For the past 15 years or so, we’ve had our calving season start about 18 May through first week of July. This worked pretty well, but since i have had scour problems the past two seasons, i was adamant about making changes, so i put the bulls in earlier. Thankfully, despite the earlier and shorter breeding season, most cows got pregnant again.
Official calving season this year for me started 25 April, but already have 16 calves on the ground and up and running! Weather has been pretty nice until today with temps only reaching 46F and it’s misty rain and mild wind.
Stands filling up, quickly. The ‘pump up’ music playing. A bronc starts dancing in the chute. Fresh arena dirt and fresh livestock.
The excitement is felt, seen and heard. An electricity that is circulating throughout the stock, contestants, and spectators. And then, the announcer begins to speak…
He doesn’t begin by giving the statistics of the riders, or rant about the stock contractors, no. The announcer begins with “This is the home of the free and the land of the brave and because of that we want to honor those who give up their freedom so we can enjoy ours. Every Marine, Sailor, Airman, First responder, please stand up.” Some slower than others, stand. Stand in remembrance of their fellow men and women, stand in remembrance of the commitment they made to this country. Stand to be honored. And as each one stands up, the electricity of the building, changes, ever so slightly, as…
Another stunningly beautiful weather day here. Just a touch of frost on the windshields and crunchy grass early this morning.
Woke up about 4am since i’d fallen asleep so early the evening before, but with a horrible headache. Took some Tylenol, fixed some mate, then opened the door to let Thunder in and along with him a bird flew in! Weird. So a little early morning excitement – Allen and i finally coaxed it out by turning off all the lights in the house and turning on the porch light. Birds are not like bats, they have to see where they are going.
My main project for today was to load up those little calves i talked about earlier and the thin bull and take them to market. Now we don’t have those baby calf feeding chores which frees up about 45 minutes a day! Not to mention just the inconvenience of being tied to this task twice a day. Most of that time is taken up with preparing the bottles and feeding the bottle calves. There is also no more feed costs.
Next big project was to prepare another 16 foot cattle panel into a circle which is what we use in south Missouri for decorative and useful end posts for fence. Once these are filled with rocks (and there are plenty of those on my farm there!) then they are set to go. Beautiful and functional at once. It is hard work to fill up them up, however.
Dallas put the second coat of linseed oil/mineral spirits on his lawn tractor trailer yesterday and took out a couple bales of hay for my cows up north. He also moved several more bales from the neighbour’s farm. We bought the rest of his hay bales just recently and while it’s dry, we are moving them off his farm as quickly as possible.
This afternoon and early evening will be spent at the Forage Systems Research Center‘s 50th anniversary with guest speaker, Dr Fred Martz, professor emeritus and former FSRC superintendent. It’ll be nice getting to visit with friends we haven’t seen for some time.
We had a lovely couple inches of rain a couple weeks ago which settled the dust after about 7 weeks of nuthin’! It was dry – and still is – but with warm weather, the grass actually has been squeaking out a bit of growth before the last of this nearly perfect weather gives way to the bitter iciness of winter.
So, we have not had to turn the cows and calves on to winter stockpile yet – we have fed a few bales of hay to stretch the stay on some of the paddocks simply for convenience. Plus it’s dry enough to set out bales with the pickup, so it’s a nice time to feed hay. Once the snow is blowing and it’s cold, snowy, icy, or slick, i would rather just leapfrog another stretch of polywire on the stockpile and let the cows go to grazing.
This is the perfect time to get stock tanks, pump houses, etc winterized. Today, I removed my two marine-type batteries from the solar powered water pump. Drained the pump, pressure tank, intake and out pipes as well as 4000 feet of 1 1/2 inch HDPE water pipe (not as hard as it sounds, just undo the end and it gravity drains itself), and removed the bottom screw from the filter from the pond to drain it. Unplugged and shut off the pump, turned the solar panels off, shut down the door to my portable solar house and latched it, loaded the marine-type batteries (yeah, they are heavy – ’bout 60 lbs a piece!) into the back of my Gator and it is all set for winter. I store the charged batteries in our basement – don’t want them to drain and freeze – they cost about $140 each.
