Since the average number of cows owned by one family in the USA is only about 30 head, I often wonder why people bother with them.
This low number precludes most chances of financial independence due to revenues from cow sales.
Many of these operations run the bull with the cows the year around.
Lack of acreage and facilities plague any possibility of making a management plan.
Calves are captured, weaned and sold the same day.
The new owner...somebody who won the bid at the local auction barn...gets to castrate, vaccinate, and nurse them back to health if they get sick, since none of this was done by the original owner.
These folks own what have been called “washing machine herds,” meaning when the washing machine breaks down, a couple of calves are sold to provide cash to purchase a new one. This is only slightly tongue in cheek and it illustrates the fact some herds serve as a source of extra income -- "rainy day" funds on the hoof, so to speak. Usually that's separate money from the income provided by the town job and/or the funds provided by the female spouse from her job at the bank or co-op.
Since the cows are not essential to the income generation of the family, many of the things we talk about are moot points when talking about heifer development, herd health, nutrition, sire selection and so on.
The average 30-head herd is not rewarded by the marketplace in any realistic way, so we will continue to see 500-pound uncut, unvaccinated calves in our nation’s auction barns.
Luckily, there is a market for these high-risk cattle. Some folks buy these type of cattle and straighten them out in the hope of a favorable market off-setting the medicine and labor expense they must put into them to keep them alive and ready for the next move up the market channels.
Still, these “washing machine herds” are the lost children of the beef industry. They are a contributing factor as to why so much sickness prevails in the feedlot and stocker levels.
We should reach out to these folks and try to get them to upgrade their operations. This has been a source of frustration throughout my career.
Everyone who has a stake in the beef industry has addressed this problem, now I am inviting comment from the producers themselves.
People own cows because they like them. Somehow we need to combine that passion with the notion that we are producing a wholesome product, beginning at the literal grassroots level, down to each individual producer and cow...and do so profitably.