Cattle numbers are at an all-time low, due largely to herd reductions during the drought. Some parts of the country have finally received rain and pastures are beginning to recover. Producers, who are thinking about restocking to take advantage of green grass, should evaluate replacement cattle alternatives. Previous methods of adding to the herd may no longer produce a profit because of the high cattle prices.
During a presentation at the 59th Annual Texas A&M Beef Cattle Short Course, Dr. Ron Gill listed 15 alternatives to consider in purchasing herd replacements (Table 1). Producers may identify additional alternatives or eliminate any in the list that don’t fit the ranch environment and management systems. Gill also listed 11 genetic, economic and management factors to consider within each alternative. Ratings of the factors for each purchase alternative are presented in Table 2 and can serve as a guide for deciding upon the herd replacement types that will best fit your operation.
Availability of Quantity and Quality
The first step in purchasing herd replacements is to determine whether a sufficient number of females with the desired quality are available within the various alternatives to warrant consideration. If not, determine what it would cost to go to additional sources farther from the ranch for adequate supplies. Environmental adaptability should be considered when broadening the search.
Initial Investment Expense
Initial investment expense is the total cost for each available alternative delivered to your operation. Consider all costs including travel, commission, trucking, inspection fees, processing fees, permits, health certificates, and finally the actual purchase price. The amount of investment may be limited by available capital.
Considering the development phase is critical. The development phase is from the time an open, non-lactating animal is purchased until it is palpated bred for the first time. Any development phase adds to the cost of an animal and increases the risk of a female not breeding, calving or weaning a calf.
“If development costs are considered, purchasing a higher valued package with no development phase may be more economical,” explained Gill. “Bred animals, pairs, and three-in-one alternatives have greater initial investment cost, but no development phase cost. Replacements with a moderate development phase are open females ready to be exposed for breeding. Females with a long development phase are those in any open class that require time to grow or time to regain body condition before they can be bred.”
The single greatest risk factor after purchase is females failing to rebreed. Purchased females less than three years of age have a lower rebreeding potential than older animals. Cows that have already gone through their second successful breeding can be considered at least a moderate potential for rebreeding. Those that might be considered moderate to high would be the three-year-old to six-year-old group.
Anytime conception rates are expected to be less than 90 percent, the potential rating should be considered low. Thin cows are also considered high risk because of their likelihood of not rebreeding.
Flexibility in Marketing of Extras or Culls
“Flexibility in marketing is rarely considered in most evaluations; however, it makes a significant difference in the actual cost of cattle left in inventory. If the extras or culls can be sold for a profit, it decreases the true cost of cows remaining in the herd. If the cattle are sold for a loss, the expense needs to be allocated to the remaining animals in order to show their true purchase cost.
Predictability of Genetic Potential
“A primary reason to retain heifers is the predictability of their production potential,” Gills said. “When purchasing cattle of unknown origin, predicting their genetic potential is difficult. When purchasing cattle already in production, whether they be bred females or pairs, it can be assumed that they are at least capable of conceiving and/or delivering a calf. On the other end of the spectrum is the purchase of light weight heifers. Their ability to gain weight, cycle, conceive and deliver is unknown, not to mention their ability to rebreed, maintain body condition and milk sufficiently to wean an acceptable calf. Three-in-one packages are the only class that gives any indication of their total production capabilities.”
“Longevity potential in the herd is an important consideration in purchasing decisions,” Gill continued. “Current economic analyses indicate females with a $1,000 purchase cost will have a five to seven year payout. Potential longevity is difficult to predict in cattle from an unknown origin. The longer a female stays in the herd, the greater the opportunity for her to be profitable.”
The greatest potential for longevity is in younger females; however, younger cattle also have the greatest chance of not rebreeding and/or not weaning a calf. Classes with the least potential longevity are the seven-year-old and older females. These females must be bought realizing they will not remain in the herd for an extended period. Their purchase value must be nearer to their cull value than in the case of purchasing younger cattle. Moderate longevity is expected in three-year-old to six-year-old cows; so, ranchers must know why these cattle are being sold.
Heifers of unknown genetic background have a greater risk of dystocia and death loss than those with known genetics. Six to 15-year-old cows can normally deliver without trouble. The exception might be small cows bred to high-birth-weight bulls. Stocker cows (thin cows of unknown pregnancy or age) should be considered at moderate risk of experiencing dystocia or death when they calve after grazing lush pastures in the last trimester of pregnancy.
Weaning Weight of First Calf
Weaning weights are normally light for most heifers and three-year-olds when compared to cows. First-calf females bred to unknown sires or having unknown milking ability should be considered to have moderate to low weaning weights. In addition, lower weaning weights are expected from thin-condition cows. Calf weaning weights can be as much as 60 pounds less for each Body Condition Score below 5, which is average flesh. Subtract death losses when projecting average weaning weights and actual number of calves weaned.
Nutritional requirements are rarely estimated correctly when budgeting for replacement female purchases. Requirements for quality pastures and supplements will be highest in younger classes, especially first-calf heifers through their third pregnancy. These additional requirements must be budgeted through the third pregnancy. Moderate levels of nutrients will be needed for open two-year-olds and stocker cows. Nutritional needs for most other classes can be considered low except when the animals are purchased in a thin condition. Requirements in this situation may range from high to moderate depending up on the amount of time to their next breeding season.
Cull rates will be highest for cattle under three years of age and stocker cows. Normally, the lowest cull rates are for mid-aged cows and moderate rates for cows more than seven years of age. Cull rates are one of the most difficult numbers to estimate and often, they are grossly underestimated.
In most cases, only 50 to 60 percent of the cattle purchased will remain in the herd after three production years. An expected 25 to 30 percent cull rate in the first year includes cows removed from the herd for failing to rebreed and those with poor udders, structural unsoundness, health-related problems and bad disposition.
Cull rates of 15 to 20 percent should be expected in the second year. In some cases, cows that should have been sold for poor performance will be held for the second year, which ultimately lowers weaning weights. Structure, udder and rebreeding failure will remove the bulk of these animals. By the third year, normal cull rates of 10 to 15 percent for failure to rebreed are expected. In older purchased females, age becomes a reason for culling.
“There is no easy answer to the question of what to buy,” Gill concludes. “Carefully consider all the factors and then build a three-year budget projection for each purchase alternative. Within three years, females have the opportunity to achieve a static production level. Static production is defined as the point in a cow’s life where her production risk and potential is comparable to the remaining mature females in the herd. Use the budget projections to help determine what to buy.”