Highlights from the 2023 National Cattle Convention

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The 2023 Cattle Industry Convention and NCBA Trade Show took place recently in the Big Easy.

Thousands of cattlemen, cattlewomen and cattle industry members came to this year’s event to partake in annual national and regional meetings, the Cattlemen’s College and the popular NCBA trade show.

There were numerous policy meetings and receptions as well. The Cattle Feeders Reception saw lower than anticipated attendance due to an ice storm which snarled traffic throughout the South.

The keynote speaker of the opening general session was Taylor Sheridan, writer for the TV series “Yellowstone” and a native Texan and rancher. Other general sessions included CattleFax’s forecast of the U.S. protein and grain markets and a recap of the beef industry’s lobbying efforts in the nation’s cattle.

In addition to the sessions of the Cattlemen’s College (sponsored by Zoetis), there were also TED Talk-like brief informative sessions on the floor of the trade show itself.

What follows are highlight takeaways from two of the many informational Cattlemen’s College sessions:

  • Using Stockmanship to Improve Pasture Management

Two partners in a recent research project in southern California presented their findings in this seminar: Mike Williams, owner and operator of Diamond W Cattle Co., and Matthew Shapero, University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources.

The focus of the study was to determine if Williams could get more effective use of his rangeland by using stockmanship – in particular, low-stress herding – to drive cattle into underutilized areas.

“The goal was improve profitability and positively impact ecosystem services,” Shapero said.

Sometimes animals forego grazing in certain areas, Shapero said, “due to topography, forage availability and physical features – fencing, water, et cetera.”

“I had read a book on stockmanship by Steve Cote in which he suggested you could adjust the way you handle your cattle and it would affect the way your cattle use your land,” Williams said. “I wondered if it was practical for me to use those techniques.”

The first step in the duo’s research was to spend a year studying how the cattle behaved according to Williams’s normal management pattern. GPS collars were put on 12 cows and then data were collected to determine where the cattle were.

In the second and third years of the study, Williams used low-stress handling to drive his cattle into lesser-utilized areas of his ranch.

Overall, 700,000 data points were collected across three years. The GPS locations were used to determine features such as the slope of the land and distance from water. With three years of data, they were able to compare any single day of the year across the study and see how distribution changed in years two and three compared to the first control year.

Williams also tracked his time to see how much of his own labor was used in the different management approach.

One finding was that when cattle are moved, even if they don’t stay in a particular destination, they do remain bunched, which can help with intensity of grazing. Other benefits included a positive impact on cattle distribution (more widespread grazing); cattle behavior became gentler, making them easier to handle; improved conception rates; lower disease; and lower stress on the producer.

The challenges of this approach were that it did take more time and effort, and Williams had to prioritize herding over other farm activities. He did notice the effectiveness of the approach improved over time.

“It requires an adjustment to your attitude, outlook and approach,” Williams said. “The priority becomes handling cattle. The biggest adjustment is mental.”

It’s also worth noting that a low-stress herding approach is absolutely required. “If you move them and they are stressed, they associate that stress with you,” Williams said, “not their previous location.”

While this approach was effective given the scale of Williams’s ranch (12,000 acres), the same concept can be used in the less spacious cattle lands of the East, to get more out of the lesser used areas in your pastures, such as remote or hilly areas. The key is to dedicate the time to do it and use low-stress herding. For more questions about this approach, check with your local Extension agent.

Dean Fish, manager of Santa Fe Ranch in Arizona, gave a presentation at the trade show on the basics of cattle handling. “Low-stress animal handling and stockmanship does not cost anything,” he said while moving a set of Brangus heifers. Photo by Karl H. Kazaks

  • Made in the Shade: Explaining Silvopasture

This was a joint presentation from Dr. Rocky Lemus of Mississippi State, an Extension and research professor focusing on grazing, forage management and hay production, and George Owens of George C. Owens Farm in Florida.

The three primary components of a silvopasture system, Lemus said, are forage species, tree species and livestock species. The challenge is how to grow grass in the shade of trees.

“Tree size and density will affect forage selection,” Lemus said. For areas which require warm season grasses, bahiagrass is particularly shade tolerant. In areas which demand cool season grasses, tall fescue and orchardgrass are good choices.

It’s also important when choosing a logger to impress on them the goals of your system, otherwise it’s possible the grazing component of your silvopasture operation could be negatively affected.

“Loblolly [pines] become cattle resistant at about three years old,” Owens said. “At five years old we prune the lower limbs of the trees to get more light to the forest floor.”

Owens has been practicing silvopasture for almost 40 years. Over the decades, he has seen a number of benefits to the practice. With the shade of the trades, there is extended cool season grass production. There is also improved cattle performance which comes from increased cow comfort and forage intake – cattle will graze into the heat of mid-day because it’s not as hot as an open pasture. There is also better manure distribution thanks to the trees.

It’s best to plant trees east-west rather than north-south, Owens said.

While Owens uses loblolly pines, it’s possible, Lemus said, to practice silvopasture with poplars and other tree species. For more information on the best way to set up silvopasture on your farm, consult with your local Extension agent.

by Karl H. Kazaks

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