Cattle producers across the U.S. are heeding economic indications to rebuild and expand their herds, but a 32 million-acre decline in pasture availability over the last ten years is hindering expansion and causing producers to weigh options that require less land, according to a new report from the Rabobank Food & Agribusiness (FAR) Research and Advisory group. The report, “Outside In: Confined Cow-Calf Production as a Viable Model for Rebuilding the U.S. Cow Herd Numbers” finds that more innovation is paramount to the growth of the U.S. cattle sector.
“The U.S. cow herd must grow if the industry is going to preserve existing infrastructure and regain lost market share,” said report author and Rabobank Food & Agribusiness Research and Advisory Group senior analyst Don Close. “In order to for that growth to occur, the beef and cattle community must address main expansion constraints: high capital barriers, declining availability of grazable acres, and ageing producers. In many parts of the country, incorporating systems for confined calf production is an important stop to overcoming these constraints.”
Close notes confined cow-calf production is an avenue to enable young producers entry into the industry. It is also a means in which land-locked Corn Belt row crop producers can expand their revenue stream, allowing young family members to return to the farm.
The report finds that confined production systems present an alternative that replaces high capital requirements with intensified management and labor. The report’s economic evaluation shows that two systems—confined calf production in excess feed yard space and in confinement buildings that are typically built in the Corn Belt—are very competitive compared to conventional production models.
“While the primary method of U.S. calf production will remain the traditional cow-calf grazing model, the benefits of confined and semi-confined programs – primarily increased efficiency from the cow herd and healthier animals – makes them a truly viable and valuable option,” noted Close. “The ability to adjust the nutritional needs of the cow to the pregnancy/post-calving stage, and the ability to sort cows and adjust feed requirements based on their body condition scores isn’t an option with open grazing.”