Spring Is Finally Here
Spring is in the air! Ok, technically the first day of spring is not until March 20th, but why not start prepping for it now? After all, the signs are here- snow seems to be melting in places, and the trees are budding in others. Calves are starting to hit the ground and the circle of life goes on!
For some of us winter was brutal. Mother Nature was rough this year and it seemed as if there was round after round of unpredictable, hard to explain polar vortexes. Many of us experienced record temperatures of cold and many of us lost a lot of good cows. Then, you think about the long term effects of the extreme cold- a reduction of overall cattle numbers combined with steadily declining cattle numbers over the decade, and that leaves a shortage of beef in a time when beef is still the #1 tasting protein. Compound your problems by thinking outside the box and realize that your spring breeding season could be decimated if your bulls suffered frostbite. Check out this article by Tracy Turner and Feed Lot Magazine- http://feedlotmagazine.com/blog/2014/03/06/extreme-cold-winter-conditions-now-could-mean-even-higher-beef-costs-later/.
It is usually customary to have your bulls checked 45-60 days before starting your breeding season. This year that should be the rule. Make sure your bulls are ready to go, and that your cows have enough body condition to calve and breed back. A little bit of extra time now can make the difference on the bottom dollar in the end. I know we do the best that we can and our animal’s welfare is always our concern, but this year could be a rough start if not done properly. However, there are some things you can start practicing this spring that will help you make 2014, “a pretty good year!”
If you’re going to have to cull open cows this spring, then keep in mind that efficiency is the way to go when you replace them. With prices being what they are now, and being projected to remain high for the next 2-3 years, then why let money fly out the door? When replacing cattle look for efficient smaller frame cows that are more consistent with today’s commercial market. Try to buy your replacements with a calf at their side already, and whenever possible with a calf and bred back. This type of management provides short term cash and helps the bottom line faster than open replacement heifers that will burn up grass before calving and raising that calf. We all sell our calves from 450-600 lbs and the faster we can get that calf to that point the more profit we realize, and the less inputs we use i.e.: fuel, feed, pasture, and time.
The day of the dinosaur is gone. We need to be looking for the cow that produces what our consumers are looking for. Smaller frame cattle are the way of the norm now, and the heavy 1300 pound “dry” mama cows are going away. Don’t be one of those ranchers who refuse to change and gives us all a bad name. If you can produce a high quality calf whose mama weighs 1000 pounds then you are going to use less of those inputs to do that. It’s part of being good stewards that we are everyday.
Another thing to consider this spring is how to add value to your calves. In our operations, we make family bonding time around working the calves. We vaccinate, deworm, castrate, and dehorn all our cattle ourselves. It’s ok if the Top Hand runs to the house yelling, “I told you I don’t like doing this part”– she always comes back. If you’re worried about doing this on your own, then talk to your local veterinarian and have him come assist a couple of times until you’re ready to manage it on your own. We also aim for a calving season that consistently produces similar weight calves. This enables us to ship calves one time, and also allows calves to be sold in groups.
The last piece of advice to make this spring great and to help increase profits is to stay away from the local café. Hanging out there is a guaranteed way to catch the keeping up with the Jones’s fever. Sure Tom’s new 1-ton rosaceous red Chevy pickup with matching custom aluminum trailer might be pretty cool parked out front on Saturday mornings, but does your operation really need that? Can you get by with your old worn out muddled brown Ford one more year, and will patching the trailer floor get you through one more haul versus spending dollars on equipment that’s not quite needed? Remember spring may be green, but we still have summer ahead! A good cowboy is always looking ahead of his horse.
Save that money for good grazing. Spring is the time to get ahead of the weeds. Spray your fields, evaluate your forage requirements, and never, never, never bale your own hay. Use your land to feed your cattle directly and purchase any outside forage requirements as opposed to taking up valuable land to raise it up yourself. In the long run, you’ll save yourself a ton of money in machine costs and headaches. You don’t have to take my word for it though. This article by Robert Fears in The Cattleman cites a lot of industry experts that know a lot more than this end of the dirt road boy. http://www.thecattlemanmagazine.com/archives/2014/03/new-normal.html.
I love spring! It’s a time to feel new again and with each passing year it becomes a little more joyous to watch the world change into it. I look forward to the challenges it brings to the ranch, and I never cease to be amazed at how life bounces back into action. I honestly don’t remember much of my American Literature class in high school, except that the teacher had this phobia of water, but I do remember a quote from Anne Bradstreet, a Puritan woman from the 1600’s and considered America’s first poet, “If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” After the winter our ranchers and farmers faced here is to hoping for a pleasant spring!
Enjoy the green grass,