Profit Tips Winners: Best producer innovations

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Call it creativity, ingenuity, resourcefulness or just plain old “farm-sense,” but the winners of the 2013 Profit Tips Contest prove once again that improving production practices on the farm and ranch can often be accomplished with simple ideas. This year’s winning tip was submitted by Louie Woodall, Sumner, Texas, who was chosen by a panel of three judges and will receive $500 from Drovers/CattleNetwork. Woodall’s winning entry was a modified squeeze chute designed to keep calves calmer.

Two runners-up in the contest received $250 each for their tips. Michael Jones, Mount Airy, N.C., added clover and other warm-season grasses to fescue pastures to minimize the effect of endophyte-infected fescue. Henry Wilson, Sandersville, Ga., modified a calf feeder by adding a 1-inch-square strip of wood to the inside to prevent spilling.

This years’ judges, Tracy Thomas, Anne Burkholder and Dan Thomson, were asked to evaluate all Profit Tips Contest entries for several criteria. The guidelines suggest that tips can relate to saving money, increasing income, improving cattle performance, reducing labor, reducing stress on the animal or workers, saving time or other valuable beef business tips. Information submitted in the contest should allow readers to apply the tip on their own operations.

Throughout the year, profit tips are sent to Drovers/CattleNetwork. Individuals who submit tips that are published earn $75 and are automatically entered in the annual contest. Tips that are sent via email with a digital photo earn $100 if they are used.

Entries are now being accepted for the 2014 contest. Entries can be mailed or sent via email to msoukup@vancepublishing.com. Entries must include a high-resolution photo, and a phone number and address for the entrant. Turn to page 26 for more detailed instructions about the 2014 contest.

Judges
Tracy Thomas, vice president of marketing, U.S. Premium Beef, helps coordinate unit sales and all marketing and promotional activities associated with U.S. Premium Beef. Previously, he spent 12 years in sales and marketing management with two major pharmaceutical companies, specializing in animal-health products. He also has four years of management experience working in a commercial cattle feedlot near Lyons, Kan. A Kansas native, Thomas is a 1982 graduate of Kansas State University with a degree in animal science.

Anne Burkholder, manager, Will Feed, Cozad, Neb., is a self-described “city girl” who grew up in West Palm Beach, Fla. Burkholder met her husband while attending Dartmouth College and returned to Cozad with him in 1997 to join his family’s farming and cattle-feeding business. She became the first NCBA National Beef Quality Assurance Cattle Producer of the Year in 2009. Her online blog, feedyardfoodie.com, provides the public with accounts of life on the farm and descriptions of what cattle feeders do and why.

Dan Thomson, DVM, PhD, Kansas State University, currently serves on the faculty and as director of the Beef Cattle Institute at Kansas State University. A K-State faculty member since 2004, he formerly worked as a feedyard veterinarian for Cactus Feeders in Texas. Thomson recently served as chairman of the World Organization for Animal Health Beef Cattle Production and Animal Welfare Committee. Thomson also hosts DocTalk, a weekly 30-minute television program that airs on RFD-TV and on BovineVetOnline.

First Place: Calm in the chute
Texas rancher Louie Woodall has seen his share of calves lunging forward, kicking or otherwise struggling while restrained in a squeeze chute, creating a risk of injuring themselves or processing-crew members. He reasoned that if he could discourage them from pushing forward, they would remain calmer during processing. To solve the problem, he designed a gate to mount directly in front of the squeeze chute, featuring a flat steel plate that centers just in front of the calf’s head when the gate is closed. Woodall says the device keeps calves noticeably calmer through branding, castrating or other processing, resulting in less risk of hand injuries to crew members, shoulder injuries to calves and damage to processing equipment. It also reduces processing time and stress on calves. A removable bar slides in above the animal’s neck, making the gate adjustable for animals weighing from 300 to 700 pounds. Woodall says the cowboys on his ranch — guys who have worked cattle most of their lives — really like the device as it makes their work easier and safer.

De-stressing cattle processing
Louie Woodall, of Sumner, Texas, and his crew process a lot of cattle over the course of a year, and he sees minimizing stress for cattle and handlers as a priority. Woodall purchases about 2,000 head of stocker calves each year from neighbors and area sale barns. He primarily buys weaned calves in the fall but also will purchase 600-pound yearlings in the spring to grow to 800 pounds on forage.

He primarily buys black-hided Angus-based cattle but says he includes some crossbred cattle and mostly just looks for a “good steer.”

Most of the cattle initially come through Woodall’s home ranch for processing after purchase. He keeps some to graze on his land and also relies on lease agreements in numerous other locations, with an assistant lining up land for lease around the region on a per-gain basis.

With the help of his staff, Woodall processes most of the cattle through the chute at least twice on his ranch, whether they stay there or ship to other properties for grazing. They receive vaccinations, parasite treatments, implants, medications and castration bands as needed.

