Wheat and stocker cattle best option for producer

Corwin Petzold has raised summer crops on his southwest Oklahoma farm and says he’s likely to try it again. But for now, wheat and stocker cattle make more sense than peanut, soybeans or cotton on the dryland farm he operates about equidistant from Vernon, Texas, and Altus, Okla.

“Cool season crops seem to do better here than warm-season,” he says. “New technology, though, is helping farmers produce better summer crops, so I’ll take a look at them again sometime.”

In the meantime, he’s concentrating on grazing stocker calves from about October through May. He plants some hay grazer and is adding a few cool-season grasses to his wheat pasture to add flexibility to his grazing operation.

“I’ve planted a cool-season fescue, Flecha, in a no-till system. Once I get it established, about all I’ll have to do is spray and fertilize,” he says. He expects cattle to do well on the endophyte friendly fescue. “Cattle don’t get fescue fever from this variety.”

Most of his wheat is HG-9, a variety developed by Hardeman Seed and Grain in nearby Chillicothe, Texas. “I plant some Jagger on sandy land.”

Petzold says he’ll cut some wheat for grain, but will graze most of it. “I bought 790 head of 300-pound calves last fall and will try to get them to 750 pounds. I usually put them in around October or November, but stocking date depends on the year.”

So far, it’s been a good year to graze stockers. “It’s one of the best wheat years we’ve had recently,” he says. “We’ve seen some pretty good gains on the calves, but it’s hard to know how they’ll turn out.”

He likes to sell most of his cattle in May. “But I’ll hold the ones that are not heavy enough and put them on hay grazer and grass and carry them through summer to get more weight on them. I usually sell at least half the calves in May, then usually a truckload at a time through summer until they’re all gone by fall.”

Petzold doesn’t forward price stockers. “I haven’t done that in a long time,” he says. “I sell in Oklahoma City and do pretty well. I watch the market and if it goes up I’ll sell a few more. By selling in truckload lots the price averages out over the season.”

He sells off as pasture runs out, but says best markets usually hit “just before or just after July 4. Historically, July and December have been good markets, but it’s not as predictable anymore.”

The pasture is the key to putting economical weight on the cattle, Petzold says. Crop conditions often dictate fertility levels. “I usually put on 70 pounds of actual nitrogen. In sandy, no-till situations I put out about 46 pounds of dry nitrogen early and add another 40 pounds topdressed for an extra boost. That last application depends on the year. I let the crop dictate what to do.”

He uses some anhydrous. “It was cheaper this year and a lot cheaper than it was two years ago when it got as high as $900 a ton.”

He says recent increases in fuel and fertilizer prices have changed the way he manages forage production. “We now deep probe for nitrogen. We used to probe to 8 inches, but found the land will hold nitrogen much deeper, so now we probe down to 24 inches. I have two fields I did not fertilize for two years. I still made as much pasture and also pulled the pH level down.”

The animals seem to do better as well. “I was seeing a lot of blast problems and I think that was coming from excess nitrogen. After I used up the nitrogen, we quit having blast trouble. We walk a fine line between good pasture and too much nitrogen.”

Deeper probes and a better evaluation of nitrogen availability save money on nitrogen expense. “It takes a little more time to take those 24-inch probes every year, but it’s worth the effort,” Petzold says.

He treats calves with Exceed antibiotic to maintain health in what he calls “high stress calves.” The product has cut death loss significantly, he says, and has reduced the number of animals he has to pull from the herd to doctor them. “We were doctoring as many as 75 percent of the calves. Now we’re treating more like 10 percent.”

People who complain about overuse of antibiotics in beef cattle “don’t have the science” behind their claims, he says.

He’s concerned about new pest problems — deer and feral hogs. “Deer cause a lot of damage. In a 65-acre peanut field near here a farmer counted more than 400 deer.”

He says some neighbors are trying to control hogs with traps. “One caught 70 or 80 in a week."

Regulations are fairly lenient on taking out the hogs, but less so with the deer. “The state doesn’t realize the number of deer around here. We need to thin them out. And if they don’t agree to do that, they should compensate farmers for losses.”

He says research will be a key to success for farmers and ranchers in the Southwest. “We have a research unit at Enid that’s a good deal for farmers. We have to have research because we can’t afford to do trials on our own.”

He says a test with Oklahoma State University with cool season grasses helped determine the best variety for his area. “That’s why we’re growing Flecha. And we need stations in the area because our climate conditions here are different than in other parts of the state.”

Petzold doesn’t take all the credit for the success of the farm. His father Harvey helps and his wife, Lisa, and son, Seth, 12, “are important parts of this operation. Seth is getting more and more involved in the farm with pumpkin production and sweet corn.”

Petzold also has a herd of 35 mama cows. “We started the small herd a year ago last August,” he says. “Seth has a half-interest in the herd and that will give him a start. He’s just 12, but he already has plans to go to school at Western Oklahoma State College in Altus, then to Oklahoma State and then come back to farm.”

Petzold says the college degree is important and is also pleased that Seth is interested in a life and career that has given him a lot of satisfaction.

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TAGS: Livestock
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