Home | 2006 Annual Report

Livestock Management in a Whole-Enterprise Management System

Brian Kreft, and Paul E. Nyren

NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center, Streeter, ND

Eric Devuyst

NDSU Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics, Fargo, ND


Table of Contents


Calving Date and Length

Pasture and Forage Management

Cow Type and Selection

Creep Feeding



Results and Discussion


In 2004, the CGREC received funds from a USDA Sustainable Research and Education grant as well as grant funds from a number of sources administered by the North Dakota Natural Resources Trust. A committee consisting of producers, NDSU researchers, and agency personnel from North and South Dakota was formed to discuss and direct the management of the CGREC Model Farm. Committee members shared many of their experiences and ideas at a meeting. After considerable discussion, committee members came to a consensus on many management decisions. The following report discusses some of the topics covered at the meeting.

Calving Date and Length

The date on which producers start calving has a dramatic effect on the rest of the operation. It determines the amount and quality of feed required as well as facilities and labor needed. Early calving requires more feed and facilities to calve and shelter cows in inclement weather. It requires more labor to check the cows during the calving season and more cows to shelter after calving. For many producers, this may be a trade-off. They want to complete calving early to have more labor available for their farming enterprise and these early calves are generally heavier at weaning. Early calving allows more flexibility in marketing. Early-born heavy calves are in great demand by feedlots at weaning to capture maximum fed-cattle prices in March and April. Each individual ranch has its own set of resources and no two are alike. The calving season must work for each producer’s unique situation.

The committee decided to keep the calving season we are currently using at CGREC. First-calf heifers are bred to begin calving about two weeks before the main cow herd. The heifers start calving about the last week of March, with the cows starting in early April. This allows us to calve the cows in a pasture that is close to our main facilities. The cows calve on clean ground with enough area to provide them with some privacy to prevent cross-mothering. The cows are checked about every two hours from dawn until dusk, but they are not checked at night unless we experience inclement weather. The first-calf heifers are checked every two to three hours, both day and night, and calve in a dry-lot situation with access to barns for shelter. We limit the calving season to about 50 days to ease labor fatigue and to keep the calves as uniform as possible. Our calving season allows the cows to be rotationally grazed on very high quality pasture for about a month before we begin the breeding season. The cows gain weight rapidly prior to breeding which generally results in high pregnancy rates. The April-born calves are weaned in early to mid-October when they can be sold, retained and backgrounded, or finished. The nutrient quality of pastures generally declines rapidly after early October. With the calves weaned, the cows’ nutrient requirements are drastically reduced. This allows the cows to recover some body condition before winter, even on lower quality forages. The cows are grazed on crop aftermath and stockpiled forages until late December or until inclement weather conditions force us to start supplemental feeding. The cows are fed on pasture with wind shelter away from the calving area. Hay is fed in a clean area every day which scatters the manure and helps to fertilize the pasture. This practice greatly reduces manure handling and hauling expenses. The cows are brought back to the calving pasture prior to calving.

Pasture and Forage Management

Pasture management was discussed at great length by the committee. While there were many different ideas, it was generally agreed that we should maximize the grazing season. It is recommended that producers do not graze native pastures until almost June 1. Grazing earlier can drastically reduce forage yields on these pastures. To extend the grazing season, a rotationally grazed tame CRP pasture was used for the model herd. This pasture consists of mostly tame cool-season grasses and alfalfa. The cattle are moved to a new pasture every 21 days. On July 28, 2005 the cows were moved to native pasture and rotationally grazed until weaning in October. It was recommended that the cows graze pasture and crop aftermath for as long as possible to reduce the need for harvested forage. The committee had considerable interest in swath-grazing to extend the grazing season and a new swath grazing study was initiated in October 2005 (see page 17).

Cow Type and Selection

What is the ideal cow? Good question! The nation’s beef industry has many different kinds of cows that seem to work in different environments. Breeds come in all sizes and milking abilities, and different breeds work for different producers depending upon their ranch’s feed and forage resources. Generally, the cow type must match the feed resource. Ranches with low precipitation and limited forage supply may want a small, low-milking female while ranches with grain, silage or abundant forage may want large, high-milking cows. The committee recommended that we stay with cows of moderate size and milking ability. CGREC has used the CHAPS program for almost 20 years. CHAPS is a performance testing and record keeping program that has helped CGREC to identify poor producing cows within the herd. These cows hurt profitability and, if performance is low enough, they should be culled. By selecting higher performing cows, ranch profitability can be improved.

Creep Feeding

Research performed at CGREC and other research facilities has shown that creep feeding can improve calf weaning weights and help conserve forage for their mothers. In most situations, it is cost effective especially with homegrown diets. The Model Farm committee decided we should creep feed for only 30 days prior to weaning to prepare the calves for the stress associated with weaning.


