COLUMNS: Big cow, little cow – does size really matter?

There have been a lot of studies trying to calculate whether the size of a mother cow makes a difference.

There have been a lot of studies trying to calculate whether the size of a mother cow makes a difference to the profitability of the ranch operation.

From my reading it seems that the bigger the cow, the smaller the relative size of the calf.  Conversely a smaller cow weans a calf, which is relatively bigger as a percentage of the mother’s size, than the calves of the bigger cows.

Larger cows wean more pounds each, but running more, smaller cows, on the same amount of land probably means more pounds of calves.

They may be smaller calves but then the price per pound of smaller calves has been higher.

One measure is how many pounds of calves are weaned and ready for sale on the same land and feed base as the larger cows. Then you have to account for the higher price for the smaller calves.

On open range a cow unit (Animal unit Month, AUM)  is based on a 1000 pound cow, but you can run 1,300 to 1,400-pound cows and pay the roughly $3 per AUM. But once on private pasture or your own hay this advantage is not there.

It is cheaper to run the larger cows on open range than it is the smaller ones. So this needs to be taken into account. But pasture rates are not the big item.

Private pasture costs about $15-30 per animal per month, usually closer to $18.

So, over six months, it might cost $70 more on private land to keep that cow on private versus the public pasture.

Bigger cows are economically more efficient during the summer pasturing time because they bring in more pounds of calves at a lower cost.

But something like 60 per cent of the cost of keeping a cow is in the winter feeding, so the real test is what is the profit per acre of land or per pound of feed.

Here is where the smaller cows appear to shine.

While some studies say larger cows are more efficient at feed conversion. Most studies say the opposite.

One recent study at the University of Wyoming shows the big cow ranch (similar to B.C.s average size) had a four year average of $139,000 gross income, whereas the small cow ranch produced $173,000.

Another study from Auburn University concluded: “the cost of the extra feed required maintaining the heavier cows for a year will not be offset by the additional pounds of calf produced and their market value.”

Conclusion from the Auburn study: “Don’t let your cows get too large. Smaller cows are more efficient with their feed usage than larger cows.”

There needs to more data from operations here so we know our facts but research from away points to needing smaller cows but more of them on the same land base is the way to go.

The real consideration is what is the cost per pound on your operation.  Calculation input costs and depreciation on the cows is also important. Some suggest smaller cows live longer and produce more calves over their lifetime.

Others may differ in their opinion. Perhaps the secret to success is to find cows from your own place or from somewhere else that fit your particular environment.

David Zirnhelt is a member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association and chair of the advisory committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching program which started at Thompson Rivers University in Williams Lake this January.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The wind has been gusting Friday, March 5 in Williams Lake with the risk of a thunderstorm in the forecast for later in the afternoon. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
More than 500 customers in Cariboo without power, risk of thunderstorm Friday afternoon

The BC Hydro map is adding more power outages as the afternoon unfolds

The two suspects arrested south of 150 Mile House Tuesday, March 2, following a high-speed chase with the RCMP have been charged. (Will Roberts photo)
High-speed chase suspects charged, remain in custody after arrest south of Williams Lake

John Craig and Maggie M. Higgott appeared in Williams Lake Provincial Court March 4

Interior Health reported 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5. (Black Press Files)
Interior Health reports 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5

Over 300,000 vaccine doses have been administered provincewide.

Many members of the Williams Lake Cross Country Ski Club (pictured) have teamed up with the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society to host a free ski in celebration of World Water Day. (Patrick Davies photo - Black Press Media)
Conservation society, cross country ski club, celebrate World Water Day with free ski March 6

The free ski will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 6 at Bull Mountain

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C. on the COVID-19 situation. (B.C. government)
Dr. Bonnie Henry predicts a ‘post-pandemic world’ for B.C. this summer

‘Extending this second dose provides very high real-world protection to more people, sooner’

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Malawian police guard AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines after the shipment arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi, Friday March 5, 2021. Canada is expecting its first shipments of AstraZeneca vaccine next week. (Associated Press/Thoko Chikondi)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 cases climb to 634 Friday, four more deaths

Currently 255 people in hospital, 66 in intensive care

A crashed helicopter is seen near Mt. Gardner on Bowen Island on Friday March 5, 2021. Two people were taken to hospital in serious but stable condition after the crash. (Irene Paulus/contributed)
2 people in serious condition after helicopter goes down on Bowen Island

Unclear how many passengers aboard and unclear where the helicopter was going

Surrey Pretrial in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. transgender inmate to get human rights hearing after being held in mostly male jail

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal member Amber Prince on March 3 dismissed the pretrial’s application to have Makayla Sandve’s complaint dismissed

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

The Netflix logo on an iPhone. B.C. delayed imposing sales tax on digital services and sweetened carbonated beverages as part of its response to COVID-19. Those taxes take effect April 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Matt Rourke
B.C. applies 7% sales tax on streaming, vaping, sweet drinks April 1

Measures from 2020 budget were delayed due to COVID-19

Chief Don Tom of the Tsartlip First Nation was outraged after Green MLA Adam Olsen revealed on social media that the community had been experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak – a fact the First Nation had chosen to keep private to avoid racist backlash as experienced by the Cowichan Tribes when an outbreak was declared there in January. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation ‘outraged’ after Green MLA reveals COVID-19 outbreak

Tsartlip First Nation chief shares concerns about racist backlash, MLA apologizes

A lawyer wears a face mask and gloves to curb the spread of COVID-19 while waiting to enter B.C. Supreme Court, in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, Aug. 28, 2020. British Columbia’s highest court has sided with the land owner in a dispute over public access to public land. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. high court finds in favour of large landowner in fight over access to pair of lakes

The Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club launched legal action after the cattle company blocked road and trail access

Most Read