Current Edition

current edition

A study by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found that the average cost per mature cow for feed is approximately $553 per year.

With such a large proportion of ranch input costs going toward feed, it can be beneficial for producers to use ration balancing tools to ensure that they are matching the nutritional needs of their herd.

One of the choice programs that University of Wyoming Beef Extension Specialist Steve Paisley recommends to producers is the Cowbytes system.


“Cowbytes is a ration evaluation program that’s produced by the University of Alberta in Canada,” says Paisley.

While the system does not find the least cost ration or include a pricing calculator, Paisley explains, “It simply helps us balance rations based on the cow’s requirements.”

The Cowbytes program is able to utilize a wide array of input data to make ration balancing decisions.

“When we type in the animal, we can put in weight, estimate breed composition and note whether or not we’re feeding ionophores or using implants,” he continues.

In addition to information about the specific animal, Cowbytes also takes into consideration certain environmental factors.

“Cowbytes also adjusts for temperature and wind speed. It’ll increase an animal’s requirements during cold weather,” notes Paisley.


Using a ration balancer such as Cowbytes can be particularly beneficial for helping producers assess how economical their programs are.

“For any cow/calf producer, backgrounding yards or anyone with a dry lot, it’s a chance to figure out if we’re close to meeting that animal’s requirements,” says Paisley. “We can develop rations to make sure we’re meeting their requirements and achieving the gains that we want.”

The Cowbytes program is well-complemented by utilizing a forage analysis, he continues.

“It really works well along with forage analysis, so hopefully we’re getting our forages analyzed and getting some results back. In this program, we can type in our forage analysis results and use the program to balance for stage of production, such as late gestation or lactation,” comments Paisley.

Set apart

According to Paisley, there are three primary factors that separate the Cowbytes system from other ration balancing programs.

“One factor is it’s very easy to use. It’s a stand-alone program, but it feels very much like an Excel spreadsheet. It’s pretty easy to navigate through and pretty easy to follow,” explains Paisley.

The Cowbytes system also has the capability to balance rations for all types of cattle.

“It’s one of the few programs that works for not only growing cattle but also mature cattle, as well as bulls,” he continues.

The final feature Paisley comments on is the system’s capability to take environmental factors into consideration.

“It’s one of the few programs that makes adjustments for temperature, which for us, especially this year, has been a prime example of making sure we adjust and meet the animal’s requirements during really cold weather,” comments Paisley.


Producers interested in trying the program are able to download a trial version off of the University of Alberta’s website at$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex12486.

“Downloading the program online is probably the easiest way to get it,” says Paisley.

If producers decide that they would like to purchase the program, there are multiple options for ordering.

“We can contact them at 780-427-0391 or online to purchase a license number to type in to activate our program,” Paisley continues.

The starting cost of the program is approximately $50, with a different program available for purchase for Mac computers.

Staff has compiled a variety of tutorials for using the Cowbytes system online, with topics such as entering data on a five-month pregnant cow, a backgrounding calf, using the water analysis section and how to configure Cowbytes 5.

Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

In a region of the country where wind can reach over 100 miles per hour, investing in windbreaks in range situations can not only improve cow and calf health, but also can improve performance and ultimately, a producer’s profits.

“If we lose three calves because of weather, we could have paid for a windbreak,” says Natrona County Extension Agriculture and Horticulture Educator Scott Cotton.


“A windbreak creates what we call an air movement shadow downwind behind it,” says Cotton.

For every one-foot increment in the height of the windbreak, there is approximately nine feet from the bottom of the backside of the windbreak that the wind is blocked.

“If we’re trying to shelter 100 feet, we really need a 10-foot-high wind break,” explains Cotton.

When planning the size to build a windbreak, producers need to estimate how many square feet they need sheltered and how many cattle they need to provide shelter for.

“If we figure that that every cow needs about 100 square feet to get out of the weather, then we’re going to need that 10-by-10 foot area behind the shelter for each cow,” he continues.


“Choosing the right location is about knowing what our drifting patterns are,” says Cotton.

He explains that placing windbreaks in the wrong location can result in drifts that form behind the windbreak that are nine times the length of the barrier.

“Along the railroads and highways, we put them quite a bit away so that the snow drifts and then scours again where we want it clear,” he continues.

From personal experience on their operation, Cotton notes that many producers should be able to identify problem areas on their land that need windbreaks.

“Most ranchers have been on their land so long that they have an idea of where the bad winds are and can put the windbreaks in, so it gives the cattle an opportunity to move in a logical direction,” says Cotton.

Cow behavior

Many ranchers will place windbreaks intermittently, such as in one-mile intervals.

