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Cow size vs. efficiency

Mossy Dell

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I know this comes up from time to time, and has probably been beaten to death, but I found this from Manzano Angus really interesting. I could not get the charts to paste, but the url is at the bottom. The chart comparing four cows, their weights, and lbs. weaned was very interesting. Here's the text:

Profit Per-Cow or Per-Acre: Cow Efficiency

One of the topics discussed in the August [2012?] issue of Beef Magazine was producers getting ‘caught up’ in maximizing production, or profit per cow, rather than focusing on profit per acre. We believe that the ongoing drought and record high feed prices make it more important than ever to focus our management and genetics on maximizing overall ranch profit, not individual cow production.

You don’t have to visit many purebred operations to figure out that most breeders tend to focus on maximizing production per cow. As a result, their cows are usually big and high milking. After all, it is easier to promote high-growth, high-milk bulls than to promote bulls with moderate growth and milk, combined with below average mature weights. At Manzano Angus, we understand that high-growth numbers can be very misleading, especially without knowing something about the mature weights of a bull’s daughters.

Most purebred breeders seem to be narrowly focusing on maximizing growth no matter how big this makes their cows. The Angus breed has led this charge, and as a result many Angus cattle now have as much or more growth than continental cattle. However, research done by the USMARC shows that Angus cows are now bigger than all the major continental breeds. The old, accepted idea that by using Angus bulls you will make your cows smaller and more efficient is no longer true!

We feel it is more economical for us, and our commercial customers, to focus on cow efficiency rather than growth alone. While efficiency is harder to gauge, one of the best tools we have found to measure it is the percentage of a cow’s body weight that she weans. Here we take a close look at four Manzano cows.

Without knowing cow weights, cows one and two would appear to be more profitable because they raised bigger calves (maximized weaning weight per cow). However, cows three and four were much more efficient, and weaned a higher percentage of their body weight! Not only will cows one and two eat more forage, but they will also require more supplementation to maintain body weight and condition. So while cows one and two maximized individual performance (and have higher WW EPDs), we are confident a commercial producer would be more profitable with a herd full of cows like three and four.

Without a doubt, the bull calves out of cows three and four should sire daughters who maximize profit per acre. The sire of cows one and two has a weaning weight EPD of +43 lbs and a mature weight EPD of +72 lbs. Cow three is sired by OCC Echelon 857E who has a weaning weight EPD of +39 lbs. and mature weight EPD of -38 lbs. Cow four is sired by OCC Homer 650H who has a weaning weight EPD of +28 lbs. and a mature weight of -54 lbs. We feel it is important for us to use proven bulls with low mature weight EPDs to avoid having daughters that are simply too big for our country.

While cows one and two are not necessarily bad, on a ranch with limited feed resources you would either have to run less cows or feed more supplement (probably both), compared to a herd made up of cows like three and four.
Since 2002, we have been weighing our cows individually at weaning and using the data to figure percentage of body weight weaned for each cow. The results have been eye opening and have helped us to refine our bull selection process. A few things we have learned are:

1. Bigger cows will generally wean bigger calves but a lower percentage of their body weight than smaller cows.
2. Higher-milking cows will wean a higher percentage of their body weight, but will have lower body condition scores. It is not uncommon for the first-calf heifer who weans the highest percentage of her body weight to end up open because she was giving too much milk, got thin and did not cycle back.  In our opinion, it is important to strive for an optimum in cow efficiency (50-60%) instead of a maximum percentage weaned (>60%).
3. Cows are consistent throughout their lifetime in regards to their efficiency when compared to their herd mates.
4. Cows that calve earlier in the breeding season generally wean a higher percentage of their body weight.
Commercial producers should strive to optimize the efficiency of their cow herd by selecting genetics designed to maximize ranch profit instead of individual performance. Efficient cows must wean an acceptable percentage of their body weight while maintaining their body condition to breed back, thus reducing the need for excessive supplemental feed. We believe the best way to do this is by selecting sires with adequate growth (but not maximum growth), that are below the breed average for both mature weight and milk EPDs.

Cow Energy Value ($EN)
The Cow Energy Value ($EN) assesses differences in cow energy requirements and is expressed in dollars saved per cow per year. A larger value is more favorable as it expresses dollars saved on feed expenses. Both energy requirements for lactation and differences in mature cow size are taken into account when calculating $EN.
While $EN is not a perfect number and should not be used alone for selection, it is a good indicator of cow energy requirements. We definitely feel a higher $EN number is positive, especially in our tough New Mexico environment. It is very uncommon to see $EN in most Angus sale catalogs even though cow maintenance requirements are extremely important to a commercial operator’s bottom line. The reason you will not see $EN in most catalogs is because selecting for higher growth and higher milk drives $EN down, meaning less money saved. Simply put, bigger, heavier milking cows require more feed for maintenance. These type of cows may raise individual performance but they don’t necessarily raise ranch profitability.

