Beef cattle is an activity that involves the production of cattle or other animals. It aims at slaughter and, with that, the generation of meat for consumption, leather, and derivatives. In beef cattle, have phases creates, recreates, and fattening. The calf comprises the reproduction and development of the calf until its weaning. The rearing begins at weaning and ends at the beginning of the females’ reproduction or the beginning of the fattening.
As rural producers, we know that there is much more behind each of these steps. That care is needed and that there are several obstacles to overcome.
We also know that whenever it is a very complex activity, several doubts arise. And so, we made a three-chapter miniseries. Each of them dealing with each of these steps. And in this miniseries, we intend to answer the main questions with a specialist.
We will start with the Cria. This phase can be defined as the one that best represents the foundation of the entire process. Therefore, your better understanding can generate better-added value in the future. To answer the questions related to this step, we interviewed specialist Rodrigo Paniago, from Boviplan Consultoria Agropecuária .
Rodrigo Paniago graduated in 1998 from ESALQ-USP, in the Agronomic Engineering course, with a specialization in Ruminant Production in 2006, from the same institution.
Agromove: How can the Breeding system be better described?
Rodrigo Paniago: The production system called calf in cattle has as main objective the production of calves. Thus, in this production stage, the reproduction of the animals is understood, the calves’ growth, both males and females, until the moment of weaning, which occurs between 6 and 8 months of age. Part of the calves weaned are selected for breeding to replace breeding stock that are discarded due to different problems related to calves’ reproduction or production. Calves not selected for replacement are targeted for sale, along with male calves. Another form of revenue from this activity is the sale of breeding stock and bulls, usually for slaughter. Sales of both calves and cull animals occur annually.
Despite the growing market for the sale of semen for artificial insemination of cows, which in the first half of 2020 grew 45% in the beef cattle market, the vast majority of breeding is still done through natural breeding. That is, with the use of bulls.
In Brazil, this production system occurs almost 100% on pasture.
AG: What are the five main obstacles in this phase? Describe each one.
RP: Specifically, in the Brazilian market, we can highlight the following obstacles:
- the long interval between births;
- low conception rate, especially in 1st calf females (primiparous);
The interval between deliveries is an indicator of efficiency. It highlights the ability of a matrix to generate products sequentially over some time. A matrix shouldn’t have intervals longer than 12 months to generate a product, that is, the calf. The standard beef cow has an average of 283 days of management. She needs a period after calving, known as the “service period,” to recover physiologically and return to fertile time, and then to conceive again.
The conception rate is measured by the percentage of matrices impregnated in a certain period, over the total number of matrices exposed to reproduction in the same period, with bull or with insemination, or even with both integrated technologies. What is desirable is that the pregnancy rate is:
- above 85% for cows (multiparous)
- above 65% for females who will be pregnant for the second time (primiparous).
About health in the breeding phase, it is essential to know that, in addition to diseases common to cattle, reproductive diseases are added. Suppose the interference of a broader range of diseases was not enough. In that case, the calving stage also encompasses the most sensitive cattle category, which are calves (as), from newborns to weaning. Usually, the adult mortality rate is expected to be 1%, while suckling animals’ mortality is up to 5%.
Nutrition is an essential factor in the outcome of this activity. Commercially bred bovine breeds have been, and continue to be, naturally improved for fertility and disease resistance. But for these qualities to be expressed, the animals must be well-fed, both about the quantity and quality of the food offered, which is grass.
For obvious reasons, management is a prominent factor in any economic activity. It is even present, even if not directly quoted, in almost all previous paragraphs. However, cattle breeding, especially beef cattle, is notable for having an empirical management model, with meager data collection and analysis rates, low adoption of management techniques.
AG: What are the possible causes of these obstacles, the impacts, and how can we alleviate them?
RP: The consequence of intervals between very long births is the increase in production costs, as the average generation of products per production unit, which is the cow, is reduced in a given time.