Cotton explains, “Cattle will move about a mile downwind to get away from the wind.”

Cattle typically move away from the dominant wind until they find a location that is sheltered.

“This can be good when they come down to windbreaks,” he says. “It can be bad though if they go down into a creek bottom or somewhere the snow can blow right over them.”

Cotton notes that it is important to train cattle where windbreaks are and to use them in the event that the wind encourages animals to move in the opposite direction of windbreaks.

“If the wind pushes them in a direction away from the windbreaks, some will go to it if they’re really familiar with the windbreak,” he explains. “Others might turn straight downwind, and then we have problems.”

Other factors

When choosing a location to build a windbreak, it is also important for producers to consider ease of access in and out for livestock.

“We encourage producers to be sure that windbreaks are places that cattle can move in and out of, so they don’t get trapped and they also have access to water,” says Cotton.

Placing windbreaks in higher elevation areas can help improve access for cattle.

“The windbreaks on top of a hill are a lot safer than ones down in a creek bottom. They’re easier to see from the rancher’s perspective, too,” continues Cotton.

Providing thermal protection is another important goal for windbreak placement.

“Windbreaks usually face north-northwest, so the sun comes in from the southeast side and makes a warm spot out of the wind for the livestock,” he explains.

Another factor that producers should consider is whether to have a solid windbreak or leave small air gaps.

“The solid windbreaks tend to make a cleaner line drift behind it and sometimes creates blockages, whereas the ones with the little air gaps tend to feather the wind and makes it a more uniform and gentler line behind them,” he notes.


Cotton notes that while windbreaks can be made from a number of materials such as steel, wood or straw, choosing the most economical option will depend on material availability.

“If we’re in a timbering area, slat wood is pretty inexpensive. An average windbreak that’s a 100-foot-by-100-foot L-shape will probably cost $500 to $600 plus labor,” he says.

He notes that areas of the state that are not close to a lumber mill would require ranchers to use higher-quality materials, increasing the cost.

In some areas, producers may utilize snow from previous storms to build windbreaks.

“Some ranchers take a V-plow and build windbreaks out of snow. The only cost is fuel,” Cotton says. “The down side is, if we get a bad enough storm, that snow starts moving, and our wind break goes away.”

Using hay or straw to build a windbreak can serve multiple purposes, says Cotton.

“We typically use our low-quality hay. The cattle can get behind it as shelter, and they can just eat on the windbreak,” he concludes. “Some of those big square windbreaks can last two or three years successfully.”

Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Washington, D.C. – As President-elect Donald Trump prepare for inauguration on Jan. 20, the Public Lands Council (PLC) and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) released a document identifying their federal land management priorities “to bring responsible management and economic viability back to the western landscape.”

“This is just the beginning of a long transition process,” said Ethan Lane, PLC director. “Over the coming weeks and months, PLC staff will continue to communicate with the Trump Administration and members of the 115th Congress to ensure that ranchers who operate on public lands have operation certainty and that policy and regulations are based on sound science, common sense and the input from local stakeholders.”

Priority document

The document, titled, Charting a Path Forward: Federal Land Management in the New Administration, began with a letter issued by the PLC, NCBA, the American Sheep Industry Association and Association of National Grasslands, Inc., as well as 21 partner organizations in 11 western states, that emphasized the importance of federal land management in the West.

“In the past eight years, ranchers and other multiple use interests in the West have witnessed an almost wholesale shift in federal land management policy,” the letter read. “What was once – and statutorily continues to be – a clear directive to manage BLM lands for multiple use and sustained yield has instead shifted towards a wholesale focus on ‘conservation’ without responsible management.”

It further notes hope that the Trump Administration will re-evaluate policies and work with the livestock community to make necessary changes in federal land policies. 

PLC Secretary/Treasurer and Wyoming rancher Niels Hansen commented, “This process started a long time ago, and right after we saw the outcome of the election, we really began working hard to get our priorities together.”

He noted that there are no new issues on their priority list, and they prioritized their top issues.

“Trump’s team sent out word to everyone – not just agriculture, but everyone – to come up with bullet points,” Hansen explained. “They didn’t want lengthy documents, but they were looking for bullet points on the regulations that negatively affect businesses that the administration can quickly address.”

NCBA and PLC pulled together in Denver, Colo. in early December and created a rough outline of their issues. Then, the draft was finalized and sent out to partnering organizations to sign on.

“We’ve been sitting on the document until it was finally legal to communicate to the transition team,” Hansen said, “and after the first of the year, we rolled it out.”

