Friday, November 14, 2014

Cow Cud

Over the last two weeks during my 30 Days of Texas Panhandle Agriculture series, I've talked about beef, corn, cotton and sorghum. Back in October, I wrote about our wheat growing and fencing off the corn stalks. What do all of these things have in common?

Prepare to be amazed......

At some stage in all of our crops, they can be used as feedstuffs for beef cattle on our farm. Now I'm sure you think I'm crazy since you've never seen a cow eat a cotton boll. It's true. I'm sure the actual boll isn't super tasty for them, but I digress.

Like I discussed in my posts about corn and sorghum (milo), both of those grains are often used as feed for cattle. Generally, corn and milo is taken to a feed mill where it is processed to make it more palatable for the cattle. Both could be fed as a raw material, but it would be similar to us eating raw oatmeal. We could eat it, but it is way better when it has been cooked for a bowl of breakfast or baked into oatmeal cookies. Oatmeal retains its nutritional value once it has been cooked. That's what feed mills strive to do for corn and milo.

In addition to feeding the harvested corn once it has been milled, we fence off our corn stalks after we have harvested the grain and let our cows graze the remnants. Combine harvesters aren't perfect at getting all of the corn and some falls to the ground. The cows will eat that lost grain and keep it from going to waste. They also do a good job of chewing on the stalks themselves, which helps us in the long run. How? Our cows are doing the work of a plow, saving us fuel for the tractor that would pull the plow and also reducing the risk of soil erosion. Plus, they are "fertilizing" with their "cowpies," if you smell what I'm stepping in. It is a win-win situation.

When I was talking about sorghum, I mentioned two types of sorghum: grain and forage. Forage sorghum is also used as a feedstuff for cattle. We grow a type of forage sorghum that we make into hay. This hay is high in nutrients our cattle need, and they like the taste of it. Other farmers may graze their cattle directly on a field of forage sorghum, or they may harvest the forage sorghum to make silage.

Moving on to the craziness of cattle eating cotton... Like I mentioned above, we don't feed the cattle the actual white fluffy stuff (fiber) used for making blue jeans. One, the cattle don't really like it that much. Two, that is important for blue jeans! During the process of ginning cotton (getting it ready to weave), the gin removes a lot of trash (consisting of leaves, the burr or what holds the fiber to the plant, and seeds) from the actual fibers themselves. While some of the trash really is trash, the seed is not trashy at all. In fact, cotton seeds are a good source of nutrients for cattle so, similar to corn and milo, the cotton seeds are sent to feed mills to be milled into cattle feed.

Also similar to corn, we sometimes will graze our cotton stalks after the cotton has been stripped. We don't necessarily graze cotton stalks every year, but during years of drought or limited pasture, our cotton stalks offer another option for us to recycle and reuse.

It's time for wheat's turn! My favorite! While we don't often graze our wheat on our farm, many farmers in Oklahoma and Texas choose to because winter wheat (planted in the fall for harvest in early summer) offers great nutrients to cattle over the winter months when normal pastures aren't growing. Wheat pasture often serves as the in-between time for calves once they are weaned and before they go to the feedlot. During this time, the calves are given full access to as much wheat as they can eat, and seeing as how calves like to eat, they generally gain weight efficiently on wheat. Some farmers choose to completely graze their wheat out so they leave calves on it until it stops growing. Other farmers want both grazing and grain from their wheat (called dual-purpose wheat) so they will move the calves off the wheat at a certain wheat growth stage to reduce damage to the developing grain. Those farmers will then harvest the grain from the field just like they would have if they hadn't grazed it.

In the media and in the supermarket, the words "grass-fed" and "grain-fed" are thrown around a whole bunch. It is important to note that all cattle spend most of their lives eating grass of some species, whether that grass is forage sorghum, wheat or native pasture. The difference is really in the final "finishing," whether the cattle are finished on grass or finished on grain. I'm not here to say one is right and one is wrong for every farm and ranch. I will say, however, for our farm, feeding grain to our cattle gives us ample opportunities to reuse what might have been wasted, like corn stalks and cotton seed.

And to that, eat beef!

This is the 14th day of my 30 Days of Texas Panhandle Agriculture series. To read more, please visit this introduction postIf you have questions or ideas you'd like me to write about concerning Texas Panhandle agriculture, I'd love to hear from you!

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