Fall/Winter Division Winner
A cow will eat grass all summer long and gain 300 lbs. Feed her all winter and she'll lose 300 lbs.,” says Jim Howard of Howard Ranches at Waurika, OK.
“There are places better suited to cows than what we have here,” says Steve Howard of the unforgiving environment in southwest Oklahoma. He and his brother Jim are partners in the operation.
Those are lessons learned early from their father Don, who was the first one in these parts to start growing calves on forage rather than raising calves. That was in the late 1940s. Up until then, this was a cow-calf outfit, too. Jim and Steve's great grandfather, Noah Howard, set the family roots here in 1895.
Reducing margin risk
“We're margin operators and we don't ever forget it,” Jim says. “We worry about the things we can do something about.”
For instance, by focusing on cattle handling about 10 years ago, Steve reckons they've reduced the number of cattle they've had to pull and treat by about 2%, the equivalent of about $10/head.
That's the reason the Howards built a new processing barn two years ago that makes it easier to move and handle the cattle more quietly. They temp sale barn cattle on day 5 to 7. “If you chase them around, I guarantee you'll double your treats based on temperature,” Jim says.
Health is also why the brothers have focused on buying more ranch-direct calves.
“One of the biggest things we did 10 years ago was get pickier about the source and geography of the cattle coming in here at certain times of the year,” Steve says. For one thing, that's helped reduce their incidence of mycoplasma. They even pay ranchers to get a four-way viral shot into the cattle before shipping them.
“By the time you process, treat, boost and get ranch-direct cattle on pasture here, you've got $12/head in them, $25-$30 on put-together cattle,” Steve explains.
“And, what you can't measure may cost you more than what you can measure,” Jim says. “It's a lot cheaper to buy feed than medicine.”
“We figured if a feedyard could make $20/head on the feed, we'd just as soon be the ones making it,” says Jim of the Howards' part ownership of Dumas Feeders at Dumas, TX.
Likewise, the Howards have owned and run their own trucks for years. Though Jim reckons that saves them 40-50¢/mile in today's high-price environment, he says their own trucks offer convenience as much as anything.
It's the same with their fertilizer business. In the late 1970s, anhydrous was higher than anyone had seen. “We suspected we'd been price-gouged,” Jim says. “We may not have been, but that's how we felt.” Plus, it's handier and safer than pulling tanks down the highway.
Building for the next generation
“You won't find a mesquite or a cedar on our place,” the brothers say proudly. They manage their range meticulously, using rotational grazing to protect the native warm-season grasses.
“Their constant goal is to manage pastures in such a way as to optimize cattle gain, yet improve forage quality and stand vigor,” explains Robert Wells, a livestock consultant at The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation at Ardmore, OK. The Howards are long-time cooperators with the cutting-edge organization.
“Whatever we do today won't make a lot of difference in our lifetimes,” Jim says. “But it will help or hurt our kids. Like liming or dozing. It won't help much this year but it will help someone someday. We're just borrowing it anyway.”