Cattlemen’s College Highlights | successful farming


For more than 25 years, the NCBA’s Cattlemen’s College has provided engaging and challenging sessions that can help improve an operation. As this year’s event kicks off, growers share the latest practices and initiatives they are using in their operations.

Adopt conservation practices

Ric Coombie and his family raise cattle at Thunder View Farms, 100 miles north of New York. This places it directly in the watershed that provides drinking water to 9.5 million New York City residents, and makes it perhaps one of the most environmentally exposed cattle ranches in the nation.

“Rather than fight New York, we decided to embrace it,” he told other breeders attending Cattlemen’s College 2022. They met with water regulators and are now running the farm according to the New York City rules designed to provide absolutely pure water from the watershed.

One of the conservation practices they employ is to feed their few hundred cows in the winter. They make silage in plastic bags and feed it on a long concrete feeding platform. This concentrates waste and manure into an area where they can easily pick up and spread in a controlled manner only where they want it and where there is no risk of it entering runoff areas.

“If we’re lucky with the weather, we can spread it in the hay fields all year round,” says Coombie. “We never spread anything within a mile of a stream or water reservoir.”

Leveraging Ecosystem Credits

Bob McCan of McFaddin Enterprises, a large cattle ranch in South Texas, says his ranch is looking hard at a whole new revenue stream: ecosystem credits.

“We’ve been approached by people who want to pay us carbon and conservation credits for our practices, our biodiversity efforts and maybe water quality practices,” he says. “We don’t know all the details, but it could be a significant amount that a consortium of companies are willing to pay, perhaps in the range of $10 to $15 an acre.”

The value of combined herds

Three is better than one, says Nevada rancher Bill Lickley after combining cow herds with two of his friends. Now the cows are still individually owned, but they run together and are managed as a larger herd. At the time of branding, individual calves are branded according to owner. The value of combined herds comes in many ways, Lickley says, including management and labor efficiency.

“But perhaps one of the best benefits comes at the time of marketing, when we sort the calves to sell them,” he says. “When my herd was alone, we had around 200 cows, and when we were selling calves, we always had the majority of calves in the middle, in terms of size. We could do a few loads of it. Large loads always help on the price. But we always had a few bigger calves and a few smaller calves that we sorted, and there were never enough to do a full load. They’ve never sold so well, and it was costing us a lot of overall value.

“Now with the combined herds we have around 2,500 cows. We can round up a full load of those calves that are a little smaller, maybe because they’re just younger, or a little bigger. I feel like we are getting closer to full value in all of our calves.

The combined herds also allowed him and his partners to specialize in ways that they could not as individual herds. For example, Lickley says, he doesn’t have to worry about leased pasture issues because one of his partners does. Instead, he focuses on marketing and risk management, his true expertise.

From a seed production operation to a direct beef market operation

Rising market prices over the past few months put a smile on the faces of producers at the 2022 NCBA Beef Industry Convention and Trade Show. Most people measure this in cents per pound of calf sold – $1.60 last year, over $2 this year. But Andrew Donnell of Jackson, Tennessee, measures it in the actual price of a steak. That’s because he’s rapidly converting the ranch from a seed operation to a direct market beef operation sold through a brand new butcher shop he’s added to the farm the last year.

“We started selling ribeye steaks for $12 a pound,” he says. “It was too low so we upped it to $15 and still sold out fast. Recently we upped it again to $18 and it’s still selling because people love it so much Good.

Its ground beef price is still at the original level of $5.50 a pound, but it is in the process of reassessing it. “We really try to establish a good customer base and want them to be completely satisfied, so our first goal is just to get customers to try our beef. In fact, sometimes when a new customer comes to see me, I tell them to pick up a package and try it before they buy. He can do it, he says, because they always come back. He hopes to soon be able to sell all his calves (around 100 per year) via the butcher’s shop.

Barn doors open to visitors

What if you opened your farm to agritourism and over a million people showed up? This is what happened at Kualoa Ranch in Hawaii. Of course, they have some things you probably don’t: great year-round weather, world-class beaches, and tourist traffic landing on their doorstep. And, oh yes, they have dinosaurs too. This ranch on the island of Oahu was where much of the filming took place for the jurassic park movies.

They also have 4,000 acres of pasture and a thriving grass-fed beef business. Kualoa Ranch’s Stephanie Mock told beef producers at the convention that they are trying to sustainably capitalize on any opportunities they have to attract visitors with agrotours, bike rides, hikes, weddings. , zip lines, etc. Here is his list of things they learned that might be useful to other ranches looking for alternative sources of income.

  1. Do not leave cows in a field the day before you hold a wedding there. Kualoa Ranch knows this having hosted 400 weddings a year.

  2. Not all alternative businesses will work. You can hedge your risk by embarking on a new venture with rental or collaboration partners who take on some of the risk.

  3. What you think is safe may not be the same as some of your guests who don’t work on a farm every day.

  4. Tourist schedules don’t always match your farm’s activity schedules.

  5. Appeal to the senses of your guests. Let them get their hands dirty or let a cow lick them. “These are the lasting memories they will take away. What you take for granted, they don’t experience, and they will pay you to gain that experience,” Mock says.

  6. Always teach them agriculture and animal husbandry. “They might come to our ranch because of the dinosaur movies, but we teach them about cows and crops all the time.”


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