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Tuesday, December 16,2008

BEEF talk

by Kris Ringwall, North Dakota State University
The market talk was casual until the producer leaned over and said, We just marketed a 90.8 percent calf crop with an average weight of 560 pounds at 189 days of age. The room grew quiet. Are you sure? a neighbor asked. Yep, but I was just average. Maybe someday I can manage my way to the upper third, the rancher replied.

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Friday, September 5,2008

Beef Talk

by Kris Ringwall, North Dakota State University
Wintering cattle requires feed. The current tight inventories of feed suggest that cow culling should be deep. Yet, once the culling is done but the bales still don’t add up, the time is right to contact a good beef cattle nutritionist. The nutritionist can help develop a "least cost" ration. When developing the least-cost ration, feedstuffs may need to be purchased. One needs to be careful and review all options. Through the years, most of us have witnessed the detrimental effects of underfeeding or the results of overfeeding. The important point is that the nutrient value of feed is what drives value and performance. When I was fresh out of college, a producer preparing for calving was seeking a supplement to go along with his lower-quality grass hay. I asked if he had higher-quality hay that more likely would meet the requirements of a cow in late gestation or early lactation. "No," the producer said. "Don’t you ever have any access to alfalfa hay?" I queried. "Yes, but I fed that out when the cows came off pasture in October and November," the producer replied. There were two red flags with this scenario. The first was the failure of the producer to understand the nutritional requirements of cattle at different stages of life. The second was the misallocation of current feed inventories. A sound understanding of the nutritional requirements of cattle and the nutritional value of feed is needed. Chip Poland, Dickinson State University Department of Agriculture and Technical Studies chair and a well-educated beef cattle nutritionist, says the first step is to encourage producers to default back to the basics. "We feed nutrients, not pounds, which is a tough concept to get across since we physically see pounds," Poland says. "Corn at $6.35 per bushel (local price in Dickinson on Aug. 20) equates to approximately 14 cents per pound of total digestible nutrients (TDN). Hay at $100 per ton to be delivered at approximately $15 per bale (roughly a 150-mile delivery) is priced at roughly 13 cents per pound of TDN." The form that one buys feed in is price dependent. Using Poland’s example, with both corn and hay priced high, there still are options as to how a producer obtains the energy and other nutrients that a cow needs. "Hay was still cheaper, but, in the long haul after waste is figured in, that may or may not be true," Poland says. "I can limit feed corn with minimal waste. While storing and feeding round bales of hay, one should factor in to the price approximately 10 percent waste." Another factor that needs to be addressed is transportation. "What would corn cost if we looked at the source and moved it in unit volumes?" Poland asks. "A local elevator published corn prices at $4.60 and $4.80 per bushel for old and new corn, respectively, in today’s newspaper. Using the same hauling price for hay (approximately $350 per load for a 60-mile trip), the per-bushel price increases about 45 cents to $5.05 and $5.25, respectively, or about 11 to 12 cents per pound of TDN from corn." In a very simple scenario, we see high-priced corn may not be as high as it would appear. Conversely, hay may not be the only feed of choice at times. This analogy, along with numerous other examples of shopping around for feeds stuffs, is required of producers this year if one is producing cattle in areas that are short of feed. Not only is the basic ingredient (feed) missing, all the costs have escalated greatly. Producers need to make good, solid assumptions and keep in mind the answer will be different for each location and producer. However, producers need to price nutrients, not pounds of feed delivered, and seek the help of a sound, well-educated beef cattle nutritionist. May you find all your ear tags. — Kris Ringwall (Kris Ringwall is a North Dakota State University Extension Beef Specialist, director of the NDSU Dickinson Research Center and executive director of the North Dakota Beef Cattle Improvement Association. He can be contacted at 701/483-2045.)

