We think it is far more important to stop making hay on your land than it is to stop feeding hay on your land. Here are some things to think about.
What Made Sense in 1973 Doesn’t Make Sense Today
Making hay is a whole lot more expensive than it used to be. This table compares input costs for making hay in 1973 in contrast to 2013.
All of the input costs have increased at a much faster rate than the value of beef cattle, lamb, or milk. To be on par with costs experienced in 1973, fed cattle should have been $284/cwt, not the $148 they were.
Hay = Inexpensive Fertility
While making hay is expensive, in much of the US, hay can be bought for less than the cost of production. When you buy someone else’s hay and feed it on your property, you are buying their fertility at a highly discounted rate. In some years in some locations, you can buy beef cattle hay for less than the fertilizer value it contains.
This is a great opportunity for improving your land in a way that also benefits soil health.
Feeding Uniformly is the Key
The key to soil improvement is to get the hay fed uniformly over your pastures. This is how you can realize the greatest benefit from purchased hay as a planned fertility input.
Large round bales are still the norm in much of US cow country. Round bales can be unrolled with relatively low-cost equipment. Bales don’t unroll uniformly all the time, but the subsequent manure distribution is way better than feeding bales in ring feeders.
Big square bales can be flaked off easily in a systematic way to cover a specific area with each bale fed.
Bale processors are expensive pieces of equipment. If you are invested in something like this, make sure you are feeding all of your hay to optimize the distribution of manure across the pasture.
We need to be thinking about how much nitrogen and phosphorus is in each bale we are feeding so we can plan our daily feeding to apply appropriate levels of nutrients rather than feeding too little and not realizing the benefit we expected or feeding too much and overloading the soil and environment with excess N. We’ll look at that next week!
Stay tuned! Jim will be covering all the data and math in this series to help us figure out how to do the best we can at improving pastures with hay feeding. If you have questions for Jim, do share them in the comments section below!
Transforming your ranch into an effective business involves changes in land management, animal husbandry, money management and in the way you interact with the people in your business. But the biggest change isn’t to the land or the animals. The biggest change is in you.
IT ISN’T SUSTAINABLEif it isn’t PROFITABLE
Profit is to business as breathing is to life. A ranch that doesn’t produce an economic profit isn’t a business. It’s a hobby … an expensive hobby.
FOCUS ON effectivenessNOT EFFICIENCY
Efficiency and effectiveness are not the same thing. It doesn’t do any good to do things right if you are doing the wrong things! If something is efficient, but not effective, stop it immediately!
GET IN SYNCHwith nature
Most ranch businesses are structured to fight nature. That’s expensive and exhausting. Businesses that match enterprises and production schedules to nature’s cycles are more profitable, less work and more fun!
YOU DON’T GETharmonyWHEN EVERYONE SINGS THE SAME NOTE
In any business, especially family businesses, there are bound to be differences of opinion. Our decisions are improved when we bring different perspectives and ideas to the table and engage in constructive debate, as long as we agree that, at the end of the day, we all ride for the brand.
WORK LESSand make more
Unsustainable effort is unsustainable. Period! Planning is the key to simplifying enterprises, increasing profit and reducing labor.
We often act as though we have a choice between ranching as a lifestyle or a business. The lifestyle of ranching improves when the ranch is a successful business first.
WORK ON YOUR BUSINESStwo mornings a week
It’s not enough to work IN your business, you must work ON your business.
WEALTHYon the balance sheet& BROKE AT THE BANK
The misallocation of capital is the biggest financial problem in ranching. At the Ranching For Profit School you’ll learn how to capitalize and concessionize assets to increase profit and improve the financial health of your business.
RANCHING FOR PROFITis NOT an oxymoron
Many ranchers seem to think that profit is dictated by prices and weather…two things beyond our direct control. Ranching for Profit graduates prove every year that the key to profit is management.
Buying older farm equipment can be an economical way to get started in the world of farming. Farmers and homesteaders have long been a thrifty bunch, either out of necessity or just on principle. Sometimes they decide to part ways with their farm tools and equipment, which offers others the opportunity to score a deal. The catch is; is it a deal?
Buying older farm equipment may represent an excellent deal for you, especially if you’re looking for robustly manufactured implements. Many farm stores sell category zero and category one sized implements, but not all of them are all they’re cracked up to be. Most of these implements are enthusiast grade, which is the new term for economy grade. If you’re looking for commercial grade farming implements, then buying older farm equipment is likely a good idea.
