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Articles and Updates
Aug 3, 2017, 5:08 PM
I received a letter recently from a young lady in the Midwest - she did not give her name - that describes an all too common situation; she and her husband have bought land and are in the process of buying more. Between land payments, equipment payments and operating expense there is very little left over to support the family and none to be set aside for savings or emergencies. I get inquiries like this on a regular basis and decided to put some of the advice that I dole out in a column. I also address this situation in my book The Green Revolution Delusion.
Jul 13, 2017, 2:44 AM
​Grazing management is the science and art of manipulating grazing animals and the pastureland upon which they feed. The effects of grazing management on both land and animals will be good or bad depending on the knowledge and skill of the manager. In the short run, it is possible to increase animal production at the cost of damaging the land just as it is possible to improve the land at the expense of the animals. An area may be overstocked and for a short time thus increase the pounds of animal produced per acre. If all or most of the animals are removed, for a short time an area will produce more pounds of forage per acre. Neither option, however, is viable if the goal is to promote a profitable and sustainable operation. In the long run, a program must address the needs of all members of the plant- soil- animal- complex if it is to be both financially and ecologically sound. If we can orient our thinking to the long-term effects of our management practices, it becomes easier to make the good decisions that will bring about a stable and healthy operation. In order to make sound decisions, it is necessary to have both knowledge and information. Information is facts that are relevant to our task and knowledge is the ability to make use of these facts to promote the desired results. One of the hardest concepts for most ranchers to grasp is that rather than being in the "cattle business” or the "sheep business” or even in the "grass business" they are really in the solar energy business. All production requires the input of energy. Whether the product is steel, meat or great literature energy is required to fuel the process of creation. The true source of this energy is always the same. Sunlight, Coal and petroleum are merely fossilized sunlight that was harvested eons ago by green plants using the same process that green plants use today to convert solar energy to biological energy. Nitpickers might argue, correctly, that sunlight is actually one form of nuclear energy. The fact remains that for millions of years and for the foreseeable future, sunlight is by far the most significant source of energy available to the earth. All life depends upon photosynthesis, the process by which green plants convert sunlight to biological energy. Even those organisms that spend their lives beneath the soil surface or at the bottom of the ocean derive their substance from materials whose energy originated as sunlight. The success or failure of farmers, ranchers and other land managers of all kinds depends upon how wisely and well they make use of this process. The success or failure of these land managers will ultimately decide the success or failure of humanity and the earth, as we know it.
Jul 13, 2017, 2:43 AM
​While we are always interested in seeing our stock do well, management will vary depending upon what we are trying to accomplish at any given time. Much of the time management will be designed to supply proper nutrition to as much stock as is feasible. Going into winter with a set of dry cows, the goal might change to stretching a supply of dormant grass into as many days of adequate nutrition as possible. There will also be times when the goal is to maximize the amount of nutrition that a set of animals take in from pasture...
Jul 13, 2017, 2:41 AM
Prior to about 1950, the vast majority of beef consumed in the U.S. was not grain fed. A certain amount of grain-finished beef was produced by farmer feeders for the “hotel trade” but this was not a significant portion of the total beef production. Most of the beef supply came from milk fat calves slaughtered at weaning and from fat young cows that had not calved. These two sources made up the majority of the kill because they were the only widely available classes of cattle with sufficient body fat to produce beef that was acceptable to the consumer. The calves were growing rapidly but received the extra energy needed to deposit fat from their mothers’ milk. The cows were able to lay on fat with only the energy supplied by good pasture since they were neither growing rapidly nor suckling a calf. Feeding concentrates to sheep is a very recent phenomena and largely unnecessary since sheep fatten well on the proper kind of pasture as do goats. Large scale grain feeding to ruminant animals is hard to justify from either an economic or an ecological viewpoint. It came to be standard agricultural practice mainly as a way to get rid of excess grain.
Jul 13, 2017, 2:37 AM
This article contains a list of tips on dealing with hard times.
