Records

No matter what anyone’s initial response is the first goal of a viable “business” is to succeed and make a profit. If a producer cannot make a profit with a beef herd over the long term, they will not stay in business. Yet many producers do not measure important contributing factors to their profit potential. _DSC0161-2

I. What are the important factors to measure?

Whatever is important to the profitability of the herd. When having initial discussions of records with producers, the first question asked from them is, “What do I have to keep up with?” A more directed question should be, “What are we going to measure?” We want to make sure that we measure things that are important for the owner’s success. We can generate thousands of data points, but what good is it unless we can say, “This is related to the success/ profit of your business,” and “Here is an issue that should be addressed.” We need to identify the “big picture” items. We don’t want to measure things that are unimportant and just minor details. Beef producers are extremely busy and we want to measure things that are worth the effort. Generally, when producers consider records they see a lot of data and numbers that do not correlate with their operation. It means absolutely nothing if data cannot be directly related to the production of the operation. If the average weaning weight is 575 lbs., which may be good to tell everyone at the coffee shop, but it really tells us nothing. How old were the calves? Were they creep fed? Is this the actual weight or the adjusted 205- day weight? Numbers are not enough without context. The next step is to convert the data to information so the owner understands something practical. If this is the adjusted weaning weight and this number has been falling over the last 10 years, then this is useful information. The third thing that we want to happen as we progress from data to information is to convert the information into knowledge. We want to find out something that we can do differently based on this number. Are our calves getting lighter because we have reduced mature cow size and herd efficiency is actually improving? Did we increase stocking density and are actually raising more pounds of product although each unit is smaller? If so, this is important to know. If we combine this data with the fact that cost/pound of calf weaned is also decreasing, this is knowledge.

II. Production Records: What is needed?

On the cow, all we need is a unique identification number and an age. It doesn’t have to be an exact age. You can mouth these cows if the age is unknown. Give your best estimate on age and that’s what goes on the records. We also desire a cow’s weight. It’s understood that a cow’s weight can fluctuate dramatically through the year, but this should be taken into account when assessing her at the scale. If possible, make the best-estimated average of her weight over multiple weighings. First calf heifers will always weigh less. We are not looking for an exact science. On the calves, we need:_DSC0193-2  

  • Identification

  • Exact birth date

  • Sex

  • Weaning Date

  • Weaning Weight

There is optional information that we can use if desired. Optional information would be breed, sire, horned, polled, calving ease, etc. Again, we can have more records than we know what to do with. So, after we process the records, what kind of information is generated? For the cow, one of the most important numbers is the most probable producing ability (MPPA). This is a ratio of the cow vs. the other cows in the herd. A cow of 100 would be average in the herd. A cow of 95 would be 5% below average where an MPPA of 105 would be 5% above average. MPPA measures two things in the cow:

  • her ability to produce milk for that calf

  • her contribution of genetics to the calf

We use this figure extensively on which cows are the best cows, but most importantly, which cows are the poorest. The poorest cows are closely scrutinized on whether they will stay in the herd or be sold. The lifetime calving history is another report that should be inspected carefully. Is this cow starting to decline in production because of age, decreasing milk production or some other factor, or is she holding steady as an old cow and we need to retain her in the herd for at least another year? This becomes a valuable history for the cow. Many cows are kept for one calf too long. Records will help to keep this from occurring. On the calf records, the first thing we likely inspect is the adjusted weaning weight. We want to see how this calf compared to his contemporaries. The reason it’s an adjusted weaning weight is to compare all calves so we are really looking at genetics only. What the computer does is adjust every calf to being born from a 5-10 year old cow and being weaned at exactly 205 days of age and being all the same sex. From there, we can take a calf that’s out of a first- calf heifer that is 200 days of age at weaning and compare that calf genetically to a calf out of an 8-year-old cow, where the calf is 185 days of age. We would guess that the older calf is going to actually weigh less because a first calf heifer is going to produce less milk than an 8 year-old cow. But, if we are keeping daughters back and trying to make genetic improvement in a herd, we’re very interested in the genetic component. We also look at the adjusted weaning weight ratio of the calves and, similar to the MPPA, 100 is average and 105 would be 5% above average. We can also look at the percent of the calf’s weight in comparison to the dam’s weight. This isn’t a specific criteria on an individual calf basis because a first-calf heifer is always going to be lighter and she should generally wean a higher percentage of her weight. But, on a whole herd basis it would be preferred to have the calves’ adjusted weaning weight be between 45-50% of what the cows weigh.

***One of the major goals of production records in the herd is to identify the cows that need to leave the herd. While it is always enjoyable to highlight the top performers it is even more critical to find the lowest performing cows in the herd.

One of the first criteria we look at is an MPPA below 90. If a cow is below 90, she should be leaving the herd now or very soon. She is 10% below average in the herd. When you’re starting on herd records, you will likely have a number of cows that have an MPPA below 90. After a few years of records you’ll probably have none because you’ve culled them all. Another record that should be examined critically is the cow that has a calf that ranks in the bottom 10% of the herd that particular year. Sometimes an older cow (10-15 years of age) will have an MPPA of 95 because of past performance but in the given year the calf had a weaning ratio of 75 or 25% below herd average. When evaluating the cow summary you realize in the first years of her life she was a very productive cow. She had weaning ratios of calves between 105 and 118 so her MPPA was up around 105-106. But, the records show as she got older the weaning ratios of her calves started dropping off considerably.

There is a list of items that could contribute to this outcome:_DSC0195

  • Decreasing milk production due to age

  • Mastitis causing a reduction of milk

  • Structural problems limiting her foraging ability

  • Loss of teeth limiting foraging ability

  • Your genetic improvement has been so dramatic that she is now below average


The bottom line is that none of these problems can be “fixed”, so this cow will need to be culled. If you just look at MPPA, she will never get below 90 and get on the cull list. You must also look at recent history. It is very important to find these cows with an acceptable MPPA that are now failing. There is little chance you would cull these cows soon enough without production records. In summary, the most important function of records is not finding the top performers, but in evaluating the least functional cows in the herd and making proper culling decisions. http://www.mwbeefcattle.com/  

If you have questions or would like to know how our record system could work in your herd, please contact us at (931) 996-2253 or info@totalcattlesolutions.com