Partnering for progress
Monty and Bobbie Jo Williams — and a silent partner who does not want to be identified — have made many improvements in recent years to the ranch that they operate together, and have increased its carrying capacity by 40%.
The Williamses received the South Dakota Farm Bureau’s Achievement Award in 2010.
The Williamses built 20 miles of fence, creating a system where they move cattle to fresh grass every 20 to 30 days. They installed a water system on 3,600 acres. It includes seven miles of pipeline, 13 water tanks and a boost station.
With water sources more evenly distributed, the cattle are better utilizing more of the grass. Also, having more fresh water available has increased calf weights and helped maintain cow health.
• Beginning ranchers have increased the ranch’s carrying capacity by 40%.
• They controlled weeds and developed water sources.
• A new barn reduces the Williamses’ risk of calving losses.
They improved control of noxious and invasive weeds. Because some of their land is too rough for a pickup or boom sprayer and there are too many acres for a four-wheeler sprayer, they hired an aerial applicator to spray weeds.
Controlling weeds has increased grass production and has helped re-establish native grasses.
One of their best decisions recently, Monty says, was to fertilize hay ground. He applied about 30 pounds of actual nitrogen on all their meadows. As a result, they have produced more hay than they need for their livestock and have been able to sell a portion of the crop.
They started creep feeding calves in 2006, using a commercial product. It has paid dividends, especially in 2010, when excessive rain in late spring and early summer reduced grass protein content. Calf weaning weights were generally down 30 to 50 pounds from the 10-year average in the area, but the Williamses held their weights at about 625 pounds, the average for the past four years.
The Williamses also upgraded equipment and facilities to improve productivity and efficiency. For instance, they switched from a twine to a net-wrap baler, which doubled their baling capacity.
Replacing the feed wagon with a bale processor was also a good move, Monty says. It eliminated the need to grind hay, and it reduced hay waste.
They built a 66- by 120-foot calving barn on the ranch headquarters after the spring of 2009, when three blizzards occurred within 10 days of each other. The barn includes living quarters, a calving pen and individual stalls.
The Williamses are finding many more uses for the barn than calving. It’s been a shelter for cows during winter storms. They’ve also branded calves, stored machinery and exercised horses in it.
The Williamses redesigned and expanded the cattle handling facilities, too. At the ranch headquarters, they replaced the corral’s old wood posts and planks with new railroad tie posts and steel guardrails. To work cattle in pastures, they bought two portable load chutes and panels.
“We generally have cattle in three to four different locations at any given time over 20 miles from headquarters. This upgrade in equipment not only saves us time, but is also less stressful for the livestock,” Bobbi Jo says.
Since 2008, the Williamses have forward-contracted weaned calves and yearlings to feedlots by using video marketing and private-treaty sales.
“It’s something new, and it has worked well for us,” Monty says. “We’re always looking for an opportunity to lock in a profit.”
This article published in the January, 2012 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.