How is Your Cow Herd Spending its Money?

No one needs to be told that input costs have been increasing over time. It has many asking where they should be looking for cost savings and how they can trim costs.

Looking at where money is being spent can give an indication of where to start for cost savings. Chart 1 presents a breakdown of the main expense areas for the beef cow herd. You can rightly conclude that if you want to concentrate on an area of your costs that will yield the biggest bang for your management buck that it would be feed costs. Feed costs at almost 60% should demand a lot of time and attention and most likely already does.

With respect to feed costs, controlling them is easy to say, but how do you do it? The first question you need to ask is what am I feeding now; not just the different components of the ration but how much of each of these components. How many of you can accurately say how much you are feeding to your cow herd each year? Hopefully a lot of you can, but the reality for many is their records are not in good enough shape to tease that information out.

Chart based on cost estimates.

The beef producers in the Benchmark Beef study conducted by the University of Guelph reported a wide range of actual dry matter amount fed to their cattle. The average in the group fed 4.0 tonnes of dry matter (grain and forages) per cow per year. The range was 1.0 tonne to 6.0 tonnes. It would be safe to say the farm reporting only 1.0 tonne of dry matter fed per cow per year may not have accurately recorded the amount fed. A 5.0 tonne range is huge and knowing where you are on that range is important.

Effective record keeping is the key to getting the right information you need to make effective business decisions. With today's access to handheld technology it would not take much effort to record amounts as they happen. There may even be an 'app' for that. Even the tried and true pen and paper method can be effective as long as you are diligent in recording and transferring the information in your complete records. Knowing where slippages or wastage may be happening can give you some of those early wins in making sure the feed you have is managed effectively. As you enter the cropping season start recording now so you are not trying to do it by memory next winter.

If you are considering farm software, Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development maintain an extensive listing of financial as well as production recordkeeping software.
Agricultural Software Listing - http://www.agric.gov.ab.ca/app68/agsoft. Also a search of the apps available for the smart phone platform you have may yield some handy tools as well.

Chart 1 was based on cost estimates in the Beef Cow Cost of Production Calculator which was recently updated and is available online at OMAFRA's Ontario Enterprise Budgets: http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/busdev/bear2000/Budgets/oeb.htm Use the calculator to estimate your costs and it also allows you to test those "what ifs" for different production and expense factors to see what has the greatest impact on your bottom line.

Feed is your biggest expense; the place to start is knowing how much you are feeding. This is not to say you should ignore the other costs but management time should be devoted to the areas that will have the most impact first.

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