Building a Base

*Read more about beef production and beef as fuel for running on the Kansas Beef Chat Blog

Derek stands amongst his ladies as he inspects and condition and health of our heifers out at pasture this summer.

Derek stands amongst his ladies as he inspects and condition and health of our heifers out at pasture this summer.

For most runners, summer is spent on long runs, tough track workouts and sweat sessions that build character and stamina. It’s the time of year you build your mileage base, expand your CO2 capacity and simply become a better, strong runner. It’s also the season to clean up your diet by enjoying more fresh fruits, vegetable and lean proteins – hot off the grill. Hard work and dedication in the summer pays off on race days in the fall.

We see the summer as much the same for our cattle. No, they’re not running laps in the pasture or really doing much of any type of workout, but they are building their base and lean muscle mass through the consumption of nutrient-rich grasses in the Kansas Flint Hills. Many of our cows become pregnant in the spring, which means they spend their all-important first trimester out at pasture. The grasses provide enough calories to allow both the new calf and the mother to thrive and grow. We supplement the grass with minerals essential to a growing baby and mother and ensure the animals always have access to fresh water.

Allowing our cattle to graze throughout the spring and summer months pays big dividends in the winter. Our mother cows are healthy and strong enough to care for a newborn calf. And the calves that have spent their first summer with their mothers in the pastures are healthy, strong and ready to be weaned.

The summer grazing season is an essential part of our cattle’s lifecycle and our feed regimen. And the summer running season is vital to feeling confident on race day each fall.

Where Has The Time Gone?

The hubs checks the monitor of one of his sub-surface drip irrigation systems while the kiddo splashes in water. Sometimes work errands make for great family trips.

The hubs checks the monitor of one of his sub-surface drip irrigation systems while the kiddo splashes in water. Sometimes work errands make for great family trips.

It’s been nearly a month since I’ve updated my blog and I promise my absence isn’t a reflection of inactivity on the farm. Far from it! It has been a month of wheat harvest, milo planting, family trips and all the other things that make life busy for my family of three.

There has been much publicized about this year’s wheat harvest. It was definitely one for the books but not because of devastating drought as spring headlines predicted. Much the opposite. A week of nearly continuous rain brought much-needed moisture but also halted harvest. My hubby and his cutting crew were out of the field for nearly a week waiting for things to dry – that meant lots of daddy-son time! When they did get back to work, it was easy to see where the tractors had treaded as ruts and mud piles now mark the fields. Even yesterday (July 12) my husband continued to cut wheat – cleaning up low, muddy spots and corners.

When the combines weren’t cutting, the planter was at work planting soybeans and milo into wheat stubble. With continued moisture, we could see a spectacular fall harvest of all crops.

The cows remain at pasture in the Flint Hills and are thriving on the lush, green grass. We continue to visit our animals to ensure all are doing well and this week we will check our cows to see which are pregnant with the 2015 calf crop. One of the reasons we continue to calve in the winter and early spring is because our pregnant mother cows can take advantage of the nutrients provided by summer grazing. Grass is an excellent food source for cows and one that we strive to utilize as long as possible.

Finally, despite the June rains, my husband and his father remained this week busy starting irrigation systems. We were fortunate enough to convert an old, in-efficient pivot into a sub-surface drip irrigation system earlier this year. That means fewer breakdowns and more efficient irrigation. It also means more family time because my husband is less likely to have to spend his evenings getting a pivot un-stuck or changing gates on a flood irrigations system. Technology is great for many reasons, including it’s time-saving efficiencies.

This week, will be spent planning for a farm tour that will visit our crops next weekend. I’m excited to welcome a group of Central Kansas ladies to our farm – through the Kansas CommonGround organization – and answer their questions about food and farming.

Cow Emissions

A Facebook friend recently shared an article and questioned whether the study – and suggestions – cited by the author had any merit. It all sounded good – feeding cattle grass instead of grain would cut CO2 emissions and therefore help battle climate change.

