As you know from reading my blog, i really like Corriente cows. I’m nearly out of the purebred ones, but most of my replacements have a percentage of Corriente in them and that adds to the cross. It’s a slim profit raising Corrientes unless you can find a niche market. Also, they will not ‘finish’ like a beef cow, so are far too lean with next to no fat cover to make it profitable to butcher them. (However, the meat is absolutely outstanding and that is pretty much all we butcher for ourselves.) So they remain relegated to entertainment (rodeo).
Anyway, a short article came out in the most recent edition of Working Ranch and I’d like to share it with you.
Managed grazing takes some work, but good decisions yield excellent results as measured by animal performance, increased soil biome, desirable grazing plant species, and good ground cover to protect the soil from heat and erosion. Little to no improvement happens in any of these areas if the land is allowed to lie idle. In fact, if animal impact is removed from the land, the negative effects may increase the opportunity for desertification.
Below are some random photos i took today which tell a little bit of the story and my grazing plans (which change with the weather and time of year).
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.
Agriculture 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.