Category: Uncategorized

Fenceless Targeted Grazing Using Supplement Blocks

By   /  December 3, 2018

Sometimes landscape terrain and size makes temporary fencing too expensive or difficult to set up. Here’s an alternative that I’ve used successfully. From November of 2015 – an alternative to fencing that still directs your animals where you want them.

When Derek Bailey began looking at ways to move animals across landscapes it was because he wanted a way to protect riparian areas from damage due to overgrazing. He and his fellow researchers set low-moisture supplement blocks on ungrazed uplands and then herded the cattle to the area.  “We were flabbergasted! We were just terribly surprised,” he said, when they found that went from spending 1% of their time in the study plot, to them spending 32% of their time within 600 yards of the low-moisture supplement blocks. It got them thinking about how ranchers could use this tool to improve the quality of their rangelands for livestock and wildlife while improving profits at the same time.

Derek describes the results of his work in this 19 minute video. In case you’ve got a slow connection, I’ve included the video’s highlights below along with tips for getting started with low-moisture blocks.

The video is part of a SARE-funded grant I worked on with Beth Burritt of Utah State University. Our focus was on sharing ways that folks can use animal behavior to accomplish their goals rather than spending money on equipment and infrastructure.

What’s a Low-Moisture Supplement Block?

The product is made by heating up molasses and then cooling it into a very hard block that can only be licked, not bitten or chewed. Different manufacturers have different recipes but in general they all provide additional energy, protein and vitamin and minerals. They were originally created to be a supplement to low quality forage. They work because the protein in the supplement feeds the rumen’s microbes. That gives the microbes the ability to break down mature/dry forage and turn it into something useable.

The positive feedback from the nutrition in the block and the nutrition that animals can make from licking it explains why low-moisture blocks are a better attractant than salt. Derek explains:

“A lot of people have asked me over the years, wouldn’t salt work just as well? It’s a lot cheaper and we put it out there anyway. And my answer is ‘Sure salt helps. But it’s not very persuasive. It’s not very powerful.” These maps, showing the movements of radio-collared cows demonstrate what he’s talking about.  The pink dots on the first map show where cows grazed in relationship to the placement of the low-moisture blocks.  The blue dots on the second map show that grazing was much more dispersed when there was only salt placed in the pasture.

Map of grazing with low-moisture blocks placed in the top center of the map.

Map of grazing when salt was placed in the upper center of the map (see the 2 white dots).

Derek also found out that low-moisture blocks were better attractants than either hay or range cake. As Derek says:

“Low moisture blocks last a long time, so they’re always there. But if you feed something like hay or cake, animals will readily come, eat it all up and spend about an hour a day where we feed. But if we put a low-moisture block they’ll spend 5 hours within 100 yards of the location.” He also notes that feeding hay or cake requires a lot more time and money to deliver.

Are Low-Moisture Blocks For You?

Find out by asking yourself some questions. First, do you have a forage quality problem? The answer is yes if you look out at your pastures and your grass is not green and you see lots of dry, mature forage.  Like this picture from the video:

Low Quality Forage

Next, do you have a distribution problem?  Are there areas of your range or pasture that are rarely used? Derek’s review of pastures in Montana and in New Mexico showed that in large pastures with rough or steep terrain about 1/3 of the pasture received very little grazing. If that’s the case in your pasture, what would happen if you could use that pasture? Derek figures that using that pasture could extend the grazing season or allow more cattle to be run on the same amount of pasture.

Is It Economical?

Rangeland Economist, Dr. Alan Turrell puts it this way, “If you can replace relatively high-priced hay by staying out on rangeland longer because of feeding the block then that was a very valuable, economical tool.” Ranchers like Melvin Armstrong who participated in one of the studies in Montana said that using low-moisture blocks allowed them to use rangeland that hadn’t been used in the 4o years he’d been running his ranch. But specifics about the costs will vary by location and forage conditions at different ranches. Turrell suggests that ranchers do what they normally do: figure out what the cost is compared to the potential benefit in gain and reduced winter forage costs to determine what will work best in their particular case. To make that easier, here’s an Xcel-based calculator where you can plug in the cost of winter feed and compare it to the cost of using low-moisture blocks to extend the grazing season.

How Do You Use Low-Moisture Blocks?

Here are Derek’s tips for being successful:

Cows lick molasses block1. Make sure the animals know what the blocks are before you begin.
“You can’t expect a cow to walk a long ways if they don’t know what the product is,” says Derek. They introduced the blocks to their herd at calving season when the cows were close to the home place. Then when they saw it out on range they knew what it was and they were more likely to travel long distances, up a steep hill to go eat it.

