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Riverton – “A lot of beef ration software is available,” commented Scott Cotton, University of Wyoming Extension educator.

Using a variety of computer programs, producers can input data from their operation to analyze the economics of feed efficiencies.

Data intensive

“Most university software is basically designed to benefit people, so even though there is sometimes a fee, the programs are usually unbiased, based on research and don’t target any specific feed, mix or feed brand,” he noted.

Commercial software is often a variation based on the university designed programs and may encourage the use of a specific company’s products.

“Some of our research projects are funded by a company, but when a producer comes into an Extension office, we don’t care what brand they are using. We are going to work with whatever they choose to use,” he added.

Program options

There a number of programs producers can use, depending on the data accuracy they want and the time investment they are willing to commit. Some of these programs include Nutrition Balancer (Nut-Bal), Standardized Performance Analysis (SPA), Beef Ration and Nutrition Decision System (BRaNDS) and Feed Cost Calculator.

“Nut-Bal, created by Texas A&M, is a really good comprehensive program,” Cotton said.

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) currently advocates the use of Nut-Bal, although it is expensive and time-intensive.

“To do it right, we have to go out, crawl around, get a less than one hour-old fecal sample and get it analyzed at $40 per sample,” he explained.

The test results are based on residue in the fecal matter, determining what the cow has actually been ingesting.

“It is probably the most accurate test,” he continued, “but it is also the one that most producers get involved with and, after about six months, say they just don’t have time to go out, follow the cows and take manure samples every week.”

Other choices

SPA is an elaborate program that was developed by a group of economists to analyze cow production.

“It can tell us what our average cow profitability is on a five- and ten-year basis,” he stated.

Calculations from the program, after a few years of input, make predictions such as how many live calves a single cow will produce over her lifetime.

“The problem is, it almost takes an economist to run the software. It is very detailed, and it requires a lot of input,” he commented.

Cotton predicted that it could take a producer 20 hours of data entry to submit all of the specifics for their operation into the program.

User friendly

“I like BRaNDS. It is one of the two programs I use,” Cotton stated.

It was developed through Iowa State University and the University of Nebraska and analyzes data about specific animals, location and feeds.

“Producers can also put in what their weather conditions are, downloaded from the National Weather Service,” he added.

Once all of the data is entered, producers can adjust input levels to determine the ideal combination of feeds and supplements.

Excel options

Cotton continued, “Feed Cost Calculator software is an Excel program. If we have Microsoft, we already have Excel.”

It is available as a free download from the website, which also offers other free programs that calculate data such as cow/calf shares and corn field carrying capacity.

“We can compare up to 10 different feeds or 10 different sellers,” he added.

Data can also be entered for the transportation costs, to help a producer determine how mileage effects the cost efficiency of particular feeds.

“It also tells the producer feed costs per pound of crude protein or per pound of Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN),” he said.

Using these software programs, producers can look at their beef rations and nutrition decisions to design the optimum feed schedule for their operation.

“It really should be based on an individual’s livestock, feed and conditions, and we know that feed and conditions change,” he commented.

Ranch statistics

Cotton believes that producers should know their livestock but acknowledges that many guess on some of the important data about their animals.

“Producers will know what their calves are because they weigh them across and sell them, but they don’t always know what their cows actually are in terms of frame size, body condition or weight. We really need to get to the point where we know what we’re working with,” he explained.

Feed tests

This goes for the nutrition of feeds, as well, such as the quality of alfalfa or range grass that cows are consuming.

“An average test costs $17. If we tested our range grass, our hay and our supplement, we might be in for $50 of testing per year,” he noted.

Extension offices have price sheets and information available to producers who are interested in obtaining nutritional values on their feeds.

“It’s really worth the money just to do those tests every year. It helps us know our cost at the mouth of the animal,” he stated.

Cotton believes that producers should know what should be expected from a typical ration and how to vary from it. They should know how quickly their animals are gaining weight throughout the season, not just when they are put on scales at the end of the growing season.

