Low Cost Precision Supplements to Add Profit to Cow-Calf Operations

Project Overview

FNC02-412
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2002: $5,153.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $5,625.00
Region: North Central
State: South Dakota
Project Coordinator:
Jim Faulstich
Day Break Ranch

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Additional Plants: native plants
  • Animals: bovine

Practices

  • Animal Production: animal protection and health, feed formulation, feed rations, mineral supplements, preventive practices, range improvement, grazing - rotational
  • Education and Training: technical assistance, demonstration, display, farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, agricultural finance, risk management
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement, indicators, wildlife
  • Production Systems: holistic management
  • Sustainable Communities: public participation, sustainability measures

    Summary:

    The Day Break Ranch is a 4900 acre family ranch managed by Jim and Carol Faulstich and Jacquie and Adam Roth (daughter and son-in-law) located 10miles north of Highmore, South Dakota. The ranch has 300 head of Red Angus X South Devon cow/calf herd along with 75-110 yearling replacement heifers. The ranch includes some cropland for grain production and alfalfa and grass hayland. The ranch includes some cropland for grain production and alfalfa and grass hayland. The ranch utilizes native range for grazing for 6-8 months, cropland aftermath when available in the fall, and hay and silage as the year round forage source for the livestock.

    The Day Break Ranch tries to utilize a holistic approach to management of their resources (financial, natural, and family) to meet the established family goals. The ranch utilizes rotational grazing systems, no-till farming, crop rotations, tree planting, water development, and wildlife practices to sustain their natural resources.

    Since 2000, the Day Break Ranch has been operating a management intensive grazing system demonstration in partnership with the SD Grassland Coalition, and conservation, wildlife, and water quality agencies. This on-ranch demonstration monitors the grazing system’s impact on economics, livestock, wildlife, water quality and vegetation (see the web site http://www.sdconservation.org for information on the grazing demonstration).

    PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS

    Project Objective-
    The objective of the project is to monitor and evaluate the cost and livestock performance when matching the nutritional value of forage being consumed by cattle with a custom supplement through a full year.

    The Ranch’s long term goal is to reduce supplement costs by $10/yr. per head while increasing or maintaining livestock performance and native grasslands.

    PROCESS

    During the period, October 2002 through September 2004, a custom supplement was fed to the 300 head cow herd and to 85 replacement heifers, and the supplement cost and livestock performance monitored to determine if this system was economical to the ranch operation.

    The 98 replacement heifers, and the supplement was fed to the 300 head cow herd and to 85 replacement heifers, and the supplement cost and livestock performance monitored to determine if this system was economical to the ranch operation.

    The 85 replacement heifers were summer grazed through 21 paddocks on a 320 acre management intensive grazing system. This system was a demonstration system for the South Dakota Grassland Coalition, and a summer intern monitored vegetation, wildlife, water quality, and livestock. Monitoring included fecal samples, vegetation transects and utilization records, rainfall, and wildlife and song bird monitoring. The 300 head cow herd (Cow-calf) was summer grazed on a less intensive rotational grazing system. Grazing lands included some introduced cool-season grasses, such as crested wheatgrass. During the non-grazing season, both livestock herds were grazed on hayland and crop aftermath (cornstalks and dormant alfalfa and/or alfalfa/grass hayland), and also fed alfalfa hay and/or alfalfa/grass hay.

    During the project, forage samples were taken of the forage being consumed by the livestock. Samples were taken once per month, and the sample consisted of the forage the livestock were eating that day. These samples were sent for testing to the lab to identify forage nutrient values related to protein, digestible nutrients, and minerals. The sample results were then used to create a custom supplement that combined with the value of the forage being eaten provided for the livestock’s nutritional needs.

    Livestock performance was evaluated to determine if the custom supplementation had a negative and or significant positive impact. The ranch used their records on livestock performance prior to using the custom supplements and during the project period when custom supplements were used. The major livestock performance factors utilized include: percent (%) calving within 42 days, actual and adjusted 205 day weaning weights. Additionally, the producer checked cattle to monitor their body condition score almost daily as well as health issues, such as limping and watering eyes.

    Livestock performance, supplement composition, and cost were compared from prior to the project to project activities, as well as compared to the 12-12-12 range mix supplement. Comparisons were also made from year to year based on rainfall, and a 3-5 year sampling period is needed to develop the custom supplement prior to substantially reducing forage sampling and testing.

    The Day Break Ranch worked with this project’s consultants, the Grassland Coalition, and local conservation organizations in South Dakota to provide the information on this project to other ranchers and agency specialists through presentations, news releases, and web sites.

