Sometimes a common theme seems to pop up and take over at times in terms of writing a column on a sector for some 20-plus years, and this month it seems to be the changing view of the optimum size of cattle.
The Yorkton summer fair a couple of weeks ago brought the moderation in the size of beef cattle into focus for me.
It was following the fair I wrote about how show judges at the exhibition were not automatically looking at the biggest animal in the show ring for the red ribbon.
It was at the Regional 4-H Beef Show at the Ex’ , Judge Gerry Bertholet talked about moderate frames in his comments, and in heifer classes big females were not always class winners over more moderate-sized ones.
And the Saskatchewan Angus Gold show judge Garner Deobold remarked in an interview with this writer about how big might have been the key to winning a decade ago, but it was no longer automatic. He said while small cattle don’t have the efficiencies needed by the industry, and suggested in some situations big can work, moderation is where the industry is now focused.
However, there has at times been a disconnect between what judges look for in the show ring, and what works best on the farm.
In this case that may well be why this recent trend is rather interesting because ranchers seem to have already come to the conclusion a more moderate-sized cow may well be the more profitable.
Ivan Olynyk for one, is a producer who thinks smaller is better.
Olynyk used to run purebred red Angus and while he sold out his herd a few years ago, he did not stay out of the business, purchasing a few cows to run on a quarter section of grass he has divided into small grass cells allowing for rotational grazing.
Olynyk said he believes the trend toward bigger cows and calves was made because there was cheap barley through the years to feed them. That is no longer the case, and as cereal crops have risen in value, with a likelihood they will stay higher than in the past, cattleman have to turn back to grass.
With an eye to maximizing grass Olynyk said he had always been interested in seeing just how efficient pasture could be by utilizing rotational grazing, the reason fenced 30 paddocks on the quarter section.
Olynyk next went looking for some smaller framed cows, ones he thought might fit better into a low maintenance system, settling on some belted-Galloway weighing it at about 1000-pounds.
“The Galloway go out and graze a couple of hours, then sit down and ruminate,” he said. “The big cows (from the stockyards) have to graze longer.”
The smaller cows will not produce the same calf of larger cows, but Olynyk said gross dollars are not the key to profitability.
“It’s not how much you get in town at the end, but how much it cost to get there,” he said.
And that is of course the key, controlling input costs and maximizing returns, and that is where grass and smaller cows can shine.