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Friday, August 29,2008

47BeefTalk

by Kris Ringwall, North Dakota State University
Pregnancy check now for better management Trucks have been bringing in hay at $5 a loaded mile, so the hay yard is filling up slowly and expensively. The gates and locks have been spruced up. This year, hay values are pricey. As a result, most ranchers are standing at a fork in the road. Do they buy hay or sell cows? Producers need to review all of the options. The preferred alternative is trying to meet the nutritional needs of the cowherd with hay. Hay prices definitely are forcing the review of other feed options. Purchasing feed based on a dollar cost per pound of energy and protein is more desirable than simply purchasing feed on bulk weight. Yet, a more basic question needs to be asked: Are all the cows worth feeding? Now is the time to use ultrasound technology to pregnancy check the cows. Most veterinarians can complete the check. The sooner one can determine next year’s calving projections, the more solid the plans will be. At the Dickinson Research Extension Center, fetal age is determined during ultrasound pregnancy checking. To find the age of the fetuses, an excellent time to set up an ultrasound appointment is two to three months after the bulls are turned out. Ultrasounding three months after bull turnout would make the oldest calf about 90 days old. If the bulls were pulled after 60 days of breeding, then the youngest fetus should be approximately 30 days old. Even if the bulls still are in with the cows, ultrasounding can work. Cows that carry a fetus less than 30 days old are hard to pick up and would be candidates for the cull pen or, at a minimum, the recheck group for possible sale as bred cows. Now is a good time to perform a "paper" presorting of the cows one would like to keep and invest with expensive feed. For example, the center gives all cows a pregnancy code. An A1 cow is pregnant and conceived by artificial insemination. An N1 cow has conceived naturally during the first 21 days of the breeding season. Cows that were predicted to have conceived during the second 21 days of the breeding season are coded as N2. Cows that were predicted to have conceived during the third 21 days are N3 cows. The rest of the cows are open or late and, depending on the need, may be rechecked in the fall. Most likely, these cows will be sold as cull cows. Last week, 48 cows in section 16 were pregnancy checked by ultrasound. Thirty-five were classified as A1 cows, 12 as N2 and only one open. In terms of management, we now know that 35 cows will calve early and 12 will more than likely calve during the later part of the calving season. The open cow will be rechecked and sold. The same procedure was used on heifers. Today, 96 heifers were evaluated for pregnancy. Nine heifers were open. One was pregnant, but wild. All 10 are being pulled off the short pastures and heading to town. There is no excuse for keeping open heifers. There is even less reason to keep a wild heifer. After a day of working cattle, the sounds of silence are appreciated. During the day, the sound of a heifer’s leg kicking the chute or, worse yet, a person’s leg or any other anatomical reachable part is unacceptable. I have watched enough heifers come through the chutes to know there are nice heifers and there are some not-so-nice heifers. Those not-so-nice heifers have inflicted enough damage through the years to earn a place in the harvest line. That may sound harsh, but the truth is the truth. Temperament and expressed behavior are inherited, and like begets like and mean begets mean. Get ready to pregnancy check early for better planning. May you find all your ear tags. — Kris Ringwall (Kris Ringwall is a North Dakota State University Extension Beef Specialist, director of the NDSU Dickinson Research Center and executive director of the North Dakota Beef Cattle Improvement Association. He can be contacted at 701/483-2045.)