Marketing is a key to ranch profitability. Calves can either be sold at weaning, backgrounded, finished, or wintered and run as yearlings. The size, age, and growth rate of the calf may dictate which path to follow. High growth-rate calves should be fed a higher quality ration to realize the best returns. Small or late born calves may be best suited to stocker operations. At CGREC, we generally background our calves after weaning at a moderate growth rate of 2.5 lbs/day until they are about 800 lbs. They are fed a ration of corn silage, alfalfa hay, barley and corn. The calves can convert these homegrown feeds efficiently and add value to these feedstuffs. At about 800 lbs, the calves need to consume a higher grain diet, and are either sold or finished at the Research Center. The committee decided that we should background all of the calves on the Model Farm and then finish the steer calves. This should give us valuable information on calf performance and efficiencies.



A herd of 100 four- and five-year-old cows was selected from the CGREC’s main herd. They were calved with the main group of cows and sorted to pasture on May 26, 2005. The calves were vaccinated with 7-way clostridial and 4-way viral vaccinations. They were dehorned and bull calves were surgically castrated. The cows were given a pre-breeding vaccination and de-wormed. All cattle were weighed prior to hauling them to tame grass pasture. They rotationally grazed three pastures and were moved every 21 days. Bulls were semen evaluated and introduced to the herd on July 1, 2005. The herd was hauled back to the Research Center on July 27, 2005. They were again weighed and a pour-on insecticide was applied to control horn flies. The herd was then moved to native rotationally-grazed pastures. They were rotated every 21 days until weaning on October 10, 2005. We were advised to vaccinate all mature livestock at CGREC after a local outbreak of anthrax. The cows and bulls received a vaccination for anthrax on August 1, 2005 and a booster vaccination on August 15. An unfortunate car accident killed five calves in July after a group of cattle got out on the county road at night. Luckily, the driver was not injured. One other calf was lost due to lightning and two others died during the backgrounding phase.

After weaning on October 10, 2005, the cows were moved to aftermath grazing that included barley regrowth, hay fields, and corn stalks. The cows grazed until January 12, 2006 when hay feeding began. The calves were backgrounded until February 2, 2006. They were fed a totally mixed ration of corn silage, ground alfalfa hay, barley, and corn that was produced at the Center. The steer calves were then fed to finish weights on self feeders from February 2, 2006 to May 31, 2006. The diet was 90% cracked corn with 10% supplement. Free choice hay was also offered.

Results and Discussion


Table 1 shows the costs associated with maintaining the cow herd during the year. Not included in these costs are land taxes, and any government payments. Costs for replacements and bulls were calculated based on costs similar to the ones listed for the cow herd. These accounts recognize the need for separate facilities and feed sources for both the heifers and the bulls. The total per cow costs for 2005 and 2006 were $561.80 and $664.41, respectively.

Table 1. Per Head Costs Associated with Maintaining the Cow Herd in 2005 and 2006





No. of head



Fuel & electricity



Herd depreciation



Deprecation on buildings & equipment









Repairs on facilities






Salt & mineral


















Land costs



Death loss



Total cost/cow



Total cost/calf weaned



Total herd cost



Table 2 shows the cattle weights from the Model Farm. The calves weighed an average of 196 lbs at turnout on tame grass pastures on May 26, 2005. They gained an average of 2.01 lbs/hd/day and averaged 332 lbs on July 28 when they were weighed and moved to native pastures where they gained an average of 3.22 lbs/hd/day and averaged 570 lbs for this 74-day period until weaning on October 10. The cows weighed an average of 1328 lbs at turnout and averaged 1367 lbs at the end of the 62 days on tame-grass pastures (a gain of 0.57 lbs/hd/day). The animals were moved to native mixed-grass pasture on July 28. On native-grass pasture the cows gained an average of only 0.19 lbs/hd/day and weighed 1381 lbs when the calves were weaned on October 10. Pasture conditions were excellent for spring and early summer grazing with abundant forage. July, August and September were very dry and grasses became mature and dry. The low cow gains can be explained by the decline in forage quality.


Table 2. Livestock Performance Grazing Tame Cool-Season and Native Mixed-Grass Pastures on a Whole-Enterprise Management System at CGREC, 2005




Turnout avg weight (lbs) 5-26-05

Avg weight (lbs) 7-28-05 (moved to native pasture)

CRP average daily gain (lbs) 62 days

Weaning weight (lbs) 10-10-05

Native pasture average daily gain (lbs) 74 days











Total average daily gain for the season (lbs)



Table 3 shows the performance of the calves for the 115-day backgrounding period. The steers and heifers averaged 570 lbs on October 10, 2005 and averaged 801 lbs on February 2, 2006. They gained 2.01 lbs per day which was slightly less than projected. They had a total gain of 231 lbs during this period and had a feed cost/lb gain of $0.29. This cost is only for feed and does not include yardage or other expenses.

Table 3. Results of Backgrounding 94 calves for 115 Days

Weight (lbs) 10-10-05

Weight (lbs) 2-2-06

Average daily gain (lbs) 115 days

Total gain (lbs)

Feed cost/lb gain






Table 4 shows the feed costs and yardage for backgrounding the 94 calves. The charge for yardage was $0.27/hd/day. The average value for the heifers was $800.10, and the steers averaged $901.48 on February 2, 2006.

