It has been a long time since I have actually posted here myself, so I thought I better before you all thing I don’t do anything around here. I’ve enjoyed delegating the website journal to the interns but I don’t have any here now, so it’s up to me.
In an industry as steeped in tradition and history as ranching, you might think not much changes from year to year. That may be true on some levels, but in many ways it is false. For our operation, there are constant changes. We are always looking for new and better ways to do things. Innovation and adaptation to the environment we do business in is as important to ranching as it is to any other business.
“Lack of money is not an obstacle. Lack of ideas is an obstacle.”
“Discovery is seeing what everybody else has seen and thinking what nobody else has thought.”
“Learning is not compulsory… neither is survival.”
W. Edwards Deming
These quotes, and others similar to them, have rolled around in my head a lot this winter. I have some new ideas we’re trying out this year. Here’s a few of them.
Tire feed dispenser
Last week I cobbled together a rolling grain feeder to supplement some corn and soybean hulls to the young cows. They are still growing themselves, plus feeding the calf in utero, so they could use a little extra feed. You can see the feed dispenser in the photo below.
Every time the tire goes around, a small pile of grain is left on the ground. The cows clean it up very well. The “feeding frenzy” where I feed with this also helps break down the old dead grass, allowing those nutrients to cycle and feed the new grass coming up.
Breeding Heifer enterprise
An new venture we’re trying this year is bred heifer development. We’ve always done our own, but this year we are doing it with the intention of selling them. Since we don’t start breeding until July 15, our bulls are unemployed during the month of June when most other ranchers are breeding their heifers. I bought a load of heifers to breed in June, which will then be sold as bred heifers this fall. This allows us to pull double-duty from the bulls, spreading their cost out over more heifers. It also allows us to better match our forage supply with our cow inventory.
This spring I’ll be calving out a group of heifers bred to Wagyu bulls. It’s the first year we’ve done this. The calves will be destined for white-tablecloth restaurants and the Japanese market. These calves will be fed for about 500 days after leaving here in the fall to maximize their meat quality. Over 95% of them will grade USDA Prime (about 3% of cattle grade prime normally, although our Angus calves have done up to 20%). The immediate benefit to us is they are very easy-calving. This makes it easy on the first-calf heifers and easier on me, not having to help as many deliver their calf.
Double-cropping forage & grazing
The slim (or negative) profit margins on some crops has caused me to try an alternative plan on one field. We will plant oats and peas in the spring, cut it for hay in June, and then plant a multi-species grazing crop immediately following the hay crop. Assuming we get enough rain, this second crop will provide high-quality forage next fall for our young bred cows. It will feed the soil as well. Multi-species cover crops help sustain a diverse population of below-ground organisms, which in turn keep the soil healthy and productive. I’ve seen this done successfully on other progressive operations, so I’m optimistic it will work for us.
Not everything I try works out. I could do a multi-part journal series on those ideas that didn’t. But I always learn something – even if it’s just what not to do. That’s still a success in my mind.
I’ve survived so far.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”