August 30, 2018
Cattle producers joining the Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association summer tour in Cottonwood and Jackson counties saw how their peers manage their operations, from animal handling to rotational pasture management.
Farm and business tour stops included:
• O’Connor Farms LLC, Lakefield, Minn. O’Connor Farms raises cattle, hogs, corn and hay. Dan O’Connor, farm owner and manager, farms 1,350 acres, of which 1,200 acres are in continuous corn and 130 acres are seeded for grass hay. The farm raises 1,500 head of Holstein steers on two sites, getting them when they weigh around 300 pounds each and finishing them to an average of 1,400 pounds each. The farm also buys 600 hogs every nine weeks and feeds them to an average market weight of 290 pounds each.
Dan O’Connor talks about using existing facilities and updating them to improve animal care and performance. The farm houses Holstein steers in two 1970s slatted-floor barns that the farm has updated with rubber mats and drive-by feed bunks. O’Connor completely renovated an old barn into a cattle handling facility with individual pens that also hold sick animals.
“We like to focus on cattle comfort,” O’Connor says, adding that the farm adheres to aggressive bedding practices. The farm makes 2,000 to 2,400 large round bales of cornstalks each year for bedding, and covers the bales with wrap or tarp to protect them. Pens on the south side of one barn are reserved for cattle that have joint or lameness problems.
“Cattle have the choice to choose a more comfortable pack to lay on instead of slats,” he adds.
A newer addition on the farm is a four-bunk feed center where high-moisture corn and corn silage is stored. O’Connor Farms uses a silage facer to keep feed fresh and to control shrink.
“Our goal is to get better feed out than we put in,” O’Connor says. Feedstuffs are packed tight and covered immediately. The farm aims for 28% to 30% moisture in the high-moisture corn pile.
“We focus hard on high quality,: he adds.
• The Piotter family, Windom, Minn. The Piotters rotationally graze their 75 cow-calf Simmental-Angus pairs. The family moves the animals about every 10 days to fresh paddocks on 107 acres of pasture purchased south of town several years ago. They farm a total of 800 acres, raising corn, soybeans, alfalfa and pasture.
Marlin Piotter, who farms with his wife, Kelly, did some research first about rotational grazing, and he worked to improve the pasture with fertilizing and spraying weeds.
“With fertilizing and spraying, we increased grass production 30%,” he says. With more fresh feed, Piotter was able to add another eight pairs per paddock over time. Plus, he notes that cows were in better condition, and calf weight increased from 60 to 90 pounds per calf by market time.
No matter how the grass looks, Piotter says he moves cattle to fresh paddocks. He has noticed that the cows prefer certain grass varieties and will walk to those first to eat.
The Piotters also mow and bale low areas of cool-season grasses, leaving some bales by the pasture for use during dry weather or late fall.
• Graff Feedlots LLC, Jeffers, Minn. This family business is spread on two sites: a 1,500-head feedyard and 500-head hog finisher unit on the home farm with Glen and Val Graff, and an 850-head feedlot and cow-calf operation on the farm of daughter Hilary and son-in-law Troy Paplow. Together, they raise around 1,500 acres of corn and soybeans.
The family has also worked to improve pastures and rotationally graze cattle. The 50-acre pasture site featured during the tour stop, which was purchased in 2015, had been underused and was ready for improvements. The family applied for Environmental Quality Incentive Program funds with the Natural Resources Conservation Service that helped with several improvements, including high-tensile fencing, designing and installing paddocks, and installing underground waterlines to fill tire water tanks.
Waterlines are 5½ feed underground and drain on their own.
“We installed three water tanks, so cows can all drink at once,” Paplow says. “We put Geotex fabric down first and then rocks over that. This helps keep it nice and not mushy. Cows prefer to drink here rather than at the creek, too.” The farm had 46 cow-calf pairs and three bulls on this pasture this summer.
• Minnesota Supreme Feeders Inc., Lamberton, Minn. This feeder-to-finish beef finishing facility is owned by Warren, Maxine and Mark Pankonin. When the Pankonins built their original barn for 1,200 head, they intended their operation to function as a grow yard and to haul cattle 5 miles away for finishing. However, as they were building, they decided to become a feeder-to-finish operation.
Eventual expansions included a mono-slope barn in 2000 for 1,800 head; a deep-pit barn for 800 head; and a second deep-pit facility in 2016, again for 800 head.
Raising cattle in two styles of barns gives Mark the chance to see which one might be more efficient.
“In winter, I give the advantage to the pack barn,” he says. “We try to keep cattle warm with the pack.”
Investment was higher, too, for the deep-pit-floor slat barns. However, slats are nearly labor-free.
“We have only four guys taking care of roughly 4,400 cattle — 1,100 head per man,” he adds.
The Pankonins grow about 60% of the feed for their cattle. The manure generated provides 100% of the phosphorus and potassium needed for crops. and around 60% of the nitrogen.
• Extended Ag Services Inc., Lakefield, Minn. The business is a family-owned research-based agronomy and consulting service with offices in Minnesota, Iowa and South Dakota. The business was established in 2004 by Jim Nesseth, a former county Extension agent, who originally worked out of a home office for 12 years.
“We offer three services,’ said Andy Nesseth, Jim’s son. “We do feedlot permitting, manure and nutrient management planning, and we offer complete agronomic services.” The company also does its own plot research, and planted five corn and three soybean plots this summer.
When it comes to permitting, the Nesseths and their staff must know regulations affecting farmers in three states, as well as individual counties in Minnesota.
“There are to levels to permit — county and state — and it breaks down in [herd] size,” Andy says. If a permit is for an operation under 1,000 head, county rules apply. However, in Iowa, there are no county ordinances, so operations fall under state rules only. In South Dakota, federal rules apply if an operation is more than 1,000 head.
At the time of the tour, heavy rainfall hit in southwest Minnesota and Iowa, causing major flooding. Water discharge rules were in the news as well as how permits allow some exemptions for letting water go through a system.
“We’re working on developing a mobile tool to track rainfall,” Andy added. “It will make compliance easier.”
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