Allen and Dallas are replacing a half a quarter mile of perimeter barbed wire fence on my Buckman 80. It was just getting too worn out to keep cows in with any peace of mind. They set posts and stretched wire today and yesterday. Rick helped yesterday. Such a busy week, they hope to finish up on Monday. Once the end posts settle a couple days, then they’ll stretch the wire. I can help put on the clips. Why don’t i help? Honestly, i’m really not strong enough to do much except put on the clips. If anything ever happens to my guys, I’ll have to hire my perimeter fencing done.
My to-do list today:
Go to my farm – It takes an hour and 10 minutes roundtrip, so a good part of the time is spent in traveling. Once there, i moved a water tank, replaced an anchor and brace post on hi-tensile fence, pulled the fiberglass line posts and moved them. I’m actually moving about 650 feet of existing 2-strand hi-tensile wire over a bit. It just wasn’t working where i had built it four years ago.
Quick trip to Brookfield to buy nappies for Allen’s Aunt June – she is attending a baby shower saturday morning to which i’ll take her. At 96, her eyesight and motor coordination isn’t what is used to be and she no longer drives. Last week, i spent a few hours scrubbing her frig and freezer since it was not working properly and all the food had gone — well, totally nasty. I discovered that the back of the freezer (inside) was frozen solid, so hoped that cleaning, vacuuming underneath and behind, as well as completely defrosting would fix the problem. Thankfully it did. I found a wooden bar to place beneath the front of the unit since it was leaning so far forward. Maybe the doors were not getting shut completely to cause it to freeze up.
We were supposed to have sunny weather today, but that didn’t happen. However, I’d already set Dallas to the task of caring for his lawnmower trailer with linseed oil and mineral spirits on Monday early afternoon. After two days of curing, today would have been the second coat. He had parked it in the barn last night because of the possibility of rain; only a heavy mist, but inside it is dry. Maybe he’ll get that second coat on tomorrow.
Had planned to pain the letters on the Powell Seed Farm sign, but too high humidity and too cool. Ran out of time anyway.
Made some phone calls. One to get the lawnmower picked up for annual maintenance, another to Bill to schedule changing out June’s garbage disposal, amongst others. Received a phone call from the fellow in south Missouri from whom I’m buying hay and he has it all delivered, so will pay him tomorrow.
Well, that’s about it along with preparing beef fillets and stir fry for lunch, three loads of laundry, making up another batch of laundry soap, and washing dishes. I had more on the to-do list, but tomorrow’s another opportunity.
During the course of the year, we sell our calves as they reach a weight that is valuable in the marketplace – this may mean we’ll have 3 or 4 days which we sell groups of calves. Monday was such a day with 200 head going to market at North Missouri Livestock Auction in Milan, MO. (also find them on facebook)
The calves had already been sorted, so Monday morning just meant gouping into trailer load lots. The number in each lot varied by trailer size.
Our little stock trailers are 7ft by 24 ft, so we can haul about 25 head of the five weight calves. I was the first one to load out for the trip to Milan and would return for a second load. Roundtrip is about an hour and 15 minutes.
Now that my husband has sold some of his calves, he’s offered to buy me a new shirt. WHAT! Aint’ nuthin’ wrong with my shirt?! 😉
Big ranch outfits often do timed AI, but we’ve never done this, so quite the experiment for us. There is a lot of time and cattle handling involved which translates, of course, to more labor costs. Time will tell if all this is really worth it. We have hired a professional AI technicial to insert the CIDRS and do the AI (artificial insemination).
18 August – Mustered the cows and replacements heifers for CIDR placement to begin at 7am along with a Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) vaccination. Doug, the technician had a flat tire so was running about 30 minutes late. Not a problem. The cows sorted nicely and went through the chute with no problems. We managed a pace of 67 cows per hour for a total of 3 1/2 hours from start of CIDR insertion to being finished. Sorting of course, was started an hour earlier. Weather was perfectly cloudy, cool, with rain starting after we finished!.
