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  • Writer's pictureFarmbrite

Key Metrics Every Cattle Rancher Should Know

Updated: Oct 2, 2023

Introduction to Key Metrics

When you’re managing a ranch, it's important to track key metrics that tell the story of your cattle herd or your cow calf operation. These metrics can differ depending on the size and type of your operation, but here are some key metrics every rancher should know:

Cattle Gains

Cattle gains is a measurement of the amount of weight gain (or loss) in cattle over time. The calculation can be done two ways:

  1. Using an average of every animal on your ranch, or

  2. Using an average of all animals that were born within a certain year (this will only include cows that have calved once).

Once you’ve figured out how many pounds each animal has gained or lost throughout its lifetime, multiply this number by its current market value to get its total value. This gives you an idea of whether selling your cow now would prove profitable for the ranch. If not, it may be better to keep it and wait for increased growth potential down the road.

As with many metrics in agriculture, cattle gains are determined by several factors: age at birth (younger animals grow faster), genetics (some breeds grow faster than others), feeding regimen, and environment conditions during growth period.

Cattle Production Costs

Production costs are the expenses associated with raising beef cattle. These costs include feed, labor, land, equipment and other cattle production costs. The cost of each category varies depending on the size of your operation—small-scale ranchers have only a few animals in their care compared to large operations that may have hundreds.

Some expenses are fixed, meaning they don't change with production levels; others are variable—they increase as output increases.

For example:

Fixed Expenses:

  1. Feed is generally the largest single expense that you'll incur as a rancher (it accounts for 50% or more of your total annual costs). As such, this is one area where it's important to keep an eye on how much you're spending so you can be sure there's enough cash flow coming in to cover these bills each month.

  2. Labor is another big ticket item because it includes salaries paid out not just to you but also to any hired help who work at your farm.

  3. Land values vary widely depending on location and soil quality, but tend toward increasing over time due in part to urban sprawl around metropolitan areas.

  4. Equipment costs vary according to what type(s) of machinery/tools are needed; however there are several things to consider from both an upfront perspective as well as continuing maintenance after purchase.

Feed Conversion Rate

Feed conversion rate calculation is the number of pounds of gain per pound of feed.

The average conversion rate is between 1.25 and 1.50 pounds of gain per pound of feed. This measure is an important indicator for ranchers because it indicates how efficiently a cow-calf operation is using its resources to produce calves that will grow into market animals or replacements for the herd.

Breeding, Calving and Weaning Summary

The Breeding, Calving & Weaning Summary is a table that shows the total number of cows bred (including those bred multiple times), the total number of calves born, and the total number of calves weaned from your operation.

Here is an explanation of each of these metrics:

  • Cows Bred: The total number of cows bred by your operation during a given time period (monthly or annual). This includes heifers who have not been bred yet but are available for breeding. You may also see this written as “Cows Mated” or “Cows Pregnant” which means only those females that are currently pregnant with live calf embryos should be included here—not heifers that have not been bred yet but could potentially become pregnant at any point during their first breeding season (usually 18-24 months old).

  • Cows Bred Multiple Times: This metric represents how many females were bred more than once within a specific time period (monthly or annual), regardless if they produced multiple pregnancies or not. For example, if two different bulls were used on one cow during this same time frame then only one pregnancy would count toward your overall average value; however both bulls would be counted toward this total regardless if they were used on other different females within this same timeframe as well.

  • Calves Born: The total number of calves born from all cows combined during a given time period (monthly or annual). For example: A cow has twins; one being a bull calf and one being female calf who dies shortly after birth due to complications. Both would still count towards overall average value since they were both born alive.

Livestock Feed and Herd Summary

A Feed and Herd Summary is a document that includes metrics like the total cost of feed and feed conversion ratio, among others. It helps ranchers determine how much money is going toward feed and how much it costs to feed each animal on their ranch.

Here is a breakdown of each of these metrics:

  • Total feed cost: This is the total amount of money spent on feed and supplements, both purchased and homegrown, over the course of one year.

  • Feed cost per head: This metric gives you an idea of your herd's average daily intake by dividing the total annual feed bill by the number of cattle in your herd. For example: If you have 100 cows and spend $10,000 on feed annually, then each cow costs $100/year in feeding expenses ($10k/year / 100 cows = $100/cow/year).

  • Feed conversion ratio (FCR): The FCR helps ranchers figure out how much protein and energy their animals are getting from each pound of forage consumed—and thus enables them to better manage their grazing programs based on having a desired FCR goal. An FCR closer to 1 means that more nutrition is being extracted from what they eat; while an FCR closer to 0 indicates that they're not getting much worth out of what they consume (which may cause lower production levels). Calculate feed conversion rate.

  • Herd inventory per acre/head-acre: This metric measures how many acres are needed per cow unit or head unit within a given area—a useful benchmark when planning future expansion plans or assessing pasture quality before making any changes that could impact its health.

Medical Treatment Summary

The cost of treating sick animals is a key metric to track. Calculate the cost of treating sick animals by adding up all of your medical bills for a year. To calculate this figure, include any money you spent on vaccines, medications, antibiotics and other treatments for your herd.

You might even want to include the cost of hiring a veterinarian or buying vaccines from outside vendors if these expenses are significant enough that they should be included in the overall calculation.

Use this information to improve your herd's health. By knowing how much it costs you each year to treat sick cattle, you can better plan ahead when it comes time to buy new supplies or make changes in how they're cared for (such as switching veterinarians).


As a rancher, there are plenty of livestock data to keep track of. But don't let the sheer amount of numbers and data points overwhelm you. Data can provide useful insights into your operation, whether it's helping you make better decisions or improving your overall management practices.

Now that we've covered some key metrics to consider as a rancher, here are some tips to help guide any future analyses:

  • Identify what questions need answering before conducting an analysis and how those answers will be used by the business—this will help clarify what data needs to be collected in order for it to be useful.

  • Choose the right metric(s) for measuring success—choosing too many metrics at once can lead to confusion and frustration when trying to interpret results.

  • Use a consistent method for collecting data over time (e.g., weekly reports) so that trends can be identified.

With the right cattle software and data collection methods, it’s easy to keep tabs on all of the information you need in one place.


If you’re looking for a way to track your ranch’s performance, these key metrics are a great place to start. Whether you start keeping herd records in a cattle record book or leverage an online cattle record keeping app, keeping accurate data is a key part of growing your cattle business.



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