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Monthly Archives: August 2012

Time For a change 3

The previous two blogs were kind of a set up for this one.  I talked about getting cows to fit their surroundings, making the management mindset change,  and implementing that into practice.  That all helped going in to drought 12.  Thing is, that wasn’t a drought plan.

After the drought I mentioned from 10 years ago, there were a bunch of articles in every publication you can think of about drought planning.  I read a bunch of them.  They all talked about different things to do to relieve the burdens of drought.  One thing that was constant in them was to have a written plan of action.  Well I will just make my plan up in my head.

I live a major highway that runs from Texas all the way into Iowa.  One of the largest cattle feeding counties in the nation is a couple hours north of me.  Last year with the drought in the south,  there were bullhaulers running by here every day.  Day and night, for weeks on end.  I took notice of that.  It was a big deal.  I took an entire day, and sat in the office, and made a drought plan.  I thought everything through.  Things like where I was at the time.  Where I hoped to be the following year (which is now), and what I may have to do, to be where I want to be incase the world does not end on Dec 21 2012.

I first made a list of all my cows.  Then I broke that list down.   My plan was to be sure I had enough forage that I would not have to feed my cows.   The pastures I rent are from family.  They have been in the family for generations.  So I think I kinda have a feel/educated guess for how they will produce.  I planned to watch them closely and set up trigger points for culling.

This took a bit of planning.  I first though how will I make it until I can graze cornstalks.  I had a list of all the cows I would keep.  So I would need so much forage in my pasture for those cows.  Then I had a list of cows I would cull off if things got tough, and some needed to go so I could hang on to the keeper cows.  So I knew I needed so much more forage for them.  If forage got deplete enough that it was looking like it may cut into what I need for the keeper cows, this bunch would have to go.  Then there was the list of cows I was going to cull anyway.  I decided to just go ahead and do this at weaning time, since I would have them all gathered up anyway.  And you remember I early wean as a normal practice.

I had these lists along with my trigger points written down.  This way there was no emotion.  I just go out there and follow what I had written down.  The criteria I used to make each list may be different from what you would use.

Here is where things got interesting.  This spring I had a few people interested in buying my open replacement heifers and my first calf heifer pairs.  I have been thinking of getting out of the cow/calf deal all together for a couple years (I like stockers better that is the only reason why) so I sold them.  I’m glad I did.   Some of you may remember what the price for those would have been last spring.   At this point I was pretty certain I wouldn’t hit those trigger points, but I held onto that list anyway.

Now I always read in the all wise and free magazines to keep the youngest cows.  They offer the best genetics and highest fertility.  I disagree with keeping the young ones.  I say get rid of the old cows and the young cows.  The young cows are unproven.  I may be keeping them as replacements out of proven cows, but the young one is still unproven.  What kind of mother will she be?  Will she breed back? And so on.  I want to keep my mature cows that are in their prime, and are reliable.

What if it would have rained?  I would be wasting grass.  I have a bunch of stockers.  It would be no big deal to kick a few out with the cow herd.  Or I could have done something else.  That would have been a problem I’d have liked to have had this year

When I weaned my calves, I did not haul that first list of cows to town.  I had way more grass than I thought I might, mostly from selling those heifers.  So I left those cows out there for a while.  The price I would have gotten for them was really low the week I weaned.  I did sell them a few weeks later though.  The price for slaughter cows came back up quite a bit so that is when I sold them.  Being a bit of a salebarn denizen has its advantages.  Here’s something funny.  When I unloaded those cows the salebarn help asked me where they came from.  They noticed the cows were drying down, so they knew they did have a calf on their side earlier.  But they were fat!  It had been a long time since they saw fat cows.  They asked what I was feeding them.  Just mineral.  The buyers rewarded me well for having fat cows.

This is how I set myself up for the drought.  I wasn’t for certain we would e in the drought here.  But looking at the weather pattern from 10 -12 years ago suggested we might be.  In talking to the old timers (80 and older) they tell me that we typically will not see a year this bad back to back.  That doesn’t mean next year will be great, or even good.  Hopefully a little better though.

Next week I will talk about how I prepared for the drought with my stokers, and feedlot cattle.  It made this summer a lot of fun.

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Posted by on August 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Time For a Change 2

In my last post I concluded it was time for a change.  Man, if only it were that easy.  In typical Doug fashion I had to screw up worse,  before I could correct it.

Those open yearlings were a drain on me.  I finally brought them home and put them on full feed.   I sold them as fat heifers.  I asked dad why did why he made me run them without a bull.  He told me it was because grandpa never believed in breeding yearlings because it fended off calving problems.  I was like damn, I can’t take the financial drain right now.

