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An ounce of prevention leads to payoffs in beef production

March 24, 2009

Dr. Grant Dewell, ISU Beef Extension, (515) 294-2822

Ms. Tracy Ann Raef, Veterinary Communications, (515) 294-4602

Dr. DewellUnderstanding the costs of production, such as feed and animal health, is an important step in evaluating programs that help producers save money. “If the producers don’t know how much their production costs are, then they don’t know which areas to target  for savings/cost reductions and once targeted, whether they’ve had an effect on them,” said Dr. Grant Dewell, beef extension veterinarian at Iowa State University.

For most beef cattle and cow/calf producers, the most expensive item is feed. Dr. Dewell says the easiest place to impact costs is to minimize waste. “Feeding hay on the ground can cost a producer about 1/3 of the hay,” Dr. Dewell said. He recommends placing hay in a cone-type feeder to minimize waste. He also recommends putting up hay properly so mold doesn’t occur. In round bales, says Dr. Dewell, waste loss around the outer part of the bale can be significant.

Dr. Dewell suggests that producers make sure that the animals’ rations are balanced. Evaluating the mineral and protein supplementation programs is important, rather than using a mineral that may not be necessary. “Consult a nutritionist, extension specialist or feed company to help get the appropriate rations,” Dr. Dewell said. “Producers also need to sort cows into groups so that heifers that need to gain are fed differently than the older cows and different from cow/calf pairs.”

The saying: “An ounce of prevention is a pound of cure” certainly applies to animal health programs, says Dr. Dewell. He advises producers to work with their veterinarians to get a preventive health and vaccination program. Producers need to cover what’s necessary to prevent disease without going overboard. An area often overlooked is the use of pour-on wormers, says Dr. Dewell. “Often the pour-ons are easy to use but can cost more than the injectable or oral wormers” Dr. Dewell said. “It might take a little more labor to use the oral and injectables, but producers will generally save more in the long-run.”

To help those vaccination programs work most effectively, Dr. Dewell suggests that that producers develop a good pre-conditioning program and that they vaccinate the animals before they are stressed to make sure the vaccine is going to work effectively when the animals get to the feedlot.

Producers should also evaluate their management practices. Dr. Dewell notes success with the “Sand Hills system” of calving that was developed in the Nebraska Sand Hills. The system involves calving in a new area every couple of weeks so bacteria and viruses don’t build-up in one place. “Moving calves into clean pastures will result in better health and less calf scours problems. A change in management can save excessive treatment costs.”

Producers who periodically evaluate their animal health and feed programs will notice the payoffs over time and have a healthy herd with less cost.