Processing that many cattle every year, and witnessing the challenges involved, started Woodall thinking about how to make the task easier and safer for cattle and workers. Cattle lunging forward in the chute, he says, can lead to broken syringes, shoulder or leg injuries for cattle and, potentially, injuries to handlers. So, he installed the steel plate positioned in front of the animal’s head, as described in the Profit Tip. He says the cattle usually do not try to get their heads around the barrier and remain more calm in the chute than they did without the plate. Woodall and his crew work to use low-stress handling methods whenever they work cattle, and he sees the chute modification as an extension of that effort.

One of our judges had this to say about Woodall’s submission: “This was easily my No. 1 choice. Very simple squeeze chute modification equates to calmer cattle and a safer environment for all. Temple Grandin would be proud of this entry. Easy to do — little cost.” Woodall has developed a solid relationship with Cactus Feeders in Texas for marketing his cattle. Depending on the market,

Woodall either sells the yearling cattle, primarily to Cactus, or retains ownership through finishing, feeding them at the Cactus feedyard near Tulia, Texas. He watches the markets closely to evaluate opportunities to either sell yearlings or finish them and uses futures-based hedging tools when appropriate to manage risk in his marketing program.

Woodall, a Texas A&M University graduate, says he had to wait until he was 60 to fulfill his dream of becoming a full-time cattleman. Now 76, he continues to ride a horse and work cattle every day, although he relies on some younger help for much of the physical labor. During his spare time he enjoys Dutch-oven cooking for family and friends. He and his wife operate the ranch, with their grown children working in other professions. Grandchildren and great-grandchildren enjoy visiting the ranch and bring additional joy to the couple’s lives.

Second Place: Clover helps keep cattle cool
Adding clover and warm-season grasses to fescue pastures has helped Michael Jones minimize the effect of endophyte-infected fescue. “Grazing these additions in summer helps keep the cows from over-heating from the infected fescue,” he says. Jones utilizes a management-intensive grazing system on his North Carolina farm, and he’s added clover and native warm-season grasses such as eastern gammagrass to his pastures. The forages in these photos will be grazed until the last week of August when the cows will be removed. The pastures are then rested until late fall or early winter when the cows are brought back for grazing stockpiled forage.

Finding the sweet spot
“If your pasture is like a parking lot, you have no chance.” Michael Jones has embraced that phrase as he continues a now seven-year effort to transition his North Carolina cow-calf operation to a year-round, management-intensive grazing system.

Jones and his wife Jean purchased what is now Beaver Creek Farm in 1975 and today have nearly 30 Angus cows on 190 acres, almost half of which is dedicated to wildlife habitat. Though it is small in size, the owners of Beaver Creek Farm are committed to continuously improving their operation, preserving the environment, educating, influencing and helping neighboring producers, and passing their farm on to their grandchildren.

Recognized in 2012 as the winner of the annual Drovers/CattleNetwork Profit Tips Contest for his fencing organizer system, Jones earned runner-up recognition from the panel of judges in 2013 for adding clover and warm-season grasses to fescue pastures to help minimize the effects of endophyte-infected fescue.

“In years past the cows would stand in the woods and pant, and they wouldn’t do any good at all in the summer when it got to 90 degrees,” he says. “We learned through workshops with North Carolina State University, Virginia Tech, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, North Carolina.

Research and Extension and USDA’s Natural Resources and Conservation Service (NRCS) that by adding clover and warm-season native grasses, plus warm-season annuals, we could take away the detriment of the fescue.”

Since the 1940s, fescue has been a widely utilized forage due to its hardiness and good yields. Among the common challenges related to fescue are fescue toxosis, which is prevalent in the Southeast and Midwest and includes symptoms ranging from rough hair coats, heat stress, suppressed appetite, poor growth and reduced calving rates.

At the encouragement of a conservationist, Jones says he researched warm-season native grasses and “became smitten with the prairie.” Beginning in 2007, Jones began adding clover and warm-season native grasses, including big bluestem, Indian grass and eastern gamagrass, to his fescue pastures and intends to soon add switchgrass to the forage cocktail. Jones says in addition to being a palatable feedstuff, clover is higher in energy and protein.

“The cows perform better and actually gain weight during the warm summer,” he says. “They eat the clover before the fescue, which off sets the detrimental effects of the fescue. They’re not as hot and don’t lay in the shade quite as much. They shed their winter hair better and sooner since we’ve added clover and warm-season grasses as forage. I would have planted these warm-season natives long ago if I had known about them.”

Jones utilizes a rotational or management-intensive grazing system 365 days a year. Selling hay equipment in 2011 allowed him to add permanent and temporary watering systems to fence off approximately 2 miles of streams. The addition of clover and warm-season grasses has furthered Beaver Creek’s commitment to environmental stewardship. Jones says he moves his cattle at least once a day to prevent pastures from being overgrazed.

