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Some adventures in cattle feeding

You may recall in a previous “Getting Started” column (September 2011) I explained our intention of purchasing and finishing out some beef calves on our newly seeded and fenced pasture.

In October we did indeed purchase three Angus steers, weighing on average 500 pounds, and fed them out over the winter and through the spring and early summer. In early July we sent the “boys” to the locker, thus rounding out this new project for our family.

After purchasing the calves at the Humeston Sale Barn in October, we brought them to the pasture we had fenced just north of our house. Immediately we purchased some wire combo panels to keep the calves near the small shed we’d moved in — a great deal of alfalfa had regrown after cutting the oats the previous July, and we realized they would potentially bloat on the lush green growth.

We right away started feeding them some of the baled hay we had put up from our ditches and waterways the previous summer.

I mentioned in my previous article that Jackie and I were a bit concerned how the children would take to the calves. Grady didn’t really care about them either way; they smell, he said, and that was that. Maddy, however, immediately took to the calves, giving them names (Cole, Carl and Charlie) and wanted to pet them. Emmy, wanting to be like her big sister, also checked out the calves, but didn’t show as much interest.

We started the calves on a commercial creep feed ration, and then slowly moved them over to our own grind. I borrowed my friend Jason’s tractor and grinder-mixer (actually, my father’s old unit that Jason had bought at Dad’s sale last spring) and mixed up an oats and corn ration using newly harvested corn and the oats we took out of the pasture last summer. I repaid Jason’s kindness with topping off the tractor’s fuel tank.

Pasture didn’t go dormant

Because of the mild winter, we didn’t turn the calves out to the rest of the pasture until well into January; the alfalfa would not go dormant very quickly. We moved some round bales up to and around the small, open-front shed to protect them from the northerly winds, too. They appeared to take to their new environment fairly well; they never bawled for their mommas nor tried to jump the fence.

When the alfalfa finally went dormant, we let the calves out into the rest of the pasture. They found their way around the 3-acre patch, but would always be back at feeding time. Jackie would wear a red winter coat at feeding time, so they knew it was time to come in when they saw the red-coat lady (well, whatever color they saw, since cows are color-blind).

We had expected the calves to be ready for market in late May, even June, but they were not gaining as fast as we’d hoped. They did not have implants, and this might be one reason they didn’t grow as fast. In June and early July the heat caused them to stay in the shed during the day, not giving them an opportunity to graze. Nor did they eat their entire ration, as this, too, would cause them to be uncomfortable.

Lining up for locker beef

Starting in February, I had begun lining up individuals to purchase shares of the calves for locker beef. I was fortunate to have six individuals express interest in two of the calves, allowing one calf to be shared between our family and my wife’s aunt and uncle.

Even though one of the buyers is buying $400 to $800 worth of beef at a time, it is a very good value to the buyer, with the average cost per pound less than a typical pound of ground beef found at the grocery store.

In early July the calves took their last trip, this time to the Indianola Locker. After spending nine months with these boys just outside the door, I was a bit sad to see them go. But this is a part of farming; the calves are serving their purpose. I was worried about how the kids would react, but they didn’t seem to notice them missing until a few days later. Even then, their response was muted, which was surprisingly pleasant.

We plan to get three to five more calves next fall and repeat the process. Maddy thinks we should get some milk cows, but I told her she’d have to milk them by hand, so she’s not too sure about it now. We’ve learned more about feeding calves through this experience, even if it is on a very small scale compared to many of my readers’ operations. It provided our family with one more farm experience that cannot be easily replicated.

Gunzenhauser farms near Humeston.

This article published in the August, 2012 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.