Category Archives: FARM

Getting Into the Cattle Business: Buying a Ranch and Making it Pay

Solid figures to help me decide whether or not to pursue any land purchases should any come up for sale. Farms in Linn County, MO rarely change hands.

Land & Livestock International, Inc.

By Dr. Jimmy T (Gunny) LaBaume, President & CEO, Land & Livestock International, Inc.

What and Why?

First, do you want to own a ranch or do you just want to be in the cattle business? Did you know that you can enter the cattle business without owning either land or cattle?

"Waiting for a Chinnook" Also known ...
“Waiting for a Chinnook” Also known as “Last of the 5000”

You are already thinking, “This guy has lost his mind!” But seriously, you can. You can lease land and take in pasture cattle–i.e. you can pasture someone else’s cattle on leased land for a monthly per head fee. Once you get a reputation for paying your bills and taking good care of other peoples land, ranch lease opportunities will come to you. You won’t have to look for them.

This is an excellent way for young prospective ranchers to get into the business without having to…

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Compare 2-Year-Olds to 3-Year-Olds

Conventional wisdom from cattle management experts as well as those in the Ag University system insists that to properly develop future cows for a profitable cow herd young females (replacement heifers) need to calve by the time they are 2 years old.  The main idea is to identify those females which are the most fertile and to select for early maturation.  But is that really the way to do so?  And is early maturity a desirable trait?  Consider that most producers (in cattle) are expecting those young females to give birth by what is a comparable human age of 14, gestate, and raise a baby every year thereafter.  Whereas, the 3 year old compares to 18.  Animal Age Calculator

There is also the ‘belief’ (because i’ve never seen any data to support this) that a cow calving as a 2 year old raises one more calf in her lifetime than the older heifers.  I cannot speak to this with my own data since i’ve not been at it long enough to gather data, but i also don’t plan to do the research and have another herd that calves as 2 year olds.  However, I’ve spoken with a few producers who have been doing this for a long time and they are just as convinced that allowing their heifers to be physically mature before calving them allows them to live longer and more productive lives.

My heifers are not exposed to a bull until they are at least 2 years old – actually most are born in May of a year and not exposed until mid-July two years later, so they are actually 2 years and 2 months old and they will calve when they are right at 3 years old the following May.

Although there are several producers who manage their cattle this way, we tend to not be outspoken much for to do so would be to encourage belligerent confrontation or the sorrowful looks to imply that we are just hopeless cases and will never be legitimate or profitable ranchers.

Outside the obvious lifestyle benefits for producer/rancher and the comfort and animal welfare of the livestock, I’ve put together some financial figures which will apply to my ranch and indicate to me that I’ve made the right decision for my operation.

 

Heifer Development Costs
2 year old 3 year old
Value of Weaned Calf  $    630.00 450 lbs  $      1.40
Value of 2 year old  $    810.00 600 lbs  $      1.35
Hay
Pasture Year 1  $    125.00  $    125.00
Pasture Year 2  $    125.00
Salt/Mineral  $        3.00  $         6.00
Breeding Fees
Veterinarian Fees  $        5.00  $         5.00
Supplies
Labor
Interest
Insurance
Taxes
Depreciation
Machinery
Bulls  $      40.00  $      40.00  per head
Costs  $    153.00  $    281.00
Total Cost  $    803.00  $ 1,111.00
Conception Rate 70% 96%
$1147.14  $ 1157.29
*PPI 70 50 days
Calving Assistance 18% 0%
2nd calf conception 70% 96%
Advantages:
Manage growing, breeding, gestating, calving heifers as one mob with cows
Older Heifers are physically and mentally mature with no special feed requirements
Observing older cows calving seems to teach the heifers what to do
Less than 1 % calf death loss
Calves at least 50 lbs heavier at weaning and can be weaned with the cows’ calves
No special treatment

*PPI – post partum interval – the number of days it takes for the female to recover from calving and becoming pregnant again.

The calving assistance and pregnancy rates are taken from various University research data over decades of record keeping.  Most research heifers are developed with considerable grain and feed inputs which incurs more costs including labor.  However, my comparisons are grass and forage only.  Therefore it is likely that the grass managed 2 year olds could be significantly higher open (not bred) percentages than what is illustrated here.  Whereas the 3 year old development percentages are actual from my ranch.  My grass managed 2 year olds were only 10% bred!  Ouch!

WOTB – Working on the Business – tweaking the plan to discover a bit more opportunity for profitability in ranching.  Margins are too thin for my hobby level of ranching, but trying to do my best.

