One of the most popular questions I get asked is “What is your ideal cow?” This question always spurs quite the debate. Factors like breed, cow size, milking ability, and a long list of phenotypes are discussed. Comments like “We don’t want to go back to that kind of cattle” typically dominate the conversation.
While I enjoy listening to the stance of different cattle breeders and cattle raisers on this topic, I tend to have a much more broad view of the question. My approach to answering the question is simple and without much detail. Many times my response is met with a blank stare followed by a smile and a chuckle. So, when someone asks me, “What is your ideal cow?”, I answer with a short reply… one that makes money and doesn’t try to kill you.
The great thing about the cattle business is that depending on your market, different types of cattle can make money. A cattleman that raises and finishes his cattle to be sold on a grid may put more emphasis on cows that can raise calves that grow and grade. Breed may be an important factor in ideal cow criteria if it impacts the ability to qualify for branded beef programs.
A commercial producer that sells calves at the local auction market may desire a lower input cow that is middle of the road for frame and milk. This allows the ability to run more cows per acre and reap the benefits of more calves per acre, while still producing a product that the cattle buyer likes.
If you are a producer selling cattle into a niche market such as show cattle, then a bigger, stouter cow that has a demanding phenotype may be ideal, despite additional feed costs. Another niche market like grass-fed beef may require a totally different breed make-up and phenotype. This type of production environment may require small framed, lower milking cows that have been selected for performance on grass/forage only diets.
The ideal cow is not the same for every farm. The reality is that the market will dictate ideals. If your market is different than your neighbor, your ideal cow will be too. An easy way to tell if you are selecting the right cows is cow age. If your cows continue to breed, calve, and raise a valuable calf year-after-year, you have the right kind of cow. Bottomline, the ideal cow is the one that can make you the most money year-after-year in your market… and won’t try to kill you.