Breeding Towards an Efficient Cow Herd

Breeding towards an efficient cow herd is something all studs will say they are doing, and I am glad that as angus breeders we are all so diverse, otherwise we would be competing head on in the same space all of the time, which we are not. As there are many aspects of efficiency all studs have their own view on what they are doing that makes their style of cattle or breeding ethos efficient. In my view, here are some base lines of what efficiency can be measured against, taking into account dry matter consumed and…carbon.

There are commercial breeders who per KG of product out the gate over KG of dry matter consumed are far ahead of some others. They calve as two year olds, and some operators even do what we do, every female has to produce a calf every year, including the calving 2 year olds. No carry-overs.

Using Farmax to compare a 3 year old calving model and a 2 year old calving model suggests a 3year old model gross margin of 10.4 cents per kg of DM consumed, versus a 2year old calving model of 12.1 cents. This is a 16% improvement, or for a 400 cow herd, possibly $37 000 dollars on top of the bottom line for not a lot of extra investment.

Given today’s discussion on trees, and the fact that from 2025 we will have to pay to offset our emissions, what is the comparison between the two models in terms of their carbon footprint? The model suggests there is a 10% reduction in CO2 equivalent emissions between the 3 year calving model to the 2 year calving model. Carbon at the current value of close to $40 equates this saving to approximately 10 cents per kg of beef produced. Not a huge amount, but it highlights how we should be thinking with the advent of carbon offsetting and starting to think about how we are going to pay for our emissions.

In my view, as farmers we shouldn’t be destocking like perhaps the government might want us to, but should be increasing our feed conversion efficiency to kilos of final product in our farming systems. If we can improve our KGs of product per unit of Carbon at least we can argue we are moving in the right direction.

As a stud, we must also consider the genetic selection of more efficient sires at the animal level rather than thinking at the herd level. In the first part this is our role as a breeder, to bring you animals that are more efficient. We are considering this when choosing sires as part of our multi trait selection criteria. Generally, bulls we use will be in the top 25% quartile for feed efficiency.

I went to the Hawkes Bay farmer of the Year competition 3 years ago, Monarae Station were on show, a 2000 odd hectare station. Dave Danks, the manager, started in 1991, 28 years. He has kept the place immaculate, and the stock even better. Drive around the place and you can see that he likes fat stock, no bones about it. And they perform for him. Big Romney ewes (his culls kill out at 33 kgs) and big cows and heifers. The top end of his weaners were 400 kgs, the average with a good 3 in front of it. In a good year, his ewes lamb at 150% over what was mated, and a good nudge of the lambs go prime at weaning.

With results that read like a wish list it was no surprise Monarae won the Hawkes Bay farmer of the year in 2018. Usually with stock performance like his, one might be fooled into thinking he was understocked, but the judges came and went, crunched the numbers and were impressed with the farm’s financial performance. On the field day there was a really good crowd, probably close to 200 people, and the farm looked good on that autumn day.

There was one lady that kept on asking why Dave didn’t mate his heifers, not once, not twice, but several times, each time at a different stop on the tour. Dave must have known the inevitable was going to happen, and he was at our yearling sale in 2018. Not because of this lady, but more it was a natural progression of the farm’s development, and he had a board to answer to who said he should mate heifers. He bought a good yearling heifer bull and mated his heifers.  He hasn’t dropped his numbers but gets a crop of calves that are pure profit, and he hasn’t had any problems getting the 3 year olds back in calf.

So, if I was to pick out an example of an efficient cow herd, Monarae’s would be as good as any. He calves 2 year olds, weans over 300kgs, sells the lower end and kills the top end at 350 kgs before the second winter. Incredible. And they still serve the ewe in terms of pasture management.