Thursday, December 20, 2012

Feeding cows with little dogs

 My two little dogs LOVE to go feeding. The mere question of, "you guys ready to go feed," results in racing around the house, whining, jumping on you as you put your gear on, and shooting out the door like two hairy rockets when it finally opens. The same act begins again when we reach the pickup, and sometimes Miss Weenie has to run several circles, tail wagging profusely, until she calms down enough to stop and let me toss her the cab. Emmie can get in herself, thank you very much, through an opening roughly half her actual width.
What is so exciting about the prospect the feeding, you may wonder. Well, the highlight is when, upon nearing the feedgrounds, or a two track road we're going down that day, I stop, and let them out. Yes, that's what it takes to be the best master in the world : )
Their happiness and excitement is unmatched, and they leap, growl, and charge through the sagebrush, literally blowing off steam. After the initial rush wears off, about a mile in, serious sniffing, exploring and excavating ensues. It's almost more joy than they can handle at once.
This all may have something to do with me turning them loose into this:

Do you see Emmie?

 There she is. Chasing rabbits, climbing rocks,...

crawling in and out of holes, racing around...

 and investigating what Miss Weenie may have found.

You may wonder if there is anything that can ruin this. The answer is yes, and the worst part about feeding is when the excitement exceeds intelligence, and the return to the pickup is postponed...until after the cows arrive.

 This is especially troublesome if we're feeding the heifers, who love feeding not only for the food, but also for the chance to chase the hairy toys that I sometimes bring for their entertainment.

I bet there's a rabbit on the hill, laughing at the irony.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Prayers for Connecticut

Praying for all the families affected by yesterday's tragedy in Connecticut. I cannot imagine losing a child, especially so close to the holidays. Also praying for the families of the person responsible, as that has to be an unimaginably difficult position to be in as well.
Feeling very blessed to have all my family safe and sound, and to have our home well protected against such violence through owning and knowing how to operate our own guns.

Photo: :'(

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

2012 Winter Feed Program

An incredible amount of time has been spent on the getting cows fed this winter in the part of the country I live in. The summer was hot and dry, and the usual feed suppliers were lucky to produce enough to meet their own needs. There is very little leftover forage for the cows to eat over the winter, and we're basically feeding them every bite they consume this year. It has taken more time, money and planning to get a winter feed supply delivered, and more time than usual on the feeding end as well.
What do I mean when I say, "feed the cows?" This post is on what we're actually doing every single day around here to make sure our cows are not only fed, but provided the right feeds to meet their nutritional needs and energy requirements.

First, we did a lot of research and determined what feeds were the best combination of price and in meeting our needs in terms of nutrients, filler and quality. Since we have a hay hauling business, we ended up deciding on a combination of various types of hay, including (very) low quality grass hay, medium quality grass hay, high quality grass hay and high quality oat hay. We are feeding this in combination with a cake protein supplement (you can learn more about what cattle cake is here).
Before we can feed any of this to our cattle, it has to be delivered to our ranch. The cake comes from the company that produces it, but the hay is all delivered by my dad and brother. Usually they haul each load between 100 and 200 miles. But, this year that has more than doubled, and a load hauled 450 miles is considered a short trip. This has meant a lot of extra time on the road for the haulers, which has consequently limited their ability to haul for other people. So, we're spending more on feed, spending more on fuel to deliver it, and making less with the business as a whole because we aren't hauling for other people. That's a challenge lots of ranchers are facing this year.
Since the guys are so busy, their end of the feeding program has primarily been the delivery end. From there, my mom and take over, and are usually the two in charge of making sure the right amount of each kind of hay, and the right amount of cake, is fed every day.

Feeding is done on a set schedule, regardless of what else may be going on, the weather, how we're feeling or what other tasks we have to accomplish that day. Here is mom filling the cake feeder out of our cake storage bin. Our cake feeder is set on a scales, and each cow gets a specific amount of cake based on her nutritional needs, the protein content of the cake, the temperature, and a few other varying factors. We know how many cows are in each bunch we feed, and if we're in doubt as to whether we have them all or not, we will count them and adjust how much cake we feed accordingly.

