Continuous Learning

In the past couple of weeks I have had the wonderful opportunity of attending a couple of workshops. The first one I attended was a range camp held near Fort Meade South Dakota. The camp is a workshop set up for the purpose of training Ag leaders  in range and natural resource management.  They covered topics such as range plant ID, soil health, production potential, stocking rates, range monitoring, USDA web soil survey training, and tours of local ranches and their practices. 

plant diversity
In this picture you can see a very great example of plant diversity in a pasture. When Lyle and Garnet first bought the place in the 1980’s There was very little of this lead plant you can see in the picture as a woody forb. But over the years by using a rotational grazing system it has become a lot more prevalent. Having a diverse plant community also helps with the health of the soil by the each individual plant can fixate different nutrients into the soil.

I came away from this experience getting into the mindset of being able to think of all of the factors that go into an operation.  

Looking at soil health (what types of soil you have), having a diverse plant community, controlling weeds with grazing, looking at your pastures and grazing them in range and natural resource management and stewardship of natural resources.  These were just some of the things that were covered during the camp.

I ‘ve wondered as a young rancher what would be the best and most efficient way of getting into owning my own ranch. After asking around and listening to a lot of different opinions I have come to the conclusion that it is best to start small. Owning a couple of cows and running with another rancher. That way you can get the snowball rolling instead of just jumping into owning a ranch.

This picture is a quick snapshot of the Rain fall simulator. They gave the demonstration at the range camp. The results on how much water was run off and how much was retained in the soil from the tilled ground and the native range was night and day. Look up some demonstrations on the Youtube.


The second workshop was a lecture by Gerald Fry. He is a bovine engineering specialist. I would encourage anyone to go check out his website. He primarily focuses on hormone function, correlated linear measurements, and indicators of butter fat content.  It is very interesting to now drive around on the ranch and look for these indicators of hormonal expression and indicators of a good cow.  He emphasized  line breeding and keeping a good line of genetics in your herd. Not to over cross your cattle. He was a pleasure to sit down with and pick his brain.

“Success is most often achieved by those who don't know that failure is inevitable.”― Coco Chane


The past couple of weeks have been very busy with moving cows, working calves, cutting hay and starting to get some bales on the ground. So busy I have not had a great opportunity to get emulsified into the stack of books and articles the family lent me

 to read and pick through. There is always something new to learn and ways of improving. I would invite everyone to be keeping your eyes open for workshops and camps throughout the summer no matter where you are in the world. It is always a great idea to get off of your operation and your own mindset and either learn something new or look at problems you are having from a different point of view.


Till next post “Watch your topknot “Readers.


Sam Newell



Toothpick Sam

"It's not dying I'm talking about, it's living." – Gus McCrae

Hi readers my name is Sam Newell I come from a little town in Utah named Nephi. I go to school at Utah State University in Logan, Utah. I met my beautiful girlfriend Lauren Wellman in a livestock and carcass evaluation class.  I will be graduating with my Bachelor's in animal science in less than two years. After I graduate, I will be attending vet school and starting my own practice if all goes as planned. First Upload Of Phone 5-10-15 688I will then start my own ranch and get that going so I can retire as an old man, with his dog and his eyes on the skyline. I also plan to have a family, probably should have throw that in there. Who knows where life will take me though! I enjoy anything outdoors. I hunt whatever is in season at the time. I like to fish when ammunition gets too expensive.  I like having bonfires and good times around the campfire. I thoroughly enjoy country music by artists such as Chris Ledoux, Garth Brooks, "The King" George Straight, Brenn Hill, Ian Tyson and the list goes on.  I would choose a night in a bedroll under the stars over a nice hotel any day.                                                                                        

After a thousand mile journey in my little car " White Lightning" I made it to Rock Hills Ranch. I was recieved the nickel tour and then went to check cows with Luke. There are two internships here on the Rock Hills Ranch; the ranch living internship and the ranch and range management internship.  I fulfill the ranch and range management internship and Miranda fulfills the ranch living internship. My duties include checking cows and calves twice a day as well as tagging, checking and fixing fence, range monitoring , bee counting later in the summer and any other jobs Luke or Lyle need accomplished.  I have been here on the ranch for just about three weeks now and have enjoyed every minute. I am learning so many new things and am  soaking up as much information out of Luke and Lyle as I can.What I really enjoy about this internship is that it is not just learning how to milk a cow or catch a calf it is how to think in a management fashion, how to problem solve and think of things through a hollistic management process (the main way of thinking here on the ranch).  They are great teachers and know what they are doing. It is an honor to have this internship.       

