December 23, 2011

Shipping Calves

Shipping calves to the feedlot seems like such an easy task.  Shipping our calves to the feedlot is a little more complex than loading them on the trailer, driving to the feedlot, unloading them, getting our check and driving to the bank.  The whole process of delivering our steers actually started in August when we contracted them to the feedlot.  The cattle buyer/feedlot rep came out looked at the calves in July when they were still with their moms and grazing the green pastures.  We sat at the kitchen table and went through the vaccination, mineral, and feed the calves would have recieved by the time they enter the feedlot in December.  We provide the feeder with all the informantion of the calf from the time they are born till the time they walk off the trailer including birth dates, vaccination/wormer and dates given, breed of the calves, what they will weigh in Dec (estimate), and brand or other identification of the calf.  We sign the contract saying that we are providing correct and accurate information and that we can be held accountable if we did not do what we said we did with out notification to the buyer.  We will negotiate a price for the calves based on the info provided and keep up our end of the bargain till we deliver the calves.  When we set up our delivery date in August we designated a 10 day window when we can deliver the calves.  When we get close to the window the cattle rep calls and we decide on a date based on our needs and the feedlot needs.  This allows us to avoid shipping during blizzards and gives the feedlot time to plan on having a pen ready for our calves. 
The day we ship we MUST have the calves brand inspected by a state brand inspector.  He verifies that this group of calves is in fact our calves, they have our brand on them in a desigated area on the calf and that they are not stollen and gives the new owner proof that they now own the calves.  We pay for this inspection to be done along with the beef check off.  The beef check off is a producer run program that charges beef producers $1 for every bovine sold.  This money goes to fund research, marketing of beef (you've heard the commercials with Sam Elliots voice or now Mathew McConaughey) and other programs that support the beef industry.  Once the inspector gives us the brand release that signifies that we provided proof of ownership of the calves and we give him a couple of checks the calves are loaded and transported to the feedlot.  We are lucky in that we live on the boarder of 2 counties that are in the top 10 in Nebraska in feedlot capacity and numbers.  Our calves don't spend long hours traveling to their destination.  In fact they will be on the trailer for about 1 hour only about 40 miles.  They get weighed, unloaded, and moved to pen for processing.  Even though they have 3 rounds of vaccine before leaving the ranch it common practice to give them another booster to help their immunity as they are acclimated to eating a diet high in corn and corn bi-product (distillers), mixed with other calves from different ranches, and moved to a new home.  Because we have already done a lot of the work at the ranch our calves have a lower risk of getting sick and do a better job of handling the stress of moving to a new home.  It is kind of like the first day of school, you mix a whole bunch of kids that have been in their own environment for the summer together and week into the new school year 75% of the students have a cold or the flu.  Our goal is to prevent this through building the calves immune system from birth to harvest.  The stress of this move will be minimal as we have already acclimated the calves to alot of the things they will experience in the feedlot. They know that feed now comes from a truck or wagon and it is all mixed together.  They know how to drink from automatic water tanks and are use to living in a pen and know that when the weather turns bad and pens get wet the manure pile is the dry place to sleep.  We will turn in all the paper work with the feedlot collect our check and head home.  We don't just forget about them once we drive away.  We will get data back on the calves in the summer after they have been harvested and that data helps us make better management decisions for future calves. 
The last trailer load standing in the barn waiting
to get their turn. 

Yesterday morning we woke up to a skiff of snow but under that snow was a sheet of ice.  This always makes travel difficult and more stressful, but add a trailer and 13000 lbs of calves and it becomes even more stressful.  By the 2nd trip the sun was out, the county and state had been out and salted the really bad spots.  This year we were blessed with the effects of the feed and management changes we have made in the last 18 months being positive and also great weather.  We blew our target weight out of the water by 72 lbs!!  As we continue to improve the performance and production of the herd we will continue to learn and get better at predicting "normal".  I think we were all excited to see the calves perform up to the standard that we are holding them to.  They should perform well in the feedlot and we definately look forward to getting the data back and know exactly how they did.   

Unloaded and ready to be moved to their new pen.

