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Animal Health Notebook

Here's Part III on ranch profitability

Low-cost production is key, and that's achieved in large part by working with nature instead of against her.


Not losing the ranch is very important. Annual profitability is a close second.

In a commentary in June 2016, Alan Newport again explained that commodity markets are always aimed at driving “average” producers to break even.

This means that over a period of 10 years the middle of our industry will experience a few years of profitability along with a few years of red ink. The other years will result in near equal expenses and sales. It’s all a wash when you back away for a better view.

Low-cost producers make money every year. In my last blog I spoke of attitude as being number one in the profitability factors bucket. There are more factors and understanding of the natural model is likely number two when combined with getting in sync with the realities of nature.

A lot of folks agree that delivering a calf, yearling, or finished steer or heifer to the market for many years is the most important trait of a functional cow. Actually, people that disagree are wrong and usually do not own any cattle.

I have never visited or viewed an operation that could not drastically lower production costs and sustainability by moving into sync with the Creator. Cows that fit our ecosystem and calve with the natural model are profitable. Plants that grow on the side of the road are near impossible to beat. High-successional perennial plants are an important part of a low-cost system and help allow for the elimination of most production expenses.

I believe you will find that in nature, large and small herbivores calve four to eight weeks after spring has sprung. Notice that this is while the wolves, coyotes, and big cats are busy nursing their offspring, and it's several weeks behind the timeframe when millions of birds, rabbits, voles, moles, mice and other rodents have kicked in big time as their major food source.

Cows calving in clean tall grass do not have many issues, even when the weather is steamy. The agility of a baby calf born in June on completely recovered pasture never ceases to amaze me. It needs four loaded faucets about the size of your thumb and a little blackleg and pinkeye vaccine and not much else.

Further, the lowest (cheapest) market for calves is normally the “frost market” of October, November and December. Huge numbers of January, February, March, and April calves come to town. Pastures are short and it’s time to start feeding. Selling calves gets them off the cow. Trouble is there is little to no profit.

Fall weaning and winter feeding might work well about four out of ten years.

The natural model winters the calf on the cow. There is a bunch of standing tall grass with some green plants in the understory. The cow goes in fat, gives a little milk, loses a little weight, and boots the calf off in March or April. She stays dry about six weeks and then resumes her program of life. It is pretty simple and nearly always a profitable system and model. We need to tweak it a little sometimes. But we do not need to screw it up.

Getting in sync with nature is profitability factor number 2 for ranchers.

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