Tag Archives: cows

Tradition vs Innovation Paradox

Another great blog from Ranch Management Consultants (Ranching for Profit).  If what you are doing regularly is only a tradition – start questioning why you continue and if the practice is still effective for today’s economy, whether for your home or business.

sunset cowboyAgriculture is steeped in tradition. These traditions serve as a source of pride and continuity which help make us who we are in agriculture. However, these same traditions create a paradox of sorts when it comes to managing the business of ranching. Balancing respect for traditions and fostering innovation can be tricky to navigate. Another complicating factor in ranching is that business leadership is often slower to transition than most. Generally this is because the decision making is in the hands of a generation that would have retired 10-20 years ago in any other industry. This generation is often making decisions from a place of risk minimization … rightly so from their perspective. However, when Junior is wanting to expand the business to support a growing family this can pit two very different business strategies against each other which often creates conflict on the family ranch.

I think there are some traditions on a ranch that need to be challenged to position the ranch to be successful in the coming decades. Each operation will need to find its own balance between tradition and innovation. Having clear goals will help determine the appropriate balance of risk management and growth strategy for the business.

Below is a short list of common ranch traditions that I suggest you look at and examine why you are doing what you are doing, then put some numbers to what it might look like if you did things differently. I’m certainly not suggesting everyone must change these traditions but have a discussion with your team about the pros and cons of staying the same or changing.

  • Grazing management
    I see far too many ranches where tradition determines the grazing plan rather than good planning. Effective grazing management is one of the most powerful economic levers you can pull. Does each pasture get adequate rest for plant recovery after every grazing? Are your animals in a pasture long enough to allow a second bite? I have never visited a ranch that couldn’t improve their grazing which would allow the ranch to increase carrying capacity, often as much as doubling historic stocking rates, while still improving the condition of the land. Often the driving force for not improving grazing practices involve hanging on to old traditions. Many equate better grazing with more fences or more work. Neither of these must be true.
  • Needing lots of stuff to ranch
    Here is an interesting thought experiment. Make a list of every piece of equipment on the ranch and what it would be worth if sold today. Total up the dollars and now pretend you have that money as cash in your hand and you have no equipment. Paint a picture in your mind of the type of business you want to build. Now, ask the question, “How would we best deploy the capital we now have to create the business we want?” Would you spend it all or save some for a cushion? When times are good on the ranch, we often fall into the trap of upgrading tools that make our lives easier. It is very difficult to go backwards in creature comforts once we step forward. However, from the numbers I’ve seen it is the rare piece of equipment that creates more cash flow than it costs in depreciation and repairs. Tradition might lead us to believe that we need all this stuff to ranch, but economics might be telling us that all this stuff is part of what makes ranching so financially difficult.
  • We should be running cows
    But we have always run cows! What is the purpose of your ranch? Is it to create opportunities for owners to do the things they enjoy or is it to create cash flow and profit to support the owners and provide opportunities for others? Might these two things be in contrast? I’m not saying you can’t run cows and be profitable, but often I observe ranchers who see no other alternative to the current enterprise structure on the ranch. I also don’t believe it is a problem if ownership sees the ranch as a place to allow them to do the things they enjoy – such as running cows. I do see a conflict when the ranch isn’t creating the outcomes required and people are unwilling to look beyond traditional enterprises. Might it be that the ranch could be an even more enjoyable place if it were highly profitable?

Following that line of thought, what other traditions should be challenged on your ranch? Which traditions must be held on to? There are some traditions that are core to who we are, let’s be sure we don’t jeopardize those in pursuit of profit. Balancing the paradox of tradition and innovation is part of what makes this business so interesting.

Fertilizing with Hay and Cows

The mud continues to be a nightmare here in north Missouri and another round of rain is starting now and forecasted to continue until 2pm tomorrow.  Ugh!  But, the temperature is supposed to finally rise to about 65 on Wednesday with a couple of partly sunny days before the next round of rains.  However, after tomorrow, temperatures are to remain in the upper 40s at night to mid 60s during the next 10 days, so that is a major change. 
This year’s spot for improving soil is on the south and east side of the cemetery using spaced bale hay feeding.  I placed the bales out last September/October and removed the net wrapping before placing them.  No doubt there is some hay loss, but my lessons from the year before is still very much remembered!

