The Midwest has long been known for quality beef production, but profitable beef production has not been the automatic right of Midwestern farmers. Let’s look at a bit of history and try to learn lessons that will help us produce quality beef at a profit.
My friend, Steve Wallace, Senior Forage Agronomist for Barenbrug USA, will tell us that in the 50’s and 60’s the Midwest not only finished most of the calves it produced, but also IMPORTED cattle from the West! The 70’s and 80’s however, saw this scenario reversed. By the 90’s, many of our calves and the grain to feed them were being shipped to the West and Southwest. The Midwest is on the rise again. We have the feed right here, don’t we?? Why not keep the industry here? Isn’t finishing our own cattle a profit “slam dunk”? Beware though,finishing cattle can be very profitable, but if we are not prudent it can finish our bank account!
I would like to point out 4 mistakes many in the Midwest beef industry have made.
- Failure to provide quality pasture for brood cows and calves. This has caused poor herd health, lousy conception rates, and light, stunted calves. Not only have we fed poor quality forage [especially hay] but also fed our cattle tons of poisoned feed. Ever hear of fescue toxicity?? Our pastures are the most used, most important part of our beef operations and yet too often they receive the least attention.
- Failure to provide quality feed in July and August. Our cool season pastures often suffer from summer slump and many producers simply let their cows stumble through the drought even though there are many options such as warm season annuals and perennials to keep our cows in top shape.
- Failure to provide quality feed in the winter months. A diet consisting of mostly mature KY-31 is what the majority of beef cows exist on from October through March. This is a significant factor leading to a loss of profit!
- Failure to provide the quality feed program for weaned calves. Weaned calves need quality feed not unlike what a high producing Holstein cow needs. With a feed program like that we can background calves efficiently even if we do not finish them.
There are a growing number of highly successful beef producers from the Midwest.
What are they doing differently from the normal producers?
- They are taking or have taken definite steps to get rid of the choke hold of KY-31.Tell me one good reason to feed poison to any cow? There aren’t any. These farmers are taking excellent care of their land. They maintain a better stand than most KY-31 farms have. They generally are increasing the organic matter content in their soil. They are better protectors of the land; more efficient in their use of resources.
- These successful farmers use good grassland management. They manage the production of pasture and hay ground as carefully as any cash cropper manages his corn. They use good grazing practices, fertilize judiciously, and do not abuse their pasture. They also use wisdom in selecting the right blend of forages for the need.
- They keep good forage available for their cattle at all times. Good farmers use a wide range of forages in pasture, hay, and stockpile as the need arises because their cattle deserve more than “junk” forage.
- They use quality forage to “background”. This allows them to put hundreds of economical pounds on their calves before selling them or finishing them. A good backgrounding program is low risk and is an easy way to have value added cattle.
- These farmers also manage waste. Combining a grazing management program and good manure collection facilities, they can turn their waste into a good fertilizer program. The loss of animal waste on Midwest farm land has been one reason for the wide spread loss of soil organic matter.
- These cattlemen also often use quality forage to assist in an economical and safe finishing program for fat steers. Cattle were created to thrive on forage. When we use quality forages the entire life of the cattle we tap into a resource that we will not improve on.