Category Archives: Cattle

Working Cows and Calves Friday

The weather looks like it’s going to be perfect for pregnancy checking my cows and vaccinating late April through May born calves.  With daughter Jessica off teaching 1st grade this year in Hanoi, Vietnam, i’m short someone to do the tagging.  So that job gets shuffled between me and whoever is head catching the animals.  Not as efficient, but there is no one to pick up that job.  I do have most of the calf tags ready and most of the replacement tags for cows.

 

This peaceful video was taken Wednesday afternoon at my farm while i was up there working.  Happy cows and calves.

Fall Calving?

Heather Smith Thomas has written an interesting article for Progressive Cattle magazine entitled, “Fall Calving – Worth the Off-Season Plunge?“.  It’s worth a read for consideration, however, in my opinion, the answer is given in the question.  Seldom, if ever, doing anything off -season is smart or profitable.

The advantages listed in the article are straw man arguments, however, so if you are considering changes to your heard, be certain to talk to producers who can show you the real costs.

Advantages listed for fall calving:

  1. states that better prices for calves sold in the spring – this is true, but has nothing to do with fall calving.
  2. states that cows are on a better nutritional plane – not necessarily true since it depends on what they have been eating and the weather.  Missouri grasses and weather can have mighty thin cows by early fall.  Heat and humidity and toxic fescue play havoc with a body.  Inventory your location and resources before adapting.
  3. Row croppers are busy in spring (yes, they are) and so don’t have time to check cows.  This has nothing to do with fall calving.  Cows calve on their own.
  4. i think the issue on this is cold, muddy, health conditions.  This is largely, though not entirely, a producer making poor management decisions and can be issue no matter what season you have your cows calving in.
  5. Vaccinating/processing calves – there is no difference.
  6. Weaning calves in October when weather starts turning cold – why are you weaning just before winter?  Winter the calves with their mums.

Disadvantages listed for fall calving:

  1. more feed due to higher nutrient demands – yes, this is true, increased cost for feed and labor.
  2. lighter calves may be weaned in the spring – yes, this is true, and usually bring more dollars than heavy calves.

 

Wildlife have been working out the time for having babies for millennia, so mimicking their patterns is definitely worth a look since it is likely they go for the time of the year with the greatest survivability by now.  In the case of cattle, the closest animal type would be bison or buffalo in the Midwest, USA.  Most of the calves are born between the middle of April and end of May.  For this reason, I have chosen that same time frame for calving out my cows, and it works very nicely.  I seldom see a calf born and i haven’t assisted a cow in years.  That doesn’t mean every cow has no trouble or never gives birth to a dead calf, but even those times are extremely rare.  So, in my case, labor and labor costs are a nil.  Grass is coming on nicely, so the cows are in good condition and can feed themselves. (no labor)

So, while it’s a good article – you must do your own research.  As you see, i easily refute all the ‘advantages’ listed in the article of fall calving in my own operation and resource base.  I like to be profitable and fall calving simply doesn’t fill the bill.  (Disclaimer – my husband has a spring and fall calving herd and he likes it that way)

Another thing to remember when reading articles is that many producers call spring calving Dec through Feb/Mar.  That is the dead of winter!  Spring starts March 20.  Fall calving would mean starting September 20.  Make sure you clarify what people actually mean when these terms are bandied about.

Fall-calving cows

There are advantages and disadvantages to every calving season; producers need to figure out what works best for their own climate and management system.

Dr. George Barrington, Washington State University, says the advantages and disadvantages to fall calving are partly geographic, with regional and management differences. “Some producers in the Intermountain West have successful fall-calving programs, even though it might work best in a milder climate,” he says.

Advantages

The benefits of fall calving include a chance for better prices when fall-born calves are sold the next spring or summer. More people are spring-calving, with a larger supply of calves in the fall at weaning time, so the market generally drops. There is more demand for calves marketed in the spring.

