Beef Cow Records/SPA

Name and Position/Title:
Denise Schwab, Beef Program Specialist

Fiscal Year Submitted:

POW Title and Number:       
141 Reduced feed cost for Iowa beef producers
144 Improved beef cattle production and economic efficiency

Beef Cow Records/SPA

Issue (Who cares and Why):
Profitable cow herds not only support the family farm, but also support rural Iowa communities and protect our environment by keeping rough and vulnerable ground seeded in pastures and forage production.   Profits from cow-calf operations support local businesses, schools, churches, and much more.  ISU Extension programs provide lifelong learning opportunities to improve cow herd profitability, measure progress and make wise business decisions.

What Did You Do? (Outputs – these may include educational meetings, demonstrations or research, media, facilitating, partnering)
Participation in the Beef Cow Business Records- SPA record keeping system has decreased over the last ten years, however a small core of cattlemen in eastern Iowa have continued to be committed to keeping these records.  Participant records are analyzed annually by Extension Beef Program Specialist, and results are reviewed through individual consultation.  They examine their data for trends and make decisions based on those trends.

In addition to the record keeping, Extension coordinates this small group of producers to meet a couple times each year to share their ideas, challenge each other, and question the group on new ideas.  This peer group sharing and discussion has helped bring all the participants to higher levels of management, greater long-term profitability, and continued support of local communities.

Results (Outcomes – was there a increase in knowledge, new skills learned, new decisions made, new practices implemented, increased profitability, new standards, enhanced quality of life)
One long-term participant has been using the beef cow business records and SPA since 1993.  “It all started back in the early 90’s when Dad and I went to a meeting at the Extension office and seeing that a big part of the expense of the cow herd was stored feed, so that was our first thought at how we could eliminate that.”  At the time he was debating whether to sell the cow herd and just purchase feeder calves for their feedlot, or to maintain the cow herd.  Their rough ground required pastures but he thought they could possibly run a grass-stocker operation for less than they ran their cow herd.  “We thought pretty hard about selling the cows and going to grass cattle.  We had rough ground we really couldn’t run steers on.  Some of the river pasture wasn’t fenced so we figured we could keep cows in easier than steers.”

They decided to keep the cow herd but focus on reducing costs and concentrating specifically on feed costs.  “Basically we started eliminating some costs by feeding corn stalks, and then tub grinding our hay and feeding in bunks instead of racks.”  They eventually transitioned to feeding less hay, more stalks, and supplementing with silage and corn gluten feed.  Each transition was based on their records, cost of feed, and use of more co-product feeds.  “We preg check in December and split the cows into a thick or thin group and feed accordingly. That’s huge, younger cows and older cows really need more feed.  The cows are in better shape now by feeding a TMR instead of bales of hay.”

“We depend on records for feed costs, but we look at that and compare to last year before we even send them to you.  We look at what is different and why it is different from last year, what did we do differently, and even break it out by month.  It isn’t always pounds of feed but also cost of feed.”

As a result they have reduced the amount of alfalfa hay they raise and feed more corn silage while utilizing cornstalk stubble for grazing, but also utilize winter rye as a cover crop behind silage and for early spring grazing.  “We realize we give up corn yield due to mud and compaction, but the cost to pour cement or build a shed could replace a lot of corn.  Plus the health issues of the cows and calves is better out on the fields.”  By increasing the amount of corn co-products fed they decrease their feed costs but also bring in a lot of outside nutrients to improve the nutrient profile of their own farms with organic fertilizer versus commercial fertilizer inputs.

They started record keeping because “we didn’t know where we were at then.”  Their cow herd has increased from 115 cows in 1993 to 215 cows in 2011.  Other changes to their operation include starting CHAPS to identify and track the production of individual cows, tagging individual calves and weighing calves at weaning using portable scales provided by Extension projects.  “Before we didn’t tag calves and didn’t even know which cows weaned a live calf.”  “CHAPS showed us which cows were poorer and we weeded them out.”  Through CHAPS they have established selection criteria for both their maternal line bulls and their terminal bulls. 

They eventually developed a maternal herd to raise their own replacement females, and a terminal herd used to provide calves for their feedlot.  They participated in Extension sponsored heifer development programs to learn how to improve the heifers they retained, and eventually shifted to an on-farm heifer development program focused on grazing rather than feedlot development of their heifers.  “I think the cost of developing heifers is a big thing.  We are saving a bunch in feed costs by developing our heifers with the cows instead of developing in the feedlot.”

In 2009 they entered their own calves in an age & source verified program, and received anywhere from $15-30 per head premiums when marketing them. 

The average of the four current SPA records producers is $95 return to management per cow over more than 10 years.  This operation’s long-term return to management is $108 per cow.  Therefore their cow operation alone brought over $23,000 into their local economy in addition to the added income from the growth of their feedlot operation.   The additional premium from the age and source verification of their calves brought an additional $6000 to the economy.

Page last updated: September 29, 2011
Page maintained by Julie Honeick,