At one point or another many farmers and ranchers have had to be creative to get the job done. For some, their clever ideas have given them national recognition. The IRM Tips for Profit contest recognizes cattlemen for their “backyard” inventions. The program is made possible through the sponsorship of Pennington Seeds working in partnership with the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA).

This year's first place winner is Greg Ritter, Glasgow, KY. Second place goes to Dale Strickler, Concordia, KS, and third place to Sparks Ranch, Ardmore, OK. For his first place win, Ritter receives $3,500 plus an all-expense paid trip to the Cattle Industry Annual Convention and Trade Show Feb. 6-9, in Denver, CO. Strickler receives $1,500, and Sparks receives $1,000.

Congratulations to all the winners!

First Place and Region 1 Winner — $3,500 plus Trip Greg Ritter Glasgow, Kentucky Joining Forces for Profitability

Cattle producers have long known the benefits of being able to sell cattle in larger lots. However, with the average herd-size at 40 head, this option is not available to most cattlemen. With this in mind, a group of seven cow-calf producers in southern Kentucky have joined forces giving them more marketing options.

Four years ago these producers, whose herds range in size from 20 to 80 head, got together to share ideas and concerns about the future of the beef industry. The issues that came to their attention were lack of uniformity, small herd sizes, poor reputation of Southeastern cattle, poor vaccination and weaning practices, and an overall lower quality of cattle being marketed. These issues prompted these producers to form a cooperative so that each could benefit from consistent management practices, improved cattle quality and the ability to market larger lots of cattle.

The producers began to work together to create consistent operations from one farm to the next. Together they traveled to sales and purchased bulls of similar type, with the same EPDs, from the same seed-stock source. A breeding program was established so that bulls were being turned out and pulled from pastures on the same days. This created a uniform calving season so that all calves are similar in age. They buy all of their vaccination and herd health supplies together. Then they work as a group from one producer's operation to the next, assisting each other during vaccination and weaning. After weaning, calves are transported to one member's farm where they are weighed, wormed and sorted by size and sex. Groups of 65 to 70 head of similar calves are assembled and moved into a feedlot. Calves are then fed formulated rations to obtain a growth rate of two pounds a day and are fed until they weigh 750 pounds.

Once the producers have generated similar calf crops that have all been a part of the same breeding, herd health and weaning programs, they are marketed. Cattle are commingled by size and sex into lots of 50,000 pounds. Each producer is paid by the total weight of his own cattle, which are identified by different color ear tags. Prior to commingling, each producer's calves are weighed together. These practices give smaller producers a huge advantage in that they are able to provide buyers large uniform lots versus selling their smaller lots of cattle separately.

These producers are not part of a large, organized cooperative or alliance, but they are making a big difference in their bottom line. Through the four years, each producer has focused on a different area of management that he is most interested in. By working together, they are able to benefit from one another's individual areas of developing expertise. They have realized that in an industry where margins are often slim, you must have a vision and be open to ideas and new ways of doing business. Joining together has allowed them the ability to benefit not only from the support of each other, but also from the options that are now available to them with larger lots of uniform cattle available for market.

Second Place and Region VII Winner — $1,500 Dale Strickler Concordia, Kansas Feeding Osage Orange

Almost all cattle producers are familiar with the difficulties and costs of managing obnoxious weeds and shrubs found in pastures. However, one Kansas cattleman has found a way to turn a particular pasture menace into a high-quality feed source.

Osage orange is a thorny hedge tree that spreads rapidly in pastures, choking out grasses. In addition, it is very difficult to control. It was purely by accident that producer Dale Strickler from Concordia, KS, found a way to actually utilize this pasture nuisance. During a late summer drought, Strickler was reminded of a story his grandfather told him about cutting down Mulberry trees to feed to the cows during a late 1950s drought. Strickler, in a desperate situation, decided to give it a try. While out cutting trees he noticed a large Osage orange hedge and decided to cut it down to clear the fence row. To his surprise, the cattle began eating the leaves from the tree.

