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A technology designed for ALL operations! Ceres Tag is a versatile ear tag technology with GPS tracking that can be used to collect multiple data points on beef cattle.
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ShayLe Stewart offers her advice on how to educate yourself on cattle markets so you can understand them better.
ShayLe Stewart is a rancher and cattle market enthusiast. She analyzes markets day in and day out to share with cattle producers in an easy-to-understand method.
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Empowering Youth • Entrepreneurship • Diversifying Operations • Overcoming Covid
Brandon Howley talks about it ALL! You won't want to miss this inspiring story of teaching youth to build and sustain businesses in agriculture.
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Adding value to calves before sale day is critical. Monte Rainforth shares key actions to achieve success when backgrounding your calves to add value to your herd.
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Shaye Koester 00:08
Hey, hey, it's Shaye Koester and I'm your host for the Casual Cattle Conversations podcast where we foster innovation and enthusiasm in the ranching industry through sharing the stories and practices of different ranchers and beef industry leaders. Be sure to be a greater part of this podcast and become involved on my social media pages. Follow @cattleconvos on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok or Shaye Koester on LinkedIn to join the conversations around the challenges we face as ranchers and how we can overcome them. You can also find more information about this podcast all my episodes and how to partner with me on this show, by going to my website, casualcattleconversations.com. With that, thanks for tuning in, and let's see who our guest is today.
Red Angus Association of America 01:09
Hey folks, let's give a quick thank you to the association helping make this episode possible. Profit. Repeat. With Red Angus genetics. Red Angus bulls generate repeated profits for commercial cow-calf producers. Year after year, despite unpredictable market conditions, cattle producers see increased return on investment for their Red Angus-sired calves. These cattle excel both in the feed yard and on the rail. Calves sired by Red Angus bulls are eligible to be enrolled in the Feeder Calf Certification Program and wear the yellow tag verifying age, source and genetics. Increase your profit potential with Red Angus genetics. Visit RedAngus.org for more information on enrolling your calves in Red Angus value-added programs.
Shaye Koester 02:02
Hey there, it's time for another episode. Thanks for hopping on again folks, if you're new Welcome to the show and I'm glad you found us today. In the spirit of fall activities on the ranch. We are going to visit with Monte Rainforth about all things backgrounding. Monte is certainly passionate and experienced in this area and is going to share some do's and don'ts about backgrounding cattle and a little marketing advice too. Before we get on with the show. Remember to have these episodes and my blogs sent straight to your inbox by going to casualcattleconversations.com/newsletter to stay up-to-date on all things CCC. Also, go to casualcattleconversations.com/patron to learn how you can gain access to exclusive episodes, content and rewards. Don't forget to follow @cattleconvos on all social media too. With that, thanks again for hopping on. And let's get on with the episode. Alrighty, so what's your experience in the backgrounding space?
Monte Rainforth 03:09
Well, we calve about 300 head of commercial mother cows and for the last 25 years, we've always backgrounded prior to marketing the calves. So I'd say 25 years of backgrounding, my own calves and then also I worked for Merck Animal Health company. I have an opportunity to see a lot of different scenarios. As far as backgrounding calves in feedlots or on cow calf operations there is a lot of observation there as far as what people do different, what works, what doesn't work.
Shaye Koester 03:41
Okay, so how would you define backgrounding as a part of the beef cycle?
Monte Rainforth 03:47
That's a good question. I think that gets a little bit confusing to some people. And it's because it's defined differently by different people. But in my opinion, backgrounding is from the time you take those calves off the cow. And some people try to condense it into a certain number of days. And I think that's right, I think backgrounding phase starts when that calf comes off the cow. And to me, it's defined as a period of days, whether that's 30 days off the cow. My opinion is it needs to be a minimum of 45 days off the cow until they go into a feedlot type phase or a grass program phase. But I think at minimum for the vaccinations to take hold and protect those calves get them nutritionally sound I think a minimum of 45 days off the cow before they leave the ranch is in my opinion, the true backgrounding phase.
Shaye Koester 04:44
Okay, so you've talked about it a little bit as far as days, length of time and when it starts, but what does this process fully look like when we talk about backgrounding
Monte Rainforth 04:57
Um, to me, it looks like bringing the cows and calves and taking the calves off the cow and weaning the best way you know how. I prefer the fenceline weaning method, it seems like the calves don't travel as much in the pen. They're not as anxious, so they don't kick a bunch of dust. They're more you know more confident in what they're doing or supposed to be doing and that is eating and drinking and staying next to the cow by the fence. So that's what the process looks like. For me personally, it can look like a lot of different things, I mean, take them into a feedlot. Background them. Then take them into a small feedlot for a while without the mother there. But for me personally it looks like fenceline weaning and leaving them in that situation for a couple of days and then remove the cows or remove the calves or whatever your situation is. There's just so many scenarios that you talk about as far as getting those calves off the cow. We're kind of talking about backgrounding this morning, but the weaning process actually to me is a part of that and maybe you've got to get them started off right when you take them off that cow so that that's part of the process is removing the calves from the cow. Get them into the backgrounding phase. Get them started on feed and water to get the vaccinations and let them do what they need to do to perform and gain weight and stay healthy.
Shaye Koester 06:24
So when you say feed and water I mean what type of feed is this?
Monte Rainforth 06:29
Um those are all good questions Shaye and I've thought a lot about this podcast this morning and there's so many different opinions and scenarios that one can draw as far as what it looks like. What the feed looks like, how you do it, just literally hundreds of different scenarios you could draw so I talk I look at from my experience, what I like to do what works for me what I think works best and most backgrounding phases and the feed to me looks like long-stem prairie hay – good, high-quality, long stem prairie hay that's highly-palatable, highly desirable, buy that calf and then start them on some type of a pellet or some type of a ration. Slowly introduce that to them and get those calves on their feet and get them eating. You cannot hardly hurt a calf on prairie hay and so I think the ration looks like dry-stem prairie hay temporarily. Start introducing those pellets almost immediately. They want get them going. If you're going to be messing around with corn, be very very careful a corn. It gets into changing the rumen bugs. And if you change it rumen bugs too fast on a calf that creates stress. And that can trigger what looks like pneumonia or sickness. A good barometer for me to find out if you're dealing with a true sickness or disease in calves, respiratory disease or shipping fever, a good barometer for that is if you get some calves that look sick and you go ahead and Doctor him with an antibiotic, any antibiotic and they don't respond. Chances are you're treating a digestive upset versus a true pneumonia. Because the antibiotics we have available today are very very broad spectrum and good high quality products. So if they're not responding to one of them, and then you switch to another one and they don't respond you're not happy with your success, You are probably dealing with a digestive upset. And then we need to come back and look at our starting ration and see if we've got the rumen bufs out of whack. We tried to change them too fast. But bottom line is I like the dry temporary hay and a dried pellet and then go ahead and introduce them to your corn down the road and the week or two and and get them on their feet. That way I think it's so important the way we start those calves that very first day through the first two or three weeks. We can get a lot of things messed up there or we can get a lot of things right and I think it's directly dependent on that ration and how we start them. And it starts with dry stem prairie hay. To me, it just makes sense because that calf is used to dry grass or grass, you know you're giving the same opportunity all you're doing is removing mother's milk. And then the second part of that nutrition thing what it looks like is water. And water obviously is the number one nutrient of any living being. And just because they have water available, may not correlate that access. And if we don't have plenty of room around the water tank and the tank doesn't stay full. And especially in hot weather, those dominant calves push timid ones out and that triggers some sickness and some disease opportunity And so I think nutritionally the dry stem prairie hay and water and not just availability or access to water, but availability to good clean water.
Shaye Koester 10:09
Oh, awesome, thank you for going into depth and explaining that more. So, looking at backgrounding on the bigger picture, why is that an important part of this calf's lifecycle?
