Head(ed) West, Young Man

Landon Foster, grandson of Jim and Mary Bradford and son of Dale and the late Madonna Foster, is the guest blogger this week:

I am currently representing the third generation here at Brad Z Ranch. I am a senior in high school this year with plans to make my career in the beef industry. I am going into the Marine Corps Reserves immediately after this school year. After I get all my training done, I plan to go to Iowa State University to study Ag Business and Animal Science.

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Dale and Landon Foster in Wyoming

This summer I had an excellent opportunity to get some ranching experience in the west. I was able to spend two months working at the Hoodoo Ranch in Cody, WY. The Hoodoo is a working ranch of about 250,000 deeded acres along with thousands of acres in BLM and Wyoming State Trust leased land. The ranch spans from six to twelve thousand feet above sea level. It is a cow-calf operation. The herd consists of 3,500 Charolais-based cows with some purebred and some Red Angus cross. Hunt Oil Company owns the Hoodoo. The Hoodoo is the largest of their five ranches. Their brand is the Palette brand. It is the shape of a painter’s palette. Hoodoo means “pointed rocks” in Shoshoni.

During my time at the Hoodoo, I lived in a bunkhouse on the ranch. I learned a lot in my short two months there. One of the first things I was told was that the old saying holds true in the west today. “Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting.” Water rights are a big issue in that part of the country. It’s something we don’t think anything of here in the Midwest. That area of northwestern Wyoming typically receives about 6-10 inches of precipitation per year so water rights are very important, and it can be a touchy subject. I had never been around irrigation before either. That was interesting to learn about. The Hoodoo has about 3,000 acres of irrigated ground in the valleys, which is mostly used for hay, but some grazing as well. Most of the irrigated ground is under pivots. The rest of it is flood irrigated with ditches and dams or gated pipe. Irrigation is time consuming, labor intensive, and expensive. River water is especially difficult to irrigate with because you can’t keep debris out. However, crops would be impossible to grow without irrigation. When the mountain snowpack has all melted and is gone, and the reservoirs begin to dry up, water becomes scarce and there are often death threats and tension over water.

Farming in Wyoming is a lot different than in the Midwest. They level the ground and roll in rocks every spring. The barley farmers in the area are able to get their tillage work done during the January thaw because there is no mud to stop them. There are a lot of specialty crops grown in that area. Some of the more common crops are: barley, hay, pinto beans, sugar beets, wheat, and a little corn and canola. Not much farther west you would see a lot more potatoes.

The Hoodoo’s farm ground is spread out a lot, so it is divided up under five foremen. These foremen are responsible for farmland, and two of them each have half of the replacement heifers. There are thirteen full-time employees and several part timers at the Hoodoo. This includes a manager, assistant manager, office secretary, five foremen, and five cowboys.

This year they kept back 850 replacement heifers. Most of the other calves are marketed through stocker and feedlot operations. The Hoodoo retains ownership on most calves. I was able to help with AI on the heifers. Working cattle on large-scale operations is pretty cool. Things have to flow well and keep moving in order to get anything done. We bred 425 heifers each day for two days. I thought they would be really long days, but we were really efficient and got them done fast. We did each group in about four and a half hours. We only had four chutes, but we kept a steady flow of cattle and switched out AI technicians on each one, so we never stopped moving.

I was fortunate enough to get to do some cattle work, but I spent most of my time making hay. My job was to switch back and forth working for two different foremen. I spent a lot of time making hay, fixing fence, and working on equipment. The fencing can be fun because sometimes you have to get creative with it since you can’t drive posts into rock very well. Making hay is a much different scenario in that dry of a climate. However, the hay is usually of better quality. It is easier to get dry hay put up and it is done with less work because you don’t have to rake. Self-propelled swathers are really cool as well. They are simple to run and move fast in the field. The best part is that you don’t have to look over your shoulder the whole time. Irrigation is time consuming and expensive, but you can put the hay up right because you can control the water and it won’t get rained on. However, we don’t live in a perfect world, so we still have problems. We cut one field and checked it early the next afternoon. It was still really wet at that point. By that evening it was too dry to bale. It just turned to dust, so we decided to wait for some dew. Unfortunately, the dew never came. After about a week of waiting, we decided to make a dew machine.

