North Central Research Extension Center


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Things you see, hear, and learn for a cattle tour October 2006

I participated in a farm/ranch tour the other day to hear from some cattlemen using ethanol by-products as feed.  The five operations were all fairly close to plants and are routinely including distillers cake or syrup in their feedlot and cow rations.

The first stop was in the Red River Valley at the farm of a sugar beet, corn and wheat farmer.  The farm has been diversified over the generations with a small cattle feeding enterprise.  The old feeding facility had deteriorated, was small, poorly drained, dictating either an exit from the cattle or a new investment.  A couple of years ago a new 900 head finishing lot was built by moving dirt to shape a rise in the flat topography upon which to layout about 1000 feet of bunkline with a feed road (fenced as a drovers lane) and feeding pad in a continuous line.  Six pens layed to the east with a 3% slope for 180 feet to a holding pond. They are fenced with pipe and cable with a central handling area, scale, and loadout.  Calves are bought for feeding along with custom feed for a few individuals who invest in a pen of cattle from time to time.  Earlage, silage, corn, and alfalfa are harvested from the farm and fed along with beet pulp and wet distillers grains from local plants.  Feds are either sold to Tyson in Nebraska or at auction in Sisseton, SD.

The next stop was west to a cow calf operation that had improved their facilities by building a small feedlot to background calves and use for cows at calving.  They ran a 300 cow herd of Charolais and Red Angus cattle managed to begin calving in mid February that were performance tested using the Chaps program.  Calves were summer creeped, weaned in September, and fed targeting 3-3.5 adg for sale as heavy feeders in December and January.  The feeding facility consisted of 3 feeding pens in line with a bunkline of concrete bunks and feeding pad on a built up site for drainage and a feeding road and pen slope for drainage out to a filtering meadow.  Out of pocket costs for the expansion came to about $75 per calf space.  Along with farm raised silage, prairie hay, alfalfa hay, and corn the ration was supplemented with wet distillers grain and a custom supplement with mineral and vitamin.  Feed was delivered twice a day with a reel type tractor pulled mixer.  Silage was stored in plastic lined covered bale bunker, corn was rolled into a hopper bin, and wet distillers were piled on the ground.   Cows were limit fed rations of same feedstuffs along with rumensin for improved feed efficiency.  Plans for expanding the feeding enterprise depended on interest of a son attending college.

A seasonal feedlot in combination with a grain farm and small cow herd was the focus of the next stop.  Farm produced corn, silage, and hay were marketed through a 1000 head permitted finishing lot comprised of a half dozen feeding pens with concrete bunks and feeding aprons.  Additional dirt work was already in place for additional pens.  A new processing barn and equipment including a load scale were recently constructed.  Silage and wet feed were stored in a concrete bunker.  Ground hay in piles on ground and dried distillers grain and rolled corn in an open sided commodity shed.  Corn was rolled from hoppered storage into the shed.  Additional supplements were through liquid pumped on feed loads delivered with a Farm Aid mixer.   Several hundred fresh weaned pre vaccinated calves are contracted from western North Dakota for October delivery to be fed to finish.  Additional calves to fill the yard are purchased at auction as needed or opportunities exist.  Typically most cattle are marketed in spring and early summer leaving yard empty for several months in late summer and early fall.  High competition and rents for pasture land limits the cowherd to a size to use the grazing resources of the operation.

The next stop was to a multi family operation diversified with a 300 cow purebred seed stock herd, 1600 acre farm, and a 1200 head finishing feedlot.  The feeding enterprise focused on feeding for natural niche markets and procured calves from ranches buying bulls from them.  About 2000 finished cattle were put through the yard each year.  Grass yearlings were brought in August and as they were marketed preconditioned backgrounded calves were brought in.   It is desirable to have calves weaned and prepared for the feedlot on ranch of origin, allowing them to enter the feedlot eating well and minimizing health concerns. Rations used the typical feeds of rolled corn, high moisture bunker stored corn, corn silage, chopped hay, distillers grain, and custom mineral.  No ionophores, antibiotics, or animal origin feeds are fed.  Feeder cattle are all certified by sellers to be compliant.  Cattle contracted for natural lean market are fed a bit lower energy ration to minimize fat deposition and marketed at 1100-1200 lbs.  Bonuses are paid on muscling.  Cattle more genetically suitable for choice natural markets are fed hotter and heavier as bonuses will be for marbling.   The purebred cow herd uses corn stalks and chopped corn stalks supplemented with wet distillers grains in early winter to minimize feed costs.  They are currently in the process of permitting a feedlot expansion.

The final stop was at a large cow calf operation owned and operated by a 31 year man with help from his father.  The operation is headquartered on 800 acres including a mix of farmland and pasture and new pen facilities for feeding their own calves.  Summer pasture is leased with a 25 mile distance for cows for the period of May 15 to October 15.

Heifers are calved in February through lots and facilities and Cows in March and April in adjoining fields and pastures.  The breeding program includes buying replacements and using Charolais bulls for terminal crossing.  Calves are creep fed while on the cow with corn and supplemental limiter.  Calves are weaned in mid September and brought into the bunkline feeding facility for backgrounding.  Calves have high growth potential and are fed a fairly high energy growing ration targeting nine weight steers for marketing in January.    The operation put up about 1600 bales of hay for over 400 cows and calves along with corn silage.  Some additional corn is harvested as high moisture and packed in a bale bunker.  They have set up an insulated /heated building for storing corn syrup as a supplement to rations.  Calves typically get 5-7 lbs per day in their ration.  After cleaning up corn stalks, cows are fed a mixer delivered ration of hay and silage and straw along with 3-4 lbs or syrup.

The operations visited had recently, were in the process, or had plans for further investments in the cattle business.  More particularly in equipment and facilities to either feed their own or additional calves beyond weaning, utilizing ethanol byproducts in the region along with home raised feedstuffs.  Opportunity came be found where you look for it.

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