December 19, 2011

Counting Down the Days

There are many count downs in life....count down to the new year, count down to the day we graduate....count down to our wedding day.... and the list is endless.  It seems we have a tendency to count down to all of those days and moments in our lives that mean something to us.  On our farm it is no different we have days and moments we look forward to and some that we dread and some that are bitter sweet.  This next week is going to be 1 of those bitter sweet count downs as we will ship our steers to the feedlot on Thursday morning.  This past weekend we sorted and picked out which ones that were going to begin the next step in their life and move 1 step closer to proving the next high quality protein source for someone in the world.  We also picked out the heifers that will stay at the farm and become the future baby raisers. 
Thursday will be a one of those bittersweet days.  We will be happy that we did our job to provide the feedlot with the best set of feeding steers that we could and that we gave the these calves the best care that they deserved.  Not to mention we will get paid so that we can continue to provide for the next generation of calves that will be born in a few short months.  Even though we will be happy that they have left our farm we will still be sad to see them go.  Most of them look alike solid black calf with a white ear tag.  Not much differentiates them from each other but there are a few that do have nick-names and a few that stand out for an experience we had with them and a few that have a personality that sticks out but there are some that just blend in.  Sometimes it is good to blend in, those are the calves that didn't get sick, didn't get out of the pen, didn't have to have help being born or beginning their lives.  So it is good to blend in.  Here are some pictures that tell the stories of some our calves lives.

#354 Warming up and Drying in the garage off after a little assistance being born.  I gave him a nice clean rug to lay on but as you can see he prefered the slick concrete and cardboard.

#G11 warming up under the heater in the blazer.  He was born on a very brisk morning and Mom was a little confused on which calf was her's.  After spending a little 1 on 1 time

#G11 a few days after getting to ride in the blazer. 

90% of our calves are solid black but the other 10% of them will have some white on their face.  #6 has a very identifiable dot on his forehead.  It almost looked like a nike swoosh!

#009 doing what she does best being my shadow.  She didn't make sorting very easy as the only way to get her to go out the right gate was for me to walk out and let her follow!  She will definately add a great dispostion to our herd! 

December 16, 2011

Farm Foto Friday

Frosty Trees in the Yard.  There is always such a peace after a good snow!

Calves waking up and getting breakfast on a frosty morning!

The last 2 cows loaded and ready to come home.  They stayed on pasture till the 1st snow when they finally decided to be cooperative!

Cows waiting for the trailer to get their so they can go home.  Enjoying a little alfalfa while they wait!

December 15, 2011

Been a Little Busy

Fall has come and gone (not officially but Winter starts next week) and with that comes craziness and chaos both on and off the farm.  Lately I have been finding myself putting in more than the "normal" 60 hour work week (at the office) to more along the lines of 70-75 hours a week.  Daylight savings day has come again and really messed up my abilty to get home before dark and get a lot of farm work done after I leave the office.  I really wished they would just leave it alone, while I appriciate the extra hour of sleep 1 night a year it really doesn't make up for the hours of productive work that could have been done if I had 1 more hour of sunlight in the evenings.  So until the shortest day of the year has come and gone I guess I will have to keep the Energizer company in business with all of the batteries I will be buying for my flashlights.  Oh not to mention so much darkness while taking care of the chores makes it really hard to get good pictures. 
Harvest is over and all the corn has been hauled to town.  As Thanksgiving has come and gone and Christmas is right around the corner, I will have to say the I (and Mark) are VERY THANKFUL for all the help and use of a couple of semi trucks that my father-in-law provided to make sure that we got the harvest done as efficiently as possible. 

Grain Cart and Combine 

The calves have been off the cows for 80+ days now and they have long forgotten that mom was such a big part of their lives.  They spend their days eating, laying in the sun, and at about sundown every evening there is play time.  They run in circles bucking, kicking, butting heads with each other and playing king of the mountain (manure piles are so much fun for them).  We are just under 7 days away from delivering the steers to the feedlot and we will be picking out our replacement heifers this weekend. 
We have moved all of the cows off their summer vacation homes to their winter home on the corn fields.  They have 1 more stop before they will be back around the yard for calving.  We preg checked them prior to taking them to the corn field and all of the open (not pregnant) cows were sold.  According to the vet the bulls had a sucessful 90 days and work hard enough to earn their 9 month vacation.  The cows will stay on cornfields until the sometime in March when we will move them into the calving pasture "delivery room and nursery". 

Cows waiting to be loaded and hauled home

As if we are not busy enough in November we took on a group of heifers that the neighbor purchased and didn't have room for at his place.  We just have to feed and care for them (we already have to start the feed wagon and loader tractor every day to feed our own calves) for a few months until he sells them.  They came in preconditioned (vaccinated while still on the cow) but not weaned.  After they showed up I had forgotten how nice the quiet was since our calves had been weaned for quite some time.  They did break out of jail on night 2 and got in with our calves.  One made it out of all of the fences and into our cornfield 1/2 mile north of the yard.  After a little bit I got her talked into coming back with her friends and we fixed the fence and put the heifers back in jail for a few more days.  Other than that they have stayed healthy and are eating well and have been moved out of the jail pen into a bigger pen. 
Somehow the year has flown right by again!!