2. There has to be something around the block for them to graze.

3. Show your animals where the block is.
You can place the block and then herd the cows to it the first time so that they know where it is. Then they’ll return on their own to eat it. Once cattle know where a block is, you can place subsequent blocks in a succession, 200 yards or so from the first one, working your way across the landscape. Just don’t put the new block too far from the old one, or they may not find it. Also, the more mountainous your terrain, or the more trees you have, the more you need to do to make sure your herd knows where you are putting new blocks. In Montana, where it was fairly open, Derek found that the cattle would follow the paths where he had driven his vehicle to drop off the next tub. Other researchers have trained cattle to recognize a flag that they placed near the low-moisture block. When the cows saw the flag, they headed over to find their new block. The flag could then be used to move cattle easily to new locations. Finally, Derek says, “You don’t have to show every single animal.  If you show a fourth to a third of the herd, the rest will soon learn where it is.

How Much Product Do You Need?

4wheeler and trailer hauling supplementDerek has found that one 250 pound supplement tub will last 25 cows 2 weeks. But if you can’t drive to your location, you’ll need to consider the smaller size tubs and adjust your quantities accordingly. Derek has hauled smaller tubs on pack horse, but normally used the 250 pound tubs, hauling them with a 4-wheeler and a trailer.

Ranchers See Success

Participants in the study were very positive about the results.  One noted that it kept his cows in a part of the pasture that was rarely used, giving rest to other areas that were typically grazed hard. Another said it gave him summer pasture that he wouldn’t otherwise have, and without that he’d graze 400 less cattle and one less family would be able to make a living at the ranch.

Figuring If It Works For You

Beth Burritt at Utah State University put together a couple of Xcel based calculators to help you do the math for figuring out how much nutrient you need and how much supplementing with low moisture block might compare to feeding hay during the winter. You can download them below and use them to see how low moisture blocks might help you out.

Nutrient Reqs and Costs

Click to download this calculator and try it out.

8 Things Every Person Should Do Before 8 A.M.

I understand that most Ranchers/Farmers are up and going wat before 8:00 am. This is a list of habits that can be incorporated into your daily routine – that after time may help in your Business, your Family, and your overall Health.

Benjamin Hardy

“We would rather be ruined than changed
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And let our illusions die.” — W. H. Auden

Most people’s lives are a reflection of their past, rather than their future.

For most people, today will look quite similar to tomorrow. 2019 will look similar to 2018.

Most people’s lives are highly predictable. And there’s a very good reason. Your brain is quite literally a “prediction machine”designed to keep you from situations and scenarios filled with uncertainty and possibility of failure.

According to several psychologists, the foundation of all fears is the “unknown.” We want our lives to be predictable. We don’t want to deal with the intense emotions involved in doing something new and different.

Trying something new and attempting to change your life will, without a doubt, cause anxiety. But according to the philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, “To venture causes anxiety, but not to venture is to lose one’s self. Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.”

In order to move forward in your life, you’ll need to embrace difficulty and uncertainty — or what you might typically consider “anxiety” which Kierkegaard called the “dizziness” of freedom.

Embracing a bigger future is how you change. And according to Albert Einstein, “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”

The only way to change is to stop explaining your life by your past and to start explaining your lifebased on your future.

You get to design your life and your future. But in order to do so, you must stop living from your past.

Today can’t be the same as what happened yesterday.

If you really want to get healthy, then you probably can’t eat today what you ate yesterday.

Stop repeating the past.

Rather than repeating the behavior of your past, you need to act today based on the life you want to have tomorrow.

If you wait for tomorrow to start acting how you should today, then you really are just repeating yesterday. As Professor Harold Hill has said — “You pile up enough tomorrows, and you’ll find you are left with nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays.”

Developing Confidence And Changing Your Life

You cannot have confidence in your life without positively moving forward toward a bigger and better future.

If you’re days, weeks, and years are a repeating of the past, then you’re not confident.

Living a comfortable and predictable life is actually a clear reflection of your lack of confidence.

You can only have confidence after you’ve begun living a better life — and then, that confidence allows you to think bigger about what is possible.

Confidence is the byproduct of prior success. This is one of the reasons it is completely essential that you begin your morning with a routine.

The purpose of a morning routine is to get yourself moving toward your grand and exciting future. If you don’t have an exciting future that you’re working toward, then you are literally stuck in the past. And when stuck in the past, you cannot change your life, but only repeat the patterns that got you here.

When you repeat the patterns that got you here, you’ll have a lot of empty yesterdays.

When you start the day in a higher and more powerful way, you’ll immediately begin turning your future a different direction from your past.

With this short morning routine, your life will quickly change.

