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Where's the profit?

From lessons learned early in their careers, John and Marie Marshall have evolved new management tactics.

Today, the Towner, North Dakota, ranchers are among the most profitable cow-calf producers in the North Dakota Farm Business Management (NDFBM) program.

Their secret? "We try to cover all the bases," says John Marshall. "We try to buy the best bulls we can afford and run efficient cows. We try to get good weaning weights and still keep our feed costs down."

NDFBM records show just how much difference management can make. In 2007, the high-profit (top 20% of participants) cow-calf producers earned an average $223 profit per cow. The 20% in the low-profit group had a net loss of $66 per cow.

Maximizing efficiencies is one reason some beef producers are persistently profitable. "Paying attention to the feeding program, for instance, goes a long way in getting cows to cycle and breed readily," says Allen Graner, an NDFBM educator. "But high-profit producers don't spend more per cow than the low-profit producers," he notes. "They just pay better attention to feed rationing."

High-profit producers also keep a close eye on cow and sire performance. The Marshalls carefully select herd sires with the genetics to produce calves that are small at birth but grow well and yield good carcasses. "We want to produce calves that the feedlots want to feed," says Marshall.

To monitor progress, the Marshalls consign small groups of steers to Extension-sponsored feeding trials. They get back individual data on feeding efficiency and carcass quality.

From lessons learned early in their careers, John and Marie Marshall have evolved new management tactics.

Another way the Marshalls have built profitability is by selecting for efficient females. "When we first started ranching, we bought cows from all over," says Marshall.

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