Education, change: beneficial discomforts

Cargill nutritionist pushes producers to reach for more


by Laura Conaway

March 2019

Change is the new constant. A cowman’s response to the ebb and flow of the industry is entirely up to the individual – but a choice is imminent.

That’s why Dusty Abney, cow-calf and stocker nutritionist for Cargill Animal Nutrition, called out a few of the areas where producers have had to adapt through the years: volatile markets and regulations for starters. That was just before he presented a plan to tackle the looming beast.

At Cargill, he explained, the philosophy driving success is “change before you’re forced to. Don’t be that guy who changes just for the sake of it, just because it sounds fun.” And don’t be the last person to get on the wagon, either.

“Change when the time is right” because it can be hard to stick the landing, he told a Cattlemen’s College crowd at this winter’s Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show in New Orleans.

“To know when to change, and to know what to change, you’ve got to do what may be the most difficult thing for any of you in the room to do, ever, and that’s ask for help.”

Stillness came from the seats.

“Do you do your own taxes?” Abney prodded. “Most of us don’t anymore, because it’s complicated. Hopefully you don’t do your own doctoring on yourselves. I know some of y’all do, and you need to quit it.”

Then came the laughter; the point resonating with it.

The same thing applies to the genetics you select for your cow herd, the management practices each one puts in place, he said.

dusty abney presenting

The bottom line is profitability, Abney said. If you’re not paying attention to the metrics that affect it, you don’t know if you are, in fact, accomplishing it.

Here are some traditions to break that Abney said can get in the way of that bottom line:

“When spending money on your program, don’t think of it as a necessary evil, rather what’s needed for your cattle to perform – an investment in future accomplishments.

“Don’t assume everything’s fine. If you’re happy with the status quo, you’re in the wrong session. Okay don’t get it done. Okay doesn’t make your heifers the ones people will pay top dollar for. Okay doesn’t produce the most pounds of beef per acre for the least amount of money. That’s what we should be trying to do.”

In the quest for profitability, it should be no surprise that a cow’s production takes top billing. Nutrition and health play a vital role in the process.

“Plain and simple, every 12 months we need a new calf hitting the ground. If she doesn’t do that, she needs to go to town,” Abney said. “If you love her, take her to McDonald’s and get her a Happy Meal, but don’t bring her home. Don’t make excuses about that.”

Seriously, the key to ensuring she’s not an after-school snack, Abney said, is to keep her nutrition up, particularly right after calving so her hormones can align, her uterus can shrink down and she begins to cycle.

“All you have to do is miss one breeding opportunity, and you’ve chewed up most of the margin in that cow,” – about $50-$60 lost for each cycle delayed – and if she’s open, “we just kept her all year for fun.”

It’s hugely important that she’s bred when she’s supposed to be bred, the nutritionist said.

“The best tradition to start right now is to get better.”

Specifically, that takes in what kind of beef will end up on someone’s table.

“Your name will literally be attached to what you make, soon,” he warned. “Get started producing quality now.”

Lastly, Abney urged cattlemen to keep records, and actually use them to make decisions.

“If you’re not doing anything with the records you take on your cow herd, you might as well fix fence or go fishing.”

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