October 19, 2011

Ethanol Industry vs Cattle Industry: Part III - Ethanol Production

I get asked the question "how does a person with a PhD in beef nutrition get a job at an ethanol plant?" almost weekly.   It was a situation of being in the right place at the right time and casually chatting with the right person.  I think that I look at the ethanol plant in a totally different way as most people.  I often refer to the plant as my stainless steel cow.  The way that ethanol and distillers is made is not much different in concept than how a steer turns the corn to beef and fertilizer.  There are more similarities between and ethanol plant and a cows digestive system than you think. 

Here are a few:
Cow                                            Ethanol Plant
Teeth                                          Hammer Mill
Rumen (fermentation)               Fermenters
pH sensitive                               pH sensitive
Hot/Cold sensitive                     Hot/Cold Sensitive
Can get infections                     Can get infections
Difficult to Control                     Can be as cantankerous
                                                       as a cow

The rumen in a cow is very sensitive to pH, changes in diet, temperature, changes in microorganism species and many other variables.  The yeast in the ethanol plant are sensitive to the same changes as a cow and use fermination to create desired substrates.  While a cows rumen microorganisms produce volatile fatty acids and other substrates that are useful to the cow the yeast in the fermentation tanks digest corn starch and produce ethanol and distillers grain.  Both systems require protein, energy, the right pH and the right temperature to perform efficiently. 

I included a schematic on the process of making ethanol and distillers.

Step1 - #2 yellow dent corn is the main cereal grain used in the ethanol industry, milo and wheat can also be used but the efficiency is different.  Corn is the more economical cereal grain in the US.  Historically it was thought that ethanol plants can use damaged or off spec corn and that they are the bottom feeders of all the corn users.  They can, but it comes at an efficiency cost and a risk of introducing bacteria to the process.  Once the corn is received into the ethanol plant it is ground into a flour like texture.
Step 2 - Mash Prep - Water, urea (nitrogen source for yeast), alpha amylase (catalyst to help chemical reactions happen) and heat is added to the ground corn.  There is a flash heat process that kills the bacteria that could enter the plant and cause harm to the plant.
Step 3 - Fermentation - Processes vary between plants (batch or continuous flow) but the end result is still the same.  The yeast get to live in the slurry that was created and work their magic turning the starch into ethanol.  The part of the plant take great care and attention to detail as the yeast are sensitive to changes in their environment.
Step 4 - Distillation - This is where the ethanol is pulled out of the slurry mixture.  Steam is used to float the ethanol to the top of a large column and everything else is sent on down the line to make distillers grain and recycled water
Step - 4b - Ethanol is blended with denatured alcohol to "poison" it to prevent human consumption.  It won't kill you if you drink the blended ethanol but it will make you sick. 
Step 5 - Centerfuge - The stillage (what is left after the ethanol is removed) is run through a centerfuge that separates the solids and liquids, the solids (wet cake) are sent down the line to get the syrup added.
Step 6 - Evaporation - The liquid portion of the stillage goes through a series of evaporators and condensed down to syrup and water.  The water is sent back to the front end of the plant to be reused and the syrup is added to the wet cake.
Step 7 - The now wet distillers grain (wet cake + syrup) can either be dried, partially dried, or left wet and sold as distillers grian.

Some plants will sell some of the syrup that is not blended with the wet cake.

October 11, 2011

Ethanol Industry vs Cattle Industry - Part II - Ethanol facts

I thought that before I get to far along in the series I would share some facts and figures about the Ethanol Industry, Beef Industry and Distillers Grain Usage.  These stats and facts are from USDA, NCGA, AMRC, ACE, several journal of animal science papers, and RFA.

- The addition of 1 ethanol plant brings -
     - approximately 700 permanent jobs in the area
     - increase state and local tax revenue by $1.2 Million/year
     - will generate approximately $19.6 million in house hold income.

