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Farm Progress America, December 14, 2020

Max Armstrong takes a look at some success stories across agriculture. For example, agritourism operations, worried about the pandemic, ended up having a good year. Meanwhile, vineyards saw a hit because of loss of retail, but it wasn't all doom and gloom with the off-premise segment as consumers shifted purchases to direct buys.

Farm Progress America is a daily look at key issues in agriculture. It is produced and presented by Max Armstrong, veteran farm broadcaster and host of This Week in Agribusiness.

Image: Mina De La O/iStock/Getty Images Plus

This Week in Agribusiness, Dec. 12, 2020

Max Armstrong and Mike Pearson discuss the anticipation of changes coming to Washington.

Dr. Leah Dorman, Phibro Animal Health joins Max to chat about Gen Z, why they matter to our future and how agriculture can reach out to them.

Jim McCormick, Agmarket.net joins Mike to discuss grain markets, export demand, beef, pork demand and what could come in 2021.

Chad Colby shares tips if you are looking to upgrade your computer and updates to printers.

Max talks with Bob Johnson, about his books Corn Pickers and Corn Cribs, that includes research, different pickers and unique corn cribs.

Max talks crop protection, parntership with Denny Uphoff and Jim Brown in this week’s Plan Smart, Grow Smart series.

Greg Soulje gives us the forecast for the week, and the extended weather for the upcoming month.

Auger tractors showcased this week in Max’s Tractor Shed.

Mark Stock shares what’s coming up with Big Iron Auctions.

The FFA Chapter Tribute continues to spotlight the national officer team, as Mike talks with David Lopez-Larios, VP of the western region.

Orion thanks all of his viewers and everyone that have helped give him ideas for Samuelson Sez.

Take a look at Case IH Windrower WD2504 with RD163 Header that was showcased at FPVX.

This Week in Agribusiness features market news, ag technology, weather and farm management and equipment information and opinions. This leading ag news program airs weekly on RFD-TV, and can be found each week on FarmProgress.com.

How has COVID-19 impacted beef demand?

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This year has brought many changes for all Americans. The pandemic has shifted the way many of us think, behave, shop, work and spend our time.

As an example, much of society has transitioned from the typical hustle and bustle of work meetings, social events, traveling and shopping in retail stores to working from home, virtual learning with our kids, ordering groceries online and canceling our social events.

So how does this changing dynamic impact how we promote beef? And meet the needs of consumers right where they are at?

Instead of talking about steakhouses or beef jerky on the go, we are focused at offering tips for cooking beef at home and making recipes that kids would like to eat during their virtual school days.

For a brief time, we got a reprieve from debunking myths about cow farts. Instead, we had the chance to focus on timely questions like food safety, buying beef in bulk and connecting with producers when there were shortages in the meat case at the grocery store.

I’ve written several blogs on how my family has approached reaching consumers during this pandemic, and if you missed them, you can check them out here:

In addition to what producers can do individually with their own voices, time, talents and stories through social media posts and efforts in their own communities, the Beef Checkoff has also been studying ways to reach consumers during a pandemic.

A new report assesses the impact of COVID-19 on consumer behaviors. Titled, “State of the Consumer,” this report was conducted by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), a contractor to the Beef Checkoff, and highlights the opportunities and impact of COVID-19 on beef demand.

According to an NCBA press release, “The impact of the pandemic has been transformative in every corner of our economy,” said Buck Wehrbein, 2020 NCBA Federation Division Chair.  “The good news is that consumers are choosing beef more often as they adapt to cooking more at home.” 

Here are some key findings from the study:

Online ordering for both groceries and meal ordering is likely here to stay. It is expected online ordering and delivery will grow at a more rapid pace than originally projected due to COVID-19. Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner., managed by NCBA, will continue to complete first-of-its-kind exploratory e-commerce marketing campaigns to help the supply chain accelerate the sales of fresh beef in this rapidly changing environment.

Consumers are cooking more meals at home now than prior to COVID-19. This means they are searching for information to help them cook meals at home. Though expected to continue for the short term, a long-term shift is difficult to assess. NCBA will continue to utilize a variety of techniques by pushing out cooking information and recipe inspiration through digital, social media and traditional media platforms and leveraging impactful, high-profile influencers or thought leaders to teach consumers how to cook.

