Academic journal article Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics

Optimal Beef Cow Weights in the U.S. Southern Plains

Academic journal article Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics

Optimal Beef Cow Weights in the U.S. Southern Plains

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)


According to Smith (2014), beef cow-calf producers select cattle for muscle, growth, and milk production in an effort to increase profit, resulting in increased cow weight and frame size. Using historical slaughter beef cow data and working backward to determine live weight, McMurry (2009) determined that national average mature cow weight increased from 1,050 pounds in 1975 to 1,350 pounds by 2009. Bulls with expected progeny differences (EPDs) indicating higher growth rate and muscling are often selected, and their daughters-who are more likely to be large-are often retained as replacement cows. Although these characteristics may be the most profitable in feedlot scenarios, this may not be true for replacement heifers used in cow-calf operations (Smith, 2014). With cow-calf producers focused on increasing weaning weights, the balance between cow nutritional requirements, which depend on cow weight and the natural environment, has fallen out of focus and supplementation has become the norm (Schmid, 2013). While larger cows wean heavier calves, they require more feed. Additional revenue from more pounds of calf weaned may not offset the added feed cost.

Our objective is to determine net present value-maximizing beef cow weights for U.S. Southern Plains beef cow-calf operations. Returns are calculated for several beef cow weights, two breeds (Angus and Brangus), two pasture types (native and improved), and under fall and spring calving seasons. Both calf birth and weaning weights are estimated as functions of cow weight, cow age, breed, forage type, and calving season, with cow weight varying from 950 to 1,800 pounds in 50- pound increments. Operating budgets are developed for each cow weight, breed, forage type, and calving season. Feed, one of the highest costs associated with cow-calf production, is varied based on beef cow weight, stages of gestation and lactation, calving season, forage type, and breed. As the stage of the beef cattle cycle potentially affects the economically optimal beef cow weight, the cattle cycle stage is explicitly considered in the analysis by varying the year of the cycle when a

heifer enters the breeding herd. Using historical data for cull cow prices, calf prices, and feed prices, prices are projected for 15 years to reflect price variation and the pattern observed in a recent cattle cycle. Annual net returns are computed using cow-calf expected revenues and expected production costs for each cow weight. Under each scenario, annual net returns are simulated, discounted, and summed to find the expected net present value (NPV) of a beef cow per acre. A grid search is used to find the highest returning cow weights per acre under the eight scenarios.

Literature Review

Many factors determine the profitability of beef cow-calf production. Miller et al. (2001) analyzed financial and production information from standardized performance analysis data from Illinois and Iowa farmers and found that two of the four most influential factors on profitability were feed cost and calf birth weight, both of which are influenced by cow weight. Feed costs accounted for 63% of total annual cow cost. Heavier cows have higher energy maintenance costs, and those costs are affected by calving season. Olson et al. (1982) reported that an increase of 100 kilograms (220.5 pounds) in cow body weight (above four hundred kilograms or 881.8 pounds) increased net energy required by 25%. Schmid (2013) found the relationship between cow weight and feed requirements to be nonlinear. An increase in cow weight by 27% increased maintenance requirements by 20%, assuming high lactation levels. Bagley et al. (1987) reported that fall-calving cows require less hay but more supplemental nutrition compared to spring-calving cows, resulting in a higher feed cost for fall-calving herds.

Miller et al. (2001) reported that calf birth weight had a greater impact on profit than calf price. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.