    During the project’s implementation, the focus of the project was selected to be supplement composition and costs, and livestock performance. The use of data from fecal samples did not include information on trace minerals and vegetation data, though monitoring was manifested in livestock performance monitoring. Thus the monitoring on the management intensive grazing system was determined to be used as check or verification of data collected from sampling and livestock performance. The monitoring information from the management intensive grazing demonstrations is available on the web site, and power point presentations used at workshops by the Day Break Ranch.

    People Assisting with the Project:

    Dick Diven- Agri-Concepts, Inc.: Dick was engaged as the consultant for the forage sample process, and to determine what specific supplement was needed to meet the nutritional needs of the livestock based on the forage sample. Dick would review the results of the forage sample, and then design a supplement that together with the forage nutrients available and based on the livestock situation (gestation, post-calving, etc.) provided a balances ration for livestock health and performance.

    Case Bloom, Professional Alliance- Feed Supplement supplier: Case worked closely with the Day Break Ranch and Dick Diven to assist with the proper sample collection and collection timing, and ordered the Dick Driven designed supplement from the supplier and delivered it to the ranch. Case kept records of forage sample results and supplement components by each test date and year.

    Judy Koeck, SD Grassland Coalition, Intern, Highmore, Management Intensive Grazing System: grazing season monitored the yearling heifers on the grazing system, assisted the ranch collect samples, and assisted in the development of presentations for workshops and school.

    RESULTS

    The following questions were proposed when this project was developed, and all project results provided the following answers:

    1.Can I balance supplements to complement forage being fed?
    Yes, we were able to sample the forage and formulate and feed the custom supplement in a timely manner that maintained or improved livestock performance (see Attachment A- “Jim Faulstich’s Day’s Break Ranch, A Study of Low Cost Precision Supplements”). Livestock needed vastly different supplements from time of year to time of year. For example, supplement needs differ when livestock were grazing grass versus when they were grazing cornstalks.

    The project indicates that prior to forage sampling and precision supplementation, the ranch was over supplementing phosphorus during the grazing season based on the supplement the ranch used, and on the common 12-12-12 supplement used by other ranches. The ranch does not want to over supplement phosphorus as environmentally it is often the key nutrient causing algae blooms in surface water. The results also indicate that during grazing of corn stalks, the 12-12-12 supplement is similar; however, slightly lower in % phosphorus than actual livestock needs.

    It was found that certain key minerals are under supplemented by the ranch’s prior supplement, and by the common 12-12-12 supplement. The comparison table also shows that supplement consumption was ½ for the precision supplement during the grazing season versus the supplement used by the Day Break Ranch prior to custom supplementation. Livestock performance during precision supplementation was equal or better than livestock performance prior to precision supplementation. The data shows that livestock performance was improved during the project period; however, other factors such as weather and genetics also impact livestock performance. Overall it can be said relatively safely that custom supplementation did not decrease or harm animal performance.
    2.Can I reduce supplement cost by $10/head per year?

    Yes. The supplement used by the Day Break Ranch prior to the project cost $30/cow/year, while the precision supplement varied from $4.31/cow/year during the grazing season, to $14.50 per cow/year during corn stalks grazing. Under a livestock forage program where the precision supplement cost $4.31 for six months per cow and $14.50 per cow for six months, the cost/cow/year would be $9.42.

    Additional cost for precision supplementation currently includes forage sample lab costs and the cost of consultants to formulate the custom supplement. During this project (two years of sampling) the lab and consultant costs were approximately $2,500 per year or $6.50 per head for 685 head. The consulting and lab testing costs should decrease each year precision supplementation is used, and brought down to $1-$2 per head/year, as historical data can then be used to formulate the precision supplement. If precision supplementation costs over the long term average around $10-13/cow/year, then it is a supplementation program that competitively provided the right amount of supplements for livestock production versus more expensive or similar cost programs that do not provide the right supplements for livestock production.

    3.Can I maintain or improve Livestock Performance:
    Precision supplementation during this project did not lower livestock production, and may have increased livestock production based on livestock production factors monitored. Additionally, the opinion of Day Break Ranch is that during this project, livestock health improved as foot and eye problems for livestock were few or non existent versus their common occurrence prior to precision supplementation.

    4.Can I maintain my grasslands?
    Yes. Grasslands were evaluated using the expertise of ranch operators Jim Faulstich and Adam Roth, as well as by the summer intern on the 320 acre management intensive grazing system. The use of precision supplements did not impact the vegetation on pastures.

