This year has been a hard one on the cow herd. The heat and drought this summer resulted in short pastures, minimal to no stockpiled forage and a scarce hay supply for most producers. Furthermore, I have noticed a trend of more open cows on recent pregnancy checks, likely in direct relation to the heat stress and lowered nutritional plane encountered during the breeding season. It is always a good idea for producers to consider implementing practices that improve cow productivity and efficiency. However, this year carries with it a potential for maximum returns.
If producers can realize a significant return on their investment, a few dollars spent may save hundreds. Past estimates for maintaining a beef cow range from about $350 to $400 per year. The majority of this annual expense is made up of winter feed cost. This estimate is likely low, especially this year considering the need for additional supplementation and the higher cost of supplemental feed.
In my opinion, the biggest economic mistake that a producer can make is to feed an open cow all winter long only to realize that she never calves once spring arrives. This mistake is easily avoidable with pregnancy checks. Most veterinarians charge $3 to $5 per head to check for pregnancy and given the adverse conditions of this year’s breeding season this is without question, a sound investment. Saving the feed bill on one open cow may very well pay for pregnancy checking 100 head. Every additional open cow diagnosed represents money kept in the producer’s pocket. Furthermore, if a producer must cull a few cows due to pasture and hay shortage he/she would be best advised to cull those cows that are open or furthest from calving and generating revenue to the farm.
Additionally, deworming has been proven time and again to be one of the most profitable practices chute side realizing a 2 to 4-fold or greater return on investment. Most studies have focused on increased rate of gain in stocker calves or calves nursing cows, however, deworming also provides less obvious benefits such as increased feed efficiency, improved immune function and better conception rates.
Under the right conditions, implanting calves can be a profit booster as well, and in my experience, seems under utilized by the average producer. Growth promoting implants can be administered to nursing calves as well as weaned calves to improve rate of gain significantly. At a cost of $1 to $2 per head, a few additional pounds of gain easily offset the investment and begin to pay back the producer.
Pregnancy checking, deworming and implanting highlight some of the most profitable practices that producers should consider implementing this year. A good livestock veterinarian should have your profitability in mind. That’s what keeps the both of us in business. A comprehensive herd health program under the supervision of your veterinarian is best, but if nothing else, consider these basic moneymaking practices for your herd this fall to improve your bottom line.
Dr. Darren Loula, DVM, is owner of Christian County Veterinary Service, LLC, a mobile large animal vet clinic.