RANCH FEATURES

One Gooseneck At A Time

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The Story of Missouri’s Joplin Regional Stockyard

By: Vince Crunk

Mark Harmon is sitting in a truck stop, not far from Joplin Regional Stockyards (JRS) where he wears several hats; among them, handling communications and public relations. Harmon has been with JRS for more than 35 years. In a few days, he’ll help run cattle into the sale ring.

“We built this empire on gooseneck trailer loads.”

Harmon’s word ‘empire’ conjures up images of cattle barons, but most of JRS’s sellers have herds of less than 50 cows. Most of them come from within a 100-mile-radius.

One such producer is Kelly Essary, who runs a typically small operation. On this day he brought 37 head from Crane, a small town about 60 miles away. He keeps coming back because of the service. “I feel like I get the most that my calves are worth that day.” JRS has plenty of buyers, too. Cows get sold quickly so shrink is less of a concern.

Every seller I spoke with said there were other sale barns closer to home.

But they choose Joplin.

Every Monday – even on Monday May 23, 2011, one day after an F-5 tornado slammed into nearby Joplin -hundreds of trailers show up at JRS in Carthage, MO, for the weekly feeder sale. On that terrible Monday in 2011, after an even more terrible Sunday, business needed to carry on as usual, even though hearts were heavy for neighbors and friends who lost loved ones and property. But there were still trailers full of cattle to be sold.

That same week, JRS raised more than $15,000 for tornado relief and as recovery efforts were in full swing, JRS grill-teams cooked and served morethan 13,000 hamburgers to volunteers who flooded into Joplin to help with
the cleanup.

TOMORROW MIGHT BE A GOOD DAY
Scott Kirby has been coming to JRS for more than 25 years, buying for JBS, one of the larger feeder-cattlebuyers in the country. The Brazilian owned company might be the world’s largest protein company; perhaps better known to American consumers under brand names such as Swift or Pilgrim’s. “We like the way cattle perform out of this area,” he maintains, “conditions are good.” Kirby will buy between 500-1,000 head and is at JRS almost every week.

While not Superior-sized, JRS is a leader in video auctions too, holding weekly sales.

More than 70 Field Reps work closely with producers. If they sense the timing is right, the market is good, a call could go out on a Sunday suggesting that tomorrow might be a good day to load up and make a drive. Seller Dean Jeffield of Jay, OK, confirms, “I rely on my field rep John Simmons to tell me when to sell them and how to sell them, to get the most money out of them.”
gooseneck-2One JRS innovation goes by the name “commingling.” Harmon explains, “We take cattle from different producers. We grade them, weigh them and put them in larger bunches.” One week he estimated they had 400 head of cattle  from almost 100 different producers. “It helps the small guy. That’s our bread and butter.”

This makes a little sheet of paper, called the Drive-In Record, very important. Sellers get one at check-in and it is passed from wrangler to wrangler to ring man to the scale master; who posts the weights and prices that show up on video displays in the sale barn. JRS can’t influence the selling price but they do get a piece of it, every time.

Feeder cows generate $17/head commission and more, depending on other services that may be rendered, such as vet inspections.

But high or low, JRS gets paid and so does the seller. He walks out the front door with money in his pocket, to the tune of $300-350 million per year. Much of that gets pumped backed into the local and regional economy.

Harmon’s take sums it up well.

“When that guy backs in there, in 30-seconds, his year’s worth of work is turned into cash.”

His boss, Jackie Moore, expands on the trust involved in that exchange. “It has always meant a lot to me that when you back up to my dock and unload your calves, people say; ‘Here Jackie, here’s my livelihood. Here’s what I worked all year to produce and here’s how I’m gonna make my farm payment, my truck payment. I’m gonna put my livelihood in your hands. You take care of it.’”

ALL ABOUT HELPING PRODUCERS SUCCEED

Apart from size and volume, what sets JRS apart may be the team at the top. Jackie Moore and brother-in-law Steve Owens have been leading JRS as a team since 1986.

Jackie Moore went to auctioneer school at the age of 13. From there it was a predictable leap to managing Saturday afternoon auctions. Running JRS with his brother-in-law began in another location in Joplin before they moved to Carthage in 1995. Added bonus; no stoplights between the sale barn and Interstate 44.

Moore, Owens and I sat down in their restaurant above the sales arena.Moore is the cattle guy, the auctioneer, and Owens handles the operational and financial side of things.

Some of the terms Moore uses to describe JRS don’t sound very rancher-like: forward contracting, risk management, equity and hedging. But at his core, Moore is about partnerships and helping producers succeed. And those terms are generously sprinkled throughout our short conversation.

“Our mission has always been to work for our producers and let them know things coming down the road that will benefit them and keep them profitable,” Moore explains.

“Anything out there on the horizon that’s going to add value for our producers, we want them to know about it, whether they use it or not. We want them to have all the tools to stay profitable.”

Those tools? Commingling has been mentioned. Video auctions. A simple vaccination regimen that JRS recommends for its sellers. BQA. Publications. Seminars. Forward contracting. Moore describes how that last one played out on a recent sale day;

“On Monday, a guy in western Kansas bought up two loads of 400 lb. calves,” Moore recalls. “He wants to try to sell them that night on video. We didn’t have a video of them. So I said (in the video auction) ‘I got two loads of steers in Marion, KS. A guy bought them here tonight. He wants to deliver them in August. They’ll weigh 625.’ We sold them or $2.16.

“Those steers cost him $2.41. He didn’t want the risk of owning those cattle one more day without having them sold. Those cattle actually pencil close to a $300/head profit between now and August. Who has seen a better scenario than that? A banker doesn’t have a problem with that. ‘I bought cattle today at $1,060/head and I sold them today for $1,340/head.’”


gooseneck-3MANAGING THE MIDDLE

Both Moore and Harmon mentioned a unique sort of partnership that exemplifies their commitment to helping existing producers and those who want to get into this expensive game.

A man in Crane was making his living mowing and had access to land, but no capital. He approached Moore with an interest to get into the business.

Moore set him up to background some cattle. This “backgrounder” made $70,000 last year, Harmon noted. Moore calls this “managing the middle.” According to Harmon, Moore probably has 20,000 head out on background.

Moore picks up the conversation again. “We turn out a lot of cattle. Some of these things may not be the most profitable for us. But if we can show a profit and get some young producers in the business and up on
their feet and going…” He adds, “All we are is a service business. We feel like we are partners. Their success is our success.” JRS’s strategy is to remain focused on the smaller producer. “A guy that’s got 5,000 cows probably doesn’t need us. The guy with 50 cows does.

They’re the ones we’re trying to keep in business and keep profitable by giving them the tools they need. The small producers are the ones we’re trying to educate on what’s out there and what’s going on in our business.” Some of Moore’s words sound like clichés but you also get a strong sense that he means all of them, sincerely. He talked about being somebody producers could “lean on”. His customers are “always right.” His most important lesson learned?

“Do business with integrity and honesty. We don’t do everything right, we can’t make it perfect, but we do it with integrity.” He emphasized JRS being a family business “just like most of those family farms – our producers.” His two sons work for JRS; son Skyler already fills the auctioneer’s chair. Moore had several bankers waiting for him while we chatted so he wrapped things up.

“The sale barn is not going away. Video is just another option for us to sell more cattle. As long as we have  small producers, we are going to have a physical location.”

Beef prices are high right now, but the bubble may burst eventually, or at least leak. Is Moore worried?

“That’s what makes it exciting. You gotta have the gambler in you to make it through the highs-and-lows. But if you can manage your risk and your grass, you’ll survive and come through it just fine. You can’t hardly starve one of us hillbillies to death. We just live as poor as we need to live to survive.”

Three Things on an Acre of Ground

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This South Dakota Family Knows What They Need To Remain Viable

By: Corinne Patterson

Monday mornings at 6:30 sharp, four ag businessmen near Ideal, South Dakota, gather to discuss a simple acre of ground.

“It all boils down to acres. Our family believes if we can farm the ground the way it needs to be farmed – farm it correctly; and if we can have that ability to graze it; then also do some sort of entertainment, value-added project; if we do those three things on an acre of ground then we will be very viable for years to come,” says Cody Jorgensen. “That’s the sustainable thing for us – to be able to farm it, graze it and hunt it.

“Those meetings are very critical,” he continues. “As painful as they can be at times at 6:30 on Monday morning, they are absolutely the lifeblood of the operation.” Partners Greg, Bryan, Cody and Nick Jorgensen operate Jorgensen Land & Cattle, a diversified agribusiness that includes a purebred Angus herd and comprehensive bull leasing program, crop production, and pheasant hunting. Each individual’s talent focused on a specific aspect of the business coupled with good communication, allow them to run their sizeable outfit efficiently.

“It’s really a unique partnership,” Greg says. “I’m active in marketing the lease bulls and transitioning them in and out. I’m also the main marketer of the 30-month old bulls.”

Greg’s son Cody oversees the genetics of the cattle and the details that go into managing the bulls that call the ranch home for part of the year.

“He’s heavily involved in the marketing of the purebred side, which I’ve really walked away from because I’m having so much fun with the leasing thing,” Greg shares. Cody is extremely involved in the pheasant hunting part of our business, too.”

Greg’s younger brother Bryan manages the operation’s farming activities and shares hunting responsibilities with Cody.

“My passions have always been on the cropping and mechanic side of our business, and not so much on the livestock side, which is nice because Cody and Greg are really good at what they do,” Bryan adds. “It’s really nice not to have to butt heads with them on their side of the operation.”

DEEP ROOTS
Greg and Bryan’s granddad, Martin Jorgensen, Sr. and his wife, Gertrude, selected the fertile, open plains of South Dakota for their homestead in 1909 as immigrants from Denmark.

Their father, Martin, Jr. and Uncle Don managed and grew the operation during the 1940s through the 1960s with a pioneering spirit in crop production and a purebred Angus herd. With a fresh 1974 college diploma in hand, Greg jumped at the opportunity to join the family business.

“When I came home from college, Uncle Don was kind of ready to slow up and that was the process that allowed me to buy his share out and become a partner with my dad,” Greg recalls. Both Greg and his dad Martin Jr. share a passion for the cattle industry. Martin was an early adopter, and some would argue, pioneer, of the performance testing movement that began in the late 1960s.