Top issues

The nine-page document addresses the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service, National Environmental Policy Act reform, litigation reform, tax reform, presidential budget and congressional appropriations.

Within the first 100 days in office, the Associations are calling on the administration to bring an immediate halt to the Sage Grouse Resource Management Plans, repeal the sprawling monument designations made through abuse of the Antiquities Act, address the critical habitat designations imposing stifling restrictions on landowners and immediately withdraw EPA’s Waters of the United States rule and the BLM’s Planning 2.0 rule.

Hansen emphasized, “We’ve got to get BLM’s Planning 2.0 rolled back. We’ve also got some major issues with the Forest Planning documents.”

He also said that language must be adopted to pull back implementation of sage grouse plans.

“Prior to the election, we were told that BLM was going to take three years to roll out the sage grouse plans,” Hansen commented. “One of the guys that helped us already got notice that they have kicked back his turnout date from April to the first of July. That is a major impact.”

Other side of D.C.

With a list of issues in hand, Hansen and several other PLC members hit the Hill in Washington, D.C. to visit with congressmen and women.

“We went to the Hill and met with as many as the offices as we could get into,” Hansen said. “We handed them the document and explained the urgency of our points. We wanted to make sure they had a face to put with the issue to understand what’s going on in our world.”

He also commented that the atmosphere of Washington, D.C. has changed in the wake of the election.

“It’s a whole different atmosphere in Washington, D.C., a totally different place from the last eight years,” Hansen said. “It’s really exciting.”

“Ranchers and other multiple-use interests in the West have been subjected to an almost wholesale shift in federal land management policy under the Obama administration,” said Dave Eliason, PLC president. The priorities laid out by the Associations are necessary to restore balance to federal land management and set an agenda that will ensure that ranchers can continue their tradition of stewardship well into the future.”

This article was compiled from the released document, several press releases and an interview with Niels Hansen by Saige Albert, managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Snowy and blustery storm fronts moving in hint at the upcoming arrival of winter to Wyoming.

As cattle producers make seasonal preparations, University of Wyoming (UW) Extension Beef Specialist Steve Paisley encourages them to consider their fall and winter supplementation programs to optimize both cow and fetal performance.

“If we can strategically supplement that cow and get her up to an optimal body condition going into calving, it’s much easier to do it in the fall and early winter than it is to add weight to a cow that is producing milk,” stresses Paisley.

Body condition

Supplementation programs vary throughout the year depending on forage quality and stage of production, says Paisley.

“The quality of our base forage is going to determine what type of supplement we need,” he explains. “The other part is what stage of production our cows are in.”

Determining when to begin supplementing is largely influenced by body condition of cattle.

“It starts by evaluating our cows and deciding the current condition of our cows,” continues Paisley.

The goal is to have mature cows at a body condition score of five as they enter calving season.

“They may need to gain weight to get them to a body condition score of five, and that will affect what supplement we use,” explains Paisley.

He also advises that producers evaluate the quality of the forage they are feeding to determine if body condition goals can be met with it.

“Then we can combine the data from the grass and hay and then determine what kind of production we need out of our cows,” continues Paisley.


During late fall, most cows are in the middle third of gestation, explains Paisley.

“Their energy requirements are relatively low, and they’ve got plenty of forage out there, so typically we supplement with a high protein supplement during this time of year because winter quality grasses or winter forage are relatively low in protein,” says Paisley.

Winter forages average four percent protein. In order to adequately digest forage, he notes that the diet needs to be approximately seven percent protein.

Protein supplementation in the winter is beneficial for two reasons, says Paisley.

First, protein supplementation improves the digestibility of winter forages.

“The rumen microbes are able to break down the forage and get more utilization of the grass that’s out there,” he comments.

Paisley also explains that protein supplementation increases forage intake.

“They’re breaking down grass faster in the rumen, and it moves through their system faster they’re able to eat more, plus, protein has a little bit of a hormonal influence that actually increases intake on its own,” says Paisley.

As cattle move closer to calving, Paisley notes that the diet transitioned to an energy supplement and harvested forages are primarily fed.

“Their energy requirements have gone up quite a bit and the overall protein value of the forage increases because it’s harvested. Now, the cows are needing energy,” he says.


If possible, Paisley suggests that producers sort cattle into groups based on their body condition.

“Sort our cows into groups, where we have a group that is in good condition and they probably don’t need as much supplement versus thinner cows that need some more supplement,” he says. “If a producer has the ability to sort those cows and then tailor a program to each of those groups, that’s the best scenario.”

Paisley notes that if all animals are in the same group, producers will feed to increase the body condition of the thinnest animals.

