Designing a plan, carrying out a plan, and then evaluating that plan are key components of herd management.
Herd management encompasses a wide range of topics. Grazing rotations, cattle marketing plans, record keeping, herd health protocols, and ranch budgets and benchmarking are all items that fall under herd management.
Define a goal.
The choices you make will affect the livelihood of the cattle as well as the business profitability. Therefore, making calculated decisions is key. As with any business, a budget and goals should be made. Decisions should reflect the goals of the operation in accordance with the budget limitations.
Define a market.
Based on the goals of the operation, strategies should be in place to market calves. Are you raising feeders? Replacements? Show stock? Are you appealing to a more niche market such as grassfed or local beef? The market for each of these categories is different. Knowing your clientele can lead to developing cattle that are more profitable within there respected division. Understand your market. Markets fluctuate. Feed prices go up and market prices go down. Be flexible and prepared for change. Which is, however, easier said than done.
Keep detailed, accurate records.
You cannot manage what you do not measure. It is natural for animal caretakers to be focused on the animal and ranch operations, but failing to devote time to business operation tasks can lead to terminal consequences for the ranch. Animal identification, treatment records, pasture rotations, and birth dates are all important records to keep. Recording body condition scores can help compare pasture production, supplement strategies, genetics, and aid in culling decisions.
Define a calving season.
For cow/calf producers, defining a calving season helps more accurate and precise management to be applied. Managing a singular group of calves is significantly easier than managing a bunch of individual animals. In the same fashion, managing cows during breeding season is also easier in larger groups. Nutritional management, record keeping, and health maintenance will all benefit from a defined calving season.
Herd management can seem like a daunting task. Setting realistic expectations based on ranch goals will result in improvements. Before making decisions remember to consider your environment, your capabilities, and your limitations. Not all strategies will work on every operation and every environment.