By Clifford Mitchell
Resource management and utilization often are at the top of the list when managers start figuring in potential profit figures.
The advantages and disadvantages brought to the bottom line by resource availability usually are something the manager can't control, but with better allocation and utilization the benefits can be seen even in bad years.
To a livestock enterprise, grass is the most important resource. Operators can be limited in many ways, but the nature of the business allows good operators to turn a dollar as long as they have grass.
Taking in cattle to graze is as much a part of the history of the beef industry in this country as the cattle drives of the Old West. It is not known if a grazing fee was collected back then, but the vast herds had to graze somebody's grass to get to the railhead.
The area between Cedar Vale and Sedan, KS, the country that lays between the fertile Osage and Flint Hills grazing lands, is home to Jim, Louise, Billy and Dale Goode. Goode Ranches is a custom grazing and preconditioning outfit that sells its services and grass to a solid repeat customer base.
"We have been a yearling operation for 15 to 20 years. We were some of the first to take in yearlings and precondition cattle," Dale Goode says. "Most people got cattle in that were straightened out for grass."
Like most livestock enterprises, different market cycles force different management decisions to be made. Goode explains a custom grazing enterprise is the best way to allocate their resources, without having to meet increased capital requirements it takes in the ownership of the yearling cattle.
"We have 90% customer cattle. We have customers with all types of cattle. These cattle have different production scenarios, some will go to the feedlot, some are sold and some we just get ready for wheat," Goode says. "Most of our cattle come from a sale barn within 100 miles."
The Goodes depend on a lot of repeat customers to help fill grazing needs every year. Goode says they try to be consistent every year, so customers will know what to expect.
"Our death loss is low, processing and doctoring bills are as cheap as most," Goode says. "Grazing fees change every year and we try to keep ours at an average. Our customers know what to expect and we don't throw any curveballs."
Specialization within the industry is at an all time high, with even a higher level of specialization expected to be achieved in the next few years. Current research data and profit potential indicators, place more emphasis on this segment of the industry.
The highly skilled operators in this profession are no longer depended on just to add pounds and maturity, but help create a standardized raw material.
"We follow the customers health protocol. It is usually consists of IBR-BVD, Blackleg, Ivomec and pasturella shots," Goode says. "We will get in 2,000 to 2,500 head of grass cattle per year. We will precondition half and the other half will be ready to go when they get here."
The industry depends on a lot of data compiled with research projects or provided by animal health companies, but experience helps any operator adapt the knowledge gained to his program. Preconditioning, or getting cattle straightened out and healthy, usually will help future performance figures.
"The first 30 to 45 days are the most important for those cattle. When we get them from the salebarn, they have been weaned the day they went to town. Getting them to eat and drink is very important," Goode says. "The calves will spend three to five days in the pen. We will feed them a ground corn-milo mixture, with Rumensin and mineral, and free choice prairie hay."
Goode explains this is sort of a training period for the calves and him, to get the calves used to what will happen once they are turned out into small fescue traps.
"The first day they are here we won't feed grain, just hay. The second day, we will feed grain and ease them to the bunk," Goode says. "After they get their shots and they aren't doing what I want them to do, I will bring them back to the pens until they are comfortable eating."
This process will not only train the calves to eat grain and get them filled up and hydrated, but it can help eliminate some problems down the road. Goode tries to eliminate as much stress on the calves as he can.
"In put-together cattle, you will sometimes have an outlaw, but we can usually gentle them down in the three to five days," Goode says. "We have to be as stress free as we can. We need to work on creating a stress free environment."
As the cattle are pushed out to the small fescue traps, Goode monitors health at feeding time to detect sick cattle.
"We will try to use one shot of Micotil or Baytril and get them back on feed and turn them back out," Goode says. "We try not to rope and doctor anything. I think it is better to ease them to the pen. This is what works best for us."
Different forages have different growing seasons. It is becoming more common to see yearling operators incorporate varieties of cool season and native grasses to help forage availability.
