'Keep Cattle in Minnesota'
Winter feeding workshop, farm tour held
Approximately 30 farmers, from as far away as Iron River, and other interested people attended a workshop, held as part of the Sustainable Farming Association's Keep Cattle in Minnesota project, at the civic and community center in Moose Lake on Friday, January 17.
The farmers were presented with new ideas of how to save costs while feeding their cattle more efficiently. Methods to improve soil health and improve yield were also presented.
After the workshop, the group headed out to the beef operation at Mach Angus, near Sturgeon Lake, owed by Abe Mach.
Mach told the group before the tour to his farm that he feeds 115 cow-calf pairs, and explained his winter feeding methods.
Aerial photos showed the benefit of bale grazing. Dark circles indicated where healthier areas of grass had grown around the feeding stations.
He said that he had planted several cover crops, such as acorn radishes, but the hard clay soil prevented the radishes from penetrating the ground as well as he would have liked. He said that he had learned that his grandfather had taken thick sod, which included topsoil, off of parts of the more than 600-acre farm, and that left the clay.
He had also planted peas and a cocktail of mixed grasses. The more he tilled the soil, the better the crops grew. However, the weather last year was not ideal for a growing season, he said.
He added that he had not used fertilizer last year, but plans to use it this year.
Mach explained that he used to feed the cattle twice a day during the winter.
However, in working with Troy Salzer of the University of Minnesota Extension office, he learned new feeding methods. A side benefit is that he has more time with his family, he said.
"I find that, with larger groups of animals, this is a more effective way to feed," said Mach. "I feed every five or six days, and that has resulted in saving about a third on my fuel. I also use bale feeders. They are worth it because they reduce the amount of waste."
At his feedlot, Mach showed how he has placed the round bales in a staggered pattern, with space between each of them. An electric fence keeps the cattle away from the bales before he feeds them.
He lifted each bale with the fork on his tractor, shook the snow off and kept the bale off the ground while a helper unwound the plastic from around the bale.
He then set the bale on the ground and placed a feeding ring over the bale. Many feeding rings were placed over many bales to feed the hungry cattle.
"The goal is to raise the organic matter in the soil," Mach had explained. "This practice helps us do that. It will be interesting to see how this plays out."
Mach explained that the cattle grazed off the 60 acres of corn fields until January 1. That's when he started feeding the round bales.
Mach is also studying the genetics of the cattle as they walk through the snow.
"Some are thriving, and some are not going to make it out of the 2014 season," he said. "I need cows that can dig through the snow and maintain their condition. I need to identify what cows are my best cows to determine what genetics are working for me."
A donkey accompanied the cattle in the feeding area.
Mach explained that he had a lot of problems with predation. He said that, since he has had the donkey, he no longer has those problems.