Friday, March 15, 2013

Profitability can be "ugly"

Today was a pretty great day when looked at from a total perspective. I did have one moment this morning that gave me a bit of attitude anger but overall it was a pretty great day. I needed to clean out Griselda and sort the tools, fencing supplies, empty beer containers, garbage and matted up hay remnants. This went pretty well as I tossed the fence supplies and hay remnants on the ground and put the tools into an empty protein tub. The mistake I made was leaving the cleanup area since Griselda is without a tailgate. Whoops!
The highlight of the day and the subject of tonight's blog post  was the first calving of a specific heifer #1902. This heifer is a good enough heifer but because her mother is a cow that is bigger than I really want to own from an efficiency standpoint she was right on the cutoff line of being a replacement heifer or being sold as a feeder heifer. Here is 1902's mother 4902 with her calf in 2012. As a reference 2902 is still here as a replacement based on her deep body and what I see as future profitability.

 The problem was as a young calf 1902 developed an abscess on her face. My assumption at the time was that she had some kind of "sticker" that had lodged in her skin and with the quick puncture of a sharp scalpel one day I was proven correct. Fetid pus and liquid spewed forth and in total amazement I caught the offending sticker in my hand. I was happy with this because I knew it gave her some swelling relief and also because I hoped her lump would shrink and she would no longer be stricken with this feature that did not adversely hurt her other than from an aesthetics standpoint and her marketability.

One thing I have learned in the cattle business and something my Dad and I agreed on and spent many hours discussing and debating. Just about every bovine, especially females bovines have at least one "win" and one "wreck" in her at some point of her lifetime. For the rest of this discussion win means profit and wreck means loss from my perspective.Others have a different view as to what winners and wrecks are. Like many things in the cattle business there are few absolutes but many generalities.

I look at these wins and wrecks all the time when making marketing decisions. They are much like "turnovers" in a sporting event in that sometimes they are the difference between winning and losing. I will readily admit that sometimes these gambles or games do not always come out in my favor. I have at times tried finding a win in discount cattle and failed miserably but each time I learned and kept that for future reference. The key is finding more wins than wrecks. I won't give you a long math lesson here but the reality is that because of her superficial facial defect 1902 would have likely been severely discounted as a feeder heifer calf going into a feedlot and becoming beef at around 18-24 months of age. I am not saying this is wrong because if a feedlot buys a calf with a lump on her face and it turns out this blemish hurts her ability to eat and grow they would be looking at a potential wreck or loss for themselves. For me as a primarily cow calf guy and knowing this would likely not hurt her ability to be a calf raiser I decided to make her a cow by breeding her and adding her to the herd. That being said I doubtfully would buy a heifer calf to breed with a lump on her face unless she was deeply discounted in price because of the same concerns as a feeder. 

So last spring and summer 1902 spent her time grazing and growing with the company of a bull. Sometime in early June of last year 1902 became impregnated. Today 1902 did just what I had hoped and produced her first of hopefully many offspring over the next few years. Yes, she still has her facial blemish but she also has a beautiful udder just like her momma and should raise a quality and profitable calf. She also calved unassisted in a 350 acre pasture, cleaned off her calf, got her calf up and provided her with the all important first milking (colostrum) with zero human assistance (or as i say interference) Here she is with all her ugliness and beauty with her first child. Welcome to the world 3902!

Certainly at some point her calf production life will come to an end and she will be sold as a "cull" cow based on age, a lack of pregnancy or potentially other issues. When that time comes she will probably still suffer some type of discount because of her facial feature but it will not be near as severe given the fact that she will go directly into the beef complex at that time.

Two conversations in recent memory related to this, one on Facebook and the other in person. In the Facebook conversation a young man in the cattle business asked me, "What kind of cows do you run?" My answer was, "I run cows that I think will make money. I don't get too hung up on color and /or breed. I like little efficient cows that raise profitable calves."  The other in person conversation was with a couple that raise purebred cattle of a breed I wont mention because their selected breed is not the problem in my opinion. "We look at bull calves with a less than a 85 pound birth weight as throwaway calves because you just cannot make any money on those kind of calves because they wont grow!" They also added this gem, "For us having cows that "look" like winners is more important than anything!" I just politely listened, nodded and made a mental note to not ever buy their bulls. To each their own and I do not give unsolicited advice to anyone in the cattle business because freedom is what built this country. But here is a classic country Bobby Bare song that captures the sentiment of being a perceived "winner" in my humble opinion. Or in other words, "sometimes ugliness can be very profitable". You just keep on keeping cows that look like winners and I will just focus on making a profit for a living. All pics can be viewed in full size by clicking on them.

So as we plod along through this life especially the cattle business you are welcome to laugh at my small or ugly cows. You see, my ugly little cows take it real personal when you laugh at them. Make sure that everything you own looks like a "winner", my mistake 4 coffins.



Jim Fisher said...

I brought out a guy that was selling last 40 head of registered beef masters. He said he only brought good cattle. I told him I only cattle I could make money with.