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Friday, August 22,2008

46BeefTalk

by Kris Ringwall, North Dakota State University
Now that hurts! The hay yard is empty for many producers and the traditional June hay was scarce or nonexistent. As the staple for cattle, the amount of hay one wanted to make has been replaced with the amount of hay needed to sustain the herd. Early indications suggest an upward shift in prices. Last year’s hay was abundant and visible from the road, at least in the case of the Dickinson Research Extension Center. A quick check of the records confirmed that the center purchased 318 tons of hay at an average price of $61.65 per ton. That will change this year. The "Ringwall" approach to hay inventory figures says one large, round bale per cow per month for every cow one is planning on feeding. Nutritionists want to know the bale weight and have a quality analysis. Veterinarians note the need for nitrate testing and monitoring any other health concerns with poorly prepared hay. For a generic starting point, it works. Generally, the bales come in pretty heavy and there seems to be enough extra weight on the bales to make sure there is some hay for the calves, bulls and a few horses. If we try to maintain 350 cows at the center through the anticipated November-to-April feeding period, we need 2,100 bales. For a large part of the upper Midwest, these dates coincide with the period when forage does not grow. Last year, the center supplemented raised feed with approximately 500 purchased bales that weighed 1,300 pounds. This year, the tables are turned and the center only is anticipating putting up approximately 400 bales. This means there is a need to purchase 1,700 bales. Current price puts the value of much of the hay at approximately $90 to $100 per ton. Through verbal discussions, the price range is somewhere between $60 and $150 per ton. The alfalfa market for dairy cow hay would be significantly higher and the later cut grass hay should be available near the lower end of the price range. So stop right there, take a deep breath and mutter, "now that hurts." Many times, changes tend to arrive in different packages for the typical needs versus wants list. However, the bottom line is that it makes no difference. The impact is the same. Placing wants ahead of needs can put an operation in financial jeopardy. Likewise, as the wants turn up on the needs list, the financial impact is just as devastating. Last year, our hay purchases here at the center were almost $20,000. This year, those 1,700 bales are estimated to total $110,500. Let me repeat my statement. "Now that hurts!" That means 1,105 tons at $100 per ton for a total cost of $110,500. Even worse, we haven’t paid any trucking fee yet. "Now that hurts even more!" There is no fairy godmother that will wave a wand to feed the cows. Only money and a lot of hard labor will do that. There might be a fairy godmother for the winter weather and maybe she will shorten the winter feeding period, but I never have found her very dependable. If one was to be honest, the tooth fairy is more dependable, but usually quits by the time one is actively involved in the beef business. Adding up the per cow purchased hay cost, the center spent around $60 a cow last year. This year, it looks like the center may need to budget more than $300 per cow for hay. "Oh, that hurts!" Even if the tooth fairy would help, she simply doesn’t deal with that kind of money. However, we do need to take a time out to see if any money was saved by not putting up our own hay. More next time. I need to go buy some tissues. — Kris Ringwall (Kris Ringwall is a North Dakota State University Extension Beef Specialist, director of the NDSU Dickinson Research Center and executive director of the North Dakota Beef Cattle Improvement Association. He can be contacted at 701/483-2045.)

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Friday, July 25,2008

Cow size—Effects of cow size on pasture management

by Kris Ringwall, North Dakota State University
Cow size—Effects of cow size on pasture management The effect of cow size and expected production from pasture management directly impacts expected outcomes that translate into income. This relationship was discussed in recent BeefTalk articles. A drought, at least in western North Dakota, initiated the discussion. The Dickinson Research Extension Center (DREC) established two different groups of cattle based on body weight, calculating inputs and potential outcomes. The two groups (herds) of cattle were weighed. The first herd had 52 cows that averaged 1,216 pounds (856 to 1,395 pounds) and the second herd was 50 cows that averaged 1,571 pounds (1,350 to 1,935 pounds). Since not all of these cows had mature records in the center’s data system, data from all the cows was added. Mature cow records were allotted to 100-pound increments. The production potential based on "percentage of cow weight weaned" was calculated for the mature cows. Lee Manske, DREC range scientist, calculated the expected nutritional pasture needs and expected outcomes from these cows based on production estimates by 100-pound increments of cow weight. For cows that were less than 1,300 pounds, the monthly forage dry-matter intake was calculated at 933 pounds. This required 10.75 acres per cow per grazing season in western North Dakota, with a predicted calf weaning weight of 617 pounds. For cows that weighed from 1,301 to 1,400 pounds, the monthly forage dry-matter intake was calculated at 997 pounds. This required 11.49 acres per cow in western North Dakota, with a predicted calf weaning weight of 611 pounds. For cows that weighed from 1,401 to 1,500 pounds, the monthly forage dry-matter intake was calculated at 1,051 pounds. This required 12.11 acres per cow in western North Dakota, with a predicted calf weaning weight of 589 pounds. For cows that weighed 1,501 to 1,600 pounds, the monthly forage dry-matter intake was calculated at 1,101 pounds, requiring 12.68 acres per cow in western North Dakota, with a predicted calf weaning weight of 598 pounds. For cows that were greater than 1,600 pounds, the monthly forage dry-matter intake was calculated at 1,188 pounds, requiring 13.68 acres in western North Dakota with a predicted calf weaning weight of 572 pounds. With that data, I already can hear the e-mails coming. The data does not appear logical. The data means calf gain on pasture weaning weight minus birth weight and then divided by age and then multiplied by grazing days is decreasing as the cow size increases. The larger cows are weaning less percentage of their body weight and producing a smaller calf. Cows less than 1,300 pounds had a pasture gain estimated at 336 pounds. The 1,301- to 1,400-pound cows’ gain was estimated at 332 pounds. The 1,401- to 1,500-pound cows’ gain was estimated at 318 pounds. The 1,501- to 1,600-pound cows’ gain was estimated at 323 pounds, and for cows weighing more than 1,600 pounds, the gain was estimated at 307 pounds. Translated even further, seasonal calf weight gain (pounds) per acre for each cow group would be 31.21, 28.88, 26.23, 25.49 and 22.41 pounds, respectively. Associated individual costs could be calculated as well as the value of calf gain on a per-acre and/or per-cow basis to fine-tune the added value of the smaller cow. As was noted in previous discussions, what is offered here is food for thought. Previous and future managerial decisions can and will determine production potential. There is little we can do to change nutritional requirements, stocking rates and plant biology. How cattle perform given individual production scenarios will vary, but one thing is for sure, do not assume what you see fits. The actual collection of data is essential to guide local changes in management. The application of assumed principles may or may not apply locally. It never hurts to have "more food for thought" for supper. May you find all your ear tags. — Kris Ringwall (Kris Ringwall is a North Dakota State University Extension Beef Specialist, director of the NDSU Dickinson Research Center and executive director of the North Dakota Beef Cattle Improvement Association. He can be contacted at 701/483-2045.)

