Some Keys to Successful Ranching

       The United States Department of Agriculture studied a variety of cattle operations that rely on beef herds as their main source of income, and found that those who do so successfully employ a series of certain management techniques, which are at the root of their success.

     Of course, the smaller rancher may not even be looking to turn a profit or is merely looking to supplement their income by raising a small herd, but even in these situations, adopting some or all of the successful practices can aid in the success of your operation, regardless of its size.

     Overall and not surprisingly, calf-cow herds were larger for those who relied on them as their main source of income. But, somewhat surprisingly, larger herds, sometimes of 250 cows or more did not necessarily translate into a rancher’s primary income.

Horned and castrated
Primary income herds were found to favor horned breeds of cattle but also favored dehorning and, among primary income herds, bull calves were more likely castrated.

While there have been tremendous beneficial advancements in genetics and reproduction, most did not rely on artificial insemination. Most favored the purchase of replacement breeding cows or heifers. This group was also shown to devote a large amount of attention to ensuring their calves lived, especially in the first 24 hours after birth. Ranchers often had special calving areas, spent a long time observing the cows and heifers for problems and assisting when problems occurred.

     The majority also provided their replacement heifers with labor assistance and often call on a veterinarian to ensure their calves are born in ideal conditions and without complication.

Bull Testing
The vast majority of primary producers who purchased, borrowed or leased bulls made sure their semen were tested prior to utilizing the bull. Obviously, any problems are caught early, and the bull’s nutrition can either be adjusted or another bull selected. This guaranteed the herd would only improve over time.

Clostridial vaccines—commonly referred to as "7-way" or "8-way" vaccines—were the most commonly used for pre-weaned calves. In breeding stocks, such as cows, bulls and replacement heifers, reproductive vaccines were also used. Muscular injections, which affect and ultimately can improve the quality of the meat, were also used.

Tapping the resources
Whether you rely on your herd for your income or not, everyone should follow in the footsteps of the primary income rancher and tap their local resources for information and assistance. Primary income ranchers cite their veterinarian as the most important and valuable resource available, with extension services coming in second. Feed sellers are also considered a good resource to have available.

Feed management
Feed, including the pasture, drains the majority of the expenses, so it’s no surprise that a successful cow-calf operation makes optimum use of their feed resources. Surprisingly, many ranchers did not balance their feed rations, and, among those that did, they did not have the feed nutritionally tested prior to implementing a management system. A feed rationing system can maintain steady feed expenses but must be undertaken after the nutritional contents of the feed and the requirement of the herd are known.

By far the most popular method for marketing and selling is the auction. This holds true for the small or large operation.

Record keeping
All successful operations maintained a coordinated and detailed record keeping and herd management system. These systems ranged from simple, hand-written notation to computer systems, but all were detailed and diligently kept. They were also individualized down to the cow.

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