It may seem like a long list. But in short, it’s really quite simple:

  • Wake up
  • Get confidence and motivation
  • Get inspired and connected
  • Get your body moving
  • Act courageously
  • Create something
  • Put a little energy into your key relationships

Let’s begin:

1. Get A Healthy 7+ Hours of Sleep

The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) conducted surveys revealing that at least 40 million Americans suffer from over 70 different sleep disorders. Not only that, 60 percent of adults, and 69 percent of children, experience one or more sleep problems a few nights or more during a week.

In addition, more than 40 percent of adults experience daytime sleepiness severe enough to interfere with their daily activities at least a few days each month — with 20 percent reporting problem sleepiness a few days a week or more.

On the flip side, getting a healthy amount of sleep is linked to:

  • Increased memory
  • Longer life
  • Decreased inflammation
  • Increased creativity
  • Increased attention and focus
  • Decreased fat and increased muscle mass with exercise
  • Lower stress
  • Decreased dependence on stimulants like caffeine
  • Decreased risk of getting into accidents
  • Decreased risk of depression
  • And tons more… google it.

The very act of waking up earlier will create an enormous sense of motivation in your life.

Like confidence, motivation is the byproduct of action. You can’t be motivated without taking positive steps forward toward a desired future.

As Harvard psychologist, Jerome Bruner said, “You’re more likely to act yourself into feeling than feeling yourself into action.”

Waking up early has the power of making you “psychologically bulletproof.”

If you wake up early and — rather than getting sucked into the distraction of your smartphone or the addiction to stimulants — you start vividly imagining your desired future and boldly acting toward that future, then your life will quickly change. It’s not rocket science. It just takes having something worth striving for and taking action.

Motivation is something you must create every day. You can only be motivated if you’re moving forward.

2. Prayer and Meditation to Facilitate Clarity and Abundance

“When you change the way you see things, the things you see change.” — Dr. Wayne Dyer

After waking from a healthy and restful sleep session, prayer and meditation are crucial for orienting yourself toward the positive. What you focus on expands.

Prayer and meditation facilitate intense gratitude for all that you have. Gratitude is having an abundance mindset. When you think abundantly, the world is your oyster. There is limitless opportunity and possibility for you.

People are magnets. When you’re grateful for what you have, you will attract more of the positive and good. Gratitude is contagious.

Gratitude may be the most important key to success. It has been called the mother of all virtues.

If you start every morning putting yourself in a space of gratitude and clarity, you will attract the best the world has to offer, and not get distracted.

3. Write In Your Journal For 5–15 Minutes

“Hope looks forward. Faith knows it has already received and acts accordingly.” — Florence Shinn

When you write down your dreams in vivid detail, you begin to engage both your conscious and subconscious minds. Drawing out your dreams in the form of a mind-map is also very powerful for engaging both sides of your brain.

Writing down your dreams and deeply visualizing them will make them more emotional for you.

Until your dreams become emotional, they won’t be powerful enough. You need to reconstruct your identity and memory by developing a new and emotionally-driven vision of your future.

As you write your dreams down every single day, write down the ways in which you will actually achieve those dreams.

As you write down your dreams and goals, the right people will start popping into your mind. A key part of your success will be learning how to position yourself such that you can connect and collaborate with the right WHO’s.

You’ll need to first develop lots of personal capability yourself in order to be someone worth connecting and collaborating with.

You need to:

  • Make a firm and committed decision about what you want to become a master of
  • Embrace fully the “process” of development
  • Only care about what certain people think and ignore everyone else
  • Become so good you cannot be ignored
  • Help the right people further their goals
  • Invest in the right mentorships
  • Make it about your mentor’s goals
  • Be a giver
  • Never lose track of your WHY
  • Never become complacent about the success you experience
  • Make huge requests
  • Ask to collaborate with your heroes once you’ve established credibility and helped them in incredible ways

All of this stuff can and should happen in your journal long before it occurs in reality. You then act and continue acting in powerful ways and watch as your journal entries become more vivid and clear. Watch as your goals become realities quicker and quicker and quicker.

4. Hard Physical Activity

Despite endless evidence of the need for exercise, only one-third of American men and women between the ages of 25 to 64 years engage in regular physical activity according to the Center for Disease Control’s National Health Interview Survey.

If you want to be among the healthy, happy, and productive people in the world, get in the habit of regular exercise. Many people go immediately to the gym to get their body moving. I have lately found that doing yard work in the wee hours of the morning generates an intense inflow of inspiration and clarity.

Whatever your preference, get your body moving.

Exercise has been found to decrease your chance of depression, anxiety, and stress. It is also related to higher success in your career.

If you don’t care about your body, every other aspect of your life will suffer. Humans are holistic beings.