Dr. Shelie Laflin has a mobile veterinary practice and helps run the family ranch and registered Angus herd near Olsburg, Kansas. Her family has both a spring- and fall-calving herd, and she prefers fall calving. “Several studies have shown that fall calving generally gives a better return for your investment. Cows tend to breed back sooner because they’ve been on a better nutritional plane through summer rather than having just come through winter before calving, and also tend to have less dystocia when they calve,” says Laflin.

Cows that come through cold during pregnancy tend to have heavier birthweight calves. “Cows that are pregnant in warm weather tend to have slightly smaller calves at birth – on average – and fewer dystocia cases compared to calves with the same genetics and management born in the spring,” says Laflin. “This means less labor needed, less stress on calves, healthier calves, with less scours and pneumonia, and fewer cases of mastitis in the cows.”

However, if cows are calving on mature grass pasture in the fall, calves sometimes get umbilical infections from grass awns getting up into the umbilical cord stump. “In the spring, umbilical infections are usually due to mud and dirty conditions,” she says.

There is no perfect situation. “From a management standpoint, however, from calving up until calves are about 2 months old, fall is hands down better than spring, especially in terms of illness.” By the time those calves are 2 months old, they are less vulnerable to some of the common diseases and can also withstand cold weather.

“Fall calving might mean from early or mid-September until late November,” says Barrington. “If producers are doing any farming, spring is usually a very busy time, and fall tends to have fewer demands on time and labor. Some producers in eastern Washington prefer fall calving because they also grow wheat. They are so busy in the spring that they can’t devote time to calving,” he says.

“We spend a lot of time treating calves for diarrhea in the spring – in wet, muddy confined areas. If weather does not allow producers to put the cows in larger, clean areas to calve, they are usually calving on the winter feeding area in contaminated conditions,” says Barrington. There are often better options in the fall for where the cows can calve.

“We calve fairly late in the fall,” says Laflin. “We are busy with haying until early September. There might be some producers harvesting crops in the fall – putting up the last of the hay and ready to start cutting corn or other crops. There might be overlap with harvesting and calving, but fieldwork overlap can also be a problem if a producer is calving in April/May,” she says.

“For us, the labor becomes a big factor. We are a family operation, and our kids play a big role in what we do. The labor involved in spring calving is just more intensive, trying to manage baby calves in cold weather. We feed the cows a lot through cold weather, and they tend to produce bigger calves and also make more milk than young calves can consume – which can lead to scours, mastitis, etc.”

Regarding vaccination, fall- and spring-calving herds are managed the same, but since there is less risk for scours in fall-calving cows, they may not need pre-calving vaccinations for scours. With fall calvers, this would be one less time those cows have to go down the chute. Those are late-gestation vaccinations, and most people would rather not stress their cows at that time if they don’t have to.

“From a bull management standpoint, there isn’t much difference, but the nice thing if you run two herds, is the opportunity to spread out your bull power and decrease your cost per calf,” says Laflin. Fewer bulls are needed because they can manage both breeding seasons with a period of rest in between.

Disadvantages

“Some of the disadvantages of fall calving in certain climates is that grass is maturing and going dormant,” says Barrington. “In the Southeast, however, there may be new growth of grass, and fall-calving cows have good nutrition.” At higher elevations and northern regions, fall rains might bring a brief flush of green grass, but dropping temperatures soon end the growing season. Cows generally must be fed through winter, and lactating cows have higher nutrient demands.

“We sometimes have lighter weaning weights with fall-born calves,” says Laflin. “Those calves are born at a time when we soon have to supplement the cows. Many fall-calving herds in our area start in September and are done by Thanksgiving, and by then, our native grasses are dry and dormant, and we need to supplement. There is an increased cost in feed, but several studies show that even with the increased cost, over the years, you will fare better with the fall calving compared with spring calving,” says Laflin.