 

This looks like a mess of smashed hay, and it is, but there is a method to the madness.  Just a couple of days ago, there were 10 big round bales of hay spaced here for the cows to eat.  They’ll pick around in this a bit more, but the grass is growing and they are starting to complain about eating hay.  In the meantime, they’ll lay on this and spend more lounging/slobbering/pooping/peeing on this hillside which is sorely in need of organic matter, microbes, and litter.
Here is an example of the cows and calves chowing down on good brome hay on the east slope from the cemetery.  I do hope that there is a good time to get in here with tractor and harrow to spruce up this site before Memorial Day.  But unless we get a torrential down pour the next 24 hours, this won’t look to bad.  In fact, because i already broadcast seeded some perennial grasses and legumes and i hired my cows to trample the seeds, along with fertilizer into the ground, it should grow and be the best it’s ever been in my lifetime!
Here is an example of why my farm is not good at growing grass.  I’m improving my corral and so had to have this post hole dug.  I snapped a photo to show that it’s clay nearly 4 feet deep!  Clay makes great mud when it rains and concrete as soon as it dries up.
This is Cotton Road on the other side of my property and it has been impassable by vehicle all year!
Another view of Cotton Road.  Very discouraging.  As you can see some people have tried to drive on it, but have, instead, driven on my road bank causing more erosion now on my banks!
We do not have clear water ditches in north Missouri.  It’s just mud.  Now this crossing shows a bit worse because Dallas had just finished repairing this crossing and removing soil to fill in at my corral.
Our gravel roads in Jackson Township, Linn County, Missouri leave a lot to be desired.  You have to just give it the gas, keep it on the road and hope ya don’t meet anyone on the hill!

Hay Challenges

I had planned to talk about the challenges of feeding hay in the winter in north Missouri last year, but never got around to it.  As it turns out, there are a different set of challenges this year, so i’ll roll them in to one blog.

Winter of 2017-2018 was really long, cold, bitter, but it was too long ago and though i know it was a challenge, i can’t remember.  So, starting with winter 2018-2019, which was the second consecutive long winter following a drought made for a very tough feeding season despite selling about 30% of my cows/calves.

My plan was to set out hay for bale grazing in July while it was dry, leaving the Netwrap on for protection of the hay, then using electric polybraid to ration it out to the cows in the hopes of minimizing waste.  Sounds like a plan, but you what happens to best laid plans.  I did set it all out – about 70 bales spaced appropriately on about 5 acres, then set up the tape.  then came the bitter winter early on along with deep, deep snow.  Of course, then with no way of removing the Netwrap because of snow and ice and snow and wind took down and buried the polybraid.  Cows and calves had their way with the hay.

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Unfortunately, the amount of mud and trampling destroyed the 1/4 mile roll of polybraid and the Netwrap from 70 bales is buried.  I needed to remove it before grass grows but it was impossible even with Dallas using the harrow to try and pull it up a bit.  Sadly, most of it is still out in the pasture even now February, 2020.  But the resultant organic matter definitely improved forage production!

This year (2019-2020) blessedly has been mild by comparison of the past two winter.  Though we had an early cold snap, it didn’t really dig in cold until Jan 11 when a blizzard rolled in (the day i arrived from Fundo Panguilemu) with 1/4 inch of ice by the time i got to my pickup in the economy parking at airport.

I had started feeding hay way back in August to allow as much forage to grow for winter grazing as possible.  Thankfully, we had an excellent growing season though a late start in 2019.  However, the two previous years of drought has set back our typical production.  But haying while it’s dry only works if your growing paddocks are out of reach for the cows – otherwise, they will practically refuse to eat hay if they see green growing grass.

The freezing spell which lasted until the 31st of January allowed us to unroll hay on frozen ground, but couldn’t take off the netwrap very often because it was frozen to the bale.  We cut it across the bale so we could at least unroll it, but that leaves the netwrap under the hay.

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Today (2 Feb 20), it was warm enough for me to survive outside for a while (actually spent 3 hours outside because it was 55F!), yet though thawed enough that i could pull up some of the netwrap from underneath the hay that the cows had left behind.

While i was gone to Chile (first of January), it was dry enough that Dallas was able to unroll about 22 bales on another location that needed more organic matter, so that is set for later to be eaten.  And in December, Brett had set out about 30 bales with netwrap removed on a section that needs soil building with organic matter before breaking through the barely frozen mud.  So once the cows run out of grazing (hopefully there is enough to last ’til first of March), then they’ll back track to these areas where hay is already set out.

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I set up the polybraid around the remaining bales hoping they won’t need to be fed this winter.  Time will tell.  But unless it freezes hard again, it may not dry out until July or August.

Welcome to north Missouri – always 2 weeks from a drought in the summer and  cow killing mud under sometimes deep snow and ice in the winter.  It’s been said there are 3 good days a year in north Missouri.

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It’s muddy!  Back to grazing.

 

 

Grazing Soybean Stubble

Thank you to Tim Schafer who lives near Maryville, Missouri for this fabulous photo from a farm he leases illustrating his sheep winter grazing on soybean stubble.  Awesome!  He also has cattle grazing soybean stubble.

This is an issue i had yet to hear ever addressed!  Thankful that On Pasture provided much needed information.  If possible, to get cover crops growing after soybeans are harvested and before winter grazing, that would be a win-win for grazing and establishing living roots for soil stabilization.

Is Soybean Stubble Good Cattle Feed?