Our dew machine was fairly simple. We mounted a sprayer tank on a flatbed trailer, hooked it up to a pump, and ran a pipe across it, then hooked a hose to the pipe. Then we put spray nozzles on the ends. It took us most of the day to get it right, but we had it down by dark. So, I sprayed “dew” all night while Ron raked behind me. We raked it to hold the moisture in long enough to bale it. It took us two full nights, but we finally got the field done. Most of our baling was done at night when we had dew otherwise it was too dry. So, we baled all night, and mowed, picked up bales, and worked on equipment all day.

Other than being arid and brittle, the climate is a lot different in other ways too. That is quite the adjustment when you are used to the Midwest. The other main differences are the elevation and growing season. The growing season is a lot shorter. At about six thousand feet elevation, we started cutting hay the third week of June. At seven thousand feet, we started the second week of July. They usually get two cuttings.

The Hoodoo spans from six to twelve thousand feet above sea level. That is a really good range to have because during the summer the cows graze the higher mountains and let the lower stuff grow, then as things dry up and get eaten down, they work their way down and graze the lower stuff. It is all hard, nutrient dense, native, short grasses. Most of the ground is covered with rock or greasewood. However, there is some really good grazing land as well. The only problem with trying to graze the higher elevations is that the wolves and grizzly bears kill some calves and end up scaring the herd back down the mountain.

The Hoodoo has a plane that they fly every morning to check for wolf and bear kills. It is also handy for spotting cows to round up in that rough country. If they spot a wolf kill, they report it to Wyoming Fish and Game, who then comes in and kills problem wolves. I was surprised to find out how well they work with ranchers in spite of environmentalists and animal welfare groups pushing against us.

On my last day, I finally had the chance to go to a branding. That was a cool experience. I really enjoyed it. If you are like most people from the Midwest, you probably haven’t been to one before. It is more of a social event than work because there is usually a BBQ or picnic afterwards. People from other ranches come to help, and in return we help them too. It is sort of an honor to be invited to a branding. I met some pretty cool people that day and it was a good chance for me to do some more socializing. Brandings really show off the best that the ranch lifestyle has to offer. Everyone there is working hard and having fun. Women and children also help as much as they can. Even two year olds are out riding horses and practicing their roping skills on a dummy. There is no such thing as a lazy ranch kid. They are all out there pulling their own weight. They don’t sit around and watch TV or play video games. Ranchers have strong family ties and high morals. I would like to see more of that in the world today.

The only thing I didn’t like was that because it is a large-scale operation, there is a lot of repetition. I would prefer to do something different every day, which is why I like farming and ranching so much. I’m sure I could work round that problem if I needed to though.

I’m not sure where I’ll end up down the road, but it sounds like I would have a pretty good shot at working for the Hoodoo. I would like to come home to the farm. I will just go wherever my opportunities take me. I had a great summer and I learned a lot. Part of my reason for wanting to go out there in the first place was that I have been skeptical of how well cattle ranching in Iowa works. Iowa isn’t really ranch country, but I realize now that it does work. Every place has its own pros and cons and if Iowa is where you have an opportunity to get started in the cattle business, I wouldn’t pass it up.

An Interview with Erin Bradford

I see you finally agreed to do a Q&A for the Compost Pile. Explain who you are in relation to Brad Z Ranch.

A: My Dad and Mom, Jim and Mary Bradford, operate Brad Z Ranch.

Q: And tell us about this new venture you’re about to launch.

