By Harley Buchholz
"If we didn't get satisfaction (in farming) we wouldn't be doing it," says beef grower Roger Krans. He's hinting that he and Rita, his wife of 49 years, both retired educators, put in long hours on their 190-acre farm at Florence. Talking with them leaves an impression that they enjoy the labor as much as the potential for income.
They pay careful attention to feed quality, baling hay on 130 owned and another 75 rented acres and grazing their small, mostly Angus herd on the remaining 60 acres of their own farm. They've just installed an NRCS grazing program with paddocks of 8-10 acres. A pasture walk is planned in September.
Even more important than feed quality is the health of their 15-cow, 15-calf, 2-yearling-heifer herd.
"I think we classify health as No. 1," says Rita, who handles the deworming, vaccinating and weaning. "When mom has that baby and I see she's a good mom and that calf is up in 15 minutes" Rita says she's happy. "The less you have to do to help the better off they are and the better off you are. If you lose a calf it's big bucks."
She does two types of deworming.
"Keep parasites down," she advises, to help with weight gain and keep the cows in top condition. She's also careful to wean calves several weeks before they're sold.
Rita, who grew up on a dairy farm and remembers hand milking, is really in charge, says her husband.
"I'm the second in command," he laughs.
"We work side by side," often early morning to near nightfall, Rita exclaims. "We're not afraid. If he's in the field I try to do (the rest of the chores) by myself because you've got to get that hay in."
Small and round bales provide most of the off-season feed for the herd. "All we feed is hay," Roger says, although they buy some mixed grain ration for feeding free choice in the manger of the converted dairy barn on their farm. The barn was converted to a loafing space, he explains, and he feeds in the manger because he likes to have the cattle walk in off pasture so "I have a chance to look at the animals."
With a small herd, Roger and Rita have noted a number of traits shown by cows on pasture and feeding in a loafing barn:
Says Rita, "People don't realize but if they take time to observe..."
* When cows become mothers they wait 2-3 days before bringing the calf into the herd, and often they like to calve in seclusion.
* The mother will call her calf to come to her to nurse, sometimes loudly.
* They're similar to human mothers in that they will only go to their own calf but cows will babysit for other mothers while they go off to graze.
Roger expects to rotate grazing in the new paddocks at least weekly, but notes, "It depends on a lot of things" - including gaining experience with a new system of pasturing.
Michael Stinebrink, NRCS agent for the five-county area that includes Florence, works out of a Rhinelander office and advises interested farmers to "apply now so we can get a contract in place" before the fall deadline for the year. Funding assistance, he says, requires a rotational grazing plan that takes in the number of animals and the period of rotation. "A 3-day rotation is typical," he says. "Seven days is maximum." He warns that funding is not a quick process and says that plans can be put into practice over several years.
Stinebrink adds that while funds are available, "it will be a competition. There's never a guarantee" and more needy farms from standpoints of soil condition and topography get a priority.
Roger and Rita, who were married in 1965, started a dairy farm in 1975, milking up to 33 cows, then turned to beef when Roger retired in 1992. He taught science and math and was a school principal.
"We went to a fair in Norway (Wis.). A farmer was selling Herefords and that's how we got started," Rita notes. Originally they bought feeder calves to raise and sell. But, she says, "the majority came off the truck sick and we said this is not what we want."
They turned to a cow-calf operation and then switched breeds when they found that Angus "sell better. We're mainly Angus now," Rita says, after crossbreeding their original Hereford cows and their offspring. They gave up owning a herd sire and now rent a bull from a registerd Angus breeder and aim for calving in mid to late April and early May.
"We sell at 4 1/2-5 months" in early October, Rita notes, "550-600 pounds." She'd rather sell them at 6 months but aims for the later spring calving because "up here it is harder. If you want calving early it is harder." She likes the October sales and vaccinates before the recommended 6-month age "to give them a little boost."
She taught physical education and biology and took time away from teaching to raise three daughters and a son, all the while working on the farm. The children, all avid 4-Hers when they were young while their mother was a leader, still come around to help when needed.
Rita also raises Quarter horses - she currently has five - but is most proud of Louise, a half-Simmental "and I don't know the rest" brood cow. A gift from a friend nearly 10 years ago, Louise has produced mostly female offspring - "beautiful calves," Rita says. "She raises a beautiful, beautiful calf."
Roger calls Louise "a story in itself. I can walk up to her. When I want to call the cows in from pasture, she's there (to lead them in)." Rita says she'll keep Louise until the cow dies and then will bury her on the farm.
Buchholz lives in Fond du Lac.