Vermillion, SD, 57069
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Til the cows come home

The severe drought over the past few years,over large areas of what is traditional grazing country, has put pressure on the overall size of the cowherd in the US.   In recent conversation with a Texas rancher and seedstock producer, hit by the worst of the drought, he stated that it will take 3 years or more of good rainfalls to get his rangeland back into average production.

We are at historically low numbers for the national herd at a time when beef demand is at near all time highs.  These market signals tell us it is time to expand the cowherd.  The question are how to do it  and where to do it.

In reality it boils down to the question; do we continue to graze cows and calves on open rangeland as we always have, or do we look to a more modern system of raising these cows in dry housing, feeding the brood cow on crop residue and by-products.  Considering the well being of the cowherd, the analysis becomes primarily one of economics.

For the sake of this analysis we are assuming that this cattle operation needs to be of the scale to fully support the income needs of a young family.  Access to capital is assumed to be adequate and really looking at returns on investment.   According to North Dakota State University programs analyzing financial performance of cowherds from 1994-2004 the best managed herds average $105 net annual return per cow.  Assuming an annual family income needed for an independent operator of $65000 would dictate a cow herd of 620 head.   Finishing the calves from this cowherd to slaughter weight in today’s market, can add an additional $150 per head.  This takes the size of the herd needed to support the family from 620 head to 260 head!

The cost of the cow over her lifespan will be the same regardless of production system.  The cost of labor and facilities will be similar as a fully employed individual is fully active regardless; whether he is fixing fence moving cattle or feeding cattle and working in a drylot facility.  As far as comparing facility costs in most cow herds in the upper Midwest, there is extensive facility to winter and calve the cows.  In this analysis we are assuming that these facilities are adequate to maintain the pair year round not just for the winter feeding and calving periods.  In essence, we are looking at the 150 day period, when normally the pair is out on range; its associated costs and the cost to keep that pair in a drylot scenario.

While researching in preparation for this article it became very apparent that the variance in pasture rental rates is as wide as the Missouri River in flood stage.  Rates are one topic, availability is another and it would seem that between farming pressure, wildlife preserve and hunting pressure and urban sprawl the availability of good rangeland is very tight.    Could you lease enough grass within 100 miles of your farm to add 625 cows if you wanted to?  In the areas of the upper Midwest where feed is available the answer to that question is NO.  This question is not can we drylot pairs to expand the cowherd but HOW to.



This exact scenario is being accomplished today in the Hoop Beef System.  Utilizing ground corn stalks and Wet Distillers grains we can design rations for the cow to meet her requirements in all stages of production for an average of $1.09 per cow per day or $397.85 annually.  When in the Hoop Beef System, the Net Energy for Maintenance (NeM) is 40% less than a cow grazing, because she is not expending energy foraging all day for her dry matter.  Just like a feeder animal in extreme weather, we do not have to accommodate an increase in NeM for the weather conditions.  With adequate living space and the unmatched ventilation of the Hoop Beef System we can comfortably and profitably drylot cows all year round.

For more information how this might fit into your operation please contact us and we will help you position your operation for the future.

We Got Ya Covered…Don’t track it in the house!



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