“When Dad built that program, he, like so many others who jumped into the purebred industry, looked at the situation and saw that everybody was doing the same thing,” Greg recalls. In search of an opportunity to improve, differentiate and provide improved genetics, Martin recognized the advantages of genetically selecting cattle based on performance. Martin took advantage of the knowledge from various areas of beef production by building relationships with geneticists, marketing experts and various other specialists.

“We have a line-bred program,” Greg says. “We occasionally step out and use an outcross bull, but we’re very careful when we do it. We don’t want to end up with other issues that sometimes come with outside genetics. We haven’t deviated from that program that Dad put together back in the 1960s.”

Cody is quick to point out that he’s fortunate to leverage the years of experience both Martin and Greg offer.

“That’s really my main job, to study and be disciplined with this cow herd,” Cody says. “I have had the great honor to follow my dad and grandfather in terms of making all the decisions in selection and matings of the cows. I’ve studied what my grandfather did in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, and then I have also studied the way my dad did it in the ‘80s and ‘90s. I have the tools to go back and understand what worked and what didn’t work.

With computers and the Internet I have been able to study these pedigrees, and that was a huge advantage.” Cody, in true family style, is also not afraid to be an early adopter of upcoming technology and ideas. He now utilizes DNA gene marker selection to better identify their top cattle.

“The American Angus Association has been very good at helping us identify traits that work and traits that don’t work,” he adds. “There’s so much information that we have access to today that years ago we didn’t have.”

Every registered Jorgensen cow has her Zoetis High Density 50K (HD 50K) DNA profile. This test provides genomic-enhanced expected progeny differences (GE-EPDs) and indexes for 14 traits.

“Along with all the quantitative genetic research we’ve done in the past and currently, we now throw DNA on top of that. It certainly can help us make some good decisions with the cow herd in the future,” Cody says.

“That is very critical for us to maintain that integrity of being on the forefront of performance testing and on the forefront of identifying cattle that are above average.”

NO BULL
Reflecting on the beginning of their bull leasing program, Greg acknowledges that the system was born out of the agricultural economy’s condition at the time.

“In the 1980s commodity prices were really low, and it was tough to scratch out a living in agriculture. It was really out of necessity that we started leasing out the bulls. People couldn’t afford to own a bull, but they needed one and we had extras available.

That’s how it got started,” Greg says. Today, the father-son team place nearly 3,500 bulls into commercial programs across the nation. Greg and Cody rely heavily on referrals and word-of-mouth to place their bulls.

“That business over the years took on a pace of its own. For years we didn’t advertise it. A neighbor would tell his neighbor about it, and pretty soon we might send five or six bulls 100 miles away to a ranch. The next year there might be 20 bulls in that area. It just blossomed that way.”

Service is a key component in a seedstock supply business, and the Jorgensens feel their bull leasing program
is an extension of their service.

“The customer needs a bull, but he doesn’t like to deal with the bulls in the off-season so that service becomes ours. We take care of the bulls in the off-season,” Greg says. “When those producers really study their costs and analyze everything that’s related to the purchase of a bull and bull ownership, they quickly realize that economically it makes a lot of sense to lease bulls. It’s become service, service, service, and as long as we stay competitive in price, it will grow. Our lease program usually stays within a 200-mile radius of our ranch, however we have customers as far away as 800 miles”

After the first breeding season, yearling bulls are gathered and returned to the Jorgensen’s bull development center where they undergo a culling and feeding process Greg calls “reconditioning.”

“Obviously if there are any injuries, those bulls exit the program. We’ll get some condition on the bulls and get them back up to around 1,300 to 1,350 pounds in our feedlot,” he notes.

“Then, we’ll turn the bulls out to forage on grazing cane, corn stalks, and other available forage for several months to keep our costs down. They’re brought back into the facility in March as nearing two year-olds, and we get them back in condition. At this point in time, the bulls are ready for their second breeding season and lease.”

Herd health is one of the most important components to the lease program.

“Our veterinarian, Dr. John Voegeli at the Winner Animal Clinic, guided us through our leasing project,” Cody says. “At first it was very difficult to talk a vet into allowing us to sell a used bull. That’s a big no-no for veterinarians. Every vet you talk to will say ‘don’t ever buy or lease a used bull’. That was a hurdle for us.”

The Jorgensens worked with Dr. Voegeli to develop a comprehensive health protocol process including Trichomoniasis testing each bull prior to a non-virgin breeding season. This partnership has helped ensure that their management protocols offer disease free bulls. They have conducted more than 40,000 non-virgin trich tests processed to date without a single positive case.

When the two year-old bulls return to Jorgensen’s bull development center they are prepared for their final exit out of the program. These bulls immediately start their recondition program, are trich tested, and then sold as 30-month-old bulls.

“Most of those 30-month-old bulls go to the southern states, particularly Florida. That particular environment in Florida and the southern states really benefits from these 30-month-old bulls because they’re essentially done growing and they can hold their own in that particular environment,” Greg says. “We can be very price competitive because we already have the two leases on the bull.”

The Jorgensens work with 13 cooperator herds to fulfill the bull orders. These herds have been using Jorgensen genetics for 40 years or more and have what Greg considers like-kind genetics.

“For many years, we’ve had very loyal customers that come to our sale and purchase bulls,” Greg says. “We started with one of our oldest customers. We had used them previously as a test herd back when you had to have an actual progeny test with live terminal cattle in order to get carcass information. We were buying his steers, and now we buy his bull calves.”

These herds have capitalized from the Jorgensen’s strict line-breed genetics from what Cody refers to as the parent-stock cow herd. These partner herds select their genetics from the Jorgensen’s annual bull sale the third Monday in April, from an offering of 150 registered Angus bulls.

When the Jorgensens buy bull calves from their cooperating herds,
detailed requirements are attached to the price tag. Birth weights and sire groups are imperative, and the partners have synchronized health regimens prior to bull calf delivery. Calves in January and February receive an electronic ID tag upon arrival and are cross referenced to their ranch number and ranch information. Then, bulls are freeze branded based on birth weights.

“For example, we get 100 head of calves from a ranch. The lightest birth weight calf would have a freeze brand ending in ’00,’ indicating he had the lowest birth weight in his contemporary group. The next lightest calf would be ‘01’, and so on. We’ve learned that our customers, almost without exception, have some kind of a birth weight in mind when they lease bulls. That’s why we rank the bulls in numeric order based on their birth weight.”

While in the development process, bulls are culled constantly. Employees have the right to cull a bull if he shows a disposition problem while handled. Bulls have to meet performance standards and pass a breeding soundness exam (BSE) before their first lease. Greg says the cull rate reaches 20 percent.

Cody knows his role in selecting genetics for the parent-stock registered cow herd influences hundreds of thousands of cattle down the line, so he is disciplined in culling decisions as well. The Jorgensens have been utilizing embryo transfer in their herd since the late 1970s. Only cows that have proven, high indexing calves for at least three years are selected as donors. Ten cows that meet these standards annually are taken out of production and flushed for one year, and 300 embryos are implanted the following year.

Bulls are leased depending on individual ranch need. Some ranches have a narrow breeding season of 30 days, with the vast majority keeping bulls for around 100 days.

Delivery coordination is an intricate process, Greg says. “We try to make the best arrangements we can to get them delivered as close to, or right to the ranch, if possible.”

THE NEED FOR FEED
For Bryan, providing hungry, growing bulls the right kind of feedstuffs while maintaining the quality of his farm ground and a place for wild game to thrive is a delicate balance. His key management practice has been 100 percent no-till farming on nearly 11,000 acres since the early 1990s.

“We have a very diverse location with a lot of different crops. We have spring grain such as oats and spring wheat and then we go to winter wheat. Then we have corn, milo, cane, soybeans, alfalfa, peas, millets and other crops,” Bryan says. “The biggest thing I like about what we do is having the livestock in the system, which gives me a lot of opportunity to grow not only feed grains, but forages as well. It really allows me a lot of dimension within our locations, whereas if I were just a grain farmer I would not have those opportunities. I design rotations based around the needs of the cattle.”

Bryan is passionate about the health of the soil on the ranch and has done his level best to ensure it is a thriving environment.

“For the last 10 to 15 years, I’ve focused on nutrient efficiency much like Cody and Greg have focused on feed efficiency with the cattle. My goal is to try to get a lot more efficiency out of the soils and try to minimize the amount of nutrient input,” Bryan says. “We’ve done that by no-till, increasing organic matter in the soil and improving the biological aspect of the soil by getting more biological growth out of our soil. We’re trying to return it to more of a native state similar to what you would find in a native prairie soil system.

“We discovered that the efficiency of the soil improves so much that you can cut your nutrient demands in regards to applied nutrients by as much as 50 percent to 60 percent compared to what we used to do,” he adds. “At the same time your soils are healthier and your plants are healthier. There are a lot of things that fall into place so it’s really a cool thing to see the soil improve.”

Whether their individual interest is in the cattle or land, each Jorgensen works to balance what grazing advantage the bovine creature brings to the South Dakota plains.

“Ultimately what we’re trying to do, in my mind, is create a long-term sustainable system to help build that soil for the next generation,” Bryan says.

“We strive to do it economically and still provide the feedstuffs that we need and the cover for the wild game for the hunting that we do. It’s all part of the system.”

FOR THE BIRDS
feature-9-2The harmonious relationship between the bovine and soil strikes another cord in the Jorgensen’s threefacet approach.

“We are blessed to have wild pheasants on our property. We decided it was a great business to add – the entertainment side of the production agriculture,” Cody says.

With no-till farming and livestock grazing management practices, the Jorgensen property is a haven for wild pheasants. Plenty of cover and feed is a byproduct of the grazing and farming practices that create a natural conservation aspect of their operation.

The Jorgensens built a full-service lodge two years ago. They moved from day hunts to a complete package offering 4-night, 3-day hunts including meals and lodging starting the third Saturday in October through the end of the year.

“It certainly ties right into where we live and what we do,” Cody says. “The family enjoys it, and we enjoy entertaining people. It really is a nice fit for us.” Even with thousands of acres to evaluate at their Monday morning meeting, the Jorgensen family doesn’t deviate far from considering what they can do with just one acre.

