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The Padlock Ranch’s current overall goal is to get through the drought and hold the cowherd together.
A grasshopper invasion forced the operation to move some cows to Nebraska in 2009, and they’ve continued to send cattle to Nebraska corn stalks ever since. It allows them some geographic diversity in years where weather is a concern.
“We make every attempt to extend grazing days and reduce our reliance on harvested and purchased feed,” Patterson says.
About seven years ago, Padlock reseeded old hayfields into grass to run yearlings on irrigated pasture. They manage a large number of animals on this grazing program – moving them every 2-3 days.
They also try to maintain a mixture of cows and yearlings, with about 20% yearlings during the summer, including replacement heifers. However, Patterson questions whether this is enough yearlings, something they plan to evaluate in the next few years.
“Yearlings give us more flexibility to quickly respond to drought and fire situations because you can always move them to a feedlot or leased grass, or sell them,” he says. Plus, they’re much easier to move than cow-calf pairs, he adds.
In selecting heifers from the stockers, Patterson says he removes the obvious culls first, and then sorts off the “No. 2 heifers.” These aren’t the biggest or the smallest, but the middle-of-the road females. These heifers are artificially inseminated (AI) once with Agri Beef Wagyu bulls in late July; typically no cleanup bull is used. At 45 days after AI, the heifers are preg-checked by ultrasound, and the open heifers either go into Padlock’s natural beef program or are sold. The 60% of heifers usually remaining go into Padlock’s replacement heifer program.
Padlock’s farm and background program includes about 1,000 acres of corn silage, their staple crop.
“We evaluated the farm about seven years ago and considered moving away from some of the farming to run more cattle on irrigated pasture,” Patterson says. “We’re a high-overhead business, which is somewhat dictated by our farm and feedlot operations. When we looked at the value of putting gain on calves with homegrown forages, however, it paid for us to continue the backgrounding program. Corn silage is a relatively cheap cost per unit of energy relative to what we can buy on the market.”
They also purchase dried distillers grains, wheat midds and corn to augment forage. “Byproducts are a big part of what we do,” he says. “And if we don’t have enough carryover feed, we have the option of moving calves a little quicker out of the backgrounding program in order to use that feed for cows to get through winter.”
They use planned, time-controlled grazing, stocking their ranch efficiently, but keeping the range in good condition by creating periods of rest to avoid overgrazing (cows don’t graze a growing plant more than once), and leaving appropriate residue. They’ve been able to increase the carrying capacity of the ranch with this program, he reports.
“We manage for biomass at the end of the year,” Patterson says. “We let the cows take the cream early, then bring them back later to get the rest of the feed. It also helps to avoid overgrazing sensitive riparian areas.”
A scene from Padlock Ranch when they quickly moved cattle out of the path of wildfire.