“We always hope for the 1.5 or two pounds of gain, but we don’t want to guess that much,” he added.

The cost of gain per pound, he noted, is an important economic consideration, no matter what the conditions of the livestock and environment are.

“We want to look at the cost of nutrition, or more specifically, cost per pound of gain, and that is what I am talking about when I talk about these nutrition decision software systems,” he said.

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.,

Casper – If you’ve compiled a farm or ranch budget for 2009, chances are there’s a large question mark next to a few categories, including projected fuel costs.
    Aaron Brady of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, Inc. predicts prices will remain lower through 2009. As with any such outlook these days, his prediction hinges on a few factors including the health of the economy both here at home and around the world.
    “We are assuming the economy will begin to recover and by 2010 oil prices will begin moving back towards around $60 per barrel,” says Brady. “However, if economic conditions do get worse from here, which is a real possibility, crude prices could enter a sort of super slump, and average only in the low 30s next year and beyond.”
    “On the oil markets research team,” says Brady of his career with Cambridge, “we spend a lot of time trying to figure out where the price of oil is going to go next. The past several years have been especially challenging as we’ve seen a rise in the benchmark for light sweet crude oil price from an average of about $31 per barrel in 2003 to a peak of $147 a barrel mid-way through last year and now all the way back into the 30s again.”
    “From 1986 to 2002 the average price for light sweet crude oil was about $21 per barrel,” recalls Brady. “By the fourth quarter of 2004, the price began rising and prices actually rose to over $35 per barrel, a price that today many of us should remind ourselves that at the time was considered very high.”
    With the world economy growing at its fastest pace in history between 2003 and 2007, Brady says, “In one year alone, 2004, oil demand grew by three million barrels per day.” That’s a rate he says is usually only achieved over the course of three years. “Oil was acting as the barometer of the world economy.”
    Brady says people forgot oil’s cyclical market history as there was talk of it reaching $200 to $300 a barrel. Today’s “talk” centers on when the price will recover.
    “This year aggregate world Gross Domestic Product will actually decline, the first time this has happened since the 1930s,” says Brady of a prediction made by a sister company of Cambridge. “We estimate that global oil demand fell last year by about half a million barrels per day and is likely to fall more this year, perhaps as much as one-half million barrels per day. This will be the first time since the early 1980s that world oil demand has seen declining demand.”
    Brady says, “In just six short months the prices plunged more than $100 per barrel back to where we started five years ago. Of course, this is a boon to consumers and if low prices are sustained throughout the course of the year, as they are likely to be given the weak state of demand, it is equivalent to another several hundred billion dollar fiscal stimulus package. On the other hand, because industry costs have risen the last several years, the cost of oil is actually lower than the cost of production.” Brady says production costs are beginning to decline, but at a much slower pace than prices.
    Noting several ongoing delays, Brady says, “If enough new projects get delayed or deferred, future supply may not be adequate to meet demand. About half of potential supply growth in the oil industry is currently at risk of being delayed or canceled because of the current lower oil price environment.”
    Brady asks, “How will the oil price play going forward?” As expected, the answer is multifaceted, based on the answers to numerous questions that will be answered in the months ahead. “Are we at the beginning of an economic decade with very weak oil demand and a depressed oil price for several years? Or, will the economy gradually rebound after trillions of dollars of government spending leading to revived demand and a stronger oil price? Could there be a supply shock waiting in the wings that could send prices back over $100?”
    Aaron Brady spoke at the recent Agricultural Outlook Forum in Washington, D.C. Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

To improve profit, renowned agriculture economist Burke Teichert noted ranchers can do one of three things – increase turnover, decrease overheads or improve gross margin.

Any other opportunities to increase profit margins likely fit within the categories described, Teichert added, also noting that improving gross margin creates one of the largest areas for opportunity. 