- A 100 Mil Gal Plant will employ approx 50 workers
     - Ave Annual Salaries range from $25K (general labor) to over $150K (plant manager)
     - most positions pay between $35-60K/year

- Ethanol Industry employs approx 400,000 people (directly and indirectly)

- 1 Bushel of corn produces 2.8 gallons of Ethanol and 17.5 lbs of Dried Distiller Grain (or 45.5 lbs of wet distillers grain)

- 2010 - Corn Usage
     - 38.7% Feed
     - 36.5% Ethanol (which 12-15% will come back as DDGS for feed)
     - 14.5% Export
     - 3.8% High Fructose Corn Syrup
     - 6.5% Other

- 2010 - 13.5 Million Gallon Operation Capacity in the US
     - 2009/2010 - 38.8 million tons of distillers produced
           - Replaced 694 million bu of corn
     - 2010-2011 - projected to produce 42.6 million tons
          - Replaced  842 million bu of corn (projected)

- Beef Industry fed 16.07 million tons of distillers grain in 2009-2010 and is projected to feed 17.66 million tons of dry distillers grain in 2010-2011

- Total Corn Replacement (domestic and export) by Distiller Grain
     - 2009/2010 - 1.05 Billion Bu
     - 2010/2011 (projected) - 1.2 Billion Bu

- US Cow herd is and has been declining since 1996 - 2.9 mil less head since 2007, and 9.8 million less head since 1996. - So do we really need as many bu of corn as we did before the "Ethanol Boom"???

- Cost of shipping 1 pound of protein 400 miles - Distillers Grain vs. Alfalfa Hay
Assumptions - DDGS - 28.5% CP (DM basis) Good Alfalfa 18% CP (DM basis)
Freight - 54000 lbs of DDGS or Alfalfa at a cost of $1.95/running mile
    - 1 truck load = $780/load in freight charges
         1 truck ld of DDG = 13,851 lbs of CP = $0.06/lb of CP freight charge
         1 truck ld of Alfalfa = 8,748 lbs of CP = $0.09/lb of CP freight charge

Next topic will start into the process of making Ethanol and Distillers Grain!! 

October 7, 2011

Farm Foto Friday

I love the colors of fall, I would love them more if
winter colors didn't show up so soon after

Tekan loves to look over my shoulder when the
 4 wheeler starts to move. 

Corn is turning golden and will soon be harvested.

Tekan was trying to lick my nose and cuddle with me
 while I was taking her picture!! 

October 6, 2011

Ethanol Industry vs Cattle Industry - Part I -Introduction to My Opinion

Now that weaning is over.  I have decided to start a new series on a topic that is near and dear to my heart.  Inspired to come out a little earlier than I originally anticipated.  I was going to start on a series on harvesting as the combines are running hard right now but that will have to wait. 

I am very passionate and 100% certain that the expansion of the Ethanol Industry is NOT 100% bad for cattle producers and it is NOT the SOLE reason why our feed costs have gone higher in recent years along with the cost of everything else (groceries, fuel, cloths, fertilzer, other ag chemicals).  There is a dynamic around these price increases that is greater than I even grasp.  I am passionate about the expansion of the ethanol industry for many reason.  Maybe the 1st and most important is I am an employ of the ethanol industry and that off farm income helps us pay the house hold bills at our farm.  We are in an economy where jobs are hard to find and the ethanol industry has increased the number of jobs for Americans and they pay a very competitive wage at all levels of employment.  Not to mention most of these jobs can not be out sourced (someone has to be in America to fix a broken pump or motor).  I got my graduate degrees from the University of Nebraska which is 1 of the leading Land Grant Universities in distiller grain research in the beef industry.  We are also a users of distiller grain at our farm and have seen the benefits it brings to my farm as well as my customers for cow, calf, and feedlot diets not just economically but overall herd health.  So I have a lot of ties to distillers grain (no wonder I might be a little bias in my opinion) and if we lost the ethanol industry I am not sure what feed source we would find to replace it.  Please keep in mind these are my opions and beliefs backed up by research, first had experience with feeding distillers, close out numbers from our farm and some of my customers, and feed back from my customers.

Wet Distillers Grain

My plan for this series it to talk about how the ethanol plant turns corn into both ethanol and distillers grain, what is distillers grain and the different forms/types, the benefits to the diet of cattle, what it has done to our herd since we started using it, get some feed back from other producers who use it (I have access to lots of them) both long time users and new users.  I might even talk to some corn farmers that sell corn to ethanol plants and get their opinion on what it has done for their business.

Dry Distillers Grain

Because I know the bottom line might be the most important part to some of you readers.  Here is a sneak peak at some feeding economics!!  More details to come later!
This is the cost/cow/day, feeding to provide 1/4 of supplemental protein.  I included the cost of the supplemental protein source, and the cost of hauling these feeds 100 miles to the ranch (doesn't include mineral or forage) exept for the DDG pellet the closest place to get it is about 70 miles further away, the others I can pick up within a 10 mile radius.  I want to be fair and the extra hauling on 1 product is a real cost that needs to be included (the extra 70 miles added 1 cent/cow/day).  I priced all of them today.
DDGS Meal (dry distillers grain) - $0.11
DDGS Pellet (80% DDG 20% Soy Hull) - $0.13
Corn (ground) - $0.29
Range Cubes (30% CP) - $0.15

Compare the cost for 100 cows for 60 days:
DDGS Meal - $660
DDGS Pellet - $780
Corn - $1740 
Range Cube - $900

Feeding DDGS meal is 38% less $$ than corn.  Next post will start at the beginging of the process!

