Bioeconomic analysis of Uruguayan cow-calf systems using a simulation model

Juan Manuel Soares de Lima


Uruguay is one of the major beef and sheep meat exporters countries. Its economy is highly dependent on livestock production, and cow-calf systems (CCS) are mainly carried out by small farmers under grazing conditions and consequently under the influence of a large number of interacting variables affecting productivity and especially the economic profit of the production systems. Compared to many other countries, fat cow/calf price ratio in Uruguay is significantly higher. Under the assumption that pregnancy diagnostic defines whether a cow is retained on the herd or cull to be fattened, and that those are sold with relatively high values, the hypothesis is that calf production and cow fattening are antagonistic activities inside the system. The aim of this study was to analyze the effect of some key variables in CCS using a bioeconomic simulation model, with special emphasis on the interactions between pregnancy rate, age at first mating (AFM) and the relationship between calves and fat cow prices. The defined CCS has enough forage to fatten all cull cows and to rear heifers (15-17 % of improved pastures). Three AFM were compared; 14 months old, 26 years old and 50% of heifers at 14 months old and 50% at 26 months. In addition, two market scenarios defined by different calf/cow price ratios were assessed (1.49 vs 1.27). Results showed that increase on pregnancy has its economic counterpart reducing cull cows for fattening. In economic terms, the importance of pregnancy as an indicator of the farm success should be relativized, especially when the fattening system component is assisted by a favorable prices relationship and an efficient process of females replacement in the herd (early AFM). Simulation models are a useful tool to identify critical points and inefficiencies in Uruguayan’s livestock systems, and to feedback research when looking for alternatives to overcome these limitations.

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