During a presentation on Feb. 7 at Fremont County Farm and Ranch Days, Teichert looked inside gross margin and how producers can make substantive changes to their profit.

Defining margins

“Gross margin is the total returns from livestock minus the direct costs of livestock,” he said. “I would suggest the direct costs for livestock are very few. Basically, they’re feed costs and vet costs.”

“Vet costs aren’t going to change very much because that’s our insurance policy,” he said. “Vaccinations are fairly low-cost insurance to make sure that we have herd health. We’re not going to change that very much, and if we did, it wouldn’t change the overall cost very much.”

Marketing costs may also be a factor, Teichert said, but he noted those costs are usually minimal. 

“Feed is the big driver of the direct costs,” Teichert said.  “If we reduce overheads and market well, then we should improve our three key ratios for profitability.”

Acres

Teichert asked producers how many acres it takes to run each cow on their property. 

With changes in grazing methods, Teichert saw one rancher drop requirements for each cow from 30 acres to 16 acres. 

“During that time, he spent money on fencing and water – about $50 an acre,” he said. “When he spread that across the ranch, it seemed like a lot of money, but if we think about it, he just bought a second ranch in an area where land sells for about $600 an acre. Plus, he doesn’t have to pay property tax on this one.” 

At the same time, no increases in overheads were required. 

“If we can do things to reduce the number of acres required to run a cow, it has huge – and I emphasize huge – economic potential,” he commented. 

People costs

Another analysis looks at cows per person. 

“If we hire an employee, we often pay $30,000 a year, while also supplying ranch housing,” Teichert said. “They also have to have transport to get to where the job is – either a pick-up, four-wheeler, saddle horses or whatever we have to equip a man with to do the job. It will likely cost up to about $70,000 to keep that person on the payroll.” 

Employees are a huge driver of profitability, he continued, noting the ability to run more cows per person spreads the cost of that employee over more cattle, which is important. 

“Our ability to become more efficient becomes really, really important,” he said.

Making changes

When looking at improving profit, Teichert also isolated several attitudes to improve profit, which he believes are essential to profitability on the ranch.

“The first is that the approach to management be both integrative and holistic,” he said.

Integrative management is bringing ideas, thoughts and information from outside of the ranch to the home, and in making decisions, a systems approach is considered. 

“When we make decisions, we should try to take an approach that helps us think through all the consequences – including the positives and negatives, to balance and determine if an action is worth it,” he said.

As one example, Teichert cited weaning weights, noting, in the 1970s, producers began to chase larger weaning weights, without consider the future impacts on cow size, herd fertility or other potential results. 

He said, “We have to remember to look holistically.” 

Improvement

Secondly, Teichert said producers must continuously improve the key resources of land, livestock and people.

“For land, I like adaptive grazing,” he explained. “We have to adapt to circumstances.”

He continued, “Principles are eternal, but practices around those principles have to fit the circumstance.”

Regardless of location, the principles of grazing are consistent – from Argentina to Wyoming to Canada and everywhere in between. 

To constantly improve the livestock, Teichert noted cattle needs to be adapted the environment.

“If we select cattle that are adapted to the toughest things they have to go through, they will be more profitable,” he said, adding selection begins with the bull. “Bulls have to be able to survive in their environment, too. If I have to take care of him to get cows pregnant, do I want his daughters as replacements? No.”

“Continuous improvement of people starts with knowing the manager’s job, then providing the environment where people want to excel and the freedom to do it,” Teichert explained.

War on costs

Waging war on cost will also help producers to reach profitability.

“We have to increase grazing days and decrease feeding days,” Teichert said. “If we change the calving season to calve in synch with nature, we can increase grazing days and decrease fed days.”

Teichert encouraged feeding cattle no more than three pounds per head per day, three days a week. 

He also said mature replacement heifers don’t have to reach 65 percent of their mature weight, but rather, only 55 percent of mature weight is sufficient.