Monte Rainforth 10:25
I think it's really important part of that calf's lifecycle and obviously you know production agriculture as well as anybody. But there's a lot of different management practices out there. We can get by and do a lot of different things and have success and failure along the way. I think when it comes down to the beef animal, the backgrounding part is so important to that calf, because if we take the time to background him on the ranch, or in a setting that allows that calf to perform and prosper I think we're doing a big favor on the animal welfare front and, and showing the world that we're doing the right thing for that calf, and giving him the best opportunity possible. I think we're crazy to think that we can, you know, have cattle without any illness, just like people sometimes really get sick, can be self inflicted, it could just be something's going to naturally occur. But I think the backgrounding phase in itself really is the one segment of our industry or one production opportunity that gives us the best opportunity to provide a setting for that calf to stay healthy for the rest of his life on to the next phase and to me it's you know, it is about me, you know, as always like to say really, it is all about me what I'm doing here on the ranch, because I'm here to make money and if this backgrounding deal doesn't make me money most of us aren't really interested in listening to anything on that but the reality to is it's gonna make me money I know it does. Otherwise, I wouldn't do it this long. As far as backgrounding, if my calves didn't make money, I'd jerk them off the cow and then be done with it and hope somebody had a good day with them. For the second part and I think the important part of this industry is we need to look out for the next person. You know, it's it's our industry is pretty segmented. And I'm always concerned about the next guy, you know, if I'm going to background my calves and they've been background and 45 days, they've had all their shots and they've been nutritionally started right? They're straightened out, they're not sick, that gives me some satisfaction that I can take those calves to the sale barn and move them to the next person meaning the feedlot and they're going to have success and my reputations on the line with that so I follow through and make sure that they're happy with the calves. If they got sick, I want to know why, how many, what time, and what happened. Following up on that I think that's really really important as far as the opportunity for calves and give them the best chance to stay and stay healthy and perform all the way through and we want to talk about production and agriculture. You know that it's about the rancher it's about the feedlot it's also about the packer and consumer. You know, we know through research that we do a good job setting these kids up for success in the feedlot packers are gonna have success the consumers can have success, so it all plays hand in hand. And basically it starts with the rancher.
Shaye Koester 13:46
Okay, so looking on the other end, what are common mistakes you see producers make when they are backgrounding.
Monte Rainforth 13:55
Okay, yeah, there And believe me, there's plenty of mistakes can be made. I can tell you firsthand, I've made plenty of mistakes backgrounding calves, and if somebody is gonna jump in and background calves, I think they need to have their eyes wide open. I'm 100% on board and that's the right thing to do for the calf. It's the right thing to do for the industry. It's the right thing to do for animal welfare. Not everybody's able to or willing to do it. But if you're going to jump into it, eyes wide open, understand your risk, understand your reward. And number one thing is nutrition. We need to start these calves right. And I think that's probably the number one mistake I see. And it's not dependent on the size of operation. There could be a huge person that could be a small producer. It's not getting these calves started right and not really understanding the concept. Cause and Effect of poor nutrition. And poor nutrition to me is not defined as not enough feed or low quality feed. Sometimes I see as I look around, and I have the opportunity to get next to some of these guys, and unfortunately the reason I get next to him is they have trouble and they call me and say, Hey, what do you think of this. And believe it or not, a lot of times it's the calves that get sick, are on real high quality feed. And a lot of it and it's almost like we overdo it by think by doing what we think is best for that calf having really high quality feed. And a lot of it is actually the wrong thing. It's wrong thing for that calf. So I learned years ago that you know, I don't want them to starve but I want those calves happy to see me when I go out there and feed them that next morning, they need to be a little hungry. Some people call it keeping them dry, you know, keeping that stool kind of firm and then not dry, but keeping that stool firm, not getting them loose. So I think nutritionally, that's one of the biggest things is understanding how to start that calf how to feed him. And more is not better. Just like with vaccines more is not necessarily better. When it comes to nutrition. It's understanding the ingredients you're feeding them and the effect those ingredients have on the rumen of that calf and how that affects the health of that calf. So that's that's probably number one far and away that is number one. So somebody's going to embark and background calves and they don't really have a lot of experience with it. Seek somebody out that has done it has had success and find out what they're doing nutritionally and I come back to prairie hay. That is the biggest most forgiving ingredient we have access to is high quality prairie hay, to buffer that rumen and those calves will stay healthy. It's about performance. Now calves won't perform real well on prairie hay long term. But we're not talking long term. We're talking per day and for a short period of time until those calves get over missing their mother. They're over missing the milk. And now once they do that and we've been through the vaccine stage where we're given those vaccines an opportunity to work and the calf to uptake them. And now we can start moving into the ration type deal. And mixed ration, a pellet, whatever you want to do just a lot of different options. There's really not a right or wrong way on this process. But there are some things to look at. And I think your question was what are some of the biggest mistakes and the biggest one I see before in a way is nutrition. When it comes to the feed they're eating. The other common mistake I see that messes many groups of calves up as the feed does, but it's the water situation. I mean you I see too many times we have four or 500 head of calves in a pen with one little tank in there and they can only get around one side of it because it's in between two fences. And it's all burrowed out around the tank and blown out and they can't get up there and drknk once it gets down a foot. Those calves just aren't getting enough fluid. Then one of the barometers to see that is number one they're going to show you they're going to get ganted up. The other thing is you can tell a lot if you go into a set of calves at any stage of production and look at the stools of those calves. If they're all hard and dry, and the calves are a little bit depressed. You need to start looking for a problem problem and the problem could be water, it could be nutrition, it could be water, it could be a lot of things but those are the primary two. If they're splattery different color and all over the board. You need to go to the bunk. There's something wrong in the bunk we probably have too much feed in there if you're not feeding to a slick bunk. those calves are probably getting digestive upsets acidosis and they're going to show symptoms like pneumonia. If you try to treat with an antibiotic and they don't respond chances are that's a problem. Go back to long-stem prairie hay and get them straightened out as quick as you can and get through that rough period of time with them. And then the third one is your animal health, your vaccines. You know I've been doing the vaccine deal for quite a number of years. And over 30 actually, and I mentioned earlier more is not better. And I see too many times we overwhelm these calves with too many vaccines. And I won't get into it too deep here but there's things called Gram negative vaccines, your foot rots, your pink eyes, you're somnus, your mycoplasmas and we start overwhelming those calves with too many Gram negative vaccines and we'll make those calves sick. We'll darn sure help them get sick so, so overdoing the animal health part of it, we need to do enough but I see too many times we overwhelm the calf's immune system and don't let them respond very well to anything and we can trip those calves into being more sickly type calves so those are the three most common errors I see when it comes to backgrounding calves and then for that fact any stage a cow calf production or feedlot production
Shaye Koester 20:39
Okay, so the next point I kind of wanted to ask you would be what are the main things that producers need to remember when backgrounding calves? Does that just go back to those three points you discussed about what's in the bunk, the water situation and vaccinations? Or is there more you'd like to add to that?
Monte Rainforth 20:57
No, that's about it. You know, I will say we will. We do everything right, to the best of our ability, we have nutrition right. We have the water right. We have the animal health right. It doesn't mean those calves won't get sick. Mother Nature can overwhelm the best intentions and best program but my opinion is if we get everything right that's in our control. Chances are Mother Nature is not going to hurt It's too bad. I mean those calves can take some pretty dusty dry days and take on some pretty long wet windy cold days. As long as we got those three things in order, the water feed and animal health it's pretty amazing to me what those cattle can take. So we we control we have a handle or what we can and what we can't control we try to manage it but don't worry too much about it I mean try to keep them out of the you know if you got a big old blow coming get them behind some shelter and do what you can, but my experience is that if we if we take care of those three main things feed water and animal health, we can make them pretty bulletproof but nothing's a guarantee but we can help ourselves a lot and help the calves a lot by providing that opportunity.
