by: Del Williams

With drought conditions the worst since the 1930s, most farmers and ranchers are cutting back, tightening their belts, and looking at all possible ways to cut their costs. With 2012 on track to be the hottest year recorded in the U.S. and drought affecting over 60 percent of the lower 48 states, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently estimated that 54 percent of the nation's pasture and rangeland was in poor to very poor condition.

As a severe shortage of grass, hay, and corn is raising feed prices, many farmers and ranchers are desperately deciding whether they can afford to continue feeding their cattle, or to give up and sell off large parts of their herd. But with a cattle sell off creating a buyers market and driving down prices, many may regret shrinking their herd once the drought passes – when they will have to pay top dollar to replace cattle, if they decide to ramp up production.

“When the market is flooded with cattle, you don't get much for selling your herd,” says Wade Rains, who manages 200 head of mama cows on 600 acres at the 4B Ranch in Bristow, Oklahoma. “Just like the stock market, you want to buy low and sell high. If you can hold out, now is not the time to sell. We're buying cattle when others are selling low. We're maximizing our resources and productivity to hold down costs, and plan to profit after the sell off when cattle prices rebound.”

For farmers and ranchers like Rains who adapt to the drought, this crisis can actually be an opportunity. Those who take advantage of proven new equipment and methods to work more efficiently and productively will not only be more profitably competitive during the drought when commodity prices rise, but also after the drought when there is less competition in the marketplace. Many are finding ways to cut hay use by 30 percent or more, and slash labor costs. They are also taking advantage of eligibility for federal aid, including low-interest emergency loans, in half of the nation's counties which are now deemed disaster areas due to the drought.

To stretch resources, Rains has tried nearly everything. He has opened 4B Ranch's gates and allowed the cattle to free-range its pastures to find what they can. He has trucked in cheaper hay from out of state. While reserving his best herd to calve out and selling the calves, he has bought older, heavy bred cows ready to calve and kept them a few months. He lets these calve out, sells the calves, then sells the cows back.

“One of the main ways that we've been able to stretch our feed is through GoBob Hay Conserver feeders,” says Rains. “We used to throw our bales on the ground, but the cattle would knock hay off the bales, trample it, foul it, wallow in it, and waste it.” GoBob Pipe and Steel, an Oklahoma-based farm and ranch supplier, first introduced “Hay Conserver” feeders about six years ago, and has since shipped over 9,000 of the feeders across the U.S.

To reduce waste, “conserver” hay feeders force cattle to place their heads through metal bars to get at the hay. Any feed the cows drop falls back into the feeder where it can be eaten later.

“With the Hay Conserver feeders, cattle can eat what they need but don't waste the hay,” says Rains. “We went from putting out several bales every day in each of our pastures to doing so every two or three days. We're using about 40 percent less hay to feed the same number of cows, which is helping us to survive the drought.”

“Since we're putting out bales less often, we're also saving gas, labor, and vehicle wear and tear,” adds Rains. “Because we're not driving as much, we have less soil compaction. This allows our pastures to grow out and stretches our pasture grazing. For a little more than the cost of knock-off lightweight ‘hay saving' feeders, we expect to get several times more life out of our heavy-duty Hay Conserver feeders. This will save us unnecessary replacement costs in future droughts.”

By switching to more efficient GoBob cattle working equipment, Rains is also able to handle the workload of the 4B Ranch as its only full-time employee, saving the labor cost of several day workers for many operations. Cutting the cost of labor to the bone has helped the 4B Ranch to absorb the higher cost of feed during the prolonged drought.

“In our old alley, I'd need one man pushing the calves and cows to keep them from turning around and crowding up,” says Rains. In our old makeshift crowding tub, we needed an extra man to get in there and push the cows, and someone pushing the gate since it didn't always latch. Our old squeeze chute was a lot of manual labor. We needed someone to open the gate. While one man squeezed down the cow, another man ran the head chute.”

“We've found that the GoBob adjustable alleys speed up the process tremendously, and keep the cattle from turning around,” explains Rains. “We can go from working a 2,000 lbs. bull, to a 1,500 lbs. cow, to a 60 lbs. calf. You can squeeze them right along without having to get in there and mess with them.”

Rains has found that a more labor-efficient crowding tub has similar benefits to the 4B Ranch's cattle working operations. “The gate adjusts so you don't have to get down inside,” says Rains. “You can do everything from outside. Just stand to the side, tie a rope on the crowding tub and pull it around. You never have to get down, move around, and chase gates. It's way simpler to run and you don't have a bunch of cattle circling around.”

Using a squeeze chute with rear controls, Rains finds that one man can smoothly run the chute with levers, instead of the two to three men required previously. “Now I stand at the back of the squeeze chute, open the gate, run the cow in, and squeeze her off. It takes the work and labor cost out of it.”

“Farmers and ranchers worried about the high cost of seed and feed during the long drought will find that a new types of machinery will radically cut the cost of labor and quickly pay for themselves,” says Bob Studebaker, president of GoBob Pipe and Steel. “If labor weren't a concern, farms would still be using scythe-wielding farm help, and combines would never have been invented.”

For instance, a new piece of equipment called the Accumulator is designed to allow one man to clear and accumulate an entire field of hay in a fraction of the time traditionally required. When used with an accompanying grapple, one person can rake, bale, accumulate, load, and store a five to seven acre tract in a single day.

The Accumulator can gather 10 bales of hay into one row and convert it in a few minutes, allowing custom accumulating of square bales that have already been baled on the ground. It hooks behind any square baler in seconds without using pumps or tractor hydraulics. Just run a baler, hook the Accumulator to the back where it will neatly situate the bales. Then return with the grapple, hook to the bales, and load 10 bales at a time. With such equipment, one man can put 350 bales on a trailer in less than an hour, or 250 bales per hour in the barn.

“Another innovative hay saving, labor saving piece of equipment is called the 2EZ Hydraulic Bale Mover,” adds Studebaker. “With this, one person can load, unload, and move up to six large round bales without breakage or loss, and never get out of their truck or tractor. Since its design keeps a single side of the bale in contact with the ground, it also saves hay by minimizing the number of bad hay spots caused by ground-absorbed moisture.”

The system uses a “power up, gravity down” design, with massive hydraulic cylinders to lift the rails to traveling height. When needed, the rails drop back down using only the force of gravity. A “lock out” system prevents the possibility of dropping hay too soon. Some farmers and ranchers find they can dramatically improve productivity with the equipment if their wife hauls baled hay in a pick up-pulled trailer while they bale hay with the tractor. This can remove the bottleneck of waiting for one person to do all the work with a single tractor.

Ultimately, the best advice to survive this drought and the next one may be to think creatively and find a supplier who knows farm and ranch supplies inside out, who can help to optimize resources, performance, productivity, and value.

GoBob Pipe and Steel offers a complete selection of quality feeders, fencing, hay trailers, pipe and guards, designed to help farmers and ranchers save money and labor by working better and more efficiently.

For more information, contact GoBob Pipe and Steel at 1-866-532-9123 or visit

Del Williams is a technical writer based in Torrance, California.

Don't forget to BOOKMARK  
Cattle Today Online!