Finding treasure by taking a deep dive into cow-calf production data

Cost of Production Network opens a window on how producers like you spend and make money

The COP Network offers cow-calf producers a chance to see what farmers using a system like theirs are spending on their operations, as well as the results and revenue they’re achieving. The goal is to offer producers insights on how to boost the bottom line.
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An effort to create apples-to-apples benchmarking for cattle producers has released its results from 2020 — and has also issued an appeal for more producers to join the Canadian Cow-Calf Cost of Production Network.

“The purpose of the network is to produce benchmarks for different production systems found across Canada,” a newly released Canfax video states. “This is about seeing possibilities — what is possible for a cow-calf operation to achieve.

“Not the average, but the range of possibilities under different production systems and even within a similar production system.”

That means, for example, a producer in Alberta might find the closest match to his or her system in a “benchmark farm” in Saskatchewan or Manitoba.

The 2020 results come from 115 cattle producers from across the country, who were grouped into 28 of these benchmark farms — including six in Alberta (with data from 23 farms), six in Saskatchewan and two in Manitoba.

Canfax collected a lot of data (with the numbers averaged to ensure anonymity) in a lot of categories going back five years.

Environmental data included things such as annual precipitation in the “eco-region” the farms are located in, the stocking rate and hay yield. Performance indicators covered items such as weaning weights, cow-bull ratio, culling rates and death loss. The description of the production includes info such as days of swath grazing, days on winter feed, sale weights, and dates for the start of calving, weaning and sale.

The reports (there’s one for each benchmark farm) has a detailed breakdown of overall operational costs along with revenue and profitability.

The idea is that by examining this data, a producer can find ways to incrementally cut costs, boost production, and find ways to increase revenue.

“Each production system will have its own set of opportunities, limitations, and areas where greater focus may be beneficial,” says the Beef Cattle Research Council, which is funding the initiative.

Widening the net

Not all productions systems are yet covered in the network but the initial report is “a starting point” for producers, the executive summary of the report states.

“At this point, it should be remembered that the sample is too small to create provincial averages,” the Canfax video states. “That is why we are looking for more producers to sign up.”

A sign-up is currently underway and will close in November. In addition to providing data (Alberta producers must agree to release their AgriProfit$ data), participating producers will be placed in focus groups and meet (virtually) from January to March in sessions run by provincial co-ordinators (there are eight nationally, including two in Alberta).

Part of that process involves looking at what “incremental improvements could be made around productivity, input costs and output prices.”

Producers who participate also receive a $500 honorarium. (Dairy beef producers can also participate.)

For more on the program, go to and click on the Resources tab to find links to a description of the network and results from 2020.

There is also a link titled ‘Analysis’ and that links to four documents offering info and insights for cow-calf producers. Each covers a specific topic:

  • The executive summary of the 2020 results;
  • How to calculate cow depreciation and how to reduce this “considerable cost”;
  • Different ways to calculate cost of production (including the method used by the Cost of Production Network);
  • And finally, nearly six pages of recommendations for young producers from the 155 participating farmers in the study.

“Recommendations included working with their environment instead of fighting against it, invest in quality cattle such as bulls or artificial insemination technologies, and ensuring cattle have the correct nutrition and infrastructure,” that report states.

About the author


Glenn Cheater

Glenn Cheater is a veteran journalist who has covered agriculture for more than two decades. His mission is to showcase the ideas, passions, and stories of Alberta farmers and ranchers.



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