A look at Anibalís personal farm

By Anibal Pordomingo

My brother and I run a 450 acre beef grass finishing operation in the Argentine pampas. We do not share ownership with others anymore and now own all of our land freehold.

Even our dad runs his own cow-calf separate from us in a small property close to town.

My brother and I both have off-farm day jobs and that creates restrictions full-time ranchers do not have.

I work at the agricultural research station from 7:00 to 4:00, and my brother works in his accounting business during the morning. In addition, we both run a cow-calf ranch of 800 head for a friend of ours from Texas.

This means we must run our own operation in spare time during the week and on the weekends.

Unlike many of our neighbors, we do not include grain cropping in our farm. We do not like the high financial risk of grain farming in the area and its marginal economics. We also like the cattle business and enjoy doing it.

We run an extensive low-input program. We use no fertilizers or pesticides and alfalfa provides all of the nitrogen for our forage chain.

Our basic business plan is to produce well finished beef using a low-cost low-investment model and to put all our resources into cattle growth. Therefore our investments are limited to pastures, cattle and time. This last resource - time - is for us the most limiting and we try to use it as efficiently as possible.

Over the years, we have found we cannot directly exchange time for equipment or infrastructure. We found that owning "iron" (farm equipment) actually demanded more time and had a greater opportunity cost than the return possible from our small farm.

Therefore, we own only a 25-year-old tractor and a disk.

Water is all windmill pumped to above-ground tanks and then piped to water troughs in the paddocks.

We contract out all the hay making, disking and planting work.

We set up the temporary fences, read the pasture and move the animals in their rotation, deal with the animalsí health and do any doctoring if needed.

NO COWBOYING ALLOWED

As much as possible, we want to be the only two people around the steers from arrival to loading for sale. Even the vehicles are always our own and nobody else drives around the pastures or cattle.

We have found that this puts a minimum amount of stress on the animals.

We do not do any cowboying in the field. Any individual handling gets done in the corrals and by just the two of us on foot.

We have one horse that I bought four years ago because it was tame, strong for work, and ugly enough to not trigger time-consuming, recreational riding.

So far, we only do the obligatory vaccinations (hoof and mouth, 3-way) and some specific animal treatment for injuries or particular infections, pink eye, which we have had only two to deal with this year.

We buy the stocker calves from my dad and finish steers for the other ranch we run on a share-on-the-gain basis.

Next year we plan to have nearly all steers of our own and will keep heifers to start a cow-calf herd of our own. We currently run about 250 steers year around. The growing-finishing period for steers is about 12 to 14 months and eight months for heifers. We have a simple forage chain.

Alfalfa pasture from spring to fall.

Winter annuals (planted in early fall) for winter and early spring. Greenleaf corn for grazing in summer.

While we try to feed as little hay as possible, we will supplement with alfalfa hay whenever forage is short to keep our gains from falling below our target of 1.3 lbs per day. This supplemental feeding could occur at any time of the year.

We try to produce as much alfalfa hay in the summer as possible. Our production target is one round bale (1200 lb/bale) per head. This year we are not going to be able to meet our target because of slow pasture growth due to lack of rain but we have some hay remaining from the previous year.

We try to bring stockers to the place with a priority on an arrival date which matches available forage more than size or age of the calves. Six to 10-month-old stocker calves work fine.

This yearís average daily gain for all steers and heifers sold was 1.65 lb/day with 1.9 lb during the last 2 months of the growing-finishing period.

We sold finished heifers in 2005 at 780 lb/head (57.8% yield) and steers at 1100 lb/head (58.5% yield). Our gains were lower than desired last winter because of a forage shortage due to extremely dry weather.

BIOTYPE IS VERY IMPORTANT

Our calves are generated from Angus cows sired by Hereford or Shorthorn bulls of predictable performance.

We selected the original cows and bulls at the same places that provide the calves to us. We believe we have created a biotype of steer and heifer that suits our program and market well. Our experience has been that the crossbred calves outrun in growth rate, yield and finishing the straightbred Angus by 22%. We have measured this difference at the farm in simultaneous comparisons. Picking the proper bulls for the cows we get the offspring from is a critical fundamental aspect of successful grass finishing and care must be taken to select for a grass-friendly biotype.

We do a real-time economic and cash-flow study every month.

And, every month we chart out the probable worst case scenario (weather and price shifts) and the strategies we would take to ameliorate this.

This approach to business control was developed by my brother upon requirement of the American owned company we are involved with. This paperwork seemed to be over kill at first, but the exercise has been a real help to control not only excitement but depression as well.

We now know, where and with what efficiency every dollar was expended and the real origin of returns.

For example, was our profit from production or because our inventory appreciated in price? This is important to know because the former is a result you can repeat whereas the latter is pure chance.

YEAR AROUND SALES CREATES CASH FLOW

We sell grass-finished beeves all year long, with some concentration in late winter and spring as finishing cattle on winter annuals is the easiest program.

Late fall is usually the time of the year when we sell very little as this is a very difficult time of the year to grass-finish cattle.

Because we want to grow, we take calves as payment for our share farming and operate on as little money as possible.

If we converted beef (finished steers) into cash to buy beef (calves) again, we would lose some money due to the transaction leaks in the process (commissions, taxes, and banking costs) and we try to reduce our out-going cash flow to the absolute minimum possible.

We have well-kept working corrals and permanent fences and a well maintained backbone of permanent electric fence.

Our farm does not have much of a headquarters or fancy facilities. We live in town, so there is no fancy landscaped park or a great house.

If it benefitted the business we would invest in better headquarters, but so far we find that what we have is about what is needed.

In future issues, I hope to tell you more specific details about our farm and our future plans for it.

© by The Stockman Grass Farmer


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