Category Archives: Cattle

Challenges or Opportunities

Oftentimes, we view challenges as mountains to overcome, but sometimes, those challenges are opportunities to diversify or force us to find the holes in our operations, the ‘dead wood’ as Stan Parson would call it.

I’ve penciled feeding hay vs grazing only. And even though feeding hay – even cheap hay and high calf prices – it is seldom (actually never) the path to take. Yet, i’ve taken it and been exhausted by mid-winter feeding hay! Now that i’m older, i must – forced, if you will — eliminate that practice. This year is tough – we are in a drought, so eliminating hay this year with little winter stockpile forage growth means a deep culling of my cow herd.

As markets have changed from their high in 2014, I also must let go of my beautifully colored Corriente and Longhorn cows. They have been a joy, but i can no longer justify the current deep discount those crossbred calves bring at market. My cow herd after November 19, 2020 will be almost exclusively black or red Angus.

Going forward, i’ve rigidly utilized the clever alliteration from the Noble Research Institute Foundation to start with my culling selections.

Old, Ornery, or Open.

This should be used every year actually, but i’ve let too many cows slide (not the ornery ones – they go quickly) through the years and this year is the year to clean up and add value. This year’s cattle prices have a lot of pressure with low demand and anything a bit off is deeply discounted.

  1. Even if a cow has really nice calf at side but comes up open (not pregnant) she needs selling because she will be freeloading for another year at least once her calf at side is sold. Plus, if she has a heifer i keep as a replacement, those poor conception genetics stay in my herd. Gone and gone. This cow may be a perfect fit for a fall calving buyer or one with better forages.
This particular red cow is actually pregnant and raising a decent calf, however she is a bit thin and shouldn’t be this time of year, so she will be sold as a 3 in 1 (3 animals in 1 package). Her pregnancy is a calf, not a blob of cells. The spotted cow with her butt to the camera also has a very nice calf, but she is not pregnant as indicated by the chartreuse ear tag we gave her to make it easier to sort off, she’ll be sold as a pair.

2. If a cow was bred and lost her calf sometime during the year and is open or bred back, i sell her. If she doesn’t bring a coupon (calf), she becomes the coupon.

This beautiful Corriente cow has made a lot of money for me, but she lost her calf this spring. She is bred back, starting to slip in condition, and is extremely old. She may have a difficult time making it through our harsh winter this year, so she can go to someone who may have a more gentle program. She has, until this spring, raised a big good calf for me for 12 years – she was middle aged when i bought her 12 years ago. She actually even carried an ET bull calf and raised it nicely. It’s tempting to keep her and let her die on the ranch and if she had a heifer calf at side i would do that.

3. Ornery is self explanatory. I used the same black Angus bulls for 3 years and one or more of them developed really bad attitudes. By the third year, i’d had enough and when i got them loaded out of the breeding pasture, I called the sale barn owner and asked i could just bring them up (there was a sale that day). Sold them (weighed up – i sure didn’t want anyone else have this problem) and so glad, but despite selecting my heifers very carefully for disposition, over the course of a couple years, some of them have become cranky. Now, i’m going to say, i’m much pickier on attitude than some people. I have 3 generations to work through.

This heifer coming with her first calf is bred and nice shape – you can note the Corriente touch in her. However, she is only being sold because she has snorted at me a couple times – even in the pasture. She doesn’t come after me, but i won’t tolerate a cow that raises her head and runs off or snorts at me.

4. As i wrote above, I will sell all my fancy, colored, cows with chrome – all euphemisms for being spotted or off colored. At the market, the quality of the animal is irrelevant if it is spotted. To quickly add value to the remaining calf crop is to just take my beating now and sell those beautiful cows and be done. 😦

This beautiful first calf heifer bred back in my 45 day breeding season and is raising a fantastic calf, yet both will be heavily discounted at the sale. Nevertheless, my goal is to eliminate ‘fancy’ cattle from my herd. It’s hard to cull a fine heifer strictly on color. 😦 You can see some hay set out in a spaced bale feeding scheme for winter. This is to not only feed cows, but add organic matter and build humus to the soil of that practically barren hillside.

5. If any cow had difficulty maintaining good body condition through the summer, she will also be sold. Even if she is bred back and/or has a good calf at side – eventually, she will come open. Selling her now at her peak.

6. Any cow with a dink calf (smaller or rougher haired than the other calves of the peer group) she will be sold with her calf. Usually, this happens with old cows, so they will be sorted off anyway – it’s just another mark against her.

On the Verge of Ragweed Allergy Season

Paddock 18a is located near my corral and therefore is overused.  It seldom has opportunity to get any rest and mercy it sure shows.  This year, i was determined to give it a rest and let something grow.  Typically the succession plant to damaged soil are tough weeds and my experience is no different.  Before the ragweed is pollinating, i thought i’d go have a look.  There is very little palatable undergrowth – these tall weeds – mostly ragweed and cockleburr can out compete nearly anything.

So my plan is to mob graze this 4.5 acres paddock with all my cows (about 150 adult animals and 60 calves) keeping an eye to the volume of tasty forage they need to leave behind, then come in and brush hog the remaining tall stuff before it goes to seed.

