Simple steps to up your cow herd’s profitability

Each fall, cattle veterinarians from North America and beyond gather for the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) annual conference. As always, there were many excellent talks at this year’s meeting in Milwaukee to help herd health DVMs stay current on cattle health and production.

One particularly useful talk was a small-group discussion in which 20 of us discussed how we, as herd health DVMs, can help our clients improve herd profitability. The goal of the session was to learn from the collective wisdom of the group, and that mission was accomplished.

A recent National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) report indicated that cows are checked for pregnancy in only 20% of all U.S. beef herds each year. However, NAHMS says 71.7% of large herds (those over 200 cows) undergo preg checks annually. Thus, this means that about 60% of all beef cows in the U.S. are preg-checked each year.

Our AABP discussion group was in agreement that this number is still too low. So, how can we, as DVMs, demonstrate to producers the cost-effectiveness of this routine procedure?

First off, let me say that if your DVM checked your cows and only said “pregnant” or “open” on each of them, and one of every 100 cows was determined as open, then preg-checking cows wouldn’t be a cost-effective endeavor.

How did I arrive at this conclusion? I figured $750 as the cost of the DVM and farm/ranch labor for the pregnancy exam on 100 cows. An open cow will eat about $300 to $400 worth of winter feed. If not culled in the spring, she’ll likely go back with the bull and then consume $150 worth of pasture that should have gone to a cow nursing a calf.

Thus, this cow cost you $450 to $550 and returned nothing. This is assuming she is bred next fall, which may not be the case. Also remember that an open cow is worth about $1,000 as a slaughter animal. Think of the money lost if you have five, 10 or 20 open cows.

What if your DVM finds zero open cows? Is it now $750 wasted? It wasn’t wasted if, at the same time, you were checking for bad feet, poor udders, cancer eye, aggressive disposition (remember when you wrote down “sell #61U — tried to take me” in your Redbook this past spring?).

The NAHMS study revealed that the top reason for not preg-checking cows was time and labor. While walking cows through the chute may not be considered “fun,” it’s always beneficial to find the open ones, the late-calvers and the “problem” cattle. In a typical herd, 5% to 10% of cows are open, and 1% to 5% may be culled for “other” reasons.

So, if 10 of 100 cows are sold before winter, that’s about $5,000 in feed savings, which means your profit is $4,250 for a couple hours of work. I can’t think of many legal endeavors that pay that well!

If you haven’t preg-checked your cows this fall because “it isn’t worth it,” take a look at all the benefits. Hopefully, you’ll see that this is a tool your DVM can use to help you improve profitability.

Here are some other routine procedures that take very little extra time, and can help you develop a healthier, more productive and profitable herd:

• Improve herd health with deworming, lice control and appropriate vaccinations.

• For the past 4-5 years, I’ve used a Craftsman 3-in-1 Accu-Cut tool to trim the hair from the switch so the cows will stay cleaner during winter.

• Monitor and record body condition score on your cows. If certain cows need extra feed, winter them with the bred heifers.

• If the calving season is long and you want to sell the late-calvers, have your DVM identify the late-calvers so they can be sold.

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