Using Cow-Calf Health and Production Data Series | Standardized Performance Analysis (SPA)

Standardized Performance Analysis (SPA) may not be a phrase familiar to some beef cow-calf producers. In the late 1970’s, the beef industry identified a need to provide a standard method of measuring production and cost related to a cow-calf operation. The SPA program was developed to provide beef cow-calf producers with a standard method of measuring their operations productivity and profitability. Today, the principles of SPA remain important, as consolidation within the cow-calf industry leads to larger herd sizes, input costs (i.e. feed, fertilizer, fuel, etc.) drive up the cost of production, and operational efficiency becomes increasingly more important. Any sort of SPA analysis requires some basic cattle health and production records to be collected and organized by the producer and their veterinarian. This article introduces the SPA program and the types of information needed.

The ability to compare metrics of production across operations is one of the great benefits of the SPA program. Pregnancy percentage, calving percentage, calf death loss, and calf crop percentage are common formulas for evaluating different stages in the process of developing the weaned calf, from breeding to weaning. A few basic pieces of information are needed for these measurements of production. The first is knowledge of the total number of animals maintained on the property throughout the year. This is likely to change for many operations, depending on when cattle are sold, so keeping a running total of cattle is necessary. It is useful if the cattle can be categorized by relevant management categories such as age, breed, or breeding pasture. For instance, if the total pregnancy percentage is below average, it may be that one particular age group (e.g. first-calf heifers) is contributing the most to the poor pregnancy percentage. Identifying management characteristics that have negative impacts on reproductive performance can help producers apply the appropriate resources or interventions to that group in order to improve their production. Individual animal identification is also useful for identifying individuals that fail to perform adequately in growth and reproductive efficiency but is not necessary for herd-level measurements. Recording the dates of a defined breeding season, and recording calving dates are necessary for several metrics of reproductive performance.

Many of the SPA guidelines are useful, even if the full program is not performed on the operation. Working with your veterinarian can help determine which measures of cattle health and performance are most useful to the goals of your operation, as well as determine which types of information may be needed to investigate cases of decreased production or disease incursion. As mentioned previously, recording cattle health and production data is imperative to any SPA program. In the next few articles, we will discuss some of the most common measurements of production used by SPA, as well as the benefits of this data to the cow-calf producer.