Ag Eco 101

While on the subject of cattle, here is a little insight into the economics of farming. It’s all about the long term. Invest today, find out 4 years later if you spent your money wisely. That’s where we are with our beef production currently. Here’s the detail. When we bought heifers this spring, they were “bred heifers” in cattleman lingo. A heifer is a young female cow. Assuming she is carrying her first baby, she is “bred”. Her gestation period is just over 9 months and you want her “sire” to have been a small bull because you don’t want her to have calving problems in her first attempt at birthing, lest you lose the heifer and/or the calf while she learns about giving birth and stretching the birth canal. Make it as easy as possible for her on her first attempt. Later calves can come from a larger bull after she has developed some “spread”. The downside to that smaller sire bull is a smaller calf when the time arrives to harvest her progeny. With me so far? Consider the implications for the farmer: You paid a couple thousand dollars for a bred heifer. Let’s assume she is 4 months bred. She has 5+ months before she “drops” a calf. That calf will not be harvested for at least 16 months. But the first calf will be smaller than you are shooting for and will probably yield 20% less product than you need.  By now you are 21 months away from your original purchase.

On her second breeding, you expose her to your prime bull and hope that she is bred within 3 months of dropping her first calf. It’s usually longer with a second calf heifer but let’s say you got lucky. You now have 24 months of supporting this heifer after spending $2,000 on her. That’s 2 years of grass and clover and winter pasture and pleasant conditions. Then 9 more months of gestation, and assuming she has a successful second calf, 16 more months of watching that calf grow before we know if the time and money spent on sires and dams was a good investment. That’s 49 months later. In that 49 months, all kinds of things can and do happen. We have experienced all of the following: sterility, drought, and death by noxious weed, coyotes, feral hogs, and lightning. From what I can tell, if you are 80% successful in your choices made 4 years earlier, you are doing a very good job. So you bought 5 heifers in the hope of having 4 of them survive to adulthood where they will give you 10 calves before reaching old age.

That’s the course known as Ag Eco 101. A little risky, huh? But you know what? We would do it all over again. Sit on a porch one day and watch for that moment in time when mommas and fat babies are grazing on knee-high native grasses; or go down to the woods and talk to the always happy and usually mischievous pigs.

It’s a beautiful life. If it gets in ya, it doesn’t let go.