“The ones that get pregnant are the ones we want,” he said. 

Cattle

In looking at the cowherd, Teichert said producers must reduce cow size, cut inputs and then cull the right cows.

“All the cows would live until they’re 20, if we let them, but we don’t. Longevity relates to fertility. Fertility relates to environment,” he said.

Teichert said reducing the breeding window for heifers allows natural selection to select the top heifers in the herd, while also creating a second revenue stream.

“The open heifers sell well, and the guys who want them will pay for them,” he said. “For the cows, we want a short calving season and long breeding season.” 

Finally, marketing and production must fit together.  

Teichert concluded, “There are a lot of factors that all come together to make our operations more profitable.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Brighton, Colo. – If ranchers want to earn more money for their cattle, they need to upgrade their genetics and develop a solid management plan, according to Tom Brink, the founder of Brink Consulting and Trading of Brighton, Colo. 

Brink spoke about the genetic improvements leading to the development of these elite cattle during Beef Day at the Colorado Farm Show last week.

Genetics

“Producers, both seedstock and commercial, have worked hard on their genetics, and we’re seeing that at the feedlot level,” Brink told ranchers. “What I’m seeing overall is that the best end of the industry’s genetics are not just at the top of the bell curve, they are on a completely different bell curve than just about everything else. That isn’t something we could have said 10 years ago.”

Brink said more stockmen are investing in better genetics to qualify for special feeding programs to earn more dollars for the product they produce. 

“My friend Judd Butler, who runs the Gilcrest yard, said these high end cattle make all our old projections obsolete,” Brink stated. “These cattle finish at heavier weights 30 days earlier than the average calf.”

New options

The genetics that are available now were not an option in the past. Despite this, some ranchers are still producing poor cattle, Brink said.

“Ranching is a complicated business. There are many traits that are important. Cattle feeders are relatively easy to get along with. There are only a few things we ask for,” he mentioned.

Feeder priorities

Brink said the most important is cattle that will stay healthy. 

“We have a lot of technology, but we can’t build a lot of immunity in the feedyard,” he explained. 

Ranchers need to build immunity into their calves before they come to the feedyard, so they can withstand stress, comingling and a more intense environment than what they are used to. 

The consultant encouraged ranchers to keep the lines of communication open with the feedyard that purchases their calves. 

“Go back and talk to them in 60 to 90 days, and ask how healthy the calves are and if they are doing well,” he said. “Have a veterinarian talk to their veterinarian. Make sure there is communication because it can solve a lot of issues that come up.”

Efficiency and carcass

Feedyards also like to feed calves that can perform by gaining quickly and efficiently. 

“We manage the calves as much as we can, but it takes good genetics to do this,” he explained. “We don’t want a growth curve that goes on forever so the calf gets too big. We want to see a growth curve where the calf grows fast but levels out.” 

Ideally, a 750- to 825-pound steer placed on feed should finish at a yearling weight of around 1,400 pounds. 

Feeders like calves that will have a high quality grade when they are sold on the grid. Calves sold this way are valued according to carcass traits and value. 

“The quality grade drives the grid more than any other factor,” Brink said. “Cattle that grow and grade are winners.”

Ideal animal

After surveying several feedlot operators, Brink said they found the best performance cattle in their feedlots were close to being five-by-five cattle, meaning those that were five-pound gainers and five-pound converters, on a dry matter basis. 

Brink said these cattle can receive an additional $70 to $100 a head premium on the grid. 

“It is a total game changer in what those cattle are worth,” he stated. “The difference between average and the very best end is over $200 a head.”

“We see cattle all the time that can do this. We are comparing the middle of the bell curve to these elite cattle that will perform and have carcass traits,” Brink commented. “They are simply worth dramatically more than just about everything else.”

Valuable cattle

Brink told producers if they want to produce valuable commercial cattle, he recommends selecting genetics that fit their environment and management scheme but to balance those traits with above average growth and carcass value potential.

