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How Government Livestock Reports Affect Farmers' Decisions

How Government Livestock Reports Affect Farmers' Decisions
Unique situation in livestock industry can be addressed with high-tech science.

Some of you love government reports, some of you hate them. Fact is, they are a fact of life. The methods the National Ag Statistics Service uses to prepare reports is based on intricate procedures. That doesn't mean they always get it right.

Here's an example from the livestock industry, specifically the dairy industry. Right now, sources say dairy heifers are sky high, selling much higher proportionately than mature cows. We're talking commercial dairy animals.

Data and dairy: Sarina Sharp, left, explains how sexed semen could help dairy farmers increase the ratio of heifers to bulls over time.

Sarina Sharp, a principle in the Fair Oaks Dairy operation in northwest Indiana, and risk manager for Ag Business Solutions, explains how this situation may have developed. Fair Oaks milks about 10,000 cows and operates a tourism business as well.

Related: Market Expansion, Demand Drive Dairy Exports

"Farmers report the number of cows on milk," she says. "But they don't report numbers of heifers. The number of heifers that they have on hand is kind of a trade secret. They don't want to let others know how many heifers they have, because it indicates what might be coming in the future."

The result is the government reports can get a fairly accurate count of cows in milk, but their forecast on heifers is typically not as accurate. What's happening right now, she says, is that heifers have been underreported, and there aren't as many heifers out there to buy or to replace aged cows as many people thought.

Related: Basics of the New Dairy Insurance Program

One way to correct the disparity if a farm operation wants to increase the number of heifers long-term without buying expensive heifers would be to do it through breeding, she says. The technology of sexed semen is now reasonably accurate. It can result in more heifers born than bulls, and change the ratio of heifers to bulls that will be born over any given time period. It takes time to make ti happen, but over time it can result in an increase in the heifer inventory.

Who says agriculture isn't all about numbers and technology?

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