Many people fall into the trap of finding new, less expensive implements and not evaluating the size of the equipment. If your tractor can handle seven, eight or nine-foot wide implements, it’s best you buy that sized equipment.
Buying less expensive, new equipment that is not as wide may not work as well with your tractor’s track width (measurement of tire sidewall to tire sidewall), or make the job unnecessarily longer. There’s a time difference when you’re cutting a field with a six-foot-wide mower versus an eight-foot-wide mower. If you have acres to mow, those two feet add up in hours.
Buying older farm equipment that is appropriately sized to you instead of impulse buying a cheap, smaller new implement will serve you well in practical use. Purchasing the right sized implement at a used price will keep you in the budget, without sacrificing performance.
Older Farm Equipment
As with everything you intend to buy used, the circumstance in which the equipment is being sold will be a good indicator of how much of a deal is being offered. Is the seller upgrading? Why? Are they getting out of farming? Are they moving? Is it broken? Most farmers won’t part with their precious farm implements without good reason, so be sure you know why. Even in one of these circumstances, there are a few other things you should pay attention to when looking at older farm equipment.
Is this product, or a comparable product still in production? How much does it cost brand new? I’m not a fan of buying used equipment for more than 50 percent of new unless it’s in stellar, like-new condition, or the new stuff is insanely expensive. For instance, if you’re looking at a mower deck that’s all beat up and the seller wants a hundred bucks less than a brand new one costs, it’s not a real deal. Knowing what these things cost brand new will give you a gauge to measure the deal against, and give you some information to leverage when bargaining with the seller.
Every piece of older farm equipment has the potential to hide a severe flaw. It’s up to you to look for these significant faults before you hand over your cash. Finding problems may not be a deal breaker because lots of things can be replaced, repaired, welded or modified to suit your needs. Just make sure the estimated cost of those repairs is factored into the sale.
For example; if you buy a used field mower deck for $1,300, which usually costs $1,800, but you need to replace the gearbox for $500 because it ran without oil and seized up, you just paid for a brand new mower but got a beaten and abused one instead. Not such a good deal. Make sure you know what works and what doesn’t before you buy.
Older farm equipment tends to be neglected and left outside to fend for itself. Rust can be merely cosmetic, or it can be cancerous. Heavy implements like cultivation plows, especially older farm equipment from the 50s and earlier, are usually made of some thick, high-quality steel. A rusty patina on an old two-bottom plow is inconsequential, but rot holes in the sheet metal of a field mower are an entirely different story.
Sometimes older farm equipment is missing parts. Things like tines, cutter blades, wheels, and sodbusters tend to disappear over years of use, either by breakage or removal for specific applications. Be sure you know what parts are supposed to be there because sometimes there’s no tell-tale empty spot or unused bolt hole to give you a hint.
Rust and bearings are not friends, but they do know each other way too well. If the older farm equipment you’re looking at has moving parts, make sure they still move. If you need to soak these parts down with a penetrating lubricant to make them spin again, you will probably need to replace the bearings. Make sure you’re not taking on a challenge that’s too much effort to make it a worthy deal since bearings can be difficult to replace on really old implements.
Hydraulic hoses are rubber, reinforced with steel cords. They don’t last forever, and they don’t like friction or sunlight. Make sure hydraulic lines haven’t rubbed through down to the steel cords, dry cracked from years in the sun, or been compromised any other way.
If the old farm equipment you’re looking at has bad lines, not all is lost! Many tractor part stores, heavy equipment repair shops, and even some automotive parts stores offer custom hydraulic lines made to order, even on the spot! Remove the lines you need to replace, as intact as possible, and bring them to the shop. Having the original lines to copy makes the process simpler, and lets you compare the new lines to the old. These lines aren’t free, so be sure to calculate the cost of new lines and connectors into your offer price.
Implement, and small farm tractors have tires that tend to dry crack and flatten when left in the field for years. Unless they are a foam-filled tire or a solid tire, the odds are that you’ll need to replace them if they dry crack enough to deflate, or at least put a tube in them. Tractor tires can be exceptionally expensive, unlike a car or light truck tire, so be sure to look up the cost of replacement before committing to buying the old farm equipment in question.
Tires that are loaded with calcium chloride usually rust the wheels of old farm equipment. The typical start point for wheel rot is around the tire stem, so be sure the wheels don’t look rusty around the stem hole. If a tractor you’re looking to purchase has wheel rot, be prepared to buy both rear wheels, or all four wheels if the front tires were loaded as well. If one wheel has rusted out, the others are likely not far behind.