Grinding Hay

Grinding hay is typically 1 of those jobs that magically gets done while I am at my day job.  I leave for work in the morning with a stack of hay bales in the yard near where the ground hay pile is located and when I return "hokus pokus" those bales were turned into a big pile of ground up hay.  It really isn't magic, it is usually Mark's job to take care of that project. 
The only good pic I got grinding.  We had to pause to make
sure things were still OK.  He has the tub raised and checking things out
under it.
We like to schedule the company that grinds our hay to come out when ever they grind for Mark's boss.  We are only 5 miles away, so that saves the company a special trip out our way and Mark can follow the crew to our place so he knows exactly what time they will be there.  No wasted time sitting around waiting on them to show up.  It is a great system and increases our time efficiency.  I got a call Monday afternoon from the company that said that they were grinding tomorrow at Mark's boss' at 8 am and would be to our place after that (about 9 am).  Ok no problem until I called Mark, he said that he can't be there cuz the boss scheduled him to pick up a load of cattle from a neighbor and haul them to the sale barn and he has to be there to load the semi at 9 am. 

I locked the calves in the barn so they
were out of the dust while we ground. 
They are begging me to let them out!
So I was stuck tending to the grinder.  We stack hay on both sides where the grinder will park, but have to move most of them closer as he gets the ones he can reach with his big grapple.  Grinding goes pretty fast and you have to be quick and efficient with the tractor and loader.  I am Ok at running them, when no body is watching and I don't have to be "fast like a bunny" (a saying my dad always said when he wanted something done yesterday).  I got home, grinder got there on time, got set up and I told him I was a "first timer" and if he didn't like where I was putting the bales to let me know.  We grind for about 1 hr which is about 50-60 bales.  I am pretty sure that the grinder guy got a good laugh.  Our tractor seat doesn't adjust easily and I am not very big.  So when I push both the clutch and brake in at the same time my butt comes off the seat and then I have to kind of stand on them to the the tractor to stop.  Then I have to reach for the leavers that run the loader bucket, and to top it off because I am out of the office my cell phone rings constantly.  The guy running the grinder got to see a good show, I was bouncing all over the cab of the tractor, 1 hand on the steering wheel, 1 hand to run both loader bucket leavers, and my cell phone stuck between my ear and shoulder.  Not to mention at 1 point in time I tried to get some pictures of the process for the blog...they were a big blur...  But all the hay got ground, and he didn't have to wait on me and I did a pretty darn good job cleaning up all the loose hay.  Mark did get a good laugh when I told him how things went down.  I told him next time it is ALL HIM!!!

September 30, 2011

Farm Foto Friday

I think this calf took the biggest mouth full of hay possible!

I was headed to check the bulls, Tekan ran ahead of me to the shop.  This is where I found her...  I think she was excited about the 4-wheeler ride.
3 of the 6 bulls grazing as the sun was setting.

I stopped at the house for a jacket, Tekan refused to get off the 4-wheeler...  She was telling me she was not going to get left behind!! 

September 29, 2011

Weaning Part IV - And the process Continues

We have had some really pretty music around our place for the past week and it was getting quiet at the end of last week, but we weaned some more calves again this weekend.  The calves we weaned last weekend have been moved into the pen outside the shed and are adjusting well to their new feed and life without their moms.  The new group in the shed, are not so quiet, yet.  We have been watching the calves pretty close several times each day to make sure nobody is getting sick and that everybody is eating.  One of the most important components to help calves fight the stress of weaning is feed.  If you can get the calves to the bunk and keep feed going in they will have a better chance of handling the stress without getting sick.  

Supper Time!

We are teaching them that food is now found it the bunk and not under the cow or on the pasture ground.  I don't just put the distillers in the bunk and head back to the house.  The first few days I will put the distillers in the bunk and then walk behind all of the calves in the pen and nudge them in the direction of the bunk.  Letting their herd instinct and curiosity get them the rest of the way to the bunk to see what their more eager friends have already figured out.  With in a day or 2 they all have it figured out and impatiently meet me at the bunk ready to eat.  A few nights ago we let the last bunch of calves out with the rest so all of them are getting reacquainted again it has been a few months since they might have seen a friend that went to a different pasture.  We will move them to the big pen over the weekend or first part of next week and then get them switched to a different feed ration.  They will stay as 1 group for a few more weeks until we re-vaccinate them again.  After we give them their 2nd round of weaning shots we will sort them by size into 2 groups.  They will stay in these groups till the replacement heifers are chosen and the big steers are shipped to the feedlot in December.