“Our big goal as a family is to pass the operation on to the next generation,” Bryan says. “Equity transfer is very important to us. If we can make something that’s transferrable such as the land assets or land resources better for the next generation, that’s really the ultimate goal.”

Happy With Their CRM

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After 30 years, this award-winning Wyoming ranch family sees no reason to give it up

By: Melissa Hemken

If we’re going to ranch in this country, we’ve got to learn to get along with the federal agencies,” says Keith Hamilton, a fourth-generation rancher near Hyattville, Wyoming. “Our CRM [Coordinated Resource Management] plan is how we accomplish that. The CRM brings all parties to the table to discuss management strategy for our federal leases.

“We run on about 75 percent federal land,” Hamilton continues. “One downside to federal is that the government could strike a pen in [Washington] D.C. and say no grazing leases. Then half the state of Wyoming would be up the creek.”

Established in 1915 on the western side of the Bighorn Mountains, the Hamilton Ranch is a diversified operation running Rambouillet and Hampshire sheep and Angus cattle, along with an irrigated farm.

“My great-grandparents started out running cattle only,” Hamilton says, “They brought sheep to the ranch in 1928. We scaled the sheep operation down in the 1990s and took up the gap with cattle. If the sheep market hadn’t improved, we were going to convert fully to cattle.

“Sometimes, when we have had as much snow during lambing as this spring, we wonder if we should have sold them. When the next generation comes along, maybe that decision will be made.”

Three generations of the Hamilton family work together to ranch on federal, state and
private rangelands. Their livestock begin the warm season at the lower elevations near Manderson, Wyoming, at about 4,000 feet, and range to the top of the Bighorns at 10,500 feet.

“Both cattle and sheep have their pluses and minuses,” Hamilton says. “It takes a lot of effort to lamb, but when we’re done, our sheepherder, Florentino Espinoza, takes care of them the rest of the summer. We tend camp to give him groceries and feed for his horse. With the cattle, three people can calve them out fairly easily. When they need to be moved it takes five guys [on horseback] to gather and trail, and day help isn’t always easy to find.”

CRMS INVALUABLE FOR FEDERAL GRAZING
First begun in Nevada in the 1950s, the CRM process is voluntary and initiated by private landowner(s) to bring together neighbors, public agencies and other stakeholders.

In the early 1970s, the increasing demand for natural resources intensified the conflicts between interest groups, land users and land management agencies. This prompted the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and Cooperative Extension Service (CES) to encourage CRM planning nationwide.

The year 1982 saw the state of Wyoming endorse the use of CRMs, now coordinated by the Wyoming Department of Agriculture. The Hamilton Ranch was one of four operations to initially enroll in the program. The private landowner(s) who initiate the CRM are responsible for inviting the needed members, and it is essential to include all stakeholders from the beginning to establish investment.

The Hamilton’s CRM group, involving five agencies plus themselves, met regularly early on; now, over 30 years later, they meet annually.

“It took us a long time to put this together,” Hamilton says, “the time commitment is why agencies aren’t always excited about CRMs. A key to a successful CRM is local people who have the authority to make decisions. Everyone gets around the table to gain consensus, and that’s what makes it work.”

CRM decisions are made collaboratively; there is no voting – discussion continues until all members can support the management plan being developed. Within the CRM approach, local people familiar with the planning area make the decisions regarding natural resource management. Specialists from outside the local area may only assist by providing technical information.

The CRM plans include the acreage of each pasture; designating the animal unit months (AUMs) for livestock; and monitoring point locations for grass and forb health, among other grazing management methods. Having a CRM can be very beneficial as public land agencies look to reduce AUMs in drought years.

GRAZING FOR HEALTHY LANDS
In 1998, the Hamiltons received the Environmental Stewardship Award from the Wyoming Stock Growers Association for their dedication to healthy grazing lands.

“We use a rest rotation system to manage grazing for our sheep and cattle,” Hamilton says. “During dry years, when other ranchers have to move off their allotments early, we are still able to graze as we have conserved grass.

“As we coordinate our grazing plans through years with different rainfall amounts, sometimes we’ve got to run later on BLM than we normally do, or earlier on the [Bighorn National] Forest, and it is nice to have everybody there to make it all work. We’ve built a lot of flexibility into our grazing program.” The challenge with grazing on public lands is their multi-use purpose—ranchers, recreationalists and energy developers must find ways to use it together.

“The frustrating part with federal grazing leases is that the agency people come and go,” Hamilton says. “They may be here five years or 10, but we’re still here. We’re the ones on the ground making the day-to-day decisions about what is good for the land. The CRM helps to provide some management continuity. A new person is hired and we hand them our CRM plan.”

Another beneficial aspect of a CRM is that it complements regulatory processes, such as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), national and statewide initiatives to conserve Greater Sage Grouse habitat, and mandates to incorporate the public in decision making regarding public lands.

Hamilton says their CRM experience has been very positive and has opened up lines of communication that would have remained closed. “We’ve developed trust, and a plan everybody can live with. We’ve had our CRM for about 30 years now, and we don’t have any reason to give up on it. It still works for us and the land.”

CRM GUIDELINES
Compiled from the Wyoming Department of Agriculture

• Voluntary, private landowner initiated and perpetuated.

• All interested or concerned stakeholders must be involved. Participants must have decisionmaking authority for their constituencies.

• Experienced, neutral facilitators are key initially to focus discussions on goals and interests, etc.

• Determine common goals early by group consensus; foster commitment by creating ownership by all members in the plan.

• Create a team. Develop an understanding among CRM members and build trust.

• Focus on what management practices are currently needed to improve the natural resource(s) and not the agency policies or positions that have been implemented in the past.

• Monitoring is very important to provide baseline data and to accomplish goals and objectives.

• Make the plan flexible to allow for drought, floods, ownership changes, etc.; yet rigid enough to provide for accountability

A Superior Idea

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Satellite Auctions Have Come A Long, Long Way From The Video Tape Days

By: Tim O’Byrne

Some things we kind of take for granted, like antibiotics or cell phones. They are both marvelous additions to our workday lives, and they both have inspiring stories of development behind them. Here’s another story I’ve thought about a few times – the origins of satellite cattle auctions. Back before all this technological nonsense came into our lives, the only outlet for our cattle was the sale barn, the on-site ranch sale, or less frequently, private treaty. The competition of a live sale always seemed to hold a place of esteem in the cattle business. It’s just plain fun to go to one. Urn-made coffee in styrofoam cups, the smell of sawdust, and the hypnotic drone of the auctioneer over a scratchy mike. Look-ee-lous, qualified buyers, anxious and proud sellers, sleepy truckers dozing in the top row, and armchair cattlemen, all under one roof, breaking at noon for steak and biscuits in the cafeteria. Sale day was always a great day.

Then, sometime back when the NFR was still in Oklahoma and there were only 13 channels on TV, we heard a rumor about a sales team that would show up at the ranch with a video camera and film your calves right there in the pen or out in the field. Imagine. What the heck were they going to do with all that film once they got it developed? “Put it on a satellite TV”, somebody answered. Preposterous. Nobody in their right mind would buy a set of calves they couldn’t lay eyes on, would they? Some scoffed while others pondered the notion quietly, and I, as a hotheaded kid… I had a hard time seeing the future of such an incredulous venture.

Let us pause our story to allow the pages to fly off a calendar on the TV screen. 1987 to June, 2014. Superior Livestock Auction is the largest in the country, rolling over 1.3 million head of load-lot cattle across its screens every year. Servicing such a massive logistical undertaking are over 380 representatives out in the field connecting buyers, sellers and cattle. Bi-weekly satellite sales are broadcast on Dish Network’s channel 232, Click to Bid and listed online at the Country Page.

Here’s how they did it.

“It started out as Odle Cumberland Auctioneers,” recalls Jim Odle, an original founder and current General Manager of Superior Livestock Auction, “and we had our first video sale back in 1979”. It all came about through the need to sell cattle from locations and ranches that buyers didn’t really go to.

“Odle Cumberland had been having videos for 9 years before Buddy Jeffers out of Fort Worth, Texas, came to me one day and asked if maybe we could merge our two companies together,” Odle explains. “He’d been having videos for about two years before that.”

Together, they talked about it, and later Odle, accompanied by his older son, Ted, left their home base in Colorado and went down to Fort Worth to meet with Jeffers. “It looked like it was a good fit,” Odle says. “It looked like it was something we should do, and at that time we did do a merger, and we had our first sale at the Denver National Western Stock Show in 1987.” A merger is a delicate, living, complex thing. All the pieces need to fit together, like gears in a transmission, if traction and long-term forward movement is going to occur. “It was a great merger,” Odle continues, “because we had the region areas that we all brought together. In Colorado, everything north and west of I-70 and I-25 was the region we were selling cattle out of.” Buddy Jeffers had earlier merged with the first American video out of Florida, giving him claim to the south and southeast regions. The pieces were beginning to fit nicely, but they needed a southern place to call home. “Back then, Billy Bob here in Fort Worth gave us free rent, and we had a little old room here at the Stockyards, so that gave us two options; one in the south (Fort Worth, Texas) and one in the north (Odle’s operation up in Brush, Colorado). And it was a good deal.”

BIG OL’ CAMERAS
It’s fun to think back about technology’s bulky beginnings. The contraptions were expensive, slow, and cumbersome compared with today’s sleek, hi-speed wireless equipment. “Back then we used great big ol’ cameras that would weigh 30, 40, 50 pounds, with a separate recorder,” Odle recollects. “We used ¾” videotape… we’d bring it back into the offices and edit it. Originally we used to carry one tape for each lot, and then we started alternating with two tapes with the lots on different ones and carry them all to the sale and broadcast them that way.” Reflecting on those old days, Odle remarks of today, “It’s changed a bunch.”

When asked about how the whole concept of video sales were received in the beef production community, Odle’s reply reflected back to some degree on my own youthful, knee-jerk impression. “I think there was some skepticism out there, but we didn’t feel it,” he states. “In the video auction business the old-time ranchers that we went to, they grabbed ahold because they knew they didn’t have buyers come out there several different years.

