You can always count on Dave Pratt of the Ranching for Profit blog to provide some thought-provoking material.
In his latest post he discussed the many challenges of making grass finishing a profitable enterprise in the cattle business.
It appears I am not the only one who foresees the cost of high-priced inputs potentially requiring those in the cattle industry, and more importantly the cow-calf sector, to make some radical transformations in management in order to remain profitable in the days ahead.
Pratt said some ranchers are trying to create an alternative to the cattle industry’s addiction to these high-priced inputs by creating what he termed 'conception to consumption grass finishing enterprises.' While this system does indeed give the beef producer more control over his end product, it also many times leads to additional input costs and other challenges to achieving true profitability on a beef farm.
These challenges include variability of nutritional value of forages, the longer turnover rate of grass-fed animals, the potential need to plant new forages, and the difficulty of managing multiple farm business sectors.
These certainly are challenges for the typical birth-to-slaughter grass-fed enterprises focused on direct marketing their product, the type operations many of us are familiar with.
However, these challenges, specifically those of forage nutritive variability and multiple sector management, also present ample opportunity.
The traditional cattle industry of today’s norm consists of the seedstock, cow-calf, stocker and feedlot sectors. Producers in each sector specialize in breeding, growing or finishing cattle. This has resulted in a tried and true system where each sector is able to specialize in their chosen focus.
This focus allows for a more consistent end product and in turn, meets consumer expectations more frequently by providing a similar eating experience time after time. This same fact cannot always be said about grass-fed beef as the variability of nutritive value between forage species and seasonal availability greatly hinder a producer’s ability to provide a constant and uniform plane of nutrition to cattle.
While many 'conception-to-consumption' ranchers may balk at this idea, I see no need to reinvent the wheel. Instead, the opportunity exists for grass-fed producers to become more specialized in breeding, growing or finishing cattle.
Producers can match the forages they have available with the class of cattle they can most profitably raise given their farm resources. This increased specialization would in turn give increased strength to the grass-fed market in a more consistent product. And as an added bonus, increased specialization would encourage innovation in each sector as producers would seek ways to improve their efforts.
Concentrating our individual resources on what we can do best has the potential to launch the grass-fed cattle and beef businesses into a whole new ballpark. While some producers will always be more profitable using a direct marketing approach, those who are looking for other avenues to enter the business may find specialization according to farm and management resources is a viable alternative.