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Beef/Cattle Extension Program

Rancher Profile: Veseth & Veseth Livestock Co.

"We try to reduce costs through a winter grazing/protein supplementation program."

by Marko Manoukian, Phillips County Extension Agent, interviewing Dale Veseth

Describe your operation...

Our ranch is located 50 miles south of Malta. The ranch is run by my parents, Fred and Jackie Veseth, and myself, Dale, and my wife, Janet. My grandparents, Mons and Clara Veseth, moved permanently to this location in 1941. Veseths have been ranching in this area since 1886.

Our average annual precipitation is 12.5 inches, with a range of 8.5 to 22 inches.

In the mid 1980s, 50 percent of the ranch's income came from grain sale receipts. Due to high production costs and low wheat prices, we shifted our production to a larger beef enterprise. Today we run 550 mother cows and background their calves. The ranch uses a rotational cross-breeding system producing a 3/4 English blood x 1/4 Continental blood feeder and brood cow. This type of cow fits our limited resources. The cows are grazed year-round. In a typical year, cows are fed hay 45 days prior to calving. Heifers start calving March 10 and cows start March 25, with breeding seasons of 35 and 50 days respectively. We incorporate artificial insemination in two estrous synchronization systems to breed 120 head per year.

We use a time control grazing system during the fast growth stage from mid-April through early July, We try to move the cattle every 14 days or less during this time. After forage has matured, we use a deferred rotation system for the rest of the year. We maintain a moderate stocking rate of 40 acres per animal unit. Most of our new cross fencing is permanent two-wire electric fence. The cost differential between conventional fence and the electric for materials and labor is a 70 percent savings.

How does your ranch differ from others in your area?

We have retained ownership through the finishing phase on our feeder cattle since 1992. The ranch has been pleased with the feedlot performance, and I believe most of my Montana neighbors would also be pleased with their cattle performance. However, cattle feeding is a very competitive industry, and factors such as time of marketing and feeder/fed price differentials seem to have as much to do with profitability as feedlot performance. The fed cattle are traditionally sold on a live basis. We did two limited tests selling on a carcass basis and they didn't increase profitability over a live basis sale.

What has been your most effective management strategy in recent times?

We try to reduce costs through a winter grazing/protein supplementation program. We sort cows into three groups at weaning time based on body condition scores (bcs) and age. They are rotated through a series of winter pastures and crop aftermath. We utilize riparian pastures in this winter rotation. These pastures are usually grazed for a short period of time prior to the end of May and rested through the summer months. The cows are rotated into these riparian pastures again in the fall and winter.

I formulated a 55% protein, canola meal based supplement with a trace mineral package. The target is .75 lbs/day of protein to make up for the dormant forage protein deficit. The cost per cow for a 105-day feeding period varies between $8 and $13 per head, depending on feed markets. The potential problem is that adequate forage must be available for the cow's intake requirement, and severe weather like deep snow or cold temperatures impacts grazing behavior, so cows will need hay and/or concentrates.

What marketing and management strategies have you tried that were NOT successful?

The biggest mistake we continually make is not making a cost/benefit analysis on every enterprise every year. Historically, what was profitable might not be anymore. And, we are often too busy to make good management decisions. The first scenario that comes to mind is early weaning. It is hard to get those calves weaned by Oct. 1. Even though we know that, in a normal year, our breakeven price per pound of calf for the cow/calf enterprise runs in the upper $.60/lb and our average feedlot cost of gain is $.46/lb, for our situation it is cheaper to feed on those pounds. Added to that, weaning those calves reduces the nutritional requirements of the cow herd, and those big calves eat! So we save our forage resources in these dry years and improve the body condition scores on the cows, which is the cheapest way to add flesh for winter to the cow herd. Plus, weaning early gets those calves on feed and moves up our marketing dates, which usually means more dollars per pound in the spring fed cattle market. Early weaning pays our operation four different ways, but we still have a hard time weaning by Oct. 1.

What is your biggest challenge?

Over time, the biggest challenge to our operation is the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Ranchers have dealt with drought, disaster and poor prices since the beginning of time. But just in my lifetime, government regulation and political strife have multiplied several times. One endangered species crossed our fence, several fly over every year, and four live on the ranch. All are in various stages of listing by the ESA. The bottom line is that ranches are businesses, and one of the cornerstones to sustainability is profitability in the long run. I think this is why there are more ranches for sale in my area than any time in memory.

What do you think are the biggest challenges to the livestock industry?

Here again there are several governmental regulation like the Clean Water Act and others. Regarding the Endangered Species Act, as of September 2000, 1,295 species were listed on ESA with several hundred more petitioned for listing. After nearly 30 years of ESA, I do not know of any success stories. This is where an endangered species is listed, managed and then delisted as a recovered species to local/state management. Given the time, high number of species listed and the high cost of management, everyone must consider if there is a better way to manage these species. While lawyers and environmental organizations became wealthy litigating the ESA, the people most involved (i.e., landowners) are economically devastated. The cost of saving an endangered species is currently the burden of just a few people in direct contact with that species. Until this situation is rectified through incentive-based programs for people directly affected by ESA, I think we will continue to see ESA as an ineffective tool in the management of our rarest species and not only resource industries, but ultimately the United States will feel the economic destruction caused by this act.

Beef: Questions & Answers is a joint project between MSU Extension and the Montana Beef Council. This column informs producers about current consumer education, promotion and research projects funded through the $1 per head checkoff. For more information, contact the Montana Beef Council at (406) 442-5111 or at

View Text-only Version Text-only Updated: 08/14/2009
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