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Animal Health Notebook

A few thoughts and specifics about winter

Doc Cooke looks at the idea that you make most of your money in the winter.

Several hundred times I have heard people comment that they would give almost anything to trade places and get to do what I do every day. The same thing is true for many of ya’ll.  In my case, I couldn’t operate in most all of those folks’ jobs for three days. I haven’t had a real job since 1975 and as best I remember was not much of an employee at the time. Trouble is that the great majority of folks that want to trade places with you and me would never make it through the first winter.

In the cattle business most of our annual profits are actually made during the winter. These profits are the result of planning and decisions and performance far prior to frost.  Our best money comes from what we don’t spend. If the average cow-calf producer averages spending $400/cow wintering his mamma herd and bulls, and we cut this to $150/cow we will pocket our biggest and best income stream.

Being able to repeat and sustain such a wintering program with an above average stocking rate will keep all of us in the black no matter what the market is paying. Few people ever get this done on a regular basis and yet it has been repeatedly proven to be more than possible, actually routine for a goodly number of ranchers.

Ranchers by my definition do not own significant equipment. They hire independent contractors after having exhausted all other means of getting the landscape in shape with the cattle. They own an old light pick-up truck or two and maybe an old horse and/or a mule, some portable post, poly wire and reels, a few buckets, a hammer, fencing tool, pliers, a small chainsaw, just about nothing else.

Early in the growing season plans are laid out for 50% of the pastures to be completely recovered before killing frost. We call this the standing haystack.  A quality haystack in January should be mostly green, red, and brown without a lot of yellow and near absence of white plants.

Cows are important. They not only need to be small (less than 1000 lbs.), the cows must be in shape to winter. Thin cows going into the winter require feed that we cannot grow. Fall calving (actually late summer calving) cows need to be pregnant before Christmas. Spring calving (actually early summer) cows need to be pregnant before Oct. 1.

Notice that there is not a lot of difference (6 to 10 wks.) between my spring and fall calves. Most of the calves in the U.S. are born outside of the natural model. Is it all that wondrous that most producers fail to average significant profits on a ten year averaging?

Typically, bulls are a pain and big expense to keep apart from the cow herd. Cows are worth more pregnant. With this in mind the only time I pull bulls is from about 28 days after the birth of the first spring or fall calf. They stay out for 45 to 50 days. We pull bulls with a trained arm. Everyone that does not fit with our plan is for sale. Love, yes we do. Marriage, not to our cattle.

Actually I don’t keep bulls much more than 6 months. After that someone else needs them. We basically just use last years’ bull calves with the dogs and the freaks removed. It works. Think about winter.

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