In most cases, the factors that interfere in the interval between deliveries are genetics, management of reproduction, and nutritional management. Due to a low level of management, common to livestock farmers, producers do not have a secure database of individualized data by a matrix to promote a good selection of them. A clear example of the effect of reproductive management, which incurs the most extended interval between births, and negatively on animal nutrition and genetic improvement, is the lack of breeding season. In this way, cows are offered at different times of reproductive stage, different quantities, and different grass qualities, generating results without an everyday basis for comparison, thus preventing the sows’ selection.
Usually, there is a deficit in supply and quality in the dry period of the year. While in the rainy season the offer is higher and with better quality. But, if the pastures are poorly managed, it can also negatively interfere with nutrition and, therefore, the interval between deliveries.
Therefore, in addition to an adequate reproduction management strategy, the producer has to use planning, which is an essential management tool, to enable data collection individually from animals and reduce seasonality in the production of animals—pastures on herd performance.
The low average fertility of herds, regardless of race (genetics), is linked to the lack of internal breeding selection processes and, in particular, due to errors in cattle’s reproductive and nutritional management, as mentioned above.
Specifically, in primiparous women, the nutritional issue is even more delicate, as they are still growing during pregnancy. Therefore, they must have a differentiated nutritional system, which further increases the challenge of obtaining reproductive efficiency in this category. Therefore, the nutritional planning of the herd must also provide differentiated support for the different animal categories of the herd on a calf farm, which are notably the multiparous, primiparous, breeding heifers (nulliparous), bulls, when separated from the calves (outside the breeding season) and, in some cases, even suckling calves, to obtain greater efficiency.
The highest occurrence of reproductive diseases is due to the lack of monitoring and planning of the herd’s health management, leading to a decrease in reproductive efficiency. An important characteristic that should be highlighted about cattle is that the transfer of antibodies from the mother to the calf occurs only through the colostrum. In other words, if the consumption of colostrum by the calf (as) does not occur until the first 6 hours of life, the consequence is an increase in the mortality rate of calves (as). In this case, the solution is to maintain more intensive monitoring with cows that are about to calve, ensure that the calf consumes colostrum, and receive the newborn’s health protocols.
The leading cause of nutritional problems in herds is the lack of planning to deal with pasture production seasonality. It is worth mentioning that the leading food of cattle is grass. In other words, a plant that is under development, which denotes changes in the quantitative and qualitative food supply over time. This is the biggest challenge for the rancher, balancing the demand and supply of food throughout the year in pasture production. One of the alternatives to improve the supply of pastures is rotational management, which allows the producer to make the rational use of forage resources, respecting the growth cycle of grass plants, ensuring a more adjusted offer throughout the year.
The lack of management in beef cattle farms is the fault of a past of loose margins between cost and revenue, which allowed both the inefficient and the efficient to take advantage of livestock activity without significant problems. In addition to the financial question, it is necessary to add the fact that in the management of the offspring, there is a more significant number of productive indicators, or better, reproductive ones that can and should be used in the performance analysis and, evidently, in the decision making to provide the more significant gain of efficiency. The solution is to empower the team, including the owner, so that data collection and analysis, both financial and production, enable better decision making.
AG: Considering the 5 main areas of animal production:
- animal health and welfare,
- animal and fodder nutrition,
- animal breeding,
- production science and management and science
- meat technology.
What are the main bottlenecks that affect the breeding stage?
RP: Considering the areas mentioned as the top 5, animal health, and well-being, despite the fact that diseases are not the biggest problem, there is still room for gains inefficiency in the health issue. Therefore, the challenge is monitoring the health of the animals, as it is not common for the breeder to collect semen or blood to, through laboratory analyzes, provide changes in their sanitary or even reproductive management.
As for animal welfare, although there is already an evolution when comparing the way animals were handled in the 80s or 90s, there is also adequate space for maturing in this area, leading to gains in productivity and, consequently, in profitability. To improve this item, it is necessary to intensify the workforce training events related to the theme.
About animal nutrition, the technologies of supplementation with minerals and other types of nutrients are very advanced. Still, the adoption of some, which are even known to producers, would need to be more splendid, such as differentiated supplementation by animal category and use of supplementation with of protein source during the drought period.
