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Focus on quality grade potential when culling 
Checking heifers last night, I wondered how deep I will have to cull this year. At least five of these 25 will have to go. No rain or snow in the forecast, but the soil-test-prescribed dose of fertilizer has been applied to cool-season pastures. 

Our smallest inventory of mature cows in 10 years picks through the dormant native grasses between purchased hay feedings. More of them will have to go this spring, too.

No matter how bad or how good a herd is, there’s always a top and bottom end. Therein lies a silver lining. Another 20 percent off the bottom means the surviving genetics are better adapted to producing calves that grow and grade in these stingy conditions.
It’s an opportunity to focus on weaning weights and post-weaning gain without giving an inch on proven quality grade potential. 
Returning to the corral at dawn, I see the first heifer born represents three stacked generations of high-accuracy genetics from artificial insemination. She’s from the stub-eared 352 heifer, who was herself the first calf born in 2011, but fair weather means her daughter’s ears will be fine.

They say phenotype tells us what they seem to be, pedigree tells us what they should be and progeny tells us what they are. Looks like this is a pre-potent cow family. Just for fun, I looked up her grandma’s GeneMax score and found she ranks second overall with a 95 GMX, marbling and gain component scores both 5, the highest possible. Related steer data backs that up – all it will take is continued trouble-free calving and a rainy week to top this. 

Calves represent our future, so in addition to weather and data, we must think about the market. Most of U.S. cattle country is looking at fewer calves in their pastures and corrals this year. When green grass becomes the summertime norm again, we should be ready to spring forward with better genetics that more profitably satisfy consumer demand.

I’ve heard $200-per-cwt. boxed beef compared to $4-per-gallon gasoline, suggesting those numbers mark resistance levels. They could be “ceiling price levels” at which consumers change their behavior so as to cut back on purchases. A few years ago, I heard $150 beef was the ceiling, and inflation has been pretty flat, so I think it goes beyond picking a psychological barrier number.

Should we worry about beef getting more and more expensive? No, we should act to make sure it is no common commodity like gasoline, but always worth the price, an increasingly better value. No matter how good today’s beef is, there is still a bottom 20 percent for taste and overall eating experience. 

Many of us still have to cull another load of cows we thought were pretty good. 

Let’s make sure we do all we can to identify those at the bottom of the herd for both profit and marbling potential. When we can expand, our replacements will represent that higher plane for the good of everyone along the supply chain.

Readers with questions or comments for Steve Suther may write to him in care of this publication.