“Maybe not all of them need to gain weight, so sorting them into groups may reduce our overall supplement cost,” continues Paisley.

In general terms, the approach in developing a winter supplementation program is the same for producers across Wyoming.

“If we’re grazing a dormant grass or winter forage, they’re all going to be relatively low in protein and energy,” he explains. “Typically, we’re going to supplement protein in the fall and early winter, then include more energy as the cow’s requirements increase in late winter and spring.”

However, Paisley comments that some areas of the state are able to utilize crop residues, which will alter available nutrients slightly.

“For example, if we’re in southeastern Wyoming, we may utilizing corn stalks or corn residue. It’s going to be tailored a little bit to the quality and the type of forage that we have,” concludes Paisley.

Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

There are many things to consider when making a decision on whether raising or buying replacement heifers is the best situation for the ranch. These include feed costs, labor availability and costs, environmental factors, genetics, prices, tax implications, etc. It’s not always easy to figure out what might be best – and it may change from one year to another.

Lee Schulz, assistant professor in economics from Iowa State University, says BEEF Magazine did a recent survey that showed about 83 percent of producers hold back heifers to expand and about 37 percent buy heifers additionally.

“There are some combinations of that, since many ranchers retain heifers, as well as buy some. USDA’s survey also showed that about 83 percent hold back heifers,” he comments. “Many people raise their own but still take advantage of opportunities to buy, due to accelerated expansion in recent years and the current cattle cycle.”

  “There have been very strong profits lately, so producers wanted to take advantage of this and expand their herds,” he says.

Making the decision

“It’s not always a very clear cut decision whether to raise or buy replacements. We really have to look closely to see if it really costs us less to raise them than buy them,” Schulz says. “There are significant costs and some risks in developing heifers.”

Of the risks, Schulz says the time between retaining a heifer and getting a payout in the form of a calf is lengthy.

“On the flip side, there is also a bit of risk on the open market in terms of availability,” he continues.

“We went through that in 2013 through 2015, seeing historic high prices for replacement heifers,” he says. “There is some risk in selling heifer calves and then going out in the open market and purchasing bred heifers.”

There are risks and advantages both ways, and producers doesn’t always know which would be best.

Using tools

“We have some tools to help ranchers in these decisions, such as looking at the net present value of those heifers. This investment decision – either raising their own heifers or purchasing them on the open market – is a longer term investment, anticipating getting at least five, six or more calves out of that replacement animal,” Schulz comments.

Producers must consider not only the conditions in the market at the time but also the longer term regarding what the prices and costs are going to be, he says.

“It is very important to budget out that decision, not only today but also going forward into the future. If a rancher is purchasing heifers, they have to look at that multi-year gain potential in genetics and realize it’s not just a one-year investment. The genetic potential will exist over the life of that productive female,” says Schulz.

Sometimes a person can go out and buy genetics that are better in certain aspects than what they already have. , sometimes the genetics they’ve worked many years to create are better suited for the purposes of the ranch, he says.

Raising heifers

“When looking at this decision, in terms of selling heifer calves and purchasing replacements, producers are assuming that they have on-farm feed production and facilities that would not be used if they weren’t being used for stocker production,” Schulz adds.

First, he suggests looking at feed resources. Feed that would be used to develop heifers should be considered at market value.

“But maybe there’s more potential for holding back more females and decreasing culling rate, and perhaps that return would be higher by putting the feed through the cattle instead of selling it,” Schulz says. “There are many factors at play, and each producer must make their own decision.”

He continues, “It’s difficult to give any rule of thumb because there is a lot of variability in expectations of price and costs, not only for the individual operation but also looking forward.”

It’s always a gamble as ranchers try to pencil it out and predict what the costs might be. The more homework they can do, the better off they are and more able to make the right kind of gamble.

“It’s very important to do a lot of sensitivity analysis around the assumptions for price, costs and productivity to look at what is really the best case scenario and what is the worst case scenario,” Schulz comments.  “Ranchers need to really look at where the risks are, in each situation.”

Final choices

Producers are advised to buy bred heifers if it truly costs less to buy them rather than raise them and if they value alternative uses of the money and time spent raising heifers, the reduced need for “heifer” bulls, and if they want to grow their herd faster, with an increased number of productive females sooner.

“It’s also an evolving situation. What might be better one year might not be better in another. Producers need to look at these things each time they try to make this decision,” says Schulz.

Some of the tools provided by economic research and analysis at the various universities can be helpful.

He comments, “We developed several tools in the height of this expansionary phase, and I think they have been used a lot by producers. These can help producers educate themselves on various aspects of this important decision.”

Heather Smith Thomas is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..