25 August – Mustered the cows and replacements heifers in again at 4:30 removal of the CIDRS in the cows which also received the lutalyse shot\. Sorted off the replacement heifers and held in corral overnight. A little warm starting here in the afternoon, but not too bad. about 82F, but began to cool off quickly. We were finished by 7:30p.
26 August – Removal of CIDRS in heifers at 7am. Also received a shot of lutalyse. Had a couple of calves to doctor, then let the whole mob down into the timber.
27 August – 6pm – went to muster the cows into the small lot by corral. RIck had already unrolled 4 bales of good hay, but the cows had found their way out of the timber. Took until 7:30 to get them in! Note to self: Leave the cows in the small lot with high quality hay rather than turning them out and having difficulty getting them back in. My thoughts are that they are really tired of getting poked and prodded, so were quite reluctant to move back towards the corral and with all the hormones raging at this point, they are pretty distracted.
We finished about 12;30 pm and had AI’d 210 animals in five hours. If I get 55% of the cows bred to Red Eddard, that’d be industry standard. As expensive as this whole process is, I hope for better – only time will tell. The cows have all been inseminated with Red Eddard, a red Aberdeen Angus that was collected at Cogent and has been sold by Dunlouise Angus to another farmer.
28 August – morning start at 7am with the cows; the heifers were held until last so that the timing is right for best chance of successful AI and conception for each group. Cows should be AI’d 60-66 hours after CIDR removal and heifers about 54-60 hours. Both receiving a second Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) shot. A bit late getting started. Cows were, not surprisingly, reluctant to go into the corral, but at last they made it. We started about 7:30 am again. Everything went very well today, however, and we finished about 12:30pm.
I made my final selection of cows to use for embryo transplant work
and only ended up with 17 for 10 embryos. Hopefully, enough cows will be in standing heat this coming week and none fall out for other reasons, so that each of 10 embryos will have a new home inside a momma’s womb. AND remain viable.
ET cows were hauled home and now I spend time each day, all day checking for standing heat and writing down the time and the cow’s ear tag number. All cows will be hauled to Trans-Ova in Chillicothe, MO on the 4th of September for ET. HOPE, HOPE, HOPE i get some live calves out of those embryos. It’s SO expensive.
Dallas and I dewormed the sheep in the late afternoon – had just done it 20 days ago, but sheep were dying! I found out that the previous owner of these sheep had already put his own flock on an 18 day deworming schedule. Add this to the growing list of reasons why i’m selling off the sheep – more work, more expense, more loss.
This was the first question posed to me after my speaking engagement with Farm Service Agency personnel in Kansas City on July 15. It was after the fact because it wasn’t pertinent to my purpose of being there and we had a limited time frame. Too bad on that, great group of people who truly seemed interested in the ‘boots on the ground’ aspect of farming and ranching.
Now, if you raise sheep and it is not difficult for you, then that is great. But my take on it is that they are far too time-consuming for my lifestyle choices and from a cost effective viewpoint. So bear with me. You can tell your story in your blog and I would like to read it!
Taking the emotion out and just putting economics to it:
Right now, the biggest economic advantage that sheep have over cattle or even goats, is the initial purchase price. Consider that a young bred cow costs $2500-$2800 compared to 5 bred ewes costing a total of $900-$1125. A cow will produce one calf ready to sell in about 10 months. Five ewes can potentially have 10 lambs to sell, but realistically, more like 7 lambs and they can be sold at about 7 months. Now, bearing in mind, that calves and lambs can be sold earlier or later, weaned and unweaned, etc, etc. So, I will try to compare the two the most fairly as possible, but market and weather conditions can often dictate a different scenario.
A 10 month old steer calf with no creep and unweaned, on average comes off momma at about 450 lbs, a heifer maybe 400 lbs. The steer, at auction at today’s prices, will bring $280/cwt or $1260 per head. The heifer about $1008 per head. Since the calf crop is typically 50% steers and 50% heifers, the average will be $1134.