A: Bodoga Terra is a heifer development facility; in short, Kaleb and I will take heifer calves in to care for, develop, and breed for cow/calf producers around the country.  When these critters arrive back at their home ranch, they will be confirmed artificially insemination bred and in excellent condition to begin a long, productive life for their owners.

Q: Hmm. I thought Bodoga was a grocery store in some Latin countries. But it seems that word is bodega so I guess I can’t come there to buy plantains or tortillas or black beans. So please explain the name.

A: Bodoga is Gaelic for Heifer and Terra is Gaelic for Land, so….that’s how we came up with Bodoga Terra Heifer Development.  I’m proud of my Irish roots so it seemed like a great, fun, creative fit.  Plus, nobody can say it or spell it so it makes for a great conversation piece.

Q: Don’t properly tended heifers need more attention than any almost other category of bovine? Why would you want to do that?

A: Yes, heifers require a lot of extra attention, second only to the 1st calf heifer.  Our service provides a two-fold system that benefit your animals and long-term ranch profitability. Our nutrition and health development of the heifers allows for absolute optimum performance without sacrificing long-term productivity. In addition, by artificially inseminating producer’s heifers twice, we are using genetic selection to weed out the critters with poorer fertility.  By providing this exceptional service, cow/calf producers know they are adding value to the product (heifer) they originally started with and utilizing the additional ranch space to give extra TLC to those at home that might need it, ie, old cows, 1st calf heifers.

Q: Who is doing this with you?  Why did he agree?

A: Kaleb Kuck is my partner in crime;  we are getting married in December.  Kaleb knew that starting a heifer development was a dream of mine and sought out locations in his home area that might function appropriately for this specific service. He is equally excited about working with cow/calf producers in this faucet.  He has a purebred Angus operation that we will also be looking after.

Q: Explain more of the reasons why cattle producers might consider working with you?

A: We love to work and sincerely care about sending your heifers back to you in higher quality form than when they arrived.

Q: What about costs? You know farmers always want to know what it’s going to cost and how you can justify that cost for them.

A: We charge $3.10/head/day and that includes feed, breeding expense, yardage, and health exams.  This does not include treatment for sickness or additional services that we offer like: freeze branding, DNA submission, carcass ultrasound, etc.  This is well worth the money to have your heifers grown appropriately and have them all bred within a approximate 42 day window.  Not only does this make them more valuable if the producer were to sell them but it starts them on the right path toward maximum longevity if retained in the herd.

Q: Do you think women understand female cows better than men? Wait, don’t answer because it will be more fun for me to answer. Author’s answer: “Of course, how many men do you know who really understand the women in their lives? Why do you think this is much different?” Okay, Erin, you can answer now if you think you can beat that.

A: I can’t beat that; it’s true.

Q: How can people find out more information if they want to check out your new heifer development center.

A:Our website is the most concise place to find information: www.bodogaterraheiferdevelopment.com or I can be reached anytime at 515-494-8619.

A Cattle Guy and a Pig Valve

Jim Bradford, the boss here at Brad Z Ranch, is waiting for open heart surgery as we write this. He suggests that we just explain that he is on “vacation” as he has had more time to read books and lie in bed the past week than at any time any of us can remember.

After feeling less than 100 percent for a few weeks, he went for some tests and doctors found a problem with one of his heart valves. This didn’t surprise him entirely as it was a heart murmur that had kept him out of flight school as a young man in the Army. But it did surprise us that he paid attention to his body’s warning signals. If you know him, you will be surprised that he actually went to see a doctor. (His equally stubborn peers should pay attention here and don’t delay a doctor visit when you notice something being off.) The good news is that today’s surgery is intended to prevent more serious problems and was not preceded by a heart attack, but prayers are welcome.

