May 20, 2017
Keeping Calves On Their Mommas Through The Winter May Make For Smarter Cows
By Heather Smith Thomas
MCFADDEN, Wyoming: Sims Cattle Company is a grass and cattle outfit run by Scott and April Sims and their son Shanon and his wife Melinda. Scott and Shanon are third and fourth generation, respectively, on this Wyoming ranch. Recently they have been making a lot of innovative changes in their operations.
“We’d been taking our replacement heifers to Torrington, at lower elevation, putting them on silage to develop them through the winter, and then bring them back home for summer grazing.
“We decided we’d try leaving the heifer calves on the cows for the winter, not weaning them until they are 10 months old. Our hope is to end up with a shorter calving season and better cows,” Shanon said.
“The calves learn a lot, that first winter, with their mothers on how to graze, what to graze and such. I think these calves are already smarter than the cows are.
When we checked on them in late November, they’d look up at us with a mouthful of grass and were very content, though the cows were still looking for us to show up with the hay wagon.
“We are trying to get our minds wrapped around the fact that a 450 pound calf is worth more than a 550 pound calf in that there is more profit in a smaller calf with less inputs.
“We are really cutting back on the amount of supplemental protein we feed. In the past we’d start in mid-November feeding protein and the cows would stay on it through winter until green grass in the spring. Now we are using fecal sampling methods (through Texas A&M University) to measure nutritional quality of feed, and monitor our cows’ intake of protein and energy.
“Hopefully this winter we won’t be supplementing at all until March, when we get into that last trimester. Instead of just throwing a lot of supplement out there, we are
getting more scientific about it.
“The cows are bred to calve the first of May, so we usually start calving heifers the middle of April. We are still debating, thinking that maybe we should calve later - from a nutritional standpoint - but then some of the marketing and other priorities get in the way. We have 3000 acres of irrigated meadow, so whether we are haying it or grazing it, we still have to irrigate it, and it’s tough to irrigate and calve at the same time.
Sims Cattle Company has found their cattle are more content when grazed at higher stock densities and moved frequently. These cattle are at stock density of 60,000 pounds per acre.
“We used to start calving in early March (and the heifers about the middle of February) until we set them back.”
The cows are a mix of Angus, Gelbvieh and Simmental.
“What we are shooting for is a half Angus, quarter Gelbvieh and quarter Simmental to optimize heterosis, but still find an efficient, smaller-framed animal,” Shanon
It may seem kind of backward, using Simmental or Gelbvieh to find a smaller animal, but with careful selection a person can fine-tune the genetics to fit their own environment. We raise our own bulls because we use AI, trying to keep bulls from our most productive older cows, with an eye toward longevity and efficiency.”
Genetics is part of the equation, selecting animals that will work well in your own environment is another. In the last four years he says they kicked the crutch out
from under their cows.
“After we made them do more of their own feed harvesting, we had some cows show up that were never meant to live here. They are not efficient enough. They look pretty rough, standing right next to a cow in condition score 5 or 5.5 that looks great while still putting everything she needs to into her calf.
“We’ve also increased our stock density. When we first started we had one cow-calf pair per acre, and in recent years we’ve run our stock density up to 60,000 pounds per acre, just by moving the cattle more often. The cows are more content, and we feel there is lots of potential in herd effect, hoof action and such.”
135 PASTURE SUBDIVISIONS
“We just kept adding a few fences every year and found out where the weak links were. One year it might be fences and another year it might be water. We’ve been doing this since 1990 and put in four miles of one-wire electric fence last fall. We now have 135 pasture subdivisions, but a lot of our fences are just one or two wires,” said Scott.
The pastures range in size from five acres to two sections.
“Some places we have a lot of flexibility and some places we still have as much as two sections to try to work with,” said Shanon.
“Last year we still had cattle in the uplands in a two-section pasture in late November. They’d been in there for about two weeks and were starting to look a little tough, just because we weren’t moving them fast enough. They’d gone through the good feed and the bad and were down to the ugly, so we had to move them out of there.
“If that big pasture had been split into four different pastures we could probably have spent another six or seven days out there, moving them around it, especially if we hadn’t gotten snow,” he said.
Shanon’s wife, Melinda, said, “We have more flexibility in anything we do now whether in how we graze a hay meadow or put up hay on it or windrow it. We have the flexibility to do many different things now, and we are very open minded.” ♦
Heather Smith Thomas ranches in Salmon, Idaho.