Older farm equipment, especially antique equipment, may not be in production anymore. Manufacturers have likely discontinued production of parts, or that manufacturer has since disappeared entirely. The scarcity of replacement parts for this equipment causes complications when trying to source new parts to repair or replace missing pieces of equipment. Sometimes you can get lucky and find parts from random sellers online, but not always. Before you buy, be sure you can still get the parts you need. Otherwise, you may be stuck reinventing the wheel so to speak.
Sometimes buying older farm equipment makes sense for farming on a shoestring, but you need to spend the time and effort to understand what you’re buying. For simple implements, such as plows, harrows, and some rotary equipment, buying used is a great option, but in my experience, the more complicated the machine is, the less of a deal it usually is. Be sure to fully understand what you’re buying, what repairs it needs before you can use it, and what the local market price is for said equipment.
Have you bought any used equipment that let you down? What pearls of wisdom can you offer a first-time used equipment buyer? Chime in below in the comments!
The need of inventory management in the cow herd is that not all cows have the same value. What is the market telling me today?
Three-year-old cows 1300# 8 months bred @ $1700 Hi-Quality 4-5-year-old cows 1000-1100# 6 months bred @$1200 Avg-Quality 6-8-year-old cows 1000-1100# 6 months bred @$750 Avg -Quality 1300# 1100# True Value of a Cow- Her Cull Price @ $60 $780 $660 The calf Value 500# @$150 $750 $750 < Carry Costs> $40 per month $320 $400 Base value of a Cow $1210 $1010
What this tells me is the 3-year-old cow will have $920 in depreciation coming in her life. It could be the next preg check or many calves down the road. What the market is telling me that the 4-5-year-old cow could have $450 next year. If calves are selling for $750 the calf that this cow produces has a value of only $300 after paying the loss in the cow value. If it costs $480 to carry a cow you are down $180. The cow that I’m buying is the 6-8 year old cow .If she has made it to six the odds are she will make 10 or 12
She is will only have $90 in depreciation to be covered by 5 calves or $18 She has a base value of $1010 and cost of $750 .Her value to me is $1010 – $750(Her Cost)-$18 (Depreciation)=$260. This is a 32% return on my investment, which I can live with.
The market may be telling you to keep the heifer calf and sell the 3-year-old cow In the 6-8-year-old cow, it is telling me to keep the cow and sell the heifer calf. Look at the relationships of the classes and adjust your inventory. Only deal with today.
If you have $100 to invest and you buy this stock instead of that bond, the interest you gave up in making your choice is your opportunity cost.
At the dinner buffet, you can take as much food as you like, but you can only consume so much food. Which means that eating the jambalaya means you won’t have room to eat a dosa. That’s your opportunity cost.
Opportunity cost is the key to making decisions. Once you know the value of the alternatives you’re giving up, you can be smarter about what you’re choosing to do.
Time is finite. We only get the next hour once, and then it’s gone forever. So choices about how we spend or invest our time come with real opportunity costs.
A car with a bumper sticker that says, “I’d rather be surfing,” tells us a lot about the driver (including the inconsistency of his or her actions). But it’s proof that each of us wrestles with opportunity costs every day.
With that in mind, the cost of watching a cat video on YouTube is real indeed.
And the internet has raised the opportunity cost of time spent.
Our access to the world of learning and online resources means that the alternatives are far more valuable than they used to be.
You’re about to spend 11 minutes perfecting an email to a customer. You could do a 90% ideal job in one minute, and the extra 10 minutes spent will increase the ‘quality’ of the email to 92%.
Or perhaps you’re about to spend an hour manually cleaning a database or tweaking some image files. You do this every day.
Today, though, you could invest an hour in learning to build a macro that will do this recurring job in just a minute a day from now on. Or you could figure out how to hire a trusted freelancer who will do the job on a regular basis for far less than it’s costing you to do it yourself.
Next week, the choices you made at the buffet won’t matter much. But if you learn a new skill, you own it forever.
Human beings don’t like thinking about opportunity costs. As they approach infinity, it’s easy to get paralyzed. As they get harder to compute, it’s difficult to focus and be mindful of the choices already made. That’s a challenge.
But worse, far worse, is to ignore them and fail to learn and connect and level up.
