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7 Tips For Profitability in The Cattle Business

Updated: Jun 1, 2021

The cattle business is competitive and uncertain. You're fighting crazy weather, international politics, and complex rules to try to make it. If you really want your cattle business to get profitable and stay profitable--even in the lean years--you need to make sure you're at the top of your game. Even small changes can make a big difference over time.

So what changes can you make that will make your cattle business more profitable? Here are 7 tips that can make all the difference in your operation, no matter its size.

Reduce the Need for Feed

Cows foraging in a pasture
Cows foraging in a pasture

Studies show that animal feed is the largest single expense related to a cattle operation. Whether you have a dairy cow, beef cow, or cow-calf operation, feed likely accounts for 60% or more of the cost. And because you have to feed each animal, your feed costs scale automatically with the size of your herd. This means that even small improvements in feed efficiency can have a dramatic impact on your bottom line.

Forage is the cheapest type of feed, so you should do everything you can to maximize your utilization of this resource. It's worth your time to set up and monitor a good foraging rotation. Even if it means putting in some extra fences to break your pasture into smaller units, you will quickly recoup the costs as your grass thrives to provide more roughage for your cattle. Don't rush your cattle in too quickly in the fall. Let them take advantage of the forage that's still out during the milder autumn and early winter months. The longer you can keep them eating the roughage from your field, the more profitable your operation will be.

Switch To a Roller Mill

While we're on the subject of feed, it's important to note that the kind of mill you use can have a big impact on the cow's utilization of their food. In fact, studies have shown that going from a hammer mill to a roller mill can increase your feed efficiency by 5% or more.

Automatic PTO Driven Roller Mill for Livestock Feed
Automatic PTO-Driven Roller Mill

This is according to a study by the University of Nebraska, which found that using an Automatic roller mill resulted in fewer whole kernels and less dust compared to a hammer mill. When cattle were fed this more uniform feed, they gained approximately 5% more weight from the same amount of feed. That's a big gain from such a simple change.

And remember: don't roll if you don't have to. Wheat and barley should always be rolled. Oats don't need to be rolled for young calves, but should be for adult cows.

Adjust Your Roller Mill Properly

Of course, if you want to get maximum value from the change to a roller mill, you have to make sure it's properly adjusted. You want to make sure you don't have too many fines or too many unprocessed kernels. If you're getting too many fines, your rollers are too close together. If you have too many unprocessed kernels, then your rollers are too far apart. And if your mill isn't rolling as it used to, the problem might be worn-out rollers. It's worth it to re-corrugate your rollers. Although this is the most expensive part of roller mill maintenance, the value of a properly operating mill justifies the investment. It's also worth it to invest in fatigue-resistant high-quality hardened steel rolls. These stay sharp longer, which means you don't have to sharpen them as often. That keeps expenses low and productivity high.

Monitor Your Manure

You're probably used to watching the feed bunk to see how well your mill is processing. You also want to make sure your cows are taking to their feed. But if you're not keeping a close eye on your cow's manure, you're barely getting half the story.

Monitoring your cow's manure will tell you how well your cows are utilizing their feed. If you are seeing a large quantity of whole kernels in your cows' manure, it means you're not milling the feed effectively for them. Before you adjust the grind, though, check closely to make sure you're actually seeing whole seeds and not just hulls. If you see gray, runny manure, your cattle might have scours, or it could be linked to over-processing your cows' feed.

Manure that is runny generally means your cows need more roughage, while manure that is dry and folded like bread dough means that cows need more protein.

Cull Your Herd

In your cattle business, you have to think about your cows as your employees. They have a job to do, and if they're not doing it, you need to "fire" them. Get rid of cows that are old, unproductive, or dangerous. This mostly applies to dairy cows and cow-calf operations, but even in a beef cattle situation, it might be worth it to sell low-gain cows early rather than keep feeding them for a disappointing return at the slaughterhouse. And it's always a good idea to get rid of ornery cows before someone gets hurt or equipment gets damaged.

Now's also a good time to stress the importance of starting with high-quality cows and bulls to begin with. It's worth it to invest in a cow with good breeding and/or a good medical history. They can pay for themselves many times over with lower operating costs and better health in themselves and their progeny.

Right-Size Your Cattle

There are always trends and fads out there about what is the best size of cattle to raise in terms of profitability. Currently, many people are saying you should raise smaller cows, and in the recent past people were trying to encourage everyone to get larger cows.

But it's important to understand: there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the best size of cows. You need to find cows that are right for your operation. Larger cows can lead to more revenue, but they also require more feed. If you are raising cows that can't adequately forage in your pasture, you will have to supplement for more feed, and that additional expense can quickly overwhelm increased revenue from your larger cows. Find cows that can efficiently take advantage of your pasture land.

Cows eating processed livestock feed
Cows eating processed livestock feed

And while we're on the subject, size isn't the only issue to consider when selecting cows to add to your herd. Make sure that cows are properly adapted to the local climate, have the right hooves for your terrain, and, ideally, are good at digesting the feed you're offering.

Keep Good Records

None of these strategies are simple fire-and-forget approaches. All of them depend on you trying a strategy and monitoring it to see how well it's working. And monitoring the success of a strategy is greatly facilitated by having good records.

Keep track of your cattle, including their numbers, weights, and manure quality, as well as the feed. Don't just rely on numbers, be descriptive in your records. Always make sure to note the date and details of any change you make. That way, you don't have to rely on your memory to see the trend. Even if you have a good memory, you are more likely to skew results to favor your expectations if you're working from memory.

Making good records also makes it easier to enlist all your employees in each initiative. This will help make sure you actually achieve your goals.

Nearly a Century of Experience Helping Cattle Operations

Since 1925, Automatic Equipment Manufacturing has been making grain mills for animal feed. In that time, we've helped countless farmers and ranchers to improve the efficiency and profitability of their operations. Let us help you improve yours. Please contact us today to talk to us about adding a high-efficiency feed mill to your operation.

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