Cattle Program Teach Important Lessons

Lessons Teach Profitable Practices

Cole Frey, his wife, Caroline, and Cole's father, Matt Frey, all benefited from the Louisiana State University AgCenter Master Cattleman Program. (Becky Mills)

When husband and wife team Cole and Caroline Frey came back to the family operation in 2019, they jumped into learning all the enterprises: cattle, crawfish, soybeans, sugarcane and rice. However, Cole's father, Matt, challenged him to take the cattle operation to the next level. Cole didn't hesitate. "I jumped on the Master Cattleman program to get every little piece of information I could get my hands on."

The commercial cattle operation is a relatively new enterprise at Four Oaks Farm, Morganza, Louisiana. Matt started saving back Brangus-type heifers from their roping stock in 2017 and breeding them. "That gave me an opportunity to build equity without purchasing land," he says.

Now, they're up to around 400 cows and heifers. Along with Cole and Caroline, Matt wasn't shy about signing up for the Louisiana State University (LSU) AgCenter Master Cattleman Program, either. He's now completed both the basic and advanced programs.

Between ideas they've gleaned from the Master Cattleman Program and those picked up on their own, here are some of the practices they're using to reach that next level.

ROTATE PASTURES

Cole doesn't hesitate when asked about the No. 1 practice he learned from the Master Cattleman classes. "Rotational grazing. It enhances grass growth and productivity. If they're on a pasture all the time, they eat it to the ground. There is no chance for the grass to come back."

Dennis Hancock, center director for the USDA-ARS U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center, Madison, Wisconsin, agrees. "Grass grows grass. Rest periods allow plants to produce new leaves which collect energy, transform it into sugars and store these sugars so that more leaves can be produced the next grazing cycle. Not only is regrowth potential improved, but root depth and stand life are improved, as well."

The Freys are on a daily rotation for both their warm-season grasses of bermudagrass and bahiagrass, and cool-season ryegrass. That translates into a three-week rest period for most of the pastures. "The pasture we rotate the cattle off of is kicking by the time we get back to it; it's 8 to 10 inches tall," Cole says.

Matt adds, "Being able to grow ryegrass is one of our advantages. We bale the extra.

"Planting ryegrass is a heck of a lot cheaper than tubs or cubes," he continues. "We learned that from Master Cattleman."

Matt also says if they went to purchased supplemental feed, they'd need troughs and have to go in with a tractor to feed the herd. Most of their pasture ground is almost impassable in the winter when it's wet.

TIGHTER CALVING SEASON

There's work still to be done, but Cole says most females now calve in four months. "We're tightening and culling. I'd like to have it to 90 days."

He's targeting October, November and December for their shortened season. That coincides with ryegrass growth, which they plant in October and November, and is usually ready to graze by mid-December. "Then the calves can start eating the ryegrass and growing," he says. Marketing is another payoff. With a shortened season, the Freys can sell more uniform truckload lots of cattle, upping the price per pound.

"We can do a better job managing everything we do with our cattle," says Pedro Fontes, University of Georgia (UGA) animal scientist. "The nutritional needs of cows in peak lactation are greater than those of dry cows in the last third of pregnancy. If you can manage them as a group, you can save money on feed. Also, when you're deworming or vaccinating, it is easier if the cows are in the same place in the production cycle, and the calves are the same age."

He recommends doing it gradually, which can take three to six years. If you want to shorten your breeding and calving seasons, Fontes says UGA has a spreadsheet to help you determine when to put bulls in with the cows and take them out.

KEEP GOOD RECORDS

Among the many recordkeeping tasks CattleMax performs for Caroline Frey, keeping track of which animals are in which pasture is one of the main ones. "We have a lot of pastures, and there are a lot of hands in the pot. It is amazing how lost you can get without good records." If Cole or Matt move a cow or bull, he can either write it down by hand or put it in his phone, then Caroline scans it and downloads it to CattleMax.

She has also built a spreadsheet to keep track of how many steers and heifers they ship each year, as well as total pounds, so the three of them can look back and compare. "Keeping good records is really important if you want to know how your operation is doing," she explains.

LOW-STRESS HANDLING

"We already knew how to do that, and we're good at it," Matt says. "It is patience."

"Working with cattle is similar to working with horses," Cole adds.

"If you're putting a bull on the trailer, give him time," Matt continues. "If you think you're going to push him into the trailer, you ain't gonna do it."

The same low-stress philosophy works for cows and calves. "We worked 200 head and were through by 10 a.m.," Matt says.

GENETIC TEST REPLACEMENT HEIFERS

Though the Freys hold back some of their own heifers, they purchase most replacements. "It is cheaper to buy a 600- to 700-pound heifer," Cole explains. "It takes feed and a lot of trouble to raise your own, plus, we don't have the facilities."

To hedge their bets, they started doing a Neogen Igenity test designed specifically for crossbred replacement heifers. It evaluates the genetic merit of heifers for maternal, performance and carcass traits. Even at the listed $29 per head, Cole considers it a good investment. "If we wait 'til she calves out, she might have a dumpy calf, and we've wasted two years."

LISTEN TO MARKET SIGNALS

This breeding season, the Freys are using Angus, Brangus, Charolais and Hereford bulls in mostly a terminal cross. However, they're leaning toward using more Angus bulls. "We get a premium for black-hided calves," Cole says. "We're trying to work up to Certified Angus Beef."

Along with producing quality black-hided calves, Cole says they also emphasize growth when selecting bulls. "At the end of the day, we're selling pounds. We want a low to moderate birthweight and a high weaning weight and yearling weight."

THE FUTURE

"If a pasture comes up, we'd love to grow," Matt says. "Most of our pasture is rented." They'd also like to explore retained ownership.

"We want to get more involved with the local cattle community," Cole adds. Most of all, though, he wants to keep going up the levels. "We want to sell a quality product, the healthiest, heaviest and most consistent, every year."

LEARNING, LOUISIANA STYLE

Matt, Cole and Caroline Frey's participation in the Louisiana State University (LSU) AgCenter Master Cattleman Program is music to the ears of LSU Extension beef specialist Ashley Edwards. "I love it," she says. While the program, mirrored after those in other states, started in 2004 before Edwards went to LSU, she says it meets the goals of her predecessors. "They were trying to meet the educational needs for our producers."

Mission accomplished. Proof is the 1,500 producers who have gone through the 10-night, 10-subject learning experience.

The topics are as diverse as recordkeeping and reproduction, and are held at five locations around the state. Edwards, who teaches the reproduction section, says the biggest challenge is one she welcomes. "From a teaching standpoint, it is hard to cram a semester's worth of information into a three-hour class."

Participants also get Beef Quality Assurance certification through the National Cattlemen's Beef Association if they complete eight of the 10 classes.

The popularity and diversity of the participants inspired the Extension Service to expand into a beginner Master Cattleman Program, held on odd years, and an advanced Master Cattleman Program, held on even years.

Matt Frey, who has taken both the basic Master Cattleman and the advanced program, says, "I just liked the common sense of it all. They taught the fundamentals. It was very, very good for us. All the information is relevant, and you can practice it and make money."

To find out if your state offers a similar program, contact your local county Extension agent or your state cattlemen's association.

**

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

-- CattleMax Cattle Management: https://www.cattlemax.com/…

-- Neogen Igenity: https://www.neogen.com/…

-- University of Georgia calculator for shortening breeding and calving seasons: https://view.officeapps.live.com/…

-- Louisiana State University AgCenter Master Cattleman Program: https://www.lsuagcenter.com/…

[PF_0424]