North Central Research Extension Center


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Right Sizing Your Cows

John Dhuyvetter

The cattle feeder wants a large frame fast growing calf that will finish heavy, yielding a well marbled carcass.  A lot of cowherds hit this target, but along the way cow size has substantially increased.  There is nothing wrong with larger cows that do well on the forage resource, staying in condition, breed on time and last in the herd without a lot of fooling with.  Even if we have to stock fewer numbers, if the weight and value of calves is proportionately higher this may be good scenario.

However, sometimes we select “out-side the lines” for growth and milk resulting in increased cost associated with stepped up supplementation and nutrition to keep cows in shape and breeding.  Or suffer consequences of higher culling and turnover.  The reality; our least cost effort and resources probably favor less than the most for growth, size, and milk traits.

To move in the direction of more functionally efficient cows, if your herd has evolved into a high input situation, consider several approaches.  Quit selecting the biggest heaviest heifers for replacements if they are likely to mature at 1600 pounds plus.  Don’t make excuses for big, thin, late breeding cows: they should go.  Carefully select bulls to sire heifers from sources that manage similarly to you and “frame down” from the past.

Retaining heifers for replacements is often cheaper than buying, more biologically secure and adapts cattle to your management.  Consider using sires of breed, calving ease, and mature size appropriate for mating 2,3 and 4 year females that will create a pool of right size and kind heifers for replacement.  Mating’s to larger type (older cows) can be to higher growth terminal type bulls to maximize calf value.  Either the herd has to be managed as groups with differing end targets; or compromise has to be achieved between cowherd and feedlot characteristics.

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