Shaye Koester 22:19
Okay, so switching gears to kind of the marketing side of things what are the key elements producers need to be aware of or do when they're marketing these calves that they're backgrounding
Monte Rainforth 22:33
I kind of mentioned earlier but risk. I mean this is a risky business we all know it's a low margin business and you need to manage your risk best you can and I think that's why some choose not to background calves and take them off the cow and sell them. I mean there's risk you do it long enough you're gonna lose one. You do it long enough you're gonna regret no matter what your your best of intentions you're going to open yourself up to problems but the reward is well we know there's risk in it but there's great reward in it for you personally. Financially you're gonna have little money wrapped up in them you're gonna have some time wrapped up in them but the reward can be awfully great done right and it still starts with the quality animal. I mean you can add value to any quality of an animal by backgrounding them and adding value to them for the next guy but but you need to know the higher quality animal the better reward you get, I think so I think it's understanding your risk understand your reward. You know, you need to market those calves. Sale barns do a tremendously good job for our industry. I mean, they're just we're fortunate along Highway 20 we have some great barns along Highway 20 Basset, Atkinson, Burwell just some great barns that sell a lot of high quality calves people those barns do a fantastic job and not only in handling the animals and get them through the sale barn but getting buyers there they do a great service. Having said that, me personally I feel it's important for me to market my own. You know, I tried to make the contacts from past buyers. I follow up with them, let them know 'hey, these calves are gonna be in Basset this day' or wherever I'm gonna take them to. And here's what they are. We got along good last year you bought them last year two years ago. Thanks for your interest in them and do your part as a producer. I think that's probably the biggest mistake I see is we depend a lot, as good as a sale barns are, we put a lot of pressure on them to market our calves. They do a good job. The calves and they'll mark your calves as well, you know, they advertise and all that. But I think as a producer, if you really want to capture the value out of your calves and the effort hard work you put into those calves all the way from breeding their mothers, the background and them getting them to that stage. I think a big mistake is we don't do a good enough job as individuals marketing, okay?
Shaye Koester 25:24
So do you want to elaborate a little bit more on that, as far as, as individuals not doing a good enough job of marketing calves.
Monte Rainforth 25:34
Um, maybe that's not the right way to say it, I think maybe it's not the right way to say that they don't do a good enough job. Maybe they don't put enough effort into it. Maybe some don't have the confidence to do it. To me, that's kind of the fun part of it, you develop the relationships, and you're building your own reputation, you're building the reputation of your herd. So I don't know that I have a lot to add on that, Shaye. Except, I think that's a really, really important step that sometimes gets left out, we put all this work and effort into it. And contacting the buyers you know, it's one thing know the feedlot that owns your calves, the bottom it's another thing to have a relationship with buyers, you know, try to find those buyers at least know them, be able to visit with them follow up with them. Did you like him? Or you know, 'I saw you betting on my calves and you bailed out 50 cents short of buying them and what stopped you?' not being accusative. But you know, I'm just interested what stopped you from taking that extra bit? You know, did you get to the end of your rope? Was that just the end? That's all you had? Or was there something about the cattle that they were a little too full or little to something or a try to learn something from those buyers, they they know a lot, they see cattle every day, and try to learn something and make yourself better and make your operation better. I think that's the goal. Because we'll never know it all. We'll never know everything about it. But the fun part is kind of that not knowing everything about it, but trying to keep learning of how can I make my herd better? How can I make my herd more profitable? And those are exciting things to me to try to get accomplished? Knowing that it's impossible to do but you're gonna make progress all the time.
Shaye Koester 27:32
Well, absolutely. It's about learning and making that progress. But with that, that really wraps up all the main points and questions I wanted to ask you. Do you have anything else you'd like to add before we wrap up completely?
Monte Rainforth 27:45
Why is it valuable to feedlot I think that's something that needs to be hit on a little bit harder probably is the value of the feedlot. I think we're the industry is getting so much attention, so much attention from the animal welfare side, the backers and how you doing things, what's your production practices and I think, you know, as a cow-calf guy, if I can provide the best opportunity to a feedlot to minimize their antibiotic use to keep those calves healthy, and provide a good product to the to the packer and the consumer. We know that sick calves don't read well we know there's so much we do know about how disease and sickness affects these animals. And I think you know, most feedlots recognize that. And I think sometimes cow calf guys feel like they don't recognize it. But believe me I believe feedlots do recognize that a backgrounded, well vaccinated calf has more value than a calf brought into town right off the cow. And the market shows that to some degree, but not consistently. And I think the lack of consistency in how the cow-calf guy views it probably creates some reservations of why do I want to go down this path of backgrounding and put the shots into them and all the headache and risk losing one every now and again. When it's not a consistent payback and my argument is it is a consistent payback. It may not be financial gain every year, eventually it will be generally but we need to look out for the next guy a little bit in this industry and give them the best opportunity with what we're providing them. And so my message to cow-calf guys would be don't get discouraged by it. You know you're going to lose one you're gonna have some expanse. You can't take your backgrounded calves to the sale barn that have been background for only 20 or 30 days and say they've had all the shots and say they bring the same money as someone that's got some higher quality calves in there that are right off the cow, that's not comparing apples to apples, the guy that brings some really reputation high quality calves right off the cow and gets more money or at same money as you do and you put all this work into, well, you got to buck up and realize maybe your calves don't have the reputation that this guy does. And maybe they're not the highest quality, you know, maybe they're put together calves, maybe you've got to recognize your quality, you're not comparing apples to apples. So don't let somebody misconstrue that and discourage you from adding value to your calves, and utilizing the tools we have available to us to add value to the calves. So I just kind of wanted to touch on that a little bit more. I think feedlots recognize it. Of course, every cow-calf guy wish they'd pay more for backgrounded calves. But they can only pay so much, you know, they've got a budget as well. So just don't get discouraged as me my message.
Shaye Koester 30:57
Monte Rainforth 30:58
I appreciate the opportunity, Shaye, I really do. I think this is a very important thing that you're doing as far as your podcast, and I just I just really appreciate the opportunity to see a young person get involved and do things that you're doing and then bring in something kind of unique to the industry and giving people an opportunity to another platform to learn and you know, gain experience. I'll never sit here and have a podcast with you sitting here saying I know everything. I know there's probably way more I don't know. But it's interesting to me. And if you're interested in it, you're going to try to do your best and excel at it. And I just the message I would say is just a big thanks to you for doing what you're doing and helping people try to get better at their operations. Whether it's you know, just cow-calf in general, or feedlot or animal health, whatever it is. It gets me excited. It gets me excited to see you do the things you do. So thanks for the opportunity.
Shaye Koester 31:58
Well, thank you very much.
Red Angus Association of America 32:00
Once again, thank you to the red Angus Association of America profit repeat with red Angus genetics. Red Angus, the industry's most favored female, generates repeated profits for commercial cow calf producers. independent research from a decade of data collection showed red Angus sired heifers commanded $66 per head more than females of other breed types. That's nearly $5,300 on a single load of replacement heifers. A true boost to profits on your operation. Why are Red Angus females the most favored they're strong maternal characteristics and quiet dispositions top the list. They are also productive, though maintenance and deficient. In short, they do their job and do it well. Visit red angus.org for more information on the industry's most favored female.
Shaye Koester 32:54
And that's a wrap on that one, folks. Thank you Monty for sharing your story and advice with all CCC fans and myself. If you want more content on backgrounding Be sure to comment on this episode, a social media post or shoot me a direct message and I'll see if I can find you more information. With that. Have a great day and I'll catch you on the next one.
Justin Sexten shares his background and experience while discussing the technology platforms offered by Performance Livestock Analytics. Learn how Performance Livestock Analytics is developing and utilizing software to help small to moderate-sized feeders utilize and understand feed data to increase efficiency and profitability.
Grazing corn stalks isn't new but there are new data that could make you rethink some management strategies. Dr. Jim MacDonald shares information on grazing periods, supplementation and the soil benefits that occur from this management practice.
Listen on your favorite podcast app or at casualcattleconversations.com
Redd Summit 00:05
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Shaye Koester 00:05
So to start off, would you please explain your background in the ranching industry?
Jim MacDonald 00:10
Sure, I grew up probably about 50 miles from where you grew up just in a different era. So I grew up on a cow-calf operation in South Central North Dakota, just south of Bismarck, and was very involved in the day to day activities there all the way through college. I got my undergraduate degree at North Dakota State University, and then kind of switched and went to the other end of the industry and focused on the feedlot industry. Did a feedlot management internship program here at the University of Nebraska. Both Master's and PhD at University of Nebraska, I spent six years in the Texas A&M system and then I've been back on faculty at UNL since 2012.
Shaye Koester 00:57
Okay, so you're on faculty at UNL, but what is your position there? What do you kind of do today?
