Wednesday, December 15, 2010

We do things why????

We tend to do most things because, well, because that is the way we have seen it done all of our lives. When we change what we do, it is often because we have read an article in a trade publication or it was something we learned in school. While learning is a good thing, it also a good practice to logically look at, and question the information being given.

An example is a recent article in the online edition of Beef Magazine. In this article, students at the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture, at Curtis, Nebraska are studying the differences between spring and fall calving. In this study the traditional “spring” calving begins with the heifers calving in January with the cows beginning to calve in February. Wouldn't this be more accurately be described as “winter” calving? The heifers calving in the fall begin calving in September. So where are the advantages and savings between the two?

Granted, the fall calvers will have an easier time getting started, as there are seldom any September blizzards. However you will not only be feeding your lactating cows through the winter, but their calves as well. About the only real advantage to changing your calving season to this schedule is you should have less sickness caused from calving in September and will need less bedding. However this is offset by having to feed the calves all winter and stress of possibly weaning them in pens soggy from spring rains or late spring blizzards. Can this really be more that much more productive than the traditional “spring” calving? But why would we want to be calving at either time? The usual answer is to work around haying schedules, moving to summer pasture or diversification. So why are you diversified?

Perhaps you learned about how necessary diversification is in college, or perhaps your family's operation has been diversified for so long you don't remember exactly why you diversified. Either way it is time to ask a few simple questions.
1. Just how profitable can running cattle be when you are forcing yourself to feed at least twice as much hay and supplement you need just to work around your farming schedule?
2. Just how profitable is it to spend money on bedding and extra labor just so you can calve at the worst possible time of the year to fit your farming schedule?
3. Finally, how profitable is it spending the extra money on antibiotics and absorbing the extra mortality rate from calving around your farming schedule?

I don't know about you, but to me the answer to all of those questions is that even if you are making a little profit, you are also throwing a lot of money out the door while putting a lot of added work and stress in your life. If you are running fewer than a thousand cows you would probably be better off leasing your pasture to a neighbor and selling the feed. Your gross income may take a hit, but that would be offset by lower labor and the elimination of feed costs.

If you are running over a thousand head, you would be money ahead by having one person for running the cattle (no farm duties, strictly running the cattle). By doing this, you could cut your winter feed bill by half (or more), cut your mortality rates, reduce your antibiotic costs and totally eliminate the cost of bedding and extra labor for calving. In addition, the person dedicated to the cattle will be able to treat any illnesses, bad eyes or lameness which occurs when the cattle are being ignored because of the farming schedule.

If you are not farming, and are calving in the fall or during the winter you need to consider how much it is actually costing you. I have a friend in Nebraska who works for a large cattle operation. They changed their calving dates to May/June so they could calve on grass instead of hay. That move saved them 2/3 of their winter hay bill. You need to ask yourself a few simple questions as well.
1. Would you be better off having your hay put up on shares rather than footing all of the cost of hay production?
2. Would it be more profitable to calve on green grass, and increase your herd size by utilizing hay meadows for pasture and buying the small(er) amount of hay you need to make it through the winter?
3. If part of your reason for calving early is to get the calves big enough to make it to summer pasture, why can't you calve on your summer range? (realizing that the biggest cause of calving problems is caused from caving during the winter...)

When to calve is only one part of the puzzle in making the maximum profit from our cattle. There are other questions we need to ask ourselves about infrastructure, handling procedures and marketing techniques. But for now, the main question is, “Are we maximizing profitability and sustainability in the way we are doing things now?”

If you like this blog give it a follow and share it with friends. If you have any questions feel free to comment or email me directly!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

How and why we do what we do

For the most part, this blog will be covering ways for you run your ranch more profitably by operating in ways which will allow you to increase capacity while streamlining your infrastructure needs. We also have an ongoing battle with animal rights organizations and environmentalist groups. Both of these issues are tied into education and how our educational system, like our political system, has gone from one to educate the public on facts, to one of promoting the philosophies or agendas of special interest groups and corporations.

In my first post on this blog, I used Dan Dagget's experience of changing from an anti-grazing environmentalist, to an environmentalist who now believes that the best tool we have to improve land, is cattle. I did this for Several reasons.
First, this shows that even staunch environmentalists can come to realize that cattle can actually be beneficial for the environment. Secondly it shows just how twisted organizations can be when “educating” its members when there is a political or economic motive behind the education. Third, it shows a way the ranching community can improve range conditions at a lower cost.
Intensive, rotational grazing has been around for quite some time. However it has been largely ignored because of the associated cost of added infrastructure to build and maintain. The fact is we have spent so many generations teaching cattle to not act as a herd, we have forgotten they are herd animals. We have been convinced over time that we need to spend so much money on added interior fences to follow intensive grazing programs that conventional wisdom tells us it is not a practical option.
However it is relatively easy to re-introduce the herd instinct in cattle. Once that is accomplished, one person can herd a thousand head or more through a rotational system without the need of interior fences, let alone adding additional ones. In doing this we can also concentrate our water points, reducing the amount of time and money spent on monitoring and maintaining the water system.
To instill the herd instinct in our cattle we need to re-train ourselves in how we handle them. As in learning any new method we have to open our mind a little to really learn it. I have already built a site showing how easily it is to train cattle to act as a herd.
In the meantime, let us all start thinking about the motives of the people who are feeding us information, as well as how we can improve our operations through a minimal yet holistic approach. If you have any questions, feel free to comment, or email me.