Some of the younger ranchers gave us a little pushback on it, but the oldtimers come on immediately. Of course their families have been with us ever since. The buyers…I was always concerned about buyers and so we were trying to get as many as we could. And from Day 1, from the first video sale we ever had, we had all kinds of buyers. In fact, when we got to Denver (for that first video sale in ’87) there were so many buyers at the video sale that our big buyers were sitting there back at the regular sale, and most of the cattle were sold over the video to the smaller buyers, the bigger buyers didn’t hardly get any of the cattle.”

As testimony to the confidence level Superior Livestock Auctions has attained during their explosive growth in the past 27 years, their current database of qualified buyers tops a whopping 8,500. “And every one of those buyers in the database is qualified to buy one load or more,” Odle adds. “And that’s a big deal.”

The beef industry has always prided itself on doing millions of dollars a day worth of business on a handshake or verbal agreement. A unique enterprise such as this one… Hey, buy these cattle just by looking at this TV picture, I  promise you’ll get exactly what I’m tellin’ you they are… would be doomed to almost immediate failure if the seller misrepresented the offering or the buyer didn’t come through. That hurdle appears to have been vaulted early on.

“Integrity is still what life is all about,” Odle offers, “and Superior has great integrity. Everything we’ve ever done we’ve followed through to the very end.” Odle admits to some hiccups early on with some of the big buyers going bankrupt, which is bound to happen in a fluid and risky marketplace such as live cattle. “As far as Superior’s concerned, we’ve never had a (load) lot that didn’t deliver and didn’t go on like it was supposed to.”

feature-7-secondCHALLENGES NOT THAT BAD
Looking back, Odle reflects that the challenges in getting Superior off the ground were there, but they were a lot less than people might have thought.

“The big thing was to get it advertised and get out and meet the ranchers and tell them about it.” One more piece of the puzzle fell into their lap. “We had several order buyers back when we first started that had gone through a pretty tough time and didn’t have finances. Some of those good order buyers came on board as representatives for Superior. They brought their customers with them, and of course they had contact with the buyers, too. So that overcame a lot of the problems that we might have had, but the way it worked out, we didn’t have.”

As far as technology is concerned, keeping up with advances is pretty much subliminal for many of us (with the exception of this author). You just adapt without giving it much thought. “You don’t even realize you’re changing as much as you are,” Odle comments about their technological growth. “One of the big things I think changed a lot was Joe Lichtie (Vice President of Superior) got together with the people back east and put together the Click to Bid (www.superiorclicktobid.com) that we use each and every sale. I think that’s been a huge, huge thing.”

Superior’s strategy calls for the company to continue to try to get as many of the good cattle as they can across the United States. They have done a few sales in Canada and Mexico, but their focus remains here in the U.S. Recently, they underwent a structure change that Odle is optimistic about. “National Livestock Credit out of Oklahoma City, along with a group of investors, now owns Superior Livestock Auction and that’s probably as solid a set of hands that any person could want to be in. They’re old time, they started out in 1932. In that length of time they’ve only had five presidents, and that’s quite a thing to say for a lending company. I’m just so proud to have them take over the reins and move ahead with what we’re doing here at Superior Livestock.”

Odle’s vision for the future includes moving steadily forward and keeping up with anything that comes along. “I think Superior’s customers will see quite a few new things over the next 2-3 years, maybe sooner, in the way we put out the catalog, in the way we broadcast our sales, and of course we’re going to be in as many homes as we can.”

Don’t Knock The Flock

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Terrell Farms Chooses Moos and Ewes for Diversity Plan

By: Troy Smith

Agricultural operations often evolve and grow out of necessity. It is generally agreed that if farm and ranch businesses don’t grow, they probably won’t last very long. Of course, growth can occur in different ways. Adding to an operation’s land base can facilitate increased production, but business growth isn’t always about getting bigger. By honing their marketing skills, producers can sell what they produce and procure needed resources to greater economic advantage. With or without additional acreage, diversification of production may improve resource utilization. Diversification can also create additional marketing opportunities.

Over the course of six decades, the Terrell family’s Nebraska panhandle operation has grown in each of those ways. According to Brock Terrell, the process continues as family members work at managing resources more effectively, increasing production efficiency and developing marketing expertise. But Brock and his brother, Seth, also think diversification is key to future growth. “We like having the options that come from a diversity of crops and a diversity of livestock,” states Brock.

“The more diverse we are, the better.” Brock and Seth, along with their respective wives, Heidi and Courtney, share management of a fairly large outfit with parents, Vern and Marjean.

Known formally as Terrell Farms, it’s big enough to support three family households, plus those of three hired men. Headquartered in the Mirage Flats area, south of Hay Springs, the operation’s farming enterprises include multiple cash and feed crops grown on irrigated and dryland acres. Cattle interests include cow-calf, yearling and feedlot enterprises. Most recently, sheep have been added to the mix.

Sheep are scarce in the area, but Vern Terrell says it wasn’t always that way. Small flocks were almost plentiful back when his own parents relocated here. That occurred following completion of the Mirage Flats Irrigation Project – a Depression-era effort begun by the old Farm Security Administration. Stalled during World War II and finally completed in 1948, the program offered war veterans an opportunity to purchase land irrigated with water diverted from the Niobrara River.

“My folks came here from Torrington, Wyoming, and started farming on 80 acres,” explains Vern, noting how diversity was common then. “They grew crops that were fed to sheep and hogs. They milked cows and later added beef cattle. Over time, they bought and rented more land. My brother, Terry, and I joined the operation during the 1970s.”

That decade also brought the first significant purchases of grassland and expansion into beef cattle production. As the livestock focus shifted to beef, the sheep, dairy and hog enterprises were phased out. As Vern and his brother assumed management roles, gradual expansion continued through the purchase and lease of additional farm ground and pasture. A feedlot was added to finish home-raised calves. Today, Terrell Farms owns most of the cultivated land on which corn, edible beans, wheat and alfalfa are grown.

Double-cropping of some fields, with millet, turnips or a grass-legume-brassicas cocktail, yields forage that can be grazed in the fall and winter, along with corn stalks and other crop residues. A majority of the ranch’s range land lies across the Niobrara, in the hills southeast of Mirage Flats.

“Most of our grass is leased and we’ve enjoyed good relationships with land owners. Some have lasted a long time,” tells Vern. “We’re not afraid to make investments, such as fencing and water development, on leased properties.

They have been win-win situations and that probably helped us acquire several more rented places in the last few years. We’ve been fortunate that when a lease has been lost, due to the land being sold, something else has been available to rent.”

MANAGED IN A NON-TRADITIONAL WAY 

Still, an operation that depends so heavily on leased grass needs to be nimble. Vern says the threat of drought and the area’s frequent hail storms are more reasons for maintain-ing flexibility. Not only are they capable
of responding to a shortage of forage, the Terrells can take advantage of opportunities such as unexpected forage availability. On the livestock side of the operation, flexibility is achieved by running multiple classes of cattle and sometimes managing them in non-traditional ways.

Terrell Farms maintains two separate cow herds, including a March calving herd, comprised of purebred Angus and Angus-cross cows. According to Seth, genetic selection focuses on maternal traits, followed by performance and carcass merit. A majority of replacement females going into the March-calving herd are home-raised heifers.

“We use AI fairly extensively on the March-calvers. We AI all of the heifers and about half of the cows,” explains Seth. “We raise some bulls out of the purebred cows, including those we use for clean-up after AI. We also sell a few bulls at private treaty.”

Usually, any cows that breed late to clean-up bulls are shifted to the other herd, which is bred to calve in May. This larger herd consists primarily of purchased cows and none of the heifers they produce are retained. All of the May-calvers are bred to Charolais bulls for a terminal cross.

Brock says May-calving herd numbers are increasing because the system is “low-input” in terms of feed and labor. Typically, the cows graze crop residues and range during the winter, with protein being the only supplement. Over the last eight years May calving cows have not received hay, except during winter storms. Weather challenges are rare during calving season, as is dystocia, and rotation through pastures reduces calf exposure to pathogens. The cows recover quickly after calving and breed back readily while on green grass.

“Generally, about 90 percent of the cows breed in the first cycle of a 45- day breeding season,” states Brock, noting that bulls used on the May herd are managed in a manner that saves feed and bother.

“Keeping bulls around all the time can be a nuisance, but the Charolais bulls are only on our place for about 60 days. Our bull-supplier helps us find a new home for them after their work is done here. So, we pull the bulls from the pastures, test for trichomoniasis, and send them to south Texas,” he explains.

Home-raised calves are retained after weaning and grown as stockers, along with a variable number of purchased calves. The stocker program is two-fold, consisting of replacement heifer candidates and calves that will

It Fits The Program

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Randall County Feedyard Tends To The Cattle And The Consumer

By: Gilda V. Bryant

The Texas Panhandle has been devoted to agriculture since 1888. Historic ranches such as the XIT and Charles Goodnight’s JA Ranch still run cattle, and the region also grows wheat, corn and grain sorghum, much of it used to feed livestock. The Panhandle is chockfull of beef cattle and feedyards, and all facets of the beef industry are vital to the area’s economy. Here, approximately six million cattle easily outnumber people, and provide 30 percent of the nation’s beef, according to the TexasCattle Feeders Association.

Friona Industries, L.P., began as a small feedlot in 1962 and is now a modern commercial cattle feeding outfit with four facilities. These feedyards have a total capacity of 290,000 head and are located in Canyon, Littlefield, Friona and Tulia, Texas. One of Friona Industries’ operations, Randall County Feedyard, is located outside of Canyon.

This site runs an average of 87,000 head per year according to Jerrid Vincent, Manager. The facility receives cattle from approximately 25 states, most arriving from the southeastern United States. Generally, calves arrive weighing from 550 to 800 pounds and they finish out between 1,300 and 1,375 pounds.

Vincent reports that many of his animals have been backgrounded before they arrive. In other words, they’ve had their vaccinations and know how to hit the bunk for rations such as corn, Sweet Bran® and wet distiller’s grain. Incoming calves have access to a salt block upon arrival for the first 20 to 30 days. “When the cattle come in, most of them hit the bunk and are able to consume the right mineral levels,” Vincent explains. “At times we have individuals that may not be that aggressive. By throwing the salt blocks out there, we just help their chances of getting their nutritional requirements.”