We find it disturbing to see the continued downward trend in $EN across the Angus breed. This is due to the continued upward trend of growth, cow weights and milk. With the rising price of feed for all segments of the industry, we feel it is vital for commercial producers to be aware of cow size and cow efficiency.

http://www.manzanoangus.com/profit-per- ... fficiency/
 

HDRider

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You are correct. It has been beaten to death.

Here is the argument...

Small-frame scored calves are also severely discounted ($22 at $117.32 hw). These calves do not fit into the production dynamics of intensively managed feedlots and commercial processing.

http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/an278
 

Mossy Dell

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Thanks for the link, HDRider. I think the answer would depend on one's environment. In the Manzano chart, the top cow weighed 1,510 and weaned a 680 lb. calf, 45 % of her body weight. The smallest cow of the top four weighed 1,110 and weaned a 610 lb. calf, 55 percent of her body weight.

Manzano's argument is you can run more smaller cows, which have lower maintenance/hay costs. You take a hit on each calf, but you have more weight to sell, in total, and come out at least slightly ahead. Plus your winter feed bill/hay need is much less. End result = less cash outlay and more net dollars in your pocket.

That's their theory anyway. It seems to me that forage quality and hay costs are key variables to look at, which may justify bigger cows. But also pregnancy rate and stayability must be factored, among whatever else I can't think of.
 

City Guy

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Do the math.
100 1500lb cows eating 2.5% of their body weight = 37500 lbs per day
1100 lb cow eats 2.5% of her body weight= 27.5 lb /cow/day
37500lbs feed/27.5/cow/day= 136 cows fed on the same amount of feed
100 calves x 680 lbs= 68000 lbs to sell at say $1.17= $79560 income
136 calves x 610lbs= 82960 lbs to sell at say $1.07= $88767 income
$88767-$79560= $9207 Additional income $255.75 per each of the extra 36 calves.

Can you raise 36 extra calves for $255.75 or less each? Remember, you are using the same amount of feed as for the 1500 lb cows and the same overhead costs, same equipment and fence, etc. Only additional expenses are: Breeding costs, vaccinations, medicines and vet bills, a little extra labor and maybe extra fuel, transportation and selling expenses. This will vary greatly from farm to farm and year to year on the same farm I know, BUT I'm guessing it will be more like $120-$150 per calf

Salvage value of 136 1100 lb cows is almost exactly the same as that of 100 1500 lb cows.

Mossy Dell; How can hay and forage quality or costs ever favor one size cow over another? Except that large cows will eat more of it, good or bad, cheap or dear.

Ryder; can't believe that 610 lb calves are that much smaller in frame than 680 lb calves of the same age.

The argument that larger cows can better protect their calves from predators is questionable. I am guessing that mothering instincts and fighting ability are far more important than weight, after all an 1100 lb cow still outweighs a coyote, wolf or mountain lion by 900 lbs+/-
 

cotton1

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Thanks for the article Mossy Dell. I enjoyed it. Its a good topic to discuss in my opinion.

Im currently breeding towards smaller cows, and "middling EPDs" are becoming better overall value in my mind. Everything has a cost like the article says. High growth has converted into larger frame, high milk can convert into hard keepers and reproduction problems etc. But we have been told that more is better by folks selling bulls with more WW or more YW or more milk. We have been told more is better by county agents who need to support those breeders, and by folks who sell minerals, fertilizers, you name it. Plus we are competitive by nature and when bull shopping feel like more WW,YW,Milk whatever will really mean more in our bank accounts.

Anyway Im glad to read the article state the obvious change in frame sizes. I have had several discussions with fellow breeders that have watched as Angus selected for growth to compete with Charolais(and others,we are Char breeders) and the Angus herd seemingly becoming larger framed animals. Flip the coin and Charolais has selected for easier calving to overcome the calving issues with larger framed cattle and seem to be getting smaller.

I know there is a lot more to it, but it just seems to me the units of measure have made a mess out of our current herd. EPDs are comparisons that have been used to rate cattle in totally different areas of the country with different growing conditions. I wonder if in herd ratios are not better assessment tools.

Cotton1
 

HDRider

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Mossy Dell":2sysecr3 said:
Thanks for the link, HDRider. I think the answer would depend on one's environment. In the Manzano chart, the top cow weighed 1,510 and weaned a 680 lb. calf, 45 % of her body weight. The smallest cow of the top four weighed 1,110 and weaned a 610 lb. calf, 55 percent of her body weight.

