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Are Your Livestock Genetics in Balance With Your Forage?

By   /  April 6, 2020  /  1 Comment

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Selection of production traits that exceed the capacity of the production environment may not increase output, but will increase costs.

Now that is a very thought-provoking statement, but its meaning is not hard to understand. If you have bred for more and more production per animal and have not developed the pasture resources to support the increase, you are fixing to spend a lot of money on supplemental nutrition. Until you do what it takes to meet the nutritional requirements of your livestock in a cost-effective way, you are wasting all of that genetic potential walking around in your pasture.

Using Genetics Wisely

Is your pasture up to the challenge of the genetic capabilities of your stock? (Photo courtesy of Mushrush Ranches.)

I do not mean to be critical or a smart ass, but I have come to believe that there is more genetic potential out there than some folks can handle. When I was just getting started in this business old timers always emphasized that the bull was half of your herd. There is no question that the bull or bulls that you use can do much to improve your calf crop. But only if the cow herd is provided with what is required for her to do her job.

One of the problems that seed stock producers must deal with are the people who buy a good blooded bull take him home and turn him into a bunch of cows in a pasture that is just not in any shape to be called a productive pasture. The next year when the calves hit the ground and no miracle has occurred the bull gets the blame.

Balancing Forage to Production is Important for Reducing Costs

One of the first things that we learned after we installed a computer feeding system to feed our dairy cows was we were not feeding our cows properly. We understood that the high producers should get more feed. But what we did not realize was we were feeding the lower producers too much. With the installation of the computer system and being able to feed according to production we were able to save on feed costs and not lose production.

In a pasture situation each animal is exposed to the same amount of forage. That forage by quality and amount must be sufficient to meet the needs of the most productive animals in the herd. We ask a lot from a cow in that first 90 to 120 days after she calves. We want her to raise that calf which means her milk production must increase to meet the needs of a growing calf and get in shape to breed back and then grow that calf to birth. She can’t accomplish all of this on short rations.

It Comes Down to Scale and the Law of Return

Wendell Berry speaks of the propriety of scale and the law of return. The propriety of scale simply means that the operation is the proper scale for the resource base. In a livestock operation if a pasture is overstocked then it should be easy to understand that this is not the proper scale. To me the word balance makes this concept very understandable. The law of return is one of the fundamental laws of nature, it requires that the nutrients and organic matter taken from the soil be returned. This without question is the very foundation of sustainability.

Over the years it has proven to be very short-sighted to believe that the law of return can be satisfied with the addition of chemicals and commercial fertilizers, and the feedlot system is a complete violation of the law of return. The feed is produced in most cases miles from the feedlot. The waste cannot be returned to the fields where the feed was grown so rather than being a source of fertility it becomes a pollutant. Consequently, the land that grows the corn and soybeans must be fertilized and fertilized more which creates sterile soils lacking any organic matter. The question then becomes does this meet the demands of the law of return and can this be sustainable?

Those of us in the production of grazing livestock are very lucky. With a little foresight and planning the propriety of scale and the law of return can both be met, and in the long run we will be the better for it.

I believe balance is the one word that describes what we are trying to attain. We must balance the genetics of our animals to the resource we can provide for them. We must recognize this simple fact: more is sometimes less.

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About the author

My name is Don Ashford and my wife is Betty and we live in Ethel, LA. It would be impossible for me to write a bio about myself without including Betty in it. We have been together since high school. I was in the senior class of 1955 and she was in the class of 1957. Do the math. We have raised cattle since 1959 except for a little time that I spent with Uncle Sam. We have grazed stockers, owned several cow- calf herds and custom grazed cattle for other folks. I worked as a pipefitter for more than 25 years. Until we went into the dairy business in 1977 we were as most people down here part-timers or week-end ranchers. Later after we had learned enough about MIG to talk about it so that it would be understood by others we put together a pasture-walk group to introduce it to our friends and neighbors. We belong to more farm groups then we probably should but we get great joy working with other people. What makes us most proud are our son and daughter, our 5 grandkids and our 7 great-grand kids. It has been a hell of a trip so far, but we are not done yet.

1 Comment

  1. Megan Perkins says:

    What specifically should one be looking at to decide if their genetic potential is not being met by their forage?

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