April 14, 2024

From the Pastures: Demand is strong

Hello from Graze-N-Grow. It looks so far like spring has arrived early this year. Even if we get a last blast of winter, spring has a pretty good head start — so much so that I missed my best opportunity to frost seed some clover. While Ruth and I enjoyed our week visit to Florida the third week in February, I should have thrown it out before I left. My success rate on frost seeding is not real great and I didn’t want to spend the $20 an acre with minimal frosts in the forecast. While we had sunshine and upper 60s down in Florida, I think it was mostly 70s here at home.

My plans for all the wheat now is a cover crop following harvest, which gives me a good shot at fall and winter grazing here at home on 40 acres and some much needed fertility building on the 56 acres we are transitioning to organic about four miles away. I was able to disc 20 acres of fall-plowed sod in late February, only the second time in my farming career to work ground in February.

Grazing has also gotten about a month early start. The cattle are on 50 acres of volunteer wheat that was over 8 inches tall and next to 30 acres of fall-drilled rye about 4 inches high. The ewes and lambs are on the rye, as well, and we have about 85 acres for them to chew through before the pastures are ready. We should feel so blessed considering the plight of the Texas panhandle ranchers. Their losses in both forage and cattle is tragic no matter what the cattle price is, but even more now with these historic highs. It could take a generation to build back their genetics and many won’t be in the game that long.

For the rest of us, though, these “happy times” should last a while. I agree with Steve Foglesong in his From the Barns cattle article that it could last longer than the drought-induced 2012 event. Reports don’t show heifer retention yet and demand continues strong. One problem that always interferes is the rise in imports when the dollar is strong — some of those imports, such as Uruguayan beef that does not meet our animal health safety guidelines, just like what has happened in our organic bean imports a few years ago. Other countries try to pawn off inferior products that weaken our integrity.

Our lamb market here, as well, has seen a great influx of Australian lamb, which now makes up most of the retailers’ display. While not necessarily an inferior product, it does make it difficult for us to compete in an unequal playing field. For us here on our farm, we are grateful for the many customers that keep coming back for our lamb and pay our price, at least for the males.

The females, though, have given several new producers in southwest Wisconsin a start in recent years. We just loaded out 74 head of yearlings due to lamb early May to another young Amish fellow last month. That’s about the fifth load in the last five years to that community. He also took home two of our Karakachan/Maremma/Anatolian pups. Another went to guard sheep in the Upper Peninsula and three went to neighbors to “guard” their kids. We have one female black-and-white pup left. Any takers?

We are having a difficult time getting Ruth’s cow, Ella, bred. We will give her one more chance after her third visit to the vet. The problem with naming livestock is the difficulty doing the practical thing. She has, however, raised eight calves during her long lactation along with being milked once a day, then dried up, then back in milk and just weaned two more and I probably will put two more on her, though Ruth isn’t milking now. So, she has earned her keep and those dairy and beef calves are looking like a good asset. Life is good. Let’s enjoy it while we’re here. Happy trails.

Jim Draper

Jim Draper

Sheffield, Ill.