by David Annis, Denton County Extension Agent – Agriculture & Natural Resources
When I started with Extension in 1988, I met a man and asked him, “How many years of experience do you have farming and ranching?” He replied, “One.” As he grinned and looked away I heard him say, “Fifty-three times.” Sometimes it’s not what you know but rather what you’ve seen.
If you are new to farming and/or ranching, how do you get this experience quickly? The answer is to attend the Denton County Beginning Farming and Ranching Series that starts on Thursday, February 25, 2016, 6 p.m., Room 115 at the Joseph A Carroll Building, 401 West Hickory, in Denton.
Soil testing, the web soil survey and livestock stocking rates will be the topics covered in the first session. We will then open the floor for 30 minutes to answer questions about your operations, current conditions and upcoming concerns. As these monthly series go on, we’ll explore other timely topics such as: establishing Bermuda grass (sprigs vs seeds), fertilizing “buy the numbers,” weed control, and who should you allow to “date” your cows?
Why are these meetings important? There isn’t a week that goes by when I don’t receive a question from a realtor about the number of horses that can be placed on an acre of ground. It depends if you want a dirt lot or something resembling a pasture for them to graze. There are other important questions to ask: What type of grasses are available? Is this a native grass pasture or an introduced grass such as Bermuda grass? Each question has different answers and each answer prompts me to ask another different question. But it is not just the realtors asking the questions.
When you are looking at the number of livestock to place on your property, you have to consider the cost of feeding them. There’s an old saying, “You can’t starve a cow into profit!” You will either spend the money on pasture hay production, purchase hay for your livestock or a combination of both. What you decide will depend on your philosophy, the fertility of your land, availability of hay and the size of your wallet. (The latter is usually the most important of these.)
How about the person that walks into the office and has 40 head of cattle on 20 acres of land? Depending on the size of the cattle, the yearly rainfall, the amount of hay on-hand and the quality/quantity of the forage, a rule of thumb is one 1,000 pound cow per 5-8 acres of fertilized pasture. Imagine the surprise on people’s faces when I tell them that they need closer to 200 to 320 acres of land for these 40 head of cattle! Now for the next question – “What do I do?”
Mankind has been in the business of farming for the last 23,000 years. Why is it that we tend to make the same mistakes, over and over again without learning what we need to change? Rainy periods and droughts will come and go, but we purchase the maximum number of animals the land can carry during the best of times. We make the same mistake over and over again – always the eternal optimists.
Then we don’t manage the forage or the soil fertility in order to maximize our return off the land. We allow the livestock to eat what they want without regard to the replenishment of the forage base. Like a bank account, we make “withdraws” from the soil fertility account without making any “deposits.” One of these days, the banker is going to tell us we cannot make any more fertility withdraws and the land will no longer grow the forage we need.
The purpose of the Beginning Farming and Ranching series is not to berate you, but to provide you the tools you need to make the best management decisions for your operation.