"Our fescue traps have a lot of clover and lespedeza in them and they green up in March. Anytime you can get cattle out on something green, it really helps get them going," Goode says. "We need to have some grass when we straighten out cattle. The fescue traps provide six to nine months of grazing and are green when the native is dormant."
The overall hardiness of the fescue grass is a big help to the grazing operation, because it takes some of the grazing pressure off the native range.
"We abuse it at times, but it always comes back. It will take more abuse than native grass," Goode says. "We need that fescue or we would have a weed patch on our native grass."
Since most of the cattle come in from a 100-mile radius of the operation, the fescue grass provides additional benefits to the operation.
"Since a lot of our cattle come off fescue, it is something they are used to when they get here," Goode says. "We keep prairie hay out free choice, so they can have a little dry hay when they are on the fescue traps."
The Goodes also made the transition from baling their hay to purchasing their needs.
"We used to bale all our hay. We had a round baler, a square baler and 160 acres of hay," Goode says. "We were always a month baling the hay. We figured out what it cost to buy hay, and it made more sense to start buying hay and grazing our meadows."
Maintaining high quality hay is a priority, because for the calves to get benefit it has to be desirable so they will eat it.
"We have a hay barn and tarps to store our hay in to start our cattle with," Goode says. "Outside storage wastes too much with outer decay. We want to keep the hay good and clean."
Five to six years ago, the Goodes started experimenting with cell grazing that led to the implementation of a rotational grazing system.
"We split a pasture one summer and did some cell grazing," Jim Goode says. "We could see a lot of benefits, so I sent Dale and Billy to a grazing school so we could learn more about it."
Once cell grazing became part of the cattle grazing program, the Goodes became believers in a rotational grazing system.
"In a continuous grazing program, we would have bunches of grass and bare spots. Now, we have grass on the bare spots," Dale Goode says. "It is better for the grass. Grass gets a rest period and if the grass is there we can increase stocking rates."
A common mistake producers make when they start a rotational grazing system is to automatically increase stocking rates. Goode explains they made the same mistake, but have learned to look at the resources and then make those decisions.
"We started by increasing stocking rates and it was the wrong thing to do . If the grass is getting out of hand, increase stocking rates, but until then don't do it," Goode says. "We stock our cell grazing system the same as our continuous 2.5 acres per animal. It is better to have too much grass than not enough."
Cell grazing will have one limiting factor, no matter where an operator is. Water usually will hold back a system from being as efficient as it can.
"When we started cell grazing and running a lot of cattle together, we developed a water quality problem we didn't have. A rotational grazing system is hard on water sources," Goode says. "We have to develop some more water sources before we expand the rotational system any further. Most of our ponds are small and I want to add tanks to keep cattle out of the ponds."
With this type of grazing system most operators will contend they become better managers and have a better handle on their cattle and forage availability.
"I move every one to three days. When I move, I can get a count if I need to," Goode says. "When it starts to get dry, I know exactly how much grazing I have left even if we don't get any more rain."
The rest period is what usually makes these type of grazing systems work. This period provides time for the grass to recover and helps get rid of the undesirable species in a natural manner.
"We are in each paddock between eight to 15 days out of the 100-day grazing season," Goode says. "We are growing more grass and rationing it better."
The Goodes believe the beef industry has some problems to fix. Even though there have been favorable shifts in beef demand and market price, packers continue to capitalize on efforts that have been largely made and funded by producers.
"I think the beef checkoff has done wonders, but the beef producer is not getting his share," Jim Goode says. "There has to be more than four major packers and a 30-minute cattle trade."
As the industry has set goals for consistency and uniformity, packers have taken the profit for this steadfast improvement. It hasn't been the packing industry that has pushed Beef Quality Assurance, but yet they have the most to gain.
Producers who have been following BQA guidelines and carcass testing to improve their genetics are positioning themselves for profit, but the question is will the packers pocket the loose change or spread it around.
"The packers are always saying to improve genetics, we need more Prime and Choice cattle, but producers aren't getting a premium," Dale Goode says. "All we have done is given them a more consistent product where they can make more money."