March 26, 2014

An Extended Leave of Absence

I guess I have proven that time sure does fly by when you are having fun.  Or in my case time flys by when you busy.  I had not even realized it has been so longs since my last blog post and update.  I had to blow a lot of dust off of my blog so I could even see where I left off....  A whole lot has happened around the farm since my last blog post and I promise to get caught back up to date on what has happened at the farm the past 1.5 years.  So much has happened it is hard to know where to start.  So I guess the best place to start is the beginning.
Here is a quick glimpse of what has happened since my extended "vacation". 
1- The biggest news is there is a new farmer in the house and hopefully he will be the next generation in our family.  He is now a little over a year old...yes time does fly fast and they grow up even faster!!
2 - We survived one of the worst droughts on far...  Some will say that the drought that hit our area in 2012 and carried into 2013.  It took a whole lot of hard work, creativity, and change to the way we "normally" do things.  Things are still dry in our neck of the woods.  We have next to no snow fall this winter and right now are not out of the weeds yet.  Hopefully we will have enough spring rains for the weeds to grow.  At this point I would take weeds.
3 - We decided that we didn't have enough to do around the farm so why not expand the cow herd....yes we are crazy....
Hopefully over the next few weeks...or months...I can get caught back up with everyday happenings and virtual tour of our farm.

What the pastures looked like in June 2012.  Normally
they are bright green and full of life... 

October 2, 2012

Weaning Time Again - Just a little Early

The drought has effected us at the farm in many ways this summer.  We made a decision a few months ago (back in late June) that we were going to have to wean the calves early this year.  With that decision came a couple of other very important decisions that needed to be made on what how long we would feed the calves and what would we need to do to make sure we have enough feed for both the calves and the cows till next summer.  It was a tough decision to make as feed supplies are short this year and purchasing extra forage is going to be expensive.  We know that by weaning our calves on the farm plays a huge part in setting our calves up for success as they make their way from our farm to your plate.  Many farmers in our area have had to sell their calves early and in many cases have sold some if not the majority of the cows as well because they do not have enough feed for them.  By having a plan early we were able to purchase enough "extra" forages to get us through till next summer with the hope and prayer that we will get some moisture between now and then so that we will have grass to graze next summer.  
Semi load of purchased wheat straw bales.  This will be mixed with wet distillers grain, vitamins and mineral to make a nutritious diet for the calves.  Farmers use millions of tons of crop residues (left over plant parts after the grain is removed) to feed cattle.
Just like with every other mammal in the world wild or domestic there comes a time in the youngs life where the mother will wean them from getting the majority of their nutrition from mothers milk to consuming an Adult like diet.  Calves can be safely and effectively weaned from the mothers as early as 45-60 days of age.  There is challenges of weaning calves that early and much more care to diet/nutrition, housing, and husbandry practices need to be taken.  Not that when weaning an older calf these things can be thrown out the window.  Younger calves have different needs than an older calf and we have to take that into consideration when weaning.  Typically at our farm we try to wean the calves between 5 and 6 months of age which for us is late September.  They will weigh around 500-550 pounds at that point in time.  This year due to the lack of rain which resulted in a much lower production in the grasses that inhabit our summer pastures we needed to remove the calves about a month earlier.  By removing the calves, there will be more grass for the cows to graze because the calves are not there eating it and the cows feed requirement will decrease due to no longer lactating.  The energy requirement of a 1200 pound cow will decrease by about 25-30% by removing the calf at this stage of her production cycle and her daily feed intake will decrease by about 5-8%. 
We finished weaning the last group of calves over labor day weekend.  On weaning day our schedule looks something like this:

Coal is ready to get the show on the
road with the last group of calves
to wean.
 1- get up before daylight, to get the pickup hooked to the trailers, the horses and 4 wheelers loaded, and check all the tires.  Temps were reaching well over 100 degrees so we worked hard to get as much done as possible before it got to hot and caused more stress to the cattle.
2- head to the pasture and gather the cows and calves into the catch pens
3 - load the calves into the trailers
4 - weight the trailers with calves in them (this is used to determine the average weight of the calves).  By knowing what the calves weighed we can make adjustments to their feed needs and know how good (or not good) our cow herd is performing.
5 - "work" the calves (give them their booster vaccine and de-worm them)
6 - move the calves to their new home (the pens by the barn) where fresh feed and water waits for them.

