Any new business can benefit from the guidance of those more experienced, and starting a beef operation is no different.
In order to share the wisdom of seasoned producers with the next generation, Canfax Research Services asked 180 participants of the Canadian Cow-Calf Cost of Production (COP) Network for their advice on starting a cow-calf operation.
The resulting recommendations, which fall into the broad categories of financial management, record keeping, production and marketing, networking, and passion, have been compiled into the Recommendations for Young Producers fact sheet, now available online.
Brenna Grant, executive director of Canfax Research Services, presented this advice to the Canadian Cattle Youth Council at their annual general meeting, held in August at the 2023 Canadian Beef Industry Conference in Calgary.
Here, Grant shares her three favourite recommendations for new producers.
Choose a record-keeping system and actually use that data.
While most producers surveyed didn’t mention this specifically, the importance they place on setting up a record-keeping system and using it to inform their decisions was evident in their advice. The format you choose doesn’t matter as much as actually referring to the data collected, Grant noted.
“Pick it, populate it, and review it. It does you no good if it just sits and collects dust,” she said. “The whole point of having records is to help you make informed decisions on your operation.”
Focus on resource management with the highest return on investment.
Planning the resource management that works best for you is essential, from knowing how you’ll invest in infrastructure to choosing industry professionals to work with, such as veterinarians and nutritionists.
“This was about doing that high-leverage work that’s going to give you the biggest return for the time spent on it,” said Grant.
This includes creating a drought plan before a drought event, so you can make sound management decisions suited to your production system and environment.
“Having a drought plan is about helping you get through those times when you emotionally are so stressed that you can’t think,” said Grant.
“When you’re at day three of selecting ten-year-old cows to cull and they have amazing calves on side, you get to a point where you just don’t want to do it anymore, but you’re doing it because the plan says to do it because you know it’s going to be the thing that protects the long-term survivability of your operation.”
It’s important to know that because you’re at a different stage in your operation, your neighbour’s drought plan may not work for you. “As a new producer, you might not have the flexibility and options as a mature operation.”
Understand your definition of success.
Truly knowing what success means to you personally will allow you to better aim for it on your operation, taking you to where you want to go.
Grant referenced the movie Moneyball, in which the Oakland Athletics baseball team struggled to sign competitive players two decades ago, only having about one-third of the budget of other Major League Baseball teams.
“They had an economist come along and say, ‘you’re going about this all wrong. You’re trying to buy players when you should be buying runs, because runs give wins.’ And over the course of that season, they were able to put together a mismatched team of undervalued players that allowed them to win 20 consecutive games,” she explained.
“Often we get what we aim for, and if we’re aiming for the wrong thing we’re going to end up in a place where we don’t want to go.”
In the program’s first three years, more than 225 producers participated in the COP Network, with 56 benchmark farms created to represent Canada’s diverse beef production systems and environments.
Funded by the Beef Cattle Research Council and Cargill, the COP Network program will continue for the next five years.