivity and input use in a good record system. Then put those records to use.
Prepare a “calving kit” before spring calving season begins
by Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension animal scientist
Before the hustle and bustle of the spring calving season begin, now is a good time to put together the supplies and equipment that will be needed to assist heifers and cows that need help at calving time.
Before calving season starts, do a walk-through of pens, chutes, and calving stalls. Make sure that all are clean dry, strong, safe, and functioning correctly. This is a lot easier to do on a sunny afternoon than a dark night when you need them.
Protocol: Before calving season starts, develop a plan of what to do, when to do it, who to call for help (along with phone numbers), and how to know when you need help. Make sure all family members or helpers are familiar with the plan. It may help to write it out and post copies in convenient places. Talk to your local veterinarian about your protocol and incorporate his/her suggestions. Below is an example of a “Calving Protocol” that could be laminated and hung in the barn or calving shed.
Note: this is just an example. You may wish to include other important steps in the protocol. Encourage everyone that will be watching and helping cows and heifers this calving season to read Oklahoma State University Extension Circular E-1006, “Calving Time Management for Beef Cows and Heifers”.
Supplies: The stockmen should always have in their medicine chest the following: disposable obstetrical sleeves, non-irritant antiseptic, lubricant, obstetrical chains (60 inch and/or two 30 inch chains), two obstetrical handles, mechanical calf pullers and injectable antibiotics. Also, have a tincture of iodine solution that can be used to treat navels of newborns shortly after birth. Many lubricants have been used and one of the best lubricants is probably the simplest: non-detergent soap and warm water. Don’t forget the simple things like a good flashlight and extra batteries and some old towels or a roll of paper towels.
It may be helpful for you to have all these things and other items you may want to include packed into a 5-gallon bucket to make up a “calving kit” so you can grab everything at once. Place that bucket in a location that can be found and reached by everyone in the operation. Locate a plastic tub large enough to immerse the body of a very cold-stressed calf in 100-degree water for an hour. Remember to hold his head above water so he can breathe.
Who to call: Countryside Large Animal Clinic 405-123-1234
Dr. Jones cell phone 405-321-4321
Dad’s cell phone 405-999-0000
Billy Ray’s cell phone 405-777-1111
Watch heifers 1 hour after water bag or baby calf feet appear
Watch cows 30 min after water bag or baby calf feet appear
Find calving kit on North wall of calving barn
Use plenty of lube or soap and water
Determine that cervix is dilated and calf is coming head and both front feet first. Call for help if something is unusual.
Don’t pull until cervix is completely dilated
Apply ¼ turn as hips go through pelvic bone
Backwards calf must be delivered within 4 minutes after calf’s tail appears
Briskly tickle nostril of calf with stiff straw to start breathing
Clean chains and handles and replace calving kit
Cow-Calf Corner is a weekly newsletter from the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Agency.