January is a dark month, mentally, for farmers, writes Toban Dyck.Postmedia
I drove myself to the hospital exhibiting heart-attack symptoms and left with none. This has happened twice. And both times I left the urgent care with a clean bill of health.
The attending physician would sensitively sidestep toward what to him was the obvious conclusion: anxiety.
“Do you have a history of anxiety?” he would ask. “Have you ever experienced panic attacks?”
It never occurred to me that physical symptoms as real and specific as chest pain could stem from anxiety, a state of being that seems too nebulous and ethereal to have any physiological connection. Nor did I consider myself anxious.
Many farmers spend their days alone. They work alone. They troubleshoot alone. And they shoulder the farm’s problems alone
Adapting to a schedule that has become increasingly busy and demanding has been a challenge. It requires that I pay special attention to my mental health, ensuring that I routinely balance the things that deplete me with activities that recharge.
Canadian farmers are by and large familiar with weathering storms. It’s an assumed clause in the job description. We do it all the time. In southern Manitoba, right now, it’s cold and windy and there’s enough snow built-up that I’m not sure you’d make it down my driveway with a two-wheel-drive vehicle. This is not uncommon for January.
Spotty cellphone coverage a dangerous fact of life on the farm
Between red tape and mounds of paperwork, government keeps proving it doesn’t understand the farm
The dark side of farming: Surface stoicism can mask struggles with mental illness
In whiteout blizzard conditions my wife and I feel alone on our farm. But that’s more of an observation than a fear. We have the tools and machinery to survive. And, if those all fail, we have neighbours who would ensure our safety.
Things change, however, when the things that need dealing with are in our heads. We don’t feel as confident calling a neighbour for help. The steps needed in order to survive the storm are not as clear.
Many farmers spend their days alone. They work alone. They troubleshoot alone. And they shoulder the farm’s problems alone. And, while any farmer would be able to tell you exactly where to purchase a new cultivator shovel, they may not know where to go for help dealing with the nagging and intrusive thought that their farm isn’t going to make it another year. Or, worse yet, that they aren’t going to make it another year.
Some farms are miles or hours from the nearest community. And some farms have poor or nonexistent cellphone coverage. Isolation and loneliness are physical realities that become exponentially more dangerous when they become mental realities, as well.
Strength. Endurance. Survival. Perseverance. These are the words through which many farmers judge themselves. To be known in connection to any of them is to have built a solid legacy. To have found the last growing season stressful, mentally, is tantamount to saying you’re a lesser farmer.
My wife and I own slightly less than 100 acres of land. It’s not much, by most Canadian farming metrics. But the payments are high. And the stress associated with our new and growing operation is tied to managing the cash-flow demands we have now with an eye for what those demands are going to look like as we purchase more acres.
The federal government is currently taking a deep look into the issue of mental health among farmers. They have opened themselves to receive personal anecdotes from producers across Canada. According to iPolitics, many farmers report being under extreme pressure and some have contemplated suicide due to stress and isolation.
The full report is expected to be released this year.
In November, Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay acknowledged the mental-health concerns that are specifically plaguing the agriculture industry and announced a campaign that will see ag-lender Farm Credit Canada team up with 4-H Canada to provide a support network for youth.
On Jan. 7, Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture, Ernie Hardeman, raised his voice on the matter, announcing a public awareness campaign aimed at shedding light on the mental-health challenges that face farmers.
“Farming can be a tough business, one that takes a toll on farmers and their families,” he said, in a press release. “We want to address the stigma that still surround mental health and help people find the resources that can make a difference.”
The stigmas are not going away any time soon. Farmers are culturally known to be hearty and callous toward things as seemingly petty as insecurity and negative thoughts.
The next time you’re driving outside of the city and you see just one yard amid thousands of acres of unoccupied land, know that as lonely as that farm looks is as lonely as some farmers feel.
It’s January. Traditionally, this month is a dark one, mentally. Take extra care out there. I’m learning to deal with my anxiety. It’s not easy.
Determining what size of cow is ideal for the environment is a hot topic. It depends on the environment, the ranch, and sometimes the rancher. What is even harder is settling on a certain size of cow, and maintaining it.
University of Wyoming Extension Rangeland Specialist Derek Scasta shared a story about his grandfather’s struggles to maintain cow size in his own herd. “What we have is a lot of information to go through,” Scasta told producers during the recent Southeast Wyoming Beef Production convention. “When my grandfather would go to a bull sale, he was looking for EPDs for low birth weight and higher weaning weight, but he may have ignored the maternal traits, and then kept the higher end of the heifer calves for replacements,” he said. The result over time was larger cows.
