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Animal Health Notebook

Most stumbling blocks are in our heads

Drought is a great example of a stumbling block, because the way we handle it is more important than the severity of the drought.


A few cattlemen and a lot of row crop farmers are starting to show interest in the creation of quality soil health.

Many folks are of the attitude that if we can get things "down under" a little better that will be good enough. Good enough is just a starting place. Starting places might be good enough on a good year. But do not forget that good years come in streaks and so can bad years. A normal year can have a killer middle.

In 2012 we got dry in April and stayed there for only 12 weeks. We actually had five inches of moisture, which is 35% of normal. Corn crops planted in April with conventional tillage on conventional ground delivered about one third of a normal yield. Pastures and hay fields were "dried up." Cattle were eating thistles like they were trained and lots of hay was getting fed. There were several 100-degree days. It started raining on July 5.

I can’t remember what the biggest stumbling block actually was or still is. It possibly depends on the farm or ranch and the time of year as well as the ongoing attitude of the management leaders which is always reflected in the attitude of the rest of the team.

Poor animal health, disease outbreaks, sorry hay quality, thin cattle in the late or early fall, ugly crops, and a fast-falling market are all a bitch wolf. Attitude may determine our altitude but it’s hard to maintain a winning attitude when you are into the third quarter and look at the score board and the home team is getting kicked into another state. No bowl game. We need a new coach.

Walt Davis and I talk a lot about soil health. I talk a lot about animal health and productivity. We both talk frequently about the soil health-plant health-animal health complex and interrelationships and union. The chain does not pull when there is a break. Breaks sure are easy to find when stress is applied and Nature applies the stress on a regular basis. Extreme stress to a system is normal and the weaknesses sure show themselves.

In comparison, extreme stress to the highly functional model results in a better organization. All parts of the system respond to a little burn but not a wild fire. We are building an operation that attempts to closely take the entirety into account. We do this because everything is tied to and connected to everything. Soil health is extremely important. A functioning water cycle is one requirement of healthy soil.

 Prior to the dry spring of 2012 we had aligned our management to most all of the natural principles for several years. We had kept the cattle moving daily, allowed for complete plant recovery of forages we desired to increase, while keeping the ground covered. We were seeing positive increases in plant diversity and animal health.

We may have been slightly under-stocked which is always a better position than overstocked. Overstocking or even 100% stocking is based on a perfect world theory. I personally have seen the perfect world deal blown to hell so many times as to now consider the proponents to be smoke-blowers.

Our greatest mistake (stumbling block) was fear. I was afraid in 2012 to control the excess cool season (C3) plant growth in late April and May, even though our monitoring was saying that we had enough grass to go for 450 days. This resulted in the water loving C3’s excessively drying our topsoil and slowing the start of the more productive C4 grasses that our steers needed for season long good gains. When it started raining the C4’s got to going but they were six weeks or more late. Our steers did alright but could have done better if their management team had been at the top of his game.

Little mistakes won’t kill us. Neither will paying attention and a little schoolin’. I bet I don’t get stumbled the same way in the future.

Think about the stumbling blocks. Find the ones that are slowing progress and move toward correcting them. It is past time for cattlemen to learn and practice soil health increases. The importance is worth the emphasis.

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