You remember analogies, right. From 6th grade Language Arts class – comparison between two things, typically on the basis of their structure and for the purpose of explanation or clarification. Here’s the thing though, you have to be sure you understand the things you are comparing with the analogy. Our state’s governor, Jay Nixon, recently tried his hand at an agriculture analogy. Instead of helping people get the point, it showed how he really didn’t understand the topic at hand.
Gov. Nixon was speaking to a local FFA group about the beef industry in Missouri. Missouri is the #2 state in cow/calf numbers. Governor Nixon stated, “It’s vitally important to add jobs and productivity to our farms.” Ok, that is true. So, as the #2 cow/calf producing state, we have 1.7 million cows and calves. Missouri finishes and harvests 75,000 of those. I’m going to give you a side note here that Missouri for 2014 had reports of 1.8 million cows. So we should have about 81 calves per 100 cows giving you a 90% conception rate at breeding time and a 10% death loss from birth to harvest. Those are just some industry standards. Some are more successful, some are less so. It’s an average. That would leave us with 1,458,000 calves to market. And it takes about a year and a half from birth to harvest. So in Missouri, we are roughly harvesting about 5% of our calf crop.
Now, let’s go back and pick up on the analogy that Governor Nixon tried to employ. “If we did with corn, what we do with the vast majority of beef in Missouri, we’d raise it. As soon as it tassels, we’d dig it up, put it in the back of a flatbed and drive it to Colorado and let them grow it the rest of the way and get that profit off it.”
If you’re an agriculturist let that sink in a moment. Think about just how little value there is in pre-tasseled corn. Now, think about the value in weaned calves. Does that work? I don’t think so. And here’s why…….
At the Governor’s Beef Summit on January 5th, Nixon once again spoke about his vision for the beef industry in Missouri. He stated he would like to see more cattle finished in Missouri. He said this is a big part of why Missouri ranks 2nd in beef cow inventory but ninth in cattle value. He had arranged to have several experts on a panel for discussion about the pros and cons of finishing cattle in MO. One of his experts, Justin Sexten, had some of the most practical input I read. Justin stated, “The biggest disadvantage I see is 42 inches of rainfall per year. Cattle don’t perform well in mud. The rain is an advantage, it grows grass, but it also makes a lot of mud.” He went on to say Missouri’s climate doesn’t usually have long runs of similar, predictable weather. “We don’t have a cattle-feeding season.”
Governor Nixon, I feel, is under the impression that nearly all Missouri cattlemen raise their calves to the weaning point then sell them to feedlot buyers in other states. I can speak to the fact that our own farm retains ownership of all our cattle through the feedlot to the finishing stage. That means we pay workers in Nebraska to do the daily care and feeding of calves that are 800 pounds to a finishing weight of 1,200 to 1,400 pounds. From weaning (this year our calves weaned off at about 600 pounds) until they reach the 800+ pounds, we feed the calves on our own smaller feedlots here in Audrain County. His statement that we send our “1.62 million (cattle) of them to Colorado, Nebraska or somewhere else” shows me he doesn’t have a good grip on the reality of where our cattle are going.) Do you know the top 5 states for cattle on feed? I do and Colorado is #5, not #1. The top 5 in order are: Nebraska, Texas, Kansas, Iowa and then Colorado. If you analyze that data you will see that Texas feeds a lot of the southern cattle. Colorado feeds a lot of cattle from the northern states. Why? Climate. Climate matters when you’re feeding cattle in a confinement setting for nearly 2/3 of their lives. So, we’re left with Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa for the majority of Missouri cattle. Similar climates, yet a difference – the one Justin Sexten pointed out. In Missouri our weather is like a yo-yo. Take just this week for instance. Yesterday we sorted cows in jeans and a sweatshirt. This morning wasn’t terribly cold but this afternoon we had snow. And it’s not abnormal for us to have this yo-yo. We seem to be constantly fighting radically changing weather conditions. This week, we should have temps in the 50’s. Cattle hair coats vary by season in order to help them not only survive but thrive in different types of weather. In the spring, cows and calves will often shuck their winter hair coat for a cooler summer coat. In the fall, as the temps begin declining, their heavier fall coat will begin coming back and by winter, they have their full, heavy winter coat. When our temperatures yo-yo, it causes stress in the cattle. They react by going off feed (not eating enough) or getting sick. This negatively impacts their gain. As does the mud. Missouri is known for muddy winters. Rarely do we have winters where the ground stays frozen from November through February. Calves that have to trudge through mud to get to feed and water are using more energy and, therefore, are gaining less weight per day. Less weight gain in cattle means diminished returns.
The market this fall was such that a weaning calf was worth somewhere around $1,200 to $1,500. Comparing that to pre-tasseled corn is so far off base it makes me wonder just how informed our governor is about the beef industry. I don’t expect him to be an expert unless he’s going to go on record with our youth, feeding them a line about how we need to change what we’re doing without understanding the science and economics behind it. And that, my friends, is why analogies are tricky.
Blessed to be a cattlewoman,