One of the topics discussed in the August issue of Beef Magazine was producers getting ‘caught up’ in maximizing production, or profit per cow, rather than focusing on profit per acre. We believe that the ongoing drought and record high feed prices make it more important than ever to focus our management and genetics on maximizing overall ranch profit, not individual cow production.
You don’t have to visit many purebred operations to figure out that most breeders tend to focus on maximizing production per cow. As a result, their cows are usually big and high milking. After all, it is easier to promote high-growth, high-milk bulls than to promote bulls with moderate growth and milk, combined with below average mature weights. At Manzano Angus, we understand that high-growth numbers can be very misleading, especially without knowing something about the mature weights of a bull’s daughters.
Most purebred breeders seem to be narrowly focusing on maximizing growth no matter how big this makes their cows. The Angus breed has led this charge, and as a result many Angus cattle now have as much or more growth than continental cattle. However, research done by the USMARC shows that Angus cows are now bigger than all the major continental breeds. The old, accepted idea that by using Angus bulls you will make your cows smaller and more efficient is no longer true!
We feel it is more economical for us, and our commercial customers, to focus on cow efficiency rather than growth alone. While efficiency is harder to gauge, one of the best tools we have found to measure it is the percentage of a cow’s body weight that she weans. On the following page we will take a close look at four Manzano cows.
Without knowing cow weights, cows one and two would appear to be more profitable because they raised bigger calves (maximized weaning weight per cow). However, cows three and four were much more efficient, and weaned a higher percentage of their body weight! Not only will cows one and two eat more forage, but they will also require more supplementation to maintain body weight and condition. So while cows one and two maximized individual performance (and have higher WW EPDs), we are confident a commercial producer would be more profitable with a herd full of cows like three and four.
Without a doubt, the bull calves out of cows three and four should sire daughters who maximize profit per acre. The sire of cows one and two has a weaning weight EPD of +43 lbs and a mature weight EPD of +72 lbs. Cow three is sired by OCC Echelon 857E who has a weaning weight EPD of +39 lbs. and mature weight EPD of -38 lbs. Cow four is sired by OCC Homer 650H who has a weaning weight EPD of +28 lbs. and a mature weight of -54 lbs. We feel it is important for us to use proven bulls with low mature weight EPDs to avoid having daughters that are simply too big for our country.
While cows one and two are not necessarily bad, on a ranch with limited feed resources you would either have to run less cows or feed more supplement (probably both), compared to a herd made up of cows like three and four.
Since 2002, we have been weighing our cows individually at weaning and using the data to figure percentage of body weight weaned for each cow. The results have been eye opening and have helped us to refine our bull selection process. A few things we have learned are:
- Bigger cows will generally wean bigger calves but a lower percentage of their body weight than smaller cows.
- Higher-milking cows will wean a higher percentage of their body weight, but will have lower body condition scores. It is not uncommon for the first-calf heifer who weans the highest percentage of her body weight to end up open because she was giving too much milk, got thin and did not cycle back. In our opinion, it is important to strive for an optimum in cow efficiency (50-60%) instead of a maximum percentage weaned (>60%).
- Cows are consistent throughout their lifetime in regards to their efficiency when compared to their herd mates.
- Cows that calve earlier in the breeding season generally wean a higher percentage of their body weight.
Commercial producers should strive to optimize the efficiency of their cow herd by selecting genetics designed to maximize ranch profit instead of individual performance. Efficient cows must wean an acceptable percentage of their body weight while maintaining their body condition to breed back, thus reducing the need for excessive supplemental feed. We believe the best way to do this is by selecting sires with adequate growth (but not maximum growth), that are below the breed average for both mature weight and milk EPDs.
Cow Energy Value ($EN)
The Cow Energy Value ($EN) assesses differences in cow energy requirements and is expressed in dollars saved per cow per year. A larger value is more favorable as it expresses dollars saved on feed expenses. Both energy requirements for lactation and differences in mature cow size are taken into account when calculating $EN.
While $EN is not a perfect number and should not be used alone for selection, it is a good indicator of cow energy requirements. We definitely feel a higher $EN number is positive, especially in our tough New Mexico environment. It is very uncommon to see $EN in most Angus sale catalogs even though cow maintenance requirements are extremely important to a commercial operator’s bottom line. The reason you will not see $EN in most catalogs is because selecting for higher growth and higher milk drives $EN down, meaning less money saved. Simply put, bigger, heavier milking cows require more feed for maintenance. These type of cows may raise individual performance but they don’t necessarily raise ranch profitability.
We find it disturbing to see the continued downward trend in $EN across the Angus breed. This is due to the continued upward trend of growth, cow weights and milk. With the rising price of feed for all segments of the industry, we feel it is vital for commercial producers to be aware of cow size and cow efficiency.
Watch our website for percent of body weight weaned information on all 2012 cows and calves.