Jim MacDonald 01:03
Yeah, so my job title is beef cattle production systems, which I always say is the best job title in the world. Because, I can do anything I want, as long as it's related to beef cattle, and I call it a system. Okay? What that means functionally, is if you think about the segments of the industry, so cow-calf, post, weaning, and then feedlot, and then the end product, I'm usually trying to tie together two or more of those segments, right? So we start with a weaned calf. You know, what is the optimal rate of gain that you want that weaned calf and what are the consequences when they go into the feedlot? And even, you know, what are the what, what does that do to marbling potential, those types of things. So I span everything from from cow-calf production, all the way through the feedlot in my research program.
Shaye Koester 01:58
Awesome, that's a pretty neat job title, or you have a lot of flexibility there. So that's pretty neat. So today, I really kind of wanted to talk about grazing corn stalks. So what are your experiences, you know, maybe on the research side, but specifically with helping ranchers in this area?
Jim MacDonald 02:16
Yeah, so when I started at UNL, well, first of all, grazing corn stocks is not new, right? I mean, we've been doing that for generations. But as we've become more specialized, and especially, you know, we're a couple generations in where the integrated farm is kind of a thing of the past, and people have generally specialized and, you know, they're either farmers or ranchers. Some people are ranchers that farm to feed cattle and some people are farmers that have cattle around to eat extra feed, right? So kind of most people fall into one of those two categories. So, you know, as the as yields have increased, and the intensity of production is increased on farming acres, and quite frankly, as we've had more grasslands converted into property and acres, you know, that opens up a lot of questions about how do those two things go together? Right? So from a farming perspective, what am I giving up, if I allow cows to graze my cornfield, and I would say the old, I'm going to call it a paradigm that the old strategies of grazing corn residue, you know, is is perhaps not relevant today. You know, in when I was young, certainly there was a lot of concern about corn left in the field. Unless you have a young or inexperienced grain cart driver that spills, we don't really worry about residual corn because the harvesting combine is so efficient now that there's very little grain left in the cornfield. So there's been some changes over time, but it's not a new concept. But I would say, you know, the biggest thing that we've done is try to reconcile that tug of war between the cropping systems and the cattle systems.
Shaye Koester 04:16
Okay, so like, with your job position, how are you directly involved in this process whether working with ranchers or farmers or how are you involved in that process?
Jim MacDonald 04:30
So primarily from a research standpoint. Okay, so we generate the data that then can help answer questions by producers. I don't personally have an extension appointment. So producers don't see me out at meetings and those types of things, because that's not in my job description. I have a research and teaching appointment, which keeps me on campus most of the time, but I work very closely with extension. I have a colleague by the name of Mary Danowski. She does a fabulous job on the extension side really taking the research that she and I do together most of the time and extending that to producers so that they have the answers that they're looking for.
Shaye Koester 05:11
Okay, so going back to grazing corn stalks as this feed resource. So can you talk a little bit about the nutritional value of grazing corn stalks?
Jim MacDonald 05:24
Sure. So let me start, you have to start with the plant, okay. There's about 50% of the plant is grain by weight, actually, just a little more than that. And about 50% is forage. The forage that's in the corn plant, when it's harvested varies dramatically. Okay, so you don't, you won't see a cow out consuming the stem of a corn stalk unless she's really, really hungry. So the nutritional value of the stem is not quite zero, but it's close to zero. On the other extreme, the husk that surrounds the corn cob, right, that's got a digestibility that can approach 70%. So you're talking about the digestibility, of very lush spring grass, okay, so it's, it's very different. And the cow is very good at selecting those best parts. So the best parts of the corn plant are the husk and leaf. And so that's, if there's any corn out there, she'll find that, especially an experienced cow, but then they'll consume the husk in the leaf, we don't recommend that you ask them to consume the stem. What you need to remember is that grazing corn residue is very different than bailing and harvesting corn stalks, because the cow is able to select for the husk of the leaf in the field. And if you bailed at all, and you're forcing her to eat it, now you're forcing her to eat some stem. Okay, so the nutritional value back to your original question. The nutritional value that we put on from an energetic assumption standpoint, is we use about a 55% TDN for cows grazing corn residue. If you bail corn residue, and you put it in a bale feeder, or, you know forced them to eat it, somehow we use a 43. And really, and so nutritionally, the difference between a 55 TDN and a 43 TDN diet is huge. Okay, but the reason that those two things are so different, is because the stem is is really lowly digestible compared to the rest of the plant.
Shaye Koester 07:52
Okay, so you've talked about these nutritional differences. So when they're grazing corn stalks, what needs to be supplemented with that, you know, mineral wise, or other feed sources?
Jim MacDonald 08:04
Yeah. That's an excellent question and probably maybe one of the most misunderstood or we have trouble getting producers to believe us when we say that a non lactating, so the calf has been weaned, gestating pregnant cow does not need any additional protein or energy supplement when she's grazing corn residue. And when people first hear that, you know, you look at the residue, and it's brown and you think it's low, low quality feed, they've got to need something, right. But we have a lot of data on that class of animal, okay. So she doesn't have a calf on her side, she's not lactating, and she's already pregnant. That is the lowest of her annual nutrient requirement. That time is her lowest requirement in terms of nutrient requirements throughout her production cycle. And she just doesn't need any protein or energy now mineral, vitamin premix, all of those things that you would provide during the summer, yes, we would recommend that you provide those. Now, there's caveats to that, right. You and I grew up in North Dakota, grazing corn stalks in North Dakota is maybe a little bit more variable than it is as you move south and into say, for example, southeastern Nebraska, where you can probably get from November to March and perhaps without any significant weather that would cut people from grazing, right? So naturally, the assumption is or when you go out if you get a significant snow, that'll inhibit them from grazing and then we need to provide some additional protein and energy. Snow itself. Cows are pretty good at digging through the snow. Snow itself doesn't really inhibit their grazing. too much, but ice will. So if you have an ice storm, then we need to start thinking about providing some additional supplement. Or if you have extremely cold temperatures, then for maintenance requirements are gonna go up and perhaps need to provide some additional energy and protein.
Shaye Koester 10:18
Okay, awesome. So thank you for going through and kind of explaining the nutritional side of it. So as we kind of shift and look at the management, what would you say the common mistakes producers make when they're using or grazing corn stocks?
Jim MacDonald 10:34
I think I don't want to call it a mistake, but I think producers tend to think in animals per acre. And what they need to be thinking is animals per bushel. Okay, so remember, I said that the corn plant is about 50% forage and 50% grain? Well, I know what the yield on a field is, I then know what the forage availability is. And so there's a much... it's a very different grazing scenario, if you've produced 150 bushel to the acre corn versus 200 or 250 bushels to the acre corn. Okay, the easy math in my head is is 200 bushels to the acre. If you look at the amount of husk and leaf on for bushel grain produced, it's about 16. Okay, so for every bushel of grain, you get about 16 pounds of husk and leaf, which is primarily what we're going to eat. We've assumed through experience about a 50% grazing efficiency, which is fairly standard. That means you're going to get eight pounds of reasonable forage per bushel of grain produce. Okay, so 200 bushel corn, you're going to have 1600 pounds of forage available to you. Many producers think on an aum basis. Okay, so how much feed does it require to be the 1000 pounds of beef animal for a month, and by definition, at least in the Nebraska system, that 780 pounds of air dried forage. Okay, so at 1600 pounds there is a little over 280 aums per acre there, right? versus if you had 100 bushel to the acre, you would only have one aum per acre for that, right? So moving away from thinking about, I have x number of acres of corn, to thinking about, this was my yield on these acres of corn and then back calculating how many AUM do you have available, and then either how many cows you can put on? Or if you have a set number of cows, how long they raised?
Shaye Koester 12:57
Okay, so how, looking at this as a big picture view, how would you say that grazing corn stalks benefits the rancher, if they're able to use this as a feed resource, because not everyone is able to use it.