Cattle will not touch an Osage orange tree while it is standing because of the tough thorns that appear on the lower branches. However, the thorns are almost non-existent on the upper branches. Daily, Strickler began cutting down Osage orange hedges for his cows to feed on.

“Cattle soon began to eat them exclusively, even refusing the corn I was offering until all the leaves were stripped from the tree,” said Strickler.

Strickler decided to do a little research and found that the leaves from the hedge average 72 percent total digestible nutrients and 12 percent protein. This makes them a comparable energy source to corn silage, yet much higher in protein. Since incorporating feeding Osage orange to his herd, Strickler has noticed that his cows are showing more bloom, and calf weaning weights are averaging higher.

For Strickler, this practice has become a three-run home run. First, he is profiting from the cows' consumption of the leaves; second, he sells the rest of the tree as fence posts and firewood; and third, he has improved pasture quality as a result of generating grass growth from where the hedges had previously been.

Third Place and Region IV Winner — $1,000 John Sparks, Sparks Ranch Ardmore, Oklahoma Feeding Alfalfa Hay as a Primary Source of Protein

John Sparks knew the benefits of feeding alfalfa hay to his cattle, but like most cattle producers, he felt it was far too expensive. However, during times of need, important discoveries can be found. During the prolonged drought of 1998, this was just the case for Sparks, who runs an 800 head, cow-calf operation near Ardmore, OK.

That year, Sparks found an abundance of large square bales of alfalfa in Kansas and had it shipped to his ranch. Large bales actually reduce the cost of shipping charges when compared to purchasing small square or round bales, because of the ease of stacking and handling. Through the first year of feeding the alfalfa bales, Sparks began to realize many added advantages when compared to his normal feeding regimen.

Sparks had been feeding 20 percent range cubes, which were costing him $180 per ton. This was taking two men in two trucks to get the job done, so using alfalfa hay was beneficial for more than one reason.

So that no additional labor costs are required and hay is fed efficiently, Sparks uses a big bale flaker when feeding large alfalfa bales. Sparks also points out that dairy-quality hay does not have to be used. Range cattle can be fed alfalfa hay that is in the $80 to $100 per ton range.

The benefits from feeding alfalfa hay during the drought season were so significant that Sparks continued the practice, even when forages were plentiful. Since including alfalfa in his feeding program, Sparks has seen an increase in conception rates by three percent and noticed that cows breed back sooner, tightening his calving intervals. Alfalfa will increase milk production, and fall-born calves will eat the hay at an early age, giving the same effect as creep feeding.

In order to realize the full savings, a big bale flaker is essential for automated feeding so that labor costs are not increased. Additional benefits are found in realizing that feeding alfalfa hay will decrease the amount of supplemental grass forage so less roughages are needed. The bottom line is that Sparks has found profitability in the increase in production he has seen in his herd because of feeding large alfalfa bales.

Region VI Winner Dennis Bieroth, Bieroth Ranch Mountain City, Nevada Video Monitoring the Calving Barn

Winters in the high country of Nevada are both long and harsh, especially during calving season. Many producers find themselves going inside and out, fighting the elements around the clock. Random checks to the calving barn can often result in successful calving assistance efforts. However, many times producers arrive in the barn to find no activity and realize their efforts were wasted. Even worse are the times when they arrive to find a cow that has struggled with a difficult delivery and lost her calf.

These very situations led Dennis Bieroth, a cow-calf producer from Mountain View, NV, to install a video monitoring system in his calving barn. Bieroth took an outdated VCR camera and positioned it in his barn so that he had a clear view of his calving stalls. He then ran a heavy-duty coaxial wire from the camera to his house, where he hooked the wire up to an old television. By using old equipment he already had on hand, Bieroth was able to keep his out-of-pocket cost for the system to around $300.

Bieroth adjusted the camera to its monitoring position so that from his house he has both audio and video capabilities of the action taking place in the barn. The walls around the calving stalls were painted white to increase the picture quality by allowing for more contrast between them and the black cattle.

