June 12, 2024

From the Pastures: Start of ‘happy times’

Hello from Graze-N-Grow. Well, it seems Elton and I missed our deadline last month. I don’t know his excuse, but mine was forgetfulness. I wasn’t really idle, though. January, as you know, came in like a lamb and grew into a lion. With 15 inches of snow and 15-below temp, I was fully employed doing chores.

Normally I would unroll hay in the pasture for the ewes and cattle, but that was impossible. I’m sure everyone in the livestock business has their own winter story, but here it was miserable, especially since my rams had escaped last August without my knowledge — first time that ever happened, again — and we were blessed with many new arrivals as the storm commenced. Pushing snow to get to the clover baleage and pushing more snow to find places to set up feeders and then dealing with the muddy soup the ewes and lambs had to walk in on the frost free ground underneath put a strain on the bedding supply in the barn.

But all is well now with dry ground and mild temps, so hopefully the worst is over. I remember lambing back in the late ‘70s blizzards and the lambs had to be watched closely at birth, so they got up before freezing. Since we shifted to hair sheep, those lambs waste no time getting up and sucking, making winter survival much better. We will still be lambing the yearlings and rest of main flock next spring, which should be much less labor intensive.

Since I sold off my cows last spring I decided to raise some bottle calves just to have some chores after harvest. My neighbor, Ron, uses a five-nipple bucket and puts four calves on it, so I tried that with three buckets and that works great. The last group will be done this week, and so far with 31 calves, all are thriving. It helps when the dairy gets them started right with colostrum.

In case you haven’t heard, the cattle numbers in this country are lowest since 1951 and calf numbers lowest since 1941, according to latest report. This can be referred to as “the happy times” in the beef business. We all know it can be fleeting, but since heifer retention hasn’t started yet, this should last a while. As far as lamb prices go, they aren’t too bad, either, but our “happy time” was two or three years ago.

The grain prices aren’t enjoying the same optimism. Even organic grain prices have seen the bloom go off their roses. At times like these it’s good to be diversified. Not only are sheep and cattle numbers down, but shepherds and cattlemen are getting fewer — and older — so if any of you younger folks don’t mind the work, this country is not going to quit eating red meat. Let’s make sure it’s American meat.

Last fall, a fellow offered to do chores for me if I wanted to take off and go somewhere. I took him up on the offer before he changed his mind, so this month I’m heading to Florida to visit my two sisters who decided long ago they had enough of Illinois winter. It’s been over 15 years since I was there, so about time I guess. I think I will take Ruth along. Happy trails.

Jim Draper

Jim Draper

Sheffield, Ill.