Feed Lot

MAR 2018

Feedlots and cow/calf operations in the beef industry who feed 500 or more has annually on grains and concentrates; maintain 500 or more beef cows; backgrounder, stocker/grower, preconditioner; veterinarian, nutritionist, consultant

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For Texas ranchers, 2011 won't soon be forgotten, due to the worst single-year drought since the 1800s. But the impacts were felt way beyond the borders of t h e L o n e S t a r S t a t e . F o r M a r k Diederich, a Greenleaf, Kan., cat- tleman, it was a turning point for his operation. Thanks to the lack of rain, he'd been able to purchase some high- quality females out of Texas. The only problem? He couldn't secure long-term grazing land for them in Kansas, either. He would have to figure out an alternate plan. Diederich started out in Iowa, looking at various types of confine- ment buildings, but soon realized each would be too cost-prohibitive. He knew there had to be another way to make confinement cows work without the overhead of a building. Without any guidelines to follow, he embarked on an experiment on a quarter-section of land (of which 8 4 a c r e s w a s f a r m g r o u n d ) . Diederich planted the farm ground with a Sorghum Sudangrass grazer, and built lots on the remaining land to hold cattle when they weren't grazing in the field. Health is top priority "I was concerned when you start putting cows in a group that some pathogen would have a favorable environment, and it would just blow up and basically eat our lunch, kind of like when people first started putting hogs in build- ings," Diederich says. "I was also worried about something as benign as foot rot starting in those pens and escalating to the point where we would have issues and have to spend a lot on treatment." Another concern? His reputa- tion for selling good, healthy calves at the auction market (for a premi- um) every year. "I had a person who was very knowledgeable in the cattle indus- try in the area who had known me for years who really tried to dis- courage me from this," he says. "He said, 'Diederich, you run your cat- tle through this system and they won't be the same anymore. They'll go back to average.'" Still, Diederich thought it was worth trying on 100 cows. Now, he's up to 220 cows in the same cell and has not yet hit the wall. It's worth noting he only treated one animal with antibiotics between weaning and harvest time over the last two years. "I've just been fine-tuning it, and have pushed to make it work," he says. The cattleman credits his tight calving season with his herd's health. "I start calving at the end of Feb- ruary and if they don't have a calf on the ground by April 1, they're gone," he says. "They have about 40 days to calve and that's it. And it's really key to this working for me, because you must have your calves about the same age to effectively combat disease." It's a concept based on the Sand- hills Calving System, which segre- gates calves by age to minimize dis- ease outbreaks, he says. "They try to limit your exposure and have as much immunity to what bugs are present on your farm," he says. "So, with my own heifers, raised in my closed herd in the same environment, they're kind of doubling down on their natural immunity to the bugs that are here." He says genetics also play a role, and he uses Angus, Hereford, Sim- mental, Red Angus and Charolais cattle — all bred by AI — to maxi- mize heterosis because "it's the only thing that's free." And since he's fed his calves out, h e k n o w s t h e y n o t o n l y s t a y healthy through slaughter, but per- form well, too. The last two years have seen his calves averaging 3.14 pounds per head per day for each day of life. Cost-effectiveness key "You know, everything has an opportunity cost," Diederich says. "The biggest problem with con- fined cattle is that they're in a pen. But the biggest plus with confined cattle is they're in a pen. Because they're in a pen, I can AI them with- out having to go through the has- sles of gathering them. I can check 200 pairs in 30 minutes. I can im- plant them when I need to, vacci- nate them when I want to, preg check them when I want to — be- cause they're already caught." But it's not all roses, he says. His set up makes him more like a dairy- man or feeder than the average cow-calf man, because there isn't much flexibility when your cattle 14 FEED•LOT  March 2018 COW/CALF CORNER More Cows, Less Grass For one Kansas cattleman, drylot system boasts multiple advantages By KATRINA HUFFSTUTLER

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