Meanwhile, if there are two of us around, the second person (me) is loading two bales of hay from specific piles within one hay corral. If there is just one person, we feed cake first because it is the most palatable to the cows (it tastes the best).

 The person feeding cake typically arrives in the pasture with the cows first, since they're going to be feeding first. We use sirens to let our cows know it's time for breakfast, and they start the trek to an area of the pasture that is pickup accessible. Different ranchers use different sirens, and cows know the difference and respond to "their" siren from several miles away in some instances. The reason for sirens is some of our pastures are very big (we measure them by miles long and wide), and the sound of a siren carries over long distances much better than a horn. They also last longer than horns, and are easier to hear in wind.

 While the cows make their way to the feeding area, the cake feeder heads down to check the water tank. We have at least two water sources on in each pasture our cows are in, and are sure to check the primary source every other day while feeding. This water tank has the overflow set to drip continuously this year, which prevents ice buildup like in the above photos most of the time. But, water is critical for cattle, so regardless of how reliable a tank is, we check it.

 On this day the hay feeder checked the water, and is headed back to where we will feed for the day. Since it's so dry this year, we are being careful not to feed in the same location because the cows are tromping the grass worse than normal, and basically churning it to dust if we feed in a spot twice. It usually isn't snowy here like in the above photo, which was a welcome bit of moisture a couple weeks ago!

 Eventually everyone arrives. It's important to wait for everyone so they get equal chance at feed, especially the cake. This can mean sitting for over an hour some days. Only a few pounds of cake per cow meet her nutritional requirements, and the cake is also what makes low quality hay work. A cow can eat cake at approximately 30 mph, and is like a bovine vacuum cleaning house. If you're not there when it hits the ground, you're probably not going to get any. The same is true with hay, but since several more pounds per cow are fed, it does take longer to consume it.

 When everyone shows up, the cake feeder begins feeding, watching the scale head located in the cab as they go. The cake feeder has a control that is also wired into the cab that turns it on and off. It's what you would call a "customized" cake feeding system, seeing as how the entire thing was homemade.

 Here's an up close view of the cake feeding out onto the ground. Speed is somewhat important here - you don't want to feed it too fast or it's all in a small area and the less aggressive cows won't get very much. But, you also don't need to spread it out over miles of prairie - that would take a long time to eat and waste your time feeding.

 Meanwhile, the hay pickup waits, preparing to role out a specific amount of hay following the cake feeders run.

 Here's a closer look at the combination of hays we're feeding this year (the red door is another story).

And an even closer look. The one the left is an oat straw bale, and you can see the oats in it. This would be considered a high quality winter forage. On the right is CRP grass hay, which ranges from awful to decent in quality. We've actually been very surprised at how well our cows are doing on the lower quality grass hays we're procured.
There is technique involved in feeding the hay too. The oat straw bale is left for last. This is primarily because, while we did have it tested and it didn't show anything of concern, there is always the potential of Nitrate poisoning in grain hays. To reduce the risk even more, we feed all the grass bales first, which means the cows eat on them for at least a few minutes, before we give them the option of the oat bale. Since it is a higher quality feed, they will all go eat it as soon as you give them the chance, but with additional grass already in their rumen, the chance of toxicity is reduced. Just a management practice we do in an effort to make sure there is never a problem in this area.

 This cow would like her oat bale, please.
We do that for two bunches of cows (the mature cows and the young cows/yearling heifers) every other day. This day is known as "The Big Feed Day," and on averages takes from 7:30-10:30, if the cows are close at hand and the weather is reasonable. But, we always plan on all morning, and it can easily turn into that.