Bieroth recommends that all producers who are calving heifers in the barn should invest in such a monitoring system. Like him, many producers could probably use old equipment they already have on hand. Bieroth says in the four years he has had the system in place, it has saved him countless hours of labor and at least 10 calves.

Honorable Mention Larry Buell, Shovel Dot Ranch Rose, Nebraska Utilizing Old Resources

Efficiency and profitability can often be found in utilizing old resources. By upgrading the resources that were already available to him, producer Larry Buell has been able to turn old, congested and non-productive structures into useful and beneficial work areas.

Buell, owner of Shovel Dot Ranch in Rose, NE, says that upgrading available structures has allowed him to better use his land, capital and employees. In an old workshop, Buell was able to lift the roof and remove a wall to open up a larger and more enjoyable workspace, while using the same foundation. A loft area was put in to provide for more available floor space.

“By making our shop bigger and better, we have been able to change the attitudes of those who must work here,” said Buell. “We also saved money from start to finish as compared to having to construct a whole new facility.”

An almost obsolete old granary was converted into a cake shed. This effort has lowered the cost of an important feedstuff by allowing for bulk storage. The feed shed was remodeled to better handle bulk dry protein and shelled corn, as well as liquid ethanol by-products. The ability to handle liquid ethanol by-products allows for better utilization of lower quality hay by making it more palatable.

The main barn on the ranch was once the livery stable in Long Pine, NE. It was actually moved to the ranch by a team of horses when Buell's father was just a child and has become a large part of the ranch's heritage. Buell restored the structure to help keep this heritage alive for future generations.

Through restoration efforts like these, Buell is confident that he has not only been able to better use existing structures but has actually increased his ranch's profitability.

For more information on how to become involved with the IRM Tips for Profit contest, contact Renee Lloyd at rlloyd@beef.org or (303) 850-3373.

IRM Corporate Team:

BEEF Magazine, Elanco Animal Health, MoorMan's, Merial, Pfizer Animal Health, Pennington Seed and Land O'Lakes Farmland

Focus on MISSISSIPPI
  • Mississippi has 89 beef producers from 51 counties participating in IRM programs.
  • From 1998 to 2001, the number of IRM-enrolled beef producers participating in retained ownership increased by 40%. The number of producers participating in alternative marketing has increased by 80%.
  • Mississippi's Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) Program held eight regional meetings utilizing the Auburn University BQA Interactive Display Trailer. The Program also created an interactive training CD, along with the establishment and implementation of BQA certification.
  • There are many statewide and joint programs, including: Mississippi Farm to Feedlot Program Data, Stocker/Grazer Program, Joint Mississippi/Alabama Joint Replacement Heifer Development Project, Joint Mississippi/Wisconsin Stocker Grazer Project 2001, Distance Learning Short Courses, Cattleman's College and Grazing Schools, Artificial Insemination Short Courses, Beef Cattle Improvement Association and Bull Test Stations.
IRM Calendar of Events
Feb. 6-9, 2002
Cattle Industry Annual Convention and Trade Show Denver, Colorado Wednesday, Feb. 6
  • Cattlemen's College
  • Opening General Session
  • Trade Show Reception
Thursday, Feb. 7
  • Council meetings
  • IRM and other Subcommittee Meetings
  • NCBA-PAC Team Penning
  • Trade Show
Friday, Feb. 8
  • Cattle-Fax Outlook Seminar
  • Trade Show
  • Committee Meetings
  • State Receptions
Saturday, Feb. 9
  • Inspirational Breakfast
  • NCBA/CBB Board of Directors Meeting
  • Grand Finale Evening Event
Sunday, Feb. 10
  • Worship Service
  • NCBA-PAC Ski Trip

IRM News is produced quarterly by NCBA and edited by students in Colorado State University's Beef Industry Leadership Program. Direct questions about IRM programs to Renee Lloyd, rlloyd@beef.org, (303) 850-3373. Direct editorial questions about IRM News to Sara Albertson, salbert@holly.colostate.edu, (970) 491-6348.