But pull back the layers and you will see a questionable reporting source and misguided responsibility for the emissions. Thankfully, Facebook allows comments and some very knowledgeable and responsible livestock producers weighed in on the post, correcting the facts and explaining why grain feeding is more efficient and environmentally friendly method.

Here is a link to the article: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/09/26/2686331/livestock-emissions-30-percent-cut/

And here are a several of the comments defending American feeding practices. I don’t think I can say it any better than these gentleman did. Please note the insightful comment from my mostly quiet but always intelligent hubby, Derek. He usually leaves the farm talking to me but occasionally chimes in to explain what he does.

Brett Moline Most of those things farmers and ranchers are already doing. Animal selection for the most efficient, matching feed type and amount to what the animal needs, keeping animals healthy, these things are what farmers and ranchers have been doing for generations. As far as the new plants, some might have to be modified to live in our Wyoming climate i.e. GMO’s

David Miller Be very cautious of generalizing any data from an UN FAO report to the US cattle industry. Apples & oranges comparisons. Most of the emissions from the world’s cattle herd is due to emissions associated with “maintenance” of the animal and the typical “feeding time” for cattle in the developing world approaches 5 years. The typical US beef cow is already raised on quality forage and reaches market weight in 20 months. The rapid rate of gain and the significant reduction in the number of days to reach market weight is why US feedlot based beef production has significantly less emissions per cow and emissions per pound of beef than does grass-fed beef.

Derek Sawyer I agree with the other guys. We strive everyday to be more efficient than we were the day before- we have to to stay in business. What many people don’t understand is that improving efficiency does not always correlate with reducing inputs. In the case of feeding cattle, the intense feeding lowers the number of days an animal just eats to “maintain”. The last of my calf crop born in 2013 will be sitting in a restaurant next week- averaged 1400# in less than 15 months.

This study doesn’t suggest anything that cattlemen in this country aren’t doing everyday. Converting foodstuffs into pounds of beef and doing it in the most efficient way is the keystone to this business. This industry amounts to Billions and Billions of dollars each year in this country. IF there was evidence of a way to feed cattle with less feed (and do it without affecting the safety of animal or meat) somebody would have it on the market ASAP. It would not have been passed up for 45 years! Besides that, in the 1970′s, I believe it took 9+ pounds of feed (dry matter) for the animal to grow 1 actual pound. Out of my 700 head I fed this spring, they all converted less than 5.8 pounds of feed (dry matter) for the pound they gained. We accomplish this by genetic selection, studying feed ingredients and the ration the cattle eat, use nutritionists and veterinarians to keep the cattle in top health, and keep the cattle in a manner that reduces as much stress on the animal as possible. I say all this understanding many people will first think “factory farm”, but in this case- #1 raising pounds of meat responsibly and #2 providing a living for my wife and young son both correlate with how efficiently I perform my profession.

 

Puddles, Not Waterways – #DitchTheRule

Recent rainfalls have filled low spots in fields the EPA wants to regulate as waterways.

Recent rainfalls have filled low spots in fields the EPA wants to regulate as waterways.

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) already regulate all lakes, rivers and streams – not matter how large or small – in the U.S.. Now the agency wants to extend its reach to ditches and low spots in fields that fill only when Mother Nature provides the rain.

As the picture above illustrates, the water is simply sitting in a low spot in the field. We received over 2 inches of rain this past weekend and the ground was simply not able to absorb the moisture immediately. It will be be gone in less than 72 hours and won’t migrate or run into any other body of water.

But if the EPA has its way, it will treat this low spot as a waterway, requiring farmers to secure additional permits and government approvals before farming the land adjacent to this low spot. It’s not only burdensome but inefficient, costly and excessive. The EPA’s new proposed rule would cover any ditch or low spot in a field meaning a farmer could potentially have to have permits to farm and manage multiple low spots in one field.

We need to #DitchTheRule and tell the EPA to stop its unnecessary overreach and prohibitive regulations. Farmers and ranchers won’t be the only ones suffering under the new rule. Anyone relying on a affordable food supply could see a substantial impact. Log onto ditchtherule.fb.org to take action and learn more.