    DISCUSSION

    I learned that precision supplementation could reduce my ranch’s supplementation cost substantially ($10-20 per/cow/year) versus the supplementation program used prior to the project on the Day Break Ranch. The precision supplementation program is also cost competitive with the 112-12-12 range mix and has a huge advantage in providing the right supplements to meet production needs. The system was manageable for my ranch based on available management and labor. Again, the program prevented under or over supplementation and insured that livestock nutrition was optimum for livestock production goals. Precision supplementation also complemented our ranch’s goal of managing with a holistic approach, which includes caring for our natural resources. Minerals such as phosphorus seem to often be grossly over supplemented, which may add to water pollution, and likewise key micro-nutrients for livestock production often are not supplemented.
    Sampling and consulting costs are high for the first few years; however, prorated out are cheap in the long run. Precision supplementation increased or maintained our livestock production as shown by average weaning weights and cows calving in the first 42 days. Overall the benefits from precision supplementation included:
    -A cheaper and precision supplement to meet livestock needs
    -Lower daily consumption of supplements the majority of the year.
    -Better heard health and livestock production: (no running eyes, 97% conception rate in 60 days, increased calf performance (CHAPS program), improved calf health.

    The precision supplementation involving forage sampling, testing, and use of consultants to formulate the precision supplements worked well for the Day Break Ranch. I feel other ranches can also use a similar system, and the opportunity exists for ranchers with smaller herds to join together to spread out the costs. Over time, the supplement sales representatives should be trained to provide more of the needed consulting, which would lower these costs. Again, after the initial 3-5 years, the sampling and consulting costs can be reduced substantially.

    OUTREACH

    The following outreach activities were completed to share the project information with other producers and technical assistance specialists:
    1.July 2003: An on-ranch tour was held for 15 Harvest States Sales Representatives and information on the precision supplementation project and the management intensive grazing system demonstration was provided.
    2.June 2003: A presentation was given to the 35 participants at the South Dakota Ag Lenders Camp. Participants are agricultural lenders.
    3.July 16, 2003: A presentation and tour on precision supplementation and the grazing system demonstration was provided to 75 participants on a state-wide tour sponsored by the South Dakota Grassland Coalition. Participants were probably evenly split between livestock producers and agency specialists. The tour stopped at Day Break Ranch, and other information was features in local weekly papers.
    4.August 29, 2003: Filmed on-ranch interviews for the “Today’s Ag” show. This aired as a four part, four week segment on grassland management showcasing producers from around the state. The show is being made into a video that will be available in the next three months, and is posted on the Grassland Coalition web site http://www.sdgrass.org. The filming included precision supplement information; however, the show did not air those segments. This show has an average viewer ship of 30,000 people in SD, NE, MN, and IA.
    5.September, 2003: SD Grazing School. Presented on precision supplements and grazing management at Oacoma, SD where the school is held. Participants were 25-30 ranchers and 5-10 agency specialists.
    6.Summer, 2003: Conducted four tours for individual producers at the ranch, and discussions included precision supplements and grazing management.
    7.February 2, 2004: Again presented at the SD Grazing School.
    8.Winter 2004: Presented at the Lake Faulkton Water Quality Improvement Project workshop on precision supplements and grazing management. The workshop was attended by 80 people, with at least 50% producers.
    9.Winter 2004: Presented at the Lake Faulkton Water Quality Improvement Project workshop on precision supplements and grazing management. The workshop was attended by 30 producers.
    10.The Day Break Ranch continues to put information on the Grassland sire of the South Dakota Association of Conservation Districts related to the grazing system demonstration. (http://www.sdconservation.org). Since 2001, this web site’s grasslands section has had 76,000 hits. This site includes: photo journals, power point presentations, and a description of the Day Break Ranch grazing system demonstration.

    PROGRAM EVALUATION

    This SARE grant fir very well in our holistic approach to operating the ranch and caring for our natural resources by:
    - Saving money
    - Improving livestock production
    - Improving livestock health
    - Helping the ranch to be more sustainable related to the environment, profit, and responding to drought.
    - Our management intensive grazing system in its fifth year has significantly improved wildlife habitat and wildlife numbers, which is very important to us.

    The SARE grant program is a great opportunity for farmers and ranchers to do on-ranch trails of innovative management ideas. I would recommend that the program stresses utilizing agency specialists as part of the projects, not only for technical assistance but to guide the producer with recordkeeping and preparation of the reports.

     

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.