A 50 lb lamb will bring about $1.75/lb and there is no differentiation between wethers and ewes. The average then would be $87.50/head. Better lambs should weigh 80 lbs at seven months, resulting in $980 total – but most likely, not all seven head will do that well.
Seven lambs to sell per year – $612.50-$980
One calf to sell per year – $1134
Labor – significantly more with sheep. They need nearly daily inspection since they tend towards getting caught in brush, fences, ditches, whatever, and need extracting. If not found at least in 24 hours, they will die. Even grown ewes can fall prey, resulting in not only the death of the ewe, but her unborn lambs or orphaning the ones she may already have. This means more work for you if you can figure out which ones are hers. You get to be mom for however long you keep them, including feeding them multiple times per day. The best investment for that task for me is a lamb milk bar with seven nipples.
Consider: 100 ewes and their lambs will consume about 3% of their body weight (similar to cows), so assuming ewes weighing 180 lbs times 3% equals about 6 lbs of grass per day or 600 for the entire flock. If your pasture offers 200 lbs of forage per inch of growth and you have 7 inches of growth and want to leave a 3 inch residual (to facilitate regrowth), then there is 4 inches times 200 lbs or 800 lbs forage on offer. Say you only want to move them every three days, then they should have at least 3 acres. To fence 3 acres in a square takes 1450 feet. Electric nettings are 164 feet long, so you are moving 9 nettings every three days. Don’t be fooled by the advertising that touts that it only takes 10 minutes per net. No way. I’m pretty darn fast at it now, but by the time, you pull the posts, fanfold them, roll them up, tie them, walk to the next location (or load them all up and drive them to the new location), unload (but first you have to untangle them from each other if you stacked them), walk them back out, then step them into the ground (if it’s not frozen or the ground isn’t hard that is). So, for each netting, taken down and reinstalled, you’ve logged at least 656 feet, not counting if you’ve had to pack it a long distance before setting up again. I’m going to give a general 20 minutes per net. This doesn’t really allow much for when you have to hammer the feet of the posts into the ground or unhooking from snags, removing sticks, and just general untangling.
Nine nets times 20 minutes is 3 hours! that’s every three days for only 100 sheep! Compare the equivalent of cows and calves moving everything three days – about 30 minutes and that’s if you have to find baby calves that were left behind. The difference becomes even more significant when one considers that i can shift 250 cows and calves in maybe 45 minutes. These times are taking into consideration strip grazing in winter and taking out hay as well as the easier moves in the spring, summer, and fall. However, ramping up the number of sheep would incur significantly more netting and thus considerable more time. A single strand semi-permanent hi-tensile electrified wire is cheap and easy to install and wiill easily contain cattle and once the fencing is installed, it requires very little time to shift mobs of 1000 or more! Interior paddock division fencing that will actually contain sheep is definitely doable, but is considerably more expensive in materials and labor to install and maintain.
So to compare on a larger scale with 5 ewes equalling 1 cow.
250 cows with 80% calf crop – $226,800 income per year. Shifting every three days or 122 times per year at 45 minutes each for a total of 91.5 hours per year.
1250 sheep with 140% lamb crop – $183,750 (60 lbs times $1.75/lb). Shifting every three days or 122 times per year (this is used for comparison only – realistically, winter time will require set stocking and unrolling hay. The netting spikes cannot be pushed into and pulled out of frozen ground). If 100 ewes needed three acres, then 1250 need 38 acres. Perimeter at 5146 ft divided by 164 ft is 32 nets times 20 minutes per net equals 10.7 hours per move times 122 shifts. Hours spent annual moving fence and/or taking out hay is 1305 hours.
If you have better forage and soil health, paddock sizes could be much smaller, thereby reducing the amount of acreage needed for each shift which would subsequently require less netting.
Sheep in north Missouri must have good fences and excellent guard animals to keep them alive. Coyotes, foxes, eagles, dogs, etc nab them with abandon to feed their young. Sheep also have accidents – but so do cattle – but sheep seem to have a better knack for it.
