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Efficiency matters when raising beef cattle

Whether you’re raising a breeding herd or commercial cattle, feeding efficiency and good health matter.

Tom J. Bechman

December 29, 2023

3 Min Read
Dr. Larry Horstman, DVM, right, and his son, Joe Horstman
SEEDSTOCK HERD: Dr. Larry Horstman, a veterinarian (right), and his son Joe operate a 130-cow beef herd, selling breeding stock to other producers. Photos by Tom J. Bechman

Two distinct kinds of cattle operations exist today. Either you have a purebred herd and show and sell breeding stock, or you have a commercial calf-cow operation or feedlot.

“This trend has developed over the last several years, and it will likely become more distinct in the future,” says Dr. Larry Horstman, a veterinarian from West Lafayette, Ind. Horstman and his son, Joe, operate a 130-cow Angus and Simmental beef herd, concentrating on producing and selling breeding stock.

Whichever side of the beef business you choose, one principle applies equally. “You must be efficient and feed correctly,” Horstman says. “We pay attention to how we feed and how well cattle perform. We want to be as efficient as possible.”

Feeding tips

Here are some ideas the Horstmans implement to maintain proper nutrition levels economically:

Rotational grazing. “We give cattle a limited area to graze and rotate them often,” Horstman explains. “We are not as intense at moving cattle as some producers, but our system works for us.”

At their main farm, the pasture is divided into pie-shaped paddocks. Their design makes it easy to supply adequate water and rotate cattle on a regular basis, providing fresh forage and yet giving forage time to recover.

Limit-feeding. “Our cattle perform better when we limit how much feed they eat per day versus letting them eat all they want,” Horstman says. “If you allow it, they will eat far more than they need. It’s less efficient, and in the long run, limited-feeding promotes better health.”

Related:Meet a veterinarian who loves to teach next generation

Tub grinder. Rather than giving cattle unlimited access to big round bales, Horstman prefers grinding feedstuffs and then feeding what he believes the cattle should have.

“The tub grinder is probably the most important piece of equipment we have,” he says. “It also allows us to determine what they eat. If we have very good alfalfa, we may mix in a bale of straw or lesser-quality hay to stretch supplies, but still lets us feed them adequately.”

An auction block made of repurposed arena flooring and cow hide

Sale season

The first Saturday in October means sale time at Horstman Cattle Co. The operation held its 13th annual Factory Direct Elite Female Sale on Oct. 7.

“It’s become an important part of how we market cattle as a seedstock herd,” Horstman says.

The sale is much more than a one-day event, he notes. Because cattle don’t go through the ring, they’re photographed and videotaped in advance. Live cattle are available for viewing in small lots constructed just for that purpose. Cattle can be viewed live both Friday and Saturday.

While there is an auction block and auctioneer, cattle remain in their pens during the sale, viewed on video instead. The sale is also broadcast, with bids both live and online.

“Not bringing cattle through the ring is much easier on people and cattle,” Horstman says.

While a production sale is an effective marketing tool, it has a price tag. Horstman estimates they invest about $500 per head sold just in the sale and merchandising. To learn more, visit horstmancattle.com.

About the Author(s)

Tom J. Bechman

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Tom J. Bechman is editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer. He joined Farm Progress in 1981 as a field editor, first writing stories to help farmers adjust to a difficult harvest after a tough weather year. His goal today is the same — writing stories that help farmers adjust to a changing environment in a profitable manner.

Bechman knows about Indiana agriculture because he grew up on a small dairy farm and worked with young farmers as a vocational agriculture teacher and FFA advisor before joining Farm Progress. He works closely with Purdue University specialists, Indiana Farm Bureau and commodity groups to cover cutting-edge issues affecting farmers. He specializes in writing crop stories with a focus on obtaining the highest and most economical yields possible.

Tom and his wife, Carla, have four children: Allison, Ashley, Daniel and Kayla, plus eight grandchildren. They raise produce for the food pantry and house 4-H animals for the grandkids on their small acreage near Franklin, Ind.

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