Couple of calves eating on the mineral tubs. 
 Weaning the group on Saturday didn't go as smooth as we had planned.  Cow #510 is now on my you know what list permanently and she will not be going back to that pasture again!!!  That pasture is really rough with what we in Nebraska call Cedar Canyons which are steep hills with lots of Western Red Cedar Trees growing on the sides.  Lets just say that 510 tested mine and my horses "cowboy" ability several times and lost.  She put up a good fight making me pull out some "Man from Snowy River" (If you haven't seen the move, you need to watch it) type leaps of faith off steep drop offs and Coal had to climb 1 hill that I am sure mountain goat would be at home on.  But at the end of the day she made it to the catch pen, her calf is now at the house, and Coal got a little bit of special care (he got to sleep in the barn and an extra scoop of grain).  Sorry no Pictures of that, I didn't think that was the best time to pull out the camera phone for group Foto!  I may have to look into a video camera for my horses headstall!!  I am not sure I am looking forward to gathering her in about 45 days when we start moving cows off summer pasture to the corn stalk fields.  Maybe she will have learned her lesson by then.
Sunday when much smoother with the last group.  There are few old cows in that group that still haven't figured out the my horse has cat like reflexes and they can not get by him.  Even if the did get by him, his secret weapon is the ACME rockets that he isn't afraid of using.  But weaning went smooth and with in 3 hrs we were gathered, sorted, and had all the calves and 2 bulls loaded.  Weaning is now over and we are onto the next big task of harvesting corn and getting things ready for winter.  The best part is our calves averaged 48 lbs heavier than a year ago!!!

The last 3 loads of calves, bulls, and horses headed for home!!

September 23, 2011

Farm Foto Friday

View of the top of the hill from the bottom of the hill.  Coal and I were following the final few cows to the catch pen

Sorting out the last few calves from the cows.

Cow and calves in the catch pen, already loaded some of the calves.
Calves waiting to get vaccinated and wormed.

September 22, 2011

Weaning Part III - Weaning has begun...

Saturday we officially began weaning our calves.  Our plan for the weekend was messed up by the weather.  I have learned 1 thing with farming/ranching the weather will mess everything up all the time and there is NOTHING I or anybody else can do about it.  So we called a time out, huddled around the QB and came up with a new play.  I do live in the land that bleeds Husker Red and Saturday was game day.....  Original plan meet my sister at the pasture at 8 am, with horses saddled and ready to go, wean and work those calves then Sunday wean another pasture.  Woke up Sat morning to thick fog, and I don't mean the fog that just makes it a little hazy I mean the fog that you can't see 10 feet in front of you!!  So we decided that to wait for the fog to lift.  At 9 am gave up on fog leaving and saddled horses anyway. 

Coal - waiting to get in the trailer
We got the cows and calves gathered in the catch pen and sorted off all the calves and loaded them onto the trailers. 
Gathering in the Fog. 

We haul the calves to a near by dairy that has a ground scale and we weigh each trailer load of calves.  We want to know what our calves weigh in order to make feed and other management decisions.  We also sorted off the 2 bulls and brought them back home.  They have been with their ladies for 90 days now it is time to go back to the "bachelor" pasture for the next 9 months.  Must be nice to only have to work 3 months out of the year.  After the calves and bulls were loaded we turned the cows back out to the pasture.  Once we weigh the calves we take them to my husbands boss' place to work the calves.  Unfortunately we do not have good enough facilities (our work in progress) to make this task as stress free as possible and his boss' facilities are really nice. 

Once all the calves are unloaded, Mark and I ran them through the chute and gave them their first weaning vaccine and wormed them.  We use a chute to hold the calves because it is safer for the calves and us and it allows us to give the vaccine correctly. 
The boss' nice hydraulic chute.  We are able to
adjust it so that it fits the calves to safely
restrain the calves.

