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The Season of Neglect
By: Eldon Cole, University of Missouri Extension - 07/31/2020

Midsummer might be considered "the season of neglect" for many beef cattle owners. They are busy with hay harvest, maybe wheat harvest, or perhaps still combining fescue seed. Many have off-farm employment, so the above tasks are taken up after you arrive home from your real job.

Maybe you'll find a little time to check the cattle, but it's probably a "quick check" and not one that detects an eye problem starting to develop. It might not find a lame herd bull incapable of breeding cows. If you're in a really big hurry, you may not even take time to notice whether there's any salt/mineral in the mineral feeder.

The water supply should also be given a look whether it's a stream, pond or an automatic waterer. Almost every year in a hot, dry time, someone has a story to tell about their cattle or a neighbor's going without water for a period of time. Most of the time no damage is done, but we've all heard of real disasters.

While checking the cattle, don't fail to take a look along fencerows where wild cherry trees may have several limbs blown off in case of a summer storm. Once again, it's rare to have deaths from downed cherry trees but it can occur.

If you are an electric fence user there's another item that you need to inspect during your cattle checking rounds. Then don't forget the self-treating fly control devices, such as back rubs and dust bags. They are one of the most reliable means of fly control, but they must have insecticides in or on them to be effective.

All of these little items I've referred to certainly add up in a year's time as labor required to operate a cow-calf or stocker enterprise. In fact, most of your labor likely centers around harvesting and feeding forage. Each year some of us help University of Missouri Extension economists develop budgets. These budgets help persons such as lenders or farmers themselves plan their own future ventures.

In recent years we've focused considerable attention on the hours of labor required in Missouri beef enterprises. For 2020, the hours we used are eight per cow. The labor cost per hour is $14.97, giving the total cost per cow, per year as $119.76.

If you're a stocker operator, the labor per head is 2.5 hours if you background during the winter. A summer pasture background operator has 1.5 hours per head. The cost per hour of labor is $14.97 or the same as for a cow-calf farm.

We know the labor requirement varies tremendously from one operation to another. Smaller operations require more time per cow than a larger firm. If you harvest your forage, labor will be greater than if you buy hay. Another variable is travel distance from pasture-to-pasture. The list goes on, and I'll agree our extension budget is only a starting point that gives you something to think about.

Time spent checking cattle pays off, if it prompts you to take action. I remember several years back I asked a number of cattlemen in southwest Missouri what their secret of success was in the cattle business, and one wife quickly said, "We look at them a lot." Do you look at your cattle a lot this time of year?

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