Consumers are spending more time at home and online than prior to COVID-19. Along with that comes the rise of more TV and moving-streaming platforms and the decline of in-person movie theater watching experience, which could signal a long-term shift in consumers using more media “inside of the home” compared to “out-of-home.” NCBA will continue to utilize a variety of marketing platforms to continuously reach the consumer through paid, earned and owned digital, social and traditional media platforms.

Currently, consumers are more focused on spending their money on essential needs, such as groceries, household supplies and personal care and cleaning products. This will likely adjust back at some point; it is just a matter of when. NCBA, as a contractor to the Beef Checkoff, will continue to look for opportunities to remind consumers that beef is the classic comfort food that they want as the centerpiece of their dinner, especially as we move into the holiday season.

Positive consumer perceptions of beef and beef production increased during the pandemic and will likely remain higher for the next several months. Consumers may return to expressing concerns about food production when focus evolves from current concerns. NCBA will continue programs that educate consumers about beef production.

You can read the full study by clicking here.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.

Cattle and children, they're similar

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Watch each Friday for Doug Ferguson's Market Intel blog on Beef Producer and BEEF magazine.

There are many similarities between raising kids and raising cattle. This week I received news about a little girl whose test scores skyrocketed this year. She had been in the top of her class, but last year was a struggle for her. The very short version is she was in about as bad a situation as it can get for her age group. This year her school has a new principal and she has a different classroom teacher. The structure and discipline changed the environment.

Last year the teacher couldn’t handle this class. It was like a load of long-haul high-risk calves that the grow yard had no idea how to handle. The teacher gave up and just went through the motions until the COVID-19 shut down last spring. This is like putting the cattle in the pen thinking they will find the drinker on their own and I’ll be by later to feed you, but never paying attention if the cattle are getting the three essential things they need, which are eating, drinking, and exercise. This results in some cattle laying down in the back of the pen waiting to die, while others take to bullering. The result is some will die, some will become cronics, and some will get by.

That is what happened with this class. The teacher didn’t set boundaries and there is that one student that makes a mess of everything. We’ve all had that one in a pen, the high headed one that blows up and causes the other cattle to get all wound up too. This is where stockmanship comes in, we have to settle these cattle, and get their minds right, so they will trust us and respect us. Cattle that don’t trust us won’t show they are sick, they suck it up when they see us coming. Same way with a kid, if they don’t trust you they won’t tell you there’s a problem.

If we can do a good job settling cattle and get them started right our percentage up pulls goes down, causing our death loss to go down, and just like this girl’s test score went up, the rate of gain will go up.

Consider the environment

I am a firm believer our environment has more to do with who we are than our DNA. Let me explain. For example, we have a baby born in the Sandhills of Nebraska, and the day after it's born we fly it to China where it’s adopted. That baby will grow up speaking fluent mandarin and can use chop sticks to pick up anything. If that child were to grow up in the Sandhills it could do neither of those things. It’s the same kid, same DNA, different environment.

Along that thought we can buy some of these rougher looking calves, handle them better and give them better nutrition, and we can bloom them into a desirable animal that other buyers would be happy to bid on. Or that one crazy one that bounces off the fences and bloodies its nose. If you have the skill to work with an animal like that and teach it to take some pressure and teach it that life doesn’t have to be like that, you can take a problem child and turn it in to an honor student(you might want to be sure to have a good enough fence too).

Sometimes improving environment means switching pens. I’ve had cattle that weren’t performing up to par in one pen, so I flip flop them with another pen and then they start doing better. I have not figured out why this is, I just know sometimes it works.

Sometimes we have some in a pen that aren’t doing as well as they should and just a quick simple sort is all it takes to get them to bloom up. Depending on the ones you sort off and what your plans for them are could mean they are getting expelled, going to a special needs classroom, or moving to an accelerated program.

Sometimes the problems run deeper than these issues. Maybe we have a manager or a pen rider that needs to hit the road in order to improve the environment.

An environmental factor we can’t control is the weather. Lately it has been very pleasant, and the cattle have not been through any weather challenges. We can control what the cattle eat so right now we have to be careful not to let them get to fleshy, or we will end up taking a discount at saletime.