5. Act Courageously

“A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.” — Tim Ferriss

You don’t have to constantly be battling your fears. Actually, Darren Hardy has said that you can be a coward 99.9305556% of the time (to be exact). You only need to be courageous for 20 seconds at a time.

Twenty seconds of fear is all you need. If you courageously confront fear for 20 seconds every single day, before you know it, you’ll be in a different socio-economic and social situation.

Make that call.

Ask that question.

Pitch that idea.

Post that video.

Whatever it is you feel you want to do–do it. The anticipation of the event is far more painful than the event itself. So just do it and end the inner-conflict.

In most cases, your fears are unfounded. As Seth Godin has explained, our comfort zone and our safety zone are not the same things. It is completely safe to make an uncomfortable phone call. You are not going to die. Don’t equate the two. Recognize that most things outside your comfort zone are completely safe.

You can’t change your life without courage.

Courage is always required to get from where you currently are to where you want to be. As Mastin Kipp has said, “Unless you’re in mortal danger, fear is a compass showing you where to go.”

6. Create Something (Eat The Frog!)

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” — Sir Ken Robinson

You’re not rewarded in life for what you know. Instead, you’re rewarded in life for what you create. You must take your knowledge and experiences and do something with them. You need to find a creative outlet that allows you to build a body of work.

In order to do truly creative work, you must embrace the unknown. As Seth Godin said, “If you’re willing to do something that might not work, you’re closer to becoming an artist.” Creativity is highly personal and emotional. Good art is honest. And art can be anything — it can be a business, it can be writing, it can be coding. It needs to be something that is personal to you.

You have to be willing to try something beyond what you’ve ever done before. If you wake up every day and begin doing highly creative work toward your biggest dreams and ambitions, you’ll begin living a rare and incredible life.

In order to make millions of dollars and stop living the 9–5, you must become a creator. You need to become a master at what you do. The morning time is the best time to creatively work since your brain is most creative first thing in the morning and your mind isn’t muddled by all the happenings of the day.

Mark Twain once wrote, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” That quote has become a principle that many successful people apply. The idea is simple: put first things first. Do the hardest and most creative thing first thing in the morning. If you don’t do your most important work first thing in the morning, you probably will never get it done. The day will begin to take on whatever form it does, and you’ll be left with another day stuck in the same place you were before.

If, however, you do eat that frog every single day, you’ll begin to see something truly magical happen in your life. You’ll begin living a creative and harmoniously passionate life. You’ll begin to create things that other people want. You’ll begin to feel more zest and passion for life. You’ll begin to dream bigger and imagine how you can turn your art into a business, such that you can make money by creating value for people in the most personal way you possibly can.

Ideally, you should try to spend at least 90 minutes per morning working on a creative project that directly translates to your ideal future and the dreams you’re trying to live. If you can give yourself more time, all the better. But shoot for 90 focused minutes of creation. Again, your phone should still be on airplane mode. You should not have checked email or social media.

7. Listen to/Read Uplifting Content

Ordinary people seek entertainment. Extraordinary people seek education and learning. It is common for the world’s most successful people to read at least one book per week. They are constantly learning.

I can easily get through one audiobook per week by just listening during my commute to school and while walking on campus.

Taking even 15–30 minutes every morning to read uplifting and instructive information changes you. It puts you in the zone to perform at your highest.

Over a long enough period of time, you will have read hundreds of books. You’ll be knowledgeable on several topics. You’ll think and see the world differently. You’ll be able to make more connections between different topics.

8. Invest In Your Key Relationships

In addition to moving your own life forward, you’ll want to deepen the connections with those you love.

Your relationships are a very clear indicator of your quality of life and character.

Relationships should be viewed as an investment rather than a cost. When they are viewed as an investment, then you start putting more into them. You start seeing their potential for growth and development.

When you invest in key relationships — both personal and professional — your life starts to change. According to Joe Polish, “Life gives to the giver and takes from the taker.”

If during your mornings, you proactively do something kind, thoughtful, and useful to someone important in your life, you’ll feel far more joy. You’ll also likely make huge progress toward your goals, because the more successful you become, the more your success depends on your relationships.


After you’ve done this, no matter what you have for the rest of your day, you’ll have done the important stuff first. You’ll have put yourself in a place to succeed. You’ll have inched toward your dreams.

Because you’ll have done all these things, you’ll show up better in life. You’ll be better at your job. You’ll be better in your relationships. You’ll be happier. You’ll be more confident. You’ll be more bold and daring. You’ll have more clarity and vision.

Your life will shortly change.

You can’t have mornings like this consistently without waking up to all that is incongruent in your life. Those things you despise will meet their demise. They’ll disappear and never return.