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Friday, July 18,2008

41 Beef Talk

by Kris Ringwall, North Dakota State University
Cow size—calf value The mushroom season this spring was short. The area is still short on feed and the cow size question remains unanswered. Like all discussions, the temptation is to set aside the challenges of yesterday and replace them with immediate thoughts. Unfortunately, questions are not answered, and yesterday’s challenges eventually will become tomorrow’s problems if unanswered. Now is a good time to continue the cow size discussion. The stocking rate question simply will become a question of purchasing hay. The logical approach is twofold. The first approach is trying to meet the immediate needs of the current set of mother cows. The second is evaluating whether one is feeding the right cows. That continues the cow size discussion. Many things come into play. There are some overall facts that can be fairly well stated. The more difficult part of the discussion is evaluating traits through inter-relationships among the traits and within the environment in which the cattle are being produced. Cow and calf size are easily noticeable while cow milking ability cannot be observed except for a brief period at calving. Cow size is not simply weight since cows may be thin or fat on a short or tall frame. The bottom line is finding the right cow that can survive, raise a marketable calf, and be reasonably efficient on the resources available. Those resources quickly are becoming economically challenged. The necessity of addressing the long-term needs of the herd no longer can go into next week’s discussion. The right cow is not extreme in any trait, but one that combines several traits into one efficient working unit. The unit needs to be bred to a bull that will settle the cow and add value to the calf, which, in the end, will pay the bills. Just today, the closeout arrived for the final set of steers from last year’s calf crop. The first figure I always look at is death loss. This set of 55 calves made it through the feedlot with no deaths. Death loss for the calves at the Dickinson Research Extension Center never has been an issue. However, dead calves take chunks out of net return. In this case, the calves averaged $33.82 net return per head. The calves were sent to the lot on Jan. 15 and weighed in at 758 pounds (pay weight). The calves were valued at $98 per cwt. Doing the math, they were valued at $742 at arrival, plus $33.82 net return in the feedlot, so their total value back to the ranch just exceeded $776 per head. Being a data person, I could look up the significance of that number, but many years have gone by when our targeted value back to the ranch was $500. So even without the stats, the lot closeout was good. True net return to the cow has not been figured yet because variable and fixed costs need to be subtracted for the cow and bull to determine the ranch net return. However, in terms of the cowherd, the more valuable the calf and the lower the production costs, the more net return to the ranch. It takes the right cow mated to the right bull in the local environment to make the desired net return. These calves had an average daily gain in the feedlot of 4.27 pounds per day. The converted (feed efficiency) dry matter to gain was 4.69 pounds and the frame score was 5.1. They exceeded the required ribeye with an average yield grade of 2.36 at an average live weight of 1,277 pounds and a 41.8 percent grading choice or higher. Therefore, given the calf value, the cows are still here and will remain. However, let’s not forget we are working on the long-term question. What cow do we need? — Kris Ringwall (Kris Ringwall is a North Dakota State University Extension Beef Specialist, director of the NDSU Dickinson Research Center and executive director of the North Dakota Beef Cattle Improvement Association. He can be contacted at 701/483-2045.)