However, the biggest challenge is in the management of pastures. There is no doubt that the highest failure rate among producers, regardless of the production system, is, whether it is created, recreated, and fattened or completed cycle. So much so that the percentage of degraded pastures in the properties is always high, with a consequent low supply of pastures per area. As a result, the rancher has a high cost to reform pastures and to produce little per available area. Therefore, this topic’s bottleneck is the lack of knowledge of forage budgeting and pasture management techniques.
As in animal nutrition, genetic improvement technologies in the country are very evolved, but they also need greater adoption, such as breeding bulls, as breeders do not know how to calculate the cost/benefit of acquiring superior bulls. It is common for ranchers to even buy semen from bulls in the market for a long time, instead of semen from younger bulls, coming from the continuous process of genetic improvement and evaluation.
The biggest bottleneck in management is management. As mentioned in a previous answer, amateurism in this item is the main characteristic of livestock. The producer loses a lot for not doing zootechnical bookkeeping and cost management, for example. This is the point at which there is the most significant scope for cumulative gains in production. With the management well done, the failures are evident, allowing the creator to act strategically to increase its efficiency.
Regarding meat technology, as a breeder, he is at the beginning of the production cycle of the live cattle. It is not up to him to manage the carcass finishing, which is one of the most critical factors for the slaughterhouse about the topic. But, about marbling, that is, the more significant presence of fat interspersed in the meat, the breeder can assume the direction because the effect on this characteristic comes from genetics: the breed of cattle, in general, are European origins. Thus, despite not being a significant bottleneck in this matter, it is still a challenge, because when including the blood of European breeds in the herd, the consequence is the production of less rustic animals, in addition to hindering the replacement of females, since reduces the number of females of the original breed of the matrix, which in general is zebu.
AG: Some studies comment on the fluctuation in the number of animals, mainly in the breeding stage. What could be the reason for this instability?
RP: This instability is typical of the livestock activity, known as the “livestock cycle,” which directly impacts the breeding sector. It is the most precise reflection of the consequences of supply and demand in livestock. The livestock cycle fluctuates due to the female market. That is, it fluctuates according to the total slaughter or retention of females. When calf retention occurs, the consequence is an increased supply of calves. Next, the lower price paid in calves and a greater offer of fatty oxen ultimately leads to a drop in the ox’s amount. When there is an increase in the slaughter of females, the supply of calves is reduced, which leads to a reduction in offers of an ox and, finally, an increase in the amount paid at the arroba do ox, which increases the demand for calves, which then increases retention of the cows and so it goes cycling.
AG: What is the importance of stock management of the herd in the breeding activity? How to do this control?
RP: Inventory management is essential because almost all inputs are directly or indirectly linked to the herd’s size and distribution according to the animal category. On the other hand, the size of the herd is directly linked to the carrying capacity of the property, which requires the rancher to monitor the stock so that he does not exceed the capacity of his pastures to properly feed his cattle, as it can generate a considerable drop in the performance of the animals and increases with pasture maintenance costs, in case it is not respected.
Inventory control should be done by calculating the number of animals per category, calculating the demand for stocking, consumption of supplements and veterinary products, for example. To simulate the evolution of the herd, that is, to define how the animals will enter and leave and when they may occur, enabling a budget plan, facilitating the financial management of the enterprise.
AG: In a survey carried out by EMBRAPA in partnership with CiCarnes, Unipampas, and NESPro, there is a ranking among the top priority items for rural producers, the Production Cost is in the first place (with 57.6% of the wishes). Explain to us why this item is so important?
RP: It is essential as in any activity in the productive sector. Without a clear understanding of the cost of production, it is not possible to make any projection of the financial result in such a way that the producer will conduct the business in the dark, without knowing whether the result at the end of the production cycle will be advantageous or not. It also cuts the possibility of the rancher taking initiatives to redirect his business to a direction in which the expected result is satisfactory.
