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Cattlemen say it’s time to expand

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Bob and Delores Ness, Estherville, Iowa. The Nesses have 70 commercial cows, along with a cropping operation. Some years, Bob buys calves to feed out. He’s a soil and water conservation commissioner in his county, and also is on a National Cattlemens Beef Association (NCBA) committee that deals with environmental issues. This week, the head of the USDA soil and water conservation department will here, and Bob has some questions. “I want to know why we have the burn off the vegetation that grows on our buffer strips along rivers and streams. The law says it has to be burned, but doesn’t that defeat the purpose? I want to ask him about that.”


As for products, Bob is looking for new feed additives to add to distillers’ grains (DGs) to reduce the toxic sulfur content. He feeds cows and calves a mixture of ground corn stalks, ground hay, DGs, and supplements. The DGs come from an ethanol plant 45 miles away, at about 50% moisture, and the last load was $70 a ton. Last summer, he was buying DGs for $24 a ton. “When corn goes up, so do the byproducts.” As for money-making ideas, he kept some 2009 corn in storage until last November, and sold it for $5.50 a bushel. “I tell everyone I knew what I was doing, but it was pure luck. Heck, I should have kept it till now, it would be worth $6.50!”


And yes, it’s time to expand the cows, Bob says. “Everybody else is getting out, that’s the time to add a few cows. Our son, Steve, wants to do that, and maybe we can rent a neighbor’s pasture.”


Chuck and Char Feikema, Luverne, Minnesota. They farm with Chuck’s brother and two sons. They have 3,600 calves on feed at a time, and have a farrow-to-finish hog operation. “We’ve come to this cattle convention for 30 straight years,” says Char. “Cattle are Chuck’s first love, and we enjoy the people.”


Cattle are fed ground corn earlage, mixed with cracked shelled corn, a supplement, and DGs. The last batch of DGs from the ethanol plant was $54 a ton in wet form.  “I’m not really here to buy anything,” says Chuck. “Although, I may have a look at a manure truck. With all our livestock, manure is a big part of our fertilizer program (5,000 acres). We could use a new truck spreader.” Most years, the Feikemas feed all the corn they grow. Not this year. The whole farm averaged 220 bushel an acre! “It was phenomenal,” says Chuck. “We will sell some corn this year.” And he says it probably is time to expand, with cattle markets in record territory. They sold fat cattle this week at $1.68 a pound in the meat, which translates to about $1.10 a pound live. “Oh yeah, those cattle will make a nice profit, above average,” he smiles. “But as for expansion, you know the risks are a lot higher now, too. There’s potential for gain, but the potential for loss is also much greater."