Keep your focus

To close this part out in order to improve the environment it's important to remember not to focus too much attention on the issue, or problem, but to pay attention to what it is the cattle need and be sure they are getting that.

This week the markets were lower, and there was a shift in the Value of Gain (VOG). Four and eight weight steers, and seven and eight weight heifers were the hot tickets. This is where the VOG peaked and were about the only weights that covered the Cost of Gain (COG).

When I calculated the VOG on these markets it was easy to see why it eroded this week. Dominant buyers were buying based on dollars per head instead of VOG. A 610-pound steer brought the same dollars per head as a 690-pound steer. That 80-poud difference wasn’t worth anything and as a result it squashes the VOG

At regional stockyards unweaned cattle were 10 back this week. Those auctions had some volume of bawlers which supported the price. At the smaller local auction barns the discount was higher. This is because most of the cattle are weaned and a bawling calf in those markets doesn’t fit the mold.

Feeder bulls were 13-to-20 back.

Geographical spreads are a factor right now. A several hour truck ride can make, or save you thousands of dollars per load, depending on which side of the transaction you’re on. Southern markets are greatly undervalued compared to plains markets

I mentioned above the discount for fleshy animals, and I know some of you are thinking, buy that discounted fleshy one and shrink it and make some quick easy money. Be sure the discount and the slide are steep enough for this to be worth your time.

Farm Progress America, December 11, 2020

Max Armstrong offers some insight into the recent bullishness on commodity prices. Max notes that analysts from Rabobank are noting this positive news could continue into 2021. From more money going into commodity markets, to La Nina, which could impact prices in the new year including dryness in Brazil and Argentina; and the heart of the U.S. is suffering from drought too.

Farm Progress America is a daily look at key issues in agriculture. It is produced and presented by Max Armstrong, veteran farm broadcaster and host of This Week in Agribusiness.

Photo: monsitj/iStock/Getty Images

BullPEN app: Simplification was key

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Some say necessity is the mother of invention. That may be true for the new phone app, BullPEN. It is an to make multi-trait selection easier for cattlemen.

Glenda Burgess says she knew there had to be an easier way for cattlemen to research bulls than a spreadsheet. Burgess and her husband’s family operate a cow-calf operation in the Nebraska Sandhills. She said she knew her husband wouldn’t use a computer and the spreadsheets on a smartphone just didn’t work because of the size. So she set off to come up with a plan.

“It’s been an interesting journey. I feel we should always be teaching ourselves something new,” she says.

Burgess would put her two children to bed and then work on the app. She even taught herself how to write computer code using resources she found online. The process took her one year to develop a product to test.

 “I’ve wanted an app like BullPEN since 2017. When nothing came, I decided to stop dreaming and start trying. I taught myself software coding in the evenings and with a load of research and persistence: BullPEN was born,” says Burgess.

Data collection. Seedstock producers collect the data and send it in a spreadsheet then she codes it and inputs it into the BullPEN app. Then cattlemen can set ranges and search for bulls that match their needs.

Burgess said the family’s operation sets EPD ranges that will work for their herd. Other users can save the bulls they are interested in and save them for sale day then they can utilize the information at their fingertips.

With the BullPEN app, cattlemen can locate find bulls for sale through auction or private treaty by setting EPD ranges, location, or a breeder handle (similar to social media handles). A quick press or swipe of the results either saves preferred bulls to the BullPEN or brings up the complete bull profile along with sale details, breeder contact info and links to the video catalog if available. 

Burgess says the goal is to put all the info at the fingertips of the producer whenever they need it in a clean, uncluttered, easy to use and read format. Simplification was key in the development. 

Mobile app. Being a mobile app, BullPEN provides faster access to data and smoother user interface paired with the convenience, mobility, and the personalization of saving bulls that is hard to do on the web. People can also use BullPEN when they see the bulls in person or go to the sale. Quickly looking up eye-catching bulls on the spot is a bonus.

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For seedstock producers, bulls can be listed for $1 per head by contacting BullPEN with their sale information then emailing bull data in a spreadsheet. Five breeds (Angus, Hereford, Red Angus, Simmental/Sim Angus, and Charolais) are currently supported in the app with hopes to expand to more breeds in the future. 

