Feeding out beef cattle is nothing new for Scott Leedy, but the 110 beef heifers he just put in his family’s feedlot are a first for him and his wife, Taylor. Those cattle are the first group they bought themselves with their own financing.
“We’re in the middle of a transition year,” Scott explains. His dad, Jim, is still planning to help out on the farm, but management and financial responsibilities are shifting to the younger generation. As he and Taylor take on that responsibility, they are looking for ways to continue building on the successes of the past. “I wouldn’t have this opportunity if it weren’t for the four generations before me,” Scott points out.
More responsibilities for couple
Scott and Taylor took on responsibility for crop production at the beginning of the year. They’ll be responsible for the entire beef operation as well, after Jim finishes out a few remaining loads of cattle, Taylor explains, as she looks over the new batch of heifers. “It feels different — in a good way.”
The Leedys farm in Preble County, Ohio, raising about 700 acres of corn and soybeans plus a couple hundred acres of hay. The farm also includes cattle feeding facilities, and they fed out about 900 head last year.
Most of the land is owned by a family trust and protected for agricultural use, with ag easements held by the Three Valley Conservation Trust. The farming operation is set up as an LLC (limited liability company), which holds the equipment, livestock and crops. Scott serves as the managing member of the LLC, and the LLC cash-rents the land and buildings from the family trust.
Besides helping with the farm, Taylor works as a crop insurance specialist with Farm Credit Mid-America. The couple also keeps busy with their two daughters, 3-year-old Tinley and 1-year-old Teagan.
Scott grew up helping on the family farm, and then he returned to the farm after graduating from Ohio State University in 2011. Studying animal science and production agriculture in college has helped him in starting his farming career, he says. “A lot of people’s mindset is that you go to school so you don’t have to farm, but I went to school so I could come back and farm.”
After he returned from OSU, Scott began working with his dad on the farm, gradually taking on more responsibility and bringing his own ideas into the operation. As market conditions have shifted, they’ve changed their cattle operation to maintain profitability.
For instance, the farm used to specialize in preconditioning calves, buying them at around 500 pounds and selling them in uniform lots at about 700 pounds. But a drought in 2012 drove commodity prices higher and reduced profits for preconditioning. Then in 2013 and 2014, the Leedys realized they could come out ahead by sending cattle to feedyards in Nebraska rather than feeding the cattle out themselves. It’s important to keep track of cattle prices and costs to adjust management as conditions change, Scott stresses.
Currently, the Leedys are feeding out beef heifers. Even though fed heifers may sell a little lower than steers, the profit potential can be better, Scott notes. “You can buy a heifer for a dime less (per pound) and sell for a nickel less.” They like getting heifers in at about 750 pounds, and then they feed them to about 1,340 pounds.
Focus on efficiency
When Scott’s dad started feeding cattle, he carried feed in buckets to the feed troughs. As the operation grew, they began hauling total mixed rations (TMRs) to the cattle with feed wagons. But that method was still labor-intensive, requiring two people to feed: one to haul the feed and one to manage the gates. A couple of years ago, they added J-bunks along the outside of their covered feedlots, making it possible for one person to feed.
The bunks are also helping them fine-tune their feeding program. “We can manage the bunks more intensively now,” Scott explains. They start out new groups of cattle with a TMR that includes dry hay, spent grain and minerals. Then they shift to a ration of corn silage, spent grain and minerals. A little corn is added to the ration to finish the cattle.
Usually, Scott feeds 60% of the daily ration in the morning and 40% in the evening, adjusting the ration to get a clean, wet bunk between feedings. The twice-daily feeding program also gives Scott a chance to observe the cattle twice a day, so he can catch sick cattle quickly.
Managing herd health
Adding a hydraulic squeeze chute and Bud Box handling system has helped the Leedys better manage herd health. The squeeze chute keeps cattle still, so they can be checked and treated more easily than with the self-locking headgate they used to use, Scott explains. As cattle are brought in, they are all given de-wormer, mineral supplements and vaccinations. “We want to charge that immune system and get it up to speed,” he explains.
Scott prefers not to treat cattle with antibiotics as they come in unless they show signs of illness. They check each animal’s temperature, and if it’s over 103 degrees F, they treat the heifer. If one has a temperature over 104.5 degrees, they move the animal to a separate pen for closer observation and treatment.
By checking cattle as they come in and then monitoring them closely, the Leedys have been able to nearly eliminate death losses. Last year they lost only one heifer out of about 900, and she was sick when she arrived, Scott notes.
Another benefit of the squeeze-chute handling system is improved safety, Scott adds. With the old headgate, his dad usually got kicked several times every time they worked cattle, he recalls. Now no-one needs to be in the chute with the cattle. “One accident could easily cost more than that chute cost,” he points out.