Two things happened.  First all yearling heifers were exposed after that.  Second, those heifers that I fed out were the first group of home raised calves that we fed.  I got carcass data back on them and was pleasantly surprised how they did.  That made me greedy

I was in the process of starting and building a registered herd of Angus and Maine Anjou cattle.  I chased the show trend with the Maines and the carcass/growth with the Angus.  At that time I was indoctrinated on Beef magazine, Drovers, and Angus Journal.  (Today I would recommend no one read them)  Anyway I got into what they were promoting.  I started to age and source my cattle.  I fell for one of their articles.  It said that  for a cow to produce a steer that would weigh 1500 pounds and grow like a weed, the cow herself had to be 1500# or bigger.

I used AI to breed in growth and carcass traits.  The calves did super.  Problem is I found out I could not keep a cow with those genetics  on forage alone.  I had bred her up to be a pig in a cow suit.  She needed inputs. No big deal.  All the other registered cattle breeders feed their cows.  I have to too, in order to be compete with them

When those same genetics entered my commercial herd, I had had it.  Now I was serious about change.  I met Kit Pharo for the first time this year.  I wish I met him when I was in my twenties.  I could have saved myself heart ache and money.  I will say this.  The twenty year old me would never have listened to him anyway.  The thirty year old me wishes I had.  So if you get the opportunity to hear him speak, go.  Until then there are Youtube videos of him.  Check them out.

So I made big cows that made super feedlot calves.  Problem is we were feeding the cows 7 months out of the year.  When you feed cows you work for them.  They do not work for you.  I started slowly taking feed away from them.  First I made the graze corn stalks in the fall only getting hay every other day, but they got tubs.  Then a couple  years later they got no hay.  At calving time they were getting silage and hay and tubs.  I eventually took the hay and the tubs away.

Here’s the thing.  When I started making feed more scarce, and making them go graze for it, I started having skinny open cows.  They got culled off, as you can imagine.  Each year I made it harder for my cows.  I stopped making culling decisions based on carcass data and making those decisions on pregnancy, and the cows fleshing ability.  The look of my herd started changing in a hurry.   I went from 1600# plus cows to 1300# cows.  And they are not really too fancy to look at.  Thing is they are bred at the end of breeding season.  They do not get hay, unless of a blizzard.  They do get silage during calving.  Otherwise all I give them is mineral.

Supplement feeding is giving them a small bit of what they need, like mineral.  Substitute feeding is replacing energy or protein with another feed source, like hay, or tubs.  When you substitute feed you are working for the cows, and the feed salesman.

 

Substitute feeding can break your piggy bank

 

So the rubber meets the road.  Last year I finally got to where I want to be.  I cut WAY MORE than $100 head off my cow costs, at a time of record calf prices!  I charge myself for the calves what it would cost me to buy     them in a salebarn the week I wean them.  I cut my cow cost so low I will still make a sizeable profit this year! Ido want to stress this however, you can not starve a profit into a business.  So use some logic.One other thing I did was make early weaning normal every year.  I can make a three weight grow into a five weight cheaper than the cow can.  It is expensive to let the cow raise her calf.  I only need her to produce the calf.  When she gets weaned and dries up her feed requirements sink like a rock.  Saving me money, big time.

I got a lot of gruff from my family for my changes, even though they no longer owned any cattle.  Whenever I give a speech I stress this,  it is not learning new things that is hard.  It is the letting go of old ideas that is hard.

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Time For a Change Part 1

I have been reading all kinds of articles online about how the drought is affecting farmers and ranchers.  The last one I read was about a guy that I thought was top shelf.  Thing is I now realize I may have misjudged him.  I thought he was one of my kind.  I realize now he is, well, normal.  He stated that he didn’t know whether to be more upset at the weather or congress.  Weather because of the drought.  Congress because they broke for recess and didn’t give him a drought relief package.  “What the Hell!?”  Was my only thought.  The cattlemen’s association echoed his words.  Funny to me how we want government out of our business, then turn around and demand monetary assistance when in a bit of a tough spot.  You know  you should have a little cash saved up for a rainy day?  Guess what, it will rain.  So be prepared for it.  I have been asked dozens of times what I am doing to relieve the burdens of drought.  So I am finally going to share

When I came home and started farming with dad, we were hit with a drought a short time later.  I learned a lot from that experience.  First thing dad did was take me into the government office and sign me up for all their binding programs.  I went along with it.  I thought it was the thing to do.  He then took me to get crop insurance.  Again I thought it was the thing to do.  I worked the first two years as a glorified hired man.  I only got paid a little bit of money, only when dad sold some grain or some cattle.  I had to supplement my income off the farm still.  After two years I got to buy in to part of the operation, and some was through sweat equity (which I later found out to be worthless).

