Was this the year you expected or hoped for?

By : Chris Penrose, Extension Educator, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Morgan Co. (originally published in The Ohio Cattleman)

I now have been writing articles in this column for around 25 years and I am always trying to come up with something different and beneficial for beef producers around the state. As I thought about a topic, with age and experience, we also gain perspective. For those of us that have been in the beef business for more years than we care to admit, was this the year you expected or hoped for? Many times what we expect and what we hope for are not the same, are they? Maybe we can close the gap between the two. For example, I expected to have more problems this past summer with invasive weeds like Spotted Knapweed, but I hoped I would not and I did not. Why? Because in 2018, I was very aggressive on controlling every plant I could find. I did the same this past summer. I hoped to have had put up more square bales of hay this summer but the help was not there or it was about to rain, so I made more round bales. I expected that might be the case, so I tried to save as many square bales as I could last winter and I have extra two year old hay carried over for this winter to fill in a potential void. I now hope and expect to have enough to get me through the winter, even if it is a bad one.

I hoped I would get hay up sooner this past summer, but I expected that would not happen, so I grazed some hay fields in early April to set them back a few weeks and hay quality from those fields was a little better. However, I expect that I will need to provide a supplement to my cattle to help balance the nutritional needs for some of the winter. Hay quality was very poor last year and some cows around the state starved to death with a full stomach. Early forage test results from this year’s hay crop suggests we could have the same problem this winter.

My point here is that we do have some control to align the differences between what we hope for and what we expect. Who is in control, the cattle or you? The forages or you? We can take control by planning, anticipating what may go wrong and being prepared to address whatever situation arises.

Things are different now than they were 30-40 years ago. We have more challenges with wildlife, invasive plants and insects, more eyes on us, and some groups that think we should not be raising cattle or eating beef. Planning for these issues and issues we usually face such as weather, illness, fence, forages and facilities will help us have a more successful 2020. Genetics have improved tremendously over the years and succeeding with our herd is more than one pasture, July cut hay, and Ohio River salt. We are weaning calves twice the size that we did 40 years; we have less room for error now.

I hoped for better feeder calf prices this past fall and got what I expected but more than it could have been. Developing relationships and improving the quality of your product as I have tried to do over the years gave me a good price for the environment we are in. As Mark Wahlberg said in the movie Deepwater Horizon, “Hope is not a good plan”. Hoping for something without doing anything will lead in disappointment and disaster.

So now is the time to inventory our feed supplies, determine if we have enough feed for the winter, even in a worst case scenario. If not, what are we going to do? Let’s make a plan now. When you have a chance, walk through your hay and pasture fields and determine what can be done to improve them such as frost seeding, lime and fertilizing, potential weed control, and potentially improving grazing practices. Check fence; see if posts or wire needs replaced, and inspect working facilities and buildings to see if repairs need to be made before something major occurs.

When you have the chance, let people and groups know about the benefits of grazing cattle. I bet there are no trees sequestering carbon during this time of the season, but if snow is not on the ground, I bet some of my grass is. Our cattle take an otherwise unusable crop for humans but beneficial for the environment and convert the sustainable crop into nutrient dense, delicious food and many other valuable products.

With proper planning now, evaluating our situation and needs, developing a strategy to handle issues, and even promoting the good things we do, maybe what we hope for and expect can be the same. This year wasn’t the year that I hoped for but it was better than I expected.

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