Category: Livestock

Educated Cows Eat Weeds!

Turn a Foe Into Forage

In 2004, Kathy Voth invented a method for training cows to eat weeds. The idea grew from the responses from ranchers when she suggested they use goats or sheep to manage weeds. That just wasn’t an economically viable or sustainable solution for them.

Kathy believes that animals are a good solution for weed management, so she decided that if cattle ranchers weren’t interested in goats or sheep, she’d figure out how to turn their cattle into weed managers. Using discoveries made by researchers at Utah State University, and decades of animal behavior studies, she put together a very logical set of steps for teaching cows to eat weeds.

Minimal Time Investment
Using Kathy’s process a cattle producer can teach cows to eat weeds in as little as 10 hours over 10 days and then sit back and relax while the cows get to work.

Cows Are Good Learners and Teachers
A small group of trainees will teach their calves and herd mates to eat weeds, to create a weed eating army in the course of one grazing season. Cows will continue to eat the weeds year after year and add new ones without additional training.

The Training Steps Click HERE

Wealth really comes from sunshine

Improving the life processes that convert sunshine to energy on the ranch or farm can increase all forms of wealth.

Walt Davis 1 | Feb 18, 2020

Ranching is different things to different people but like all types of agricultural endeavors, it comes down to converting sunlight into wealth through green plants and photosynthesis.

This wealth can take several forms aside from money. Grazing animals, especially ruminants, can convert vegetation that is inedible to humans into high quality food. This can be done, without machinery, on land that is unfit for cultivation. Lately this has been getting press under the guise of “upcycling.”

There are other beneficial products, but one desperately needed in today’s world is improved water management. In some situations, if grazing management is used properly, it can double or triple the amount of precipitation captured and used to grow vegetation. This management will also greatly increase the amount of water that accumulates in the soil and in subsurface aquifers.

Proper grazing decreases the likelihood of flooding and increases the usefulness of precipitation. These advantages come about through creating the conditions that allow water to enter and be held by the soil. Foremost amongst the conditions is keeping the soil surface covered with organic matter.

I was on a ranch recently in the hot dry summer when a four-inch rain fell in about four hours. This was followed several hours later by a two-inch rain. This ranch is rolling sandy loam with sandy clay subsoil and has some steep slopes. Little, if any, water ran off the ranch while the neighboring areas had heavy runoff of muddy water.

The difference was the amount of bare ground on the two areas. The ranch with good ground cover absorbed the rainfall to the degree that the tanks (ponds to those of you not from Texas) caught no water. Twenty-four hours after the rain stopped, clear water began to flow from springs into the tanks.

What is the value of six inches of rain stored in the soil rather than running down the creek? There are millions upon millions of acres world-wide that are totally ineffective in capturing and storing rainfall. Water shortage for crops but also for humans is already critical in many areas. Good grazing management can dramatically improve the water cycle of these degraded areas while producing food and profit.

A second condition critical to improving water capture and retention is soil organic content. Organic matter that has been processed by microbial action can seize and hold many times its weight in water. Soil life is dependant on soil organic content, and plants are dependent on soil life. Soil life, especially mycorrhizal fungi, produce the organic compounds – essentially the glue – that holds soil particles together in aggregates and gives soil the porosity and permeability that allows it to take in and hold both water and air.

A big portion of soil organic content comes from root exudates – mostly carbohydrates – pumped into the soil by living plants. In a classic example of symbiotic relationship, the root exudates nourish the soil lifeforms which nourish the plants that provide the root exudates.

Given the opportunity, natural forces promote life to the benefit of the whole soil-plant-animal complex. This is not always a straightforward process. Drought can cause an explosion of grasshoppers by killing the fungi that normally limit the viability of the hopper eggs. When normal weather returns, the fungi will return, and balance will re-establish in insect populations. If we intervene with insecticides spread over large areas, the ecology of that area becomes unstable with ongoing wide swings in both populations and numbers within populations.

Catastrophes such as wildfire, drought and flood happen in the natural world, but only man prolongs the effects of these events. Millions of acres of grassland have been destroyed by holding stock on areas that can no longer feed them. The diversity of life from plants, animals and microbes provides stability and productivity, but it is destroyed when management focuses on “kill the pest” rather than on fostering the conditions that promote health through out the local environment. This may sound sophomoric, however it is not only possible but much more effective financially, ecologically and to human benefit than what is common practice over most of the world.

Don’t be afraid to challenge heifers during development

By MORGAN ROSE The Prairie Star Jan 20, 2020

Research out of Fort Keogh, a former U.S. Army base off the western edge of Miles City, Mont., indicates that pressuring heifers in their earliest stages of development may pay off big in the long-run.

MILES CITY, Mont. – It is no secret that the largest cost endured by cattle producers is their yearly feed bill. It is also no secret that having cows who consistently bring a calf to market every fall is the long-term goal of any producer. For many years, the thinking has always been that in order to have a cow remain in the herd long-term a producer must ensure that heifers are handled with kid gloves and given everything they need from a nutritional and environmental standpoint so they can develop correctly.

Research coming out of Fort Keogh, a former U.S. Army base off the western edge of Miles City, Mont., is turning that line of thinking upside down. Dr. Andrew Roberts, a research scientist at Fort Keogh, is leading a study that is comparing heifers developed in a feedlot to heifers developed on range. The study began in 2012 and it stemmed from previous research where heifers were developed in a feedlot at two different levels.

“The feedlot study pretty much showed that the current recommendations in the industry are probably very excessive for heifer development,” Roberts stated.
Roberts went on to explain that recommendations published in popular press today are often based off of research on heifer development that was conducted in the 1960s through the 1980s. In the mid-part of the 20th century, heifers were never bred until they were two years old, they simply never reached puberty until then. At that time, there was a big push to try and get heifers to reach puberty quicker. Breed genetics where advancing, and at the same time, producers were pouring the coals to the heifers nutritionally.

