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Mind Your Own Business

Posted May 1, 2001

Look inside any successful business and you'll find written goals for the organization, internal departments, and employees. Management sets departmental and individual accountabilities based on the goals of the organization and then provides a working environment in which those accountabilities can reasonably be achieved. Management evaluates performance, production, and economic information to make decisions related to individuals, departments, and the organization as a whole. Management measures performance and conducts annual performance evaluations, during which actual productivity is compared with expectations. Each employee is accountable for achieving individual goals and contributing to the success of the department and organization. Adequate performance is required for continued employment.

A cow-calf operation is a business in every sense of the word, and a similar relationship between a producer and his resources should exist. It is the producer's responsibility to establish production and economic goals for the operation, outline performance expectations, adequately manage the environment, measure and evaluate performance, and make decisions.

By analogy, your cows are your employees. To know whether a cow meets your expectations, you must accurately measure, record, and evaluate the right performance. The primary use of performance records is to help you make culling and selection decisions relative to production and economic goals. Simple goals need simple accountabilities and records. For instance, if your only production goal is for each cow to give you a live calf every year, then you need only a simple yes/no record at weaning. It's still a goal, an accountability, and a record used to make a management decision. Of course, if your goal is to produce calves that eventually make choice, yield-grade 2, 750-pound carcasses, then individual cow accountabilities will be much more rigorous. You'll need to measure, record, and evaluate many more performance traits.

Above is a simple record card. I've used one like it for more than twenty years. A cow's lifetime production can be recorded on this card. The wide range of information commercial cow-calf producers can record on it is sufficient to support decision-making relevant to most goals. I believe it is functional for herds up to 200 head. I will be glad to send you this card to copy, along with formulas and explanations. I also have data entry sheets for recording performance information as you measure it: at weaning, pregnancy checking, and the like. There are many computer-based record systems on the market for larger operations or those with more sophisticated recordkeeping needs. I have information on a few of these software and service packages.

Individual performance records are just part of the information you need to effectively manage an overall operation. Evaluating individual performance records, along with pertinent production and economic information from other areas of the operation, can help identify potentially conflicting goals and areas of management. For instance, say you wean a 70 percent calf crop instead of your 95 percent goal. Was it because you were overstocked, your herd health program was deficient, or you cut too much out of the supplemental feed budget? Answering questions like these is part of the manager's responsibility and possible only with adequate information from other interrelated areas of the operation. The more information you have, the more accurate your analysis will be.

Finally, using recorded information as a marketing tool is increasingly important. Documentation of a complete herd health program, for example, can increase the price you receive for your calf crop. Individual treatment records can help you stay within the withdrawal requirements for various drugs or allow you to sell into a niche market for a premium. Historic feedlot performance data and carcass information for calves you produce can help you decide whether to sell on a live basis or a grid, or even which grid is best for your calves. Even if you decide to sell your calves before the feedlot phase, knowing this information can add value.

Cow-calf production is a business. Goals drive successful operations. Continued success depends on sound business decisions related to performance, analysis, and marketing, and sound business decisions are possible only with accurate and appropriate information. Approach your operation from this perspective and you stand a good chance of being around for the long haul.

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