Fresh bale of hay in the hay rack...  We use grass hay for the first week because
it is similar to what they have been eating in the pastures.  Due to the drought the calves are not as "fleshy" (ie fat) as they are on a "normal year.  Especially the calves who's 
mommas are getting up there in age...  They are still 100% healthy.  With the balanced diets they will receive it won't take them long to put some flesh on. 

Calves huddled around the feed bunk for some Dried Distillers Grain.  Even though this dinner table looks overly crowded their is another bunk 10 feet away that only had about 5 calves eating from it... Cattle are herd animals and like to stick together.

This year due to the "extra" stress that the drought and heat has put on our livestock we also gave our calves a shot of stress fighting minerals to help boost their immune systems and help them stay healthy.  We also took an extra week to wean the calves so that there were fewer calves in the weaning pen to help reduce the dust.  Normally we put out Availa-4 tubs which are a mineral tub that are high in stress fighting and immune building vitamins and minerals.  The tubs are very palatable and tasty to the calves so they will begin to lick on them almost immediately.  This year we are using a few more tubs than normal just to help the calves immune system stay strong with the extremely dry and dusty conditions.

This group had been weaned for a week and has been moved to one of the bigger pens.  Day 1 in the big pen and they already know to follow the tractor to the feed bunk!!! 

It was hot, dry and dusty this year during weaning so we have been paying extra attention to the health of the calves and their nutrition to make sure that we get them through this stressful transition from life on the pasture with momma to life in the pens and eating a well balanced diet from the feed bunk.
Availa-4 mineral tub that contains high levels of stress fighting vitamins and minerals for the calves to lick on.  These have molasses in them and the calves love them.  I have tried them (right after I pull the plastic cover off and before the calves have licked them) and they don't taste too bad.

The calves on the right were weaned about 4 hours before the picture and are exploring their new surroundings.

Curiosity is a key indicator that an animal is healthy and comfortable in their surroundings.  These inquisitive calves are greeting me at the gate to check out what I am doing.

September 11, 2012

God Made a Farmer -

Check out the link to the YouTube video "God Made a Farmer" the voice is that of the late Paul Harvey.  Paul Harvey's voice was on rural radio stations every weekday with news and commentary and he always knew "The Rest of the Story".  As a kid I grew up listening to him at noon nearly every day that we didn't have school.  I borrowed this from another Nebraska Farmer and blogger.  The link to the blog is also above the pictures are from their farm in NorthEastern Ne.  I felt that this slide show and poem needed to be re-shared this year as we could all use a little reminding why "God made Farmers" and reminding that we were chosen for this job not because it is always easy, but because we have the ability to figure out some way to produce food for others even when Mother Nature gives it her best to stop us.  Maybe some day Mother Nature will realize that no matter what she throws at us Farmers we will figure out someway to make it all work.
Usually major and minor things that effect those of us out here in the middle of now where don't make the news in the big cities.  Heck it usually doesn't even make our "local" news.  This year everybody in the US has probably heard that we are experiencing one of the worst droughts in history and it has been compared to the drought in the 1980's and I have even heard some meteorologist comparing this drought during the dirty 30's.  For those that don't get to see first hand what extremely high temperatures, strong hot winds, and no rain for nearly 12 months will do to our pastures, fields, and livestock let me tell you it is heartbreaking and it has not been a real fun year.  The past few months I doubt there isn't a single farmer in the US that has not been on their knees many times praying for better days and I bet there has definitely been a lot of tears of sadness shed over current situation and the unknown future. 