The app is free and ready-to-go on download with no ads, no user accounts, no in-app purchases, and doesn’t track your location or share your bull selection data. It can be downloaded from Google Play or Apple App stores. You can also download and find out more information at www.getpenned.com or contact the developer by emailing [email protected].

 

7 ag stories you might have missed this week - Dec. 11, 2020

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Missed some ag news this week? Here are seven stories to catch you up.

1. Measured by the bushel, the U.S.-China relationship has never been stronger. Pig farmers in China and crop farmers in the U.S. have become increasingly interdependent. But the deeper reliance is tenuous. As the trade war showed, the market can quickly evaporate and exports warn that any number of geopolitical events could end with another chill on Chinese imports. China is also developing its global supply chain and aiming for self-sufficiency. – Farm Futures

2. Small farmers, new farmers and farmers of color have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and are often not eligible for federal aid. The adversity has changed lives and spurred many to think about new markets. – Seattle Times

3. Soybean and wheat futures climbed on favorable domestic demand sentiments following this month's World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report. The report said rising domestic usage rates for U.S. soybeans shrunk ending stocks to 175 million bushels, the tightest level since 2013. – Farm Futures

4. President-elect Joe Biden has tapped former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to return to the role. The pick was slammed on twitter. Mother Jones described the selection this way: "Biden Picks Stale White Bread to Lead the USDA." Fox News was also critical of the pick, citing Biden's role at the U.S. Dairy Export Council where he pulled in $1 million a year in checkoff funds.  – Farm Futures

5. Water is now a commodity traded on Wall Street. Farmers, hedge funds and municipalities are now able to hedge against or bet on future water availability in California. – Bloomberg

6. One of China's top pork producers, Muyuan Foods, is trying to raise more hogs on a single site than any other company in the world. The mega-farm will eventually house close to 84,000 sows and produce about 2.1 million pigs per year. Construction on the hog operation began in March and operations started at the first of the 21 new buildings in September – KTIC Radio

7. Texas hemp growers are wrapping up their first season and aiming for changes to laws and genetics. Texas growers are aiming to become top hemp-fiber producers. – Hemp Industry Daily.

And your bonus.

Orion Samuelson is retiring at the end of the month, bringing a close to a 60-year career at WGN Radio in Chicago. He's originated broadcasts from all 50 states and 44 countries. – Farm Progress

Report assess impact of COVID-19 on consumer behaviors

The number of consumers who say they intend to eat beef at least weekly increased from 67 percent to 72 percent compared to 2019, and consumer positive perceptions of beef reached 70 percent for the first time, according to a new report released by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), a contractor to the Beef Checkoff, that examines the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on consumer attitudes, behaviors and perceptions. 

“The impact of the pandemic has been transformative in every corner of our economy,” said Buck Wehrbein, 2020 NCBA Federation Division Chair.  “The good news is that consumers are choosing beef more often as they adapt to cooking more at home.”  

The report outlines what consumer behaviors have changed, what behaviors may be permanent and how the beef industry has and continues to respond. With support from the 44 state beef councils and the Beef Checkoff program, current market and consumer research provides insight into the past year and helps inform programming and response in order to keep beef as the top protein choice for consumers.

“NCBA’s checkoff-funded market research program allows us to evaluate and understand the consumer landscape, especially as its dynamics continue to shift,” NCBA Senior Director of Market Research Shawn Darcy said. “As a result, this helps all checkoff programs be more efficient, whether through promotion, education or information distribution.”

With unemployment rates climbing higher during the pandemic than they have in decades, 65 percent of consumers remain very concerned about the impact of COVID-19, especially with its effects onto the economy. Despite not knowing how this pandemic will continue to shape the consumer landscape, the “State of the Consumer” report provides valuable information to help the beef industry better understand the quickly changing environment.  Key take-aways include:

  • Online ordering for both groceries and meal ordering is likely here to stay. It is expected online ordering and delivery will grow at a more rapid pace than originally projected due to COVID-19. Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner., managed by NCBA, will continue to complete first-of-its-kind exploratory e-commerce marketing campaigns to help the supply chain accelerate the sales of fresh beef in this rapidly changing environment.
  • Consumers are cooking more meals at home now than prior to COVID-19. This means they are searching for information to help them cook meals at home. Though expected to continue for the short term, a long-term shift is difficult to assess. NCBA will continue to utilize a variety of techniques by pushing out cooking information and recipe inspiration through digital, social media and traditional media platforms and leveraging impactful, high-profile influencers or thought leaders to teach consumers how to cook.
  • Consumers are spending more time at home and online than prior to COVID-19. Along with that comes the rise of more TV and moving-streaming platforms and the decline of in-person movie theater watching experience, which could signal a long-term shift in consumers using more media “inside of the home” compared to “out-of-home.” NCBA will continue to utilize a variety of marketing platforms to continuously reach the consumer through paid, earned and owned digital, social and traditional media platforms.
  • Currently, consumers are more focused on spending their money on essential needs, such as groceries, household supplies and personal care and cleaning products. This will likely adjust back at some point; it is just a matter of when. NCBA, as a contractor to the Beef Checkoff, will continue to look for opportunities to remind consumers that beef is the classic comfort food that they want as the centerpiece of their dinner, especially as we move into the holiday season.
  • Positive consumer perceptions of beef and beef production increased during the pandemic and will likely remain higher for the next several months. Consumers may return to expressing concerns about food production when focus evolves from current concerns. NCBA will continue programs that educate consumers about beef and beef production.

Beef demand has remained strong to-date. Consumers increased weekly beef eatings and were willing to pay more for the product. With strong domestic consumer demand-building programs Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner., and other demand building programs, NCBA will keep focused on keeping this strong demand going through innovated checkoff-funded programs.

The full “State of the Consumer” Report, with detailed statistics and graphs can be found here.

Source: NCBAwhich is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset. 

Farm Progress America, December 10, 2020

Max Armstrong reports on dairy market fundamentals where prices have increased along with production. Max shares a look at 2021 pricing outlook, which look to stabilize. Max shares key market indicators that show there could be less volatility in milk prices next year.

Farm Progress America is a daily look at key issues in agriculture. It is produced and presented by Max Armstrong, veteran farm broadcaster and host of This Week in Agribusiness.

Photo: pilipphoto/iStock/Getty Images

2020 National Stocker Award: Rush Creek Ranch

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“I’ve always been really production oriented, that’s just my nature. Once we own an animal, we try to get as much weight on them as we can,” says Reid Ludlow. He and his son, Matt, own and manage Rush Creek Ranch near Viroqua, Wisc., this year’s National Stocker Award winner.

The Ludlow’s belief in spreading costs across more pounds is what led Reid to begin buying flyweight calves in the Southeast decades ago. It’s also why he embraced intensive rotational grazing from the outset, gunning to maximize pounds per acre.

We’ll get to all of that in a moment.

First, it’s important to understand that Reid chose to be in the cattle grazing business before he graduated from high school. It was his dream, but one analyzed with lots of deliberate, critical thought.

Reid spent his first years in Colorado, where his dad owned several small feedlots along the Front Range, and who also always ran cattle on grass, including at ranches he owned.

Featured 1540x800.png“The cattle on grass were always more interesting to me, and as I matured and got a better understanding of how the industry worked, I felt like there wasn’t as much competition in the stocker business as there was in cattle feeding,” Reid says. “I also liked the fact that you had more than a two-week window to market your cattle. I didn’t realize then how big of a deal that is.”

It’s obvious that Reid and his folks were close and that he spent lots of time shadowing his father.

His dad died just before Reid turned 13. Ultimately, his Mom sold the feedlots and the ranch. She married a Chicago lawyer; Reid went to high school in the Chicago suburbs.

“So, I had a broader view than I would have had just staying in Colorado,” he says. But, his dream was to run a grazing program or a ranch and there was no longer an ongoing operation at home. 

Reid attended Colorado State University, where he got a degree in business. Throughout his college years, he kept thinking about his dream. He also spent time looking around the U.S. and working for different cattle operations, including in Montana, southeastern Colorado and at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Nebraska.

“I would ask questions of all of those people I worked for. I formulated more ideas about what might work and might not work, what some advantages were and disadvantages.