“All of this must be penciled out, looking at the amount and quality of feed that will be needed,” says Barrington. “You lose all the advantages of fall calving if the cows aren’t producing milk or if it costs too much to feed them. Fall calves may also be a little lighter at weaning than spring-born calves because they went into winter soon after birth and require more feed for maintenance and body heat. Small calves are not yet ruminants, so they are not producing body heat from fermentation in the rumen.”  end mark

PHOTO: Fall-calving cows can calve out on clean pastures and in generally better weather than those dams in spring. Photo by Heather Smith Thomas.

Heather Thomas is a freelance writer based in Idaho.

Determining which season to use

There is no perfect calving season. “Ranches with both a spring- and fall-calving herd have the best chance to weigh benefits and disadvantages for their own environment, management, labor availability and feed,” says Dr. George Barrington. They can compare, within their split herd, to see which season pencils out best when figuring feed costs, etc.

  • Weather is a big factor and it can be variable from year to year. “If someone wants to try fall calving, they should not base a decision on just one year’s experience. The more data you can get, the better decisions you can make,” says Barrington. The year you try fall calving might be really good or really bad – for weather, or calf prices, etc., but that year might not be typical.
  • Feed inputs are something to think about. “If you are buying most of your feed, it will cost more, especially if you need to push first-calf heifers nutritionally to get them to cycle back again,” says Dr. Shelie Laflin. “You’ll have to put some feed into them because your native grass is gone, dormant or snowed under, whereas in the spring, the grass is coming on lush, and this will flush the cows for cycling.”Cows grazing new green growth breed better, and a person might not have to buy as much feed. However, you are also feeding calves through winter until weaning in April. In a spring-calving herd, you are only feeding cows through winter, rather than pairs.
  • Health: On the other hand, wintering calves with their mothers has some advantages. They tend to stay healthier through winter than calves weaned in late fall just before going into winter.“We run fall and spring calves – about half and half – and our fall calves have fewer problems. There is less labor involved, and the calves wean off better. We don’t have to deal with disease at weaning time; they’ve already come through winter.” By contrast, the spring-born calves are weaned in October, and it’s starting to get cold, and weather can be bad.

 

Everything Cover Crops

Love or hate Facebook – depends on your perspective – maybe both.  But there is real opportunity for farmers to share and learn from one another about cropping and ranching methods they’ve tried – what has been successful and what was a colossal failure.

I coped a young farmer’s (from central Iowa) method here, so i can come back to it as a reference for what i may try in the future.  This is copied and pasted from a Facebook page by the same name, so it reads clunky out of context of responses, but i wanted his words.

Drilled a 4 way mix of oats, annual rye grass, rape seed and soybeans about a month ago (late August/early September) following rye harvest. Very pleased with the amount of forage and soil structure that we have gained. Planning to let cows out later this week if the weather cooperates. Located in north central Iowa.

30 lbs (annual) ryegrass  (10# is enough, but farmer was using up what he had on hand)
20 lbs oats
8 lbs rape seed
Roughly 20 lbs of soybeans ( some seed was 2 years old)

we hauled cattle manure then chisel plowed and field cultivated to work it in before we drilled it.  I agree that tillage will break down some of the soil structure but I sleep better at night when I can work the manure in. I also don’t have access to a no till drill.

I chose annual rye grass over cereal rye so it would winter kill and everything else I planted will winter kill and I am planning to plant corn in that field next spring. If I was going to plant soybeans I would have used winter rye.

the winter rye that was growing previously we combined for seed. The four way mix that is growing now will be grazed and the corn that we plant next year will be combined.

Thorvin Kelp – Iceland

Though Dallas and i recently returned from 2 weeks stay in Iceland, we did not have opportunity to visit the location where Thorvin Kelp is harvested, dried, and packaged.  If i get the opportunity to go back, i will make a better effort to get there.  However, it is a 3 hour drive one way from Reykjavik, so we’ll see.  Driving is straightforward and fairly easy in Iceland, so it wouldn’t be difficult.