Jim MacDonald 13:12
I think we need to be talking about it. As we think about communicating with our consumer. We need to be talking about multi use how ruminants and cattle specifically allow us to use more of what we're producing in an efficient manner. Okay. From the ranchers perspective, how much additional cost is there in grazing the residue? You've already put all the inputs into the corn, you've already harvested the corn. So your choices are, you can either graze the residue or do nothing with it. It is by far, even if you're paying yourself or you're renting, you know, in Nebraska on the eastern part of the state where supply and demand, there's way more supply of corn residue than there are cows to consume it, you know, you're probably talking about eight to $10 breaker. If you move west where the relative concentration of cows goes up, and the supply of corn residue goes down, all of those acres are utilized. Maybe you're at $20-25 per acre, right? There's gonna be somebody listening to your podcast that says those numbers aren't right. But in general, you know, supply and demand dictates how much you're going to pay either yourself or rental rates for corn residue. If you look at the amount of digestible forage, so on a TDN basis use that 55 TDN times the pounds of forage that are available. Corn residue is by far the cheapest feed resource that a rancher will have access to. Okay, that's without trucking and some of those types of things but you know, it's probably equivalent, think about just grass hay, you know, you'd probably be paying $35 a ton for grass hay, to get to the equivalent to most of the economics of corn residue grazing day. That's the number one benefit for that period of time when cows can be out on corn stalks. That is your cheapest feed probably in the entire year. From a bigger picture, if you look at, and this is a little bit further away from from direct ranching, right, but if you think about resource utilization, increasing global population, diminishing actually number of grazing acres and even farming acres as the population increases. We've got to be more efficient. And I'm going to take it one step further. I know greenhouse gas production isn't always popular within the ranching community, but it's something that is on the minds of the public overall, especially the impacts of beef on greenhouse gas emissions, right. So what's the the environmental footprint, you've already invested all of the energy, carbon and gas emissions, all of those things in the corn crop? Now we've used that to generate beef. I mean, the improvement in efficiency for the entire production system, by utilizing that residue is huge. So there's a lot of benefits. I'm a big proponent of grazing corn residue. We talked about the impacts on yield some if you want to, but that in most systems, there's really no reason not to be utilizing the residue if it's available to you.
Shaye Koester 16:49
Well, I really appreciate how you took that. I mean, a lot of times, I've always heard this topic, you know, more focused on the economic side for the rancher like and like you talked about, there's a huge impact there. But really looking at looking at it for our resource management and being able to explain that to consumers. I think that is very important, especially as we look at, you know, an industry where we're going in the direction of traceability.
Jim MacDonald 17:16
Yeah. So, I mean, we're, we're attempting to generate those numbers that people can use to model right, so we're set kind of segmenting out segmenting the production system and looking at at least brome grass, that's what we have access to in eastern Nebraska. You know, summer grazing very traditionally. Be frank, the the greenhouse gas emissions for corn crop that's already been established. But what hasn't been established is where the emissions from cow grazing that corn residue, dry lot of cows, cows grazing a cover crop. So we're trying to do all of these different segments for the cow, for a backgrounded in calf, and then in the feedlot, and you can put those together and approximate at least, you know, we have approximations for carbon footprint for the beef industry. And those are probably okay. But when you start talking about traceability, you know, how does my system impact that environmental footprint? We're very close to having those numbers where you can change the production system and see how that changes the overall outcome in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.
Shaye Koester 18:29
That sounds like something that'll be a really needed resource once it comes out as far as a model standpoint for producers. So as we look at managing cattle on corn stalks, typically, you know, how long can cattle graze corn stalks? I know that might vary between operation but what are those kind of timelines? Or when do you need to realize that, hey, it's time to pull them off this field?
Jim MacDonald 18:57
Right. So soon as the corn is harvested, right? There's a bottleneck there for a lot of producers, especially if they own the corn field. They're trying to get harvest done and they're trying to get cows out on corn stalks and they've got to get the fencing and the water set. You know, there's a bit of a labor bottleneck right away in the fall, but nutritionally or from a management standpoint, you know, as soon as you can get into the field after it's been harvested. And then it's really weather dependent. You know, if you have a major storm and you know, there's six or eight inches of snow and you can't get out and graze or have an ice storm, at times, having a management plan where you can either feed or supplement in the field. Again, depending on where you are, where you and I grew up, you know, once once the snow comes often it's there for the remainder of the winter. That's not necessarily the case, as you go back further south, so it kind of depends on where you're at, in terms of weather effects. And then it's really Thinking about it in terms of aums? How much forage do I have available to me? And what is my grazing demand on that forage? How many cows do I have and that will dictate how long you can stay in a field, there are some benefits to moving from field to field giving them access to a fresh field. And the reason for that is when she goes in, when a cow, an experienced cow goes into a cornfield, she's going to find any grain that's left there, which is normally very little, then she's going to eat the husk, and then the leaf. So her diet is changing from the first day that she goes into the cornfield until the last day that she comes out of the corn field, right, so the proportion of grain plus leaf, and then cob stem, what you really want to try to avoid. Okay, so if you're moving, for example, from pivot to pivot, you've given her access to fresh husk fresh grain, fresh leaf, right? So there is some advantages to moving cows throughout that grazing period. One of the questions that we've really taken a hard look at is how long can you graze into the spring? There's kind of an unwritten rule of thumb in Nebraska, that you have to have them out by March 15, to get ready for planting and so that they don't compact the soil. The data do not support that. Okay, so we've grazed well into April. And the idea is, you know, our spring grass is going to be ready the end of April. And we really want to minimize that gap in between corn stock grazing, and when she can go to grass, because then you got to feed supplemental hay and you get more expensive feed in there. But if it's going to cause damage to the subsequent crop, by leaving her in there when it's muddy, that's a problem from the cropping systems perspective. So we've worked really hard at trying to create the worst case scenario. So you take our grazing or stocking recommendations for corn residue, we actually doubled that in the spring when it's muddy, and tried to beat up experimental fields as badly as we could. And then we come in with soybeans, now soybeans are fairly robust plants. That that's a normal cropping system in Nebraska and we can't find any reduction in yield because there's no reduction in yield there. We even went so far as to hold cattle out of the field until it rained in the spring. And then we stock them so heavily, you would think it was like a feedlot pen. Okay, so we put a whole bunch of cattle in for a very short intensive period of time, we still couldn't find a reduction in yield. We get a lot of pushback on that and I mean, we have clay loam soils in this part of the state, right so as you move west and you get less rainfall and in sandier soils I understand there's those differences But, this perception that you have to be off by March 15th, the data just simply do not support. So I don't think there's an end date where you have to have the cattle off until it's time to go in and plant the next crop in that field.
Shaye Koester 23:30
Awesome. I appreciate you sharing the typical perspective that this is how we've always done it, this is the unwritten rule as well as the data side of it. So as we look at grazing corn stalks are their you know, any toxicity issues, any of those things that producers need to be aware of before their cattle go out there and how can they make sure that those issues aren't there before they turn cattle out?
Jim MacDonald 23:57
Yeah, so I've never I've never seen a toxicity issue on corn residue. You know, the two that you might be worried about would be mycotoxins in the corn but if the corn is harvested and they're not really consuming the cob, probably not going to see that. We do get questions about nitrates but nitrates well for one you really have to segment. We're talking about a very specific that the corn has been harvested and you're grazing the residue. Okay, so this is a different scenario than grazing, drought, stress corn, you know, haying corn that's been drought stressed and didn't make corn. different situation. Okay. So most people will fertilize based on an expected yield and if the crop actually made that yield then that nitrogen has been utilized and there's really no concerns for nitrates. Even if the crop has had a lower yield, maybe didn't get quite as much rain as what you were expecting. And there is some residual nitrogen there, that nitrate accumulation? Well, first of all, the plant is dead, right? So its production cycles is over, those nitrates are probably going to senesce out of the plant back into the ground. And if there is any nitrate accumulation that's in the bottom part of the stem. And one thing I hope that I've emphasized is you don't want them eating the stem, right? So there's really no nitrate, I've never seen an issue with nitrates in harvested residue, corn residue. Now, let me put a caveat on that, because we do have some areas, especially where you and I are from and into the west where there is some drought issues this year. And I've had some questions and tried to help some people on grazing drought stress corn, that's really a different circumstance, because now you're fertilized based on this expected yield. And that yield may actually be zero, right? And that plant may be instead of knee high by the Fourth of July, it may never get more than the knee high. Okay, well, there's nitrates accumulating in that plant. They're probably still in the lower part of the stem. But we want to, we want to approach that with a with a lot more caution. The worst case scenario from a nitrate standpoint is if you have drought, stressed corn, and you swap it and you try to hay it. Because now you have all of that nitrate that's in the stem and if you go feed those bales to a cow, then right nitrates all there. Okay, so I want to be very clear when I say there's really no concerns with nitrates, that is in a very normal year where you had a normal corn crop, and there's residue in the field after harvest. That's a very different thing from drought stress corn.
