Agricultural agencies sponsor livestock winter meeting for producers
The meeting was sponsored by the Emmons County Soil Conservation District (ECSCD), NDSU Extension Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service. Lunch was provided by the ECSCD and prepared by ECSCD Clerk Rhonda Vetsch.
NDSU Area Extension Specialist for Livestock Systems Dr. Karl Hoppe brought information to the group on grazing lands stewardship, supplemental feeding and recognizing stress in livestock.
Regarding grazing land stewardship, Hoppe pointed out that in caring for their land and their livestock, every producer has different goals. Beyond having productive cows and calves and productive pastures, other goals may include providing habitat for wildlife or scenery.
“The important element to consider in obtaining those goals is management,” Hoppe said. “This year’s actions affect next year’s production.”
Hoppe suggested avoiding overgrazing, practicing rotational grazing, matching turnout time to the grass species, matching the water source to the pasture size and matching the pasture to the grazing herd size.
On supplemental feeding, Hoppe said it is sometimes a necessity, and that during the winter months it is usually required.
When providing supplement feed, producers should consider what their livestock are missing in their diet, whether it be protein, vitamins, minerals or energy. For instance, if livestock are not being provided with green leafy forages, they may be low on Vitamin A.
Corn is a good source of energy, but with the increased cost of corn, producers may need to find other sources or supplements for the energy the cows need.
“You have to do the math to figure out what the costs are for the sources of energy your livestock need,” Hoppe said. “You don’t buy corn for the protein, you buy it for the energy.”
Hoppe recommended using distillers grains as a supplement choice as it is a good match for grass hay. Grass hay is low in energy, protein and phosphorous. Distillers grains is high in energy, protein and phosphorous, and a 10 to 20 percent of the rations can balance the ration.
In recognizing stress in livestock, Hoppe pointed out two different types of stress—chronic and acute. An example of chronic would be extended issues such as cold weather. An acute example would be running cattle through a chute to vaccinate.
Factors that cause stress for livestock include their fear of people, fear of noise, fear of being alone and fear of fast movements.
“Cows are very aware of their surroundings, and they hate to be yelled at,” Hoppe said.
Hoppe said cattle are trainable and that feed is a powerful motivator in teaching an animal and building trust with that animal.
“Train cattle not to be afraid, pet the back of their necks and offer feed to them when doing so,” he said.
Other stresses that affect cattle are weather conditions and diseases, and Hoppe advised producers to watch out for abnormal behavior.
Hoppe summarized by encouraging farmers and ranchers to take time for themselves and enjoy the business.
“You, like your livestock, experience stress, and you need to take care of yourselves first,” Hoppe said.
Chad Njos is an agricultural producer from Bowman and also a mentor for the North Dakota Grazing Lands Coalition.
Njos shared his efforts in handling stress in livestock and introduced ideas that helped him make decisions during the drought.
He pointed out that livestock basically want food and water, peace and quiet and rest. In order for livestock to handle pressures and stresses, he encouraged producers to teach their livestock through techniques that he has practiced.
“Teaching livestock to handle stresses and pressure makes them easier to move and work, and makes a healthier animal,” Njos said.
An animal’s natural instinct tells them they want to see what is pressuring them. They want to move in the direction they are heading, and they want to go back the same way they came. They also want to follow other animals.
Njos advised stepping slowly into their flight zone instead of moving fast and that small movements are best. He also advised to walk in straight lines, keep pressure from the sides and to not be directly behind the animal.
“Every time the animal makes a movement, back up from them, and again slowly reapproach them, so you can build that trust,” Njos said.
Njos noted it is also about proper attitude and communication.
“Livestock can pick up on your attitude,” he said. “So you must have patience and determination.”
Njos said the hardest thing about handling cattle using this technique is handling our own perspectives and that it is harder to train our own instincts.
“ Animals are never wrong—they are always responding to what you do or responding to their previous experiences,” Njos said.
Njos encouraged producers to work with the cattle before they are in a stressful environment.
“Work with them the day they are born, out in the pasture,” he said.
Njos said teaching his livestock to handle stresses has been one of the biggest improvements on their ranch.
In preparing for a drought, Njos recommended putting items in place before the drought occurs. Items on their ranching operation were a grazing plan, financial plan and a support team who helped them make decisions and were not there just to sell them something.
Njos also noted that during the drought it is crucial to monitor plant growth, animal performance and the markets.
In surviving the drought, he suggested making sound decisions, looking for opportunities to learn and grow and keeping a positive attitude.
Lance Gartner is an agricultural producer from Glen Ullin. He is also a mentor for the North Dakota Grazing Land Coalition.
Gartner explained that as mentors for the North Dakota Grazing Land Coalition, they offer “food for thought” and hope that producers can incorporate some new ideas into their farming and ranching operations.
“That is what we are here for, and we want to be a great resource for you and your farming operation,” Gartner said.
Gartner and his wife participated in a holistic management workshop, contacted mentors to get ideas and incorporate them into their own operation and created their own network of those who shared common ideas and strategies from all over the state and the United States.
They established a list of holistic goals that help them make decisions on their operation:
1. Have an enjoyable, profitable, and sustainable agricultural based business.
2. Continue lifelong learning to accurately share and pass on their knowledge to others.
3. Manage the health of the soil to create effective water and mineral cycles.
4. Create a healthy and productive soil with much plant diversity and no bare soil.
5. Have a healthy, abundant and diverse wildlife population.
6. Use opportunities to try new things, readily accept failure and learn from it and recognize success.
Gartner also shared the techniques that they have used on their ranching operation regarding winter and bale grazing.
They turn to bale grazing when the snow gets to be about 20 inches deep or when the snow gets too crusted and the cows can’t break through it. They also do it through the bitter cold spells when the livestock need some supplementation.
“Years ago, when Dad farmed, it was different,” Gartner said. “No matter what the weather was like, we fed the cows on the top of the hill, the same place and the same time. Now, we feed them in the hills.”
The Gartners place a week’s worth of bales in the hills for their livestock prior to winter on locations that they feel need a boost in soil health. When conditions warrant feeding, the livestock are allowed access to those areas where the bales were placed, and the hills provide protec- tion from winter storms. He said there is no waste with bale grazing as whatever is left on the ground is feeding the soil microbiology and building nutrients.
In summarizing, Gartner urged producers not to be afraid to try new things.
“Dare to break away from the traditional methods,” he said. “Keep in mind that what worked this year may not work next year and what works on one farm or piece of land may not work on the next. Always monitor, make adjustments and remonitor.”