The great wonderful plan (plan being used loosely) was to expand the cow herd.  It was not my idea, but it was for my benefit.  So we kept every heifer calf, and ran them out on grass as yearlings.  Without a bull.  I had to feed those damn things all winter, fix pasture fence and turn them out without a bull?  Here is a group of cattle, for my benefit, and there will be no way to earn an income off them for a couple more years.  Yet somehow I am supposed to feed, and care for them.  With what?

That’s when the drought hit.  The cow/calf herd ate all their grass.  The yearlings ate all their grass.  We had hay fields that normally would produce 2.5 to 3 bales an acre.  That year they produced 1 bale to every 2.5 acres.

Now I gotta back up even further.  See cattle have never been a priority to my family.  You turn them out in the spring, when rain causes a planting delay.  Bring them home in the fall, after harvest.  Wean calves when the weather and moon sign are right.  Background the calves through the winter and sell them when its time to start doing spring field work.  Calve out the cows in the winter, Jan-April.  Got to have that done before spring field work.  And every day feed them.  Feed them hay, silage, tubs.  You name it we fed it.  We had some really nice top producing fat cows.

Now back to the drought year.  I had to get creative.  Hard to do when you are desperate.  I wanted to sell those damn yearlings.  But I was not allowed to.  So I had to feed them.  I had bale rings in every one of our pastures.  The government gave us disaster assistance in the form of tub vouchers, and emergency releasing CRP.  So that is what I did.  I baled CRP and wheat straw, and fed it to the cows on pasture, along with the tubs.

I can still see the damage that was done to some of those pastures today, 11 years later.  I spent a lot of time and resources taking care of those cows every day.  And we had multiple pastures.  Part of my routine was pulling cattle out of the mud, when they tried to get to the pond to get a drink.  They would get stuck, get tired from fighting and eventually go down.

Shit man!  It was time for a change.

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Let It Burn

Last week I gave a speech about the economic impact an operation like mine has.  I went through some old pictures from when I started feeding cattle.  It really brought back some old memories.   It brought up a couple questions.  One, why did my girlfriend go through all that with me, and then agree to marry me?  Question two.  Would I go through it again?

Right now because of the drought many people are going through some rough times.  Those late nights where the worry keeps you up might be a good time to brainstorm on how to better manage for drought and any other adverse conditions.  And yes you could prepare better.  If you had done a good job prepping,  you wouldn’t be staying up at night.  This is something I know about.

Shortly after I started farming and raising cattle full time, we were hit with a drought.  It  caused a lot of anxiety and sleepless nights.  I was quickly faced with the reality that I was going to need to supplement my income.  Supplementing my income off and on was a regular occurrence in the beginning for me.   I tripped and fell on my face, which usually landed in a shit sandwich, more times than I care to admit to.  That’s life, and a lot of it was brought on by my own stupidity.

As I was putting the power point together for my speech I remembered all the tough times.  They made me who I am today.  Until about a year and a half ago I was not comfortable talking about it.

At the back door to our house I have a chair that I sit down in to take my boots off.  Some of the most important stuff that ever happened in my business happened in that chair.  I never realized it until last week.  I would come home after a really bad day.  Culling some cows due to drought.  Back in the days when I had a registered herd, lightning killed the “great bull calf that was going to get me discovered”.  Or my train wreck calves I blogged about before.  And I also mentioned in a previous blog there are family issues.  I remember baling hay on a patch that should have given me 70 bales and all I got was 13.

So here is the thing I want those of you who are struggling to think about.  I sat in that chair and cried.   That’s right.  I am admitting to the whole world.  I came home and cried.  And I mean like a little girl.  I cried so hard for so long I made a puddle on the floor.  I had, had it.  Life was too hard.  This cattle thing was to hard.  The deck was stacked against me.  All I ever wanted to do was raise cattle and it was to damn hard.  I was crying to quit.  Or so I thought.

My wife (girlfriend at the time) made supper for me.  I didn’t eat any of it.  We didn’t talk much on those nights.  Neither one of us slept much on those nights, even though she really didn’t have much of an idea what was keeping her up.

The next morning I made coffee, and laced up my boots once again and headed out the door.  I was to stupid to quit.  I was too stubborn to quit.  I was too proud to quit.  I WANTED IT TOO BADLY TO QUIT.

