Before a would-be livestock producer buys the first stocker, the first heifer or the first breeding bull he needs to evaluate available resources and develop a livestock operation that fits.
He needs to identify the limitations of land, shelter, water, food sources and herd health. Inadequacy in either of those resources may result in economic loss, says Robert Wells, a livestock consultant with the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation in Ardmore, Okla.
Wells discussed the basic requirements for caring for livestock during a recent Basic Ag field day in McKinney, Texas. He said one obvious limitation is the color of a calf’s hide.
“Discount rates show a $3 positive bump for calves with angus traits,” Wells said. “Animals exhibiting more longhorn characteristics show a $26 negative rating. That’s just realistic,” he said.
Wells said the first chore prospective livestock producers should consider is to set realistic goals. Evaluating property is a good first step in goal setting. “A map of the property provides a good overview of the resource,” he said, “and offers an idea of land use limitations.”
He said a land owner or someone considering purchasing property for livestock should evaluate the potential to grow forage. “We can’t stock cattle on weed infested acreage as heavily as we can on improved forage,” he said.
“Those weedy spots may be good options for goats. We can stock those spots heavy with goats and they will reduce the weed population. Some areas may need a year or two to rest for forage to recover.”
Wells said prospective ranchers should “buy land that’s appropriate to the livestock goal they set or be prepared to improve land they own to accommodate livestock. But determine if the land can grow forage.”
Wells said shelter may be one place producers can save a little money. “Livestock need minimal shelter requirements,” he said. “It’s better to keep animals outside. Provide a shelter belt with trees to provide shade in the summer and a wind break in winter.”
He said a similar approach works for horses. “They need to get out of the sun and they need something to block the wind.”
He said goats can get along with a hutch. “They need a small shelter in the winter to get out of wind and rain.” He said it may be convertible so sides can be open in the summer to provide ventilation. “They also like to climb on them,” he said, “so keep them short enough for climbing.”
Water is the most important resource for livestock, Wells said. “Without an adequate supply of good water, animals will not survive long. And good, clean water increases average daily gains.”
He said droughts may dry ponds, leaving stagnant, impure water. As the water recedes, livestock have to wade across muddy areas to get to it and may bog down. In winter, ponds freeze and may be hazardous for animals trying to get to water.
“A water tank may help,” Wells said. Another option is a frost-free hydrant.
Producers must evaluate feed sources, including forage, hay and supplements. “Producers who use range cubes or pellets should know what’s in them,” Wells said. “Look for the cheapest feed to use at specific times of the year. And think about everything the animal eats, forages as well as feed supplements.”
He said winter pastures are best for smaller, younger, rapidly growing animals and may be wasted for older animals with lower nutrition demands. “It’s expensive to graze these animals,” he said.
He said hay is an essential part of the feeding program for many producers but that some could reduce their need for hay or other supplemental feeds by reducing herd size and relying more on forage.
He also recommended using a hay ring to stretch supplies. “We see a lot of waste with feeding hay, up to 50 percent loss without a ring.”
He said investing in a $150 hay ring pays for itself quickly with $60 rolls of hay.
He also recommended sampling hay when buying. “Sample at least 10 percent of the bales you buy and spread the samples around the entire lot. It only costs $10 or $15 to analyze and it’s best to know what you’re buying.”
He said different grasses provide varying amounts of nutrients. Bermudagrass, at its low point in winter, may provide 8 percent energy (crude protein or CP) and 47 percent total digestible nutrients (TDN). At the high point, levels may go as high as 16 percent CP and 65 percent TDN. “At that level bermudagrass will meet most livestock needs.”
He said stockpiling bermudagrass—no grazing from Mid-July through early fall—provides a good feed source from late fall into winter with CP ranging from 9 percent to 10 percent and TDN around 55 percent.
Native grasses may range from 4 percent to 14 percent CP and 49 percent to 70 percent TDN. “Native grasses work well if managed properly,” Wells said. “Crude protein can get down to 4 percent but in early spring it may be better than Bermuda.”
He said alfalfa provides from 13 percent to 27 percent CP and 50 percent to 66 percent TDN, but it’s really expensive and may not be recommended unless producers have working horses or young, rapidly growing horses or calves. “Otherwise, producers may not need that high quality.”
Prairie grass “is of a little lower quality,” Wells said. Nutrient value is 4 percent to 9 percent CP and 40 percent to 55 percent TDN.
The growth stage of a cow and the time of year also affect nutrient needs, Wells said. “A cow, non-lactating, will consume 31 pounds of forage a day, 45 percent TDN and 6 percent CP. A nursing calf increases the requirement by 50 percent so it’s critical to time calving season to fit feed needs (and availability).”
He said cold weather increases nutrient requirements another 25 percent. “By proper timing, producers can reduce the amount of supplemental feed needed.”
He said a 300 pound calf needs about 70 percent TDN and 14 percent CP. “They need a lot of energy and a lot of protein.”
Herd health is another essential aspect of a livestock operation, Wells said. Cattle need vaccinations for blackleg, and respiratory ailments. They also need de-worming. Horses need to be de-wormed but also need vaccinations for West Nile virus, encephalomyelitis, and tetanus.
He said producers may de-worm with injections, drenching, pouring solution on the backs of animals or adding it to the feed.
“I prefer injection and then drench,” he said. “Adding it to feed is less certain. They may not eat as much as they need to.”
He also recommends rotating vaccines to “avoid resistance and to assure full coverage.”
He said treating for external parasites such as ticks and flies is also important. “These can be economically damaging,” he said.
Finally, Wells recommended producers know who to call for information and included experts at the Noble Foundation, Extension Service, veterinarians and the Natural Resources Conservation Service as good sources.