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Match the Environment: Patterson gives producers tips for profitability

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

With the changing cattle markets, ranch managers will be under pressure to “identify and execute strategies that will yield profits and control risks in the face of prices and markets never seen before,” according to the chief operating officer of the Padlock Ranch.
    Trey Patterson gave a presentation on key focus areas of profitability on the ranch during a recent session of the High Plains Ranch Practicum.
Padlock Ranch
    The Padlock Ranch, which straddles the borders of Montana and Wyoming is a cow-calf/yearling operation, with a backgrounding feedlot and farm ground.
    Patterson said they calve in May and June, and wean their calves in the fall. The calves are fed in a backgrounding feedlot on the ranch, where their primary product produced is an 800-pound yearling.
    “We set our program up to calve in May and June, so the cows can graze during the winter months with little hay,” he explained.
    This year, winter grazing will be less of a possibility, since 80,000 acres of grass that is used primarily for winter grazing burned in a fire this year.
    “What that experience taught us is to look at things we maybe could have done better,” he explained. “By letting winter feed sit there like that, it is vulnerable to things like fire or grasshoppers. If you are going to do that, you better have a plan B.”
    “It will be an issue this next year getting through the winter,” he continued. “At least we do have a plan B. We know that the burned area won’t be available May 15 for grazing because we will have to let it rest and restore the grass before it will be available to graze.”
    Fortunately, Patterson said they harvest a considerable amount of corn silage on the ranch that can be utilized and have cornstalk residue they can rent.
Matching the environment
    Patterson said it is important for producers to match the production system with the environment by considering what type of cow, biologically, is most suitable to the ranch’s environment. Producers should look at key factors like milk production, marketability, growth and weight. They should also consider the time of calving and weaning, he said.
    “You want to look for cows that fit your system, but don’t forget to look at the calf they produce, too,” he said.
    “Keep in mind that profitable cattle are usually productive, but productive cattle are not always profitable,” he said, encouraging producers to choose the biological type of cow that is most suitable for their operation.
    “Biological type is more important than body weight,” he said. “Think more in terms of economic efficiency. You want to make sure you are creating the right product. Reproduction versus costs is key.”
    Patterson said it is important to look for the right cow that fits the environment and will stay bred with the inputs that are available.
    “Milk production has a lot to do with that,” he explained.
    Some of the cows that milk the most, will come in the thinnest in the fall and will winter hard, he said. However, they may also be the cows that breed year after year and produce some of the best calves.
    Ranchers should determine when to calve based on the resources they have available, he continued. Producers can control when lactation starts and ends through how they manage the cows, he said.
Calving management
    Some producers calve in May and June so they can graze or utilize cornfield residue during the winter months and feed little to no hay. Others calve in March and feed some hay to wean bigger calves in the fall.
    No matter what time of year they calve, Patterson recommended to producers that they do their best to keep on top of the cow’s nutritional requirements, which may be deficient during certain times of the year.
    “We have bred the type of cows we have,” he explained. “Don’t just turn that cow out there and expect her to fend for herself.”
    Patterson explained, “We have put money into developing her for the herd, so we need to take care of her.”
    On the Padlock Ranch, Patterson said he evaluates his cows by age to determine when and if they need supplement. With May calving, Patterson said his cows may become nutrient deficient some years from July through December.
    “It usually affects the younger cows more than the older ones,” he said, so he may supplement his second calf heifers so they have better early breed up.
Another group that may need supplement is the 10- to 13-year-old cows.
    “The granny cows may still breed up early, but they are nearing the end of their production cycle,” he explained. “I could sell them now as a cull for $600, but since they bred early, I could keep them, get another calf next year that is worth $600 and still sell the cow for $600.”
    Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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