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the cows will eat the tops now – not really strip it like they will giant ragweed (which i call horse weed), but the stalk is pretty stiff so it doesn’t knock down very well. hoping to set back enough to let sunlight down into the canopy and let more desirable species get a chance. Next spring, i’ll plan to broadcast oats and try to compete with the ragweed and continue to rest the paddock as appropriate. this paddock has been abused the past 2-3 years and i let it rest for a long time this year – the result of abuse is clearly evident as natural sequence of healing occurs.

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I drove into this paddock to see what is growing. From a distance this didn’t look so tall. I’m think of letting the cows in to mob it as much as they will on a 4.5 acre paddock. I cannot even walk through this. The photo is taken from the relative safety of my a/c Gator. on 14 August 20.

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Check out this short video my friend Greg Judy puts together to help graziers manage their stock and soil.  Greg is an excellent teacher – you might enjoy subscribing to his YouTube channel.

 

 

Late Evening Repair

I completely forgot to check and repair a water gap along Cotton Road which was in a paddock in which i had a young cow get out last time the mob was in this paddock.  She was the only one to get out, thankfully.  Anyway,  despite having driven the 35 minutes and shifting the cows that morning, i had to go back in the evening to check the gap.  Especially since it is adjacent to a cemetery.  I thought i’d just run up in my pickup since it’s faster, but she was out and had taken a friend with her!  Cotton Road is not passable by pick up, so i had to drive back home and get my Gator and some more tools.

The two escapees had drifted into the cemetery instead of continuing west down Cotton Road which made it MUCH easier and quicker to walk them back into the paddock.  Very thankful they were not yet near the tombstones.  I’ve had to pay for repairs in the past and i sure didn’t want another round of that!

Made it back up there before dark and drove a steel t-post and dropped this heavy section of an old hay feeder.  About a week ago, i had cut down these hedge tree sprouts and they were laying nearby, so i dragged them to lay in there as well just to discourage any lounging.  Hedge trees are covered with tiny thorns.

Next day, i needed to check to be certain my repairs had stopped the escapees and thankfully, they had.

 

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Already Dead

Already Dead –

By Kit Pharo

Henry Ford once said, “The man who is too set to change is dead already.   The funeral is a mere detail.”   I had to read that quote a couple of times before I fully understood how powerful it is – and how appropriate it is to the current beef industry.   You may have to do the same thing.

I want you to think back to the drastic changes that were taking place when Henry Ford made this bold statement.   The horse and buggy were being replaced by automobiles.   Draft horses were being replaced by tractors.   For many people, these changes were beyond comprehension.   If you and I lived during that time period, there is an excellent chance we would have been extremely reluctant to accept those changes.

People hate change!   Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the cow-calf sector of the beef industry.   It often takes two or three decades for cow-calf producers to make simple changes – even though they know the change will be for their own good.   Some changes are not possible until one generation gives way to the next.   As stated in the leadoff article of our Summer 2020 Newsletter, many family businesses advance one funeral at a time.   If you don’t think this is true, you are living in la-la land.

Cow-calf producers who think they can continue to do things the way they have always done them need to WAKE UP and smell the coffee.   As Henry Ford said, “Those who are too set to change are already dead.   The funeral is a mere detail.”   Are you already dead?   I hope not.   It’s not too late to make the necessary changes in your program and genetics – but time is of the essence.   Nothing stays the same.   It’s Time to Change Horses!

Jim Gerrish puts it all together!

Here is a podcast Jim did with Charlie Arnott when he and Dawn were in Australia earlier in the year. Charlie is a biodynamic farmer/grazier located in New South Wales who also produces podcasts related to regenerative ag, human health, and an array of other current topics.

This serious yet lighthearted conversation covers a lot of ground. We hope you choose to listen & enjoy it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=orRLYqSQQEM

 

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In this episode Charlie chats to the American grazier and educator Jim Gerrish. Jim takes us on his regenerative journey and recalls the moment, when he realised that the aroma of freshly turned/ ploughed ground he had always liked growing up was in fact the smell of the earth dying…this proved to be the turning point in his life. Jim’s journey is a captivating one which touches on human health & diet, food definitions, changing farm practices and a whole lot more. To start a dialogue and converse more about topics raised in this podcast, please visit The Regenerative Journey podcast Facebook group. Episode Takeaways We don’t need feedlots. We just need people who have grazing management skills to take a pasture and turn it into delightful beef | In research we don’t call it a cow pie/cow pat, it’s a SEE…a Single Excretory Event! | We don’t need new knowledge, we need to be applying what we already know | The whole idea that beef cattle are destroying the environment is only tied to feedlot phase of it | The methane thing is a real red herring with grazing cattle, feedlots it’s a problem. It’s the production model not the ruminant animals that are the problem | Grass feeds the grass, grass feeds the soil, then grass can feed the livestock| Human health is intrinsically linked to soil health. Links Jim Gerrish – American Grazing Lands LLC Maia Grazing – Grazing management tool Dr. James Anderson – Scottish agriculturist in 1700’s Diana Rodgers – Sustainable Dish Sacred Cow – Film project led by Diana Rodgersint

A Perfect Match by Jim Gerrish

Once again, Jim Gerrish, owner American GrazingLands,  pens a thorough and relevant article.  This one published in The Stockman GrassFarmer June , 2020 issue.  Click here if you’d like to request a free copy of The Stockman GrassFarmer.

