“A Wake-Up Call”
by: Steve Peddicord
A few years ago while sitting in the Louisville airport waiting to pick up a friend, I experienced an odd chest pain that required me to wind up spending a couple of days in the Jewish Hospital. After several tests and professional opinions it was determined that there was no blockage in my heart area that would require surgery. As an alternative, it was suggested to me to cut back on the stress load, lose some weight, and exercise regularly. It did serve as an important wake-up call however. Things can change quickly.
In late May, at the grand opening of the Blue Grass Stockyards we were seeing cattle prices above two dollars a pound for many weights. Good feeder calves were bringing over a thousand dollars a head if they weighed over 550 lbs. Our hay crop was decent, although a lack of April rains had cut back on the yield. Rainfall was good for May and early June and things were coming together for a good summer of cattle farming.
Then we got a wake-up call.
Somehow it forgot how to rain and the temperatures soared into the 100s for days on end. The grain price began to creep upward and the cattle price did a 180 degree turn and dropped. Our summer hay crop quit growing as hay rollers sat idle in the sheds. Early tasseling corn began twisting and shriveling from the heat and lack of rain and began looking like a lost crop altogether.
Then we got another wake-up call.
Last week it started to rain and most farmers in the area received good amounts of the badly needed liquid. We began to feel blessed again. Brown and crispy pastures have now been replaced with a green tint of newly growing grass.
The next question is where do we go from here as we prepare for the next wake-up call as we head into the early fall?
Even with excessive amounts of rainfall from here on out, the hay crop still looks short for 2012. The current cattle prices are demanding heavy weaning weights if we want to see any profitable return on our calves. Calves coming off the cows need to be in the six weight range to make any money.
Despite the fact that our hay crop is behind normal, you should already have enough hay stored from this year’s crop. My point is, we tend to rely far too much on feeding hay during the winter month’s when we have many better alternatives. A cow/calf operation of 50 cows shouldn’t need over 60 days of hay which would be about 75 rolls.
Two of the best alternatives available to substitute the need for feeding so much hay are stockpiling fescue and inter-seeding small grains into existing pastures. Right now is the best time to be planning for these small management practices. Both of these alternatives can eliminate the need for feeding many rolls of expensive hay. In addition, the quality of forage being eaten by the cows will far exceed much of the hay that’s been produced this year. Taking this practice to the next level and rotational grazing it will provide even more cost savings and higher returns.
We never know when our next wake-up call is going to come. It’s clearly our responsibility to prepare for the future and have as many options available to us as we can.
Keep putting on the pounds.