BeefTalk: 2018 Cow-Calf Production Benchmarks

By Kris Ringwall, Beef Specialist, NDSU Extension

Commercial beef producers joined the “500 Club” in pounds weaned per cow
exposed, according to the 2018 Cow Herd Appraisal Performance Software (CHAPS)

The new benchmark is 502 pounds and illustrates better understanding of
benchmarks. This knowledge is critical because it allows producers to gauge,
adjust and keep track of cattle production based on long-term benchmarks within
the industry.

You cannot change what you do not measure. Measurement of a trait through time
helps make active decisions to lower, maintain or increase that trait within the
herd. Begin by knowing the level at which the cow-calf enterprise is

The NDSU Dickinson Research Extension Center calculates yearly averages of beef
cow herd data from producers. The CHAPS team calculates five-year rolling
average benchmarks from herds with at least 50 cows that have been in CHAPS for
three years or more. Yearly averages are good, but a rolling five-year average
buffers yearly ups and downs in the data.

A review of the 2018 benchmarks is a worthy read because understanding normal,
or in this case typical, performance allows producers to better understand how
to set and guide individual herd goals. Overall reproductive traits, expressed
in percentages of cows exposed, and some growth traits, expressed in pounds, are

The typical CHAPS producer has 93.7 percent of the cows that were exposed to
bulls be pregnant in the fall, with 93.1 percent calving in the spring. In the
fall, 91 percent of the cows that were exposed to bulls weaned a calf.

During a typical calving season, 63.2 percent calved during the first 21 days,
87.6 percent during the first 42 days and 96.1 percent within the first 63 days.
The average age of the cows was 5.6 years.

Calf age, growth and weaning numbers were as follows: age, 193 days; weight, 557
pounds; and frame score, 5.2. The weight per day of age was 2.9 pounds and the
average daily gain was 2.5 pounds.

“Pounds weaned per cow exposed to the bull” is a trait that factors in
management and genetics in cattle production. For every cow exposed, CHAPS
producers weaned 502 pounds of calf.

Interestingly, benchmarks do not vary very much across years, which is
indicative of a mature cow-calf business. Because of the maturity of the
cow-calf business, cattle producers have developed stable production practices
that, in some cases, cross generations of beef producers.

Minor ups and downs may occur, but newsworthy changes are seldom. Some
individual operations will experience what one might call Mother Nature trauma,
but those operations have little they can do about those events, other than to
have an emergency response plan in place. As an aside, that emergency response
plan needs practice, so go over those plans at least once a year.

Back to the benchmarks. The good news, although small, is that pounds weaned per
cow exposed benchmarks for 2018 reached the “500 Club,” with an average
benchmark of 502.

That’s good news because the industry has been on a five-year run of lower
pounds weaned per cow exposed. That number was 499 pounds for 2013, 496 pounds
for 2014, 495 pounds for 2015, 494 pounds for 2016 and 498 pounds for 2017.
These may not seem like huge differences, but the trend is good.

Prior to that, the benchmark for pounds of calf weaned per cow exposed had been
quite consistent. Historically (10-plus years ago), the benchmark was 500 pounds
for 2005, and 502 pounds for 2006 and 2007. In 2008, the benchmark for pounds
weaned per cow exposed was again at 500 pounds, and it was at 507 pounds for
2009, 505 pounds for 2010, 503 pounds for 2011 and 501 pounds for 2012.

Interestingly, the average producer has not been able to sustain the 500-pound
threshold in recent years, so I guess we will wait to see if the “500 Club”
pound mark holds.

Has the industry changed much? Not really. Is 500 pounds the right number? Well,
each producer has to determine what fits the operation.

However, CHAPS has been calculating the number since the mid-1980s, and after
many years of evaluations of CHAPS herds, 500 pounds is doable and a logical
goal. A tweak could be that those producers with lower input may accept a little
fewer pounds at weaning, but again, each producer needs to do what is right for
that person’s operation and checkbook.

But the discussion today is simply benchmarks. And as stated earlier, benchmarks
allow a producer to measure managerial changes on the operation.

Fall is a good time to review the status of the beef operation as the calves
come home. Sitting on the fence and watching the cattle walk by is good, but
numbers are needed to offer the details for a proper evaluation. Do you know
your pounds of calf produced per cow exposed?

May you find all your ear tags.

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