Coming from a dairy background, I was well versed in livestock tracking — every birth was recorded, every breeding date, and when the animal may come back into heat. Along with those general livestock records, we were part of the Dairy Herd Improvement Association so every cow’s production was tracked. We knew how many times our animals were bred before they settled, how many pounds of milk were produced, and the list could go on. Why do I bring up my past dairy experience with numbers? They are just as important for beef, sheep, and hogs as they are for dairy.

As a dairy inspector, I would constantly hear the comment, “I need to get more cows, so I am more profitable.” This may be true, but if a producer, in any livestock field, does not know what the cow, ewe, or sow is producing as a bottom line number, more animals does not make you more profitable. The key to profitability is efficiency! If at weaning, the calf from a particular cow is always the lightest, or her offspring is always lacking thriftiness and needs treatment every year, the cow may need to be a culling prospect — even though she breeds back every year.

Another efficiency factor is low cost rations. Many producers feed the animal herd with no true picture of what the ration is costing them, including pastures. They may have a general idea as to what it is costing by looking at numbers from their feed salesman or any of the Extension publications that are available at the various universities throughout the nation, but is it truly giving you profitability?

So, how can a producer get a more accurate picture of what is happening on their operation? That is where the South Dakota Center for Farm/Ranch Management comes in. We help producers track livestock inventories, feed records, and pasture production. Students in our program get an enterprise analysis that shows the cost to run the breeding herd for the year, using their actual income and expense report. Trend lines of those reports can indicate improvements in breeding, mortality rates, and feeding. Management decisions can be made from actual data versus averages for herds across the state or what a producer is assuming is happening on their operation.

In these times of tight bottom lines, now is the time to start tracking the details of the herd to increase efficiency. If this type of management is of interest to you, the South Dakota Center for Farm/Ranch Management is available to help you. To contact me about our services, call me at 605-299-6762 or drop me an email at

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