They are only in the chute for about 10 seconds and before they are released to rejoin their friends.  The wormer is a topical that we spray on their backs (gets rid of both internal and external parasites).  Once the calves are worked we loaded them back on the trailers and they traveled the final 5 miles of the day back to our place.  We are fortunate enough to have a big open front shed to put the calves in.  Once they were unloaded a fresh bale of grass hay and a tank full of fresh clean water was waiting for them in the shed.  They will spend a couple of days in the shed before we give them access to the pen in front of the shed.  They will get to spend a week or so in the pen and shed before we move them to the bigger pens.  We want to make sure they are adjusted to their new environment before we put them in a bigger area.   After we finished on Saturday with this group of calves we had to huddle up again and re-do the plan for Sunday.  We even got done soon enough to watch the 2nd half of the husker game on the TV instead of listening to it on the radio!!  The pasture we were going to wean on Sunday is on a minimum maintenance road which means when it rains you can only get down the road by 4-wheeler, horse or your own 2 feet.  So we will have to get them next Saturday.
This steer was in the chute a little longer so I could get his picture.  The chute has a neck extender on it to prevent the calf from throwing his head around and risking injury to himself or me (remember the picture from a few weeks ago, my cheek bone still hurts).  It also gives us good access to his neck to give the vaccine (or other medications) properly. 

September 19, 2011

Weaning Part II - Preparation

We didn't just starting thinking about weaning yesterday.  We have beening thinking about it since we pregnancy checked our cows last December (5 months before the calves we wean this week were even born).  But the last couple of weeks we have been getting prepared for having calves back at the yard and getting back into the feeding chores everday again.  Some things that we have been working on to make sure we are ready to start taking care of the calves include:
1 - Vaccine and Health supplies - Just like calving time there are medical supplies you hope to never need to use but always glad you have it when you need it.  In my last post I talked about the vaccination protocol we use at weaning time.  We have consulted our veterinarian, the veterinarian the feedlot we sell our calves to uses, internet research, and other tools to put together what we feel is the best combination of vaccines and wormers to achieve our goals.  Goal number 1 is alway Prevent as much illness and disease as possible.  Goal number 2 is use the right antibiotic properly (according to BQA guidelines, FDA regulations, and recommendations of our Vet) to get the best and fastest recovery if a calf gets sick. 
2 - Fixing Fence - We have an on going project to replace our exhisting facilities with new, better, stronger, safer fences and handling facilities.  This is a project that will probably never be over after 1 stretch of fence is rebuilt there will always be another spot that needs help.  We have started with some of the worse fence that is located in the areas that tend to get used the most.  Fence is expensive so we only put up as much as we can afford at a time. 

Newly hung gate and section of continous fence!!
 3 - Feed - We have been working all summer to bale enough hay to feed the cattle all winter.  We have taken extra care to make sure that we have some really good grass hay to wean the calves on.  We are transitioning them from grazing pastures and nursing their mothers to eating hay and distillers.  The grass hay is similar to what the calves have been eating on pasture it is just cut and in a easy to access package.  We also feed distillers grain (a product from producing ethanol from corn) which is a great source of protein, energy, and minerals.  We get our distiller delivered from the ethanol plant that I work for prior to getting calves moved to the yard.  We also use a mineral tub that contains high levels of vitamin/minerals that boost immune function and help the calf stay healthy during the stressful part of weaning.
Mineral Tub used at weaning
4 - Feed Rations - We are lucky in the fact that I have my degree in cattle nutrition so instead of hiring a nutrition consultant to make sure our cattle diets are balance to provide everything the animals need as cost effectively as possible we save a little money and I do all of the nutrition work myself.  I balance the diets the calves will be fed prior to weaning.  Once we are done with weaning they may be changed a little bit based on what the calves weighed at weaning.  Feed sheets and ration mixes are already on the clip board in the tractor for Mark.  He keeps track of what we feed and how much we feed to each group of cattle everyday.

We weaned the first bunch on Saturday.  Next post will have pictures and Part III of weaning! 

September 16, 2011

Farm Foto Friday

1 new continous fence panel and gate installed!!

Here are a couple of signs Fall is here.  Part of land management is also wildlife management.  Wildlife if allowed to overpopulate can cause harm to the land they live on.  We manage the wildlife that lives on our farm through removing a few of them each year and putting their meat in our freezer feed us throughout the year.  The buck in the first picture is eating some mineral that we provide the deer.  Bucks shed their velvet in the fall.  Bow hunting season opened this week so I had to share a couple of the mature bucks we have living on our land.

September 13, 2011

Weaning Part 1

With the changing of seasons from summer to fall we will begin our fall routines sooner than we wanted.  It seems that we just sold the last of the calves and moved all of the cows and their calves to summer pasture.  Feeding chores were pretty much done with the exceptions of a few orphan calves and the horses.  Now we are preparing to start feeding all over again.  Weaning time is only a couple of weeks away (2 to be exact).  So we have 2 weeks to finish getting the pens cleaned, fences double and triple checked and pick up all of the supplies we will need to keep the calves healthy and as stress free as possible.  We wean our calves between 5-6 months of age.  For our area of the country we wean a little earlier than a lot people especially when you factor in we calve just a little later.  We have to do what works for our situation, resources, and available labor not just in the fall but throughout the whole year.  We wean early for several reasons.