“We try to keep all the land covered. We may move cows two times per day,” he says. “When I’m talking about moving, it might just be 50 feet, depending on the forage, to not let them pick only the good stuff in one part of the field but to make them graze a little bit of all of it.”

Crediting NRCS, universities and the Cooperative Extension service for helping him along the way, Jones is also working to educate other cattlemen.

“We have had three workshops here to try and teach other producers about our grazing system and how to do winter grazing,” he says. “We have some who winter-graze and some who do varying degrees of this by moving their cattle once a month, every two weeks or once a week. We’re proud of what we have done and we hope to teach more about it. With the help of the universities, Extension and NRCS, maybe we’ll get people converted.”

What is next for Jones? Currently, he says he is considering converting some of his acres to a grazing ration developed by NRCS conservation agronomist Ray Archuleta. The mix, which Jones called “Ray’s Crazy Summer Mix,” includes soybeans, cowpeas, sorghum/sudan, pearl millet, foxtail millet, turnip, diakon radish, kale and sunflower.

Third Place: Simple feed saver
Henry Wilson with Dakota Ranch in Sandersville, Ga., submitted this simple, inexpensive and yet practical tip. Calves feeding at a trough, he says, often waste feed by dragging it out as they lift their heads and spilling it on the ground. A 1-inch-square strip of wood trim mounted to the inside front of the feeder prevents much of this feed spillage. Wilson estimated the cost for adding the strip of wood at about 8 cents per foot.

Controlling feed costs for growing calves
“It is easier to waste feed, than to save it,” says Henry Wilson, who adds that minimizing feed costs is one of his top priorities on his Georgia cattle operation.

Originally from Tennessee, Wilson raised registered Polled Hereford cattle for years, beginning in the early 1950s. He held production seedstock sales and showed cattle at national exhibitions including the American Royal in Kansas City and the National Western in Denver.

Upon moving to Sandersville, Ga., Wilson shifted away from seedstock production and focused on growing feeder cattle on his Dakota Ranch. He typically purchases calves weighing between 375 and 450 pounds through local auction markets around the first week of March and raises them to 800 to 900 pounds for sale around the second week of December.

Wilson shops local auction barns — there are six within about a 60-mile radius of his operation — to select high-quality crossbred calves with good growth potential. He says he generally prefers red calves with some Hereford and Continental influence. He looks for calves that were weaned on their home operations and introduced to creep feed or bunk feeding. He also looks for calves with polled genetics and calm, easy temperaments. He watches prices at several sale barns and          looks for good value but says he will pay a little more for good-quality weaned calves that will stay healthy and gain efficiently. If he picks the right calves, he says he has very little trouble with sickness or medical expenses.

He records individual weights at purchase and tags each calf with an individual identification number.

Initially, Wilson says, he bunk-feeds the calves with a complete ration, along with access to forage, to get them off to a healthy start. During this stage, he says, the wooden strips he added to his feed bunks pay off by preventing feed waste, as feed costs are a key factor in profitability in his system. In the past, he observed how calves would sweep feed out of the bunk with their muzzles, spilling it on the ground and causing waste. The addition of a simple wooden strip at the rim kept more feed in the bunk, resulting in significant savings, especially as feed prices increased in recent years.

Over the first 90 days, he gradually tapers off the feed and acclimates the calves to forage before turning them out on native pasture. His farm, he says, offers good Bermuda grass pastures and clean water, which he supplements with mineral blocks containing a fly-control ingredient. He typically treats the calves for parasites three times over the course of the season.

He checks the cattle daily and weighs them regularly to monitor gains. In early December, Wilson sells the cattle weighing around 800 to 900 pounds. He picks from several area sales to determine which provides the best market for his yearling feeder cattle. Then he spends a few months with no cattle on the farm, preparing for the next season. Wilson lives alone and does most of the feeding, doctoring and other livestock work himself, although his son-in-law, Ron Larimore, helps out with handling cattle during the busiest times.

Send us your tips, fill your wallet
Just in time for the holidays, our 2013 Profit Tips Contest winners took home some extra cash, and you could do the same in 2014. Plus there is more than one way your tips can put cash in your hand, as Drovers/CattleNetwork pays readers for any tips we publish, and those tips are automatically entered into the year-end contest with a chance for additional earnings.

The process is simple. E-mail your tip, with a digital photo, and if it is published, we’ll send you $100. Send your tip via “snail mail” with a printed photo, and if we use it, we will pay you $75. Following are the rest of the submission specifications:

• All entries must include a photo of your idea with your description and an estimate of the cost.
• Entries must also include your name, address and telephone number.
• E-mailed graphics should be high-resolution files.
• Each published tip will automatically be entered in the annual Drovers/CattleNetwork Profit Tips Contest.

E-mail your tip to MSoukup@vancepublishing.com. Or mail the tip and photos to:

Drovers/CattleNetwork
10901 W. 84th Terrace
Lenexa, KS 66214



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