Here is the second bunch, which are the yearling heifers and coming three-year-old cows. They are kept separate from the older, mature cows because they have a hard time competing with the older cows for feed, and won't winter as well if they're expected to compete. It's like high school sports, and comparing freshman to seniors. Some will do just fine, but most freshman will struggle when up against a bunch of seniors. It's also worth making sure these cows stick around at this age because they represent our best genetics, and we have a lot of money invested in them at this point, without a lot of return.
We feed this bunch hay every day, and cake every other day. We went to every day on hay because we noticed they weren't doing a great job cleaning the hay up, despite not being fed any extra. My dad wondered if it had something to do with them not having the physical capacity to eat and store such a large volume of hay at once - they're getting more than most years because we're having to feed them everything they eat this year instead of relying on grass for part of their filler. He was right, and since we've switched we've upped these girls' consumption, and they've improved considerably on cleaning up their feed.
This is how we're doing it this year. We make changes and tweaks every year, and sometimes even within a feeding season based on the available grass, condition of our cows, cost of various supplemental feeds and the condition of our cows going into winter. It takes a lot of advance planning, careful watching, and knowing what a cow needs in a variety of situations.
This is also one of those aspects of ranching that will probably be at least a little different, and often a lot different, from ranch to ranch. Year-round management decisions will vary between ranches, and will result in different needs and concerns over the winter months. There are a lot of feed options, weather, water, grass and terrain differences, and numerous other aspects of wintering cattle well that come into play when designing and following through with a feed program. What works best in one location may not work best next door, let alone across the state or country.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

One Foggy Evening

My favorite photos from a spur-of-the-moment drive a few nights ago as the temperature dropped 20 degrees in a few minutes.

Monday, December 3, 2012

How About that Election?

Yes, the presidential election. I realize it did happen a while ago, but seeing as how the impacts of it will likely last at least through my lifetime, and quite possible beyond, I feel as though it's worth that I've had time to think about it.
I maintained my puzzlement that has been in place the last four years throughout this election on how someone such as Barack Obama ever got the opportunity to run, much less be elected. Then, bam, he is elected again. Well crap. Not that Romney was a home run Republican candidate in my book, but then again I was one of those people of the opinion that just about any candidate would have been a better bet than our current president.
But, reality check, he is here to stay for the next four years, with his cabinet of cronies, vacation loving wife, lack of business experience, and socialist mindset.
I guess what has given me most pause since the election got over was the sheer impact this particular election had for our country in my opinion. It is the first time the American people have willingly gone with a socialistic candidate. I mean, the first time around they weren't sure how Obama would really pan out, but this time they knew all about his spread the wealth mentality, and they voted him in again. To me, this is a pivotal, conscientious turning point for us away from our roots of working for what is yours to the more socialist ideal of working toward the common good.
Oh goody.
What makes me think even more is the role my generation played in the election, how many of them there are and how long they will be voting. They truly cannot think beyond subjects such as him saying he will pay for their college education. Perhaps if they did they would realize that means they will have to pay for someone elses, with inflation, at some point in the future, and it will cost more than just paying for their own would have. They also do not think of the fact that small businesses foot the majority of America's bill - that's just how it is. And, if they're busy paying for your college education today, they will not be able to pay you a salary for a job tomorrow. I could go on, but you already are either cheering me on or calling me an idiot.
But, as with any time of great challenge and change, there is also great opportunity. I think this is particularly true for agriculture. Sure, there are going to be some big bumps for us, no doubt there. I've already heard speakers talk on the impact of not having a farm bill, the estate tax is a real killer (haha), the rules and regulations are astronomical and ridiculous and not slowing down, and the environmentalists are already gobbling up their insane portion of government money and our time.
But, all people, regardless of how they voted, will still have to eat.
Perhaps we could only send our food to those who voted our would be educational for them.
Anyway, back on track. As rough as it's going to get, and I am one who believes we haven't seen anything yet, I also believe our industry is in a unique position. We have a basket of goods and services that are necessary. We do not produce a want, we produce a need. Plus, we do an exceptional job of producing that need. To me, that is the best form of job security and something to capitalize on in the upcoming months and years.
So, while we are certainly in new and uncharted territory politically, in a negative way, ultimately God is still in control, and that is comforting. I can relate to those who are incredibly upset, and actually think it's a good thing that people have strong opinions about political events. That's much better than not caring in my opinion. I realize some go about it in ways most of us wouldn't, but hey, HSUS also goes about things like we wouldn't, and they get a lot of attention and backing.
The current political situation is certainly not ideal, and definitely a challenge, but I believe it is something we can handle as an long as it rains, which politicians don't control (thank goodness).  I also wonder if perhaps God wanted all the farmers, rancher and small business owners to pray more in the upcoming years.