Cattle Manager – Yeah, That’s a Thing – Intro

Murray Grey and Red Angus cows grazing in summer

This is the beginning of a three (or is it four?) part series of –

You’re a What? A Cattle Manager?

Left to their own devices, cattle can make some pretty poor decisions. They need guidance. They need managers.

black white-face cow and two Red Angus cows

Have you ever been driving down the road, saw a herd of cattle and wondered “How do the economics of that all work?” Me neither, but if you’re a landowner, an understanding of the basics the business can be pretty useful.

Somewhere behind that herd of cows is a human being. The decision making and the care of the animals is the responsibility of someone called a cattle manager, or a herd manager, and though it looks a bit different around different parts of the country – available resources are different, objectives are different, so of course it’s all managed differently – the main point is that there are humans making decisions all the way through, a beef animal’s life cycle, from conception to slaughter, impacting the well-being of the animals, the quality of the meat you eat, the environmental impact, and financial solvency of the operations.

And whether you’re managing your own animals, if you’ve hired a cattle manager, if you’ve leased out your grazing land, the decisions made have a wide-ranging impact. If you’re a landowner renting to a cattle producer, their decisions can have an affect on your safety and your enjoyment of your land.

Here’s a primer on a lot of the why and a lot of the what a cattle manager does.

Behind every group of cattle, is someone filling the role of cattle manager. There are varying degrees of competence and effort, but ultimately, some human is responsible for the day-to-day well-being, and the profitability of the herd. Here in Central Virginia, we have mostly have cow-calf operations, with a few stocker/backgrounder operations, even a few, very few, feedlots. (For more details on these three types of operations, see my other posts, which I’ll link to here, here, and here)

So in beef production, we have three main types of operation – cow/calf, backgrounders, and feedlots. (We have dairies, show stock, seed stock, and rodeo stock operations here in Central Virginia, and I may talk about them later.) And within each of these three we have three main areas of management – animal welfare, profitability, and personal values.

two Red Angus cows, and a Murray Grey cow

Most producers here in Virginia are responsible for all three areas of management, but on larger operations, the whole thing might be handled by multiple people. But even if they’re separate, they’re but interdependent. And it might be physically spread out over many different farms

and in larger operations, these functions may be spread out over several people, but the general principle is the same.

wide angle view of Red Angus cows on fescue pasture

If you don’t want to call yourself a cattle manager, you can always say “I’m a grass farmer”. That way you can sound pretentious and obtuse all at the same time.

Cattle management encompasses three main areas, listed in what I think is order of importance.

First and foremost is animal welfare

Second is profitability

Third is your personal values and goals

In parts Two, Three, and Four, I’ll go into further detail about the three elements of beef cattle management.

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