Shaye Koester 26:57
Okay, so and you just want to be clear on why we can't feed these nitrates what's the impact on that pregnant cow through feeding nitrates? Sure.
Jim MacDonald 27:06
Before I get myself in trouble, we can actually feed some nitrates. Okay, so from the from the rumen microbes standpoint, nitrate is a source of nitrogen. And so just like we can feed urea, they have the ability to use the that nitrogen that's in nitrate. The problem is that the microbes that convert, it's actually nitrite into ammonia, they need time to adapt. And so we can increase the nitrate load slowly and get along. Okay. The problem is if we do that all in a day, and so we turn cows out onto a high nitrate field or pasture of some kind, the nitrite accumulates and spills over into the blood. And it keeps the compound is the conversion of hemoglobin into met-hemoglobin don't want to get into the biochemistry too much. But basically, hemoglobin can't carry oxygen and they asphyxiate. By the way, it's the same process that turns your meat brown in the refrigerator in the shelf. So production of met hemoglobin in the blood, and they can't carry oxygen and they asphyxiate. So there's some indication I think, probably some debate about how much sooner you will have abortions before the cow actually dies. But I don't want to get into either one of those circumstances I want to be conservative and stay out of the nitrate situation. Or if I'm forced to use high nitrate plants, like some people, quite frankly. I mean, if that's the feed that they have available to them, then I want to be very careful about how I do and adapt them and under the guidance of a nutritionist, preferably.
Shaye Koester 29:09
Absolutely. So well thank you, first of all for going into depth on that and then mentioning in the guidance of nutritionists, because that's something that's valuable for all ranchers to have and need as a resource. So switching gears a little bit, you've talked a little bit about the impact of soil health with grazing corn stocks, but you do you just want to kind of talk about that overall about how does grazing corn stalks impacts the soil health?
Jim MacDonald 29:37
Yeah, so if you know if you ask the agronomist how you should price grazing corn residue. Often you will hear that you need to account for nutrients leaving with the cow. But I think the part that that we shouldn't expect the agronomist to understand is it that cow is it maintenance. By definition, maintenance is no gain or loss in body weight, right? That means that she's not removing any nitrogen nutrients from the field. So there's some some carbon turnover. But if it is only 55% digestible, about half of what she's consuming ends up deposited back on the field. And quite frankly, in probably a better form, not probably in a more useful form to the soil than the original corn residue was anyway. There's not much nitrogen, there's some nitrogen that's probably tied up in the residue itself. And then you're probably bringing in more micro mineral and phosphorus through the supplement than what she's consuming anyway or what's leaving with her anyway. Okay, so that's the first thing to remember from a soil standpoint is the cow is at maintenance, she's not taking anything with her. And from a nutrient standpoint, in terms of carbon turnover for for the soil itself, one of the advantages of having cows out on residue is the soil gets to take advantage of the microbes from the cow. Okay, so the feces that are deposited back out on the soil, actually benefit the soil and benefit carbon turnover in the soil, I think we have data to very clearly show that. Really no change in terms of organic matter content, or soil organic carbon is the measurement that we would use. And these are on fields that have been grazed for 20 years. Okay, so corn-soybean rotation, so they're grazed ever the same field graze every other year, for for the past twenty years. You know, the concern, the normal concern is that there is a loss and subsequent yield. The other thing that you have to remember is that in high producing fields, this isn't every field, right, but if you're producing 200, or 250, bushels to the acre of corn, there is a lot of residue left on that field. And farmers do stuff, too, they do things to manage that residue, right? I know, of a friend who goes in with a moldboard plow and turns it over about once a decade, right, just to turn all that residue over. We don't really want to recommend that we'd much rather maintain long term, no till farming practices. Well, some people go in with a shredder, let the cow do the work for you. That's what I would say, in those high producing fields, let the cow do the work for you. She's probably only removing somewhere between 15 and 20% of the biomass that's out there anyway. So in our in our long term research studies, we've actually seen an improvement in subsequent soybean yield two bushel to the acre. So again, I don't want to I don't want to extrapolate that to, you're going to see an improvement in yields, regardless of your cropping system. But in a very normal corn soybean cropping system, we have a lot of data that record that suggests an improvement in subsequent soybean yield. When you let the cow remove some of that residue. That's probably the biggest benefit, from the producer standpoint, that there's some of these other soil health, especially on the microbial side, that's actually benefiting from having that cow out there.
Shaye Koester 33:41
Awesome. Thank you for going through that more in depth. But as we kind of round out this interview and conversation, just in summary, could you please explain, you know, the main points that producers need to be aware of when they're grazing corn stalks, just to kind of summarize everything?
Jim MacDonald 33:59
Yeah, the first. The first thing is, remember the class of animal that you're that you're grazing. In our discussion today, you know, we've been very specific about non lactating gestating a dry cow that's pregnant in a fall calving system that that you know, you would potentially use on your ranch Shaye. You could have a lactating cow out on corn stalks, but then we would we would have a supplementation recommendation because she's going to need additional protein and energy for that lactation requirements and for rebreeding. Okay, so class of livestock, we didn't talk about the backgrounded and calf but you can also utilize corn residue for weaned calves. Again, there would have to be some supplementation strategy associated with that. Second major point is the amount of residue that you have available to graze is driven by the corn yield, you know, corn yield, you know how much residue that you have out there and you can plan accordingly. Adjusting the number of animals that you want to have out there and shortening the number of days or less animals for longer days, you can do either of those two things. We're not really concerned about residual corn in most situations down corn. And so there's some specialized situations you have a windstorm or something, we have a lot of down corn. But that the old concerns about adapting cows to corn residue, if that field has been successfully harvested, there's really no concerns about that anymore. And then finally, we think there's more benefit to grazing corn residue in terms of both the environmental implications and soil health implications. We just don't see any downside to that. And in fact, we think it's more of a benefit than a hindrance. So tremendous resource. I think I think we've got a lot left to learn in the integrated cropping livestock system, and his acres become more the supply of acres diminish some, which we expect to continue to happen. We'll have to be more efficient at utilizing those acres for two purposes.
Shaye Koester 36:03
Well, awesome. Thank you for being on the show today. Is there anything else you would like to add before we wrap up?
Jim MacDonald 36:12
Look forward to seeing you in class next week.
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Elsabe discusses the differences in ranching in America vs. South Africa, as well as how she balances her own business with the ranch and her family.
She's a rancher, entrepreneur, wife, mother, dreamer and action taker. Originally from South Africa, Elsabe Hausauer lives an inspiring life and currently ranches with her family in North Dakota.
She shares an empowering story of building your own life and being grateful for what you have.
Gut health is crucial to a calf's ability to perform. In this episode, Shelby Roberts discusses how you can set your herd up to have optimum gut health throughout their lifetime but specifically through the weaning and backgrounding periods.
Listen on all major podcast platforms.
Ranchers are true stewards of the land and have been caring for their resources and livestock from the beginning. However, there is more that can be done and we have been hearing the words regenerative agriculture for some time now.
In this episode, Steve Rhines and Hugh Aljoe with the Noble Research Institute share their knowledge and experience with regenerative ranching practices. They explain what it is, why it will be a huge part of ranching now and in the future, and what it looks like for different producers.
Listen on your favorite podcast app and find a link to the transcript and all other episodes on https://www.casualcattleconversations.com/
Shaye Koester 0:08
Hey, hey it's Shaye Koester and I'm your host for the Casual Cattle Conversations podcast where we foster innovation and enthusiasm in the ranching industry through sharing the stories and practices of different ranchers and beef industry leaders. Be sure to be a greater part of this podcast and become involved on my social media pages. Follow cattleconvos on Instagram, Facebook and tik tok or Shaye Koester on LinkedIn to join the conversations around the challenges we face as ranchers and how we can overcome them. You can also find more information about this podcast, all my episodes and how to partner with me on this show, by going to my website, casualcattleconversations.com. With that, thanks for tuning in, and let's see who our guests is today.