You’ll quickly find you’re doing the work you’re passionate about.

Your relationships will be passionate, meaningful, deep, and fun!

You will have freedom and abundance.

The world, and the universe will respond to you in beautiful ways.

UNL Cow-Q-Lator

An Excel worksheet with Examples comparing the cost of TDN and Crude Protein in different feeds considering transportation and handling costs with losses. It also calculates the feed needed and total cost given herd size and days fed.

This is the Goto software that will give you the Best idea on using your available resources to combine them – Making sure your Livestock are getting the right balance in their DIET – while keeping your costs Low.

Click Here for Link to Cow-Q-Latro

Replacement Heifer BCS

Calving BCS is the key to young cow success

Nov 27, 2018

Most areas of the Southern Plains have had adequate summer forage to allow pregnant replacement heifers to be in excellent body condition going into late fall and winter. Now producers are faced with the challenge of maintaining body condition on the replacement heifers through the calving season and into next spring.

A first-calf heifer’s body condition score (BCS) at calving is the key to her success in the herd. Body condition (or amount of fatness) is evaluated by a scoring system that ranges from 1 (severely emaciated) to 9 (very obese).

Research datasets have shown conclusively that young cows that calve in thin body condition but regain weight and condition going into the breeding season do not rebreed at the same rate as those that calve in good condition and maintain that condition into the breeding season.

The following table from Missouri researchers illustrates the number of days between calving to the return to heat cycles depending on body condition at calving and body condition change after calving.

Notice that none of the averages for cows that calved in thin body condition were recycling in time to maintain a 12-month calving interval. Cows must be rebred by 85 days after calving to calve again at the same time next year. This data clearly points out that young cows that calve in thin body condition (BCS=3 or 4) cannot gain enough body condition after calving to achieve the same rebreeding performance as 2-year old cows that calve in moderate body condition (BCS = 5.5) and maintain or lose only a slight amount of condition.

The moral of this story is: “Young cows must be in good (BCS = 5.5 or better) body condition at calving time to return to estrus cycles soon enough after calving to maintain a 365-day calving interval.”

Oklahoma scientists used 81 Hereford and Angus x Hereford heifers to study the effects of body condition score at calving and post-calving nutrition on rebreeding rates at 90- and 120-days post-calving. Heifers were divided into two groups in November and allowed to lose body condition or maintain body condition until calving in February and March. Each of those groups was then re-divided to either gain weight and body condition post-calving or to maintain body condition post-calving.


Calving BCS is the key to young cow success - chart
Predicted number of days (d) from calving to first heat as affected by body condition score at calving and body condition score change after calving in 2-year-old beef cows. (Body condition score scale: 1 = emaciated; 9 = obese)


Calving BCS is the key to young cow success
Figure 1. Post-calving body condition change of heifers with body condition >5 or <5 at calving and fed to gain or maintain weight. 120-Day pregnancy rates (percent) are indicated on the right side of the graph lines.

Figure 1 illustrates the change in body condition and weight of heifers that calved in a body condition score greater than 5 or those that calved in a body condition score less than or equal to 4.9. The same pattern that has been illustrated in the other experiments is manifest clearly with these heifers. Thin heifers that were given ample opportunity to regain weight and body condition after calving actually weighed more and had greater body condition by eight weeks than heifers that had good body condition at calving and maintained their condition into and through the breeding season.

However, the rebreeding performance (on the right side of the legend of the graph) was significantly lower for those that were thin (67 percent) at parturition compared to heifers that were in adequate body condition at calving and maintained condition through the breeding season (91 percent).

Again, post-calving increases in energy and therefore weight and body condition gave a modest improvement in rebreeding performance, but the increased expense was not adequately rewarded. The groups that were fed to “maintain” post-calving condition and weight received 4 pounds of cottonseed meal supplement (41 percent crude protein) per day.  The cows in the “gain” groups were full-fed a complete growing ration (12 percent CP). Both groups had free choice access to grass hay.

The improvement in reproductive performance (67 percent pregnant vs. 36 percent pregnant) of the thin 2-year-old heifers may not be enough to offset the large investment in post-calving feed costs. Pre-calving feed inputs required to assure the heifers were in adequate body condition at calving would be substantially less than the costs per head that was spent on the thin heifers after calving.

Other datasets have shown conclusively that cows that calve in thin body condition but regain weight and condition going into the breeding season do not rebreed at the same rate as those that calve in good condition and maintain that condition into the breeding season. Make certain that the supplement program is adequate for your young cows to be in good body condition this spring. — Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University emeritus extension animal scientist

Oklahoma State University emeritus extension animal scientist

Turning common heifer development logic on its head

Most of you, because of “expert” advice, have been over-developing your heifers. Let’s throw out everything you have learned and start fresh to get the most efficient cows in your herd.

