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Hines tells ranchers cow/calf business needs overhaul for viability moving forward

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Greeley, Colo. – “From this day forward, I pledge to support my tractor, pickup, hay machinery, feed and pharmaceutical dealers through good times and bad, through drought, blizzard, flood, low price and high interest, till bankruptcy do us part.”

“The Ranchers Vow” earned speaker Chip Hines more than a few chuckles during Beef Day at the recent Colorado Farm Show in Greeley, Colo. Unfortunately, for many in the cattle business, the words hold true. Hines told ranchers the cow/calf business needs an overhaul, if it is going to be a viable industry in the future. 

The same philosophy Hines believes in and shared with producers at Beef Day is also a way for young people to get a start in the cattle business. 

“We need young people to get involved in the cattle business if it’s going to survive long-term,” he told producers. 

“Use management, instead of inputs,” he told youth. “Keep equipment to a minimum, and always believe the cow can do it with management.”

Back to basics 

Hines believes producers need to get back to the basics of production, instead of making cows bigger, which has increased costs. He shared a study from the University of Wisconsin in 1983 that showed smaller cows can wean more pounds than larger cows. 

“This study was done when the industry was already headed toward producing larger cows. Why weren’t we listening to this research? Now, 35 years later, we are heading back to the smaller cow,” he stated.


Hines said producers have spent too much time focusing on milk production, which has contributed to higher energy requirements and production costs. 

“As milk production goes up, so do her energy requirements,” he said. 

Data from New Mexico State University indicates higher milking cows of the same weight require nearly 800 pounds more forage a year. Comparing two 1,100-pound cows, one with low milk potential and one with high milk potential, Hines showed the difference in total pounds of forage per cow per year. 

The lower-milking cow consumed 6,774 pounds of forage a year, while the higher-milking cow consumed 787 pounds more, for a total of 7,561 pounds. 

“In a 100-head cowherd, 10 more cows could be added for the difference in milk production,” he told producers. 

“The amount of dry matter intake (DMI) to run 100 head of 1,400 pound cows with 30 pounds of milk production for one year will carry 137 1,000-pound, 10 pound milking cows,” he continued. 

“Every increase in production that makes the cow do more than she is capable of is a cost,” he continued. 

Changes in production

At one point, the industry was focused on producing leaner cows with little back fat.

“The feedlots and packers told us to genetically reduce fat on the cow’s back. The result was big, lean cows that were harder to breed back and didn’t winter well,” he said. 

Cow/calf producers were also told by the industry that profit per animal starts with increasing weaning weights, which would produce higher profits. 

“This was an assumption that has been proven wrong over and over again,” he said. 

Producers have been told milk is important for weaning weight, and they should breed the cows to give more milk, Hines said. 

“We’ve already noted that energy to produce milk is negative for the cow/calf sector,” he explained. 

Hines said some research by the University of Nebraska compared three groups of cows with similar size and growth rate, but low, medium and high milk production. The study showed the energy requirements for the calves in the high and medium milking groups were 11 percent more than those in the low milking group. 


Increased feed intake and gut capacity also results in increasing visceral organ mass, relative to live body weight, Hines said. 

“The gastrointestinal tract and liver make up less than 10 percent of the cow’s body mass but combine to use 40 to 50 percent of the total energy expended by the cow,” he added.

Hines told producers that John Lawrence, an Iowa State University ag economist, evaluated results from the Iowa Feed Test. 

Lawrence stated, “The most profitable steers in the feedlot in a grid marketing situation came from lower maintenance, moderate-sized, lower cost cows.”

He continued, “It’s not a conflict. The ones that are cheaper to feed at home produce more money on the other end. The opposite is also true. The higher cost cows tend to produce the less profitable steers in the feedlot.”

“The industry needs a turn around by evaluating the cow’s natural attributes defined by survival through a millennia of natural selection,” Hines stated. “She could survive and reproduce in her particular environment on whatever forage was available.”

Natural selection

Hines sees natural selection as the answer. 

When natural selection defined the cow, they had good skeletal structure for traveling and calving, good disease and parasite resistance and a rumen to digest poor quality forages, and they calved the same time as wild deer, elk and antelope, he explained. 

“What we need to concentrate on is building a cow that needs very little help and will decrease our labor and input costs,” he told producers. 

Cow traits that have a direct bearing on profitability, according to Hines, are fertility, fleshing ability, calving ease, udder conformation, hair coat, low maintenance, genetic parasite and disease resistance, disposition and cow longevity.

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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