Through the past week, Dad’s sense of humor has remained intact as the below story will show. First, though, I need to explain a bit about farm culture for those reading this who may not get it. Farmers and ranchers have a long tradition of good-natured ribbing when it comes to the products they raise or the products they buy. This can take the form of arguments over John Deere versus Case tractors. Or Chevy versus Ford pickups. And, of course, it happens in the livestock world. I remember as a child the constant teasing that passed between Dad, the cattle rancher, and our neighbors, who raised hogs. Dad would give gifts of steaks or roasts to the neighbor, and he would, in turn, gift back ham or bacon. And, in our family, you didn’t dare serve anything but beef for important family gatherings.

This week, Dad was told he would have open heart surgery to replace the failing valve and would get a new “tissue” valve. You can imagine his reaction when – upon asking a few more question – he found out that this meant they were going to place a pig valve in his heart. I’m sure when he begins waking up from surgery later today, he will repeat the joke to the nurse that went something like this: “Isn’t there a risk of a valve being rejected?” Nurse: “The risks are low, but, yes, it’s possible.” Dad: “Well, I’m a cattle guy so I suspect putting something from a pig inside me is only going to ensure that it is rejected.”

Now if only there was a hog farmer here to give him some lip back. Might be the perfect medicine.

P.S. From a day later: Dad came through the surgery very well. He’s in recovery mode today. We couldn’t help but laugh when the surgery team, who knew about Dad’s joke about the pig valve, made a point of giving him a valve from a cow in the end. Really.

Colleen Bradford Krantz

The Market Yo-Yo

The talk of the day is speculation on what the cattle market will be in the future.  May enter into the discussion with no more information than the average man on the street.  While we are spending much time and energy on speculation, we are missing out on actions that could strengthen your bottom line.

The genetic selections you can make…. feed efficiency , carcass improvement, heifer pregnancy and fertility are bottom line improvers.  We have been selecting for those traits related to fertility ever since we started breeding cattle.  Scrotal size and shape are correlated to number of cows safe in calf.  An “air conditioned” bull (one that has a definite narrow neck on the scrotum) has much more viable semen in hot weather.  I don’t recall ever having used a bull with a negative EPD for scrotal size.

Research shows that a pound of feed put into a cow before calving may be as beneficial as 2 pounds given to her after calving.  In other words, get some condition (body condition score 5) on your cows before calving to enhance a higher conception rate next breeding season.

A Pre-Sale Message from Jim Bradford

By Jim Bradford

Market cattle hit a new high this week – up to a $1.53 – and demand seems to be strong. Pork hit a limit-up the other day. So demand for red meat has been strong, and the demand for breeding stock continues to increase. The cow herd numbers are at their lowest since 1951 due partly to low moisture around the country, but it looks like we could see some expansion in heifer numbers in the coming year.

Buying cattle is a long-term investment. Investing in livestock is a sound strategy in terms of holding your money during times of inflation. It offers somewhat of a safeguard when you hold something tangible, such as land or cattle, as money itself declines in value.

Our livelihood has always been the cattle and, therefore, has forced us to select for economically important traits that pay the bills and educate the kids. Fertility is the number one trait we build upon. We look at many other desirable traits and try to bring them along, but there’s nothing we would do that would demean fertility. We’ve been emphasizing this since 1958.

To understand fertility in our cattle, we’d like to offer the example of one particular cow in our herd. This 13-year-old cow has had 11 calves, with an average weaning ratio of 111. The average calving interval on those 11 calves is 364 days. She is proven, and this is why she’s allowed to become a Brad Z Ranch donor cow.

Jim Bradford (right) with herdsman Josh Eisentrager after Brad Z Ranch steer won second place in 2013 ICA Carcass Challenge.

Jim Bradford (right) with herdsman Josh Eisentrager after Brad Z Ranch steer won second place in 2013 ICA Carcass Challenge.

Our cattle have done well in competition. We had a steer in a carcass challenge held by the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association last year, and he earned reserve champion in terms of value per day of age.

We’ve been selling breeding stock for 50-plus years from a herd we built with the expectation that we could make a living from them.  We hope to help you do the same. See you at our sale on March 10.