When it comes to saving money, Dennis Anderson and his wife Phyllis of Waxahachie, TX, already do a lot of things to help their ranch.
The Andersons, who have a small cow/calf herd of about 25 Brangus cows just south of the Dallas/Fort Worth area in Ellis County, buy some feed in bulk, have changed the vehicles they drive, check their cattle less often, and even sell scrap metal from their farm.
"Any little bit helps, especially these days," Dennis said.
The Andersons also continue to look for other ideas, and that is why they joined cattlemen from around the world at the 54th Annual Texas A&M Beef Short Course.
In meeting rooms full of cowboy hats, shiny boots and blue jeans, cattlemen gathered on the campus of Texas A&M University to learn what might allow them to be more efficient to survive challenging times of higher input costs.
There are several tips and techniques cattle producers can use to limit feed, fuel and fertilizer costs, according to Jason Banta, extension beef cattle and livestock specialist with AgriLife Extension, part of the Texas A&M educational system, located in Overton, TX.
Be careful with
In times of high feed costs, cattle producers’ first instinct is to cut feed costs. Some eliminate supplemental feed and others cut back on hay. The problem here, Banta explained, is that cutting back on feed is a slippery slope. If you cut back, too many cattle can lose Body Condition Score (BCS) and their conception rates fall.
"When you move from a BCS of 5 to 4, conception rates will begin to drop considerably and instead of saving money you just cost yourself money, so you have to be very careful and think about the ramifications of cutting feed," Banta said.
Matching calving season to forage production is something cattle producers should keep in mind. A good rule to remember is to calve 60 days before the best grasses are available because this will be when the mother cows will have the highest nutritional requirement. Plenty of forage will allow the cow to keep the proper condition to support a calf and get rebred, he said.
Check cattle less often
When it comes to fuel, one of the first things Banta tells cattlemen is to restrict their calving season to as small a window as possible so they can reduce the frequency of checking cattle. Many ranchers in this expansive state have several miles of land to go over; checking cattle every day or even several times a day can burn up quite a bit of fuel and oil.
Banta said cattlemen should reduce the frequency of feeding cattle.
"You have to be careful with this to make sure you are doing it appropriately, but there are protein supplements that can be fed a couple times a week and not every day."
Banta also suggested producers re-evaluate certain self-feed products. These types of feed would save trips to the pasture.
Using more fuel-efficient vehicles is another way to limit fuel. Instead of purchasing a full-sized, one-ton diesel pickup for checking cattle and hauling cattle once in a while, buy a smaller 1/2 ton pickup that gets better gas mileage, he said. All-terrain vehicles are another good fuel-efficient vehicle to get around a ranch.
A smaller pickup means bigger trailers to haul livestock to town cannot be used. Consider a bumper-hitch trailer instead of a more expensive, larger gooseneck-hitched trailer, Banta said. If you need to haul a large number of calves to market, you could always hire someone to do the job.
"When you do haul cattle yourself, make sure trailer loads are full to utilize the trip fully," he said. "Plan trips to town to combine chores together like getting feed and supplies."
There are other forms of transportation that could save some fuel, said Ron Gill, an extension beef cattle and livestock specialist with AgriLife Extension located in Stephensville, TX.
"Everyone has some horses there in the pasture; ride them out and check some cattle in order to save some money on fuel," said Gill. "Cheap fuel has allowed us to get sloppy."
When it comes to fertilizer costs, both Banta and Gill suggested producers apply just enough fertilizer for the stocking rates and rainfall for their area. The only way producers can know this information precisely is to conduct soil tests on their land.
Gill suggested producers concentrate their fertilizer dollars on the most productive soils for necessary hay production. Cattlemen should consider what happens if they stop fertilizing their grass.
"There are some guys that are reverting back to some native species of grass that require less fertilizer, but these systems would also need a higher level of management to assure the grass remains vital," Gill said.
Alternative sources of fertilizers are available to producers other than commercial fertilizers. Chicken litter, cattle or hog manure and biosolids are all viable alternative sources that can be used as fertilizer. The problem with these other sources is they are not nearly as accessible and plentiful as commercial fertilizers, he said.
Banta also said producers should optimize their reproduction—purchase quality seedstock, consider the value of male and female calves, and consider the value of market cows and bulls.
One of the areas many Texas cattlemen overlook is castrating their bull calves. About 60 percent of the calves that go to sale barns in Texas are still bull calves, according to Greg Goudeau, president/owner of Navasota Livestock in Navasota, TX.
"If you don’t cut that bull calf, there is about a $4 to $8 a hundredweight discount on a 400-pound calf, up to a $7 to $14 a hundredweight discount on a 700-pound calf," Goudeau. "Just take the time to castrate your bull calves and right there you will get more for your calves."
Cutting feed costs
To cut down on their feed costs this year, the Andersons bought high protein range cubes in bulk. This lowered the price of the cubes, but the down side to this was they had to purchase a certain quantity.
"We don’t have that many cows, and that many cubes will last us a while, but we did get the cubes at a discounted price," Dennis Anderson said.
They also bought a different vehicle with better gas mileage. They drive about 45 miles to check cows sometimes, so they thought it was a good idea to invest in a more fuel-efficient car. "We just don’t check the cows as much now with the higher gas prices," said Phyllis Anderson.
The Andersons also recycle scrap metal on their farm to get some additional income and to clean up their farmstead. They had a 20 x 30 foot barn catch on fire and burn down a while back, and they are in the process of hauling the tin from the barn to the metal recycler. — WLJ