What is low input management?

Published on Wed, 11/21/2018 - 2:49pm

  What is Low Imput Managment?

 By James Coffelt   Ohio Land & Cattle

 Low input management is a term without a definition.

The easiest dollar you ever made, is the one you did not spend, great wisdom.

If we managed our 8000 acres, and 1600 head, as my prior vet suggested, and then sold into the commodity market, this would be a losing business.

The ideal business model is, low input management, good genetics via bulls, good grass management, and selling into a premium markets.

Below are some ideas:

Why worm cattle? Depending on the article you read, it reduces the grass production by 10-20%, as it reduces the soil biology, which in turn reduces grass production. Cattle should be able to perform and produce with a small worm load. Health is key in fighting off a worm load.

Wormer and meds cost money, and consume labor.

Labor cost's money, and has risk. Two years ago, working bulls, I was kicked on the side of the knee, it popped out, went back in, high pain, and a year to heal. In the past 3 years, two animals ran past the sorter, into a bull gate and broke their neck. We quickly hang them, and process them. This cost's money. Had we not been working them, none of the above would have occurred.

We have not vaccinated cows for 10 years. Our death loss is lower than when we were vaccinating, along with costs. However, when we sell steers, we will follow the protocol the customer asks, we will worm them on request, and give a single shot of Vista Once, and Enforce 3. Working the cattle produces more stress than the meds fix........... Stress is the enemy of cattle.

Two years ago we lost 6 calves in two days to blackleg, a bad day. If we measured the value of the 6 calves against working 1000 cows for 10 years, financially, I will take the dead calves.

Most steers are sold as all natural, and bring 5 cents above the top of the market, because there are no meds..

We have a registered herd and a commercial herd. We need the registered as we sell bulls, and registered females. There is a cost to the registered herd, as we need to check calves each day, weigh them, register them, and, the Angus Association seems to invent a new genetic defect each year, which requires DNA testing. This is $18 per head, plus labor. And, there are machinery costs in this checking cattle, bearings, axles, drive shafts, fuel, etc.. Two cattle have had a defect in 10 years. (The Angus Association owns a testing facility, HMM.)

The commercial herd supplies our grass finished beef customers, no tagging, no weighing, little labor, i.e., drive thru and check calves every week. We must have both registered and commercial, however, we will build the commercial herd more as we go, and get the same money.

The past 3 years, we have ceased weaning heifers, leave them with their mothers and they learn how to break ice, eat thru snow, are protected by their mother's from predation, etc.. This past year, we sorted off potential  bull calves and wintered them with their mothers (mothers were already bred). Both worked well. We have had one cow permit nursing a prior calf while nursing the new calf, and she is now harvested.

As an aside on protection, we have added a donkey to each group as protector's (female donkeys's only)

Please consider the amount of labor and costs eliminated, so far in this discussion.

This past year we sold a large group of bulls. A few customers were disappointed early on, however, they are comparing  forage developed bulls with grain developed. The bulls went thru winter on grass, low cost. But, add the idea that winter is a management tool. If someone wants pretty cattle year round, it is simple, park a feed truck in their midst. We have two bulls which are 3/4 brothers, one went thru winter pig fat, the other looked like he was from a concentration camp. Winter is a tool to assess genetic performance. Without pressure, we lose the ability to judge animals.

Consider animal classes:
A cow calves and consumes 40% more forage than a young female.
A steer gains weight.
A young female gains weight and calves.
In my opinion, this is a mostly a young  female business, that is below 7 years old. After 7, they will revert to commodity value.

The meat buyers want cattle under 30 months, this a mistake in my opinion. Our favorite meat is a 5 year old, pig fat cow. For our use we get the entire cow. For retail use, some middle meats and bone are lost with the BSE issue, however, her carcass is larger, and more than offsets the loss of middle meats and bone. Selling a cow prior to 7 years old promotes herd turnover, and a younger herd, with better genetics, and less problems, assuming calving ease bulls. ..................Turnover matters.

If there is a concern about tenderness, buy a Jaccard on Amazon, $13 (tenderizer).

Grass management is interesting:
We follow Jim Gerrish's model, that is, here, we have 30 pastures, eat the top half, leave the bottom half.
We sold a herd to a close friend who is strip grazing, and our cattle did OK, but not great. Strip grazing is the ultimate test of genetics.
Buying cattle from a farm, feeding months per year, and moving to a ranch, grazing year round, is a loser all day. The cattle are open and hard keeping and fall out in two years. However, the reverse direction works fine, strip grazing, to a ranch, ranch to a farm.

Forget about the idea of moving cattle, never east, and never south. It is management models that matter most.

Cattle that work best are moderate in size, calving ease, WW/growth (EPD below 40), milk EPD 15 and down, with high efficiency (above 20 $EN).

Gavin Fallon, 90 years old, has one of the best breeding programs in the world, and we spent 4 days with he and his lovely wife, in New Zealand a couple years ago. He said something interesting. With a herd of 800 cows, 400 bull calves each year, over 65 years, they would have a game changing bull every 10 years, that is one bull of 4000. Now then, if someone comes here, or anywhere else, with the idea of picking out that game changing bull as a yearling, or 2 year old, forget it. Pick out a good bull, at a reasonable price. The game changers are hard to identify until they are almost dead of old age. Keep the bull cost's down.

Better yet, make money with bulls, lease them before and after your breeding season, sell them at 4 or 5 years old while they have value, and buy a new one. Turnover bulls while they have value. Share there cost with a neighbor. Every bull will consume twice the forage of a young female.

We do not AI, it is like a dating service, pretty pictures, no other information, and a bunch of work. We want to see bulls winter,
be absent of injuries, etc.............. We need to see them work.

We do not preg check, we simply leave a single bull with each group for 6 months. A late calf is better than no calf, and cull the cow the following year. With a premium outlet for open cows, and an annual cow cost of $293, it does not financially matter.

We need premium outlets, an 1100 pound should hang at 60%, and sell wholesale for $2000+, retail for $3000, by the piece for $4000.

Genetics are key, short, thick, heavy, easy fleshing. Here, it is Pinebank, Pharo, Wye, breeding.

I have tried every mineral program there is: Free choice minerals, high end salt and kelp, cheap minerals and salt, and have seen little difference, other than in my checking account.

Additionally, the calving season spread out a bit is good for the grass fed supply chain. This is opposite the industry which wants the convenience of a tight calving season.

When someone that says they do not have an outlet for grass finished beef. My first question is, what have you done to find an outlet?, and usually the answer is "nothing". Retailers need sources, find them, on the web, phonebooks, Face book, etc..