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Friday, May 23,2008

Beef Talk

by Kris Ringwall, North Dakota State University
Cow size—How much more does the big cow eat? The green forage tends to be seasonal, while the grazing of seeds and dry grass is the non-growing season staple. Regardless of the season, a cow’s nutritional requirements need to be met. The challenge is making sure our production expectations are in tune with what Mother Nature provides. Our pastures and feed piles may be limited as we struggle to balance feed and cattle. When seasons are as now, the lack of rain (or other environmental restraint) highlights the need to plan. The quick and easy answer is to sell cattle. However, the astute manager does nutritional planning first. Recently, the Dickinson Research Extension Center sorted cow/calf pairs and two groups (herds) of cattle were sent out for spring and summer grazing. The first herd has 52 cows that average 1,216 pounds (856 to 1,395 pounds) and the second herd has 50 cows that average 1,571 pounds (1,350 to 1,935 pounds). The 355-pound difference brings up two questions. What is the difference in the nutritional needs of the two herds and is there an advantage of one group over the other during dry weather? I consulted with animal nutritionists to help explain the difference in nutritional needs of the two herds. Greg Lardy, North Dakota State University Extension beef specialist, and Chip Poland, Dickinson State University Department of Agriculture and Technical Studies chair, responded to the questions. The core issue is what cattle to feed if feed becomes limited. For ease of understanding, let’s discuss how much we would feed these cattle if we removed them from the pasture on June 1 when the calves are approximately 3 months old and fed them until the end of September, a period of four months. The first group of cattle (averaging 1,216 pounds), with milk production estimated at 20 pounds peak, would have an average daily need of just less than 28 pounds of dry matter of a ration that was 60 percent total digestible nutrients and 9.8 percent crude protein. The larger set of cattle (averaging 1,571 pounds), with milk production estimated at 20 pounds peak, would have an average daily need of just less than 34.5 pounds of a daily dry matter of the same previously noted ration. The total dry matter increase for the herd that weighs 355 pounds more on the average would be 6.5 pounds of dry matter (feed) per day per cow, or 780 pounds of feed per cow for the duration (120 days) of the summer confinement period. As the producer, one would need to estimate about 3,360 pounds of dry-matter feed per cow for the smaller cattle and 4,140 pounds of dry- matter feed per cow for the larger cattle. If each herd has 50 cows, the smaller set of cattle would need 84 tons of dry-matter feed. The larger set of cattle would need 104 tons of the same feed. Keep in mind that we need to return to Greg and Chip to actually balance the ration and make sure we fine-tune and match the cattle dietary needs with the actual feed stuffs we have. In addition, we will need to factor in feed waste for the feeding system. For now, know the weight of your cattle and feed accordingly. If you cannot find 104 tons for the heavy herd, perhaps you better shift gears and keep the lighter cows. We hope you can find enough feed for them. More later as we look at the grazing options of the two herds. — Kris Ringwall (Kris Ringwall is a North Dakota State University Extension Beef Specialist, director of the NDSU Dickinson Research Center and executive director of the North Dakota Beef Cattle Improvement Association. He can be contacted at 701/483-2045.) Feeding cows can be simple, but also complicated. In simplest form, the cow needs to fill up with grass or some other palatable green forage.