Cheers!

tauna

heifersIMG-3631

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The red heifer in the middle with the black ear tag is a coming 3 year old expecting her first calf while the two red heifers to the left of her are long yearlings (about 1 1/2 years old) and will be exposed to the bull in mid-July.  The black cow to the right is much older – as you can see the coming three year old exhibits nearly the same maturity.

IMG-3631 (1)

 

 

 

Sell Now or Sell Later

There has always been great debate about whether or not to sell open (not pregnant) cows in the fall at pregnancy check or turn the bull back in with them and see if they’ll breed for another season, then sell them pregnant.  Many trade publications will encourage producers to ‘add value’ to a cull cow, but i seriously question the validity of such endeavor, but then again, i’m not an expert with numbers, i’m just lazy and don’t want to be shifting and handling and sorting my cows more than necessary.

It’s easy enough to simply put numbers to the various practices, then make your favourite decision.

My first stumbling block with the concept of adding value to one of my cull cows has to do with passing off a potentially problem cow to my neighbor.  That doesn’t sound very neighborly or make good business since.  However, one could simply ‘add value’ by pouring the feed to the cow to make her fat and increasing the grade or value for slaughter.  It also could be justified by the fact that my management is super low input and most of my cows would thrive in another producer’s management style.

Let’s compare:

Pregnancy check in the fall reveals 10 open cows.  My cows all have a calf at side or they’d already be sold, so 14-30 days after the calves have received their vaccines, I’ll wean the calf by selling off the cow to slaughter.  She’s not going to be in the fattest condition because she’s nursing a nice calf and a non-fat cow will not bring top dollar.

For example, the different cow classes are as follows:

SLAUGHTER COWS:

  1. Breaking and Boning (75-85% lean) $47.50-$57.50
  2. High dressing $58.00-$67.00.
  3. Lean (85-90%) $44.00-$54.50

Cows in the fall nursing a calf will typically fall in the Lean or Breaking and Boning categories and this year are bringing about $43/cwt (hundredweight).  My cows are primarily Corriente or Corriente cross and will weigh about 800 lbs (by comparison and Angus or other beefier breed will weigh 1200 lbs, although she still may be thin and be in the same category).

 

OR

Keep the cow and turn the bull back with her and hope she gets bred – Let’s say there is 70% chance that she will.  So, we keep the cow until she is in the 2nd stage of pregnancy or about 5-6 months along.

Therefore, if she would bring $875/head as a P2 cow (and this would be a stretch if she is older than 5 or 6).

OR

Leave the bulls in with the cows an additional 20-30 days and hope that another 50% of the potentially open cows actually breed, then sell the bred cows that calved late as well as the open cows in mid-December.

Let’s compare:

10 $105 -$1,050 labor
10 $127 -$1,270 pasture costs
7 $875 $6,125 bred cows sold
3 $400 $1,200 open cows sold
$5,005  keep and sell in June
vs
5 $360 $1,800 open cows sold
5 $675 $3,375 bred cows sold
$5,175  sell in December
($170)

Things to consider.Interestingly, in my opinion, these numbers probably won’t change even if one leaves the bulls in for another 20 days, sort out the cows that have not calved by 10 June and selling them as ready to calve in the last trimester (P3).  In this part of the country (Missouri, USA) a summer calving P3 cow is not as desirable as a fall calving P2 even though i’ve credited her with more value in my chart above.

Leaving the bulls in an additional 20 days is advantage for me in that i avoid having to handle the cattle during ragweed allergy season.  My allergies are so bad, that this is a serious consideration.  However, the reality of bringing in the cows with baby calves and sorting off the one which haven’t calved yet is that it likely won’t happen and one would be right back to a 65 day calving season.  However, those cow numbers could be written down, paired up in the fall and then sold as pairs when animals are mustered in for preg check and calf vaccinations.

The point of changing the time and reducing the length of breeding season was to avoid ragweed allergy season.  However, i discovered that at least this year, i was unable to withstand the debilitating effects of ragweed as late as 1 September.   Also, the longer the calving season, the more inconvenient it is to shift the animals through a managed rotation.

Other alternative is to separate those open cows and a bull put in with them.  Disadvantage is that a separate herd must be maintained for 7 months.  Not really a feasible situation.

So, now that i’ve thought through the pros and cons of the various scenarios, especially solving the issue with allergies i will plan to leave the bulls in an additional 20 days, thereby hauling them out about 20 September.  This means, however, that the following spring that i’ll be dealing with an additional 20 days of baby calves to shift (yes, this is a pain in the butt) and be diligent to write down the numbers of those cows calving late so they can be sorted off during preg check in November.    If half of those late calvers go ahead and get bred, it will add dollars to my bottom line without adding much expense.  Most importantly, it solves the allergy issue.

