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Jimmy Stewart: Is Maximum Also Optimum?

My son, Jimmy Stewart, is a Wyoming cattleman and a rather smart one at that but of course I’m bias. Jimmy has a really good argument I would like to share on whether or not more is better.

“In today’s day and age, it seems as if more is always better! Perhaps that is true with some things, but it is my opinion that this very mindset is proving to be our biggest struggle as cattlemen and cattlewomen. Kris Ringwall, with NDSU Extension, says that in recent years, weaning weights per cow exposed, dropped by 21 pounds while production cost have risen by 200%. This is pretty ironic due to the extreme selection of growth and terminal traits in our genetic selection.

As producers, maybe our eyes should be set on what is optimum instead of the maximum. The fact of the matter is that every region of the country requires a different animal; therefore, the optimum for every operation will be different. The lower growth Wyoming range cow will maintain flesh while weaning 60% of her mature weight on desert grass. This cow is optimum for the Wyoming desert but in eastern Nebraska, she lacks the growth and performance to push the envelope and obtain optimum profitability given the resources that God has provided for that region.

This brings us to our next question; why have production cost rose 200%? Obviously, the easy answer is the rise of commodity cost, feed cost, and infrastructure. None of these are in our control. So let’s talk about what is in our control, input cost! A calf crop is subject to two major factors: genetics and environment. Most cattlemen have focused on increasing performance over recent years. For whatever reason, it has been the popular trend and pushed by meat packers, bull studs, breed associations, and academia. However, that performance comes with added production cost once you exceed the limitations of your specific management and region. As you increase performance/growth you usually end up with decreased maternal characteristics. In most cases, traits like maternal calving ease, heifer pregnancy, and stay-ability have been overlooked and compromised with single trait selection in an attempt to accomplish unrealistic growth and maximum terminal traits. This would give reason as to why our weaning weights per cow exposed have dropped by 21 pounds even after these so called industry authorities have preached and recommended producers to chase high growth and terminal traits. I would argue that growth and terminal traits, although important, do not amount to much if we do not have a live, healthy calf, first and foremost. In many cowherds, selecting exclusively for growth and terminal traits has led to a drop in fertility and the ability to have calves unassisted. Not to mention, sorting exclusively for these extremes in most cases is antagonistic to having the proper traits/EPD set to raise the optimum calf every year in the environment in which they live without excessive supplementation.”

I tend to agree with Jimmy here. More is not always better. We have to be selective on how we manage our herd. Thank you Jimmy for being a diligent steward and contributing to the improvement of our lifestyle.

by Ken Stewart