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Improve Time Management on Your Cow-Calf Operation

Posted Dec. 1, 2008

In tough economic times, many people become overwhelmed with things they have little control over such as high prices for feed, fuel and fertilizer. Although those things are important, perhaps it is time to focus your attention on things you can influence, such as operational efficiency and time management. Applying these two principles can result in more productive management while minimizing the waste of valuable time.

In my position at the Noble Research Institute, I am fortunate to be able to travel and record information on livestock processing days at several cow-calf operations. From these experiences, here are a few of my observations and suggestions to improve your time management.

Proper livestock identification and recordkeeping
There are many systems of livestock identification, but, regardless of the method, it is important that each animal be uniquely and legibly identified. It is costly when a crew cannot identify one animal from another due to duplicate tag numbers.

Properly recorded production information is another key to efficient time management. Keep your records in good enough shape that if you look back months from now, you will be able to find exactly what you need and won't have to re-collect/track this information. Find a method that works for you, keep it simple, be consistent and stick to it.

Check all equipment and supplies
Many producers could eliminate unnecessary stress and improve time efficiency with some basic planning. Did you have everything on-site to accomplish the day's task the last time you worked cattle or did you have to shut down to go find needed supplies?

Locate all items that may be needed and make sure they are in working condition prior to processing day. This includes proper quantities of vaccine and other veterinarian-recommended items. You should also plan to have enough (or even extra) ear tags, needles, syringes and other miscellaneous supplies. Then, if something unexpected comes up, you won't have to run to town to obtain materials needed to finish the job.

Anticipate problems and plan accordingly. If you have previously had to make adjustments on gates, alleyways or pens, assume that you may have to again. It is beneficial to have tools and related items on-site: wrenches, pliers, WD40, rope, wire, chain, a hammer and a screwdriver. All of those items are in the toolbox I carry to process cattle. The toolbox also contains wasp spray, sunscreen, duct tape, a flashlight and first aid kit. After cattle working is over, be sure to clean up, make needed repairs, and store all tools and supplies so that they will be easy to find next time.

Communication and safety
Effective communication plays a vital role in increasing efficiency when working chute-side. All parties should know their responsibilities and be knowledgeable of the responsibilities of their coworkers. In addition, even information that may seem minor should be communicated to all parties. For instance, informing the entire working crew that a specific calf needs an antibiotic will improve the chances that it is identified and processed properly. Communication will save valuable time if it keeps you from having to regather/sort cattle.

Safety is also everyone's responsibility - not only the safety of the personnel, but also animal safety and maintaining low stress handling. Having the proper education, training and crew can help keep everyone out of the hospital and cattle moving smoothly.

Many producers dismiss the costs associated with inefficient management practices. In today's economic environment, it is not sensible to spend time or money unnecessarily. Poor planning that idles labor in the middle of a workday is a cost that can be avoided. Please see the accompanying table for an illustration of how costs can add up quickly when workers are idled in the middle of the day.

I challenge each of you to think of it this way: you wouldn't throw 150 one-dollar bills out the pickup window. So why throw away $150 in idle time due to poor planning?