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Top 9 investments for cattle profits in 2024

Good times are ahead for cattle prices; make sure farm investments boost sustainability during down times.

Mindy Ward

January 10, 2024

3 Min Read
Beef cattle grazing in pasture
CASH CALF: Beef cattle prices will likely remain strong in 2024 as supply continues to lag behind demand. Farmers and ranchers should develop a wish list for potential profits that starts with investments to make the operation more sustainable for the future. Photos by Mindy Ward

Economists are forecasting good prices ahead for the cattle industry, which may create an opportunity to spend a few dollars this year, but don’t buy that new pickup just yet.

“2024 will be as good as any time we’ve seen since 2014,” says Joe Horner, University of Missouri Extension agricultural economist. “Periods like the next two to three years only happen a few times in a 50-year farming career.”

Horner predicts that these higher margins will lead farmers to look for tax deductions. However, rather than buying new vehicles or farm equipment, he recommends that producers first invest in ways to make their farm business more profitable and resilient when the cattle cycle inevitably turns with lower prices.

Round hay bales in a green field near a building

Horner offers nine tips to increase profits on the farm:

1. Create a separate bull pasture. A defined breeding season reduces mismatched lots at the sale barn. Like calves in weight sell at higher prices. Also, batch calving is easier to manage on the farm.

2. Spend money with your veterinarian. Stay on vaccination schedules. If you don’t have one, get one. “Veterinarians create value on your farm because of what they know,” Horner says. “Pick your vet’s brain and follow their suggested protocol.” Don’t forget to test for bull soundness.

3. Invest in good cattle-handling facilities. Properly designed and maintained handling facilities make working cattle easier. Easy jobs get done, and good facilities lead to fewer injuries. “You can’t put a price on your family’s safety,” Horner adds.

4. Invest in good fences for weaning. Bawling calves bring less money at the sale barn, Horner says. Do the extra work. Build the fence and wean calves before selling. Buyers pay for weaned calves.

5. Increase extra hay inventory. Add 50% more hay stock once and rotate out hay yearly. The carrying cost is a good investment. “That’s your drought insurance, and it is easier than finding hay, and it makes life less stressful,” Horner says.

6. Do soil tests. A soil test tells you if you need to add nutrients to boost yields. Lime is a cheap, undervalued nutrient that can increase forage production, Horner notes.

7. Add native warm-season grasses to pastures. Warm-season grasses make your operation more drought-resilient, need less fertilizer, boost summer calf gains and can improve herd reproduction performance, Horner says. State and federal incentives are available to plant natives.

8. Convert to rotational grazing. Rotational grazing systems allow producers to mitigate drought, improve soil health, increase forage production and extend the grazing period. The Missouri Center for Regenerative Agriculture has more information on federal cost-share funds for rotational grazing.

9. Buy risk insurance programs. Pasture, Rangeland, Forage insures against drought, and Livestock Risk Protections against low prices. Check out the MU Extension publications “Pasture, Rangeland, Forage (PRF) Insurance in Missouri” and “Livestock Risk Protection (LRP) Insurance” for insights into these programs. Then work with a trusted insurance agent.

One final tip: Seek the advice of a farm tax preparer.

The IRS has new resources to measure compliance. Talk with your tax preparer to make sure your farm is bulletproof. Comply with reporting rules for contractors and laborers who need to receive 1099 or W-2 forms.

University of Missouri Extension contributed to this article.

About the Author(s)

Mindy Ward

Editor, Missouri Ruralist

Mindy resides on a small farm just outside of Holstein, Mo, about 80 miles southwest of St. Louis.

After graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism, she worked briefly at a public relations firm in Kansas City. Her husband’s career led the couple north to Minnesota.

There, she reported on large-scale production of corn, soybeans, sugar beets, and dairy, as well as, biofuels for The Land. After 10 years, the couple returned to Missouri and she began covering agriculture in the Show-Me State.

“In all my 15 years of writing about agriculture, I have found some of the most progressive thinkers are farmers,” she says. “They are constantly searching for ways to do more with less, improve their land and leave their legacy to the next generation.”

Mindy and her husband, Stacy, together with their daughters, Elisa and Cassidy, operate Showtime Farms in southern Warren County. The family spends a great deal of time caring for and showing Dorset, Oxford and crossbred sheep.

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