As winter hints of an end and spring draws my crocuses out of the ground, I spend time putting together my spring shipment schedule. The growing season in Nebraska dictates that many bovines leave the home ranch in the late fall when Mother Nature signals the end of the growing season. After wintering at my feed yard, spring and summer finds these animals ready to make beef.
Good timing enables the ultimate goal as both the environmental footprint of my farm and the quality of my beef rely on my instincts of when to ship cattle to the packing plant.
My judicious dedication to timely cattle shipment makes me a good farmer.
It ensures that an optimal amount of resources (animal feed and water) creates the ultimate nutrient packed, great tasting beef product that we feed to our families.
If I do not feed my cattle long enough, then their beef may be less tender and not provide the best eating experience. If I feed them too long, then the additional resources of my farm are turned into fat that must be trimmed off of the meat before it is packaged to sell to you. I honor the resources of my farm as well as my customers when I do it right; and I get a report card from the packing plant each time that I ship cattle.
There are two main components to figuring the optimal time to ship a group of cattle:
- Looking at the numbers.
- Looking at the cattle.
I feed cattle off of the same ranches almost every year, so I start the process of figuring a shipment date by looking at the report card from the previous year. Did I get an “A” last year, or do I need to make changes to the feeding plan?
I then look at the:
- Initial weight of the animals when they arrive at the feed yard from the home ranch
- The estimated average daily gain (which I calculate looking at past years’ performance)
- The appropriate shipment weight of the animals based on the genetics, age, and phenotype
Using these three numbers, I can theoretically predict the appropriate shipment date. As much as perfection would make life on the farm easier, weather often wreaks havoc with a good plan. Consequently, it is very important to look at each group of animals after figuring the numbers (keeping in mind the weather patterns of the recent months) to make sure that life in the real world fits the plan drafted on paper.
Good timing relative to shipping cattle to the packing plant is both an art and a science. It also requires an inherent desire to be a responsible steward as market conditions may often tempt a cattle feeder to not remain dedicated to timely shipments.
I view good timing as one of the ways that my farm excels at sustainability and the judicious use of resources…