Here’s a brief history from Thorverk website:

The ascophyllum covered shores

The ascophyllum covered shores

Thorverk hf.

Thorverk hf. is a seaweed drying plant founded founded in 1986 on the remnants of the pioneering Þörungavinnslan at Reykhólar North of Breiðafjörður, Iceland. The abundnat seaweed grounds of Breiðafjörður have been harvested in the area since 1974 to produce geothermally dried algal meal. The geothermal heat comes from local boreholes. Thorverk is able to produce annually several thousand tons of pure, dry seaweed meal. The product has been certified as organic and sustainably harvested for decades..

Seaweed Meal Processing

Thorverk focuses on harvesting two species of seaweed: Ascophyllum nodosum and Laminaria digitata. The A. nodosum is collected between April and October using specially designed harvesting machines. They cut the plants obove the growth point. The harvested grounds are then left for regrowth for at least four years. L. digitata is harvested using a specially equipped coaster in late autumn and winter.

Harvesting schemes are deployed for the seaweed based on decades of experience and in accordance with surveys and consultancy from Icelandic and international marine biology experts.

Once landed, the crop is chopped and dried using a band drier. Clean, dry air is pre-heated to a max. of 85°C using hot geothermal water that is fed through heat exchangers. This gentle drying procedure ensures that all minerals and organic substances are preserved in the raw material. The drying heat also prevents surface oxidation and browning or burning. Its colour is therefore delightfully bright. The use of the geothermal water also means the production process is environmentally benign. The geothermal hot water flows freely from the wells and emits next to nil of CO2.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Tuesday i took another pallet shipment of Thorvin kelp which i offer free choice to my cow/calf herd as well as offer for sale to those who don’t need a pallet at a time.  Thorvin Kelp is offered in 50 lb bags at $60 per bag picked up at Powell Seed Farm, Linneus, MO.

Iceland is a beautiful but sparsely populated country with natural resources including geothermal heat just spouting up all over!  and the sweetest tasting just-off-the-glacier water in the world.  More about our journey in Iceland in future blogs.

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Thorvin seems to be the USA package name for Icelandic kelp.  I’m trying to get that connection made.
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pure, dry seaweed meal from Iceland – Click here for the analysis
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this is a muddy day, but the cows still need minerals in north Missouri.  This feeder has 3 compartments in which i offer Thorvin Kelp, Pure Salt from Kansas (no YPS), and a hi-phosphorus product from Agri-Dynamics.
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Thorvin Kelp can also be added as a soil amendment – after all, it’s simply geothermally dried seaweed.

 

Old, Stupid, and Lazy?!

I know I promote Dave Pratt and his Ranching for Profit video blogs a lot and, even though i don’t agree with him on many points, there are a lot of good points he eloquently describes which are applicable to any business – not only ranching.

I’ve ’bout got my hobby farm to the ‘old, stupid, and lazy’ stage, but gracious, how could i attract anyone to cover for me if they thought i was needing someone old, stupid, and lazy ?  😀

Here’s another great one!

Cheapest Ranch to Buy Part 2

The second part of Jim Gerrish‘s excellent article and how to not only make your farm or ranch more profitable, but also improve soil, grazing, water, and wildlife.Building electric fence in rough countryJim Gerrish

In most locations, single-wire electric fence and water facilities are the main costs for improved grazing management.

What is the cheapest ranch you will ever buy? Part II

For a fraction of the cost of purchase, most ranches can make improvements that sometimes double their carrying capacity.

Jim Gerrish 1 | Aug 12, 2019

In Part 1 of this series, I made two fundamental assertions: The first was that time management of grazing period and recovery time is the primary determinant of pasture productivity. The second is that we should be assessing ranch output and profitability on a per-acre basis not on the per-animal basis commonly used in the ranching industry.

