Tag Archives: grass

Prairie Hay Chores…

Last week the Feed Yard Foodie family (actually Matt, our foreman Doug, and I) took care of the yearly accumulating of our prairie hay bales. We bale extra prairie hay during the summer in order to have for horse and cattle feed in the winter months.

Matt and I prefer to engage our *free labor* in the form of our daughters to help with the manual labor associated with throwing small square hay bales, but this year all three girls were gone. It’s a good thing that Matt and I remain fit and strong…

The weekly video up on YouTube from Feed Yard Foodie comes in the form of “How do farmers feed their animals?” and recaps our afternoon building muscle to ensure that our animals have winter feed 🙂

Happy Summer from our farm to your family!

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Going to Grass, An Aggie in Nebraska, Summer weather on the prairie, Swim Team!

About ten years ago, our farm purchased about 600 acres of grass pasture south and west of the feed yard.  We use this grass pasture to graze lighter weight animals in the summer months as well as to harvest prairie hay to feed during the winter months.  After a cold and wet spring, the grass has finally grown enough to start grazing so we spent last Thursday going to grass with 134 fall calves.

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While I truly enjoying caring for cattle in a feed yard, I also love to utilize the unique resources on our pasture ground to grow calves on grass.  These animals will spend the summer season grazing and then will head back to the feed yard when Mother Nature begins to shut down for the year.  The animals typically weigh 600# when they go to grass and hopefully will weigh about 750# when they come home in August.

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In addition to going to grass, the Feed Yard Foodie family welcomed Emily, a graduate student at Texas A & M University, this week on the farm.  Emily hosted Megan and I when we traveled down to Aggieland last fall, and will spend three weeks in Nebraska with us this summer.  She arrived on the 16th and we spent the week learning to read bunks, shipping cattle, processing calves, and then taking these fall calves to grassEmily took most of the pictures included in this post as I am trying to inspire her to take up blogging during her remaining two years in the ruminant nutrition department at Texas A & M.

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Emily thinks that her sweatshirt is her best friend in Nebraska, and we are all hoping that she brought some of the Texas warmth with her 🙂  While the prolific moisture received in April and May helped to turn the grass green, the cold temperatures that accompanied it made the start of our growing season tardy according to the calendar.  My favorite farmer is antsy for a few heat units and drying days so that seeds will germinate and his alfalfa will grow.

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I am hoping to get Emily to write a “guest blog post” or two over the next couple of weeks — giving a glimpse into the Feed Yard Foodie farm from a different perspective.  We are laughing that she is very brave to join the general mayhem at our house which is likely to be more challenging than working at the feed yard…

On the home front over the past week, the girls finished up the spring track and soccer seasons.  Ashley Grace’s 4 X 800 relay team competed in the Nebraska State High School Championships, Megan garnered 3rd place finishes in Pole Vault and the 4 X 100 relay at the Nebraska State Junior High Championships, and Karyn earned gold medals in the 400 and 800 at a couple of local track meets as well as finishing up her spring soccer season.

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After 12 years, I hung up my soccer coaching hat last weekend.  Today, I put on my swim team coaching hat to kick off the start of the swim team season. Emily seems to be game to do anything as long as I don’t ask her to jump in the pool when it is 50 degrees outside…

The entire Haymaker Swim Team is hopeful that each of you will send warm weather out to the prairie as they have a really mean coach who makes them swim regardless of the temperature!

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Filed under Family, General, Rural Communities

Water + Heat Units = A Green Spring

My favorite cowgirl and I headed down to our pasture ground last Sunday to search for grass.  Nebraska has been moisture deficient since early last summer and, in particular, the drought has greatly hurt the 23 millions acres of grass pasture that makes up more than half of Nebraska’s land mass.

Searching for grass...

Searching for grass…

While the vast majority of our land is crop ground, we do have approximately 600 acres of cool season grass pasture in the Platte River Valley.  Typically, we graze cattle on this land from April to Mid-June, and then again from August to October.  I purchase “light yearlings” or “fall calves” that weigh 600-650# to graze on this land.

We grow these animals on grass pasture until they weigh approximately 800#.  At that time (or at the time that all of the grass is eaten), we bring them into the feed yard to prepare them for harvest.

Typically, this light yearling would already be out grazing grass instead of at the feed yard...

Typically, this light yearling would already be out grazing grass instead of at the feed yard…

Today is the 2nd of May.  Normally, we have already turned cattle out to pasture and our cool season grass is lush and green.  This year the grass is very slow to grow due to two important variables: water and heat units.

After a very dry summer, fall and winter; we were blessed with almost 3 inches of rain (along with snow and ice) in April.  The rain brought life-giving moisture, but it also left behind very cold temperatures.  At the end of last week, we finally saw some warmth with highs in the upper 70’s but it did not last as we had snow again yesterday…

Closing a gate in between pastures...