Besides salt, minerals are an important part of the animals’ diet. This company’s beef nutritionist recommends a well-balanced mineral supplement in pellet form from a major feed company. It is mixed in the ration based on consumption rates.

“One of the reasons we went with this supplement is because we do get cattle from several different states,” Vincent relates. “They would have different mineral needs, but the mineral level  in the pellets should help in all deficiencies if there are any.”

The lengthy drought smacked the Texas Panhandle hard, just as it has in many areas of the nation. “We started using this mineral before the drought,” explains Vincent. “It hasn’t changed since. Right now, it fits our program.” Vincent offers this advice about mineral supplementation, “Other individuals are going to have to figure out what best fits their operations. Sometimes, it’s putting their mineral in liquid, sometimes it’s in the pellet form.

Most feedyards have a consulting nutritionist to make sure the mineral supplement is appropriate for the operation. I would tell feedlot owners and operators to contact their suppliers, producers or stocker guys that send them cattle to make sure they have an understanding of what the mineral requirement would be for their operations.”

THE AUDIT IS THE TEST – PASS OR FAIL
Randall County Feedyard managers not only make sure animals receive the appropriate rations and mineral supplementation that increase weight gain and maintain health, but they are sold on the Beef Quality Assurance Program (BQA).

What is the BQA and why is it important? The BQA is a set of standards and guidelines that brings the beef industry together, according to Vincent.

This program gives those involved in the cattle business, including the cow-calf or stocker producer, feedyard operator, packer, trucker, sale barn crew, veterinarian, or supplier a better understanding of the processes in the beef industry.

“It’s an opportunity to expand our knowledge as supervisors,” says Vincent. “Our employees also understand why they’re here and how we need to do things in a manner to be the most productive.” Dell Volmer, Randall County Feedyard General Manager adds, “Consumers want more information.

They want to know that we’re treating cattle safely and humanely and the food is going to be safe. That’s one of the big reasons why BQA came out… we’ve got to keep proving that we’re doing the right things out here and that we’re doing what’s best for society.” Once a producer or facility is BQA  certified, yearly training consists of a one day seminar, taken either online or in a class with others.

Vincent says they take classes presented by the Texas Cattle Feeders Association (TCFA), which includes practical, hands-on training in timely topics, such as cattle handling or feeding. Sue Doxon, Office Manager for Randall County Feedyard, reports that they send employees to a variety of classes, and they return armed with updated skills and knowledge to train the others. Doxon says this facility was one of the first in the area to earn the BQA certification, back in March 2000.

She explains, “We train every employee so everyone is signed off, not just management. All employees have gone through a training process. Everybody on the yard knows the policies and procedures.” Folks who take the classes don’t have to pass a test. “The audit is the test,” explains Doxon. “It’s pass or fail.” The TCFA audits member facilities from one to several times a year.

Auditors look at various procedures including minimal hot shot use, cleanliness of water tanks, cattle feeding procedures and moving animals. For example, this facility has several hospitals located throughout the yard, which reduces stress in sick calves because they aren’t walking long distances. Plus, water tanks are cleaned weekly during summer months.

A Healthy Handoff

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There’s More Than One Way To Transfer A Working Ranch To A Worthy Successor

By: Troy Smith

Some things are meant to be. That’s how Lily Klase sees it. That’s why her late husband, Don Klase, got along so well with his business partner, Russ Anderson. They ranched together for just shy of eleven years; the veteran acting as mentor and helping the younger, aspiring cowman to put on the mantle of management authority. But theirs is a different kind of ranch transition story. It shows how fair and far-sighted participants, though unrelated by blood or marriage, can arrange for a business to pass smoothly from one generation to the next.

Currently, Russ Anderson and his wife, Cheryl, are majority shareholders of Bonnifield Cattle Company, located near Hyannis, Nebraska. It’s the same Sandhills operation that Don Klase ran for most of 50 years, on leased land. To understand how the Andersons’ participation evolved, it helps to know some of the history behind Bonnifield Cattle Company. According to Lily, Don was just 14 years old when the Klase family came to the Hyannis area and his father, Bernard Klase, went to work for rancher Bob Bonnifield.

Don soon entered high school at Nebraska School of Agriculture, in Curtis. Now the site of the University of Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture, the campus served as a boarding school from 1913 to 1968. In addition to the high school curriculum, the school offered agricultural training. Between terms, Don returned to the Sandhills and worked on area ranches. Within a few years, Don’s father became a partner in Bonnifield Cattle Company, thus sharing ownership of the ranch’s cattle, but not the land.

“It wasn’t that long, though, before Mr. Bonnifield died,” tells Lily. “So, after graduating high school (in 1945), Don joined his dad to help run the ranch. They owned the cattle and leased the land from the Bonnifield family. They had a 25-year lease with an option to renew it.” Lily believes that was orchestrated by Bonnifield, before his death, to make sure his wife would have help managing the land and to further the business he and Bernard
Klase had begun.

“Don always appreciated what Bob Bonnifield had done. It really helped Bernard and Don get established,” affirms Lily. A nurse in Columbia, Missouri, at the time, Lily met Don on a blind date arranged by a mutual friend that Don was visiting. They married in 1951, and raised four children on the ranch. Don succeeded his father as manager of the operation and the couple eventually acquired full ownership of Bonnifield Cattle Company. Over the course of years, the Bonnifield estate – the land – passed to a succession of heirs whose business and personal relationships with the Klase clan continued uninterrupted.

“We remained close to the (Bonnifield) family, kind of like they were part of our family,” adds Lily. All of the Klase children attended college, but only one had any real interest in ranching. Daughter Amy and her husband eventually joined Bonnifield Cattle Company. It did not last, however. The young couple separated and both
moved away. It complicated Don’s plans for slowing down. He didn’t want to quit, but he was ready to share the burden of running the company. Enter Russ Anderson.

LOOKING FOR SOMETHING MORE
Russ and his wife, Cheryl, grew up at opposite ends of Nebraska’s Sandhills. Cheryl was a native of Alliance, while Russ was raised near Anselmo. They met while attending Chadron State College. The couple moved to Hyannis, in 1996, where Russ worked on an area ranch until the outfit was sold. He and Cheryl established a custom fencing business in 1998. They also started a contract haying business, and began to accumulate a small herd of cows.

Russ also day-worked on ranches and kept his ear to the ground. “We kept looking for some kind of ranching opportunity,” explains Russ. “I knew Don Klase. I’d done some fencing and day-work for him, and I knew Don to be an honest, respected and well-liked rancher. After his daughter and son-in-law left, in 2002, I called Don. He told me that he’d actually been thinking about calling me.”

The men talked. Russ explained that he was looking for something with more potential than another ranch job paying no more than enough to live on. Don made it clear that he had no desire to retire yet, but he did want to ease up a bit. He needed help and was willing to share some of the management responsibility. He also had a plan for helping the right person gain a foothold in the cattle business.

“Don suggested that we try each other for a year. He would pay me a wage, and I could still work in some custom fencing. If we were getting along good after a year, we could try to work out a way for Cheryl and me to buy a share of the company,” says Russ. After the trial period, both men were satisfied they could work well together.

Ready to pursue a permanent arrangement, they sat down at the kitchen table, inventoried the Bonnifield Cattle Company assets and calculated the company’s worth. Don and Lily then agreed to sell 33 percent of the company. They also offered to loan the money the Andersons would need to make the purchase. The Andersons provided their own 33 cows, plus some fencing and haying equipment as collateral.

“The loan’s interest rate was just a little bit higher than what the money would earn with a CD (certificate of deposit) at the bank. And we could take as much time as we needed to pay it back. It was a great deal for us,” states Russ. “I still received a wage, andCheryl and I could still take some fencing and haying contracts. That gave us enough to live on so, at the end of the year, we could pay our share of company profits toward the loan.”

Reflecting on it now, Lily thinks Don saw some of his younger self in the eagerness and ambition Russ displayed. Appreciative of the younger man’s energy and hard work, Don wanted to make Russ a good deal.

In a manner similar to what old Bob Bonnifield had done for the Klase family, Don wanted to help the Andersons get ahead in the cow business. The lease on the land was renewed when the Andersons bought into the company. Terms remained similar to the previous long-term agreements, with the land lease price tied to the cattle market. That way, the land’s absentee owners share in the risk posed by bad weather and shifting markets.

Basically, each year’s per acre land cost is calculated as a set percentage of the sale price of calves produced on the ranch. But the lessee (Bonnifield Cattle Company) also pays real estate taxes and all costs associated with maintaining existing improvements, as well as any that are added. The lease cannot be terminated early, just because the landowners decide to sell the real estate. And should they choose to sell, the lessee has the first option to buy the land.

“Don always tried to keep the landowners in the loop, explaining any improvements we wanted to make. I believe that’s only right. That way they understand how it should make things work better for everybody. The landowners have always been agreeable. Nobody has ever been greedy; only fair,” says Russ.

RECEPTIVE TO CHANGE
The good working relationship with Don Klase continued until the elder man’s death in 2013. Don had gradually shifted more and more management responsibility to Russ, and was receptive to the younger partner’s suggestions. Together, they began to implement some changes. Recurring drought was a challenge, particularly in 2006 and 2012. Some destocking of the ranch occurred, but the effects of drought were also mitigated
through changes in range management.

Large pastures were cross-fenced and pipeline was laid to create additional stock watering sites for the increased number of pastures. The improvements facilitated increased rotational grazing. Russ plans to do more in the future.

Long term, he expects improved grazing management to enhance forage utilization, forage quality and ultimately increase the ranch’s carrying capacity. Drought prompted Don and Russ to consider other significant changes in what, for decades, had been a fairly traditional spring-calving cow outfit.

Historically, replacement females had been purchased as bred cows, and all steer and heifer calves were marketed in the fall. Following fall pregnancy testing, any cows that had failed to rebreed were sold as well. But the drought of 2006 actually put the ranch in a position to consider different cattle management options.

“That year hurt our range, but we still put up a lot of hay,” explains Russ. “The meadows dried out enough that we were able to cut hay in areas that Don had never been able to hay before. We had about 3,000 big bales. It included a lot of bulrushes and cattails, so it wasn’t great for quality.