Red Angus Association of America 1:09
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Shaye Koester 1:39
Alrighty folks, thank you for tuning in again today. It's great to have you on here again. If you're a new listener, welcome to the show. Today we are going to be discussing regenerative ranching. So I brought on two experts from the Noble Research Institute in Oklahoma. Today, visiting with me on the show is Steven Rhines, and Hugh Aljoe. These two individuals truly possess the background, knowledge and experience to explain what regenerative ranching is and why it's important to your operation, whether that is that relates to profitability, the ability to pass your land down to the next generation, or really just looking at your soil health and quality right now. This is a topic that I truly believe is important and we always need to continue improving our stewardship. We are already great stewards of the land, but we can always continue to improve. I think these two individuals do a tremendous job of explaining the topic of regenerative agriculture and providing some tips and advice on what practices you can look at maybe implementing now and how they will impact your operation. So with that, let's get on with the episode.
Steve Rhines 2:01
Hi Shaye, how are you?
Shaye Koester 3:11
Oh, I can't complain. I'm doing pretty good.
Steve Rhines 3:14
It's good to see you again.
Shaye Koester 3:15
Yeah, it's been a couple years.
Hi, Hugh. Thanks for hopping on. I'm Shaye. It's nice to meet you. I appreciate you joining me for this.
Hugh Aljoe 3:24
Oh, you bet. Glad to do it. Glad to do it.
Shaye Koester 3:28
Well, with that would one of you or both of you please provide a brief background on the history of Noble Research Institute.
Steve Rhines 3:38
Shaye Koester 6:47
Well, that is awesome. And thank you for offering that history. So now on a more personal scale, would each of you offer insight on what your backgrounds' in agriculture are?
Hugh Aljoe 7:01
All right. Well, my background is, ya know, I grew up in West Texas on a family farm, I went to A&M and got a couple of degrees there and was hired right out of school to work for an international businessman running a cattle operation in East Texas. I did that for 10 years. We did you know a lot of say intensive rotational grazing, tried to try to be as progressive as we could with you know, with the land as well as trying to try to run as many cattle as you could just because the businessman, that was one of his objectives. So you know, we were able to grow the operation to about 1400 cows. From there, I was hired here as a pasture range consultant 25 years ago, been here ever since. I'm primarily working with people on pasture and range issues. In particular, grazing management has been kind of my forte. The last few years, I've been the director of the producer relations, which is our consulting efforts as well as overseeing the range operations here at Noble.
Shaye Koester 8:10
Well, awesome, thank you. How about you, Steve,
Steve Rhines 8:13
Not quite as extensive. I grew up on a very small cow-calf operation. By small I mean, probably a dozen mama cows. My grandfather had upwards of the high 80s. The challenge was, I didn't really care for the state of Oklahoma or cattle when I was a kid and I thought a lot of good opportunities go. I saw myself being in a city and being an engineer. And, that's what I chased in school. So I went to school to become a mechanical engineer and work in the aerospace industry, went on to law school, and then found myself in Ardmore, Oklahoma. So as fate would have it, it's not my choice. It was somebody else's choice and we wound up here and fell in love again with the state. I couldn't be happier to be involved with farming and ranching and cattle production. So it was an underlying calling, which I just didn't appreciate for the better part of my life.
Shaye Koester 9:11
Well, I'm glad you had the chance to come back and live that out then. So with that regenerative ag is it's a buzzword and there's a lot that can fall into it. So how would you describe regenerative agriculture within the ranching space?
Hugh Aljoe 9:31
Well you know if we look at regenerative ranching, which is the term that we've coined because our focus is going to be around grazing lands, this would be the process of restoring degraded grazing lands using practices based on ecological principles. And what we really want to be able to do is take some of the practices that we've known to be part of what we'd consider good stewardship and apply them more intentionally in order to focus on restoring you know, the ecological process. Particularly the water cycle, the mineral cycle, energy cycle as well as community dynamics, just being sure that we're helping Mother Nature do what she does really well. So what do some of these practices look like, you know, surprisingly to some people is that they look a whole lot like what we're doing when we're trying to apply good, you know, good land stewardship to begin with, we're actually planning for rest and recovery of our pasture land or grasses to grow up before they're actually grazed. Providing the recovery that the plants need, so that we get more photosynthetic activity and, as a result get more biological activity below the surface. Because as the roots grow, so do the associations with the organisms in the soil, in able to be no-till some of the cover crops that we're looking at as diverse mixtures, planting into areas that would have been cropland that have been grazed year after year, trying to minimize the need, reduce drastically the need for things like fertilizer and pesticide, and what we're seeing is we can increase our stock density and grazing affects, you know, a lot of those things we consider problems sort of disappear. They're taking care of them as we're going through our proper management. Those are some examples. Anything else you'd like to add?
Steve Rhines 11:27
No. I think simply, one of the things that we've looked at is making soil a partner in our operation, I think a lot of times, we just use it to either hold the animals up, or serve as a medium for plants to grow. But it's actually thinking a little bit about how we manage that as the entire system as he talked about. So I've got nothing further to add.
Shaye Koester 11:47
So when we look at ranching on the business side, what are the main benefits there that ranchers see from adopting some of these practices,
Hugh Aljoe 11:57
The main benefit that producers have when they begin adopting these practices, is that one, they have reduced the need for some of the inputs that they routinely apply such as chemicals and fertilizer. They also find that, that they begin to work with Mother Nature. You are actually working and using whatever is provided grazing for us, in many instances, trampling some of the materials in order to actually feed organisms within the soil, things that that most people haven't up to this point really considered animals that we need to be feeding. You know, and those organisms within the soil, really begin to add the biology and add to the biology, improving those ecosystem processes that we spoke of early on. I think that's the biggest benefit too is that another benefit is that you also because you're not putting these inputs, you're seeing an extreme reduction in some of the costs that they've used to support their operations. And they're not losing very much of the production, in most cases, whatever they might have seen early on is recovered within a very short period of time.
Shaye Koester 13:04
Well, thank you for sharing that. Steve, do you have anything else to add?
Steve Rhines 13:09
I think one of the interesting things is a lot of the pastures look a little different than what they might otherwise look like. In this part of the country look at monoculture. Bermuda grass is our primary warm-season grass, and tend to what you see here is a little bit of a different mix as we actually worked to incorporate forbs legumes into the pasture. And so and my father is one of them. He'll talk about the weediness and how is he going to manage the weeds and what you see in this managed grazing setup, is you intensely graze smaller paddocks and you actually suppress a lot of the weed problems, because the animals find them into their diet, and so they aren't selective anymore, which is exactly the way I eat at a buffet. I'm not allowed to do that anymore. I'm forced in one capacity or another to graze everything equally and as a consequence, a lot of the activities that we've otherwise known becomes unnecessary as Hugh was mentioning.
Shaye Koester 14:08
Okay, so overall, when we're talking ROI, would you say it's there for these practices?
Hugh Aljoe 14:15
Most definitely, I mean, that's, that's what were some of the questions is, what's the cost on the infrastructure, and really refers to make good use of what you already have. That's where we need to start when most people should start to buy themselves just a little bit of time understanding and trying to learn what regenerative ranching is about. Understand the ecosystem processes as well as the soil health principles. What are we really trying to use and once you get a little practice at applying grazing management, maybe using cover crops to some degree, you really begin to get a feel for what you're trying to accomplish. At that point, then you can come in with a plan in order to phase in what you need to, so it's not as if it's an, what I would call them, extreme inconvenience or financial burden in order to get started.
Shaye Koester 15:08
Go ahead, Steve,
Steve Rhines 15:09
I will add the idea that that that is really one of the focal points of our research at the Noble Research Institute is to begin to look at these economic issues. We have roughly 14,000 acres worth of land that's, that's located in the southernmost part of Oklahoma. That's only one geographic reference. It's got a lot of different soil types, it's got a lot of different production value. But the idea is what we need to begin to do is across a larger footprint, do this research to begin to answer a lot of the questions that you just posed. There are different mechanisms. Some people are going to go all in, and that's going to have a certain perhaps infrastructure valuation that they need to be able to put in whether it's water, or portable water, what are those different options? That's what noble needs to be able to do. Historically, we've done this in conventional agriculture is we take a little bit of that risk away from the producer by doing some of that research and then demonstrating on our own lands, we're going to continue to do that as we go forward in this direction.