Closing a gate in between pastures…It’s nice to have a helper along!

As Megan and I rode the pasture ground, I realized that I would not have grass to graze for several weeks yet.  While it is valiantly trying to turn green and grow, it is way behind normal.  The lack of carryover moisture combined with a dry winter and a cold spring have left Nebraska’s grasslands struggling.

Pure joy!

Pure joy!

I was glad to have my favorite cowgirl along as we traversed the pasture ground.  She was a bundle of sunshine laughing and telling stories from her week at school.  Her natural optimism is good for me and brings a smile to my face.  As we loaded up the horses and headed for home, I thought to myself that her positive nature plays a key role in the sustainability of my mental fitness!

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Spring Weather in Nebraska…

The only constant factor with spring weather in Nebraska is its ever-changing nature!  Monday we began the week with 60 degrees and sun—by Tuesday we had received high winds and a nice 2+ inch rain—Wednesday we were covered in a layer of ice—Thursday there was snow on top of the ice—finally today we saw the sun again and temperatures rose above freezing!

I took some pictures throughout the week in order to share the ever changing roller coaster ride that Mother Nature takes us on…

Enjoying the sun on Monday afternoon...

Enjoying the sun on Monday afternoon…

The rain water Tuesday draining out of my cattle pens...

The rain water Tuesday draining out of my cattle pens…

And into my line Livestock Waste Control Facility where we will store it for later use as irrigation water on our farm ground...

And into my lined Livestock Waste Control Facility where we will store it for later use as irrigation water on our farm ground…

By Wednesday we had ice and snow...

By Wednesday we had snow…

and ice...

and ice…

With the hard work of my crew and some carefully placed sand...

With the hard work of my crew and some carefully placed sand…

We were still able to ship cattle to harvest despite the icy conditions...

We were still able to ship cattle to harvest despite the wintery conditions…

We are thankful for the moisture, and looking with hope toward melting ice and a green spring!

We are thankful for the moisture, and looking with hope toward melting ice and a green spring!

It is beautiful, but I am ready for winter to end...

It is beautiful, but I am ready for winter to end…

My favorite 8 year old is hoping for sun and warmth for tomorrow's AYSO soccer game---it is looking promising!

My favorite 8 year old is hoping for sun and warmth for tomorrow’s AYSO soccer game—keep your fingers crossed!

As the week draws to an end, I am thankful for the moisture and hope that it will bring a Sustainable Green Spring!  Was your week a weather roller coaster ride as well?

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The Drought–Part 1…

The Fall Run—In July?

Last fall I wrote a post entitled “The Fall Run” explaining the typical busy season at the feed yard during the fall months.  This is the normal time period when Nebraska cattle destined for harvest are moved off of grass pastures and into feed yards as the weather changes and the grass stops growing.  At this time of the year, it becomes important to save the remaining grass in pastures for the breeding herds in our state.  If you missed this post last fall, be sure to click here and read as it contains necessary background information relative to this series of “drought” posts…

https://feedyardfoodie.wordpress.com/2011/10/06/the-fall-run/

This summer has been anything but typical.  While April brought relatively normal rainfall, May was dry, and June and July were marked by extremely hot temperatures and limited rainfall across the state.  The result of this combination is a tremendous scarcity of grass for grazing.

Some yearling heifers on a near-by ranch in Central Nebraska. This was in early May and the cattle were being feed out of a feed bunk on the ranch “waiting for rain”…The rains never came so they shipped to my feed yard instead of going to grass.

This shift in the weather was unexpected because for the last several years Nebraska has been blessed with ample moisture and a bountiful supply of grass in our pastures.   A Rancher who has a cow/calf or breeding cattle herd, determines the number of animals that he raises relative to the amount of grass or feed that Mother Nature provides for him.

This picture was taken last summer (2011) at AL Ranch when the grass was plentiful…Al is checking his cow/calf pairs while they graze on one of his grass pastures…

Raising cattle carries an enormous responsibility for a rancher—a responsibility to both to the cattle and to the land.  In order to remain sustainable in the long run, it is imperative that the proper balance of cattle relative to grass exists.  Too much grass results in wasted resources, while too many cattle and a lack of grass results in grass pasture damage that will impair future years of growth.

In years of plentiful grass (like in 2011 when this picture was taken), we can graze more animals per acre. In years of drought and reduced moisture, this balance must change dramatically to protect the land…

In years of ample rain and grass supply, ranchers either increase the size of their herd and/or bale up the extra grass to use in the winter time.  In years of drought, ranchers decrease the number of animals that graze their pastures to balance against the smaller amount of feed that Mother Nature provides.  In addition, many times during a drought, ranchers must also purchase supplemental feed to continue to offer good nutritional care to their animals.

