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RANCH MUSINGS: Where is the future of ranching?

One way of advancing lower cost of production is by shortening the winter feeding season
Ranch Musings columnist David Zirnhelt. (File photo)

Many ranching businesses will be challenged to reinvent their farming practices to meet the demands of the future.

It is a sad state of affairs to think of the sell off and slaughter of many brood cows caused by high market prices for butcher cows (many of them early retirees from being brood cows), the lack of affordable winter feed and the lack of ranchers retaining young females to replace the older cows sent to market.

Female calves are currently fetching higher prices than usual so it is a good time to sell if you are a producer. In the U.S. there has not been a rebuilding of the mother cow herd because of drought and the relatively high price for the young females (heifers). This is despite the young female calves bringing 30 to 50 cents a pound less than equivalent sized males (steers).

Considering the future of a sustainable cattle industry, a producer has much to consider. High on the list of these things is the need to farm/ranch with a smaller ecological footprint. Keeping the cost to the natural environment (externalities to the business, therefore no cash cost to production) down will be important to the buying of beef.

Demand for high quality protein which red meat provides is generally high and consumers are paying the price for the products of animal agriculture. The market will reward those who can produce meat cost effectively.

One way of advancing lower cost of production is by shortening the winter feeding season. A rancher on the Fraser River benches achieves this by grazing standing corn. (reports are that it costs around $1.00 per day to feed a cow this way).

The soil on this ranch is continually being built by planting cover crops which feed a variety of soil organisms by their diversity.

The trick here is to not over-cultivate the fields thereby using up stored organic matter. A better approach is to find a crop rotation and retention which reduces the cost of farming the fields.

Of course, corn won’t grow on all ranches, but new varieties are being developed which will grow on poorer soils and in warming climatic zones.

A reduction of the mother cow herd gives farmers a chance to examine breeds that are best suited to the climate and soil of the ranch and farm. When reducing the herd, perhaps in the short term, a herdsman must keep in mind to keep the thrifty types which can thrive in the northern climate. These might be individuals (prototypes) within a breed (genoptypes).

Lots to think about, fellow and would-be future ranchers! Good luck.