By analogy, your cows are your employees. To know whether a cow meets your expectations, you must
accurately measure, record, and evaluate the right performance. The primary use of performance
records is to help you make culling and selection decisions relative to production and economic goals.
Simple goals need simple accountabilities and records.
For instance, if your only production goal is for each cow to give you a live calf every year, then
you need only a simple yes/no record at weaning. It's still a goal, an accountability, and a record
used to make a management decision. Of course, if your goal is to produce calves that eventually make
choice, yield-grade 2, 750-pound carcasses, then individual cow accountabilities will be much more
rigorous. You'll need to measure, record, and evaluate many more performance traits.
Individual performance records are just part of the information you need to effectively manage an
overall operation. Evaluating individual performance records, along with pertinent production and
economic information from other areas of the operation, can help identify potentially conflicting
goals and areas of management.
For instance, say you wean a 70 percent calf crop instead of your 95 percent goal. Was it because
you were overstocked, your herd health program was deficient, or you cut too much out of the
supplemental feed budget? Answering questions like these is part of the manager's responsibility
and possible only with adequate information from other interrelated areas of the operation. The
more information you have, the more accurate your analysis will be.
Finally, using recorded information as a marketing tool is increasingly important. Documentation
of a complete herd health program, for example, can increase the price you receive for your calf
crop. Individual treatment records can help you stay within the withdrawal requirements for various
drugs or allow you to sell into a niche market for a premium. Historic feedlot performance data and
carcass information for calves you produce can help you decide whether to sell on a live basis or a
grid, or even which grid is best for your calves. Even if you decide to sell your calves before the
feedlot phase, knowing this information can add value.
Cow-calf production is a business. Goals drive successful operations. Continued success depends
on sound business decisions related to performance, analysis, and marketing, and sound business
decisions are possible only with accurate and appropriate information. Approach your operation
from this perspective and you stand a good chance of being around for the long haul.
Reproductive Traits Most Critical
When making selection decisions in the cow herd, producers should not forget the simple concept
of relative economic value. Reproductive traits are considered ten times more important than product
traits (yield grade, quality grade, and so on) and five times more important than production traits
(weaning weight, yearling weight).
A cow herd must be first and foremost reproductively sound. Reproduction and maternal traits should
be stressed, but with today's beef industry, producers cannot ignore growth and carcass characteristics.
Purebred bulls should have some degree of predictability for growth, muscling, and carcass merit.
Knowledgeable producers will use this predictability to select sires that complement a cow herd's maternal strengths.