Over the past few months much like the majority of major food producing states, Nebraska has moved from abnormally dry to what the experts call "Exceptionally Dry".  In other words we went from "not too bad" to it is sooo dry that the jack rabbits have to pack a lunch just to make it across the section (1 section = 640 acres = 1 square mile)
 Even as bad as the current situation looks right now we can be thankful at our farm that we are not as bad off as some other farmers.  There has been 100's of thousands of livestock sold due to the lack of forage to sustain them, fires have burned 1000's of acres of already drought stressed pasture land, and non-irrigated crops have dried up and withered to complete nothing.  At our farm we will have enough grass in the pasture to get us to corn harvest.  We "stockpile" forage from previous years, so even though the grass is brown, dry, and not as palatable to the cows as they would prefer, their is something for them to eat.  Praise the Lord that corn harvest is here 30 days ahead of schedule this year and that we were able to find "extra" acres of corn fields for the cows to graze this fall and winter.  We weaned our calves 30 days earlier than normal to leave more grass for the cows.  Our hay crop has been short, even the hay that is irrigated.  We learned that it doesn't matter if you water it if the hot winds blow every day for 45 days in a row and the temps reach well over 100 degrees grass and alfalfa just doesn't not grow well under those weather conditions. Thank goodness I work at an ethanol plant and have the ability to get wet distillers grain to feed the cattle that is high in protein and energy.  We were also able to purchase enough wheat straw and corn stalk bales to fill in the gaps of the small hay crop.  The use of distillers grain makes it possible for us to feed the cows low quality (low in protein and energy) forages while still keeping them healthy and productive.  We normally only feed it to the cows during calving, but this year we may have to feed this diet a little earlier than normal.  The calves normally get fed a distiller grain/low quality forage diet from the day they are weaned to the day we ship them, so at least there is 1 thing that didn't have to be changed to adjust to the drought!!  In "normal" years (what ever normal is) we take advantage of the longer days and warmer temps to get lots of "other" projects done.  This year we have accomplished absolutely ZERO of the extra tasks we wanted to get done before the snow flies (praying the snow does fly this year).  We have been putting in extra long hours just to keep up with irrigating the corn and hauling water to the pastures. 
Irrigation water running down the row of corn.  This is the last drink of water the corn will see before it is harvested.

Due to the lack of spring rains the stock dam (a pond that catches and holds run off from spring rainstorms) that cattle drink from was bone dry by early June.  There is only 1 windmill in that pasture and it has not been able to keep up. 
The neighbor called 1 afternoon to see if we needed him to start the water filling in the tank we use to haul water to the pasture.  I told him that would be a great help and save us some time (takes 3 hours to fill this tank with 1700 gal of water).  When I got home I found that he didn't check the valve and the tank was still empty.  Thankful for his thoughtfulness and that my yard got watered.

So we took 2 extra tanks out and about every other day since June we hauled 1700 gallons of water to fill the extra tanks.  We had windmill problems at another pasture late June and July (when it was the hottest) and had to haul water to that pasture too for a while.  Normally we check the cattle 1-2 times a week, this year we have been checking them every other day which has meant extra time spent driving to the 3 pastures to make sure the cattle had plenty of water to drink and that they were not experiencing too much heat stress.

A sigh of relief when you drive to the windmill and find 2 FULL tanks of water.  This is only enough water to last this group of cows 2 days if the wind doesn't blow (to keep filling the tanks) when it is 100+ degrees.
Even though there is a lot of doom and gloom hanging around the agriculture industry, we are thankful that the lord has given us the tools we need to make it work this year, and the knowledge to be creative enough to beat mother nature at her own game...for now....  As bad as I do not like snow and winter, we are praying for a very snowing winter and spring to bring the moisture we need so that the grass will grow for next year.
Thankful to have a healthy set of calves.  These have been weaned for about 2 weeks.  You can see the dust on the behind the calves on the right side of the picture.  They only walked about 10-15 yards to meet me at the gate and our ground is soooo dry just walking the calves stir up dust.  We have been wetting the pens down to help with the dust.

September 7, 2012

Farm Foto Friday

As with everything for the past few months we are continuing the trend of being a month a head of schedule.  The extreme drought and lack of grass growth has forced us to wean our calves about a month a head of schedule.  We hope to save enough grass on the pastures to get the cows to cornstalks.  We have been working on getting all the calves weaned over the past few weeks and over Labor Day Weekend we finally finished weaning the last 2 groups of calves.  They have adjusted quickly and smoothly to life without their momma's and have have accepted that tractor delivers some pretty good feed everyday.