“Those animals aren’t representative of what we are dealing with now,” he said.

With that in mind, Roberts and his research team decided to go back to the drawing board to try and find a more cost-effective way to develop heifers and to see if where they are developed has any correlation to cow longevity in the herd.

The ongoing research is being done on a composite herd that was developed at Fort Keogh. Heifers are 50 percent Red Angus, 25 percent Charolais and 25 percent Tarentaise. The heifers in the study have been divided into three groups: one group is weaned and developed in a traditional feedlot setting; one group is developed on range and given four pounds of cake as a supplement; and the final group is developed on range, but given free-choice access to a mineral and protein supplement. The range cattle are only fed hay when weather and range conditions made grazing not possible.

It is important to note, the range-developed heifers where fence-lined weaned in a pasture, so the entire development process was conducted in a setting similar to the one the heifers are expected to perform in as running-age cows.

Over the course of the study, more and more pressure has been applied to the range heifers. Not only are they being challenged for feed efficiency, but fertility, as well. When the study started, the heifers entered a 60-day breeding period, which has now been shortened to a period closer to 30-days. Even so, the heifers average 77-78 percent breed up rates, which is outstanding for first calf heifers.

Roberts’ study is showing that it isn’t necessarily a bad thing to make young heifers prove themselves. Allowing Mother Nature and natural selection to weed out the weaker heifers is not only more cost effective, but it may lead to better female retention.

“By having more pressure on their first pregnancy as a heifer, we are getting very good rebreeding rates, over 90 percent among our two- and three-year olds. When we did this in the feedlot study, pregnancy rates were closer to 80 percent for those same age groups,” Roberts stated.

In general, it is considered bad to have low pregnancy rates, but Roberts argues it really comes down to efficiency. Don’t waste money propping up the weak ones, he warned.

“If you have a group of cattle and you fed them more to get five percent more bred, then really that five percent is your least efficient bunch you are getting calves from and you will end up over feeding the rest of the group,” he says.

When it comes to heifers, Roberts advises producers to keep the long-term goal in mind: cow longevity. Challenging heifers early on in their development will toughen up your entire cattle herd down the line. There is a greater chance a producer will see better rebreeding rates and the cattle will stand a better chance of being productive for longer.

“You have to make progress in selecting animals that work in the nutritional environment you’re operating in,” Roberts added.

Roberts plans to continue his research and study the heifers more as they turn into cows. The first batch of heifers studied in 2012 will be turning eight-years-old this year, so Roberts looks forward to examining data from those cows as they continue to age.

Heifer development is critical, but if approached correctly, it doesn’t have to be a black hole for money. As the saying goes, “cream always rises to the top,” especially if given the chance to do so naturally.

$1000 plus Cow Costs –

Where are Your Costs?

Here is a PDF of the

Estimated Cow Costs for the Nebraska area for 2019.

Where are you at.

Screen Shot 2020-01-03 at 9.24.07 AMDifferences Between High-, Medium-, and Low-Profit Cow-Calf Producers: An Analysis of 2014-2018 Kansas Farm Management Association Cow-Calf Enterprise – A Review

This study by Whitney Bowman, Dustin L. Pendell Ph.D. and Kevin L. Herbel can be found at the Kansas State University AgManager.info website. Review and summary by Aaron Berger, Nebraska Extension Educator.

Whitney Bowman together with Dr. Dustin Pendell and Kevin Herbel recently published a paper that highlighted the differences between 71 different producers with cow-calf enterprises that are part of the Kansas Farm Management Association. The paper examined both returns over variable costs and returns over total costs in 2014-2018. The authors broke out participants in the study into three groups of high-, medium- and low-profit producers. Here are differences that stood out between producers from the data when looking at returns over total costs.

  • Differences in costs between operations significantly outweighed revenue differences. High-profit operations spent $259.93 less per cow than low-profit operations in this study.
  • High-profit operations generated more revenue per cow, $152.32, than low profit operations.
  • Major differences in costs between high profit and low profit herds were found in feed expense. High-profit herds spent a total of $418.66 per cow on grazed and harvested feed, while low-profit herds spent $543.92. This is a difference of $125.26 per cow!
  • Labor, depreciation, machinery and interest expenses were all lower on a per cow basis for the high-profit operations than the low-profit operations. High-profit producers spent on average $100.95 less on these items than low-profit producers.
  • High-profit operations generated on average an annual positive net return to management of $60.53 per cow, while low-profit operations had a negative return of -$351.72 to management over the five year period.

The Kansas Farm Management Association cow-calf enterprise data provides insights into the differences between high-, medium- and low profit producers. Participants in the data set have the necessary production and financial records to know what their production costs are and then can use that information to make management decisions to improve profitability. In this data set, producers who aggressively controlled costs while producing more pounds of calf to sell per cow than their competitors were the most profitable.  Good production with cost control differentiated the most profitable producers from those that were the least profitable.

A one page sample budget titled Estimated Annual Cow Costs for Nebraska 2019 is a tool that can be used to help producers to begin to estimate what their own cow costs are.  Good accounting and record keeping can help producers track their costs and know their cost of production.

For producers interested in learning more about this topic, a Unit Cost of Production Workshop is scheduled for February 5 & 6 at the Cedar Creek Church which is in the Burwell area.  For more information contact Aaron Berger at 308-235-3122.

Interviews with the authors of BeefWatch newsletter articles become available throughout the month of publication and are accessible at https://go.unl.edu/podcast.