 

Dole Tours Kansas

Former Senator, presidential candidate and Kansas native Bob Dole made a stop in McPherson Tuesday as part of his second Kanas thank-you tour.

Former Presidential candidate and Kansas Senator Bob Dole made a stop in McPherson Tuesday.

Former Presidential candidate and Kansas Senator Bob Dole made a stop in McPherson Tuesday.

Dole is 90 years old and can no longer hide his age or war wounds. He battled in WWI, served as both majority and minority leader of the U.S. Senate and battled President Bill Clinton in the 1996 presidential election. Unfortunately he was on the losing side of that latter.

But Dole is well remembered in the nation’s political landscape and well regarded among Kansas Republicans. He has been touring the state, sharing stories and thanking voters for their decades of support.

During his stop in McPherson, he made no formal speeches, opting to sit, answer questions and greet visitors. Dole made known his frustration with the current administration but he didn’t hold back from expressing thoughts on the in-fighting of the GOP.

I don’t personally remember much from Dole’s time in Washington but it was great to see a well-known and highly respected Kansas legislator in-person. Derek and I took our son, Evan, who I believe was the youngest in attendance. He won’t remember seeing Dole but it’s something to put in his baby book. I believe it’s important to take advantage of opportunities, such as this, to hear from former leaders and see historically significantly men of our great states.  Leaders like Dole don’t stop in McPherson all that often and and today’s politicians don’t retain the popularity and respect that Dole continues to enjoy.

#DitchTheRule

I don’t mean to brag, but my hubby is a pretty darn good farmer. He understands what makes for ideal planting conditions, he has a knack for applying fertilizer at just the right time and he’s usually right on target with harvest decisions.

Timing is everything in farming and when conditions are right for planting, the tractor barely stops. The same goes for fertilizing and harvesting. Mother Nature doesn’t wait for any farmer and certainly doesn’t double check anyone’s schedule. She’s her own woman. So when opportunity knocks, farmers answers. That flexibility and drive to do what it takes, when it takes has made farming substantially more efficient and kept food prices affordable for all consumers.

But the EPA recently announced its intentions to expand its powers under the 1972 Clean Water Act, imposing new, unworkable regulations on America’s farmers.

Among other impacts, the new rule would expand federal control over land features such as ditches and low areas in fields that are wet only during storms. This means that everyday farming activities such as fence-building, planting and fertilizer application would require a permit.

We all known the glacial pace at which government works, adding a new level of oversight and series of permits would substantially alter farming practices and remove farmers’ abilities to react to weather conditions and complete field work in a timely fashion.

When the rain finally fell last weekend, my husband knew that he would have a small window of time at the end of the week to get corn seed in the ground. Too soon and the soil would be too wet, too late and the moisture would be gone. So now he’s burning the midnight oil, planting corn before the next round of rain. Farmers don’t have time to stop, fill out paper work, apply for a permit and wait for the response from the government. They have to react when conditions are right.

If new oversight is approved, farming would become substantially less efficient, increasing costs for farmers and raising prices at the grocery store. Farming would become less competitive and less profitable.

The EPA should ditch the rule and continue to allow farmers to carry out routine field and farm would on their own time, without the hassle and headaches of permits and government oversight. Farmers know the land, they know when conditions are right to work and they know that slowing down and taking a break isn’t an option. Farming doesn’t need more permits and increased bureaucracy.

Read more at http://ditchtherule.fb.org/

 

 

Planting Time

Image

Knowing dad was hard at work – and would remain so well past bedtime – Evan and I took advantage of the nice weather and made a trip to the field tonight to say hello and deliver dinner.

Spring is the busiest season on the farm. Cattle have to be moved to summer pasture in the Flint Hills and corn and soybeans have to go into the ground. Many farmers, like my hubby, were patiently waiting for rain before starting to plant corn. We received about an inch last weekend so planting began in earnest this week. Once the planter starts, it typically doesn’t sit still for very long. My husband or his father are in the planter 18 of the 24 hours in the day. My husband usually takes the late shift and my father-in-law will get started with the sun. It makes for long days and tired farmers but it’s part of life on the farm.

