The cost of an open cow is more than you want to deal with.

Financial survival as a cow-calf producer is like a game of Risk. Producers have a lot of factors to consider each year. Without a doubt, one of those decisions will be what the cost is to keep an open cow in the herd.

First, the particular segment a producer is in needs to be considered. A purebred producer who decides to keep an open cow for another breeding season will likely be able to recover the extra cost of a non-producing cow with the sale of the next calf. However, rarely will a commercial cow-calf producer recover the cow expense if he or she decides to keep an open cow and rebreed her the next year.

“It is often the inclination of the producer that the cow won’t bring in much money if he sells her open, so he will hold onto her and rebreed her next year,” said Kevin Glaubius, director of nutrition at BioZyme Inc. “That typically makes for a really expensive cow and is rarely profitable in a commercial setting.”

Producers should preg-check their cows as early as possible and consider their options. It is safe to preg-check 30-40 days after the cows’ last exposure. Once a cow is confirmed open, it is time to consider culling her, so you don’t spend another 3-4 months on feed and upkeep on nonproductive cow days.

Glaubius offers some simple “cowboy math” in calculating the cost of culling and replacing an open cow vs. feeding an open cow. The numbers below came from the Midwest March 10, 2018.

Initially, the producer is going to spend an average of $500-$700 per year per cow on feed and upkeep. This is variable due to labor, resources available and other geographic and environmental factors. Then, if a cow is open, you lose the revenue from a calf that won’t wean and sell this season. Currently, you could calculate a 550-pound (lb.) calf would bring about $1.80 per pound, so the producer is losing about $990 in calf revenue. The total cost for one year of keeping the open cow is about $1,600.

$600 (cow cost) + $990 (calf revenue) = $1,590 (expense of keeping an open cow)

A better option would be to sell the open cow and replace her with a bred heifer or cow. March 10, 2018, market numbers showed cull-cow prices at 64¢ per pound. Average cow size is 1,200-1,300 lb., so a 1,250-lb. cow will have a salvage value of around $800. A bred replacement female will cost about $1,200, with the goal to have a calf to sell at weaning time.

$1,200 (replacement cow) – $800 (salvage cow income) = $400 (expense for replacing an open cow)

With almost a $1,200 difference in keeping an open cow or replacing her, it seems like an easy option to replace her. Although 100% conception is a great management goal, it isn’t always realistic. However, Glaubius says the sooner you cull the open cows, the less you will have to invest in their feed bill. He notes that cull-cow prices almost always decline further into fall and winter, so he suggests selling as early as you can, saying September has traditionally recorded the best prices for cull cows. There are a lot of issues that lead to open cows — age, health, reproductive issues or heat stress.

“If you don’t know your cow is open, you can’t control costs. That’s why it is a good idea to preg-check at weaning. The guy who preg-checks first gets his open cows to town first and gets the most money for his cull cows, and he wins on both fronts, because he isn’t pouring extra feed costs into the cows for two, three, four months,” Glaubius said. “Cows need to be nursing a calf or pregnant in order to measure their productivity — much like the swine industry. The ‘nonproducing cow days’ are what cost the producer the most.”

Avoid open cows
However, what if you didn’t have to think about open cows because of increased conception rates? Glaubius offers four tips to getting your cows bred and keeping them bred.

  1. 1. Consider a quality mineral program. A premium mineral program is a good investment that will see a great return on investment (ROI) with a cow that gets bred and stays bred. Don’t set cows up for failure, but invest in a good mineral program like VitaFerm®, containing Amaferm®, a natural prebiotic designed to maximize the nutritional value of feed.
  2. 2. A mineral program alone won’t aid in conception. Cows need to be fed the proper amounts of energy and protein, so they are in the right condition to breed successfully. Nine out of 10 breeding failures are usually due to energy or protein deficiencies and not mineral, according to Glaubius. If you don’t feed energy and protein correctly, mineral won’t fix poor body condition. Most nutrition companies offer some type of ration- and forage-testing services. If you aren’t sure your cows’ dietary needs are being met, be sure to take feed samples and have them tested.
  3. 3. Herd health protocols are key. Working with your veterinarian to keep your herd healthy is of utmost importance. Making sure the cow has proper vaccinations; preventing common challenges, like anaplasmosis; and making sure the cow stays bred are vital. Sometimes the cow will abort due to viruses, infections and illnesses that are preventable or treatable.
  4. 4. Another way to make sure the cow stays bred through the summer months is to minimize heat stress. The cow will often reabsorb the fetus when she faces multiple 100-degree days, ending up open.

Deciding if you should keep an open cow or not can be a big decision. If you maximize your odds of increased conception and pregnancy, these are decisions that you won’t have to make as often.

Source: BioZyme Inc.