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Thursday, December 20,2007

BEEF talk

by Kris Ringwall, North Dakota State University
The most recent addition to the lineup gets the nod. We all know that in a matter of days, the most recent becomes old. You now can do about anything you want with that small device in the palm of your hand. You can take a small stick device and manipulate the keypad in a way that the world knows who you are, where you are, and what you need. This is common among the new generation. The older generation is quickly getting acclimated. Therein is a great opportunity: new jobs and new expectations. In the beef world, the beef techie soon may be listed in the classifieds under the help wanted section. During a quick look at the local auction barn crowd, the buyers and spectators were fairly well equipped with good cell phone technology. Calf weights, lot weights, average calf weights and prices were displayed in a matter of seconds on digitized boards and other incidental electronic equipment. Many of these conveniences always have been there, but technology has aided the process and speeded things up. Enter the beef techie, who brings efficiency to the process of making technology work in environments that are not technology friendly. Many environments are a combination of old technology merged with new technology. Some merges well, while other technology has trouble fitting in. Regardless, technology is coming, and knowing how to plug things in becomes important. Perhaps the concept of a new television, disc player or surround-sound system, with individual remotes and interfaces, has arrived in the beef barn. Interestingly, the other day, the North Dakota State University (NDSU) Dickinson Research Extension Center (DREC) team added some thoughts to the technology world. The DREC and many others worked on a project that was developed on older, low frequency electronic identification technology. Restraining cattle was required to use the technology. It took significant effort and time to fully implement. The latest development has new technology reading high-frequency tags with no interference or performance issues at local livestock auctions. The reading took .338 second per group lot, with 99 percent read rates. Connecting the calf with the data package and opening the door to track comingled and re-sorted lots of calves is a major leap forward. The 10 lots of cattle that were read averaged 18.8 calves per lot. Each tag was read 238.5 times during that .338-second time frame. Now that is the job of the beef techie. The beef techie has to figure out how all this works and effectively implement the technology into a very large, mature industry. In the meantime, the industry needs to find the value of both the calf and the accompanying data. We also must go one step further and accept the fact that there are two principles at work. The two principles are trace back and trace forward. The discussion of marketing is strongly related to trace forward. Trace forward is the process of presenting to the market around the world a product and data package capable of providing assurances of the authenticity of the product offered and accompanying data package. Trace forward is a sequential step that, when combined with trace back, creates a synergism around what was, what is, and what will be relative to authenticated producer products involved in domestic and export markets. The bottom line is technology does open doors, but keeping the doors open will require the beef techie.

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Thursday, December 20,2007

BEEF talk

by Kris Ringwall, North Dakota State University
Opportunity comes with intensity Many opportunities exist within agriculture. Most are driven by the opportunity to make more money, but some are driven by the opportunity to do something different. In either case, the successful completion of the endeavor is not always positive. Frank Kutka, sustainable agricultural specialist at the North Dakota State University Dickinson Research Extension Center, attended a conference on goat production. Given my background in small ruminants, primarily sheep, it didn’t take long to engage in a good discussion about the conference and the world of smaller ruminants. Having taught the key management principles involved in small-ruminant production, the learning curve often was steep and producer success was not always achieved. In the end, neither the sheep nor the goat industries have successfully engaged mainstream production levels capable of sustaining viable production scenarios of scale. As a force within ruminant production, the vast majority of grassland-related agriculture still centers on the beef cow. The dairy cow is obviously present, but many producers have set aside the milk bucket and, with time, beef cows are grazing on the pastures. Why beef cows? Well, the answer is not simple. One does have to be careful not to offend anyone. However, in our discussion, the phrase “opportunity comes with intensity” seemed to surface more than once. We both concurred that, in many cases, the intensity of management needed to successfully engage a small-ruminant operation is not achieved. That statement is not meant to offend, but having conducted many three-day, intensive schools on sheep production, it is true. While I am quickly reminded this is a beef column, I could not help making the connection to the many issues that beef producers face. Generally, most would agree that today’s beef business, if one sets aside the comfort that comes with higher prices and simply looks at the industry and then sets about engaging that industry head on, is very complicated. Not unlike the sheep and goat business, the changes that need to be made are intense. Additional opportunity is dependent on our willingness to engage change with intensity. Often times in the sheep business, producers complain that their sheep simply died. No, you simply allowed the sheep to die, was my response. As a producer, you were unwilling to take the necessary managerial steps needed to ensure the survival of the sheep. Accepting that the primary reason for failure was your own managerial decisions and general overall resistance to change is difficult to accept. The need to increase management intensity to meet the expected opportunity must be met. In the beef industry, producers simply lack the desire to explore new opportunities. As producers look backward and forward, the need to access new opportunities needs to happen. However, often times, even when one does take on a new challenge, the intensity of the change is underestimated. The current age and source verification effort is a good example. There are new vaccinations, reproductive techniques, breeding programs, supplementation programs, marketing exposure, business planning or simply new associates entering the business. A new level of intensity is necessary. Refusing to increase intensity, however, means forgoing complaining about the future. I had the great opportunity to have supper with several veterinarians from around the world. When asked what was the greatest restraint they encountered while working with producers, they commented that many do not want to change and they simply restrict their own opportunities by never allowing them to become reality. Opportunity comes with intensity and that intensity needs to be engaged.