The death of a sheep is a far less loss of investment than a calf or cow.
Sheep and cattle facilities are different, but if planned in advance there is a good opportunity to use the same corrals.
Some people do get along without netting. From visiting with them, they raise hair sheep and/or use aluminum electric wire which delivers a more powerful shock than hi-tensile. Wool sheep often cannot feel the shock at all, especially when in full wool.
Wool sheep are not ideal for range grazing since the wool clip can be practically ruint if they find a patch of cockleburrs or other clinging seeds.
Though i did not consider it in my time allotment, sheep, ideally, need checking everyday – that fence can be blown over or something chase the sheep into the fence and they get caught up or they flatten it. Rain and flood can knock it over, too. Animals can be caught up in it that need rescuing or they die and the rest will all get out and scatter! If you have 1000 acres and 2 sheep, in five minutes they’ll be at the far corners and separated. When the Scriptures talk about sheep going astray – there is the proof of it!
In my case, i have a 35 minute drive to my farm. Sheep are not practical at all if they are so far away that they cannot be checked on easily. With cattle, unless during calving season or unseasonably hot or cold weather, they don’t need attention anymore than once every three days or so. This greatly reduces my time spent on the road.
Sheep can be used to better clear brush and prepare pastures for renovation and improvement as long as their grazing is strictly controlled. Sheep get out a lot! Perhaps not out of the perimeter fence, but they, like all livestock, must stay within their alloted grazing or they’ll destroy a pasture. If you have beautiful, level pastures with no ditches, draws, dips, or washouts, yet shade in nearly all paddocks (sheep sunburn and get very hot in the summer), you may have an ideal situation for raising sheep.
The biggest advantage sheep have over cattle at least in today’s marketplace is the initial investment. And it is substantial. Taking our above example:
250 bred cow purchase@ $2500 is $625,000 (Requires 6 bulls for breeding – $5000 each or $30,000)
1250 bred ewes purchase $281,250 (Requires 25 rams for breeding – $500 each or $12,500)
However, nets cost $120 each and used regularly MIGHT last 2 years. And as shown the labor is much greater.
So there are advantages and disadvantages. To me, the market dictates raising cattle, because of the reduced cost of infrastructure and reduced labor. However, if one had 1250 ewes, in my opinion, the infrasture needs to be in place to eliminate the labor of netting. This is lots of posts and woven wire.
So, this all begs the question, ‘why did i purchase sheep in the first place?’ To be sure, my plan was that the sheep would basically live with and graze with the cattle and shift with them. However, this never came about since they would not be contained by the 3 wire hi-tensile electrified fencing I installed for this purpose. They learnt to jump through the two top wires, so that even though the wires were ‘hot’ the sheep were not shocked since they weren’t touching the ground as they jumped through. I don’t know if they learnt this by accident or watched the dogs do it. Plus any dip in the ground would provide a large hole for them to duck under. It honestly, is impossible, from a practical standpoint to make them stay within the enclosure. So, until i started containing them with the electric netting, they became regular fodder for predators despite guard dogs simply because they scatter like, –well, sheep. From then on, i have two groups of animals to shift, with the sheep requiring far too much time for what they were worth.
So, the sheep will be sold over the next couple of months to free up time for family matters, to improve my sanity, and give my poor old bones a needed rest.
There are other major expenses involved to have such a scheme. Not the least of which is needing about 1000 acres, which at current prices in north central Missouri is about $2800 to $3400 per acre. (IF you can find it for sale) Some people are very fortunate to find pasture to rent, but consider whether or not you’d want to make $150 per acre in infrastructure on someone else’s property. You’d need a lifetime lease to justify that and they can still sell the land and you’d be out. Plus the owner may not be agreeable to crisscrossing his or her property with fencing. Remember, too, the animals have health issues including treating for disease (albeit very seldom), vaccinations, castrating, as well as marketing and trucking expenses.