WOTB – (working on the business)

Cheers

tauna

 

 

Winter Sunset

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I’ve removed all the old gates and panels from the old corral my grandpa used for decades.  Dallas and Brett had the tractor up at my farm, so we took advantage of that by pulling up the old hedge posts and clearing this whole area.  I still have a huge wood pile of posts, etc to burn.  This place is known as the Bowyer Farm and is where my grandparents ‘went to housekeeping.’  Sometimes, i struggle with taking out and changing the old stuff, but barns, facilities, houses, become not only an eyesore, but dangerous.  The memories are only mine now – all others who would have sentimental thoughts are passed away.  

Dangers of Grazing E+ Fescue Short

Study Shows Dangers of Short Grazing Toxic-Fescue Pastures by Cattle Herds

Research results published November 30, 2017 by Sarah Kenyon, PhD, University of Missouri once again illustrate how grazing the non-native, invasive toxic-endophyte (E+) fescue plant causes health problems in cattle and other livestock, including horses.  Other studies show the effects on the soil microbial populations and wildlife.  E+ Fescue is pervasive, persistent, and poisonous.

Short grazing of E+ fescue in the last fall/early winter before a killing frost has been used by us and others to manage the spring growth of the plant by shortening the root system which slows spring growth, allowing more desirable grasses and legumes to get a foot hold.  This is effective, but a relentless endeavor since it must be done every fall/winter to control the fescue and quite simply, there is no way to manage ALL the fescue at once everywhere on the farm.

I’m thankful for professors and agricultural leaders bucking the status quo and revealing this long-known information to a modern generation and offering solutions to not only mitigate the health issues associated with the toxin, but also ideas on eradicating it.  Time will tell if changes will work – it’s expensive to renovate and manage pastures and fields – – and farming and ranching does not lend itself to wide margins of profits to plough back into improvements.

Cheers!

tauna

Unexpected “Treasures”

For some reason, farmers of old (and, sadly, probably some still) thought that throwing old metal farm implements, myriads of rolls of barbed wire or woven wire in ditches, along with old hedge posts would somehow magically make the ditch stop washing.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  However, it could be said that throwing trash in the ditch answers men’s idea of ‘cleaning’ sort of the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ that women simply cannot fathom.  It’s still there for goodness sake!

Blessed with incredibly fine weather and a wee bit of time and some great help last week and after owning this property for about 26 years, this 50 foot stretch of ditch had the metal pulled out.  Because of the junk, the water simply pools and won’t allow healing.  Once I graze the pasture down this winter with my cows, I’ll burn all the wood trash and cut down as many rubbish trees as necessary to allow this ditch/draw to grass over and heal, so erosion will STOP!

What a surprise to find these fine implements stacked alongside the ditch – most are in decent working order, though too antiquated to be useful except as yard ornaments.

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Numerous heavy rolls of woven wire with farm implements loaded on the back.  It took the three of us with pickup, machinery mover, tractor and loader about 3 hours to clean it out of the ditch.  Environmentally, it’s the right thing to do, but putting a pencil reveals high costs and no income side to this type farm improvement project.
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Son, Dallas, loads the old horse drawn seated one bottom plough.

 

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Two antique harrow sections; one of them is in excellent condition.
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Cute horse drawn cultivator.
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This is likely a walk behind one bottom plough.  It’s missing the wooden handles.
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One of at least 20 big rolls of woven wire buried in the mud and muck, this one even had small trees and multiflora rose grown up through.
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Brett and I worked together to wrap log chains through the center of each roll, Dallas pulled them out with the tractor, then smashed them flat with the front end loader.  Later, we would pack two or three of them in the loader and Dallas would load them onto the machinery mover (trailer).

 

 

The Fall of Thor’s Hammer

Book Review

Follow along with Levi Prince and gang in this Book 2 on their fantastical adventures at camp.  This series is geared towards young adults, but i had a blast reading along.  Easy read, fast-paced, excellent story line, and message.  Print and kindle copies available at several venues.  Click through on Goodreads.

Other great young adults books by Amy C Blake:

The Trojan Horse Traitor (Levi Prince) Paperback – November 17, 2015

Whitewashed: On the Brink Series Book 1 Paperback – February 7, 2015

Colorblind: On The Brink Series, Book 2 Paperback – February 7, 2016

Looking for gift ideas?  Don’t even forget about books – and these are highly recommended.

Cheers

tauna

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The Fall of Thor’s Hammer – Amy C. Blake