Since the first of the year, i’ve headed to the local YMCA just 10 minutes drive away and working out (walking at least 10,000 steps according to Fitbit and lifting weights) for 2 to 2 1/2 hours each morning. Our YMCA opens a bit before 5am, so this is a perfect time for me to go. I’m usually awake anyway and it’s far too cold outside to do anything, plus it’s dark.
Anyway, like the others who come in early to workout, i plug into my phone and listen to something. I really enjoy listening to audio books through our local library‘s subscription to Hoopla. Granted, i suspect there is not as many books on offer as a paid subscription like Audiobooks, but Hoopla is included in our library membership. But, i mix up the books with Youtube of grazing and cattle management experts. This has included Jim Gerrish, Jaime Elizondo Braum, Johann Zietsman, Doug Peterson, Greg Judy, David Pratt, Allen Williams.
Continuing education is necessary in any endeavour and as margins tighten and disappear in cattle production it becomes critical to discover little ways to squeeze a bit of income out of our chosen career despite outside pressures OR to discover that you must forge a totally different path if this one simply can no longer be financially sustained.
Regardless of one’s age, evaluation of your chosen work needs doing regularly, but having just turned 56, it may be time consider winding down and looking at retirement. Nevertheless, the older we get, we must discover if what we are doing is the most effective use of our time and energy (which physically wanes). If the activity is marginally profitable, then what can be done to make it more profitable without increasing labor (labor and feed are huge costs in raising livestock). Or are we better purposed to volunteer, counsel, or help our children more.
- Last year, i used a lot of iron (tractors, rotavator, plough disk, no-till drill) to establish, first, 18 acres of annuals, and second, establish a permanent ley on 50 acres. The first experiment resulted in quality grazing, but not more grazing as measured in cow days per acre, than my poor quality forage already growing. So, i don’t plan to incur that cost again, though my soil may have experienced some improvement. The second experiment was severely hampered by the lack of rain for the seeds to grow. However, it may have been a blessing, 1) a better kill of the toxic endophyte fescue due to dry and hot weather, and 2) the seeds hopefully did not germ and will come up this spring. Time will tell on that here in about 3 months. However, this project was extremely expensive at $175/acre.
- Last year, i also had lime spread on the 160 at the rate of 2 tons per acre for a cost of $66/acre. The addition of lime typically doesn’t show any production increase for a couple years.
- Bale feeding was used quite a lot on various parts of my paddocks. This may very well be the fastest way to build soil health, but it’s expensive (like all inputs) and time consuming to place the bales.
- Last year, I also synchronised my cows with hormones and AI’d a good portion of them. The reason was because i was going to shorten my breeding season once again to 45 days vs 65 days. This is expensive, but it does seem to help. However, due to ragweed allergies, i am simply unable to remove the bulls from the pasture on 1 September, so i will change my plan and leave the bulls in for 60 days and simply sell those that do not calve within the 45 day window. This does not, however, address the fact that i don’t want to calve for 60 days. Nothing to be done for that. Allergies rule my schedule in this regard.
So, tweaking my plan for this year will be to:
- no mechanical disturbance or seed inputs (including broadcast)
- no liming or other fertiliser input purchases (save up to $100/acre)
- Utilize bale grazing extensively to increase soil health (microbial activity) and organic matter (improve tilth) (the only down side here is the time spent to set the bales in the paddocks in proper manner in preparation for winter grazing)
- eliminate the synchronising and AI costs. This eliminates the time spent in mustering and sorting the cows 3 times, shots and CIDRS, semen costs, and AI technician expense. All these costs add up to about $80 per cow.
- purchase hay early for possible reduced cost per bale (purchasing in winter tends to drive up cost due to increased demand) (delivered hay costs from 4 cents to 15 cents per pound depending on quality and demand)
- Manage my time to allow ultra high stock density grazing (UHDG) at least part of the year to increase forage diversity, water infiltration, and soil health. (time is a problem here because of my farm being a 35 minute drive from my home, it is counter productive if this increases labor that would be expensed to cows)
- let go, rent out the land, and sell my cows – no work. the drawbacks are having to quibble with renters on their lack of care and watching your land erode, grow up in brush, and/or wash away. Repair and clean up can be costly at the end of the renting period.
So, should i continue ranching – and realistically, i plan to – giving it up unless necessary is not really a consideration, although it should be, then i need to decide whether to reduce the number of cows to what my pastures can sustain during the non growing season (winter – about 5 months and summer heat – about 1 month), OR increase cow numbers to manage the growing season flush and buy in enough hay to feed them during the winter. Hay purchase and feeding will also improve the soil, so there is added value to that.
No one else can make this decision, although there are a lot of suggestions and i really appreciate all the expert and seasoned ranchers sharing their experiences – these have guided me .