Burke Teichert | Nov 28, 2018

From my earliest memories of reading farm magazines and attending cattle management conferences or seminars until now, there have been many ideas and opinions about how to develop and select replacement heifers. I am about to offer a perspective that will differ from most of what you have heard or read during these many years. I have interspersed much of it in these articles during my time as a writer. Now I will try to put it in this one piece.

Heifer development not only can be, but should be much simpler than we typically make it.  Selection and development go hand in hand. They facilitate each other.

Most of you, because of “expert” advice you have received, have been over-developing your heifers. You have selected the biggest and prettiest heifers based on biased and subjective criteria. I want to suggest that you change that approach.

You will need to start where you are with the cattle that you have; so most of you will want to take a few years to get to the point I suggest. Each step will tell you how big the next step may be.

I think nearly every herd has some good cows. My definition of good—those that get pregnant, deliver and raise a good, not necessarily excellent, calf every year without you ever touching them except for routine immunizations. The rest are inferior. In the long run, you want those cows to be the mothers of your replacement heifers; so raise more of them.

How do you do it? You keep nearly all of your heifer calves. You only remove the few that are obviously challenged or inferior.

This will usually be less than 5% (maybe not at first, but keep most of them). You then shorten the heifer breeding season as fast as you dare until your bull and/or AI exposure is not more than 30 days, ideally 24.

If you have calving dates from previous years, you can see what percentage bred in 24, 45 or 65 days and can get an idea of how many days to expose this larger group of heifers. Because you will be keeping some later-born heifers and not developing them to gain as rapidly in addition to shortening the breeding season, you will need to expect a lower conception rate.

Now, instead of trying to get the heifers to 65% of expected mature cow weight, 55% will be enough. You may want to take a couple of years to get to that point. However, many have done it quickly.

I hope you see how this more moderate or “minimal” development plays into heifer selection.  With less input and size, the ones that conceive in a short season are truly the good heifers.  They are more closely adapted to your environment.

Now the arguments start to come:

  • I won’t be breeding the best heifers. You don’t know which ones are the best. Let the bulls and the environment tell you which ones are best. They are the ones that get pregnant. There are very few, if any, people that can look and tell which ones will breed.
  • I don’t want to keep that many heifers. Why not? Yearling operations are usually more profitable than cow-calf operations; and you should winter these calves like stockers going to grass. The only added expense is use of the bulls or AI.Open heifers should be nicely profitable. Many people are hesitant to keep more heifers because of the cost of development. If the cost of development is high, that is a problem; and unless you can change that, you shouldn’t be raising your own replacements.

    Don’t tell me that you need to develop your own heifers because they are better. If they were better, you could get a good breeding rate with less development cost. The added value of yearling heifers should be significantly more than the added cost.

  • I would like to use the genomic tools to evaluate the heifers before breeding them.  Why? Those tools might give you some genetic tendency information, but it won’t tell you which ones will get pregnant in the first 24 days. The bulls will.The average heifer calving in the second cycle cannot live long enough for her lifetime production to catch up with the heifers that calve in the first cycle regardless of other genetic differences.
  • That heifer’s mother isn’t good enough to keep the daughter as a replacement. You are selling the wrong one. Sell the mother. If you are using good maternal bulls, the heifer calf should have a good chance of being better than her mother. If you are not using good maternal bulls, you need to find them or raise them or become a terminal breeder.
  • I might soon have more pregnant heifers than I need. Good. Now you have a marketing opportunity. You may sell the excess bred heifers. Or my recommendation is to keep the bred heifers and sell enough late bred cows to make room for the heifers that are going to calve early.Many areas have buyers for cows bred to calve later than your calving season. Also, as you remove late-bred cows, your calving season will get shorter and the latest born heifer calves will be older and more likely to breed. You can see how the positive effects begin to multiply.
  • I don’t think those “underdeveloped” heifers will make good cows. Research done by Rick Funston at the University of Nebraska and Andy Roberts at the Land and Range Research Station in Miles City, Mont., plus a bunch of personal practical experience says that they will make better cows than the ones I am calling “over-developed.”If you want to help them along a little, do it from the time they are diagnosed pregnant as a yearling until they are checked pregnant as a 2-year old. That is the most difficult 12-month period of her life. You would much rather sell an open yearling than an open 2-year-old.

