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How to Measure Beef Cattle Benchmarks 

Nutrient base expense ratio, labor and management, and unique operating expenses can help you refine financial ratios for your operation.
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In addition to standard benchmarks measuring financial health, you should also keep track of specific guidelines for beef cattle operations.  

These target levels, adapted from Adapted from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, are some suggestions of what you can use (see downloadable pdf below).

Collecting data to help evaluate herd performance is also important. But this time-consuming endeavor is a chore you might neglect. You should collect data with a purpose and there should be a clear vision for how you will use the information. For a cow-calf operation, there are a few key pieces of data that can be used to help paint a good picture of how the herd is performing. You can then track these benchmarks from year to year to help producers understand the dynamic of their herd’s performance.

Try these common cow-calf benchmarks, suggests the University of Maryland Extension:

  • Length of Calving Season: Calculate this by counting the number of days between when the first calf was born and when the last calf was born. In general, the more narrow the calving season, the more uniform the calves will be at weaning, which can be beneficial in terms of merchandising or making post-weaning management decisions. Some producers also prefer to keep the calving season narrow for their own time-management needs.
  • Pregnancy Rate: Calculate this by dividing the total number of females confirmed pregnant by the total number of females exposed for breeding, including those that did not conceive. This measurement can help producers determine if there are fertility issues with their cows or their bull. The Cow Herd Appraisal Performance Software (CHAPS) from North Dakota State University suggests aiming for a pregnancy rate of 94% or above.
  • Number of Cows Calving in the First 21 Days of Season: This number can give producers a rough idea of how fertile their cows were at the beginning of the breeding season. Ideally, about 60% of cows will calve during the first 3 weeks of the calving season. If fewer cows are calving at the beginning of the calving season than you want, it could indicate possible fertility issues at the beginning of the breeding season. A common culprit is low body condition of cows during breeding season, since they are still producing milk for their calves at this time. Addressing this nutritional issue may help to improve fertility and increase the percentage of cows calving earlier in the season.
  • Calf Death Loss: Calculate this by tracking the number of calves that die before weaning divided by the total number of calves born, including those that died. Ideally, producers should lose less than 3% of their calves each year.
  • Average Weaning Weight: This is an important measurement that can sometimes be hard to come by if a producer does not have access to a set of scales. However, weighing calves at weaning can be extremely helpful in evaluating productive performance of the cow-calf herd, since pounds of calf produced is ultimately the end-product of this type of operation. Weaning weight can reflect the effectiveness of a particular bull from a genetic standpoint as well as a cow’s milking ability.
  • Average Weight per Day of Age: Most beef herds to not collect birthweights on their calves. Unlike average daily gain, you can use average weight per day of age to evaluate growth in absence of a recorded birthweight. Calculate this by dividing the weaning weight of a calf by its age in days. This will give you an idea of the growth-potential of the calf and the cow’s milking ability.
  • Pounds of Calf Weaned per Cow Exposed: This value is perhaps one of the most important indicators of animal performance on the cow-calf operation. Calculate this by totaling the weaning weights for all the calves and dividing by the total number of cows that were bred during the previous breeding season regardless of whether or not they conceived. The overall target is for every cow in the herd to wean 50% or more of her body weight. Thus, a herd with an average mature cow body weight of 1,200 pounds should aim for about 600 pounds for this benchmark. Knowing the average body weight of the mature cows in the herd (3 years or older) can help refine this calculation and make it more applicable on an individual-farm-basis.

Download the Beef Cattle Benchmarks.

Want to see how your cowherd benchmarks compare to some others? The Iowa Beef Center offers this video to give you some comparisons.


Resources & Case Studies

Beef Cattle Benchmarks

Tailored Advice From Experts

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Additional Resources

Watch NCBA Environmental Stewardship Award Program (ESAP) winner profiles. See how the beef industry showcases its stewardship, conservation and business practices that work together on farms and ranches.

Blair Brothers Angus Ranch – South Dakota

Gracie Creek – Nebraska

Beatty Canyon Ranch – Colorado

JY Ferry & Son, Inc. – Utah

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