Using that hay and some protein supplement, we kept our open cows, bred them and sold them as fall-calvers. It worked pretty good.” Figuring out ways to make use of their low quality forage relieved the pressure on lesser supplies of winter range and better quality hay. Encouraged by Russ, Don agreed to use some of their feed resources to retain and develop a small number of home-raised heifers as replacements. That practice has continued, with increased numbers of heifers retained in subsequent years.

“I want to have more control over the quality and disposition of our replacement females, and we’ve learned that we can run heifers over to yearlings, affordably, by using low-quality forages,” states Russ.

Also relatively new to the  operation is the weaning of steers for placement in a custom backgrounding lot, while the lighter steers and feeder heifers are sold off the cow, as in the past. Russ says this change in calf management and marketing practices takes advantage of opportunities to add value and spread out marketing dates.

Another practice, introduced by Russ, focuses on conservation of riparian areas through fencing and planned grazing. The effects – reduced erosion, the return of more native plant species and improved wildlife habitat – are already visible. Fenced wetland corridors can be grazed early and quickly. Either haying the regrowth or grazing again in the fall are management options.

“We could see that Russ and Cheryl would be good stewards,” states Lily. “We were glad to find people that would care for the land and look out for the landowners’ best interests. That was really important to Don.”

BLESSING TO WORK TOGETHER AS A FAMILY
More recently, Russ and Cheryl have relocated an older home that stood on the ranch, and they are in the process of remodeling it. As time and money allow, Russ is either restoring or redesigning and rebuilding ranch corrals or cattle working facilities. He still accepts some custom-fencing contracts. Cheryl helps with all of it, along with serving as Hyannis city clerk and giving summertime swimming lessons. Along with activities including competitive swimming and 4-H, the ranch provides each of the Andersons’ daughters, Mackenzie (14) and Rudi (11), ample opportunity to ‘make a hand.’

“The girls help us a lot with rotating pastures and other cattle work. They help with the fence work, and Mackenzie helped in the hay fields for the first time last summer,” offers Cheryl. “It’s a blessing to be able to work together as a family. The girls really are learning how to work, but we make sure to take some time to get away as a family and play.”

There is always work waiting when they return but, according the Cheryl, Russ thrives on it. In that way, he is much like Don Klase, and it’s probably why their partnership was such a good fit.

“Don was far-sighted. He wanted our arrangement to work and go forward after he was gone. The plan was written into our contract. It gave peace of mind to everyone. It’s the reason Cheryl and I now own 50 percent of the company and can continue to increase our share,” says Russ.

“One time, I asked Don, ‘Why me?’

He said he had been watching me and thought I knew how to work. He knew Cheryl and I could run a business,” tells Russ. “According to one of our neighbors, Don claimed that he and I made a good pair. Don told him, ‘I only work when I want to and Russ does all the hard stuff.’ That sounds like Don.”

Earthy Endeavor

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Soil Rejuvenation Is A Top Goal For This North Dakota Rancher

By: Troy Smith

It has often been said that failure should be viewed as a learning experience, and an opportunity to try a different and better way. Gabe Brown offers a hearty “Amen” to that. The North Dakotan’s own learning experiences are byproducts of more than 30 years in farming and ranching. And some of those experiences certainly qualify as failures – like the four consecutive years that Brown Ranch’s cash crops were lost to either hail or drought.

“At one point, we were so broke that the banker knew when we bought toilet paper,” quips Gabe. “It forced us to consider different ways of doing things. Now, I think it was the best thing that could have happened.”

Unable to afford the ever greater inputs required to just maintain production
of grain and forage, Gabe Brown had no choice but to break with convention. His search for answers led to a new focus on management practices that regenerate the land, biologically, because they enhance soil health. The desire for healthy soils has guided adoption of Brown Ranch production practices for the last two decades. It started with a shift to notill farming. Then came diversification of crops, including an array of cover-crops, and the integration of livestock grazing on crop acres, as well as on native range and pasture.

Gabe began to think more and more in terms of integrated production systems. He transitioned to holistic management, believing that no one part of his operation could be managed independently of the others. All were connected. To become sustainable, all its parts and the whole operation needed healthy soils. The countless forms of bacteria, protozoa, fungi, worms and insects living in the soil are important to plant residue decomposition and nutrient cycling. They affect soil structure, water infiltration rate and moisture-holding capacity.

The answers to improved soil biology, says Gabe, are found in the original Northern Plains prairie ecosystem. The native prairie supported no monocultures. Instead, it included a diversity of plants and plant types, and a diversity of animals and insects. Large, migrating herds of bison and elk impacted plants and the soil, through grazing hoof action and deposition of urine and dung. What happened above and below ground worked together, biologically, to maintain healthy soils.

“Because we have adopted a biologically driven production system,” states Gabe, “our ranch became profitable.”

To appreciate how things have changed, it helps to understand how it all began. In 1984, Gabe and his wife, Shelly, moved onto her parents’ operation. Located near the outskirts of Bismarck, in south-central North Dakota, the operation was fairly typical of the region. Cash crops included cool-season small grains, livestock consisted of a cow-calf operation.

“My in-laws had a small commercial cow herd, but my father-in-law was more interested in farming,” tells Gabe, noting his predecessor’s adherence to conventional tillage methods. “He believed in recreational tillage. He just liked it.”

By the time Gabe and Shelly purchased the place in 1991 some changes had been introduced. The commercial cows had been replaced by a registered herd and the Browns were marketing Balancer (Gelbvieh-Angus hybrid) seedstock. To shift from season-long to rotational grazing, the original three pastures had been cross-fenced. That allowed for better utilization of grazed forage by the cow herd plus a few yearlings, but the cattle received harvested feed for six months of the year. More pronounced changes to cattle and grazing management would come as the farming side of the operation evolved.

According to Gabe, 1993 was the year that all tillage equipment was sold and all cropland came under zero-tillage methods. Over time, monoculture crops and simple crop rotations were replaced by more complex systems involving an increasing diversity of crops. Having living roots in the ground during as much of the year as possible became a key objective to improve soil health.

PLENTY OF TRIAL AND ERROR
Gabe still grew small grains, mainly wheat, oats, triticale and barley, but more cash crops were added, such as corn, sunflowers and peas. At the same time, he experimented with various combinations of plant species that could be used as cover-crops or companion-crops. These have included pearl millet and proso millet, sorghum-sudangrass, hairy vetch, buckwheat, radishes, turnips, ryegrass, canola, soybeans, sugarbeets, red clover, sweetclover, kale and more. To date, over 70 different plant species have been used in cover- and companion-crop combinations, with up to 20 species included in a given mixture.

“We’ve gone through a long period of trial and error. Now, some kind of cover-crop is planted either before or after a cash crop, or a companion-crop is plantedwith the cash-crop,” explains Gabe.

“This diversity provides the food that feeds soil life. Soil life, in turn, supplies the nutrients needed for the crops.”

Some combinations can serve multiple purposes, affording more management options. For example, Gabe frequently fall-seeds a mixture of triticale (wheat-rye hybrid) and hairy vetch which is a winter-annual legume. Options for its use include terminating the triticale and planting corn into the living hairy vetch, whose canopy protects the soil surface and slows moisture evaporation. It also fixes nitrogen in the soil, and thus feeds the corn. And after corn harvest, the cover crop remains as forage for livestock.

A viable alternative is to make the cover-crop a cash-crop by harvesting seed from a triticale-vetch stand. According to Gabe, the growing market for cover-crop seed has returned as much as $780 per acre. Another option is to graze the triticale-vetch. Gabe says the grass-legume mix makes good forage for cows, just prior to and during his late-spring calving season, but also works well for grazing yearlings.

In Gabe’s opinion, grazing by livestock is an important component of the soil-building process. He has learned that the process of taking each mouthful from a growing plant actually stimulates the release of plant root exudates into the soil. The tugging at the plant that occurs during grazing is part of the trigger mechanism, Gabe emphasizes, so mowing the forage won’t have the same effect. So the act of grazing, along with deposition of animal waste, recycles nutrients. Livestock grazing complements the diverse cropping strategy and has helped remedy symptoms of declining soil health, such as low organic matter content and slow water infiltration rate, as well as the growing crop pest and disease problems Gabe had experienced.

“Over time, we reduced and then eliminated the use of commercial fertilizers and pesticides,” he adds. “We still use a little pre-emergence herbicide, but we’re working toward elimination of that too.”

Crop yields remain respectable. For example, Brown Ranch dryland corn yields have exceeded 170 bushels per acre. His average is 127 bushels, and that is higher than the county average. In 2012, the cost of production was $1.44 per bushel of corn. That was the last year Brown planted corn as a cash crop, however, because other crops promised higher returns.

STRETCHING OUT THE GRAZING SEASON

The Brown Ranch has grown to include about 5,000 acres of deeded and leased land. Of that, some 3,000 acres is either native range or “tame” pastures. The latter consist of cool-season grasses to which interseeded legumes have been added. Permanent pasture acreage has been divided into over 100 paddocks. Pipeline-fed watering sites have been added to aid rotational grazing and reduce dependence on stock dams. All but about 300 acres of the crop-land is managed under crop rotations that allow for periodic grazing of fields. These additional grazing resources help provide for a longer grazing season, while allowing long periods of rest for permanent pastures. They also provide for increased livestock carrying capacity. The ranch now runs about 350 brood cows and from 300 to 800 yearlings.

On average, cows are moved daily to a different paddock or field. Groups of yearlings may be moved once a day or up to six times when managed under mob-grazing (very high stocking rate). Lower stocking rates are used when targeting rapid weight gain, but it also depends on the desired impact to the grazing resource. “We’ve learned that animal impact can be used to address most if not all invasive plant species problems on native range and pasture,” offers Gabe.

“Using high stock densities at the appropriate time can be a good tool for weed control.”

Maintaining a yearling enterprise allows for more efficient use of the ranch’s varied forage resources.

Yearling numbers can vary, according to year-to-year fluctuations in forage supply. During drought, for example, fewer yearlings are grazed. This leaves more forage available for the cow herd, whose numbers remain relatively constant.

Instead of March, calving now occurs in late-May and June, and calves aren’t weaned until the following March.

Later calving matches the period of the cows’ highest nutrient requirements (late-gestation through rebreeding) with the availability of grazed forages capable of meeting those requirements.