By   /  January 20, 2020  /  1 Comment

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After soybeans are harvested, cows sometimes are put out on the residues to graze. Some bean residues are even baled. But how good is this feed?

 

We’re all familiar with the usefulness of grazing corn stalks, but I see more and more residue from soybean fields grazed every year. Cows seem to like licking up what’s left behind after combining. But frankly, I’m a little concerned that some folks may think their cows are getting more from those soybean residues than what truly is there.

The problem is a matter of perception. When most of us think of soybeans, we think high protein so we expect soybean residues will be a high protein feed, too. Unfortunately, the opposite is true; soybean residue is very low in protein.

Soybean stems and pods contain only about 4 to 6 percent crude protein, well below the 7 to 8 percent needed for minimum support of a dry beef cow. Even though leaves can be up to 12 percent protein, it’s only around one-third digestible, so that’s not much help. In fact, protein digestibility is low in all bean residues.

Energy is even worse. TDN averages between 35 and 45 percent for leaves, stems, and pods. This is even lower than wheat straw. As a result, cows fed only bean residue can lose weight and condition very quickly. Heavy supplementation is needed to maintain cow health.

This doesn’t mean soybean residues are worthless for grazing or even baled. They can be a good extender of much higher quality hay or silage. However, cattle must be fed quite a bit of higher energy and protein feeds to make up for the deficiencies in soybean residues.

Don’t be misled into thinking bean residues are as good or better than corn stalks. Otherwise, you and your cows will suffer the consequences.

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  • Published: 11 hours ago on January 20, 2020
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  • Last Modified: January 15, 2020 @ 11:13 am
  • Filed Under: Livestock

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bruce is a professor of agronomy and extension forage specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He works with grazing systems and does research on annual forages, utilization of warm-season grasses, forage quality in hay and pasture systems and using legumes to improve pastures.

1 COMMENT

  1. Sheep have the ability to pick up the shelled-out beans in soybean stubble field that cattle cannot.

A Spot of Winter

Yesterday (the 16th) is cold with a sharp wind, but sunny – not cold like in states closer to the 49th N parallel, but i don’t live there – my north Missouri Tannachton Farm at 39.95 is even too far north, but this is where my husband lives, so guess i’ll hang around.

Anyway, today the ice is coating all surfaces and the forecast is snow, single digits, sleet, ice, pellets, wind so to prepare for a nasty week ahead, I decided to take advantage of yesterday’s weather to set up a polywire electric fence with step in posts to strip off 1/4 of me cows’ next paddock.  If ground is somewhat dry and there is no ice, i have to weigh in my mind whether or not it is better to give them a 20 acre paddock vs a portion.  They won’t waste a lot in those conditions, so does my labor in setting up the fence offset less waste?  This is how i think.

However, knowing there is going to be ice coming, i know that once quality and quantity winter stockpile is coated in ice, each hoof step can break the stems and leaves and do considerable damage to the grazing experience.  Then my labor becomes much more valuable.

Considerations:

  1. evaluate quantity and quality of stockpiled forage.
  2. evaluate ground/weather conditions as to amount which may be destroyed just by livestock walking on the forage.  (mud, ice, rain)
  3. Dry cows in good condition need the least quality of forage – if you have finishing cattle, young cattle, thin, or nursing cows, higher quality forage is necessary.

These factors give value to your labor.  How much you determine your time to be worth will decide whether or not you can justify driving to your cattle and stripping off small allotments of grazing.

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How do i shift cows?  open the gate and get out of the way!

 

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In just a couple minutes all 170 animal units are shifted to new paddock.  Happy cows and calves.

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Get out of their way.

 

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Candy to a cow in mid-January with an ice storm on the way.  Filling their bellies!

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This tire tank is protected from wind and catches the sun.  With 170 animal units watering out of it, it takes many days of bitter weather before i need to start the overflow or chop ice.  You can see a bit of floating ice that the cows easily broke through by themselves in this tank.

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Polywire (i actually use this Powerflex polybraid– it lasts much longer than twisted wire) and pig tail step in posts.

Buckman 80
My cows are on the part of Tannachton Farm i call the Buckman 80 because i bought it from Jesse and Janice Buckman years ago.  The red line is the barbed wire perimeter, the yellow is the ‘permanent’ hi-tensile electrified single strand wire powered by a Parmak solar 12 volt energiser.  The purple line shows where i put up the polybraid for temporary grazing (strip grazing).  The area measures about 6.5 acres, i estimate 5000 lbs per acre of standing dry matter for grazing.  My mob eats about 6000 lbs per day, so 6 acres times 5000 lbs equals 30,000 lbs.  Divide that by 6000 allows about 5 days of grazing.  Always estimate conservatively to allow for waste and error in estimates.

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Buckman 80 in the fall.

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This is the same paddock though being strip grazed in the spring.  

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.