I was not present when our first two children were born. I was deployed to Afghanistan, and they were six months old before I ever held them. It was in the last couple months on that deployment that my wife and I decided that the next course of our life would be to return to Missouri and seek a life in agriculture. It was in Afghanistan, and deployments before, that I began to see life was finite, and to believe–with the limited time we are given–that life’s greatest worth is in sharing and experiencing it with those we love.
From my Marine Corps experience, I also walked away with one of my final Battalion Commander’s favorite quotes: “We are products of our past.” That said, what I felt in Afghanistan, I still believe today. From the Marine Corps, I also bring with me an appreciation for mission oriented planning, and purpose-driven actions. As a Marine, I am expeditionary minded–seeking to achieve maximum effect with minimal logistical demands and overhead. With these values–sharing time with those you love, purpose-driven planning, and low-demand operational structure–we utilize a systems-approach management system that empowers cattle to perform to their greatest potential, with reduced time requirements and logistical demands from us–cattlemen.
A. Rotational Grazing Management:
The foundation of any effective grazing system starts with forage. We utilize diverse pasture mixes–cool season grasses, clovers, lespedeza, warm season annuals, and limited perennial native warm season species–that produce forage throughout the growing season. Whatever animals graze is gain that requires no action from the cattleman. To maximize forage health and production, we integrate and structure a rotational management grazing system that permits paddocks (smaller parts to a greater pasture whole) to rest and recover after periods of short duration, concentrated grazing. During the growing season, we rotate animals every 3-7 days depending on pasture conditions.
We utilize a Marine Corps “conditions set” criteria for determining the movement of our herds. When a pasture is effectively grazed to a standard of consumption, grazing “conditions” are met, and this condition “sets” the follow-on action of movement to the next stockpiled paddock. By grazing in such a system, when we move animals, they are often waiting at the gate (and, if not, come running) the morning we intend to move–even when that gate is the one leading into our working corral. Such conditioning of animal and grazing behavior, in addition to permitting sustained healthy pastures, creates a continuous working relationship and familiarity between animals and managers that makes working periods far less stressful for animals and handlers alike.
Moving Herd over an Open Road (Click to view herd being moved across a road with only false electric wires for containment.
Rotational Grazing and Real-World Animal Working Condition (Click to view video of herd movement in June ’17 and animals in their real-world working shape)
B. Low Stress Cattle Handling
Another aspect of our program is the employment of low stress cattle handling techniques. We do not use trucks to drive animals. We do not work animals with electric prods. Largely, we do not shout. Instead, we utilize low stress cattle handling techniques that work with the natural tendencies of cattle movement. When preparing to work an entire herd, we set working days to coincide with the natural movement cycle of herd rotations. By bringing the herd through working facilities in accordance with natural flow, their capture is made simple, quick, and efficient. Once lotted, we use low stress pressure movements using dismounted individuals applying positioned pressure to initiate, or fix group movements into and through the working facilities. In handling animals in a low stress manner, we reduce animal and handler stress, making working more efficient, and–with every repeated cycle–even simpler as animals become accustomed to handling and working expectations. In reducing stress, the next working event is not met with resistance, but improved cooperation. This benefits us as managers, and follow-on customers as conditioned animals enter customer herds.
C. Calving in Accordance with Nature
Another part of our systems approach is calving in accordance with the natural forage cycles of our environment. For us, pasture green up usually begins early to middle March with peak production in late May. We synchronize our herd to begin calving in the first half of March with a majority of calves coming before the first week of April. In calving as pastures resume growth, early lactation demands are supported by forage, not supplementation.
We also seek to wean animals in early October. The purpose of this is two-fold. First, in weaning calves at this period, pregnant dams are afforded the ability to increase body condition heading into winter, easing winter maintenance, future calving health, and improved breed-back by healthy body conditions throughout winter, calving, and early nursing. I think this is one of the most overlooked aspects of many spring herds, leaving calves on too late, running down body condition heading into winter, and either over-spending to get body conditions back to sufficient standards, or maintaining lower body condition animals through calving and then being surprised at reduced fertility the follow-on year. Second, in weaning early, we are able to sell our non-retained calves earlier in the year while still meeting either 45 Day, or 60 Day preconditioning standards, distinguishing them from the surplus of unweaned spring calves in November/December sales and improving their per-weight value. In planning our management system around our pasture growth season, we also reduce winter feed requirements and costs, which are the number one cost for many operations.
D. Empower Animals to Work for You
Lastly, our entire program is centered around empowering animals to perform at their best with little supplemental demands from managers. From the genetics we select, the rotational management system we create–our calving, working, weaning, and sale cycles–the entire system is designed to afford animals the greatest probability for self-sufficient success with little extra work from managers. In conditioning animals to rotational grazing management, it takes only a few minutes a few times a week to effectively supervise and manage herd movements. Timing working events with natural events simplifies handling, animal cooperation, and low stress handling makes for efficient work flow and reduced stress in both animals and managers.
In creating a system that empowers animals to work for you, we create a system that affords managers improved profitability margins, reduced overheads, time demands, and simplified long-term requirements. Why do we do this? We do this in order to afford ourselves–and our customers–the privilege of resources (time and money) to reinvest in other life endeavors whether they be family, pursuits, interests, labors, or leisure. We each only get one life, and our systems-planning, management, low-stress handled, and pasture conditioned animals afford our customers a little more time and revenue generation to make the most of this one life we are each blessed to experience.
Let our animals help make you a living–and time–to enjoy all the rest in life that you love.