A Perfect Match

May, Idaho

Some things just seem to fit together really well.  Bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwiches come to mind, among other things.

How about no-till, cover-crops, irrigation, and MiG?  That is another combination that is hard to beat.

Industrial farming with conventional tillage has led to widespread land degradation through soil erosion, loss of soil carbon, and destruction of soil life.  No-till minimizes soil disturbance and the concurrent loss of organic matter soil life.  The downside of no-till farming over the 50 or so years since its inception has been heavy reliance on potent herbicides like paraquat and glyphosate.  To eliminate the need for those herbicides and their toxic side effects, innovative farmers have figured out approaches.  The roller-crimper as a mechanical tool can terminate existing vegetation and turn it into moisture-conserving mulch.  High stock density grazing can also terminate or suppress existing vegetation and turn it into dollars.

The exponential growth in cover-crop use over the last decade has also accelerated the adoption of no-till farming across the USA and around the world.  While many farmers started using cover-crops based solely on soil health benefits, others came to realize livestock were the missing link in their efforts to heal the land.  We quite talking about sustainable ag a few years ago and started talking about regenerative ag.  Why settle for sustaining the agricultural wreck we have created over the last century?  Why don’t we try fixing it instead?

Ray Archuleta uses a great example to illustrate the difference between the sustainable and regenerative concepts.  ray asks,  “If your marriage is a wreck, why would you want to sustain that?  If your farm is a wreck, why would you want to sustain that?”

Regeneration is meant to create something healthy and strong that will last your lifetime and beyond.  I think it is a valuable lesson in world selection and world viewpoint.

In a similar vein, many years ago I said the most tragic divorce that has happened down on the farm was the divorce of livestock from the land.  Taking grazing animals off the landscape and locking them up in concentration camps removed a critical component of ecosystem health.  We will only regenerate a healthy landscapes with effectively managed livestock as part of the process.

We can argue about the sustainability of irrigation.  Around the world, including the USA, aquifers are being pumped to the point of depletion.  Land is being degraded due to salinization from irrigating with high salt content water.  Pumping costs are increasing in many irrigated farming areas as water is pumped from deeper and deeper wells.  No, irrigation in that sense is neither sustainable nor regenerative.

Living in the Intermountain Region of the USA for 16 years now and enjoying a different type of irrigation basis.  I think there is a time and place for irrigation in a regenerative ranching or farming context.  With direct snow-melt as our water source we avoid aquifer depletion and most of the salinity risks associated with irrigation in semi-arid landscapes.

For many years, a lot of this region was flood irrigated.  There are a number of benefits to flood irrigation.  Flood irrigation can rely entirely on gravity flow of water so there is no pumping cost.  It can hydrate parts of the landscape outside of the farmed fields.  The infrastructure investment is fairly low.  However, Water use efficiency cannot be counted as one of the favorable aspects of flood irrigation.

Per ton of forage grown, flood irrigation typically uses about 50-80% more water than sprinkler irrigation.  As we think more and more about the pending worldwide water crisis, all of us in agriculture must become better versed in water conservation whether we are in high natural rainfall or irrigated environments.  That brings us back to thought of no-till farming with cover-crops and the role of grazing animals in groundwater management.

We have all heard and read those popular press articles citing how many pounds of water it takes to produce a pound of hamburger or a steak.  Some beef industry estimates are as low as 1000 lbs of water per lb of beef all the way up to 12,000 lbs of water/lb of beef claimed by some vegan groups.  Since a pound of beef only contains about 10 ounces of water, the rest of all that water has to be somewhere else.  That somewhere else is mostly in the soil or the atmosphere meaning that same water will be used for something else tomorrow or the next day or the next.

Our job is to get as much back into the soil or the deeper ground water system.  This is where MiG comes into the picture.  We use time-controlled grazing management to manipulate the amount of living plant residual and the amount of trampled litter we create in the pasture.  Both of those grazing management responses are critically important factors in managing soil water.  Infiltration rate and surface runoff are directly tied to our day-to-day grazing management choices.

When we can easily produce twice as much animal product per acre using MiG compared to ineffectively managed pastures, that translates to a doubled water use efficiency.  Think about the cost of seeding cover-crops on irrigated land and the relative return on investment between those two different management scenarios.  Regardless of the particular pasture in question.  MiG always increases the return potential.

Jim Gerrish is an independent grazing lands consultant providing service to farmers and ranchers on both private and public lands across the USA and internationally.  He can be contacted through www.americangrazinglands.com.  His books are available from the SGF Bookshelf page 20.

 

 

 

 

Summer Slump Savvy

Another great video by Greg Judy describing summer slump grazing in Missouri.  He lives in central Missouri.  He also gives his two great interns special attention in this one.

Summer Slump Management