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Producers learn from Extension specialists at Barry County Soils and Crops Conference

Friday, March 5, 2010

Agronomy specialist Tim Schnakenberg talked about weighing weed control against the cost during the Barry County Soils and Crops Confernece in Butterfield. [Times Photo by Murray Bishoff]
Several of the major recurring questions faced by agriculture producers were discussed at the 81st annual Barry County Soils and Crops Conference, held recently in Butterfield. Three University of Missouri Extension service specialists and a biologist from Columbia offered views but not necessarily definitive answers for local producers.

Wesley Tucker, an Extension agriculture business specialist from Bolivar, said determining the right weight to sell a calf is "the million dollar question." The number one answer economists give is "It depends." Tucker agreed factors like time of year and the price of corn can affect the answer.

"It all boils down to the value of the weight gain versus the cost of the gain, the price you pay for the animal and the price you hope to get for it," Tucker said.

Selling a 205-day-old calf may be just as profitable for a cow-calf producer as it is for a stocker who raises that calf to over 500 pounds. Tucker said the biggest mistake producers make is presuming they will earn more per pound for a bigger animal.

With lightweight cattle worth more in the spring, Tucker suggested trying a different cycle, breeding cattle in the fall instead of the spring to take greater advantage of the best grass growth in spring and better market prices. There are studies that show calves left out on the cow far longer than the typical practice outgained those taken away and put on specific diet regimens.

"The most profitable producers are flexible," Tucker said. "When pastures are good, they use them. When they're brown, they're not good. Let your forage dictate what weight to sell your calves at."

Eldon Cole, livestock specialist from Mt. Vernon, talked about trying to use cultivated corn fields as forage pastures for cattle. The idea is that picking the corn will leave enough in the field to provide a significant food supply.

"I'm not sure we're looking at stalk fields that have quite the quality they have in Iowa and Nebraska," Cole said. "Good grazing stalk fields last for 30 days. After 45 days, it's just a place for a cow to stand."

As a rule of thumb, Cole suggested one acre of 100 bushel corn stalks will carry a 1,000-pound beef cow for 30 days. A higher stalk population could supply more gain that could carry a cow for 45 to 60 days.

Lease rates for excellent quality stalks can run from $3 to $10 per acre. The cost of hauling the animals, water and fencing should be considered as well.

Cole said the University of Nebraska has a computer program that will calculate whether costs make it worthwhile to haul cattle to a corn field. Corn stalks themselves are not very nutritious, but spraying stalks with anhydrous ammonia can boost their value as it does for hay, Cole added.

Dan McMurtry, wildlife biologist for the United States department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, in Columbia, spoke about minimizing wildlife damage on the farm from a variety of sources. McMurtry's specialty is feral hogs, which are spreading rapidly.

"Hogs are not likely to hurt people," McMurtry said, "but it's like having a bunch of grizzly bears running around."

The most typical damage from hogs is rooting up pastures, digging for grubs and insects. The holes created by the hogs become seedbeds for thistles and make footing treacherous for cattle. "Hog control can't be done halfway," McMurtry said. "You must be persistent and creative. If we had three to five people, and all they do is hog work, we could resolve this in five years. If the public demands it, we can do it, or we'll end up like Texas."

McMurtry also discussed the benefits of trapping and using lots of corn as bait. If caught, hogs must be killed and can be contributed to Share Your Harvest. Like any wild animal, feral hogs have to be well cooked, McMurtry cautioned, as they are "a reservoir of diseases."

Voles were another topic McMurtry covered. Small and living in colonies, voles are active year round. Their teeth grow constantly, requiring them to chew to grind the teeth down.

"Seventy percent of the vole population will die in a year," McMurtry said. "To kill them you must wipe them out."

McMurtry suggested deep harrowing to get rid of root content in the ground and removing the food supply. Zinc phosphide works will as a poison if placed underground in pellets, especially along fence rows. McMurtry advised doing a sample trapping before and after treating the ground to see if the treatment worked or the expense was justified.

Local farmers reported having dirt piles up to three fee high created by vole communities and no amount of harrowing dissipated them. McMurtry said he had never heard of a population so persistent.

Agronomy specialist Tim Schnakenberg talked about reducing weeds in pastures. Spraying is not always necessary, especially for hay. Cattle will eat many weeds and find them nutritious. Spraying for thistles and other invasive weeds is important, Schnakenberg said.

At times brushhogging can control weeds but will spread blackberries and sumacs. Schnakenberg said pastures may be in greater need of fertilizer like phosphorous than weed control. He advised soil testing and proper timing when herbicides are used.

The committee organizing the conference included Scott Cupps, Kent Arnaud, Francis Washick, Emil Rosewicz and James Taylor.

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