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Cattlemans corner Austin SneddenBy Austin Snedden, Ranching Contributor, Valley Ag Voice 

Every business owner, regardless of industry, dreams of a more passive income, cash flow with less labor, and financial inputs. The cattle business is no different, sometimes we are not sure if we own the cows, or if the cows own us. There will no doubt be times when the ranching operation gives much more than it takes, and sometimes it takes more than it gives. With weather, economics, and varying cycles of cattle sector leverage, there will always be a fluctuation of unforeseen down times as well as unforeseen times of success. Since we can’t control the weather or the economy, and have very little control over what segment of the industry has leverage at any given time, we must focus on the things we can control. 

For our region, coming out of multiple years of drought — God willing it keeps raining — most folks are dealing with a rebuilding phase. Ample grass and cattle prices that benefitted the cow-calf sector, creates a lot of incentive to build numbers. But attempting to rebuild at a faster than normal pace can create some inefficiencies in your factory (cowherd). In order to take advantage of the market and available forage, producers logically try to grow the cowherd whether through increased internal retainment or the purchase of cattle. I would never try to talk someone out of taking advantage of market opportunities or additional forage resources, but they may seem some decreased efficiencies down the road by keeping or acquiring cows that have underperformed in the past. Besides retaining additional replacement heifers, the fastest way to build numbers is to keep open cows — cows that didn’t bring a calf to the branding fire — or by purchasing cows. The downside to these two options in the long run, is that there is a good chance you are keeping or adding an animal that has suboptimal fertility.  Although rebreeds may go on to be great cows, there is no way of knowing whether she missed a calf because of suboptimal fertility, suboptimal mothering instincts, or something that was no fault of her own. Besides the obvious downside to keeping a less efficient animal, there is also the risk that you will be propagating future females that are biologically, or genetically predisposed to have suboptimal fertility, mothering instincts, or later developing sexual maturity, and these females may end up in your replacement pen in years to come.  

With a strong market, and ever-increasing fixed costs, I encourage every producer to responsibly grow their cowherd to match their forage resources. If you are open to suggestions from someone most likely dumber than you, I would tell you to not outgrow your garage resources in a race for numbers because additional feed and supplementation will eat your bottom line.  When you achieve your comfortable carrying capacity, cull hard based on fertility first. This will put you in a position where you are propagating the most efficient animals and building a cowherd predisposed to optimal fertility and mothering instinct, placing you in the strongest position for the next environmental or economic cycle. Lastly, source bulls for your cows that come from a herd pushed hard for efficiency and fertility, regardless of breed.  Ranching is challenging enough, make sure you build a herd of cash cows that work for you, and not the other way around. 

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