SG Source December 2023

Cow Efficiency Drives Profitability and Sustainability • Continued from 8

the nuances that factor into a grazing cow’s intake. These nuances include variations in an individual cow’s basal metabolism, grazing be havior and environmental adaptation. To date, our best solution for genetically im proving cow efficiency has been to select for a more moderate mature size and more moderate milk production, as we know that lactation is an energetically expensive process. While mature size correlates with feed intake, it is becoming clear that it may not tell the whole story. Some cows appear to be thriftier than others, main taining a high mature weight with minimal feed intake. Multiple land grant universities have ongoing research focused on developing ways to identify strategies that measure cow efficiency. It is also important to remember the many other factors that make a cow efficient. A commercial cow’s ability to remain productive and in a herd for the long term is central to an operation’s overall profitability and efficiency. Long-lived cows help reduce the replacement rate, making annual heifer development costs cheaper, resulting in additional calves to mar ket. Anything that jeopardizes a cow’s longev ity is a direct hit to a herd’s overall efficiency. Cows that fail to breed but that remain in herds are almost always going to put us in the red. This lack of revenue means that a cow’s costs must be spread over the remainder of her life, significantly lengthening her “payback period.” Further, a sub-fertile cow is taking up valuable forage resources that could be devot ed to a more productive animal. Genetic selec tion for fertility will remain a critical strategy for increasing herd-wide efficiency. Other traits that interfere with longevity are also essential to consider in selection decisions with efficiency in mind. Feet and leg traits, ud der quality and disposition can all cause pre mature culling and drive down a herd’s effi ciency. The multi-trait nature of efficiency can make selection decisions challenging when using many EPDs simultaneously. This makes economic selection indexes incredibly valu able to commercial bull buyers, as they ap propriately weight individual traits and report single values that reflect an animal’s “profit potential.” Genetic improvements to holistic cow herd efficiency will rely heavily on up-to date and relevant selection indexes. Hands down, the easiest way commercial herds can improve efficiency is to crossbreed. Breed complementarity can be used to com bine exceptional maternal and terminal ge netics. Bos indicus -influenced breeds can help make British-based cow herds more environ

It is also important to remember the many other factors that make a cow efficient. A commercial cow’s ability to remain productive and in a herd for the long term is central to an operation’s overall prof itability and efficiency.

mentally resilient. Importantly, the heterosis generated through crossbreeding not only increases pounds of weaned calf/end product, but it is essential for making the long-lived and productive replacement females that are the cornerstones of commercial herds. Other Definitions of Sustainability While not directly related to cow efficiency, it is essential that our operations frame sus tainability in the context of longevity: How long will we be able to keep raising beef cat tle? Our industry has been lucky to remain “unintegrated,” and family ranches continue to produce the vast majority of our country’s beef supply. However, as our margins become tighter and tighter, we can no longer pick and choose which best management practices are worth implementing. Increasing production costs, and more volatile weather and mar kets make the longevity of our operations even more vulnerable. Adopting technologies and making decisions that reduce costs while maintaining productivity will be essential. An Invitation to BIF 2024 If you want to learn more about the topics above, I’d like to formally invite you to the 2024 Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) Annual Symposium, June 10-13, in Knoxville, Tenn. BIF brings together producers, academics, breed associations and allied industries for an information-packed meeting that is focused on strategies for beef cattle genetic improvement. The upcoming symposium’s theme is “Breed ing a More Effective Cow for Volatile Markets and Environments.” I hope you will consider visiting Tennessee next summer to learn more about how we can breed more efficient, profit able, adapted and sustainable cattle. Reach out to me with any questions!




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