Producers and industry experts gather at Nebraska Grazing Conference to talk land use and ranching’s next generation
Producers learned about cover crops, grazing diversity and management at the 2016 Nebraska Grazing Conference. With these subjects in mind, organizers of the annual event hope to see the quality of grazing lands this generation has enjoyed available for future generations.
“There are a lot of positives in the Nebraska beef cattle industry right now,” said Don Adams of the University of Nebraska. “Our cattlemen are good managers of the range and pasture lands.”
Adams also sees access to crop residue and cover crop planting as advantages when grass is short or there is a drought.
“It gives us an alternative,” he said.
Feed is the single most varied cost in beef production. With annual cow costs approaching more than $1,000, feed amounts to more than 66 percent of this total. Nebraska grass costs have skyrocketed in recent years, approaching $55-$60 per cow/calf pair.
With these obstacles, Adams says more producers are looking for alternatives which may include grazing crop residue and feeding forages, which have actually become cost-effective alternatives to traditional grazing.
“I think I can actually purchase some harvested feeds cheaper than $58 a month,” he said. “I would encourage producers to compare prices of alfalfa, distillers grains, cubes and tubs. We can’t cheat our way through difficult times. We just have to work through it.”
Mary Drewnoski with the University of Nebraska shared ways cover crops can be used as fall forage. Planting date is critical for fall forages, she said.
“The heat units really make a difference in fall forage production. In the fall, the quality of an early maturing oat doesn’t decrease like it does in the spring,” she said. “When selecting cover crops for fall forage, it is important to think about what will give you the most yield.”
Drewnoski finds brassicas to be a good fit for fall forage. They not only have a high yield, but also have moderate protein, comparable to alfalfa and crude protein comparable to corn.
“If you would add some oats into the brassica mixture, it will add fiber to their diet, while diluting some of the sulfur down,” she said.
She showed producers some research where 600 pound calves were stocked on an oat-brassica mixture after corn silage harvest at 0.9 head an acre. Drewnoski said the calves gained an average of 2.2 pounds a day, with a total cost of $88.91 per calf. The cost per pound of gain was 63 cents.
Wayne Rasmussen, who is a producer in Plainview, Neb., shared his experience with annuals and cover crops. Rasmussen, who has a cow/calf operation, grass finishes his calves. Since he can’t use corn in a grass finishing program, he uses an oats and peas mixture with some vetch added to help put nitrogen back into the soil. This mixture is placed into a windrow, and provides the calves with some extra energy as they graze. Although there is some downed feed with this system, Rasmussen said he doesn’t look at it as waste, but as food for the soil to promote soil health.
Ron Rosari and Doug Smith of the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture shared some information about the Heifer Link program offered at the college in Curtis, Neb., that helps young producers get started in the cattle business.
Lyle Perman of Lowry, S.D., discussed his ranch transition plan, and how he got his son established on the family ranch. Perman told producers it’s important to get things in writing. On their own operation, they have a binder with the mission statement, goals, inventory and marketing.
“We also try to have a monthly meeting,” Perman said. “Communication is an important part of the ranch.”
Perman is in his fourth year of offering internships to young people who want a career in ranching.
“I offer this program because I want to teach young people about all aspects of our ecosystem and how important it is,” he said
He has paid and unpaid internships for different lengths of time during the summer. Interested applicants have to submit an application to qualify for the program.
Derrell Peel of Oklahoma State University explained to producers what he sees as the future of U.S. beef production.
“The beef marketing system determines what is going to get produced and how much will be produced,” he said. “Consumers dictate this, not producers. Producers decide what resources they will use to produce a product, and where it will be produced.”
For instance, higher crop prices in recent years have pushed cattle production to drier and more marginal land in other parts of the country, he said.
When cattle numbers declined, carcass weights continued to climb peaking at 930 pounds last year, and into February of this year.
“I think we may see lighter carcass weights this year,” he said.
Trey Patterson, CEO of Padlock Ranch Company in Ranchester, Wyo., said it’s important to take care of ag land for future generations.
The Padlock Ranch is a cow/calf operation with a goal of not utilizing very much harvested feed. The company also has a grow yard in Dayton, Wyo., where they feed the weaned calves until they are 700-800 pound yearlings.
“We put up hay, and we buy some corn and distillers grain to put into the feedlot ration,” he said. “Corn silage is a staple in the growing ration,” he said.
Patterson said his goal is sustainability, which is all about creating a well-rounded environment for all species to thrive. His focus is on diversity in plant life, having little bare ground, deep root systems, and functioning nutrient cycles.
“We look for healthy riparian areas and thriving wildlife populations,” he said.
Ryan Sexson of Nenzel, Neb. shared his own experiences of starting a ranching operation from scratch. Sexson said through this process he found out the importance of building relationships. Sexson was eventually able to lease a ranch, and received help from some older producers to buy into some cows to stock the ranch.
“What I would say to older ranchers is this: Don’t be afraid to help someone,” he said. “That’s what we are all supposed to do.” ❖
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