Carol Sanders | School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences
PINE BLUFF, Ark. – Keeping good records and analyzing them provides ranchers an opportunity to fine-tune their ranch’s management and to increase profits, says Dr. David Fernandez, Cooperative Extension Program livestock specialist at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
The old adage that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it applies to ranching, too, says Dr. Fernandez. So what production data should ranchers be measuring and keeping? Records of birth weights, weaning weights, birth dates and breeding dates.
Most livestock producers are paid per pound of calf, lamb or kid they produce so understanding how well females are producing and performing is essential. Birth weights and weaning weights are easy to collect and compare. A heavy duty fish scale can be used for lambs and kids as they tend to weigh under 10 pounds. Some breeds produce larger, single births rather than twins.
Calves are much larger so an inexpensive spring or digital scales can handle them. Usually, animals that are smaller at birth are easier to deliver, but they tend to have more difficulty surviving and thriving in early life. Use birth weights to select offspring of the optimal size for your management system, advises Dr. Fernandez.
Weaning weights give an idea of how well the female is taking care of her offspring and how well her offspring perform. But, be careful when comparing weaning weights as older animals have more time to grow so they may look superior to a younger animal, says Dr. Fernandez. Use adjusted weaning weights to take this into account, he advises.
Birth dates and breeding dates are an important part of the management puzzle. “To increase profits, you should have no more than a one year interval from one birth to the next,” says Dr. Fernandez.
With intervals longer than a year, producers must feed and care for adults without recovering the cost by selling an offspring at the end of the year. Since nearly 70 percent of the cost of livestock production is feed-related, decreasing the amount of time feeding before selling is critical.
Good financial records are as important as good production records. “Do not mix household and farm business expenses and incomes together,” says Dr. Fernandez. Don’t just keep track of farm costs, classify them, such as the cost of operating the tractor, feed costs, veterinary bills, fertilizer, etc. Once you know what you are spending, compare yourself to the rest of the state.
The USDA Census of Agriculture http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2007/Full_Report/Volume_1,_Chapter_1_State_Level/Arkansas/ gives a breakdown of farm expenses state by state.
If your costs are out of line with other farms of your type and size, find out why. High feed bills may indicate an opportunity to reduce costs and increase profits, says Dr. Fernandez.
“Good record keeping is not enough. You must analyze those records. With the data in hand, producers can make changes to reduce costs and increase profits,” adds Dr. Fernandez.
For information on record keeping or livestock production, contact Dr. Fernandez at (870) 575-7214 or firstname.lastname@example.org.