Matching Cow Size to Environment

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The $EN (Cow Energy Value) figure is passed over, or misunderstood, by quite a lot of cattle breeders, both purebred and commercial.


In a nutshell, $EN is an index which takes into account several EPDs and economic factors to represent what it costs to feed a cow. The EPD figures that are used to calculate the $EN index are growth, milk production and mature size. $EN can be seen as analogous to the Miles Per Gallon, or MPG figure, that is required by law to be posted on new passenger cars.


If you are in need of a new vehicle, you will probably take into consideration what kind of gas mileage it gets. But that’s not the only thing you will look consider when car shopping: you will need to know how much room for people and cargo is available, and possibly towing capacity. If you were to go for the best MPG figure available, you would go home with a moped. It’s hard to pick up the kids from school and stop at the grocery store, on a rainy or snowy winter day, with a moped.


However, if you go to the dealership without fuel economy in mind, you might go home with a lot more vehicle than you really need. A 2002 Ford Excursion V-10 could fit 9 people, and haul 11,000 pounds. With that, you could take a bumper-pull trailer with a few cull cows to the sale yard, pick up the kids and the rest of their pee-wee rodeo team, stop at Costco, pick up the horses and take ‘em all to rodeo camp for the weekend. But at 8 or 10 miles to the gallon, is that really practical for your everyday driving? True, a 4-door sedan might not be enough, but a medium sized SUV or minivan would do the job for 18 to 20 mpg, and you probably have a pickup to pull the gooseneck with when you need it.


The things that increase output and performance in a vehicle reduce its fuel economy. Engine power, vehicle weight, and cargo room will lower miles per gallon. A V-10 engine takes more fuel, even at idle. The same is true for a cow: when mature cow size (weight and height), growth, carcass weight and milk production increase, so does the cow’s need for feed inputs. If a cow is turned out and has to walk several miles per day for feed and water, her nutritional requirements go up: and the larger the cow, the faster her feed bill increases if she has to travel.


Buying bulls to produce the ‘right size’ cow can be thought of as very similar to car shopping for the ‘right size’ vehicle: Match weight and performance (of the bull and the car) to the situation they will be used in. Balancing the growth, size and milk production of your cows to the forage resources on your own ranch is the first and best thing you can do to be profitable in the cattle business.



Cattle breeders have featured ‘bigger and better’ EPD figures for weaning weight, milk production, and carcass values for a while now. But $EN figures are not a common sight in purebred cattle advertisements. Why? Because just like with a vehicle, high performance comes with high cost of inputs. Very high performance (135+ Yearling EPD, 35+ Milk EPD, large mature size EPD) cattle have very poor $EN (very negative $ value) figures…and people don’t generally care to advertise the ‘worst’ aspect of their breeding program. These programs are headed in the direction of a Holstein cow…amazing outputs, but the big dairy cows can’t live without an expensive, high-grain total mixed ration delivered three times a day in a feed truck.


There are breeding programs that emphasize low input cattle, with very high $EN figures. What is not often emphasized in these programs, are growth, milk, and carcass value. These programs are headed in the direction of a meat goat…you have a very low, if any, feed bill, but your receipts for selling a year’s production aren’t impressive.


Many of the biggest, best known Angus producers don’t weigh or measure their mature cows. They won’t do so until their bull buyers demand that information. It isn’t hard, though, to find the worst $EN cattle: just like the lowest MPG vehicles will be large and heavy, with lots of acceleration, the lowest $EN cattle will be large and heavy with extreme growth and high milk production.


Commercial producers can make an educated choice about what sort of mature size and milk production works for their ranch’s resources. A look back over past records, knowing how many first-calf heifers were open, how many cows were in the herd, how much hay was fed over the winter, how big your open cull cows are,  can be a great start. From this information, you can look back to the EPD and size profiles of the bulls that produced your heifers, and optimize rather than maximize your cowherd.