If you’re interested in producing replacement females for your herd like we are at Legends Cattle Company, then you’ve probably considered the right size cow for your operation. When I started building my herd 20 years ago, I assumed that bigger was better. And when I purchased bulls for my breeding herd, I would go to bull sales where they sold bulls that could achieve impressive yearling weights, but they poured feed to the calves. Impressed by the growth in these animals I used them in my breeding but unfortunately, it seemed that these bulls just couldn’t get enough to eat at my ranch and their offspring were very similar. I would take the bulls out of the pasture after a breeding season and have to put them ‘on feed’ for a few months so they could be ready for the next breeding season.
What I’ve learned over the years from research and my own experience is that there’s likely a natural size animal that fits natural environments. Natural environment is what causes deer to be larger in some areas than others, for example. In our environment, we have lots of rainfall and lots of grass, but still struggle to keep a cow much larger than about 1,200 pounds. They may look great during certain times of the year and production cycles, but when things aren’t perfect (such as when the cow is in early to mid-lactation or the grass starts to get dull in mid-summer), those cows will melt like an ice cube.
The data shows that cows have steadily gotten larger–50% larger–since the 1980s when the seedstock industry started chasing the ‘bigger is better’ philosophy. Economic studies show that these larger cows have much higher maintenance requirements (higher than natural forage can provide) and the additional production is not worth the added expense. So in other words, cows might become more profitable up to about 1,250 pounds but as they get larger, to 1,400 or 1,500 pounds, they become less profitable.
How do we keep our cow size in check?
At Legends, we don’t have any particular cow size that we think is the right fit. Instead, we control the environment such that all animals, whether a brood cow, breeding bull, replacement heifer or developing bull, are almost exclusively being managed on forage. The animals that rise to the top in our environment are the individuals that will be selected for our breeding herd and offered to customers. Those that can’t survive and thrive in our pastures are offered to feedlots and meatpackers.
What size cow seems to thrive in our pastures? The mature cows that exceed 1,250 pounds struggle in our environment. Instead, as we utilize herd sires from our Legendary females, we continue to stack generations of greatness in every new calf.
We look forward to continuing to improve and refine our pasture-based, 365 day grazing program for those customers that are looking for the right size cow for your operation and the breeding stock to run on their pastures.