Table 4. Costs and Returns During the Backgrounding Phase (94 animals)


Feed Costs


 Total cost






Chopped hay/ton












Total Feed $/head








Total Costs




The performance during the finishing phase is given in Table 5. The average starting weight on February 2 was 832 lbs for the 49 steer calves. Forty steers were harvested on June 1. Since we had more than a semi-truck load, nine of the lightest steers were kept on feed until August 17 when trucking became available. This information averages both of the finished groups. The steers had an average harvest weight of 1280 lbs. They had an average of 132 days on feed and achieved 3.39 lbs of average daily gain. The feed-only cost/lb of gain was $0.31.

Table 5. Finishing Phase of 49 Steers for 132 Days

Average start weight (lbs) 2-2-06

Average finish weight (lbs) 

Average days on feed

Average daily gain (lbs)

Feed Cost/lb Gain






Costs and returns for the finishing phase of the trial are shown in Table 6. The total feed costs were $139.08/hd. Yardage was $35.64/hd.

Table 6. Costs for the Finishing Phase

Feed Costs 















Total Feed






Total Costs



Table 7 shows the carcass information from this group of steers. The steers had an average live weight of 1280 lbs when weighed at the Research Center on May 31, 2006. Their off-truck weight in Dakota City was 1232 lbs which was a shrink of 3.75%. The average carcass weighed 786 lbs with a yield of 63.8%, and 72.5% of the carcasses graded choice or higher. They had a carcass value of $126.92/cwt on the Tyson value-based grid. They returned $963.04 per head

Table 7. Carcass Weights and Values for Steers on the Whole-Enterprise Management System at CGREC 2005-2006

Number of steers

Average live weight (lbs)

Average shrink weight (lbs)

Average carcass weight (lbs)

Average actual yield (%)

% Choice or higher

Carcass value/cwt










Table 8 gives the costs and returns to management for the entire Model Farm. To completely understand which phase of the livestock operation made money, we need to evaluate each phase as an independent enterprise. Therefore, we calculate the value of the steers and heifers at weaning and charge the backgrounding enterprise that value because we could have sold the animals after they were weaned. Ten cull cows were sold in November 2005 at a value of $645.36/head. We culled ten cows and kept ten heifers as replacements. The cost of maintaining the cow herd was $56,179.67 (Table 1). Since only 94 calves were weaned, that equates to $597.66/head. If the calves had been sold at weaning, they would have been worth $9,834.15 after deducting the cost of maintaining the cow herd (Table 8).

The calves were kept and backgrounded for 115 days at a cost of $97.37/head (Table 4). The calves ended the backgrounding phase on February 2, 2006. At that time the steers were valued at $901.48/hd and the heifers at $800.10/head. We sold 31 heifers and 2 steers and kept 49 steers for the finishing phase. The value of the 31 heifers and 53 steers, less the cost of maintaining the cow herd, was $4,364.74 at the end of the backgrounding period.

The average finishing time was 132 days and the cost per head was $174.72 (Table 6). Finishing 49 steers in a low-input system reduced net returns by $5,544.90.


Table 8. Summary of Costs and Returns to Management for the Model Farm



Total value

Total return to management

Cow/Calf Herd (100)

   Cull cows sold (10)

   Less per head costs

   Net value of sold animals







Weaned calves (94) (10 heifers kept for replacements) 

   Steers (53)

   Heifers (31)

Total value

Less per calf costs for 84 head

Net return if all animals were sold*










Total return to the cow/calf herd




Backgrounding (84 animals)




   Beginning value post weaning

   Steers (53)

   Heifers (31)





   Ending value





   Steers (53)

   Heifers (31)



Total ending value (84 head)

Less beginning value

Total return






Less per calf costs (84 head) (Table 4)

Additional net return if all animals were sold





Finish Steers (49)




Beginning value

Ending value

Total return

Less per calf costs (Table 6)

Additional net return of sold animals










Total returns to management


* These animals were not sold but kept for backgrounding.

Table 9 shows the return to land, labor and facilities, and management for the Model Farm. Since we deducted the cost of the land, facilities or yardage, and labor in all phases of the study, these charges were added back to give a better understanding of the total return to the farm operation.

Table 9. Returns to Land and Facilities, Labor and Management for the Model Farm


Total charges for land, labor and yardage, and

depreciation on facilities

Total returns to management

Returns to land, labor,

and management

Cow/calf herd

Depreciation on facilities, labor  and landcosts, respectively (Table 1) (18.37+24.73+80.70) x 100





(Yardage Table 4)





(Yardage (35.64 x 49)(Table 6)




Total return




During the second year of this project starting in May 2006, we have completed the summer grazing period

(see Table 1). The calves are weaned and are being backgrounded at this time. Information from the second year will be included in next year’s report.

NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center
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