No, this is not an ailment that affects big calves. This is an ailment that affects ranchers who believe they must produce big calves to be profitable. Big calves are not always profitable. In fact, small calves are almost always more profitable than big calves. I know some of you find this hard to believe, but it’s true. Allow me to share three reasons for this.
Cost of Production will always have a bigger impact on net profit than calf size. Profit is measured by subtracting your expenses from your income. Therefore, it’s possible to increase your profits simply by decreasing your expenses. I know several ranchers who are always profitable even though their calves are much smaller than average. Their success comes from their ability to maintain a very low cost of production which, in turn, creates a very low break-even point.
Stocking Rate. Some ranchers have small to moderate sized cows that require very little in the way of outside inputs. This allows them to run more cows on the same forage resources than ranchers with large, high-production cows. Because smaller cows can wean a higher percent of their own body weight, they will always produce more total pounds than bigger cows on the exact same acres. This is one of the easiest ways to increase pounds and profit per acre.
Although these ranchers don’t have any bragging rights at the local coffee shop, they’ve proven that 400 to 450-pound calves can be very profitable. In contrast, I’ve talked to many producers who seem to be doing everything right, but struggle to break even with 500 to 600-pound calves. What went wrong? Big, high-maintenance cows do not fit the environment. Therefore, the producer must reduce stocking rates and/or increase supplemental feeding.
Price Per Pound. Small calves always sell for more per pound than big calves. Cow-calf producers never receive fair compensation for producing big calves. To add insult to injury, take a look at market reports from your local livestock auction. Most years, it isn’t difficult to find examples where 450-pound calves sell for about the same price per head as 600-pound calves. In those cases, the extra 150 pounds have absolutely no value!
More total pounds that are worth more per pound seems like a no-brainer! So… why are most cow-calf producers still trying to increase weaning weights? They mistakenly believe they must produce big calves to be profitable. Eventually, however, these high-production producers will realize profit is more important than bragging rights. If they don’t, Big-Calf Syndrome may put them out of business. It doesn’t matter how big your calves are if they’re not profitable!