Calving occurs in a different place every year. Generally, cows calve on fields of triticale and hairy vetch, or on native range saved for that purpose, or on tame grass pastures which are expired CRP lands. During calving, rotations to new paddocks are made every two or
three days.

With emphasis on year-round grazing, winter feeding has been kept to a minimum. Hay is seldom fed in a traditional
sense, but bale-grazing is regular practice. Gabe says it has worked particularly well for newly weaned calves.

After fence-line weaning, behind a hotwire, calves are moved to a pasture or field where bales were placed the previous fall. Again using electric fence, the calves are allowed access to enough bales to last a week or so. Then the calves are moved to another set of bales, and another, until they are sorted by sex and put on pasture.

“We control access to bales, but we don’t mind if cattle don’t eat all of the hay. It isn’t wasted. Hay not eaten is residue that, along with the animal urine and manure, helps feed soil biology. Subsequent production on that ground is improved,” says Gabe.

“We bale-graze in places that need a jump-start for recycling nutrients, especially on hay-ground. We’ve seen dry matter production triple after a field is bale-grazed in winter, and both protein and energy levels of the next crop improved,” he adds. “We don’t bale-graze on the same ground in consecutive years and I don’t like to do it on native range, just on cool-season tame pastures and some crop-land.”

With the shift to holistic management, Brown Ranch returned to commercial cattle production, and genetic selection targets a biological type suited to the Brown Ranch’s environment and management. Most all of the bulls and replacement females are produced on the ranch. “We emphasize low maintenance and high levels of reproduction. Those are profit drivers,” states Gabe. “To a large degree, the cattle select themselves.”

Nearly all heifers have an opportunity to become replacements. Using natural service, heifers are exposed to a short breeding season – 30 to 35 days. Any that do not breed will go into the grass-fed program. A large portion of Brown Ranch cattle wind up wearing the ranch’s own grass-finished beef label, and the remainder are sold through channels targeting all-natural beef markets. Gabe says mature cows must also conceive within a short breeding season, and all open cows are sold in late spring, when profit potential is the highest. “Our home-raised cattle fit our system. Frame size is very moderate. They are thick and very easy-fleshing. The females calve on their own, and we lose far fewer calves than when we calved in late-winter,” says Gabe.

Gabe’s son, Paul, returned to the operation in 2010 and has embraced holistic management. As a plan for the gradual transition of ownership, Paul receives a steady five percent share of the operation each year. Gabe also challenged Paul to grow the operation by adding enterprises. For each added revenue stream, the younger Brown receives 100 percent of each new enterprise’s net profit. To date, he has introduced poultry, sheep and pastured hogs.

“The added livestock enterprises help better utilize our existing resources and also help with our goal of regenerating the land,” explains Paul.

“We direct-market products from all of them. By stacking enterprises, we’re increasing net profit per acre while regenerating our natural resources.” Increasingly called upon to share their story, both Browns warn other producers that their operation is not a prescription for success. It is the result of considering alternatives to conventional methods, trying and sometimes failing, and trying again. Both father and son believe their integrated management of crops and livestock does illustrate that focusing on regeneration of the land can be profitable, long-term.

“The best part is that it’s enjoyable, profitable and extremely low-stress,” grins Gabe. “I find a lot of joy in what we’re doing. We’re good financially, and I feel good about what we’re doing for the resource and where we’re headed.”

All Patched Up

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By: Gordon Moore

From the time of Gil Favor and Rowdy Yates in the TV Western series Rawhide to Boss Spearman and Charley Waite featured in the Western film Open Range, cowboys have suffered a variety of injuries. Fortunately in TV land, there was often a doctor available to help with those well-earned wounds. Doc Adams, the ol’ “saw bones” in Gunsmoke, patched up many a broken arm or leg, along with an occasional broken heart, and most often nursed the cowboys back to health. In the movies, a cowboy’s injury was more likely to be a gunshot wound or knife cut, and the experience of a local “saw bones” was required for a good patch job.

Recently, I experienced one of those “patch jobs”. I wish I could tell a great injury story of a wild bronc ride… or even one where I had a bad experience with a rangy cow. Not so.

But, that’s a story for another time. Since I consider myself a cowboy (at least in mind and heart), I thought this article was one worthy of sharing with the readers of Working Ranch.

My wife can attest I was in true need of a patch job which most certainly would require the abilities of a good surgeon. No, an excellent surgeon. A calf roper friend mentioned a surgeon he had seen for a shoulder injury and encouraged me to call for an appointment.

From my first visit I was somewhat mesmerized by this modern day saw bones who had plenty of interesting thoughts to go along with his cutting- edge education and specialized skills. Research and technological advances have catapulted the capabilities of doctors to near boundless levels. Today’s orthopedic surgeons perform muscle repair, joint replacements and reattachments of severed parts. This can be mind-boggling to most Average Joes, but our modern day specialists, fortunately, perform these tasks daily with almost no second thought.

From the time of Gil Favor and Rowdy Yates in the TV Western series Rawhide to Boss Spearman and Charley Waite featured in the Western film Open Range, cowboys have suffered a variety of injuries. Fortunately in TV land, there was often a doctor available to help with those well-earned wounds. Doc Adams, the ol’ “saw bones” in Gunsmoke, patched up many a broken arm or leg, along with an occasional broken heart, and most often nursed the cowboys back to health. In the movies, a cowboy’s injury was more likely to be a gunshot wound or knife cut, and the experience of a local “saw bones” was required for a good patch job. Recently, I experienced one of those “patch jobs”. I wish I could tell a great injury story of a wild bronc ride… or even one where I had a bad experience with a rangy cow. Not so.

But, that’s a story for another time. Since I consider myself a cowboy (at least in mind and heart), I thought this article was one worthy of sharing with the readers of Working Ranch.

When cowboys and cowgirls get hurt ahorseback, it’s generally due to four things, says Dr. Aubrey Smith.

My newfound friend is an orthopedic surgeon in Amarillo, TX by the name of Aubrey Smith. At that first visit, before I had even explained my shoulder injury, Dr. Smith made the observation that I must be a cowboy of sorts (hat, jeans, boots) and began sharing his thoughts about the injuries cowboys suffer. I explained to him that my job has me working with cowboys, stockmen and animal handlers almost on a daily basis. As an agricultural safety consultant, I was definitely interested in his thoughts and the experience he brings to the table. Our conversation that day went something like this:

Dr. Smith: “Do you know what causes most of the injuries from cowboys I see?”

Myself: “Not Really.”

Dr. Smith: “Four things are almost always to blame:

1. Riding someone else’s horse. The unfamiliarity of another’s horse tends to make us do things and make decisions we would not normally do.

2. That little strap… um, I believe it is called a hobble that keeps the two cinches together. Or other tack that is in need of repair. The wrong headgear. 3. The surface a horse is used on. Many times cowboys are trying to make a horse perform on a hard surface that is not made for horses’ feet, let alone steel horseshoes.

4. Being attached to something by a rope… whether it is a cow, a log or…

Well, the surgery went very well… the rehabbing is going well. I had follow up visits at Dr. Smith’s office with his assistants, but knew that I wanted to spend some time with the Doc to follow up on that first conversation. His friendly schedule-keeper made a time available for me to see him.

When we sat down to visit I asked him more about the types of injuries he sees with cowboys. He responded that the typical injuries of ropers (rodeo) are to the hands, fingers, arms and shoulders… steer wrestling causes ankle and knee injuries… other injuries suffered are various and are dependent upon the profession of the patient. Ranching brings about its own type of injuries based on the type of work being done.

When I inquired about how frequently he sees cowboys walk through his door with an injury, he told me he figured two dozen or so a year. He pointed out the rehabilitation and pain tolerance is different for those in cowboying/ ranching compared to other patients he sees. He likes the attitude they bring with them and the fact that manual labor is something they experience every day. Sadly, because of how hard they must work and that tolerance of pain, their injuries are often more substantial; therefore, Dr. Smith has found the necessity to develop a surgical technique he refers to as the triple double. The process provides a heavier duty repair to the injury. Once the surgery is completed and the time for rehabbing begins, Dr. Smith feels their strong work ethic provides the cowboys/ranchers the needed consistency and diligence toward a solid recovery. Dr. Smith told a story about one guy really showing what it means to cowboy up. In fact, he stated that the man was the toughest guy he has ever seen.

The man, who was in his 80’s or 90’s, was out checking his cows one winter and fell into a ditch fracturing his hip. In spite of the ditch having snow in it he crawled to his pickup… stopped by his home to gather up his wife… and then drove himself to Amarillo to seek help. When Dr. Smith walked into the examination room, the man was sitting on the side of the bed. Not lying down, but sitting on the bed.

On the morning following the surgery, Dr. Smith stopped by to check on the man who was fully dressed, sitting on the side of the bed, ready to go home. Apparently, the man had been waiting for the doctor for awhile and asked where he had been and why he had not been by sooner. Dr. Smith convinced the older man of the benefits of staying one more night in the hospital. Reluctantly, the man agreed.

The following day, Dr. Smith arrived earlier than the previous morning and stood in the hallway as he watched the man walk (with no help) out the door to go home. The man’s wife sent Dr. Smith a Christmas card a short time later letting him know her husband was doing great.

He may not be a cowboy in its truest sense, but Dr. Smith has owned horses. His daughter participated in western pleasure and he and his horse Red have done some team penning. He pointed out his penning efforts were strictly for enjoyment, not competition.

Doc shared a memorable experience he had with his daughter’s horse. He was to take the horse to an event and had trouble getting him to load. It took four hours before the horse found his way into the trailer. During those hours, he led the horse from the round pen to the trailer and then back to the pen… to start the process all again. He realizes he could have made poor decisions while trying to load the horse, but kept in mind what a couple of cowboy friends had shared with him. They had told him that “having patience when dealing with horses will keep you from getting hurt”. He believes that lesson can be used in many areas of life.

It was a pleasure being able to sit down and visit with Dr. Aubrey Smith. There are cowboys who do a little doctorin’ and there are doctors who do a little cowboyin’. Fortunately, there are doctors with the wisdom and experience just like this modern saw bones that could save a limb or even a life.

