Monday, October 25, 2010

Let them eat cake

This time of year there are so many mini triumphs but they also contrast with so many mini disappointments. I have changed my last hand line this year. Irrigation water on the hill went off last week and on the home and Dixon place the water goes off tomorrow. We had some nice rain this past weekend and coupled with a decent fall of moisture I am celebrating the end of irrigation water for another year. I still need to gather and store some of the system components but knowing that not moving a hand line will not result in a dry non grass producing spot is a relief.

There is also the downside to this time of year. One of the reasons water can go off here in the desert is because it has cooled enough both in daytime high temperatures and nighttime lows that grass or any other forage has either stopped growing or will grow at a very slow rate over the next 5-6 months. I have a much better “stockpile” of grass this year than I did last year at this time but the cows will soon consume what is still out there. After that you can graze dry pasture, graze crop residue or start feeding hay which gets expensive fast. Luckily here in the Columbia Basin there are options.

You have to balance the costs of moving cows, building fence and travel vs. staying home and feeding hay. Usually anything a cow can consume on her own as compared to being fed by you is a less expensive option. I will graze cows on both corn stalk residue and alfalfa hay regrowth this winter to try and keep feed costs down. Both of these are good feeds and if managed correctly can provide most all the nutritional needs of both dry (non lactating) pregnant cows and cows nursing calves (pairs). You still have to supply some vitamins and minerals and later in the winter possibly some protein supplement of some kind. I have more than once made people laugh that are unfamiliar with the cattle business by telling them that we use nutrition charts and formulas with different feeds to come up with a ration that provides the necessary nutritional values but at the least cost. Many large cattle feeding operations have a fulltime nutritionist on staff and smaller enterprises utilize these services as well.

I traveled to Toppenish again today to bring home some fall cow/calf pairs I purchased and will make another trip tomorrow. As I drove through the fertile farmlands of the Columbia and Yakima basin I reminisced on some of the “odd” feeds we have used at different times for cattle. Purple top turnips are an excellent feed with a high level of production per acre that can be used especially with weaned calves. Wheat stubble regrowth, hay regrowth after a good frost, and corn stalks have been used many times in our operation. Our family has even grazed unharvested cauliflower, broccoli, carrots and seed corn. Besides the things we have had cattle graze we have also fed many different crops. Potatoes have been used both culls and remnants from spud seed cutting but also French fries, tater tots, mashed and hashbrowns that did not meet food specifications. Pumpkins, squash, apples and pears have been fed at different times over the years. I know of one operation in Pennsylvania that is close to a Hershey candy factory that feeds candy bars that do not meet certain specifications for human consumption. With the four compartment stomach of a ruminant like a cow many items that would otherwise go into a landfill can be used for feed.

I feel that this post is mostly long and boring so I am going to add a story from the fair to contribute a bit of levity. My fair wife Debby (see blog post VIP September 1, 2010) has a son that is the same age as Dakota. Debby told the story of how she was missing several seasoning spices from her cupboards but really did not give it much thought. A few days later she was moving her 8th grade sons backpack when several of her missing spices fell out of the bag. She confronted her son and asked him, “Cole, what are my spices doing in your backpack?” Her entrepreneurial son answered, “Mom the school lunch is so bland, I have been selling it in the lunch room to improve the school lunch flavor. 50 cents a shake Mom, I have made over $10.” Capitalism, it works every time it is tried.

Today’s real environmentalist species found on the ranch is the Rush skeleton weed aka Chondrilla juncea.

Today’s picture is cow 9099w with her fall calf. I wanted this picture so that if a member of the Audubon society ever tells me cattle are bad for birds I can respectfully disagree.