Small changes to an operation may improve profitability and economical survivability

Beef Cattle at UT Greeneville AgResearch and Education Center

Late summer and autumn can be busy for beef cattle producers. UT Extension recommends producers review their management practices as small changes can help improve profitability and sustainability.  Photo courtesy UTIA.

Late summer and autumn is a busy period for the state’s cattle producers. Andrew Griffith, University of Tennessee Extension livestock marketing specialist, says this is the time of year when a lot of moving and shaking is going on in the beef cattle herd.

“Now is when spring-calving producers are marketing calves and culling cows,” Griffith said. “Also, producers are trying to bale the last few acres of hay for winter feed before cooler weather causes fields to fall into dormancy.”

Griffith reminds producers not to forget that profitability is dependent on both revenue and costs. “When things get busy, like often happens in the fall, producers sometimes forget to manage the business side of the operation,” he said. “Fall is an opportune time for producers to sit down and reflect on what small changes can be made over the next several months to make the beef cattle herd more profitable and economically sustainable.”

Discussing profitability may be a tough sell when cattle prices are at historical highs, and most producers are recording their highest profits ever. However, a period of high profits could be the ideal time to consider small changes to increase the efficiency of the operation. Griffith says the high prices provide producers more margin for error.

“Some things cow-calf producers may want to ponder this fall include whether they need to adjust grazing management strategies, defined breeding and calving season, feed supplementation strategies, method of cattle marketing, developing or purchasing replacement heifers and timing of cattle marketing.

Similarly, stocker producers may want to ponder the timing of calf purchase and sale, feed ration development, pasture management and sourcing low stress calves,” the economist said.

While this list of factors to review is not an all-inclusive, Griffith says a thorough analysis of an operation should help reduce costs and increase revenues in the future. “For instance, it is generally more cost effective for cattle to harvest grass through grazing than for a cattleperson to harvest it as hay and then feed it to the cattle. However, this statement does not always hold true, as there may be isolated hay fields with no source of water or some other limiting factor like no fence,” he said.

The livestock marketing specialist encourages producers to share their experiences with other cattle operators, but reminds them to critically evaluate suggestions before implementing them. “Every operation is different and what works for one may not work for the other,” Griffith cautions. 

Finally, as producers consider making adjustments to their operations Griffith encourages them to face the changing environment of cattle production. “One challenge beef industry participants face is constant change,” he said. “The changes are often very small and it may take time to visibly see their effects. However, they are there, and producers must also be willing to change, even in small ways, to maintain the viability of their operations” the expert noted.

For more information, contact your local county UT Extension agent or visit the UT Extension website.

UT Extension provides a gateway to the University of Tennessee as the outreach unit of the UT Institute of Agriculture. With an office in every Tennessee county, UT Extension delivers educational programs and research-based information to citizens throughout the state. In cooperation with Tennessee State University, UT Extension works with farmers, families, youth and communities to improve lives by addressing problems and issues at the local, state and national levels.



Andrew Griffith, assistant professor, agricultural and resource economics, UT Extension, 865-974-7271,