Now let’s ring up the pluses:

  • When you start putting many heifers into your herd that will all calve early in the calving season, you will soon be able to shorten the cow calving season by removing late bred (less efficient and less adapted) cows. As your calving season gets shorter, the latest born heifer calves will be older and more likely to breed. Weaning weights will also increase.
  • In future years, more and more heifers should be eligible breeders.
  • As more of these heifers come into your herd, you will be able to remove the less desirable cows. Soon you will get by with less supplemental feed and have an increased level of herd health.
  • New marketing opportunities will show up. Remember the ranchers who are terminal crossing or should be. They need your excess cows. Even though the late calving cows are a little inferior for you, they could work very well for the terminal breeders, especially after a few years into your program.

Two more points:  I am convinced that the heritability of fertility, under minimal heifer development and reduced cow herd inputs, is significantly higher than the estimates of low heritability that we usually hear. You need to buy or raise bulls that will not undo what you are trying to accomplish with your heifer development and cow culling.

Teichert, a consultant on strategic planning for ranches, retired in 2010 as vice president and general manager of AgReserves, Inc. He resides in Orem, Utah. Contact him at

The Perfect Business Model

I have a great idea for a business!  Let me give you some of the details and then tell me if you will be willing to invest! My idea is to have a grocery store with about 70% less square footage than all my competitors.  We are going to do no advertising in the community; no newspaper advertising, no radio or TV, no mailers to local households. Our selection will be limited with no nationally known brands like Campbell’s Soup or General Mills, in fact we will only have our personal brand or brands you most likely have never heard of or seen before. Oh! And by the way, we will have only 1/10th the inventory available at a full-size supermarket. Are you ready to line up and hand over your money?

I didn’t think so and neither would I, if I didn’t know “the rest of the story.”

The grocery chain I just described is Trader Joe’s. The chain was created almost by accident or fate! The original Joe was Joe Coulombe, a Stanford University graduate who went to work for Rexall Drug Store, a national chain. In the late 1950s Rexall came up with a novel idea, they would start a “convenience” type store that had small square footage and sold necessities (Yes, we are talking a 7-Eleven style convenience store). Their test market was a chain called Pronto Market and started with half a dozen stores in the Los Angeles area. Joe was over the project and firmly believed it was a great idea.

Unfortunately (but fortunately for Joe!) Rexall gave up on the idea in 1958 and instructed Joe to shut down all the stores.  Instead he raised money and bought all the stores (Rexall was happy to get rid of all the locations).

Joe Coulombe grew Pronto Markets to 17 stores before Dallas-based Southland Corporation (creator of the 7-Eleven brand) expanded to Southern California, Joe knew he could never compete with the marketing muscle and economies of scale of 7-Eleven locations. Legend has it that Joe took a trip to Hawaii and came up with the idea of a new kind of grocery store that was laid back and sold specialty items that were organic, quality and well-priced.  He named his stores “Trader Joe’s.” The first store opened in 1967, about the time of the “surf movement” and a new generation of laid-back Americans (especially in California) came along. His timing could not have been better and over 20 years he opened one store per year, all with Hawaiian tropical themes. Yes, his employees wore Hawaiian shirts!

In 1979 Trader Joe’s was bought out by a German grocery magnate named Theo Albrecht. He persuaded Joe to remain and did not change the successful model. So how well has the “no marketing, no advertising, limited choices, off brand” concept worked?  Well, the average Trader Joe’s is twice as profitable per square foot of store space than the large national chains. To its many loyal customers, it is almost a cult. One customer in Kansas City who traveled to California would fill up a large suitcase on each visit. He even set up a Kansas City Facebook page to try and get a location started in Kansas City. By the way, he was successful!

Trader Joe’s management and ownership refuses to give interviews or release any information to anyone and refuses to do any media interviews. They are now up to over 470 locations in 44 states and growing. Here are a few facts about Trader Joe’s:

  • In February 2008, BusinessWeek reported that the company had the highest sales per square foot of any grocer in the United States.
  • The May 2009 issue of Consumer Reports ranked Trader Joe’s the second-best supermarket chain in the United States (after Wegmans)
  • In June 2009, MSN Money released its third annual Customer Service Hall of Fame survey results. Trader Joe’s ranked second in customer service among all companies, not just grocery stores.

A former employee who had owned an advertising agency sold it and, on a whim, went to work for Trader Joe’s with the intent of writing a book. Mark Gardiner became a “crew member” as employees are called but resigned before he published his book knowing the secretive company would fire him.  His book, “Build a Brand Like Trader Joe’s” reveals what Gardiner believes to be the success factors of this remarkable and loved company. (The drum roll please!) Here they are:

  • They only hire friendly people with relationship-oriented personalities (okay, that makes sense but why doesn’t everyone do it?)
  • When you ask for help you are not pointed without emotion to aisle seven, half way down on the right. The crew member, with a smile, walks you to the product, picks it up for you and even gives you details about the product. Before the crew member leaves, he/she offers further assistance.
  • If you don’t like what you bought you can return it at any time, no questions asked for a full “cash” refund.
  • They pay above average wages and offer solid benefits to employees (Yes, that’s right, employees are treated like customers!  Crazy idea!)
  • There are no automatic checkout lines (Yes, you have to talk with friendly people! Going to Trader Joe’s is like going to meet a friend).
  • They encourage interaction with customers.  If you are stocking a shelf you stop what you are doing to assist customers.

