Black Ink

Sep 21, 2012

What costs more than buying hay?

Some costs of the drought are easy to calculate.

Angus producers Brenda and Joe Anderjaska are in the thick of the drought, like so many across cattle country.

Like the extra hay that ranchers Joe and Brenda Anderjaska, of Hayes Center, NE, are going to buy this year, it’s those longer-term costs that get a little harder to figure when trying to assign exact values.

I rode shotgun through some of Anderjaska’s summer pastures last Monday. As we looked at their commercial and registered Angus herd, the sky was gloomy. The clouds teased with a few sprinkles, but, like so many times this summer, moved along before offering reprieve.

So the couple is weighing their options, and when they do that, they think behind the fiscal year.

Joe says he’s seen others swath and bale their poor corn stands, but, “That’s slicked off so bad. It’s not going to catch snow; that thing might blow all winter long. We’re going to turn cows into our stalks and see what they can graze.”

Buying hay is expensive, but what is the cost of letting your soil fly away?

They’ve been working their whole career to fine-tune their females. It’s hard to put a value on that.

“The only way you’re going to make a living is if you keep your natural resources and make them better for the next year,” he says.

The logical equation is either find more feed or run fewer critters.

“People are saying, ‘Well, with this drought, sell your cows off and buy them back later.’ I’ve got a lot, a lot of years in history and genetics that I’m not going to just haul to the sale barn and get rid of,” Joe says. “I’ll figure out some way, I don’t care what it is. We’ll probably go through cows really, really hard this fall, but we’re going to try to keep numbers as close as we can.”

It’s pretty difficult to put a value on a quarter of a century of engineering their perfect herd, but they do know they don’t want to start that process over.

They’re securing more hay and looking at grass in the southeast, and thanking their lucky stars that they’ve focused on moderate-framed, efficient cows from the get-go.

“We don’t feed them corn and we don’t feed them silage. They don’t get all these good rations hauled out to them,” Joe says. “We’ve worked really hard to get cows that can convert grass and roughage to pounds as efficiently as possible.”

What are you doing to deal with the drought? Are you looking at any creative ways to keep the cows without breaking the bank?

May your bottom line be filled with black ink. — Miranda Reiman

(“Black ink” is a cattle management column written by Steve Suther and Miranda Reiman of Certified Angus Beef. The column is not designed for strictly Angus producers, and does not necessarily represent the views or opinions of WLJ or its editorial staff.)