He created a short criteria list for his operation. The ground had to be deeded acres. The operation had to be located in an area where there was sufficient rainfall or there was the ability to irrigate. Finally, it had to be in a strong market for feeder cattle.

That led him to southwestern Wisconsin, where his dad once owned property.

“This ground was basically the same price as a lot of the western ranchland, but many, many times more productive; in essence it was cheaper,” Reid says.

In 1976, when Reid began the operation, this part of the state consisted mostly of small dairies.

“What we really competed on was a place that didn’t have a dairy setup. It didn’t have many building on it and it didn’t lay so well that a cash grain farmer would buy it. But, we also tried to buy ground that didn’t have many woods. We cleared any of the woods that were there, if it wasn’t too steep.”

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Rush Creek, the skinny version

Here’s the thumbnail sketch of Rush Creek Ranch today. Via order buyers, the Ludlows buy flyweight calves (180-280 pounds or so) in the Southeast from various sale barns, one at time, during the fall and winter.

These high-risk calves go to conditioning yards in the Southeast where they’re straightened out and readied to graze ryegrass, primarily in Alabama, Florida and Georgia.

All of that is accomplished with a trusted network Reid cultivated over the years, spending lots of time in the Deep South.

So, there’s a bit of geographic arbitrage, taking cattle from a part of the country that values the cattle less to one that values them more.

When there’s enough grass growth, usually around the first part of May, all of those calve are shipped north to Wisconsin over about a week’s time.

Here at Rush Creek, these cattle will graze through 32-40 five-acre pastures of perennials (brome grass, orchard grass and red clover), being rotated as often as twice a day earlier in the season (more in a minute).

From the middle of November to just before Christmas these cattle are shipped to feedlots in the west. Depending on the market, the cattle are sold to buyers or Rush Creek Ranch retains ownership through the finishing stage.

Another level of rotational grazing

When Reid started out, he says many already recognized they could increase stocking rates through rotational grazing.

“When we first came here it was a four or five pasture rotation. By the next year I was working hard on getting that to be a 10 or 12 pasture rotation; one set of cattle rotating through 10-12 pastures,” Reid explains. “Even back then, we were stocked twice as heavy as we would have been if we weren’t rotational grazing. We were stocked at about two head per open (non-wooded) acre for the summer on our ground being rotated; about one per open acre on leased ground, which was set stocked.”

These were primarily 40-acre pastures until 1988 when Wisconsin faced severe drought. That’s when they carved them into 10-acre pastures. That was still the setup when Matt returned to the operation in 2008. Before then, Matt obtained degrees in economics and finance and worked in the financial world.

Then came the decision to divide the pastures into smaller five-acre paddocks, which meant more frequent rotations.

Depending on the size of cattle, a herd of 650-900 head will rotate through the 32-40 pastures. Think of these as a single unit. Another herd makes its way through a different 32-40 pastures (unit) and so on. All told, Rush Creek runs eight different herds through the system each year.

“We sit down and try to figure out how many cattle, how much weight we want on a particular unit, and we try to maximize total gain. We put enough cattle out there to keep up with the spring growth,” Reid says.

Reid and Matt move cattle twice each day in the spring and then less frequently through the height of growing season to the point cattle are rotated through pastures every two to three days in the fall of the year. This is all done via horseback. You’ll find a trailer perpetually hitched to their pickups. These are the type of folks who take their boots off, but leave the spurs strapped to them.

“Our stocking rate has increased about 5% per year,” says Reid. “One of the main advantages when we went from an 8-12 pasture rotation up to 32-40 pastures is manure distribution. The distribution is so much better when you have really heavy stocking density. We operate in an area where the soil and moisture are good enough that the fertility is able to come up.”

For perspective, Matt explains the same ground comprised of 10-acre pastures that supported about 1,050 head now supports about 1,400 in five-acre pastures.

Every herd has its own feed bunks on skids that are chained together, which move with the cattle each and every time. These bunks are positioned opposite of the water source in each pasture, trying to ensure the most even manure distribution throughout the entire pasture. So, the pastures get coated with manure, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any once the cattle return for the next trip.

“It makes a big difference over time. I don’t think we have a complete understanding of all that is going on in the soils, all of the organic activity, etc. This system is really environmentally sound,” Reid says. He also notes they’re utilizing more of what’s growing in each pasture than when cattle were less densely stocked.

