University Missouri Extension pilots beef record-keeping project

Measuring a cow's weight

The University of Missouri Extension began a three-year project in March to help beef producers improve whole-herd record-keeping.

MU Extension specialists in Columbia, Albany, and Savannah worked with three northwestern Missouri producers to record and compare whole-herd production data, said livestock specialist Shawn Deering. By comparing individual and herd data to regional and national standards, they hope to help producers decide which cows to keep and which ones to cull.

Specialists collected data on cows and calves. They evaluated age, breed, weight, body condition score, disposition, and days pregnant, if available. They gathered birthdate, breed, sex, dam, sire (if available), and weight on calves.

They used this data to monitor herd and individual animal performance in northwestern Missouri herds. “Early data collection has already generated some interesting information related to mature cow weight,” Deering says. Specialists compared data from the 500 head of cows to accepted industry standards, he says. National industry standards may differ greatly from regional herd data.

For example, producers, veterinarians, beef nutritionists, and university experts accept 1,200 pounds as the industry standard. However, cows used in this project weighed from 662 to 1,730 pounds. “That is a 1,068-pound difference between the lightest cow weighed and the heaviest cow,” Deering says.

The lightest animal was a first-calf heifer and the heaviest was a 7-year-old mature cow. “Obviously, the age gap does explain part of the difference, but that is still a wide range,” he says. Environment, forage base and marketing plan should all factor into the ideal cow size for individual producers, says Deering. Bigger cows consume more feed and cost more to maintain. “Our hope is that this project will give us a good idea of current average cow size in northwest Missouri and serve as a guide to determine what the ideal for our area might be,” he says.

For more information on the project, contact MU Extension veterinarian Craig Payne, 573-882-7848; state beef nutritionist Eric Bailey, 573-884-7873; livestock specialist Jim Humphrey, 816-324-3147; or livestock specialist Shawn Deering, 660-726-5610.