Farm Management Minute: Longevity of cows

Farm Forum

Like many of you, I have been watching the price of bred heifers and bred cows increase dramatically this past year. Lending institutions have increased the value of livestock on their balance sheets which in turn shows ranchers having increased assets or increased loan amounts if they are purchasing cows.

When I was first getting started in the Registered Angus Business, I was very lucky to have a literal cash cow. She had the perfect conformation and was a phenomenal producer. She was a cow that no matter what she was bred to, she produced either a replacement heifer or a bull to sell. This cow consistently produced quality, and because of her longevity, I had many years of profit from her. Now if I only had a whole herd of cows that could do this.

Cow herd longevity is a relatively new area of focus that is gaining importance with the high cost of replacing quality females. What causes a cow to last 9, 10 or maybe 15 years? Some breeds have started tracking Stayability EPDs: This EPD predicts the probability that a bull’s daughters will remain in the herd for a set period of time (commonly six years). This EPD is expressed as a percentage. Bulls with higher stayability EPDs will have an increased likelihood of their daughters remaining in the herd. Stayability EPDs are an indicator of the longevity of a bull’s daughters. Most breeds will have different numbers to indicate their stayability. (This definition was taken from the Virginia Cooperative Extension website.)

The bull season is upon us. When the sale catalogs arrive, each bull should have a wide variety of information such as EPDs, carcass data and performance indexes. In addition to these statistics, I also pay close attention to the production ratio of the dam to the bull I am interested in buying. This will tell how long has she been in production within that herd, and how her offspring performed.

Once longevity is established in a herd, producers will see that they can be more selective in keeping replacement heifers. Higher quality heifers replacing the cull cows in the herd will add higher quality overall. Herds containing a larger proportion of mature cows usually have a higher percentage of calf crop weaned, wean heavier calves and have lower feed costs when compared to herds with less longevity.

When selecting for longevity in cows here are a few areas to concentrate on for both replacement heifers and sire selection: 1. Udder soundness 2. Fleshing ability 3. Milk production 4. Skeletal soundness (especially leg and hoof structure) 5. Disposition

There are many benefits to keeping your own replacement heifers if you keep in mind that it will take 2 years for her to provide income and another 3-4 years to actually make a profit. The bottom line is: if we can increase our herd stayability just one year from 7 year old cows to 8 year old cows, we are getting an extra calf out of the cow and marketing more of her offspring which will add to the profitability of her lifetime in our operation.

The Instructors from the SD Center for Farm/Ranch Management are currently doing our closeouts for the 2013 year. During this time we are analyzing the data to give back to the rancher all the detailed analysis of their operation. If you have any questions on our program you can contact me, or call 605 995-7193.