Making Connections

Focus on Individual Cattle Operations Pays Dividends

Kentucky cattle producer, Bob Hornsby (left), is working with David Coffey, agriculture and natural resources Extension agent, to downsize his herd and improve grazing. (Photo by Katie Pratt, UK ag communications)

Most cattle producers want to run as efficient an operation as possible while nurturing a healthy environment. A new University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service program is helping local producers toward that ultimate goal.

A farm management program, focused on the total operation, started in 2017 with David Coffey leading the way. According to a news release from the University of Kentucky, Coffey said the need for the program was based on how diverse livestock operations in the state are.

"My producers are all different, and their operations are all different," said Coffey, Jackson County agriculture and natural resources extension agent. "I wanted a way that I could work with each producer on an individual level to help them meet their goals for their operations."

At the beginning of the program, producers set short- and long-term goals. Coffey then routinely follows up with each operation to help producers find ways to accomplish those goals. While the program was open to producers of all commodities, today most participants raise cattle as part of their overall business.

Sixth-generation farmer Doug Wilson is working with Coffey in this new outreach program. He farms with his three sons, on land his family has owned since 1831. With his sons taking active roles in the operation, the Angus and Angus-based seedstock producer wants to expand the herd, with a goal of marketing more animals each year. He also wants to do a better job of managing forages and extending the grazing season.

For this family, an important step is fencing. The Wilsons are beginning to fence their 500-acre farm to give them more ways to improve forage management through rotational grazing. With woodlands covering part of the farm, Wilson also has timber and wildlife to manage.

"Some of my snow days I'll spend with Dave, and we'll talk about total farm planning," Wilson said. "It's more than just what we are going to breed to this spring. It's the total operation. How are we going to manage forages? How are we going to manage water? How are we doing with our nutrients? How do we best manage our wildlife, and how do we manage our timber? We want to concentrate on everything that will make not just healthy animals, but a healthy environment for them to grow up in."

Bob Hornsby is another participant in the program. A cow-calf producer since 1975, he wants to reduce herd numbers at his operation, Happy Hollow Farms. His goal is to go from 125 cows to 50, giving him more flexibility in retirement, said the news release. He has worked with Coffey on soil fertility, weed control and extending the grazing season.

"We are tightening up the operation a little bit," Hornsby said. "I was running more cows but wasn't as intensive with my rotational grazing. We were a little light on soil testing, so we started improving that last fall."

Hornsby implemented a nine-field, rotational grazing system and installed waterers in those fields to help him maximize forage production and utilization. He will also be able to limit the amount of hay he needs to produce for the winter.

"This farm is rolling [ground]," he said. "You can cut hay off of it. . . but I would rather let the cattle do the job."

Coffey is pleased with the progress producers have made through the program in less than two years. He plans to keep working with them, and said he might open up the program to more local producers in 2020.