Some Keys to Successful Ranching
The United States Department of Agriculture studied a variety of cattle
operations that rely on beef herds as their main source of income, and found that those who do so
successfully employ a series of certain management techniques, which are at the root of their success.
Of course, the smaller rancher may not even be looking to turn a profit
instead they could be merely looking to supplement their income by raising a small herd or want cattle to occupy
the land, but even in these situations, adopting some or all of the successful practices can aid in the success of
your operation, regardless of its size.
Overall and not surprisingly, cow/calf herds were larger for those
who relied on them as their main source of income. But, somewhat surprisingly, larger herds, sometimes as many
as 250 mother cows or more did not necessarily translate into what most would term an adequate ot a rancher’s
Horned and castrated
Primary income herds were found to favor
horned breeds of cattle but also favored dehorning and, among primary income herds, bull calves were more likely
While there have been tremendous beneficial advancements in genetics and
reproduction, most did not rely on artificial insemination. Most favored the purchase of replacement breeding cows
or heifers. This group was also shown to devote a large amount of attention to ensuring their calves lived,
especially in the first 24 hours after birth. Ranchers often had special calving areas, spent a long time observing
the cows and heifers for problems and assisting when problems occurred.
The majority also provided their replacement heifers with labor assistance and often
call on a veterinarian to ensure their calves are born in ideal conditions and without complication.
The vast majority of primary producers who purchased, borrowed or leased bulls
made sure their semen were tested prior to utilizing the bull. Obviously, any problems are caught early, and the
bull’s nutrition can either be adjusted or another bull selected. This guaranteed the herd would only improve over
Clostridial vaccines—commonly referred to as “7-way” or “8-way” vaccines—were the
most commonly used for pre-weaned calves. In breeding stocks, such as cows, bulls and replacement heifers,
reproductive vaccines were also used. Muscular injections, which affect and ultimately can improve the quality of
the meat, were also used.
Tapping the resources
Whether you rely on your herd for your income or not, everyone should follow in
the footsteps of the primary income rancher and tap their local resources for information and assistance. Primary
income ranchers cite their veterinarian as the most important and valuable resource available, with extension
services coming in second. Feed sellers are also considered a good resource to have available.
Feed, including the pasture, drains the majority of the expenses, so it’s no
surprise that a successful cow-calf operation makes optimum use of their feed resources. Surprisingly, many
ranchers did not balance their feed rations, and, among those that did, they did not have the feed nutritionally
tested prior to implementing a management system. A feed rationing system can maintain steady feed expenses but
must be undertaken after the nutritional contents of the feed and the requirement of the herd are known.
By far the most popular method for marketing and selling is the auction. This
holds true for the small or large operation.
All successful operations maintained a coordinated and detailed record keeping
and herd management system. These systems ranged from simple, hand-written notation to computer systems, but all
were detailed and diligently kept. They were also individualized down to the cow.