Looking at the bull’s maternal EPDs will indicate how the heifer calves will look, Scasta said. The bull may have had a positive EPD for milk and mature size, producing larger daughters. “That is why you really need to sort through the bull catalog and look at those EPDs,” he said.
In 1975, the average beef cow in the U.S. weighed 1,000 pounds, which became the range management standard for calculating animal unit months. However, recent data suggests the average beef cow now weighs 1,400 pounds. “In 2010, 16 percent of the U.S. beef cows were more than 1,500 pounds,” Scasta said. “That’s millions of beef cows that weigh more than 1,500 pounds on range and pasture in the U.S.”
Despite a more than 400 pound increase in cow size in the last 40 years, Scasta said no evidence exists to suggest that increase has resulted in weaning larger calves. “We have enhanced the production and performance potential of cows, but we may not be realizing that in terms of calf weaning weight,” he said.
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The EPD for yearling weight has increased 100 pounds in the Angus breed, which basically shows ranchers have been selecting for growth in cattle. In 1985, the average carcass weight was 725 pounds, and in 2015, it was 892 pounds, which is 165 pounds larger. “Cattle are basically 20 percent heavier than 35 years ago, and 10 percent heavier than 15 years ago,” he said.
With that amount of growth has come some negatives in relation to animal welfare. Cattle pots were originally designed to haul smaller cattle. “With these bigger cattle, a lot of them will bump their back going into that lower deck, which leaves a bruise on their back leading to a cut out. It is costing the industry $35 million a year because the cattle are bigger today than what the trailers were originally designed for,” Scasta said.
It is not just a matter of muscle growth. Ranchers have also selected for milk production. “As we have enhanced the performance of our cattle, what has been happening to rangeland? Actually, rangeland has stayed pretty flat despite the production potential of cattle increasing. We have managed to optimize what we get from the range, and it has stayed pretty consistent over time,” he said. “Ranchers have done a good job of matching their cattle genetics with range productivity.”
Scasta said there is a lot of disagreement over optimum cow size. Some studies suggest smaller cows are better because of live weight production and income, while others find larger cows to be more efficient because they have a larger rumen which could be an advantage for the efficiency of processing low quality forages.
A lot of the data available comes from feeding trials, where they did a lot of modeling, Scasta said. “What I found was a lot of mixed studies, and a lack of information in Wyoming,” he said.
Do larger cows wean larger calves?
One study he shared that was published in the Journal of Animal Science, studied how cow size impacts calf weaning weights relative to precipitation extremes. The four-year study involved 80 cows grazing rangeland northwest of Laramie.
The study showed that during the driest years, the larger cows had an advantage, and the smaller cows weaned lighter calves. However, the results were opposite during wet years, and variable during average years. “Taking the average of all four years into account, they found no significant difference in terms of cow size class,” Scasta said. “Smaller cows weaned calves statistically similar to those weaned from the bigger cows, riding the roller coaster of wet-dry-wet-dry,” he said. Calculating the input-output ratio, which is the pounds of grass consumed relative to the pounds of calf weaned, the smaller cows were weaning similar size calves across all wet-dry cycles, Scasta said, while eating less because their nutritional requirements were lower.
A 1,000 pound cow consumed 7½ pounds of grass per pound of weaned calf, according to the study. For a 1,200 pound cow that number jumped to 8½ pounds, and for 1,400 pound cow, it was 9½ pounds. “Basically, the larger cows had to eat more per pound of calf weaned,” he said. “Most ranchers have an efficiency target for the cow weaning a calf that is at least 50 percent of the cow’s body weight. So, a 1,000 pound cow should wean at least a 500 pound calf. In this study, the smaller cows were the only ones to reach that target,” Scasta said.
In another study, Scasta worked with a Wyoming ranch to analyze 8,000 cow/calf records with 13 years of data to determine which cow size is most efficient. The cow size on this ranch varied from 800 to 1,600 pounds, but the majority of the cows weighed 1,100 to 1,300 pounds, Scasta said.
From this data, Scasta found that the smaller to moderate size cows were closer to hitting the 50 percent cow size to weaning weight target, compared to their larger counterparts. “The 1,600 pound cows were actually pretty inefficient for the amount of grass they eat,” he said. “I think the data indicates managing for moderate size cows, and to not let them get bigger over time.” ❖
— Clark is a freelance livestock journalist from western Nebraska. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.