Last week I realized I wasn’t sitting in that chair crying to quit.  I was crying to keep going.  I was in pain.  My wife was in pain.  We spent numerous nights feeling that pain burn.  We didn’t know what else to do but let it burn.  If I had quit during those times, we would still be in pain.

Here’s the thing.  Pain is temporary.  If you press on it will go away.  Maybe tomorrow.  Maybe next year.  If you quit, it will stay.  So for those of you who are in pain right now, keep going.  You are already feeling the burn.  GET A REWARD FROM IT!

I wanted it too badly.  Raising cattle was all I  could ever think of since I was a little kid.  That and bullriding.  That is a long time to be focused on something, especially when you are young.  I will blog about focus in the future.  I also had a lot of desire, which I also will blog about in the future.  I will say this, desire is the starting point for all achievement.

So you are in the cattle biz.  You are struggling from this drought.  EMBRACE IT!  That’s right.  Embrace it.  Road blocks, challenges, set backs are there for a reason.  This is something I know a lot about.  The reason is to weed out the weak.  The posers.  The ones who don’t really want it that damn bad.

Have you ever listened to an interview with some rock star?  They ask him about his early days.  What shaped his career.  What was the motivation behind a certain hit song.  You seem to hear some story about living in some rat infested building with some junkie for a roommate.  Losing a best friend,  or something.  I’m telling you they let it burn.  They cried to keep going.  I talk to lots of successful business owners, and they all talk about their struggles from the early days.  Before they made it to the point of critical mass.  And I tell you they all have a passion you can see in their face when they talk of those struggles.

So if you are struggling from this drought.  CRY!  LET IT BURN!  Think about where you are and where you want to go.  Cry to keep going.  I’ll tell you something about this world we live in.  She has a funny way of making room for people that know where they are going.

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Screwed Up Tape

As I write this this morning, I am just amazed at people.  I have been busy haying, (I got my hands on acres and acres of CRP) and preparing for the speech I was asked to give, which was on Tuesday.  I have still been watching Facebook and Twitter.  The thing that amazes me is how people are so wound up over this drought, and this morning I guess there is some meaningless report that is going to make the markets go crazy.  Let me share this quote from Bud Williams “The best way to alleviate the pressures of drought is sound marketing skill.”

EVERYBODY KNOWS how to market cattle (huge emphasis on sarcasm).  Yeah right.  That is why we are hearing the guy next to us brag about how rough he has is and he can’t pay his bills.  Or we see it all over social media that farmers need drought assistance, and livestock producers need even more of it.  What the hell happened to all the record profits that everyone SHOULD have made last year?  They spent it.  I see all kinds of new pickups at the sale barn this year.  These guys sold $1000 calves right off the cow last year and this year they are selling $500 and $600 calves, weaned!  Funny to me how everyone is broke.  I read yesterday that last year farmers invested more money back into their businesses than ever before.  Almost 25% of that investment was in livestock.  I was just stunned how people were paying such high premiums for breeding stock.  $2200 bred heifers is not sound marketing skill unless you are the seller.  But cattlefax and all the cattlemen associations were predicting higher prices and we needed to “Get cowed up”  Today those heifers are worth $900 bucks, and people can’t afford to feed them.  Here’s a tip.  Never listen to any cattlemen’s association, or cattlefax on marketing predictions.  Here is another one.  After such a great year, like 2011, expenses will always rise to meet available income.  So resist the temptation to avoid the tax man by buying this and that, that you’d like to have.

As far as wanting some assistance from the government.  Why do farmers hate the free market system so bad?  People always say they don’t want the government in their business, but when the shit hits the fan, they cry like a little bitch for uncle sam  to help.  PU LEEZE!  I also notice that most of my farmer friends post stuff on Facebook like “If you can afford tattoos, cigarettes and beer, then you do not need foodstamps”  or “welfare recipients should be mandatorily drug tested”.  Get in line.  If you can afford a new pickup, and $2200 heifers then you don’t need drought assistance.  If you get your government bailout then maybe you should be drug tested to.  I mean the way people spent money the last year due to record prices only tells me  they had to be high  on something.

So how screwed up are things right now?  I don’t notice very many people taking advantage of the wonderful buys in the sale barns right now.   We see various operations all over the country get cork screwed into the ground  by people with animal science degrees.  They have the ag-econ 101 mindset of buy low sell high.  Hello!  Why aren’t you buying?  Oh yeah.  That meaningless report.  Here’s another tip.  Like produces like.

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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