Okay, let’s simplify all of this to one thing, “The customer is treated like the most important person in the world while in the store.” I know, too simple, there must be more to it.


Ken Blanchard, the famous business writer and consultant said it best, “Just having satisfied customers isn’t good enough anymore. If you really want a booming business, you have to create raving fans.”

In today’s world, happy customers are your best source of new business, are more powerful that any advertising campaign, and will allow you to grow your business with the greatest profit margin. Happy employees make all this happen! When Circuit City decided to cut staff to save money and cut salaries, they were bankrupt in two years. One of the most powerful brands in the world, Sears, followed the same path and they are on their last breath.

The simplest truths always prevail, put your customer first and the rest falls in place. There is no magic formula, only magical people who go the extra mile and truly care about others.  Look for these people and hire them! You won’t be sorry! (by the way, give these magical people the right to make decisions on the spot to help customers) Are you ready to invest? Me too!

Damaged relationships: the price of a failed succession plan

I have read many articles about how lack of succession planning puts the financial future of farms at risk.

They are attention grabbers and while I agree that the lack of or an ineffectively implemented succession plan can have financial implications, mostly farms survive.

These same articles rarely talk about the hidden price of a failed succession, which is the harm to relationships. Family relationships are on the frontline of the succession process. We have all heard the stories about broken families following botched

If asked, the parents in those families would have said their key goals were “to keep the farm in the family and for the kids not to fight.” And yet fight they did. We all hate it when our kids fight, at whatever age.

In succession planning, there are hard and soft issues. Hard issues are those that can be measured in numbers such as net worth and profitability that can be dealt with in a technical manner.

Soft issues are the human side of the equation where we must understand the dynamics of the people involved. A poorly planned and executed plan may not only suffer negative financial and taxation consequences but can ruin family relationships.

Soft issues?

Soft issues can include unresolved conflict within the family, lack of trust among family members, unrealistic expectations and how to be fair to everyone when only one child wants be a farmer. Other issues are fear of losing control and fear of putting the family wealth and a lifetime’s work at risk.

Farm owners face many difficult questions: how do I deal with unreasonable expectations or feelings of entitlement that children may have? How do I treat those that don’t want to farm? Can I still play a role in the farm business?

Soft issues deserve the same degree of attention as the other issues for an effective plan—and they are often the most challenging.

Communication is key

One of the first steps I take when assisting clients with succession planning is to interview all family members, those actively farming and those who are not.

I want to identify divergent interests but also those areas of common interest and expectations that can be built on to move the plan forward. I also want to identify potential obstacles, often soft issues that are difficult to quantify but can erode trust. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Often when we get down to the detailed planning, it’s mom and dad and the successor at the table but every family member’s view must be represented. Parents instinctively see their children as equals; they love them equally after all.

However, when it comes to the farm, and keeping it in the family, equal distribution of wealth is often impossible. That leads to the “fair versus equal” discussion and communication is the only way reach consensus and harmony.

It’s important to discuss uncomfortable issues and you must make sure that whatever comes out of that process is effectively communicated to all in the family.

You can plan all you like, but unless you communicate effectively around the issue of some children getting more than others, your succession plan could fail on one of its key objectives — family harmony. You may keep the farm in the family, but it will be a divided family.

Why start early?

Although reasons vary as to why people don’t plan for succession or delay it, it typically comes down to what David Maister, in his book Strategy and the Fat Smoker, describes: We put things off because “the reward (and pleasure) is in the future but the disruption, discomfort and discipline needed to get there are immediate.”

For many, the soft issues are especially uncomfortable and parents worry about upsetting the family dynamic.

Time is your friend – use it

In most situations, our clients have identified the successor or successors early on and planning could have begun far sooner, giving the family more options and time to plan and implement.

An early start gives family members the understanding of what to expect when the parents retire. It is important to think of succession planning not as an event but as a process that takes years. The sooner you start the more time you will have to work through the layers, evaluate multiple possibilities and have those important conversations.

Time is an enormous ally in managing the succession process while ensuring family relationships stay intact. Remember, families better their chances of success one conversation at a time.

Jonathan Small is a partner in MNP’s Farm Management Consulting practice in Red Deer, Alta. He can be reached at 1.403.356.1281 or