Faxon identifies nutrition, genetics, carcass and health as top management areasWritten by Saige Albert
When considering nutrition, animal health, genetics, reproduction and cattle marketing, Greg Faxon of Zoetis notes that no one factor is more or less important than the other when it comes to raising cattle.
The five areas – which Faxon refers to as the “Foundational Five” – are each essential in managing a cowherd.
“These areas are all important,” he says. “The reality is they interact so much that we can’t prioritize one area over another.”
Using management of all areas, Faxon notes that producers can increase the productivity of their livestock.
Starting with nutrition, Faxon notes that the subject is very broad and complex.
“The reality of it is that ruminant nutrition is not an easy subject, but basic nutrition is,” he explains. “We all know that cows need water, protein and energy, but knowing the ins and outs and being able to define nutrition requirements for a specific cow at a specific time isn’t easy.”
Nutrition impacts reproduction, growth and the immune system of cows and calves, making it a tremendous component of health and management.
“One of the things that can happen with nutrition is that we spend a lot of money on things we don’t need and no money on the things we need,” Faxon adds. “Somewhere in the middle is ideal.”
With nutrition under control, Faxon notes that genetic technology has tremendous potential to affect the bottom line of a ranch, with the potential to impact performance, marketing and more.
“Genetics has a pretty big impact on our daily operations,” he says. “Technology is moving fast when it comes to genetics.”
For example, Faxon sees that in the future, PAP score and cow longevity will be integrated into expected progeny differences (EPDs).
Faxon notes that crossbreeding has the potential to influence the herd, as well.
“Crossbreeding has decreased dramatically in the last 20 years because it is difficult to manage,” he says. “Some of the decrease has to do with buyer mentality, too.”
While the first generation females may be impressive animals, Faxon also notes that another challenge comes in breeding those females.
At the same time, he comments, “There is more variability within the breeds than across the breeds.”
“The average Angus, Hereford and Charolais aren’t much different, but there are tremendous differences within the Angus breed,” Faxon says. “We have to have more information about the animals we are selecting and utilizing to make changes in the direction we want to go.”
Carcass and performance
“Our knowledge and ability to apply that knowledge in genetics will be where advancement happens as it relates to carcass selection,” Faxon says, noting that current marketing programs target specific windows to leverage high-dollar cattle.
As an example, Faxon cites a producer who garners an additional five dollars per hundredweight for his yearlings because they are able to convert feed efficiently.
“His cattle gain one pound for five pounds of feed,” he says. “There are feedlots that want to own those, and they pay a premium for them.”
Compared to other animals, on average, cattle convert at a rate of seven pounds of feed for one pound of gain. Comparatively, pigs convert at three-to-one, chickens at two-to-one and fish at one-to-one.
“If we can continue to make improvements and drive that conversion closer and closer to five, we will have a dramatic impact on input costs,” he says.
The health of the cattle herd is also an important part of cattle production, particularly for calves in the feedlot, he adds.
“The most important piece of information for the health of a group of calves in the feedlot is the health management program of the cowherd of origin,” Faxon explains, adding that the cow has a significant impact on the health of her calves.
In addition, when exploring where the vaccination and health decisions come from, Faxon comments that, frequently, the buyer or marketing agent influences those decisions, rather than the producer or veterinarian.
“We need to pay attention to who influences the decisions we make and what is best for our animals,” he says.
A good health program impacts performance and growth, reproduction and the immune system.
“When we talk about health, we think about vaccine and preventing disease,” Faxon explains. “What about parasite control? Performance enhancement and implanting? Antibiotics? They all have impacts on what we do.”
As the final component, marketing is important, Faxon says. Because cattle producers sell their product only one time a year, it is particularly import to have an actual marketing plan.
“Have a plan and utilize it,” Faxon suggests. “But marketing will likely change over the next five years.”
Focusing on strengths
It is very rare that a ranch manager is exceptional at managing all of the five components, says Faxon, so ranches should utilize a team with various strengths to advance their operation.
“As we work through our management strategies, it becomes really important that teamwork occurs,” he says. “It can have so many benefits.”
He also asks, “How many of us make the exact same daily decisions as our spouse would? If two people make the exact same decisions all the time, one of them is not needed.”
By looking at the strengths and weaknesses of each member of the ranch team, Faxon comments that strengths may be apparent that can benefit the ranch.
He comments, “I advise people to become really good in an area that they are already knowledgeable and comfortable with.”
“It is extremely important to maximize our knowledge, experience and abilities in each of these five areas to truly manage the best we can for the highest return, knowing that we may excel some years, get along for a few and maybe even struggle for one or two,” Faxon says.
Faxon spoke during the 22nd Annual Wyoming Women’s Ag Symposium in mid-November 2015.