We shipped some calves to southwest Idaho for winter grazing. It's a milder climate and is an alternative to backgrounding at our small feedlot at home. Our reasons were twofold. One, these calves are on track to feed folks that prefer beef from non-confined animals. And two, it pencils to be less costly than feeding our own harvested alfalfa hay.
We’ve always kept the calves home over the winter; we're very hands-on ranchers, so sending them away was a stretch. We went to visit them this week and found them just south of the interstate, out of the wind on a sheltered side hill overlooking the Snake River. They were nestled amongst lava rock outcroppings looking fine and fit and grazing cheatgrass.
This particular annual grass is viewed as an invasive species and is much maligned by wildlife advocates and ranchers alike. Its awn is an irritant to animals, it has a super short green season, and is highly flammable making frequent fires common. Our lessor, however, knows from long experience that cheat makes great winter and spring grazing, so why not use it to its best advantage? Grazing will help reduce fuel for fires, and cattle add much needed biological activity to the site. A win-win for sure.
Looking out across the feed, it looks dry and yellow and uninviting. However, if you pull up a sample, here's what you see, thick tender green shoots making up about half of their diet.
We’re never sure how a new venture will work, but thank goodness Mark keeps asking questions and being open to new thought. I’m reading a book about small business by Michael Gerber, The E-Myth, and in it the author says to continually ask, “Where is the opportunity?” And opportunities abound all around us, whether you're in ranching or not.
And as far as the calves being far away from home and our care, Mark has a phrase he uses when he’s done his part to tend an animal and leaves the rest to their capable instincts. He’ll say he “kissed them on the forehead" and went home. And so that’s what we did, trusting they’ll do fine doing what cows are good at - being cows.