Many sources, including one country song, idolize football players as “the boys of fall”. I enjoy football myself, and the weather patterns of the season certainly add to the attraction. There are few events more entertaining than a competitive football game on a crisp afternoon.
The years spent on cattle ranches throughout the West have imbedded in my mind a more significant seasonal event. Each fall as cattle are gathered to wean the calves, ranchers anticipate the measurement of success as calves are moved onto scales for weighing. These steer calves become their “boys of fall”. This practice is the culmination of multiple aspects of cattle ranching.
Weaning weights denote the weather patterns of the season past. Was the grass excellent or did drought pinch the production? Did the weather support an overload of pesky flies or did the cattle gain in peace and contentment? Since precipitation is the primary component of plentiful grass, we compare the rainfall this year to other years.
Weaning weights also evaluate our production system and herd genetics. It becomes obvious if our efforts are successful or not. Once we know how we did we can start to analyze the changes that may be needed going forward. We decide what inputs we can and should change to positively affect a complex production partnership with nature.
A good rule of thumb on cow production is that a cow should wean a calf representing 50% or more of her body weight at seven to eight months of age. If you use early weaning for drought management or other production objectives, your calves will be lighter because they are younger. In such a case the percentage of body weight will be less but there will still be a significant range in your own herd between your most and least efficient cows.
Most importantly, these calves are the financial production for the year. Their weight and quality, coupled with our marketing, determine our ability to pay our bills, service any loans and move forward for another year. This is the annual reconciliation of our spending and our income that determines our viability as an ongoing and thriving business. It is the sum total of our decisions and actions throughout the year and the ultimate measure of our performance as ranchers.
I wish you the best. May your ‘boys of fall” be a winning team.
Story written by Merin Flake, life-long cattle rancher and ranch manager. Merlin now offers ranch management consulting. Please contact me if you would like to communicate with Merlin.