July 5, 2012

Learning is an On Going Process

As we finished up calving a couple of weeks ago our steer calves from last year have been harvested.  Our 90 day calving window has come to a close and with that the last 2 cows that have been holding out finally let their calves come out to join the rest of the herd.  I was looking at the calendar the other morning and realized that that was the week that our steers that we delivered to the feedlot in December where scheduled to be harvested.  The fruits of our labor (the first 8-9 months of their lives) and the feedlots (the last 6 months) will be realized and the amount of information and knowledge that we will be learning is large.  We have lots of goals set for our farm and livestock.  These include producing a pen of feeder steers that will gain over 3.5 lbs a day in the feedlot, grade 80% choice or better, decreasing our calf weight into the feedlot, 95% or better conception rate on our heifers and cows, and shrinking up our calving interval (the number of day between the 1st calf born and the last).  The only way we know if we are reaching our goals is by keeping and analyzing the data.

1 day old - 85 lbs
 Through the program that we sell our steers we can and do choose to pay the data fee ($2/head).  By paying the fee we will get all of the individual feedlot performance and carcass data back on each individual animal that we sold.  We will know how much weight each steer gained, what he weighed when he arrived at the feedlot and when he left, if any got sick or died, how much meat (dressing percent) was harvested from him, quality grade (a measure of eating quality), and a whole lot of other very important data as well.  It is basically our final report card for the year (or last year).  With all of that data we will be able to see if our made any improvements from the cattle we sold the previous year and how they compare to the other cattle that the feedlot finished from other ranches.  More importantly we will learn where we still need to improve.  I would like to say our report card will bare all A+'s but I would be a big liar.  The best part about the data is that I will link it back to the mother of each calf and over time we will use that data to pick out better replacement heifers for the herd.  We will also know if there are any cows not making the grade and be able to cull them and replace her with a cow that does make the grade.  There is always room for improvement and learning which areas we need to work on is a learning process that is necessary if we want to be sustainable.  I am excited to see if the management decisions that we made had a positive impact on the quality of the cattle that we raise. 
Weaning Day - 500 lbs
When we sell our steers we always have the end product in mind and that end product is not just a 1300 lb steer, it is the hamburger that is being grilled at a families BBQ, the T-bone steak on a plate at a fancy high end restaurant, or the blood serum used to make flu vaccine to keep our elderly and young people healthy.  I have to admit that I am a little nervous about getting the data back, not that I expect a bad report card but, the waiting and anticipation for the last 6 months is getting to a point of reality.  When we loaded our steers on that cold and icy December morning there was NO doubt in our mind that we were shipping a pen of steers that we could be proud to put our name and brand on.  We felt that compared the the previous year they were better, we had made some changes that were showing signs that we were moving in the direction of meeting our goals.  But with holding ourselves to such high standards the thoughts of not making the progress we expected makes me a little nervous and anxious. 

Shipping Day - 700 lbs
One of the major issues that make progress a little slow in the beef industry is the time it takes to see the final results especially when you follow your cattle all the way to the final destination (a delicious and nutrient packed meal).  Many of the changes that keep us moving toward our goals happen before last years steers are harvested and we know the final report.  For this years calves, the genetics are already chosen, the winter feed and nutrition for the cow is long over and applied, and spring vaccine and health protocols are already working.  Not to mention the genetics have already been chosen for next years (to be born next spring 2013) calves as well.  These things I can not go back and change, I have to believe that the science and advise from our vet, and the bull breeders are the right thing to do and that they will work.  At this point in time the only things that I can change to continue to improve this years calves is the health program from now till delivery, when we wean the calves, weaning strategy and post weaning nutrition.  Between now and December mother nature will continue to present us with challenges and based on what she does will determine what steps need to be taken and when to ensure that we continue to learn from our results and continue to raise our cattle with the best care possible and provide the best beef we can to the consumer.

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