Technology on the Rocky P

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This Missouri Outfit Deals With A Lot Of Daily Data

By: Corinne Patterson

Land, combined with the gifts of Mother Nature provide the capacity to sustain life. Ranchers utilize these gifts by monitoring animal units on the grasslands that blanket the countryside they call home. Bob and Kelly Close, Chilhowee, MO, believe in more than simply capacity of the land they manage, and have spent the last 15 years proving there is value in the details.

“When you look at any big company, they’re always trying to come up with new ways to continueto be successful. You don’t see cashiers at Wal-Mart using hand-crank cash registers,” Bob describes. “They could probably still make money that way, but you can’t ignore progress and technology that can make your operation run more efficiently and profitable.”

For many, it may be a little more challenging to see the value that progressive management adds to an operation. When the Closes took over the 1,300 head cow outfit in west central Missouri, it was more like a hand-cranked machine. There was no identification on any animal in the year-round calving herd, and what was thought to be a bull battery of 30 or so turned out to be only 13 herd sires covering the range.

Several years ago, when the Closes took over management of the operation for Bud Lemmons who’d owned the ranch since 1989, the herd identification strategy was basically non-existent. Bob and Kelly immediately zeroed in on rectifying that situation.

“We could get by on a lot less and keep things a lot more simple and a lot less work, but that’s not the way I like to do things,” Bob says. “I like to do better, and we’ve got a long ways to go to get to where we can be. I don’t even know where that is, but I want to keep moving forward.” For the first few years, Bob and Kelly began the tedious process of identifying what they had to work with.

“When we first started putting the system together, we got the entire herd identified and grouped the cattle as they would calve or when they were pregchecked,” Bob recalls. “We kept weaning the calves off until we got the odd-age calves out of the picture, and started to group cows into a fall calving group or a spring calving group. We put the bulls in during the timeframe we wanted.

“It took us a good three or four years to get it all straightened out,” he continues. “You wouldn’t think it would take that long but it does, by the time you get everything sorted out. At one time we sold almost two potloads of cows that had not calved in the time that I was here, and I’m guessing had not calved in a long time prior.”

In June 2014 the ranch changed family names for only the third time since its homestead days in 1832 by the Beaty family. David Perkins purchased the 1,700-acre home place along with the cow herd and records built by the Closes. Perkins has retained their management.

 
CUT THE DATA ENTRY TIME IN HALF
When you have a couple that is as much at ease on a horse as they are with the idea of utilizing livestock technology, the end result is one tightly managed herd. All the cows have electronic identification(EID) tags for ease of going through the chute to eliminate the need to manually reference each cow. “The technology is a godsend,” Kelly says of her tablet-based system. “We used to use the little red books, and we’ve come a long way. We’d enter in the information by hand in the little books and then input them in our home computer. That used to take us so many hours of just data entry.

photo 2With the tablet, I can enter it in real time while we’re tagging, and then Bob can take it from there and go in any direction he wants to go. He can sort by any criteria he wants so it’s not countless hours of entering all that data at home. It has cut our time in half on the data part.”

The Closes have tried many forms of data collection over the years including a scale head that holds 50,000 records. Bob admits it’s easy to try to collect too many details too quick.

“Technology is something I enjoy regardless of what it’s with,” Bob explains. “I’m not all that good with it, but I enjoy it and try to use it to get better.

As a whole in the cattle business, when you quit trying to move forward and make things better, you pretty well shut the door on improvement. You’ve just got to keep pushing forward.”

But as much as Bob likes technology, he doesn’t have to rely on it to know each and every one of the cows — a feat that is a true dedication with a uniform, black-hided herd.

“We try to blend the new technolo-gy with the old ways as well. We still
rope and drag our calves at branding,” Bob adds.

“We enjoy doing it that way and our boys really get a lot out of it. If we made them tail up 500 calves into a chute and get stomped and kicked all day long, they may not want anything to do with it when they get to be the age when they can decide.”

SOUND ADVICE
All the best management still won’t produce the kind of product Bob and Kelly strive for each day. They also focus on genetics that will help themget there.

“Our genetics are a big part of our improvement,” Bob acknowledges. “You can put rocket fuel in my pickup, but it’s not going to the moon. And you can put No. 2 diesel in a rocket, and it won’t even start. Anybody can get the genetics, but you’ve got to make sure you’ve got the nutrition and management to make them really reach their potential. Herd health and genetics both have to be there.”

The Closes capitalize off of their fertile ground, nutrition and herd health programs in hopes that a cow will raise a 600 to 650 pound calf, rebreed and stay in good flesh.

“Many people say that a 1,250-pound cow is ideal. In this country you’re sacrificing a lot of potential in a cow that size,” Bob shares. “You don’t want cows that weigh a ton, but most of these cows in our operation will mature between 1,350 and 1,400 pounds, and be able to stay structurally sound.”

Structural soundness is something Bob has noticed the beef industry has turned too much of a blind eye to the last 20 years.

“We’ve really struggled keeping four feet under our cows. I’m not sure what the answer is to that. We have to be careful how much we do for these cattle,” he contends.

“When I first started here we would trim feet and anything else we could do to try and get another year out of a cow. As I look back, that was not a very smart thing to do. If she can’t stay sound on her own, we need to get rid of her and raise one that will stay sound. There’s so much of that activity that has gone on — especially in the registered cattle operations — that we have bred the structure problems into these cows because we’re overlooking that trying to find other traits like carcass quality.”

Making genetic decisions on soundness also helps manage the workload on the family. Bob and Kelly run the operation with just the help of their two sons, Clay who is 12 and Lane who just turned 9. Limited day help is secured only to help work cattle or at branding time.

“We pay attention to temperament. With our boys being involved on a day-to-day basis, we’ve definitely sold some cows that were good cows but we just couldn’t get along with them,” Bob says, adding, “the same goes for the bulls. We’ve identified some bloodlines that we just can’t get along with. They’re good cattle but their temperament is terrible and they pass it through to their calves and we just get rid of them.”

YEAR ROUND GRASS ADVANTAGE
Fescue makes up the majority of grass available in the area. With fescue comes the challenge of endophytes, but with the long-standing pastures that make up the majority of the ranch, they deal with it in limited situations. Farming has taken over much of the grasslands surrounding the operation, but that isn’t the case with the historical home place.

“Our cattle stay out on grass year round,” Bob says. “In some areas of the country folks have to bring cattle in and basically pen them up, but we’re able to keep them out pretty much year round.”

Managing grass so they can calve on clean country is important. They won’t graze the intended calving pastures the season before calving for both spring and fall calving herds.

“We make sure that we have a rotation where we can get the cows off of some of the grass in the fall so we can get a little bit of re-growth on them and clean up any bacteria that’s out there,” Bob says. “Calving on clean pastures is something that we really concentrate on. We’ll turn back out onto those pastures around the 2nd week of February and begin our calving season in spring.”

Taking advantage of fresh grass is also a key component of their weaning program. Kelly says they recently started weaning calves out in the pasture increasing efficiency and avoiding the dry lot all together.

“We try to pull cows out of the pasture over five or six days depending on how the cattle are acting,” Bob explains. “If the weather gets bad we may skip a day or two and let them settle. As far as getting them in and cold turkey weaning them in a pen, we don’t do that. It’s just proven to work so much better for us, and our cattle don’t seem to go backwards.” The benefits Bob recognized with pasture weaning were both in calf health and in handling.

“I got tired of bringing a set of calves in and they looked really good.

photo 3In a week or so, they didn’t look so great anymore due to the stress of weaning,” he points out. “What really made my mind up was that we had a small bunch of steers weaned and they got spooked during the night. They crashed into a pipe fence and it killed four of them. That was 10 percent of that pen. At today’s prices that was just way too much money.”

Bob’s willingness to observe and gather ideas from his herd’s natural behavior gave him the idea to wean differently.

“We have some trouble with calves getting in the wrong pasture during the summer time, and we don’t catch it and that calf has just weaned himself,” he recognizes. “It was a simple process where obviously that calf wasn’t stressed because you would have seen him bawling. It’s a slower process but the cattle seem to do way better.”

Kelly says they use the feed truck to coax a few cows out of the bunch each day until only calves are left in the original pasture. An additional benefit is that it helps get the calves used to coming to the feed truck because the cows will bring them in to start with. “What we really like to do is wean our fall calves in May,” Bob says. “Once we’ve got those calves weaned good, they’ll go out on that re-growth, and we’ll graze them there all summer.

If the rain works for us that can be some phenomenal feed for them.”

The spring calves are born February to May and the fall cows calve the end of August to the first of September, with none later than mid-November. “When I came here I thought fall born calves were terrible,” Bob admits. “I believe now that this country may be better suited for fall calving cows as long as we get rain in the summer time. We can get some really cheap gains out of those cattle.”

BUILD A SOLID FACTORY FIRST
For years, the ranch-raised calves have been retained through harvest. It has given the Closes insight on the end product they produce. With their emphasis on maternal traits with a window on carcass performance, Bob wants to work towards selling bred heifers.

“We could offer production data on each of those females, and put carcass data with all of them. I’m not one of those people who believe we need to get rid of every cow that raises a Select calf,” Bob says. “I have seen cows that raise a Prime or High Choice calf and have other major production faults. I’m not saying there are not perfect cows out there that can do both, but I’m a lot more interested in real world production. That cow that’s going to calve every year on time and be a good mother and bring in a 600 to 650 pound calf in the fall on her own and stay sound and be maternally efficient — we have to master that long before we worry about the carcass data. We can’t build a product without having a solid factory.”

photo 4Retaining ownership through the feedyard also allows them to track long-term animal health. They focus on vaccinating calves in low stress situations instead of when it’s simply more convenient to get the most out of the modified live products.

“When we started here, and began to get information on the cattle that were in the feedlot, we’d see a lot of them making visits to the hospital pen,” Kelly says. “With the changes we’ve made in vaccine management, we very rarely see one show up in the hospital pen once they get to the feedyard.”

Capacity of the land is something Bob and Kelly closely monitor through genetics, nutrition, production and animal health to keep moving forward in the beef industry.

“We’re at the point in a lot of cases where we’re missing the forest through the trees,” Bob warns. “So much of this data is not proven data, and with the data we have a lot of people can’t analyze. We’ve gotten away from simply raising good cattle. Realtime production data and being honest with ourselves in regards to what we have will far outweigh a lot of the other stuff in the long run.”