While many factors affect the profitability of cow/calf production systems, the best way for veterinarians to influence herd profitability is with nutritional services, according to Dr. Mark Hilton of Purdue University in the bovine medicine section at the AVMA Convention in Chicago, Ill.
Hilton pointed out that 56.7% of the variation between herd profit is due to winter feed costs, and practices that reduce those costs are what drive profitability. Hilton suggested making cows "work" by using more grazing and fewer stored feeds by looking for "unfair advantages" -- such as interseeding rye and turnips in corn later in the growing season to extend the grazing quality of corn stalks later in the fall. Another question is if producers' calving season is in synch with nature, i.e., spring calving in February in the Upper Midwest is really winter calving in barns that may result in more cases of pneumonia and scours. Hilton suggested that if possible, delaying calving until pastures may be ready would be better.
A second area highly correlated with profits is a herd's percentage calf crop weaned -- e.g., weaning more calves per cow per year, and main causes of preweaning death loss in calves is dystocia, weather, diarrhea and pneumonia. However, increasing weaning weights of calves may not lead to increased profits because cows are too big and are fed too much in order to increase calf weaning weight. Adding calf weight after weaning before calves are sold (preconditioning or backgrounding programs) can be beneficial, Hilton said.
Finally, Hilton suggested that veterinarians base recommendations on solid financial research, particularly with the use of herd animal records, and to look at the cow/calf business as a whole and start improving the weakest link first and then move up the chain of weak links until the operation is just fine-tuning management.