The second annual High Country Regional Cattle Conference was held at the N.C. Department of Agriculture Upper Mountain Research Station Saturday, where Ashe County cattle farmers met to hear the latest on cattle feeds, genetics and marketing, and enjoy a little barbecue.
The event is sponsored by the N.C. State Cooperative Extension to keep farmers abreast of research and developments in the cattle industry, but also for researchers to meet with farmers in the region, whose input guides their research, said Extension Agent Micah Orfield.
Featured speakers were Catawba County Extension Director Jeff Carpenter, Piedmont Research Station Research Operations Manager Joe Hampton and University of Tennessee Professor of Agricultural Economics Andrew Griffith.
Carpenter presented on feeding management for profitable beef, a topic of especial interest to cattle farmers, with feedlot corn prices currently above $8 per bushel due to persistent drought in the Midwest and Texas.
Carpenter told Ashe cattle farmers those high prices had increased the value of the grass growing on their mountain pastures, and discussed “optimized forage management” as a mean of reining in feed costs. Strip grazing — confining cattle to small, temporary grazing areas with movable fencing — forces them to consume more forage, and is a proven means of cutting feed and hay costs, he said.
Bringing home the value of good forage management, Carpenter told of an Ashe County cattle farmer who had fed his cattle exclusively on pasture, buying no feed at all, for 50 years.
Current research shows that feeding small amounts of agricultural byproducts like corn gluten meal in conjunction with grazing offers decisive results at low cost, he said. Cattle on a diet of six pounds of CGM per day plus forage have shown average daily growth of two pounds per day or more.
Hampton began his talk on breeding cattle for economic success with an examination of cattle prices in N.C., where animals bound for Midwestern feedlots fetched an average $761 per head mid-April. At the same time, cattle from Midwestern producers brought $950, he said.
Prices have always been lower in the southeast than in the Midwest, he said, and N.C. cattle farmers have long held the belief that trucking costs to distant feedlots were the reason.
But, Hampton said, cattle out of western Montana travelled the same distance, and averaged $981 per head. The difference, he said, was genetics: High Country cattlemen have been breeding the same 600 pound feeder calves for decades, while western ranchers have effectively used genome science to enhance the quality, grade, and growth rate of their cattle.
“If you’re OK at $750 a head we’ve got nothing to talk about,” Hampton said. “If you want $950, we’ve got some work to do.”
Griffith, speaking on cattle market economics, said the sustained trend of high beef prices, which peaked at over $5.00 a pound retail, was due to break. With high prices came stepped-up beef production, he said, resulting in increasing supply and decreasing demand.
With beef prices in a slow but steady decline since the beginning of the year, Griffith advised Ashe farmers to maximize profits by marketing their cull cattle. Culls, which are sold locally, account for 20 percent of revenue for most cattle operations, he said.
While the ‘prime’ grade beef market peaks during the summer grilling season, lesser “choice” and “select” grades from cull cattle also have peak seasons farmers can market to. Consumers buy more choice and select roasts during the fall “crock-pot” season and over the holidays, he said.
Lunch for the conference was provided by the Ashe County Cattlemen’s Association.