My two favorite blondes sitting on a grass hay bale…Putting extra grass up in “bales” allows them to be saved for use once Mother Nature no longer provides…

Most summers, my cattle feed yard is pretty quiet as the majority of Nebraska’s cattle herd thrives on the grass that typically grows from June to August.  This is a time for my crew and I to complete repairs, take vacation, and prepare for the coming Fall Run.  This summer has been anything but typical…

Today the hills of Nebraska are brown…Our valley by the Platte River looks better than these hills in west-central Nebraska because we have picked up a few rains recently.

When ranchers are faced with a limited supply of grass, they must find a way to best use the feed that they have.  One of the easiest ways to relieve the burden on a depleted grass supply is to move the non-breeding animals to a feed yard.  This saves their increasingly scarce feed resources for the breeding herd.

Helping Mama to unload cattle this summer as the animals were taken off of depleted grass pastures and sent to the feed yard in search of something to eat…

In other words, all of the animals that will not enter the breeding herds are sent to feed yards earlier than normal to relieve the pressure on grass pastures.  All of a sudden, the Fall Run happens in July instead of October which equates to a busy summer instead of a quiet one…

I value the relationships that I have with my rancher partners—I empathize with their challenges and want to do everything that I can to help them save their livelihood and their resources.  As a result, I have already received most of the yearlings that I would normally place in the late summer / early fall—I also have only one more set of fall born calves to receive (they will ship next week to me)—In addition, I am already coordinating with my ranchers to figure out the best way to handle the spring born calves that normally ship to my feed yard in October and November.  These animals may come as early as August or September because of the need to save grass for the Mama cows.

Mike and Peggy, ranchers from near Halsey Nebraska, pictured near their steers being finished at the feed yard. We have worked together for nearly a decade to provide all of you with high quality beef…

This year is a prime example of how Mother Nature can change even the best laid plans…In my fifteen years at the feed yard, this is the first Fall Run that I have ever experienced in July and August!

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Searching For Grass…

Megan and I loaded up the horses on Sunday after church and headed down to the pasture to ride.  I needed to look at our grass to see if it was ready to graze cattle on yet, and my little cowgirl is always game to take the boys for a ride.  While most of the cattle that we have are finished in our feed yard, we do graze grass with some of our animals during the growing season.

Megan and her boy, Magnum...

As you can tell, the grass is starting to green up.  We typically turn cattle out to graze on our grass pasture the 10th of April.  I am a little bit concerned this year that the grass is not growing very fast because we have not had much rain.  As we rode the pastures, I hoped for rain!

Searching for grass...

We did a lot of work down at the pasture this spring putting up new fences and additional water tanks that will allow us to more efficiently graze our acres of pasture.  Megan and I checked out the new water tank system and cross fences as we looked at the grass.

It was hot on Sunday, and as we looked at one of the new water tanks, Dandy (my horse) wished that we had already turned the water on so that he could get a drink!

Cattle tend to graze the grass near the water tanks pretty heavily but not utilize the acres of grass that are far away from the water source.  By placing more water tanks at our pasture and making the paddocks (sections) of grass pastures smaller through the use of cross fences, we will be able to ensure that none of the grass is wasted.

This is our original water source at the pasture. The well that supplies the water is inside the little building. This spring, we buried pipe under the ground out to two other water tanks and divided up the big paddocks into smaller grazing sections.

We placed a cross fence down the middle line of the water tanks so that we could utilize the water source on two different grazing sections of grass.

You can see the fence going along the middle of this new water tank. We can utilize this water source while grazing two different paddocks...

We use a three strand electric fence for cross fences to divide up our different grazing paddocks.  We use this type of fence because it is easy to maintain and very effective for keeping the cattle in the appropriate paddock.

If you look closely, you will see a Western Meadowlark sitting on the cross fence. Hats off to Ms. Cosner, Megan's 4th grade teacher, because Megan not only immediately recognized the bird but could also tell me all about this wonderful creature that is Nebraska's State Bird. This little guy sang us quite a tune as we rode past...

We now have six different grazing paddocks on our pasture land that we will rotationally graze from the middle of April to the middle of June; and then again from the middle of August to the middle of October.  Our grass is predominantly cool season grass so it grows well in the spring and fall, but needs a rest from grazing in the heat of the summer when it does not grow well.

This particular paddock has some old growth of dead grass left over from last fall. I was disappointed in the amount of new growth of green grass underneath the old grass. We need some rain to get the grass growing!

While it is certainly true that I needed to search for grass down at the pasture to ensure that I had enough for my cattle to eat before I moved them down to the pasture— it is also true that I love to use experiences like this to teach Megan about both Mother Nature and her horse.  She is an inherent problem solver and when it is “crunch time”, she always delivers.  I can count on her to remain calm and follow directions when I need her to, and that is a wonderful life tool.  While some of this has to do with her genetics, much of it comes from learning how to care for animals and growing up on a farm.

