The other day, I was reading a paper written by a former colleague, Rick Machen titled “Seven Things Every Small Producer Should Know,” and I thought it was worth covering the points he made here. It can be accessed at beef.tamu.edu under “Publications.”
Size is relative in Texas. According to the 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture, the most recent survey, almost half of the state’s cowherd is in herds of 100 head or more, but they represent less than 10 percent of farms and ranches. The 90 percent of us own the other half of the cows.
There are some important things all of us need to remember in this business. The first is to be good stewards of our land and its resources, namely the soil, grass, water and wildlife. They are the basis for our livelihood. In my opinion, cattle producers don’t get enough credit for what they do and have done to improve wildlife habitat in Texas, especially the improvement of access to water and the eradication of the screwworm.
The second important thing is to have a herd health program designed with your veterinarian. They know the disease and parasite issues in your area and what works and what doesn’t.
Third is to make sure your cows get enough to eat. Body condition scores, forage cover in your pastures and plant selection and grazing behavior of your cows are good indicators of that. Fat cows are productive, happy cows. Don’t forget the water.
Fourth, reproductive performance is the single most important factor in profitability; some say it is 10-20 times more important than growth. The number of calves weaned is more important to profitability than weaning weight. Fertile bulls and cows are required.
Fifth, with winter here, always get the most out of your supplements, including hay. It is expensive to make or purchase, and some of you feed a lot of it. Cut it right, store it right and have it tested. Buy it by the ton, not the bale. Feed it to minimize waste.
Next, economy of scale works against us as smaller producers. Purchase products in larger quantities whenever you can if you are going to use them eventually. Consider leasing or renting equipment, bulls or labor rather than purchasing them.
Finally, remember, you never know enough. Producing beef for the world is ever changing. Changes in public policy, property rights, weather, markets, costs, regulations, urban sprawl and land fragmentation all have an effect on the cattle business. Spend some time learning more about the business, support those organizations that look out for your interests and learn to be a good neighbor.