Shaye Koester 16:12
Awesome. Well, so Hugh mentioned, you know, producers need to kind of do some research and figure out, you know, what might work best for their operation and gain a better understanding of what regenerative ranching really is? Where can they go for this information, and these contact points to make sure they're getting the right information?
Hugh Aljoe 16:32
Well, as we look, look out there, here at Noble what we're looking at is trying to find people that have been in the regenerative ranching circles and learning from them to begin with. Then also in a very short period of time, we're hoping to be able to transfer a lot of that information through our own internet, our own website, and our own educational venues. There are entities such as Understanding Ag, the savory and Holistic Management organizations, Ranching for Profit and so these are some of the leaders within the regenerative ranching community that we're gleaning from, and we're happy to be learning from them as well.
Shaye Koester 17:10
Well, thank you for sharing that. So when we look at producers, as they start to implement these practices, as you've worked with producers, or seen some of their operations, what are some of the challenges they may initially face.
Hugh Aljoe 17:28
One of the big challenges is making sure that they have a good partner to guide them through, you know, the steps that are going to be necessary in order to have early success, We want to make sure that people have the opportunity to have early wins and if you're partnering with the right people, it makes it really easy. But you know, we want to be able to serve as guides, to those entities and where we've had people that have had the success, that's where they come back. So it's been the most rewarding for me is where to get started, how to start using the resources that they already have. It doesn't mean that for most people, if you see it every day, he may not understand or value what you really have. And when you've got somebody on the outside coming in, and making suggestions, then they have the buy in order to take it and run it. Rather thoughts through us, we provide a little bit of critique and do they implement their, their thoughts and our suggestions or recommendations.
Shaye Koester 18:26
Steve Rhines 18:27
I think another part of that, too, is as that as this grows, it's going to be critically important and it's an extension of what Hugh was mentioning just then it's going to be important to connect each Farmer and Rancher to a like community. We know farmers and ranchers. They're social people. They like to engage, whether it's over at the coffee shop or the donut shop, or if it's a church, you'd like to share what you're doing, you'd like to get that other idea, maybe it's just looking across the fence. But we think that that's a critical piece of this as we go forward is to be able to put these communities together and they can't be we know for a fact that they cannot stretch over large geographies, because of the differences in operations, the difference in soil, the difference in the climate. So the challenge becomes is building these networks close to home so you can relate to your neighbor and what they're going through and see it in your own operation.
Shaye Koester 19:28
Well, absolutely, you know, it is very valuable to have those people who are close to you kind of seeing some things, seeing some of the things but also having an outside look at your own place too. What would you say the future of ranching looks like then with these regenerative practices?
Steve Rhines 19:49
Well, we hope our goal is we get a new toolkit for where we're going to go I mean, we know for a fact. So before the call started you and I talked a little bit about working with Dr. Tom field at the University of Nebraska. He was an integral part of our discussions as we strategically planned and where should Noble fit and how does it relate to its history. One of the projects he asked for, that we asked him to do is to look into what's gonna compromise the viability of ranching in the United States as we look into the future. And he really came up with three points, and they're not magic to them. They're just once you hear them, you're like, yeah, I get that. And that's basically, soil productivity in the face of climate variability. The nation's or the producers level of debt, it's at an all-time high, it stretches across all agricultural sectors, it's not limited to ranching it, it is unbelievable. I believe it was in 2015 when we began to exceed $400 billion and it's only grown since 2015. And then the last, this lack of a pipeline, into the future of new people coming into ranching, coming into agriculture, to support this heritage industry for the United States. So if you begin to look at those three areas, any one of them is completely overwhelming, all three of them together is amazing. And so what our role is, is to begin to figure out, how is it that we can connect those dots begin to come up with a set of tools to manage the climate variability and soil productivity, to work on the economics of any operations to ensure that someone who wants to stay on the land can. But there's a second story to that, if I only make enough to get by year to year, what's the first thing I go after, and that's long-term thinking. So we know regenerative ranching, regenerative agriculture requires a long time, a long thought process, a long term planning process, we can't have operations live month to month, year to year, because they can't do that long term planning. And then that last piece really looks at that next generation. And it's the generation that's currently in university, it's also probably that next generation that that sets behind where you are in your own progress. And, and that is a generation that may have a connection to the land, but they also need to be thinking about ranching, or agriculture in a new light. And so as we see these new, and I hate to call them trends, because I think they're starting to eclipse trends, but localized food, knowing where my food comes from being comfortable with the idea that I not only know where it was raised but maybe where it was processed. And so as we get into those ideas, can we build an agricultural system behind that to support and help alleviate these three obstacles to the future of ranching viability?
Shaye Koester 23:02
Well, that was amazing to hear. And thank you for sharing that there was so much I value in that statement, especially when you do look at the long-term picture. And yes, making sure that we as producers are doing everything we can when we get to have a fully traceable product within the United States. So with that, you two have done a very good job answering all the questions I had, do you have anything else you would like to add? Whether that's about regenerative ranching, ranching in general or Noble?
Steve Rhines 23:35
I would just say that, and Hugh touched on it earlier. We don't pretend to believe that we're the only ones in this space. Just like agriculture, and just like I would, for the most part, I would say the nonprofit world that that Noble belongs to. It's an unbelievably generous space. And so we've worked really closely with Understanding Ag, Dr. Alan Williams, Gabe Brown, Doug Peterson, Shane, and a lot of those folks have poured into the Noble Research Institute and its employees that to help bring us along. We're also working with savory we're also working with Ranching for Profit. These people have really been the pioneers and in this space, and so we believe that we can complement them. There's a lot of things that Noble can do. A lot of the questions you raised are critical questions to the future of regenerative ranching. And that's the economics. That's the practices built on principles. And then mostly it's farmer and rancher education. We know for a fact that it's going to be a bit of a challenge because many of us grew up in a certain mindset on what ranching looks like, what my pasture should look like, what I do in May of every year, some of those are really big challenges to overcome but the burden is on Noble and these other organizations to continue to work ahead and help answer these questions for farmers and ranchers. Because for the most part, what we're working for is the underlying land. And a lot of people ask the question initially when we were making this transition, but the idea of how big is the grazing land challenge in the United States, 655 million acres, it's the single largest land use of anything in the United States. So when we talk about water quality, water quantity, almost every raindrop passes at one point or another across rangeland. So if we're not doing everything we can to sustain its health bring its health up, then we're missing an opportunity there with the waterside, new markets with regard to carbon, we're not going to explore those, but we should be incredibly versed and how that impacts farmers and ranchers in everything that we're doing, whether it is how you tend to the soil, or ultimately how you measure your progress is going to lend itself to that potential revenue source for farmers and ranchers in the future.
Hugh Aljoe 26:09
I think you know, when you look at Noble Research Institute, you know, research is in our name, you know, we are here to answer the producer questions. And that's what our objective is using our resources in order to make sure that we're always answering the questions that producers might have, helping them move toward a better, more regenerative state, as early and as quickly as possible. And through that, with financial soundness at the same time.
Shaye Koester 26:36
Well, thank you very much. I really appreciate everything you both had to offer and taking the time out of your day to be on the show.
Steve Rhines 26:44
Hugh Aljoe 26:45
It's been a pleasure. Thank you very much.
Shaye Koester 26:47
And that's a wrap on that one, folks. Thank you, again, for tuning in. If you got something out of this podcast episode that really hit home for you, or you maybe you have a deeper question that wasn't covered, please go drop that in the comment section of my social media posts. There's a post for this episode, as well as a post before it was published. And there will be a post a couple days after as well. So any of those options, please go drop that question or comment about the episode so that we can have a conversation about it, as well as bringing in the rest of my fans to see what we all think about that as we work to combat some of the challenges that we faced with ranching, or maybe trying to open each other's minds to new ideas and new methods. With that, thank you to Steven and Hugh, for sharing your stories and your expertise on this show. I know I really appreciated it. It really got my mind turning about maybe some things to change or what does the future of ranching really look like? So with that, thank you again, and thank you for listening, and I hope to catch you on the next one.
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