For Release January 18, 2000

You Canít Manage What You Donít Measure

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

One of the speakers at a meeting last week was discussing cow herds and their management. He brought out a very good point in regards to keeping records. You can not manage what you do not measure. In other words, if you arenít keeping track of something how can you improve your management. If you donít measure where you are, how will you know when youíve made improvements.

Take cows in a herd. If you are not tagging the cows and then tagging their calves, can you be sure you know which calves go with which cows, especially a couple of weeks after weaning? Some surveys indicate that as many as one cowherd in four does not have the cows or calves tagged. Do you know which bulls sired which calves? If you donít, how do you know which bulls are producing the best calves and how are you going to improve the overall performance of your herd?

It is easy to become overwhelmed with all the items that you need to keep track of. You could easily create volumes of records to try to sort through. How much of it is really necessary? Well, when the farm economy is good we probably donít worry too much about many of the management items. Money is being made. But when times get tight everything can become important.

Most cattle producers know that they should be testing their forages, just like any crop producer knows they should be testing their soil every year. But you get busy, and itís a lot of hassle to take samples from each alfalfa cutting plus bromegrass plus prairie hay, not to mention the expense. We know that the first cutting of alfalfa is always the worst and the 4th cutting is always the best. So what if we miss the protein content by one or two percentage points.

One recent study compared the performance of two sets of calves which were fed identical rations. The only difference was in the alfalfa and those two lots of alfalfa differed by only a couple of percentage points. In the end, there was a $25 dollar per head difference in the cost of raising those two calves. Wow, a twenty-five dollar difference. But about half the time, over the last 20 years, cattle were within $25 a head of breaking even. Which meant that a small improvement could have made the difference between losing money and breaking even or breaking even and making money. You have to decide whatís important to you.

This record keeping and measurement can become rather addictive. The first time you measure something you establish a baseline. You often canít do very much with that first bit of information, but it gives you a point to measure against next time. But the next time you measure that same item, then you have something. Did you do better or worse? Was that improvement something you did, or just mother nature? Can you repeat that performance change next time?

Sure, unless you are an obsessive compulsive record keeper, this measurement and record keeping is a real pain. And sometimes it becomes real depressing to actually see how well you have done or not done. But in the end, itís the good record keeper that can manage from that data that will adapt and improve and remain an active agricultural producer!


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