Coal ready to get in the trailer so we can get the last group weaned.

The last 2 groups are in the pen on the left. 

The group we weaned the week before have been moved to the bigger.  This is day 1 in the big pen and it didn't take them long to know that proper feeding time procedure is to come to the gate to investigate the AGO (automatic gate opener... AKA ME!) while they wait for the tractor driver (MARK) to bring the feed!!

Step 2 of the proper feeding procedure is to follow the tractor to the supper table!

The last group we weaned on Sunday enjoying a fresh bale of grass hay.

August 28, 2012

Humane Treatment all the Way to Slaughter

I have been asked and have seen many times where people ask livestock owners how we can sell our animals knowing their fate is the "end".  Check out this video put out by Dr. Temple Grandin.

Dr. Grandin has dedicated her life to improving the humane handling of livestock and has had a HUGE lasting impression on improving cattle handling at the ranch, feedlot, and slaughter facilities.  If you have not watched her movie documenting her life I STRONGLY suggest you do.  It not only shows how she was able to "overcome" autism but how the way she sees and interacts in life has greatly benefited the livestock industry.  Her cattle handling facilities and designs are used all over the beef industry from small operations to the largest of feedlots and packers.  I have had the pleasure to listening to a lecture from her when I was in college.  Then just a few weeks ago I got to listen to her again and watch her help process (vaccinate and worm) 150 head of steers at a feedlot that she has never been to before.  With in 10 minutes and after a few small changes to the facility the crew worked 150 head of cattle in less time than it normally took to work 100, the cattle were calmer and the people actually had to work less "hard".  In fact the guy loading the cattle into the facility would shut the gate and stand in 1 spot and with little to no movement 15 steers would load themselves in the ally and walk toward the chute!

From our pastures and fields to your plate!!
 Anyway back to the subject at hand.  I know that our steers are in good hands and will be cared for with the same high standards we use at the ranch because we have picked the feedlot the steers go to and the harvest facility they will eventually be harvested at.  The feedlot and program that Mark and I sell our steer calves through has a contract with a large commercial packing plant for to provide a certain amount of finished cattle each week.  I know exactly which packing plant our steers will be harvested in.  I also know that Dr. Grandin has designed the facility that our steers will walk through and that this packer conducts 3rd party audits to make sure that their employees are doing things RIGHT and that their facilities are in proper working order.  They have state of the art camera and a someone monitoring the harvest process from begining to end to make sure employees are maintaining a high level of standard in animal handling, the facility is working properly, and that the final product (beef) is being handled to maintain food safety standards.  Through my work as a graduate student I have been in several slaughter plants.  I know what the unloading/holding pens look like, I have seen first hand the steps in producing beef from the stunning all the way to putting the meat into the boxes that are shipped to the grocery stores and restaurants.  Mark and I raise beef which comes from cattle.  When our calves our born, we know that they will one day be providing a nutritious and high quality eating experience for a consumer.  I can feel proud to know that our calves lives are not taken lightly and that those involved along the way will give them the care and respect they deserve all the way to the end result. 
I really like the virtual tour that Dr. Grandin has made available to the public.  The big reasons that packers, feedlots, and ranches don't give public tours are because of safety (cattle, vistor, employee), biosecurity, food safety, and to help keep the livestock calm through the whole process.  This is a great tool to allow those you want to know a tour through the humane handling of cattle slaughter and you don't even have to get out of your pajama's or travel many miles! 

August 24, 2012

Farm Foto Friday

It's rough when you get so big that you have to sprawl out to get a drink of milk!

Last drink of momma's milk before she was weaned and became a "big calf"

The kitten's are getting big enough to start earning their keep!

Brought the filly up from the pasture so she can go to Kansas for a month or 2!  She will come home a useful asset to the farm!!

August 20, 2012

The Results are in and the Winner is......

