By Gearld Fry
Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from the Acres U.S.A. title Reproduction and Animal Health, by Gearld Fry. Copyright 2003, softcover, 218 pages. We republished this excerpt in 2018 in memory of Gearld Fry, who passed away and was an important figure to Acres U.S.A.
I’ve heard the comment, “I’m doing pretty good,” and there are words like excellent, profitable, and not too bad. For my part, I love numbers. Accordingly, I’ve put together numbers for 400 acres, 100 cows, assuming the average soil in the South, and I hope it will enable the cowman to draw the appropriate conclusion. This model will change according to the area, but it should guide the logic and thinking that backgrounds a profitable bottom line.
The average calf has seven owners. It travels 1,400 miles from the time it is born until it makes it to a dinner table. There are two or three beef organizations formed recently that hope to achieve select as their target norm. The American Hereford Association recently entertained the billingsgate that Hereford select was better than Angus choice, this according to Colorado State research.
Prices change on a pump and dump basis, the blue sheet rigging the value. For my purpose, I’ll assign a value of $2,100 to $2,400 via the feedlot destination, the average carcass weight is somewhere between 750 and 850 pounds.
The price received for 70 calves out of 100 cows (550 pounds each) should net $34,650. Seventy calves at $1.00 a pound–$38,000. Ninety calves at $1.50 a pound would enable a farmer to compete with the rest of the industry. The bottom line would be about $74,000 for that year.
The average carcass through the infrastructure actually delivers about $3.00 a pound by the time it touches at every stopping point along the infrastructure way. The average calf—plus or minus—is sold at 24 months of age. The average price for a 550 pound calf at 90 cents would be $495. The average cost of keeping a cow for a year, I compute to be $250. (Sad to say, some operators spend $400 a year per calf). Taking those same 400 acres, let’s sell half those cows. Let’s rotate our grazing Voisin style and do the finishing on grass. That bypasses the infrastructure to you and the housewife. Here the average calf receives no hormones, antibiotics, or chemicals. Consequently, the average calf is never sick. Quit fiddling with those animals with all that junk, keep them on good grass, and natural good health will assert itself.
The average calf travels plus or minus 25 miles to the processing facility under this simplified system. Thus stress is minimal. The average calves that I marketed were graded select and I sold them all at 14 months of age. I did not finish them or want to finish them. When I started getting 20/100 inches of body fat, my optimum was achieved. My customers were extremely pleased.
The average calf going through a routing grazing sequence would be 18 to 20 months of age before being sold. The average weight of a grass-fed steer should be somewhere between 800 and 1,100 pounds, variations assigned by breed. The average carcass weight should be somewhere between 500 and 700 pounds. But the average pricing received through direct marketing—assuming the value the infrastructure gets—will be $1,500, all according to this model. Remember, this is based on cutting cow numbers in half. Also, work has been cut in half.
Maybe there ought to be a day to go fishing or take a holiday. Kids can change pastures.
Rotational grazing management means selling your grass through your calves. The expense for a 500 cow head, $20,000. I estimate an additional $200 for keeping a steer 18 months. The average price received per carcass projects at $1,800. The price for 48 calves computes to be $86,000, if they all weigh 600 pounds and if you get that $3.00 a pound after doing your homework and marketing.
Such a transaction cannot be accomplished with the wave of a magic wand. First there has to be a start. It would take 100 calves at $1.50 a pound to achieve the same bottom line, and the market is not likely to permit such a modest windfall.
The operating cost for one-year cows and calves with steers on grass would be $19,000-$45,000 profit from these 50 cows, about $66,000. I can live on that, and I suspect the average farmer can live on it also. It’s a target.
The Dollar Difference
There is a lot of difference between $66,000 and $19,000 via the sale farm backgrounder and feedlot infrastructure, $45,000 in fact for half as much work. And this possibly without even cranking up that John Deere tractor.
The expense of 100 cows, the way the infrastructure figures it, is $25,000. The best you can hope to achieve is $44,000 if you sell at five or six weights. Bottom line the way the above unholy trade plays the game, $19,000. That won’t buy a very upscale automobile. The cowman has to realize that every one of the auctioneers, handlers, backgrounders, truckers, feeders—enlarge that to include inspectors and government gumshoes—makes money. And they are willing to give the producer about $500 for a grown calf. Parity is a no-no term in academia nowadays. It simply means equity.
Equity does not attend transactions when the farmer breeds the cow, calves it out, husbands the animal to sale size—in short, does most of the work. The sale barn is a vulture. It takes a commission on every calf. The order buyer is an even worse vulture than the sale barn. If there’s a scratch or a barbed wire cut, he’ll dock the seller 10 or 15 cents. The backgrounder has a little wheat pasture or forage, usually rented ground locked in the portfolio of some absentee owner. He accounts for some gain, for which reason he works up tall, narrow animals that have to gain. He avoids good calves the way the devil shuns holy water.
The feedlot, sanctified by the university as high technology and agriculture according to the industrial model, is really a disgrace to a civilized society. A cafeteria of feeds is kept before the animal.
Confined animals are fed by feed fabricators and salesmen, albeit never a mouthful of grass.
The slaughterhouse has its margin computed and applied. The grocery store makes more for a push across the counter than the rest of the infrastructure put together. The housewife thus becomes the eighth owner of the calf described herein. My computation has it that the average calf travels 1,400 miles from calving to dinner plate.
All the above prompts me to suggest a test, or a model if you will.
Farmer Jones has two pastures, both 400 acres. One pasture has 77 cows weighing 1,300 pounds each on the average. In the second pasture he has 100 cows, 1,000 pounds each. The 77 cows weaned 50 percent of their body weight, thus 650-pound calves. The 100 in the second pasture also weaned 50 percent of their body weight, or 500-pound calves. The 1,300-pound animals weaned off 49,000 pounds. At 89 cents a pound, that’s $43,000. The 1,000-pound animals weaned off 50,000 pounds. At 98 cents this computes to $52,000. The 1,000-pound cows made almost $9,000 more profit than the heavier animals, the same amount of land supporting the gain. The 1,000-pound cow strategy is simply more efficient.
At 1,400 Pounds
A 1,400-pound cow times .03 percent of her body weight equals the amount of dry matter the animal will consume in a day. In a year this equals $14,330 pounds of forage. With a calf at her side, at 250 days she’ll consumer 17,830 pounds of dry matter, or 17.83 thousand-pound round bales of hay at a cost of $320.94, about 45 percent of that cow’s body weight will deliver about $535 in a year. The same general principle applies to the 1,300-pound cow. She and her calf will consume about 16,735 pounds of hay or 16.75 round bales of hay. Each 100-pound less weight subtracts approximately one bale of hay from the equation. Thus a 1,100-pound cow means 15.5 bales of hay, or $279.60. The 1,100-pound cows at .03 percent consumption, with the above-described herd of 77 will consume 14,545 pounds, or 14.5 round bales at $261. With a realized income of $544, the gain becomes an apparent one.
A major meat packer in Oregon posed a question that will continue to haunt feedlots and commodity quality meat protein. Facing cattlemen from across the state, the question came like a rifle shot. “How can meat providers get quality meat that will enable competition with direct marketers?” The answer was simply a gale of silence.
The commercial man does not seem to know what is going on in the life of the direct marketers. More available, but ignored, is the fact that the average calf is fed every kind of feed in the world, including protein bypass, roasted manure, silage—and silage does not produce quality taste. The steak taste is flat, not rich. The arithmetic of direct marketing demands its own taste, and excellence.