Till next post “Watch Your Topknot” Readers, 

Sam Newell 


New innovation will make your haystacks grow!

Have you ever heard of a rancher giving his cows all the hay they will need for the entire winter on December 1?  Of course not, they would waste way too much of it.  Instead, cattlemen will spend lots of money to be more efficient at feeding harvested feeds.  It bothers us ranchers to see cows wasting a bunch of hay in the winter.  That's because we worked dang hard getting that hay put up, racing the thunderstorm to get it baled before the rain.  Then we had to fight the cold weather and the gelled-up tractor to get it hauled out to them, and now they are just pooping all over it and standing at the gate wanting some of that second-cutting alfalfa they know is in the yard.  Ungrateful cows!  So we buy bale rings, bale processors, feed wagons, feed-efficient bulls, etc in order to cut that winter feed bill.  Some solutions are cheap(er) such as bale rings (but the "haysaver" bale rings cost more, of course!).  Others are expensive to buy, and expensive to operate, such as grinders and processors.  And yes, these things help efficiency.  But none of those things make the haystack actually get bigger.  Few of them make the cattle healthier or gain weight better.  All decline in value over time. 

There's another "innovation" out there to increase feeding efficiency.  This innovation has the potential to do the following:

– decrease feeding losses by up to 30%
– increase animal performance
– increase the size of your feed pile (yep, you read that right!)
– make your feed stocks less suceptible to drought

Before I reveal this ground-breaking innovation, how much do you think that would be worth?  INCREASE the size of your hay pile?  That's crazy talk!  Less affected by drought?  30% less feed waste?  What kind of miracle machine or tool are we dealing with?   Where's the nearest dealer?

The tool is a really old one.  It's called "fence" and "water".  (Ok it's really two tools.)

Let's go back to that dumb rancher who gave his cows the whole winter's worth of hay on December 1.  How short-sighted of him!  Yet, how many neighbors do you have that do the exact same thing with their summer "feed"?  You see, the same rules apply – plus a few new ones. 

Fence and water allow you to restrict what cattle have access to.  Controlling the availability of forage the cattle have access to makes them eat things they might not otherwise.  This is akin to only feeding your cows a day or two's worth of hay during the winter.  You want them to "clean up" their plate before you give them more.  Same thing applies on pasture.  Season-long grazing averages around 20-25% harvest efficiency (that means the cow actually only eats 20-25% of the production).  The rest gets over-mature or pooped on.  That 20-25% probably comes from the same plants being grazed over and over again, weakening their root systems.  More intesnive grazing systems can have harvest efficiencies of 40-60% without damaging the plants being consumed.  The reason is that the plant has adequate time to recover before being eaten again, unlike the plant that is bitten off over and over again in the season-long system. 

Fence and water also allow us to place cattle in the right place at the right time, and keep the cattle from being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  By allowing pastures adequate rest between grazing events, the quality of the feed goes up.  There will be less overly mature, unpalatable grasses.  The amount of feed increases as well, because the plants are able to develop more extensive root systems.  (This is where your "feed pile" actually gets bigger!).  When the grass has a chance to rest, it can compete with weed pressure better as well.  More developed roots allow them to weather droughts better, and absorb more moisture in wet years. 

Fence and water tanks decline in value over time too, just like other feeding equipment.  However, they increase the value of the land by helping the rancher to grow more grass and to harvest it more efficiently.  And they can cost substantially less than winter feeding equipment.  I would argue that a dollar wisely spent on summer "feeding equipment" could return ten times more than the same dollar spent on winter feeding equipment.

I hope more cattlemen start viewing their summer grass with the same attitude they do their winter hay.  It has the potential to be a real game-changer for many operations.