Manzano's argument is you can run more smaller cows, which have lower maintenance/hay costs. You take a hit on each calf, but you have more weight to sell, in total, and come out at least slightly ahead. Plus your winter feed bill/hay need is much less. End result = less cash outlay and more net dollars in your pocket.

That's their theory anyway. It seems to me that forage quality and hay costs are key variables to look at, which may justify bigger cows. But also pregnancy rate and stayability must be factored, among whatever else I can't think of.
I have to ask if weight is the issue or is it frame size? I short fat person can weigh more than a tall thin person. The same goes for beef. How much fat is too fat?

To ignore frame size and only talk about pounds seems to close one's eyes to the whole picture.

What is the ideal frame size? 5??

What is too small? A 3??

What is to large? A 6??
 

dun

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HDRider":3opc83nv said:
I have to ask if weight is the issue or is it frame size? I short fat person can weigh more than a tall thin person. The same goes for beef. How much fat is too fat?

To ignore frame size and only talk about pounds seems to close one's eyes to the whole picture.

What is the ideal frame size? 5??

What is too small? A 3??

What is to large? A 6??
Ah, some one that "gets it"
 

Ebenezer

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This is an unpaid ad, at best, for the poster or his reference. "Look at my website", "Here are my bulls", ... It needs to be one of the options ads at the top so that CT gets paid rather than the blatant abuse to a chat site that it is. Any way you slice it, "Big is beautiful" stories are no different than "Small is beautiful" stories - they all need to start off with "Once upon a time". Nature abhors freaks within species. The "once upon a time" will not make it to the end because the end is the sales barn and the seller will soon realize that order buyers do not read about huge or tiny to make a living. The seller will not go to the bank "happily ever after".

I know this comes up from time to time, and has probably been beaten to death,
Amen, brother and pass the collection plate.
 

cotton1

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I would say that frame score and weight have to go hand in hand. The larger the frame, the heavier it must be to have much of a BCS right?

I'm starting to believe more and more in moderation in everything including cow size and EPDs. The more I study, the more I feel pointed in the direction of moderation and balance. I am hoping that becomes efficiency in my herd, and my bank account too.

Cotton1
 

dun

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cotton1":308bysn4 said:
I would say that frame score and weight have to go hand in hand. The larger the frame, the heavier it must be to have much of a BCS right?

I'm starting to believe more and more in moderation in everything including cow size and EPDs. The more I study, the more I feel pointed in the direction of moderation and balance. I am hoping that becomes efficiency in my herd, and my bank account too.

Cotton1
The second half is right, the first half is "sort of " right. There are always a few familys that run around a FS 5 and weight 1400 lbs. Our old Granny family is like that. They're short legged, deep and wide bodied.
 

Nesikep

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City Guy":9un11no3 said:
Do the math.
100 1500lb cows eating 2.5% of their body weight = 37500 lbs per day
1100 lb cow eats 2.5% of her body weight= 27.5 lb /cow/day
37500lbs feed/27.5/cow/day= 136 cows fed on the same amount of feed
And there's the big assumption.. that a cows feed intake is directly proportional to her size. Which isn't quite the case.. Also, small cows will need far greater attention paid to birthweight to prevent calving time losses, and since there's often "freak" big calves, they'll have a harder time dealing with it
 

dun

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WalnutCrest":z0od5icn said:
Select for moderation in all traits but one - easy fleshing. You want extremes there.
A local guy told me that the only thing that I (dun) am extreme in is my selection for moderation. Seems to have worked pretty well for us. We sell all of the few bulls we don;t cut and our cows/heifers sell pretty well.
 

WalnutCrest

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dun":d15b97op said:
WalnutCrest":d15b97op said:
Select for moderation in all traits but one - easy fleshing. You want extremes there.
A local guy told me that the only thing that I (dun) am extreme in is my selection for moderation. Seems to have worked pretty well for us. We sell all of the few bulls we don;t cut and our cows/heifers sell pretty well.

Yup.
 

cotton1

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Hey Dun, I've come to think anything around a farm named " granny" is well proven, thought of, and respected.

My first " granny" encounter was a nanny briar goat we had when I was a kid. She had and raised three kids at the time over and over again until one day it seemed she had earned a different level of respect from us.

Now for me when in the farm yard context, " Granny" is a special name. In human form my great grandma was the sweetest woman I ever met. She will always be "Granny" to me.

Your "Granny" line gets my respect even though I never seen em. That's farm yard "street credit" in its sincerest form.

