Lowline cattle produce similar calf for less
By Christy Hemken, WLR Assist. & Crop Editor
Douglas – As one aspect of the 2008 Wyoming Winter Ag Expo in Douglas, on Jan. 8 participants in the Ag-based Innovative Marketing Expo (AIMe) gathered to listen to the stories of Wyoming producers who have tried something new.
Speaking from a beef cattle standpoint, American Lowline Registry Vice President Brian Walters of Walters Land & Cattle Company in Ft. Lupton, Colo. explained the benefits of moving to smaller-framed cattle.
Explaining the origins of Lowline cattle, Walters said, “Realistically, these cattle derive from Scotland from the ancestors of the original Angus breed. The genetics in the U.S. today come from a closed Australian herd that’s been controlled since 1929 by a research institute. We have the original bloodlines and we can genetically trace back to the original bloodlines in Scotland.”
Walters emphasizes that these are not “dwarf” or “pet” cattle, just beef cattle with smaller frames that have great potential to make the cow/calf producer more profitable.
“We’re talking about cattle producing bigger weight gains, finishing faster and having the viability in their genetic makeup to survive,” he said.
“A cow/calf operator makes money through pounds of beef per acre and our least-cost input into a calf is the grass in our pastures. Is it cheaper to graze our pastures or to buy hay? Is it cheaper to put money into our soils and grasses or to buy mineral from an outside source?” he questioned.
Walters suggested cow/calf producers begin to focus on utilizing the resources they already have on their ranch naturally. “They’re our cheapest resource for input costs into our cattle.”
Walters estimated the number of cows on an acre in Wyoming has decreased because of factors both in and out of landowner control and he said that since the 1950s cow size has been going up. “If our cattle size has been getting bigger, our cost of maintenance has been coming right along with it and we’ve gone to finishing out calves that hit the market averaging 1,400 pounds. That’s an unrealistic number, and that’s why they’ve all got to be feedlot fed. We’ve got to manage what Mother Nature gives us and do it to the best of our ability.”
On his ranch, Walters said they brought their calf size down, and in turn, their costs. “What we’re showing with the Lowlines is that not only are they effective on grass – our cheapest source – to increase pounds of beef per acre, but we’re also saving money and making more.”
“Our cow size is coming down, but we’re still producing around the same size calf,” he said. “We’re taking these cattle with a cow size of 1,600 pounds on average and dropping it to a 1,000 pound cow. My 1,600-pound cow was producing 500 to 550 pounds of beef. Now we’re using our least-cost input and dropping cow sizes down. At 205 days we’re still averaging 525-pound calves.
“I’m still producing the same amount of calf, but my cow cost has dropped two-thirds. That adds profitability to the cow/calf producer.”
In addition, Walters said a traditional calf would need 18 to 20 months to finish out at 1,200 to 1,400 pounds. “This calf from the smaller cow will take 12 to 16 months to finish at 1,000 to 1,200 pounds. We’re looking at less time to finish pretty close to the same calf.”
Also, the new type of calf is more economical at slaughter because there’s not as much big bone to dispose of, as well as gut and hide, said Walters.
“These are the positive sides for Lowliness and other smaller-framed breeds out there. However, individual producers have to do research and homework to know what specific breed will best fit their area and plan,” he said.
A negative facing the Lowline breed is that it’s a very young type in the U.S. “This breed has only been her 15 years, and the total number of registered cattle is less than 2,700 animals,” said Walters.
The Lowline industry is composed of full-bloods, purebreds, three-quarter breeds and half-breeds. “Really, for a cow/calf man, he’s not going to be too interested in purebreds or full-bloods for slaughter. On the same idea, most cow/calf men aren’t going to want to come this small to produce their end product,” he explained. The more purebred the animal is, the smaller its frame will be.
“The idea is to save money on our cow costs,” said Walters. “If it takes three percent of a cow’s body weight to maintain her, we’re looking at 48 pounds minimum per day on a large cow compared to 30 pounds per day to produce the same calf from a smaller cow, and to take that calf earlier to slaughter.
“If I can save 18 pounds per day on a smaller cow, I can put almost a half of another cow on the same grass pasture. If I want to keep the same intensity of grazing on my pastures, I can increase cow numbers by half. If I’m running 10, I can now run 15 for the same cost.”
Walters said that if an operator wanted to drop down to the size of a three-quarter breed cow, then the stocking numbers could increase by yet another third.
“The calves are going to finish out in the same area with less time and better feed efficiency,” he said.
Walters urged producers to figure out their cow costs and how much they’re buying in feed and how much they’re spending to supplement pastures. “If you can change a few of these things and increase pounds of beef per acre, that makes you more money. If you can utilize more of your natural resources, that saves you money.”