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There's Power in Information - Use it to Your Advantage

Posted Apr. 4, 2006

Every year, the Noble Research Institute partners with the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) to provide cattle producers in our service area who are working with an Ag Division consulting team an Integrated Resource Management "Red Book." For those of you unfamiliar with what I am referring to, the "Red Book" (Yes, it is actually red.) is a pocket size "cowboy computer" that allows you to keep vital records pertaining to your cow herd at your fingertips in your shirt pocket. There is a place to write down almost anything, from calving dates to when and where you marketed those calves. There is also some very good educational and reference material within the covers of this book, including a gestation table, a description of how to use the body condition scoring (BCS) system and an outline on proper vaccine handling and injection site quality control. It is no wonder these little books are so popular.

However, there is a difference between keeping information and using information. Consequently, I have witnessed very few producers actually using the information they have kept to make management decisions. Sure, they might look at whether an individual cow had a calf that year, or, when they see a pretty good calf out in the pasture, they might look back to see when it was born and who its mama is. But as far as using this information to make whole-herd management decisions, very few producers are doing it.

For instance, everyone knows getting calves on the ground earlier in the calving season is better. Assuming a weight per day of age of 2 pounds, those calves born during the first week of the calving season (90 days) will be about 160 pounds heavier than those born in the last week of the calving season. You might say, "Well, there is nothing I can do about that," but, I beg to differ if the cause is related to improper plane of nutrition during the previous calving season and/or breeding season, and your cow herd is gradually calving later. Indeed, you might not be able to do much about it in that year, but, if the problem is identifiable an alternate plan can be implemented, when necessary.

An easy way to depict the power of using this type of information is by looking at a data set. Figure 1 represents the calving distribution for a cow herd during 2003 and 2004. Calving distribution is defined as early (day 1-30), middle (day 31-60) and late (day 61-90) during a 90-day calving season. Cattle calving during the first 30 days of the calving season dramatically dropped (11.4 percent) from 2003 to 2004, whereas the number of cattle calving in the last 30 days stayed relatively constant. These results beg the questions, "Is this reduction significant, and is there anything we can do about it?" My answer to both questions is "yes." Actual and adjusted weaning weights (data not shown, but collected and used) also showed a significant reduction between the two years, therefore, this shift resulted in economic ramifications. Considering all other (controllable) variables were held constant and a breeding soundness exam was done to ensure all bulls were satisfactory breeders, it would seem this herd's productivity may be starting on a downhill slide. Upon further analysis of the individual cow data, all the cows that slipped between the two years were at least nine years old. Therefore, even though they had a calf both years, the overall herd productivity slipped, and it was deemed necessary to replace some of the older cows with females due to calve earlier in the calving season.

The above example is just one way to use information that is relatively easy to keep. The list is long regarding what can be done with the information once it is collected. Furthermore, there are numerous ways to keep this information, aside from the IRM "Red Books." Regardless of how you track the information, however, keep the right information and actually use it to its fullest potential.

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