This year, as many cattlemen struggle to find feed at a reasonable cost, smaller cows with smaller appetites look pretty good. Peter Lawrence and his wife Shelley, figured smaller cows fit better with their management plan when he took over the farm from his father.
“I really liked the big buckskin and red baldy cows,” he says. “But, we were spending too much time with them and pulling too many calves.”
A holistic management course confirmed Lawrence’s feeling that he needed more cows without expanding his land base. Beefbooster cattle seemed to fit the operation he had in mind and he was able to buy a herd of Beefbooster M3 cows. M3 is the Beefbooster strain developed for bulls that minimize calving problems in heifers and produce replacement heifers with good maternal qualities. Although the M3-crosses are “good moderate cows” Lawrence’s cows average about 1,000 pounds.
“They are small, but they’re tough,” says the rancher from Pine Lake, east of Red Deer, Alta. “They survive on their own without bedding and they don’t take a whole lot of feed in the winter. In the summer, they do well on grass.”
With rotational grazing, the cows graze until early winter, then swath graze. Lawrence stockpiles about 500 acres, 15 or 20 pastures, for calving. The cows move onto those pastures April 1, and calving is scheduled to start April 15. He can usually graze till the end of January and often into the middle of February, so he only feeds for 50 to 60 days.
This year, the drought had a big impact on his grass, so Lawrence bought some feed, but only his heifers get hay. The cows winter on straw and baled canola with some range pellets if they need a little more energy. Lawrence figures feed for the cows will cost around 70 cents a day if the straw and canola are enough and 85 cents if he has to feed screenings pellets.
Calving starts April 15. Cows and heifers almost always manage on their own, without corrals or bedding. The calves are 55 to 65 pounds at birth and very lively.
“In the last five years I think I’ve pulled maybe 10 calves,” says Lawrence. “And, usually it’s been a backward calf or there was a foot back. Our biggest workload at calving time is dealing with extra calves, but they all seem to survive.
“Our biggest losses have come from late spring snowstorms, but weather forecasting is a lot better nowadays. We get enough warning of storms now that we can move the cows to pastures that have some bush for protection.”
Lawrence enjoys the Beefboosters. He does almost all the work on the ranch on his own with occasional help from his wife and two teenagers. But, even with more cows, he has more time for the family and hockey — the family spends a lot of their time at the local rink and at tournaments — something, he says, they couldn’t do with bigger cows.
“You wouldn’t get rich selling M3 calves,” he says. The heifer calves are backgrounded and graze the following summer to sell in fall at around 800 pounds.
“The profit per cow is quite small,” says Lawrence. “But I can run a lot more cows. And a small profit on each of 300 cows is not too bad. We have a low-cost, low-stress operation.”
During the summer, Lawrence rotationally grazes 800 yearlings as well as his cows and heifers, moving them after as little as one day in early summer when the grass grows fast, then slowing down in fall and winter. Lawrence tries to keep 15 or 20 paddocks ungrazed all year to have good grass for calving.
Lawrence ships his bull calves to the Beefbooster bull test centre.
“We’re selling bulls without all the politics and work of the purebred business,” he says. Beefbooster manages the bull calves, keeps the records, tests and selects bulls and organizes the sale
where bulls are sold for one of three set prices. Lawrence hasn’t even gone to the sale some years, but he’s enjoyed meeting people who have bought his bulls and been very impressed by their performance.
A whole lot of little things about the cattle have convinced Lawrence he made he right decision switching to Beefbooster.
“It’s nice not to worry about bad bags or bad feet,” he says. “But, mostly it was a whole lot of little things that I didn’t like about big cows. And, if I ever see bad feet or some other problem, it’s so uncommon, it’s easy to cull her and her calf.”
As for returning to bigger cows that could wean big calves, Lawrence is not tempted even for a moment.
“I’ve seen what a thousand-pound cow can do, and I’m very happy with that.”