Bottom line, Matt points out being able to run more cattle without having to invest capital in purchasing more acres is a tremendous advantage.

“We’re not trying to get the most absolute gain out of the cattle,” Reid says. “We’re giving up quite a bit by rotating as intensively as we are. There’s no doubt that we’re giving up some because you’re taking away all of their selection ability. We’re giving up individual weight gain to get more gain on that acre.”

With that said, Matt explains, “If you look at the total pounds we can gain here in Wisconsin in a given season, it always surprises me. We used to put 300 to 350 pounds on them in the summer and now we’re gaining between 400 and 475 pounds.”

Leveraging forage with feed

Part of that increased gain came with the decision several years ago to utilize supplemental feeding as a way to stockpile and extend forage, while maintaining cattle numbers and performance.

“When we finally decided to feed, that was a hard decision because we were supposed to be a simple summer grazing operation that didn’t have a lot of overhead. When you start to feed, you change a lot of things,” Reid says. “You’ve got equipment, bunks, more help. But, we felt like we would always be in an area where we could buy feed less expensively than a lot of our competitors because we’re in the upper Midwest. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t buy it wrong.”

The bounty of feedstuffs in the area includes byproducts such as dried distillers grains, malt sprouts and barley screenings from breweries, soybean hulls and the like.

Although every byproduct comes with its own nutritional baggage, Matt says, “In our opinion, if we can take a handful of these byproducts and combine them with something decent like corn silage, along with the grass, we can put together a total ration that works.”

Spun differently, their ration is based on digestible fiber with a protein source.

When it comes to supplementing cattle on grass, Reid believes, “You’ve got to feed something where you’re not hurting the digestion of the forage, and that can be fairly difficult, in our opinion. So, we feed digestible fiber. We’re holding it all together in the bunk with corn silage; the rest of it is byproducts.”

“When you take all of the expense we have wrapped up in these animals, we feel like if we can convert the supplemental feed well enough, while still utilizing the grass, we can make a return on the purchased feed,” Matt says.

They feed and grade

Coast through Rush Creek pastures at the beginning of October and you’ll be struck by how lush the pastures look, how un-crowded they appear, even with such a high stocking density and the 12 O’clock condition of the cattle. Thinking back to all of these cattle being bought mostly as singles, never minding color, you’ll also wonder how such uniformity is possible.

Fact is, these cattle don’t just look the part.

“We’ve gridded our cattle coming out of the feedlot the last handful of years and they have averaged 90% plus for Choice or better, which is pretty astonishing when you think about buying a 180-200-pound calf and putting it on grass for that long,” Matt explains. “Our nutritionist told us if you put them on a relatively high, good plane of nutrition for an extended period of time, the better the grading analytics will be.”

Matt, who also serves as president of the Wisconsin Cattlemen’s Association,  believes part of the improved feeding and carcass performance in their cattle stems from what he views as a sea change in the overall quality of cattle, especially since the massive cowherd liquidation during the widespread drought a few years ago.

“Most stocker operations I know of sell cattle when they get to a certain weight, or weight range. Our cattle, no matter what they weigh coming to Wisconsin, we’re shipping them all at about the same time, usually from just before Thanksgiving to just before Christmas,” Reid says.

“The other reason we’re doing that is we’re trying to have those cattle hit the April board (Live Cattle futures). So, if they can be done from the middle of March to the first of May, that’s the goal,” Matt explains. He notes that historically there’s a hole in fed cattle supplies as average yearlings finish, before calf-feds start to make their way to rail, and as spring consumer demand begins to pick up.

Relationships are key

“Our deal wouldn’t work without all of these relationships,” Reid says. The relationships include the buyers, conditioning yards and grazers in the Southeast.

“We’ve used some of the same people for 40 years and more in the South. Those buyers will come to Wisconsin to look at the cattle as yearlings so we can talk about how we need to adjust for the next year’s buy.”

Of course, the relationships also include all of those within the Rush Creek operation.

“We’ve been fortunate to find really good people who help us before the calves get to Wisconsin,” Matt says. “And, we have great people who work for us fulltime. We’re really lucky in that regard.”