Megan takes care of her own tack--and saddles, unsaddles, and loads Magnum on and off the trailer by herself. This teaches her responsibility and leadership...

She also does fun chores like cleaning out the horse trailer which teaches her how to roll up her sleeves and go to work!

I had a wonderful few hours with my favorite little cowgirl.  Teaching her and spending time with her brings into perspective why I work so hard to take care of my farm and raise healthy beef.  She is the next generation and it brings me great joy to watch her learn how to care for our land and our animals.

Did I mention that my favorite little cowgirl turned 10 last week?

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A Sea of Grass…A Bountiful Food Supply!

As I drove around in a jeep across Central Kenya last December, I saw a sea of grass that brought me a sense of déjà vu.  This visual image is a familiar one to me… I see it every time I drive across Nebraska visiting ranches and procuring cattle for my feed yard…

A black rhino wandering through a sea of grass...

In Kenya, much of this grass is used to feed wild animals which drive one of the largest industries in the country: tourism.

Some of my cattle---amidst a sea of grass in Nebraska...

In Nebraska, much of this grass is used to feed millions of cattle which drive the largest industry in the state: beef production.

Nebraska is home to the top three cow counties in the United States which means that we have a very large number of cow/calf ranches where baby calves are born.  Nebraska also ranks 1st in commercial red meat production and 2nd overall in all cattle and cattle sales.  This means that there is also a large number of cattle feed yards (like mine) where millions of animals are finished in preparation for harvest, and several packing plants to harvest the animals.  With a reported statistic of 99% family owned and operated the vast majority of these cattle farms are like Matt’s and mine.

Megan learns great life lessons learning the personal responsibility that it takes to care for cattle...

Grass is a wonderful resource which is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also a critical component to raising beef.  Cattle, as ruminant animals, have a digestive tract that is made up of four compartments.  This unique digestive process allows for cattle to be tremendously efficient grass converters. This provides a core component in our effort as farmers to convert a non-edible resource (grass) into a nutrient packed and great tasting human protein source (beef). Because the average beef producing bovine spends the first 12-18 months of his life grazing, and reproductive herds spend their entire lives grazing, it requires a large amount of grass to sustain Nebraska’s herds.

The great converters...

The topographic blend of 23 million acres of grassland (more than ½ of Nebraska’s land mass) with millions more acres of fertile crop ground make Nebraska a truly unique ecosystem.  It is this blend of resources that enables us to be The Beef State.  I mentioned this fact to my girls a couple of weeks ago when they were dramatically exposing their disappointment of being left out of Jason Aldean’s new song The Flyover States…

You see, we may be a "left out" fly over state, but we are The Beef State!

My oldest daughter responded to my proclamation with a toss of her head and an eye roll that both appear to me to be attitudinal actions unique to teenagers…She then remarked, “Yeah, they’ll figure out how important we are when they don’t have anything to eat!”  This is the same child that periodically asks me if I think that she would make a good President of the United States someday—I am thinking that she will require some intense media training before she will be able to successfully infiltrate the world of politics…

I I vastly prefer this expression over the “eye roll” attitude expression…

So, Nebraska has grass…Nebraska has crops (corn, alfalfa, wheat, soybeans)…Nebraska has cattle…We make BEEF! This is our claim to fame…

I have, at times, run across articles and statements that liken corn to something evil.  I am always at a loss when faced with this because I believe corn to be a very diverse and useful plant.

It can be used for many different things...

The main source of grain that I feed to my cattle is something called wet distillers grains and it is made from corn.  It is what is left of the corn kernel after the ethanol has been extracted, and it makes a wonderful feed for my cattle.  We blend it with forages (alfalfa, cornstalks, wheat stubble, or soybean stubble) in order to make a palatable and nutrient balanced diet for the cattle.

Wet Distillers Grains presented by one of my favorite blondes...

In fact, a large percentage of my cattle ration is made up of stuff that is left over.  The wet distillers grains, cornstalks, wheat stubble, and soybean stubble are all things that are left over after the primary harvest of the plant.  Cattle serve a very important purpose with their ability to convert these leftovers into a great tasting human protein source.

A blend of ground corn stalks and wheat stubble that we feed to our cattle shown by my other favorite blonde...

The next time that you look at the beef in the grocery store, remember that cattle are great recyclers, and that there is a good chance that the beef that you are buying came from The Beef State (which you all now know is Nebraska)! 

Fortunately, you can purchase this product from a friendly butcher instead of a teenager who might have a bit of a chip on her shoulder...

Thanks to Certified Angus Beef for sharing their friendly butcher with us!

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