She is no longer small enough to sleep in the bunk, but will soon be using them for their real purpose... eating!
 Reason 1 - Cow health and condition - The cows nutrient requirement is the highest when she is nursing a calf.  By late Sept our cows are nursing a calf that is 5-6 months old while at the same time she is in the first trimester of gestation and some cows will be entering the 2nd trimester.  Pregnancy also increases the cows nutrient requirements.  By removing the calf that can survive on his/her own (with out mothers milk) we greatly reduce the amount of nutrients the cow needs.  At this time of the year our grass has matured and is beginning to go dormant for the winter and consequently it provides less protein and energy than it did in the earlier summer months.  We try to match our cows needs to the feed that is available at different times of the year and at this time the grass does not meet all of her needs.  If we remove the nursing calf, the grass now is able to meet the cows needs.  In fact it will be more than the cow needs and she will be able to put a little extra weight on over the next month or 2.  We want to allow our cows to put on a little extra weight going into the winter as we can have some extreme cold temps and lots of snow.
2 - LABOR - As I have mentioned before we both work off the farm.  During particular times of the year Mark will put in 10-12 hrs a day at his boss's place and then come home to take care of our stuff.  The fall is 1 of those times, crops are being harvested and with harvest comes many long days.  Mark's boss "farms" Mark out with a semi and grain trailer to another local farmer who does a lot of custom harvesting.  I only know that he is still alive because there will be dirty dishes in the sink and a new pile of filthy cloths by the washing machine in the morning.  Weaning our calves before this happens insures that I have help to get them wean, vaccinated, and hauled home.  It also gives us a few weeks to get the calves adjusted and acclimated to their new pens, feed, and friends.  Once harvest starts the calves will be in the big pens and set up that I can care for them relatively easily by myself.
3 - Feed resources - I have talked about putting up hay for winter use.  If we left the calves on the cows longer we would most likely have to feed our cows more in the winter as they would not be prepared to graze the cornfields (after harvest) with out the use of supplemental protein and energy.  This would require us to purchase additional hay which is expensive.  The calves eat a lot less feed a day and because of their youth are much more efficient at converting that feed to pounds of calf than a mature cow.  A cow will consume as much as 30-35 lbs of hay each day where our calves will eat about 10-12 lbs a day.
4 - Buyers Preference - Any time you change anything in an animals life it will create some stress.  We strive to minimize the stress that our cattle have to deal with.  We choose management practices that work both economically and induce the least amount of stress as possible.  Some stress such as weather we can't control we can only minimize the effects it has on our livestock.  Weaning is stressful and we can minimize this stress by weaning the calves at our farm instead of shipping them direct to the feedlot at weaning.  Traditionally calves were removed from the cow, hauled to the sale barn in town, sorted, sold, co-mingled with calves from other ranch, then hauled to the feedlot fed a feed they are not use to and processed (vaccinated and wormed).  We remove all of the last sentence except for the removing the calves from their mothers, vaccination/worming, and a short haul to the yard.  The more stress we minimize the less risk for illness and injury.  By the time our calves are moved to the feedlot or heifer development program, they are ready to enter that stage of their life, they have all the vaccine needed to help protect them and they have been slowly adapted to succeed once they enter the feedlot.  By investing the time, extra feed, extra vaccine and care our buyers pay us more for our calves to cover these extra expenses.  They want calves that have been given all the tools to succeed in the feedlot (or heifer development program) and that have been care for with the least amount of stress in their life.
5 - Range Pasture Management - We want to raise cattle and corn with little to no impact on the environment we use to do so.  By removing the calves we reduce the amount of grass that is removed from the pasture.  This helps to prevent over grazing.  Over grazing leads to increase of weed species in our pastures, soil erosion, decreased water holding capacity of the soil, and lower quality diets for our cattle that graze them. 

Had some good practice eating out of a bunk a few months ago!!
These are only the top 5 reasons for weaning when we do and using the weaning strategies that we do.  There are many other factors that also effect our decision but that is for another day as well as other weaning strategies that could work some day down the road.  Be sure to check back as Part 2 (Weaning Preparation) will be posted soon.

September 9, 2011

Farm Foto Friday

Bred Heifers Checking me out and showing off their shiney new Tags!!

More of the Bred Heifers exploring the new pasture we just moved them into!

Sub-irrigated Meadow in the Nebraska Sandhills.  Late Aug and the hills are still pretty and green!!