I ended that article with the observation that increasing pasture or range production by 40% would be more profitable than trying to increase individual animal productivity by 40%.

My 40% is not a magic number. It is simply the example I am using. I do that partly because of the commonly held idea that producing a 700-pound calf must be more profitable than raising a 500-pound calf. The other reason I am using 40% is because that is also a common level of increase in pasture productivity we see when ranchers implement management-intensive grazing (MiG).

MiG is the term I use to describe an approach to grazing management that is more intensive than the set-stocking or slow rotations common in the ranching industry. Our objective is to shorten the period of time any piece of pasture or rangeland is exposed to grazing animals. If we do this, the potential recovery period is always significantly extended. This is the key component of time management I have been referring to.

When we build subdivision fencing across the landscape of the ranch, we are not only subdividing space, we are also subdividing time.  Each time we make a smaller pasture increment, we reduce the amount of time the stock will be on that increment. That has a tremendous, and for some ranchers, an almost unbelievable change in the vigor and productivity of the pasture. With shortened grazing periods, we can more tightly control every aspect of the soil-plant-animal relationship. That is the component missing from almost all of the grazing management research of the last 100 years.

What is this management of time worth down on the ranch?

As mentioned above, the average increase in carrying capacity we see among our ranching clients adopting MiG and making investments in stock water development and subdivision fencing is about 40%. We have numerous clients who have doubled their carrying capacity. We have a few who have gotten less than 40%. All of this is the product of more effectively managing the period of time cattle are allowed to be in a particular area. On rangeland we usually work toward having that time period no more than 7-10 days. On productive pasture, we keep the length of the grazing period to no more than 3-4 days.

What does it cost to install all that fence, pipelines and tanks?

Every ranch is different, so of course the answer is that it depends! For example, is there already a good well on the property or do we need to drill a well? Is there already a pipeline network on the property that we can spur off of? Are there existing fences that are in reasonable locations that can be used in the new management scheme? These are the components that can make a difference. Here are examples from a couple of recent projects we have designed and which the ranchers implemented.

Jim GerrishA dozer pulling in water line.

Livestock water typically is the most limiting resource for managed grazing, but it is far cheaper than land.

Twice the ranch

On an 8,000-acre ranch in the Nebraska Sand Hills, we started a ranch that had 15-20 existing pastures with low-output windmills that allowed them to only carry 20-60 cows in each pasture. With a 7.5-mile pipeline project, 20 new stock tanks, and more than 20 miles of two-wire electrified high-tensile fencing, the ranch was split into about 60 permanent pastures with a stock-water supply system that allows 600-800 cows to be run in a single herd. The project cost was about $400,000 when we include the rancher’s labor contribution to the construction project. That is a big chunk of money, but on a per-acre basis it is only $50 per acre. In three years’ time, this ranch doubled its carrying capacity and the infrastructure investment was paid off in the third year.

That means they essentially bought another ranch for $50 per acre, while the cost to go out and actually purchase another ranch would have been $1,000 per acre, plus closing costs and added taxes.

Might double

Another recent project on a 30,000-acre ranch racked up an infrastructure development cost of about $1.1 million. That is a per-acre cost of about $36. Projecting a 40% increase in carrying capacity has the project paid off in year four. With a 40% increase in carrying capacity, the equivalent per acre purchase price is $90 per acre. I am confident this ranch will also experience a doubling of carrying capacity in 3-5 years, so the payoff rate should be accelerated. Why do I expect this ranch to double carrying capacity? Because the ranch is presently very under-supplied with stock water and much of the ranch is rarely even being grazed.

Remember the title on the article: “What is the cheapest ranch you will ever buy?”

It is the one you acquire by more effectively managing grazing and recovery time on the ranch you already own.

Read part one of this story here. Gerrish is internationally known grazier, grazing consultant and consultant. Find him at http://www.americangrazinglands.com.