Cotton1
 

Son of Butch

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Mossy Dell":18so7u3l said:
Angus breed research done by the USMARC shows that Angus cows are now bigger than all the major continental breeds.
The old, accepted idea that by using Angus bulls you will make your cows smaller and more efficient is no longer true!
A few things we have learned are:

1. Bigger cows will generally wean bigger calves but a lower percentage of their body weight than smaller cows.
2. Higher-milking cows will wean a higher percentage of their body weight, but will have lower body condition scores.
3. Cows are consistent throughout their lifetime in regards to their efficiency when compared to their herd mates.
4. Cows that calve earlier in the breeding season generally wean a higher percentage of their body weight.

Cow Energy Value ($EN)
While $EN is not a perfect number and should not be used alone for selection, it is a good indicator of cow energy requirements.
Cows that consistently conceive on their 1st service are the real money makers and that needs to be emphasized.
Selecting females based on reproductive performance will/should give you the most efficient cow herd.
 

Stocker Steve

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Mossy Dell":1e2se23d said:
We definitely feel a higher $EN number is positive, especially in our tough New Mexico environment. It is very uncommon to see $EN in most Angus sale catalogs even though cow maintenance requirements are extremely important to a commercial operator’s bottom line.

Mother Nature favors larger mammals in the land of the Artic Vortex. :nod:
 

HDRider

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Stocker Steve":fjl3aleq said:
Mossy Dell":fjl3aleq said:
We definitely feel a higher $EN number is positive, especially in our tough New Mexico environment. It is very uncommon to see $EN in most Angus sale catalogs even though cow maintenance requirements are extremely important to a commercial operator’s bottom line.

Mother Nature favors larger mammals in the land of the Artic Vortex. :nod:
I was trying to find it, but I could not. Have you seen the video of the cattle gone feral on the Aleutian Isles? Herefords I think. Amazing to think that nature and survival of the strongest and all. I'd love to have some of that seed stock.
 

WalnutCrest

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Son of Butch":39iki6l0 said:
Mossy Dell":39iki6l0 said:
Angus breed research done by the USMARC shows that Angus cows are now bigger than all the major continental breeds.
The old, accepted idea that by using Angus bulls you will make your cows smaller and more efficient is no longer true!
A few things we have learned are:

1. Bigger cows will generally wean bigger calves but a lower percentage of their body weight than smaller cows.
2. Higher-milking cows will wean a higher percentage of their body weight, but will have lower body condition scores.
3. Cows are consistent throughout their lifetime in regards to their efficiency when compared to their herd mates.
4. Cows that calve earlier in the breeding season generally wean a higher percentage of their body weight.

Cow Energy Value ($EN)
While $EN is not a perfect number and should not be used alone for selection, it is a good indicator of cow energy requirements.
Cows that consistently conceive on their 1st service are the real money makers and that needs to be emphasized.
Selecting females based on reproductive performance will/should give you the most efficient cow herd.

A pretty simple way to test for that is to track the calving interval between the first and second calf; the shorter the interval, the more fertile the cow (in your environment and under your management).

Cull anyone needing help. Cull anyone not getting bred. Cull anyone with a bad attitude.
 

Stocker Steve

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WalnutCrest":dtsqhtmb said:
Cull anyone needing help. Cull anyone not getting bred. Cull anyone with a bad attitude.

Our commodity cow/calf cattle cycle history is that the industry is not able to noticeably reduce costs when gross margin disappears. Obvious approaches to increase gross margin are to improve marketing, increase turns, and/or improve efficiencies. I think a medium term bottom up approach for non marketers would be to look at what forage your ground should/would grow and then back into a stocking plan that fits it.
A common start up issue is that much of the ground available for sale or lease has been mined for minerals and OM. Running higher stocking densities with purchased hay and cover crops is the cheapest way I know to improve fertility and the mineral cycle. In this situation your most efficient cow is probably a big pooper. Since this is a short term situation, and there is not a BM EPD yet, you probably don't want to try to select for this ;-)
Once you regenerated fertility and done some inter seeding - - you should have legume/grass mixes at 2X to 3X your previous forage production. This kind of feed is much better than a mature cow needs, so your most efficient cow is now probably a 800# yearling. :idea: If you are not a sell/buy kind of guy, and you are not grazing a desert, this means you need to overwinter at least some of your calves.
So now we are looking for a medium milking cow that can nurse a respectable calf through the winter and maintain decent body condition. We are looking for calves that can convert forage. Culling will be pretty obvious. You will see things that are masked by weaning at 6 to 7 months. Calves will grow apart. Some cows will fall out due to teeth or milk production issues. A side benefit of a mixed stocking plan like this is you have a drought response that protects the cow herd initially.
 

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