In just a few days, small, green corn plants will begin to emerge and by late summer, we will be picking the corn to be used for feed and fuel.

Nevada’s Issues Could Hit Home

As a farmer and rancher, I’ve listened a little closer than most to the dispute between Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy and the federal government. The timeline is much longer than the nightly news has time for and the issues and players are more complex than what is often described.

The Washington Post’s Fix Blog recently published a comprehensive timeline of events culminating in last week’s stand-off between Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management. Over the past nine years, the dispute has taken many twists and turns with characters coming, going and threatening harm to others and cattle.

Say what you will about Bundy’s refusal to pay grazing fees, the issue at the heart of this stalemate is something that could impact ranchers across the county. And it’s something Kansas cattle owners should be paying attention to.

The Post’s timeline begins with the federal government’s order to list the desert tortoise on the endangered species list. When the federal government allows that level of protection for an animal, efforts to protect it trump the rights and right-aways of others.

The Bureau of Land Management took over Bundy’s grazing land because the desert tortoise made its home on those same public lands. From there, the BLM began purchase grazing rights from Bundy’s neighbors in an attempt to create an environment for the tortoise to thrive.

That series of events could soon be replicated in Kansas. The federal government recently announced the addition of the Lesser Prairie Chicken to the endangered species list. The announcement will bring with it new land use rules, regulations and restrictions. That could hit home for those that graze cattle across Kansas and four other Midwest states.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has filed suit against the federal government claiming states’ right and federal overreach. But if the Obama administration gets its way, ranchers could lose access to valuable grassland.

The irony is that the building of roads, cities, wind turbines and other permanent structures has done more to harm the prairie chicken’s habitat but those things cannot be removed. So the government will likely look to ranchers, which can be forced off the land.

When ranchers graze cattle, they do so with the land in mind. Ranchers want to return to the same pastures year after year so they are careful to not overgraze grasses or remove plants and other wildlife. Those habits play into the establishment of habitats for the prairie chicken.

Farmers and ranchers are the original environmentalists and never want to interrupt habitats or destroy grasslands. But forcing Bundy and other ranchers off grazing lands only further hurts cattle owners, who are already struggling to continue their way of life and provide affordable beef products for consumers. Supple and demand in the beef market has already been stretched to its limits, fewer grazing acres will pull that spread even thinner.

The Bundy story hasn’t ended and neither has Kansas’ fight to stop the federal government from protecting the lesser prairie chicken. But as the fight continues, it becomes all the more obvious that Bundy’s problems could soon be hitting home for Kansas farmers and ranchers.

Learn more about this issue at:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2014/04/15/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-long-fight-between-cliven-bundy-and-the-federal-government/

http://www.kansas.com/2014/03/27/3370862/lesser-prairie-chickens-placed.html

On To Greener Pasture

Every year about this time, the texts and phone calls coming daily – sometime more often. The calves are out, the cows have made it onto the wheat field again or the bulls are on the road. The calls always come as the hubs and I are on our way to an event or just after we have settled in for the evening.

Tonight the calves are in the front yard, the backyard and on the driveway.

Bulls on the road are a sign that it’s time for the animals to go to pasture – it also means we likely have some fence to repair. But like humans, our cattle get spring fever and know when the time is near to move to greener pasture and realize some running rom.

In a few short weeks, our cows and calves will be moved to grazing pastures. They have spent the winter at the farm enjoying a well-rounded diet that meets the nutritional needs of the mother cow and her calf. Because the cows are calving during the winter, we keep them in pens so mother and calf stay closer and we have easy access to the animals to assist in the birthing process, administer medication or tag a newborn calf.

Our pastures are located in the famous Kansas Flint Hills. The animals will have acres upon acres of green grass and open space. They will be well taken care of and we’ll make several trips to visit.

I’ll miss the calves but it’s time they move onto greener pasture.