Farm Ireland

Thursday 22 March 2018

The cowboys (and girls) are still plying their trade

Most of the time cattle is moved on horseback.
Most of the time cattle is moved on horseback.

While beef prices in the USA have collapsed recently, some of the most progressive beef farmers we visited such as John Schroeder, part owner and manager of Darr Feedlot in the Platte River Valley, Nebraska, are turning to technology to counter market forces.

The hope is that in the future it will help reverse the $500/head (€440/hd) loss the farm is currently enduring. John currently has 40,000 head of cattle on his feedlot with an annual turnover of over 100,000 cattle.

While he does own some of the cattle on the farm the majority are owned by a group of local cattlemen. John charges customers $0.30/animal (26c/animal) per day, plus feed costs and any additional health costs.

From the moment we arrived on the Darr feedlot, it was evidence that John was a man who was very proud of the management advances made on his farm over the last number of years.

He was excited to show us the 76,000 tonne of crimped maize being pitted while we were there and the pit of 56,000t of maize silage in the distance. However, he really came into his stride when he started to explain how he is using advances in science and technology to take his farm to the next level.

He explained how all animals were given an electronic ear tag costing $1.40 (€1.23) on arrival to the feedlot. These tags stored data such as past body weights, antibiotics used, hormones administered and the animal paternal information.

He is also using a more advanced electronic tag costing $80 (€70.50) which will in addition to the normal electronic tag also monitor body temperature which is automatically downloaded to a central computer four times per day.

This is invaluable on the farm as it helps to swiftly detect any animal that may be unwell, when it detects body temperature changes.

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The mortality rate on the farm is very low at 0.56pc, which is about a third lower than average for the area.

The live electronic tags do help to identify sick animals faster but he still needs his cowboys to check animals regularly for health issues. When the animals are slaughtered carcase data performance is also downloaded on these tags.

This is proving invaluable when examining how particular breeds of cattle are performing on his farm. This helps him to make more informed judgments when buying young stock for the farm in the future.

John also brought us into his hospital/cattle handling area of the feedlot.

Most of the time cattle are moved on horseback as many of the cattle would have been reared on the open prairie and as a result are wilder than we would be accustomed to here in Ireland. This was also the case at the local cattle mart.

John uses a double entry cattle shoot and hydraulically operated crate for cattle handling costing $18,000 (€15,800) and $19,000 (€16,700).

The crate lifts the animal off the ground, leaving them very easy to handle as a result.

One of the jobs this is used for is restricting cattle to scan the electronic tags enabling the download of information. The cattle crate system can handle 1,600 cattle on any one day.

John also explained how he takes nasal swabs from cattle arriving on the farm to identify infection and in combination with other information gathered, his vets and vaccine suppliers then get vaccines tailor made for the herd on an ongoing basis.

Another interesting practice which he uses on his farm to control flies is the placement of larvae from a stingless wasp around the feedlot.

These wasps hatch out and lay their eggs in the fly's larvae, dramatically reducing fly numbers.

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