AG: As mentioned above, production costs are among the main concerns of the rancher. What are the main costs? How to measure them? How to improve them? We know that the sector has excellent unevenness and different levels of production, but is it possible to present some average parameters for each of these costs?
RP: The variable costs inbreeding can be up to 3 times higher than the fixed costs. The main variable costs are supplementation, labor and administrative expenses, or purchase of animals. The main fixed costs are the exhaustion of pastures, depreciation of improvements, and machines and implements. To measure them, it is only possible to use management tools, such as the allocation of expenses by cost center and plan of accounts. Depending on the operation’s complexity and the type of data management you want, it can be used from a simple cash book or even a specific management software for this type of activity. To improve them, only after an in-depth analysis of expenses and the production strategy, to then define strategies for increasing production efficiency,
Breeding costs are around R $ 90.00 per sign for variable costs and R $ 30.00 per sign for fixed costs. If the bill includes the land’s value, this value can be around R $ 60.00 per sign. And if you also consider the expected return on capital, this can be R $ 50.00 per sign.
The more intensive the breeding system is, the cost increase that stands out the most is supplementation.
AG: To what extent is it worth intensifying the brood? What are the 3 main obstacles in the intensification process? In the article below, we commented on some problems.
RP: There is no way to define, precisely, and generically, the extent to which it is worth intensifying the brood. The same farm under the direction of two different people also leads to two different results, as it is more linked to the owner’s managerial capacity than specifically to the property’s infrastructure. Therefore, the acceptable profit parameter also differs from investor to investor, as does risk-taking. The only way to define a point, generically, is to establish, for example, that this is equal to the moment when maximum productivity, which incurs such an expense, which does not allow for-profit or generates loss.
When it comes to livestock intensification, there are two distinct paths, the investment to increase productivity by an individual or by area. The impact on investments for productivity increases by area is much more significant in total productivity than the increases provided by investments in performance per individual. However, the amount to be invested in earning technologies by area is also much higher. On the other hand, as cows have a high average individual weight, their cost of feeding for weight maintenance is also very high, limiting the maximum capacity, not for technical reasons, but cost/benefit.
In this way, we can cite as examples of obstacles to intensify the breeding:
- the investor’s managerial capacity;
- the high feed cost of cows;
- the availability of capital for investments.
AG: In our research, we realized that the calf link is the one that pays less attention to cost management and commercialization of animals. As the intensification of breeding increases, costs increase, and revenue management gains more business representation. In the article below, we have shown that a small fluctuation in revenue can significantly impact the result obtained with the productive effort. How should the creator face this challenge?
RP: The rural producer is a price taker. He always asks the price at which the seller is selling the input he needs to buy. Just as he cannot define the price at which he will sell his product, be it the calf or the cull cow that he will send to the slaughterhouse for slaughter without first “asking” the market how much he is paying. Especially in the breeder’s case, the producer’s profile is more conservative and focused on productive performance, in the detail of production.
While the producer who does the breeding and fattening (winteriest) has a more negotiating profile since 60 to 70% of the two expenses, come from animal replacement, which makes him more connected to what happens in the market than inside the gate. When compared to the creator. Therefore, due to his profile, the creator is a manager who is more apt to obtain gains inefficiency in production than in the commercialization of his products.
However, even so, the breeder can invest in marketing, improving the presentation of his products so that they can be sold at the top level or partnering with the winterist, investing in the quality of his animals and the delivery date of interest to the winterist, in return receiving a combined premium in advance for your product.
AG: Are there any messages or conclusions that you want to leave for the producer reading your interview?
RP: The market is more and more demanding, whether in terms of food safety, in terms of product quality, or terms of environmental issues. Just as the buyer market is changing rapidly, the supply of technologies is also changing rapidly. There is no way for the creator to remain in the activity satisfactorily without also changing his production system because, without productive efficiency, there is no profit margin. The most comfortable and most assertive path is to professionalize management. From this, strategies are defined, the use of technologies and continuity in the activity is guaranteed. The future cattle rancher is the one who maximizes profit. He is no longer the one who is the record holder in productivity.