“We’re seeing more programs built around these very valuable genetics,” Brink said. 

“Producers won’t want to sell these better-than-average cattle at an auction, where no one knows their potential, for a very generic price,” he said. “They will be looking for ways to capture more value for the extra management decisions they have made to produce these elite cattle.”

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Machinery breakdowns are a fact of life on a farm or ranch, but these frustrating problems can be minimized by timely maintenance.  This is where the old saying “a stitch in time saves nine” is very true.  

Ed Snook, a rancher from near Tendoy, Idaho, says he tries to do oil changes in the spring and fall when his machinery isn’t in the field. 

Offseason benefits

“Before haying I go through all the equipment and see if any parts need replaced,” he says.

If a person does the repairs in the offseason, there’s more opportunity for discounts on parts.  

“Many implement dealers and supply outfits have specials – maybe 10 percent  off – if producers order parts in January and February. They are trying to make some money during their slack time,” says Snook.

“I spend about $15,000 in repairs each year, so 10 percent is a big savings. We can’t save money every time; if we’re faced with a breakdown during haying, we have to fix it immediately,” he says.  

Preventative measures

Some of these breakdowns can be prevented, however, if a person goes through everything ahead of time and replaces worn parts.

“After calving, I start in on my haying equipment and do the repairs,” Snook says. “One of my neighbors had a problem with his big feed tractor and had to leave it at the tractor repair shop through winter, which made it difficult for him to feed his cattle.” 

“I’m mechanically inclined, so I do these repairs myself,” he adds. “It makes a big difference not having to wait on someone who is really busy and can’t work it into their schedule quickly.”

Being familiar with the equipment, a person has a better idea about what might need attention.  

Simple maintenance

“One of the simplest things is to regularly grease all the machines.  Some people might not do it often enough or adequately.  There might be a U-joint that’s only being greased on three sides, and it has four sides.  If producers don’t grease that side, it eventually goes out,” says Snook.

“My sister Charlotte helps me with haying during summer, and she is very good about maintaining the equipment she’s running.  She’ll grease it and will tell me if she can’t get the grease to go into a fitting.  I’ll take that grease zerk out and make sure it’s taking grease,” he says.

If a person has hired help, employees need to know how to do the maintenance or repairs or alert the rancher to things that need attention.  

“Communication is important, and it’s helpful if the person running the equipment knows how to maintain it,” he says.

“Years ago, when my dad had a trucking business and a post and pole business along with the ranch and haying, I worked in the shop a lot and sometimes it was hard to remember when or if I changed the oil in such-and-such vehicle or machine,” he continues.  

Keeping records

“I kept a log book in the shop and had each item listed – what year the pickup, truck or machine was – and write down the oil changes and list the oil filter and what kind. The next time I’d do it, I could look at that page and know what I might need—and make sure I had it before I did the oil changes,” says Snook.

Keeping track of records is helpful, Snook adds, noting that records can notify the equipment owner if parts are still under warranty and can help save money.

It helps to keep a maintenance calendar in the shop.  A large planning calendar is a useful reminder for listing repair and service operations needed in the months ahead for each piece of machinery. This is more effective than memory, especially when more than one operator uses the machines.  

Another handy tip is to cover all charts and calendars with Plexiglas and then record data with a grease pencil.  At the end of the year, notes can be erased and the chart and calendar reused.

Maintain the old

His advice regarding self sufficiency in repairs is to not buy new equipment.  

“I can’t fix the new models with computers, but I can fix any of the older equipment.  I have a hard time figuring out the new ones,” he explains. “We have a lot of old tractors that are still running very well.  For instance, we have a 1968 40-20 John Deere, and it still works great.”  

“As long as a person takes care of these good old tractors, they will last a long time.  It’s when they become neglected or abused that things start going bad,” says Snook.  

A person can extend machinery life a long time with proper maintenance.

Heather Smith Thomas is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..