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Thursday, December 20,2007

BEEF talk

by Kris Ringwall, North Dakota State University
Is it ever too dry to grow a plant? Now that we’ve had a frost, it’s time to reflect on our previous growing season. With the prices being offered for crops, most producers have to ask themselves if they could have squeezed out a little more production. Ranchers involved in animal production can look over the fence and see what farmers (those more involved in plant production) are up to. The Dickinson Research Extension Center (DREC) used that principle when Roger Ashley, Extension Service agronomist, and Dickinson State University student Wesley Messer investigated the possibility of double-cropping. Ashley and Messer presented their findings at the 2007 DREC field day in July. Messer began the report by noting that forage production has been limited to one crop per year by producers in past years. For many of us, that is very true. We convince ourselves that one crop is as good as we are going to get and that is it. Again, high prices and increased values certainly would beg the question of more production. “Due to land use constraints and the need to remain economically viable, producers need to strive for new ways to remain productive,” Messer said. “It may be possible with improved no-till equipment and management to harvest two forage crops in one year.” Allowing one’s mind to wonder and recalling various management decisions and operations that allow us to get a second crop off a piece of ground, Messer and Ashley turned to historical weather data at DREC. Their objective was “to look at 100 years of data and determine the theoretical potential to grow two forage crops in one year.” Using temperature and precipitation data available from 1905 through 2005 and the remaining data from a 15-year summary of the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network station in Dickinson, Messer and Ashley were able to accomplish their objective of calculating the daily evapo-transpiration and crop water use based on the Penman equation. “The Penman equation requires daily maximum and minimum temperatures, precipitation, average wind speed, solar radiation, dew point and relative humidity,” Messer said. Using peas and sorghum, Messer was able to calculate an estimate of the number of years that the crops would have been stressed (soil water equivalent was less than 4.4 inches of water in silt loam soil) or when the plants would have hit a point of no return, which is referred to as permanent wilt point (soil water equivalent was 0). When water stress occurs, yield will be proportional to the water deficit. The crop dies when water stress becomes extreme (permanent wilt point). Interestingly, in the 100 years of weather data examined, they estimated that field pea forage in the Dickinson area hit the permanent wilt point seven years. Sorghum, the second crop in the proposed double-crop scenario, was projected to be more difficult to produce because 18 years in the 100 years studied resulted in the crop hitting the permanent wilt point. On coarse, textured soil, the stress and wilt points will occur more often. “With proper management, advanced equipment and available soil water, it may be possible to successfully harvest two forage crops in one year,” Messer concluded. With prices the way they are, that sounds good and worth pondering as next year unfolds. Ashley said a producer from the Manning area whom he and David Twist, Dunn County Extension agent, are working with, provided an update on his second cut of alfalfa from a field toured during the DREC field day. “Earlier this summer, the producer harvested 2.1 tons dry matter (DM) of hay per acre for the first cutting,” Ashley said. He harvested an additional 1.4 tons DM per acre the week of Sept. 3. July and August were dry in the Manning area (about 1.5 inches total), so the added production was great.” The bottom line is to take some time to review the old concepts, but check into new ideas because technology keeps changing. Even if rain is scarce, with the right crop, techniques and an open mind, there is a chance the cattle will eat.

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