In my last Connect I talked about how in this region, according to University of Minnesota FINBIN data, the average cow/calf producer in Minnesota lost $275 in 2021. We talked briefly about some of the ways that you can reduce your cost to raise a calf, but for some, perhaps the question ought to be “Should I be raising a cow at all?“.
Cows are most efficient and profitable when they are doing the work of feeding themselves rather than when we are required to haul them feed. Especially considering that many producers feed 6-7 months of the year. But if we cannot find a way to significantly improve profitability of cow/calf, perhaps we should be looking at other enterprises entirely.
Right now especially, and for a long time, sheep and goats have looked very good on paper compared to cow/calf! Especially when you consider they may be able to consume forages that your cattle were never even utilizing. But even in a grass production system, the conversation that opened my eyes was when somebody walked through the production capability of a 1,400 pound cow compared to 1,400 pounds of ewes. 1400 pounds of cow may produce around 600 pounds of calf. However, 1400 lbs of ewes can produce close to their own body weight in lamb by fall. And the price per pound of lamb even in past years is often times greater than the price per pound of beef!
This simple explanation finally knocked me out of a “never sheep, always cattle” paradigm that I had been in for a long time! Other producers are doing similar things with goats, and some use goats and sheep to perform services such as vegetation management under solar arrays or brush clearing in woodlands. Throw in a service charge for grazing and you can significantly improve enterprise profitability! If you want to learn more about sheep and goat production, check out this goat production video and this sheep production video we recorded this past winter with some successful Minnesota farmers.
In a future Connect I will discuss the possibility of seasonal grazing enterprises to reduce winter feed costs as well as direct marketing to significantly improve the price we receive for our products.