Sep 16, 2014
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May 2014 Archive for Noble News and Views

RSS By: The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, Beef Today

The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation is an independent, nonprofit institute headquartered in Ardmore, Okla. Founded in 1945, the Noble Foundation conducts direct operations, including assisting farmers and ranchers, and conducting plant science research and agricultural programs, to enhance agricultural productivity regionally, nationally and internationally.

Coyote control strategy requires goal assessment

May 26, 2014

Written by Josh Gaskamp,

Coyotes (Canis latrans) have long been considered a nuisance for livestock producers and white-tailed deer managers in Texas and Oklahoma. Shooting, trapping, snaring, poisoning and everything in between have been used to reduce coyote populations to comfortable levels. What is a comfortable level? Are historical management practices dictating what level of predator control we conduct on our property?

Coyotes are extremely intelligent animals with keen senses of hearing, sight and smell. They weigh an average of 25 lb. to 40 lb., and their coat color can include greys, reds and browns. They are primarily nocturnal and very opportunistic, feeding on rabbits, rodents, ground-nesting birds and insects. Coyotes also eat carrion, lizards, snakes, fruits, white-tailed deer and feral hogs. Coyotes breed from January through March, with a gestation period of about 63 days and an average litter size of six pups. The coyote’s adaptability allows them to change diets throughout the year to match availability of different prey species as well as utilize a variety of different habitats.The coyote’s range is extensive across the U.S. They can be found throughout Oklahoma and Texas.

In the spring, coyotes can shift their diets to be more venison-heavy in response to fawning. Removing predators can reduce fawn mortality and should be done in areas of declining deer population. However, many deer managers implement control techniques to reduce coyote populations at this time without considering overall deer herd health. The knee-jerk reaction is to control predators when they are eating what you’re managing. However, other techniques can be used to cope with predators without undertaking an intensive predator removal campaign.

First, consider managing habitat. This is often the easiest and most effective practice to implement. Ensuring there is adequate fawning cover will protect many of the fawns. Fawning cover is typically moderate to tall grasses but can occasionally be low-growing brush. Good fawning cover reduces the impact predators can have on a fawn crop.
Second, consider the deer herd. Many deer hunters and managers across Texas and Oklahoma are applying for management permits through their state wildlife departments to harvest more deer. If we truly have an increasing number of deer, maybe we should allow the coyotes to help us manage the population.

If the deer herd has a balanced age structure and sex ratio, then predator swamping occurs. Predator swamping is when all of the fawns are born at the same time, providing only a short period of time for the predators to consume them. Coyotes can only consume so many fawns at once, allowing other deer to reach the age and strength that makes them more capable of escape.

Are coyotes friend or foe? I’d say that depends on your situation. Outline the goals for your property, and take steps to help you best reach them. You may find that coyotes can be an asset on your property.

Key steps facilitate formation of associations

May 19, 2014

Written by Russell Stevens, and Chad Ellis,

With the increased publicity regarding controlled burning and wildlife management associations, some people have expressed interest in forming an association but do not quite know where or how to begin. There are many ways to form an association, but there are some important steps to consider.

To be successful, an association should be a locally led, grassroots effort. Governmental and non-governmental agencies can assist by serving as advisors, providing technical assistance and removing bureaucratic roadblocks; but without local leaders and local involvement, an association will fail – period. Creating and maintaining a locally led association is absolutely the single most important aspect to consider.

There are two basic ways to organize an association and either will work. The first way is to organize loosely with or without officers, and the second is to formally elect officers and develop bylaws and other pertinent information. If the association wants to become a nonprofit corporation such as a 501(c)(3), formal organization or qualifying to become affiliated with an existing nonprofit with the same goals and objectives is required. A 501(c)(3) status makes an association eligible to apply for grants and receive tax-deductible charitable donations.

Many people are uncertain about how to begin, but there are many ways to start forming an association. The following actions may help:

  • Visit neighbors and/or other landowners in the local area to determine level of interest.
  • Contact people involved with similar associations.
  • Organize an informal meeting and meal to discuss interest and potential. Include key landowners or individuals in the community and people with experience in other associations.
  • Generate rough ideas for goals and objectives. Do not get hung up here. There are many possible goals and objectives. Seek everyone’s input, and realize goals and objectives can be adjusted or changed as the association matures.
  • Ask for commitment from key landowners or influential members of the community.
  • Organize a more formal meeting and meal to discuss geographical boundaries and preference of informal or formal structure. Note: a formal structure can be developed later, if needed.
  • Identify several key people to share responsibilities. Successful associations have several people involved with coordinating and scheduling.
  • Be sure to plan meetings and fun events at least once every year and consider incorporating education into these events. Resources such as university, governmental and private agencies are available to help with educational events. A critical role for local leaders is to be sure these events happen and that all members of the association are kept informed.

There are many benefits of forming an association. Major ones include sharing of equipment and labor, management of natural resources such as wildlife habitat and populations over a larger area, and accomplishing or influencing other activities as a result of a group of people working together. It is not easy and requires time, but these benefits are worth it. 