I blogged back in December about shipping our steers to the feedlot.  The day we deliver our steers (or sell any of our animals) is always bitter sweet.  We are excited and proud to send off the best set of calves that we have worked hard to keep healthy, safe, and provide a good environment for them to grow up in. 

The last load of steers waiting to get on
the trailer.

 We are also sad and a little heart broken because we have dedicated so much of our time, love and effort to give them everything they need.  Then there is the emotion of anxiety and nervousness.  We get back a report (we pay for this report card) card on how well or not well the calves did in the feedlot and at at packer.  Last week the report card was delivered.  Mine and Marks parents are not waiting anxiously at home to see if we need to be grounded or need to dedicate less time to gabbing on the phone and more time to homework but I was still very nervous and excited at the same time to open the e-mail and begin to look at the data.  We do have a banker who want to make sure that we make enough money to make our annual loan payments. 

Unloaded at the feedlot and waiting to go to there new
To tell the truth, I printed it very fast with out reading anything on it, then covered my eyes with 1 hand while peaking through my fingers to get a glimpse to see if my heart is going to sink or soar.  I was the kid at the pool who always tested the water with my toes before sliding in.  I approached the data with the same approach.  At first look things didn't look to bad.  My first stop was the number that got sick or died (mostly because it was at the top but also because the health and well being of our cattle is always #1 priority even if we no longer own them), all of the steers stayed healthy and there was not any steers that didn't make it to harvest....  Our health and nutrition programs were a success!!! Sigh of relief...  If we delivered cattle to the feedlot that were not healthy my buyer would not be willing to give me top dollar for my next set of calves.  Healthy Cattle produce Healthy Beef!!  Next stop was the ADG (average daily gain = how many pounds they gained each day)... it was better than last year... We want the steers to gain the most weight a day possible while converting the feed to meat as efficiently as possible.  Then it was on to the summary of the harvest data from the packer only because it was next in line on the page.  The steers quality grade (an estimate of eating quality, Select, Choice or Prime) was much better than the year before and the steers average was much better than the average of all the steers (from many other producers) enrolled in the program!!!  The rib eye area (the size of the prime rib or rib eye steak, an indicator of muscling), carcass weight (how much was left after hide and internals had been removed), Yield grade (how much "wasted" or "not wasted" excess fat was on the carcass), and dressing percent (an indication of total edible meat) all looked really good.  My excitement was building to see that our steers performed very close to the high standards that we expect.  The report card had passing grades on it, and we had made a huge step forward to meeting the long term goals for our cow herd. 
Here is where the data goes from summary to lots of detail.  Page 2 and 3 have all of data for each individual animal. 

I picked G11 because I had a picture of him from the day
he was born.  It was a very cold frosty March morning and
he got to spend a few minutes under the heater in the
blazer warming up while Mark got his momma and him
bedded down in the warm barn.
  Data Example - Steer #G11
In Weight (how much he weighed when he got to the feedlot) = 768 pounds
ADG - 4.21 pounds/day
Carcass Weight - 1047 pounds (2nd heaviest)
Yield Grade - 4 (he has a little more extra fat than we like that will be trimmed off)
Quality Grade - Choice (he should produce meat that is flavorful, tender, and juicy)
Rib Eye Area - 14.5 inches (a big beautiful prime rib roast or steaks)
His Total Value to the feedlot was the 2nd highest of all the steers - This is a steer the feedlots want to purchase due to his ability to gain weight efficiently in the feedlot and to yield high quality beef for your plate.

We keep track of which cows are meeting our goals and which are not.  So we link this data from each individual steer back to his momma.  This helps us to determine which cows are productively sustainable and are doing their job at improving the genetic potential of our calves.  If a cow repeatedly fails to make the grade she is subject to be culled (removed/sold from the herd) earlier than normal.  It cost a lot of money to raise beef and if a particular cow can not cover those costs we have to make a business decision and do what is best for the rest of the herd and to ensure we can remain in business.  It also used as another tool to help us select heifers that have a higher potential to becoming a productive member of our cow herd.  The better of job we do picking our replacement females the better our chances of long term sustainablity and improving the quality of the beef you feed your family.