Jul 13, 2017, 2:35 AM
This page contains all sorts of helpful tips for ranching and ranch management.
Jul 10, 2017, 3:49 PM
For much of my working life, I spent a lot of time and energy killing. I grew up on a west Texas ranch in the fifties and as soon as I got old enough to work, a regular warm weather job was finding, catching and treating cattle, sheep and goats that were infected with screwworms. This took a lot of time since the animals were running in large brushy pastures and a sick animal’s instinct is to hide. If we did not find the infected animals and kill the screwworms, the animals would die. The worms would literally eat the animals’ alive, one tiny bite at a time. We used a variety of noxious materials in the attempt to kill the screwworms and to prevent the mama cattle, sheep and goats from licking the worm dope off of their babies. In addition, the sheep and goats had to be treated several times a year with other poisons to kill internal parasites and, on occasion, swabbed or sprayed with still other poisons to kill external parasites like wool worms, ear ticks and lice; the cows had to be sprayed regularly to kill horn flies and treated for internal parasites about half as often as the sheep. We spent a lot of time and money killing pests of one sort or another and in the process created at least as many problems as we cured.
Jul 10, 2017, 3:48 PM
In the early 1970’s we were running Davis Ranch in southeastern Oklahoma as a high tech beef cattle, pecan and crop operation and were following all of the land grant college recommendations as to fertilization, weed and insect control. We routinely used 100-150 pounds of actual nitrogen on our cropland, almost that much on Bermuda grass pasture and were producing a lot of product. Production was high but so was the cost of production and all too often we found ourselves losing money on every pound we produced and trying to make up the difference by producing more pounds. This was the period when conventional wisdom was “get big or get out” and efficiency of scale and specialization were the buzzwords of the “agricultural experts”. In 1974 the cattle market broke, as it had about every nine years for over 100 years, and we found ourselves in serious financial trouble. After ten years of trying to “do it right”, we had the choice of changing the way we operated or going broke. A look through our books made it crystal clear where the money was going; fertilizer, machinery upkeep, chemicals, fuel and labor expenses were all much too high. We had taken a very simple business based on natural biology and changed it into an industrial monster with an insatiable appetite for expensive inputs. One of the largest of these expenses was nitrogen fertilizer. We decided to halt nitrogen use on pasture and instead use forage legumes to supply this need. This started what my wife termed “Your annual sacrifice to the clover gods”. This was not an inaccurate statement, as I knew very little about growing legumes and it would be several years before I learned enough to give the clovers a chance. The extension recommendations of the time still called for applying nitrogen fertilizer to new legume plantings even though research by Dr. Bill Knight and others had shown that as little as sixteen pounds of actual nitrogen could kill all of the rhizobia bacteria on an acre of sandy soil. By trial and error, over a period of years, we learned how to establish and keep a high percentage of legumes in our forage sward at a reasonable cost. We were intensifying our grazing management at the same time that we were introducing legumes and quickly learned that the two practices fit together like a hand in a glove. When we got enough paddocks to control exactly what our stock was eating at any point in time, it became much easier to maintain the legume mix and also to prevent bloat and maximize animal performance. The benefits of legumes in a complex pasture mixture go far beyond merely reducing cost.
Jul 10, 2017, 3:46 PM
I am continuing to write about drought because dealing with drought and its effects is going to be important to a lot of people for some time to come. Though at times it seems as if it never will, droughts eventually end. Depending on how an area has been managed during drought, recovery can be rapid and complete or it can require years of good management to get back to pre-drought levels. Part of the damage is due to the loss of high quality forage species to over grazing but the most serious and long lasting harm comes through damage to the ecological processes: water cycle, nutrient cycles, energy flow and biological succession...
Jul 10, 2017, 3:44 PM
Antonio had not deserted the ways of his father but the new methods still affected him and his family; the pollen from the hybrid corn blew into his field and contaminated his corn. His corn began to show the same problems that devastated the new corn and the price of corn fell so low that Antonio knew that he too would soon have to give up the land he loved and find other ways to feed his family.