Economic calculations determine acceptable cow price

May 12, 2014

Written by Steve Swigert,

Since recent droughts have caused a lack of available forage in many areas, the incentive to retain heifers and purchase cows has been very low. This situation is coupled with the high value of heifer calves after weaning, preconditioning or the stocker phase. It makes the decision to retain or purchase females extremely difficult. As a result, the cattle inventory has declined to levels not seen since the 1930s and 1940s, and the value of heifer calves has risen to all-time record highs.

With low cow numbers, historic high prices for weaned calves and the cost of cows at record highs for the foreseeable future, this means good, young, producing cows are going to be hard to find. Prices will consistently exceed $2,000 per cow.

How much could cows be worth? Based on $550 annual cow cost, 88 percent calf crop and $180 per hundredweight average price for a 525-pound calf over seven production years, a $2,150 cow/calf pair purchased in the spring of 2014 would have a 10 percent return on investment.

In determining if this investment should be made, producers should ask themselves a few questions. Are more cows needed? Is there enough grass for more cows? Is there a better alternative use for the grass than cows (e.g., retained ownership of owned calves or purchased stockers)? Are the estimates in the previous example higher or lower than your operation? Can financing be secured for cows at the higher price?

If it is determined that cows are the best option, then the decision has to be made when to buy the cows, and what type and age of female. Because of the cow cost and the value of the calves, the timing of the purchase can make a significant difference in the value of the cow (a cow is typically more valuable the closer it is to the sale of a calf). Also the age of the cow will make a difference because younger females will typically have more economic value because they will have more calves.

For example, using the previous assumptions, let us compare the value of an open heifer, bred heifer and first-calf heifer pair. If a first-calf heifer pair is worth $2,150, then a bred heifer would be worth approximately $2,050 and an open heifer (that will be bred in May for spring calving) would be worth approximately $1,450.

All of these factors should be considered when making the decision to buy cows at a time when cow and calf prices are at a premium. It is extremely important to know and understand the ranch’s annual cost to maintain a cow, the percent weaned calf crop and the weaning weight per calf. All these factors will weigh into how much can be invested in a cow and have a reasonable return. 

Cattle sorting skills facilitate management

May 06, 2014

 Written by Ryan Reuter,

Sorting cattle is one of the real arts of animal husbandry. Sorting can be done for many reasons and by many methods.

Often the goal of sorting a group of cattle is to put like kinds together. For instance, one might sort cows from calves, steers from heifers, etc. Sale barns typically sort the load of calves that you bring them so that they will bring the most money. If they can sort your calves into groups of 10 or more head that all match in terms of sex, size and type, then those calves will get a premium. If nothing matches anything else, they have to sort them into singles so that each calf can be presented to the buyer who wants that type.

If you intend to sell a group of feeder calves "in the country," you will likely want to sort that group so that the calves you sell fit your description, and you can keep the calves that are too light for the sale group. In another scenario, you may want to sort thin cows from fatter cows so that you can feed the two groups differently. While rarely needed in a commercial enterprise, cattle in research projects are often sorted randomly into groups so that each group is as much like the other groups as possible. This helps to avoid any bias in the results. In any case, you can see that sorting is a skill that allows for good management decisions to be implemented.

Sorting cattle can be accomplished successfully in many ways. The key is controlling the animals so the behavior of individuals can be managed at will. This is a little different concept than moving herds of cattle around, which is sort of controlling the behavior of the herd as a group. One of the best ways to sort cattle is to put them in an alley about 12 feet wide and sort as they go past the sorter down the alley. The sorter can use a sorting stick (my favorite), a "rattle paddle," an empty sack, a hat or nothing at all to help sort the cattle. If the cattle are gentle, the facilities are in good shape and the sorter is skilled (admittedly, a rare combination), sometimes very subtle movements by the sorter are all that is needed to achieve the desired effect.

Sorting can also be done on horseback (the origin of the sport of cutting) either in pens or out in the open. Dogs can help sort cattle as well, although some dogs I have seen were not very accurate in the way they sorted.

Facility design can be a big help in sorting cattle. Dr. Joseph Stookey at the University of Saskatchewan published an interesting video on YouTube (
P4FUE-OrXRw) about a novel way to sort pairs.

If you are going to be sorting a lot of cattle, you need a helper. It is efficient to have a sorter who makes the sorting decision and calls to the helper on how to swing the gate. My dad is a second-generation order buyer, and he sorts a lot of cattle. My grandfather was also an order buyer and invented (as far as we know) a swinging gate for sorting cattle that is about the best I have ever seen. Here is a video to show how it works:

Modern technology is also helping us sort cattle. MicroBeef’s ACCU-TRAC system is in use by a few commercial feedyards. At the processing barn, their system uses lasers and video cameras to send data to a computer which automatically operates hydraulic sort gates. It is very effective for large operations.

Work to develop your skills at sorting cattle, and consider how you might modify your facilities to make sorting easier and less stressful. When it is easy to sort, you will sort more; then you can manage better. And as my grandpa said, "Son, if you would slow down, this wouldn’t take so long."

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