 

Cheapest Ranch You Can Buy Part 1

Written by my friend, Jim Gerrish, for Beef Producer magazine:  This is Part 1

What is the Cheapest Ranch You Will Ever Buy?

Cows grazing Nebraska SandhillsAlan Newport
Changing the way we graze can dramatically alter the value and production of a ranch.

What is the cheapest ranch you will ever buy? Part 1

The value of grazing management cannot be overstated, author says.

Jim Gerrish 1 | Aug 09, 2019

Whenever a group of ranchers get together, sooner or later the conversation will turn to whose place just got sold and what did it bring. There will be some head shaking and bemoaning how you just can’t afford to buy another ranch or help your kid get started on a new place.

In much of the country, the price of ranch land is driven by non-ranching factors. People are paying way more for the recreational value or the view from the ranch than what livestock production can afford to pay.

There generally is a common-knowledge guide for how many acres it takes to run a cow in any neighborhood. Most people seem to believe this is a predetermined stocking rate that is determined almost entirely by the amount of rainfall received in any given year. The truth is, environment determines only the upper limit of the carrying capacity potential of a ranch. It is the ranchers grazing management that determines how much of that potential is actually realized.

The plain and simple truth of the matter is most ranches in the US are managed in a way that generally captures less than half of the biological carrying capacity of the ranch. The two primary ingredients for producing beef are sunshine and water. Most ranches are ineffective at harvesting these two “free” inputs. While sunshine and rain water are free ingredients, the landscape we use as our solar panel and water catchment is not free.

If we decide we need to increase the beef output on our ranch by 40% to generate the revenue flow we need to make a living, how might we go about doing that?

One obvious way is to buy another ranch that is 40% the size of our current holdings. If our current ranch is worth $1,000/acre and we have 1,000 acres, we would need to buy 400 more acres at $1,000 to get 40% more grazing capacity. That would be $400,000 outlay, plus there would be closing costs, an increase in taxes, and so forth.

The failed approach the ranching industry has taken has been the quest to increase output per individual cow by 40%. Rather than having cows that wean 500 pounds, let’s have cows that wean 700 pounds. The number of articles published in the last five years showing the folly of this approach is astounding. Go to the winter cattle production meetings and every one of them seems to feature a university researcher now showing big cows decrease ranch profitability, not the other way around.

A less obvious way to increase stocking rate is to get 40% more production out of every acre we currently own or control. Unfortunately, a lot of mainstream ranchers can only think of adding irrigation or more fertilizer or tear up the native range to plant some foreign wonder-grass. Is that really all we can do?

What if we found a way to capture more solar energy and water on every acre? How could we do that and what might it cost?

Let’s step back and ask why are most ranches operating at less than 50% of their biological carrying capacity? The simplest answer is there is too much bare ground. Bare ground doesn’t capture solar energy and make cow feed. Bare ground allows water to run off or set on the surface and evaporate. Why do most ranches have too much bare ground? Because cattle stay too long in the same place and pasture and rangeland are not allowed adequate recovery time to maintain plant vigor.

In 40 years of commercial ranching and grazing research I have learned the primary determinants of range and pasture productivity are:

  1. The amount of time stock are allowed to be on a particular piece of ground
  2. The time allowed for recovery

That local common-knowledge guide for how many acres it takes to run a cow is fundamentally flawed because it is based on management that completely ignores the role of time management on the nature of our soil health and plant community.

For the last 50 years the ranching industry and community focused on the animal and animal genetics, which misses the point that it is the land base controlled and the productivity of that land that drives ranch profitability, not individual animal productivity.

On a commercial ranch, most of our production costs are land-based costs, not animal-based costs. This is the reason why increasing the productivity of an acre of grazing land by 40% will always have much more impact of bottom line profitability than will increasing individual cow productivity by 40%.

Next week: Learn how to get that ranch production increase of 40% or more.

Gerrish is internationally known grazier, grazing consultant and consultant. Find him at http://www.americangrazinglands.com.